16 Exciting Things to Do in Phoenix, According to Locals 

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Phoenix, Arizona, is famous for many things: its desert climate perfect for golfing during the spring, fall, and winter months; its unbelievably beautiful sunsets; and its delicious southwestern fare thanks to the culinary contributions of its Native American and Mexican residents.   

But it also has a fascinating origin story dating from prehistoric times. The history of Phoenix as a beautiful, thriving metropolis begins between roughly 800 and 1450 AD when the indigenous and industrious Hohokam people built a sophisticated canal system that still supplies water to the area today. No one is quite sure what happened to the Hohokam. Some think the society was destroyed by prolonged famine or drought, but during the second half of the 19th century, pioneers recognized the area’s potential as a bustling city and began planting crops. The symbolism of a new colony rising from the ruins of an ancient civilization wasn’t lost on the settlers, which is how Phoenix got its name.  

With a population of roughly 2,500, the city was incorporated in 1881. From then, it has steadily grown into the fast-paced, modern city it is now, complete with a diverse economy and an arts and culture scene that draws visitors from around the world.  

Because there’s so much to see and do in this dynamic city, we asked some of the locals for suggestions for where to begin. Read on to learn more about all the exciting things they recommended to see and do in Phoenix! 

1. Catch a sunrise or sunset at Camelback Mountain 

view of camelback mountain in arizona

“For hiking enthusiasts, Camelback Mountain is a must!” says Missy Feldman, professional organizer and founder of the Phoenix-based company No Mess With Missy. “Echo Canyon and Cholla Trail are the two main routes. The trails may be challenging, but the panoramic views of the city are so worth it.”  

2. Take a day trip to Old Town 

house in old town scottsdale

“A short drive from Phoenix, Old Town Scottsdale is perfect for a day trip,” says Feldman. “It’s filled with art galleries, boutique shops with unique Southwestern gifts, restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife!” 

3. Enjoy the arts in Roosevelt Row 

“Roosevelt Row is Phoenix’s vibrant arts district known for its murals, galleries, and trendy cafes,” says Feldman. “It’s a great area to walk around, especially during the First Friday Art Walk, a monthly event featuring local artists and live music!” 

4. Grab a coffee at Valentine and meander through Modern Manor 

Ashley Morgan Walsh, owner and principal designer at Morgan Design Studio, gave us the skinny on a fantastic place to spend an (air-conditioned!) afternoon. “Whether you’re looking for a trendy coffee shop or somewhere to window shop, you have to check out Modern Manor.”  

“Upon arrival, you’ll enter Valentine, a beautifully eclectic Southwestern-designed restaurant perfect for an artisan coffee or a full-blown meal,” says Walsh. “Their Melon Matcha is a unique take on traditional Japanese Matcha and incorporates Topo Chico and the subtle taste of honeydew. The food is great and the attention to detail in the design of the space is incredible yet comfortable and inviting. There’s counter-height seating along the window if you’re looking to work from a coffee shop, traditional tables and chairs if you want to sit down and enjoy a meal, or leather lounge chairs and sofas if you’re interested in catching up with friends over a cocktail.” 

“If you were to walk straight ahead when entering Valentine, you’ll find yourself at the entrance of Modern Manor. This is a vintage Mid-Century furniture store for lack of a better category name,” Walsh continues. “You’ll find a classic Eames Lounge and Ottoman upholstered in a bright orange, a tufted sofa upholstered in patchwork leather, a Penguin Chair, molded plywood furniture, and anything else you might have seen and loved while watching Mad Men! Modern Manor does an incredible job sourcing and restoring these pieces while also creating a unique showroom that’s fun to peruse, even if you aren’t interested in purchasing a new chair. The perimeter of the store often has shelves and dressers filled with whimsical glassware and quirky accessories.”  

