Especially if you’re only in town for a few days, you’ll want to make sure you prioritize the most important Phoenix attractions when planning your itinerary. That means visiting the city’s best museums, historical sites, and parks.
The Best Phoenix Attractions
Do yourself a favor, and don’t miss these 10 must-see Phoenix attractions.
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Musical Instrument Museum
The Musical Instrument Museum may be the most quirky of all Phoenix attractions. It displays more than 6,800 instruments from 200 countries and territories, and thanks to state-of-the-art technology, you can hear and watch most of them being played.
While the geographically organized galleries make up the majority of the museum, the first floor houses the Conservation Lab, where you can see how instruments are preserved, and the hands-on Experience Gallery, where you can play them yourself.
Opened in 1929, the Heard Museum showcases one of the most impressive collections of Native American art in the world. Roughly 44,000 objects rotate through its 12 galleries, ranging from paintings to rugs, pottery, baskets, jewelry, and 1,200 katsina dolls.
You’ll also find activities for kids and an outdoor sculpture garden. An on-site restaurant serves exceptional dishes, many of which incorporate Native American ingredients.
The winter home of visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin West offers several guided tours. First-time visitors will want to take the 1.5-hour Insights Tour, which visits the Garden Room, drafting studio, Music Pavilion, and other property highlights. (Go early in the day during the summer; the home doesn’t have air conditioning.)
Other popular tours feature the property at night, Wright’s personal art collection, and shelters built by students of the School of Architecture at Taliesin. There’s also a behind-the-scenes tour and landscape tour, plus a gift shop filled with Wright-inspired gifts and souvenirs.
Desert Botanical Garden
Five trails loop through 140 acres—55 of them cultivated—at the Desert Botanical Garden, one of the premier desert botanical gardens in the world and one of the top Phoenix tourist attractions for nature lovers. Highlights include desert plants from the Sonoran Desert and around the world, and exhibits showing the relationships between animals and plants and between people and plants.
The garden displays rotating artwork from artists such as Dale Chihuly, and hosts a spring and fall Music in the Garden series. Check the garden’s website for special events and programs before you go. Its signature event, Las Noches de las Luminarias, runs from late November through December.
One of the most recognized natural landmarks in Phoenix, Camelback Mountain looks like a kneeling, one-humped camel. You can hike across its back on two trails: the shorter, steeper Echo Canyon Trail or longer and slightly less steep Cholla Trail. Both are difficult but reward hikers with panoramic views of Phoenix.
If Camelback Mountain sounds a little too intense, hike the trails at South Mountain Park/Preserve instead. From vantage points within the park, you can see downtown Phoenix and Camelback Mountain behind it.
Once a stagecoach route linking the mining town of Globe to Phoenix, the Apache Trail today is a scenic drive beginning on the edge of the Valley. You only have to venture minutes along the trail to arrive at Superstition Mountain Museum, Goldfield Ghost Town, and Lost Dutchman State Park. Nearby, board Dolly Steamboat for a tour of Canyon Lake.
You can drive all the way to Globe, but soon after Tortilla Flat (a stagecoach stop turned restaurant), the pavement ends and the road becomes a narrow tangle of hairpin turns. Most drivers turn around and retrace the 16 miles back to civilization.
Anchored by the historic Rosson House, an 1895 Queen Anne Victorian, Heritage Square is one of those Phoenix attractions that is more than it seems at first glance. It does offer a glimpse into Phoenix’s early days on a tour of the Rosson House Museum.
But Heritage Square is also home to a few shops and restaurants as well as the Arizona Science Center. Across the street (and technically not part of Heritage Square) is the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, located inside the historic Monroe School Building.
The Mystery Castle is a unique hidden gem that captures the imagination of Phoenix visitors. It has a heartwarming back story—a father dying of tuberculosis built the castle for his young daughter—and he did so using whatever he found in the desert, from rocks to glass bottles and tires.
Tours of the 18-room, 13-fireplace castle are offered between October and May. The man’s daughter, Mary Lou, really did move into the castle as an adult and lived there, serving as its original tour guide, until her death in 2010.
Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park
Phoenix takes its name from the mythical creature rising from the ashes because it was built on the ruins of a Hohokam village. Portions of that village, along with the irrigation canals that caught Phoenix founder Jack Swilling’s attention, can be seen at the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park.
In addition to artifacts on display in the museum, you can tour an excavated ball court, the platform mound, and two full-scale reproductions of prehistoric Hohokam homes.
The largest aquarium in the Southwest, OdySea Aquarium has features you won’t find elsewhere. In the lobby, 12 sphere-shaped tanks hang from the ceiling, and in the restrooms, only a glass wall separates you from the inhabitants of the shark tank. An escalator through an acrylic tube transports you through a tank from one floor to the next.
For an additional fee, you can don a wetsuit and SeaTREK helmet and walk underwater through a tank of colorful reef fish.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Phoenix Travel Guide
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- Best Cheap Hotels in Phoenix
- Which Phoenix Resort Is Right for You?
- 10 Fun Things to Do in Phoenix
- The 10 Best Day Trips from Phoenix
- Best Cheap Eats in Phoenix
- 10 Best Restaurants in Phoenix
- Where to Find the Best Mexican Food in Phoenix
- What to Wear in Phoenix
- What to Pack for Phoenix
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—Original reporting by Teresa Bitler
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