Referred to as "LA without the Pacific," Phoenix combines high-end shopping, a flourishing restaurant scene and resort life in the Sonoran Desert. Instead of golden beaches and palm trees, you'll encounter vibrant red mountains and cacti-lined boulevards. Phoenix's setting is so attractive that the one-time ranch town has morphed into the fifth most populated city in the U.S. And with the development of palatial resorts, hundreds of golf courses, a burgeoning bar scene and attractive room rates, you'll see why this city has become a popular refuge for snowbirds, families and 20-somethings alike.
ATTRACTIONS TO VISIT IN Phoenix
1. Desert Botanical Garden
The desert may seem like the last place you'd expect to find flora. Yet the Desert Botanical Garden is home to thousands of species of cacti, trees and flowers from all around the world. The garden's brightly colored plants sharply contrast the Sonoran Desert's cinnamon-red buttes, and numerous hiking trails – like the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert and the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop trails – allow you to experience the region's natural wonders the way early settlers once did. The Desert Botanical Garden also hosts numerous events, including culinary demonstrations and outdoor concert series. Recent visitors said the garden is fascinating and highly recommended seeking out the special exhibits when available. Several reviewers suggested visiting after the sun sets to see the garden illuminated, while others appreciated the groomed paths and well-marked signs. However, some travelers bemoaned the entrance rates and were disappointed the zoo and the garden do not offer a combined admission since they sit less than 2 miles from one another.
2. Camelback Mountain
As one of the highest peaks in Phoenix, Camelback Mountain is among the most scenic hiking spots in the city. Soaring more 2,700 feet in elevation, Camelback's summit offers spectacular views of Phoenix and Scottsdale and can be reached from the 1.2-mile (incredibly steep) Echo Canyon Trail. If you're looking for a slightly easier trek, the 1.5-mile Cholla Trail on the east side of the mountain offers a more gradual incline, at least until you near the summit. You can also try one of the several beginner-friendly trails that circle Camelback's base, such as the Bobby's Rock Trail. Hiking Camelback Mountain is best attempted earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon when the desert heat is bearable. But no matter when you decide to climb, make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen.
Recent travelers who scaled the mountain said the arduous journey is well worth the incredible views, though they do warn this experience is not for the faint of heart. Reviewers also suggested bringing your camera, as the views at the summit and along the way are photo-worthy. Visitors also warn that you should be prepared to share the trails with lots of other hikers.
3. Musical Instrument Meuseum
The Musical Instrument Museum, located about 20 miles north of downtown Phoenix, invites visitors to check out its collection of more than 6,000 instruments from around the world. On the first floor of the museum, guests will find instruments, concert footage, clothing of renowned musicians and more. Visitors can see how instruments are preserved and restored in the first-floor Conservation Lab before actually playing instruments in the Experience Gallery, also on the first floor. Many parents said their children especially enjoyed experimenting with the instruments in the Experience and Encore galleries (the latter of which is geared toward kids prekindergarten to second grade), advising future visitors to make it the last stop in the museum because the kids will not want to leave.
4. Phoenix Zoo
The Phoenix Zoo is a great place to enjoy nature without your little ones dying of boredom. There are four trails (measuring 2½ miles in total) that wind through the numerous habitats represented on this 125-acre chunk of land. The zoo houses a variety of animals, including baboons, Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, Galápagos tortoises and Komodo dragons. Take younger tots to the Red Barn petting zoo or to the giraffe encounter where they can get some face time with the animals. When their little legs start to tire, consider the 25-minute narrated safari train tour, which only costs a few extra dollars and provides a good orientation of the zoo.
5. Phoenix Art Museum
Housed within a prime example of contemporary architecture is one of the largest art museums in the Southwest (with more than 18,000 works of art, some of them dating as far back as the Renaissance). From Diego Rivera to Frederic Remington, Georgia O'Keeffe to Frida Kahlo, the Phoenix Art Museum's permanent collection caters to a wide variety of tastes, and often welcomes top-notch traveling exhibits. Be sure to check out the popular Thorne Miniature Collection, and if you're traveling with kids, make sure to take advantage of the museum's youth-oriented activities.
6. Heard Meuseum
If you're a history buff or an art aficionado (or both), take advantage of the spectacular exhibits – and air conditioning – housed in the Heard Museum. According to many, the Heard Museum is one of the country's finest Native American museums and offers a comprehensible introduction to Arizona's original residents. With the help of pre-Colombian to contemporary art and a variety of traditional artifacts, the Heard Museum conveys the life and culture of Native Americans in the Southwest.
7. Talisen West
Frank Lloyd Wright loved the Sonoran Desert, and he used these 600 acres at the base of the McDowell Mountains as his winter home and school. With the help of his art and architecture students, Wright constructed apartments, studios and theaters using local materials to help the camp blend with its natural surroundings. This National Historic Landmark is still used as an educational space for budding artists and architects.