5. Take a tour of Arcosanti  

detail in arcosanti arizona

“If you’re interested in architecture or ecology, the town of Arcosanti is just an hour’s drive North of Phoenix,” says Walsh. “This town is where the term ‘arcology’ was coined as the goal was to combine the two by limiting their environmental footprint. The town itself really just consists of one large building meant to house a community while also acting as a multifunctional facility. Tours are available regularly where they walk you through each part of the facility and explain the unique thought process behind the architecture and how it relates to the environment. On the tour, they share a video of the history of Arcosanti, behind-the-scenes of the building process, and perspectives from community members.”  

“They’re also known for the iconic cast bronze and clay bells produced by residents. These bells are featured throughout the property, and on your tour, you’ll walk through the casting and kiln areas to get an in-depth explanation of the process. If you plan your tour time out in advance, you can select a time slot that aligns with the bronze pours so that you can watch the incredible process!” 

 Good to know: The Arcosanti gallery and visitor’s center is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. 

6. Make your own masterpiece at Pip Coffee and Clay 

Walsh also had a suggestion for those who call Phoenix home: “If you’re local and interested in exploring your inner ceramicist, Pip Coffee and Clay is worth the visit! Pip offers a long list of ceramics workshops suitable for various experience levels. There’s a Kitchen Gadgets Class, a Casserole Dish class, and even wheel throwing classes, all listed online with corresponding dates and prices,” she says. 

“When you get there, you enter the coffee shop section of the building so you can grab something to drink before you get your hands dirty. Behind the coffee station is the wheel throwing room and upstairs is where they hold hand-building workshops. You get to create and paint your piece and then leave it behind to dry out before it gets fired in the kiln by their staff. They’ll notify you when your piece is ready to be picked up, or if you’re visiting, they’ll ship it to you!” 

7. Discover a world of music at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) 

aerial view of the musical instrument museum in phoenix

“This museum is a fascinating stop where you can explore musical instruments from all corners of the globe,” says Barbara Metzel, professional organizer and founder of Phoenix’s Professional Organizing Plus. “The hands-on exhibits are both fun and educational!”  

The museum features geographic galleries organized by location, showcasing an impressive collection of musical instruments and artifacts from literally all over the world. It has an artist’s gallery section with instruments and memorabilia owned by iconic musicians, including Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Taylor Swift. There’s also a mechanical music gallery displaying self-playing instruments and music machines, and finally, the experience gallery where visitors can interact with instruments from around the world. It’s truly a fascinating hands-on experience to learn about different musical traditions.  

Good to know: The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.  

8. Get outdoors with a scenic drive, quiet hike, or tubing adventure 

papago park

“Whether you’re visiting or a local looking for new adventures, we’ve got you covered!” says Shelley Sakala, Realtor and team lead of The Sakala Group. “You can take a scenic drive on the Old Apache Trail, passing Canyon Lake and stopping for lunch at Tortilla Flats,” Sakala recommended. “If you like the outdoors but not the crowds, you could opt for less crowded hikes like Piestewa Peak or the Papago Buttes near the Botanical Garden and Old Town. Or you can always beat the summer heat with a tubing adventure on the Salt River — just don’t forget the cooler with PB&Js and beer!” 

9. Or you could enjoy a day indoors 

“Plan your day with coffee at Copper Star Coffee,” recommends Sakala, “then window shop the antique stores in the Melrose District. Or, if you’re looking for a date night spot, you can enjoy wine and a bruschetta board at Postino’s.”

10. Relax and get swanky

You can’t come to Phoenix without at least checking out one or two of its legendary spas. Luckily, Sakala had some great suggestions for where to go and what to do. “Relax with coffee at the AZ Biltmore or Royal Palms,” she says. Both have gorgeous grounds and fantastic cuisine; just be sure to get a summer pool day pass!”

11. Discover the Wild West at Cave Creek

cave creek in arizona

“You can also head north to the charming town of Cave Creek for a Wild West experience,” says Sakala. She recommended dinner at the legendary Rustler’s Rooste to keep with the cowboy theme. “There, you’ll indulge in hearty Southwestern cuisine while soaking in the Phoenix sunset!”

