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10 Fun Things to Do in Phoenix

SmarterTravel

Wondering what to do in Phoenix? Look beyond the resorts, spas, and golf courses. The best things to do in Phoenix also include outdoor adventures, shopping, and so much more.

10 Fun Things to Do in Phoenix

Spend your time lounging at the pool, and you’ll miss everything Phoenix has to offer. Here are 10 fun things to do in Phoenix on your next trip.

Step Back in Time at Rawhide

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If you have a family, Rawhide should top your list of fun things to do in Phoenix. The recreated 1880s-era Western town is free as long as you’re content to soak in the ambiance, watch the blacksmith at work, and visit the general store.

Attractions and shows cost extra, but are worth it. Wristbands give you unlimited access to the mechanical bull, desert train ride, wagon rides, petting zoo, gold panning, rock-climbing wall, and gunfight shows in the theater. Individual tickets are available for purchase, too.

Go Off-Road on a Segway

Most major cities have a Segway tour, but few have off-road tours, and even fewer have off-road tours through the desert. Phoenix is one of them. These guided tours include not only a fun ride but also insights into indigenous plants and animals.

Off-road Segway tours wind through the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation. Other than using bigger tires with much thicker tread, the off-road maneuvering is no different than operating a Segway on pavement, and most newbies master it fairly quickly.

Go Horseback Riding Through the Desert

Several outfitters operate in the Phoenix area, offering guided horseback rides in state, regional, and city parks such as South Mountain Park. Most wranglers weave history and geography into the ride, so you’ll learn a little something along the way.

Rides are typically nose-to-tail (for safety) and last an hour or two, but some outfitters offer half-day, full-day, breakfast, and dinner rides, too. If you’re not comfortable in the saddle, wagon rides into the desert are another good option. Before you go, confirm activity times since they often change in the summer. One recommended outfitter is Arizona Horses.

Learn About Native Animals at the Phoenix Zoo

There are several animal-centric attractions in Phoenix, from the Wildlife World Zoo to Butterfly Wonderland and OdySea Aquarium. But if you want to learn about native animals, there’s only one place to go: the Phoenix Zoo.

The zoo’s Arizona Trail is dedicated to native species, including the Mexican gray wolf, the mountain lion, and the diamondback rattlesnake. During warmer months, try to come first thing in the morning or in the evening when animals are more active.

Ride Over the Valley in a Hot Air Balloon

Before take off
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Want to see native Sonoran wildlife in its natural habitat? Lift off in a hot air balloon. Animals don’t realize you’re above them as you float over the outskirts of Phoenix, so they don’t spook as you approach. Most balloon rides stay low for the first portion of the flight, and pilots point out any wildlife they see.

As the balloon rises, you’ll discover Phoenix’s unique geography. Landings are often followed by a Champagne toast and either breakfast or dinner. Hot Air Expeditions is one reputable local operator.

Shop in Old Town Scottsdale

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You can spend an entire day in Old Town Scottsdale, especially if you love to shop. Old Town has boutiques selling everything from Native American jewelry and trendy fashions to Phoenix souvenirs. Some of the Valley’s best restaurants and bars can also be found here.

Old Town boasts the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Across Camelback Road is Scottsdale Fashion Square, the largest shopping mall in the Southwest with brands like Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton.

Take a Jeep Tour

One of the most popular things to do in Phoenix is to take a Jeep tour through the Tonto National Forest. Most tours depart from area resorts and head into the Sonoran Desert just north of Phoenix. Guides enlighten passengers on the desert’s unique wildlife and plants and share stories about local history.

You also get to experience what an off-road vehicle can do, which is both good and bad. Jeeps and Hummers climb steep hills and pick their way over uneven ground on these tours. It’s a fun but jolting experience; skip it if you have back problems. 360 Adventures is one recommended operator.

Experience Art on First Fridays

First Friday in Phoenix is a must for art lovers, showcasing more than 20 galleries as well as performing arts venues and artist studios. You also get free admission to the Heard Museum (featuring Native American art) and Phoenix Art Museum, and local restaurants and bars feature special artwork. A free trolley shuttles you to areas of interest.

If you miss First Friday, the city also hosts Third Fridays, also known as “Gallery Night.”

Golf a Desert Course

Phoenix has more than 200 golf courses. Some have shade trees, lakes, and waterfalls, and look as though they were plucked from another part of the country. Others incorporate Phoenix’s natural terrain, including saguaro cacti and wide ravines, into their layout. If you haven’t played one of these desert courses, book yourself a tee time.

Desert play isn’t necessarily any more challenging, but but you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking and unique scenery. And it’s not uncommon to see rabbits, coyotes, and other wildlife on the course. Troon North Golf Club offers one of the area’s best desert courses.

Drive a Race Car

Have a need for speed? Look no further than Bondurant Racing School. Started by 60s race car driver Bob Bondurant, the famous school offers driver safety, high performance, and racing classes. Depending on the class, you might even have the chance to get behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

The experience isn’t cheap, and you’ll have to schedule well in advance. For a more budget-friendly day at the track, gather eight or more friends and try your skills at ProKart racing at Bondurant. You’ll still need to book ahead as a group, but it’s a seriously fun thing to do in Phoenix.

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—Original reporting by Teresa Bitler

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