12. Fall in love with the local cuisine and mesmerizing sunsets

We asked Joy Clifford, owner of local wedding photography studio Joy and Ben Photography, what she recommends for visitors on a time budget. “Ultimately, it depends on how much time you have to spend,” she says. “In the short term, Phoenix and Scottsdale offer amazing restaurants that can satisfy even the pickiest taste buds. You can easily find upscale dining and casual eateries around every corner.”  

“And, if possible, stay for one of our notoriously stunning Southwest sunsets. Find a spot at Papago Park or South Mountain Park to watch the sky light up in brilliant shades of orange, pink, and purple. You won’t regret it. These experiences truly capture what makes Phoenix such a beautiful destination.”

13. Be dazzled by the Desert Botanical Garden

pavilion at the desert botanical gardens in phoenix

“This garden is truly a gem in the desert,” says Tommy Mello, founder and CEO of A1 Garage Door Service in Phoenix. “It’s a peaceful retreat with walking trails, a stunning array of native plants, and seasonal events like the Electric Desert light show, which beautifully illuminates the garden’s unique landscape.”

14. Go shopping downtown at the farmer’s market

downtown phoenix

“The Downtown Phoenix Farmer’s Market (formerly known as the Phoenix Public Market) is a fantastic spot for fresh, locally sourced produce and unique artisan goods,” says Mello. “It’s so vibrant, and it’s a great way to support local farmers and vendors while enjoying the community atmosphere.” The market also features local food trucks and a calendar of seasonal events.  

Good to know: The market is open every Saturday from 7:30 to 11:30 am. 

15. Marvel at The South Mountain Park and Preserve

south mountain park in phoenix arizona

Mello also suggested a great place to get outdoors but stay close to the city. “The South Mountain Park and Preserve is one of the largest urban parks in the country,” he says. “Here, you’ll find three mountain ranges, all with breathtaking views and extensive trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and the panoramic vista from Dobbins Lookout is especially spectacular at sunset!” 

16. Immerse yourself in Phoenix’s art and architecture scene

“If you’re heading to Phoenix, there are some amazing spots you just can’t miss, especially if you love art and architecture,” says Emily Davis of IMI Design, a luxury interior design studio based in Scottsdale.  

“First up, Taliesin West. This place was the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most famous architects in the world. The tour showcases Wright’s incredible design work and why he is considered “the greatest American architect of all time.” 

“And, of course, Phoenix’s top-notch art scene is worth checking out,” she says. “Head to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA) for some cutting-edge pieces, the Phoenix Art Museum to view art gems from all around the world, or The Heard Museum, a must-visit for its stunning collection of indigenous and Native American art.” 

“Arizona is also hosting the first Scottsdale Art Week at West World in Scottsdale, a groundbreaking event beginning in March 2025. As a partner in the event with the most amazing innovators, including owners of Phoenix Home and Garden, I am thrilled about the caliber of this event and how it will sculpt the cultural scene of our fabulous city!” 

Enjoy the Valley of the Sun 

With its year-round sunshine, it’s easy to see how Phoenix got the nickname! But, as we’ve heard from the locals, the city is so much more than its amazing climate. There’s something for everyone, from its stunning natural landscapes to its truly remarkable arts scene. Phoenix may be one of the largest cities in the US, but its deep cultural heritage and welcoming people keep it connected to its roots in all the best ways. Come visit and see for yourself! 

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Mihaela Buzec is a senior writer and online content developer for RentCafe. She covers topics about everything related to the renting lifestyle, from decorating and interior design to finding the right apartment, frugal living, money saving advice, and more. She dives deep into topics of interest, writing well-researched comprehensive guides on subjects such as renting with pets, saving on utilities, or avoiding rental scams to help renters stay informed and live smart.

Mihaela holds a BA in English and German Language and Literature, an MA in Current Linguistics, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in neurolinguistics.

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