Like its namesake, Phoenix didn’t rise from the ashes to become USA‘s fifth-largest city. It might be cradled by the soaring peaks and characterised by the striking saguaros, yet the ever-growing city still hasn’t been able to become a top-of-mind tourist attraction, especially for the foreign tourists.
Why should I visit Phoenix? What’s there to see?
I asked my fellow travel blogger friend, Mike Shubic.
Well, firstly because there’s a lot to explore in Phoenix and secondly I stay here. So, it gotta be a cool place, right?
said Mike in his quintessential baritone voice. I don’t know which part of his statement convinced me. But I am glad he did. Initially, like most people, I was planning to use the city as a jumping-off point to visit the most iconic attraction of the US – the Grand Canyon.
Well, to be frank, there’s nothing extraordinary about Phoenix. No national parks, no legendary personalities from pop culture, music, history, art or technology. There are no big industries. And the city is an inferno for three months of summer. But does that make Phoenix unworthy of a visit?
No, absolutely not. Not having the baggage of expectations is what works in favour of Phoenix. Although, I could only spend 72 hours here out of 288 hours spent in Arizona. But within the first hour, I fell in love with the valley of the sun. Here are the Phoenix, Arizona Things to do in 72 hours:
1. Camelback Mountain
Set in the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix, Arizona, offers a unique potpourri of a wealth of urban attractions with a bounty of opportunities to get outdoors. Camelback Mountain summit boasts spectacular city views of Phoenix and Scottsdale. No wonder it is so popular among the hikers, walkers, and cyclists. The scorching dry heat of 35-degree ℃ (95 ℉) derailed my plans to hike the 2,704-feet high summit. As a Plan B, I enjoyed the Saguaro studded views from the ground below.
2. Desert Botanical Garden
Having been to some of the best Botanical Gardens around the world, this garden came as a pleasant surprise. Before visiting it, I would have laughed out loud at someone telling me there is a sprawling 50 acres of an oasis in a desert – Papago Park. A desert is the last place to expect to find flora. No wonder the Sonoran Desert is called the blooming desert. The Desert Botanical Garden is home to thousands of species of cacti, trees, and flowers from all around the world.
What I loved the most about the garden was its brightly coloured plants sharply contrasting with the Sonoran Desert’s cinnamon-red buttes. There were well marked numerous hiking trails — like the “Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert” and the “Desert Wildflower” trails — that allowed me to experience the region’s natural wonders the way early settlers once did. It was here I got introduced to the native Indian culture. Before I visited the Garden I had no idea that the state of Arizona has so many best-preserved sites of Indian Ruins. Unfortunately, I couldn’t only visit a few in the Phoenix and Flagstaff area.
3. Fort McDowell
Having grown up on the staple diet of the Wild West movies, it was my dream to spend some time with the Southwest Cowboys and their stables. And there can’t be anything better than the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, a 950-member Native American tribe that calls Central Arizona’s upper Sonoran Desert home. Located to the northeast of Phoenix within Maricopa County, Arizona, the 40-square mile reservation is a small part of the ancestral territory of the once nomadic Yavapai people, who hunted and gathered food in a vast area of Arizona’s desert lowlands and mountainous Mogollon Rim country.
I was a bundle of nerves to try my hand at horseback riding at Fort McDowell Adventures. I was assigned a beautiful horse, appropriate to my size and riding experience (which was negligible). The staff at Fort McDowell Adventures were real cowboys. The one hour trail passed through the rugged and beautiful Sonoran Desert bejewelled with the paloverdes, mesquites and the saguaro cactus.
I stayed at the AAA Four Diamond We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center, nestled in the heart of the majestic 40-square-mile Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. The resort was lushly landscaped and offered spectacular views of Arizona’s majestic Four Peaks and the iconic Red Mountains alongside the free-flowing Verde River. My King Suite was very comfortable and came with separate living and bedroom areas, a sofa bed and a kitchenette with a full-sized refrigerator.
4. Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass
The AAA five-diamond and Forbes five-star Native-American owned luxury resort was one of my favourite places in the Phoenix area. What makes it unique is the exceptional blend of two cultures. The resort offers the quiet serenity that had generated from the Native American tribes many years ago, combined with the hotel expertise of the Sheraton brand, creating a refreshing resort experience. The architecture, design, food…everything reflected the Native American Tribe culture carried for generations.
My most satisfying moment was getting an authentic Native American treatment done at the Aji Spa. The ingredients used and the treatment was something you won’t find anywhere. It was very relaxing, to say the least.
I also loved visiting the stables at the property. The horses were well taken care of and the staff was very friendly.
5. Heard Museum
No trip to Phoenix is complete without visiting the internationally acclaimed Heard Museum. It is one of the best places to experience the myriad cultures and art of American Indians of the Southwest. And that explains why it hosts 200,000 visitors a year. The museum’s innovative programs, world-class exhibitions, and unmatched festivals make it the ideal place to learn about American Indian art and history. It was interesting to see its immense collection of Native American artifacts and hear docents explain how native people thrived in the harsh desert environment.
When I visited, a special Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit was going on that offered visitors a rare opportunity to see first-hand the masterpieces by two of the most important and recognizable artists of the 20th century.
Other striking museums that I couldn’t visit but would have loved to are the Pueblo Grande Museum, Phoenix Art Museum and the 15,000-item Musical Instrument Museum.
Besides the city attractions, it was my interaction with the locals that made me fall in love with Phoenix. It was interesting to chat with people from different ranks of society and get a peek into their lives. Whether it was a retired Army Officer who served in the Iraq War or an empty nester who is finding it difficult to adjust after her kids have moved out of home for studies and job or a Department Store Manager who doubles up as an Uber Driver or a fitness instructor struggling to increase his follower base on Instagram…everyone had a story to share.
Unfortunately, many of them had not explored their own backyard. However, they were genuinely interested in my work and even followed me on social media. One person even wrote back to me saying after hearing about the Heard Museum from me, she visited it and thoroughly enjoyed it. To me, that’s the beauty of travel.
10 Things Not to Miss in Phoenix
- Hike to the top of Camelback Mountain’s red rocks for a view of the city from above.
- Soar over the Sonoran Desert by taking a Balloon ride
- Horseback riding through the lush desertscape
- Play golf at some of the country’s best golf courses
- Soothe your body with authentic native American spa treatments
- Visit Taliesin West Museum and Architecture School.
- Experience the Wells Fargo History Museum
- Watch the sun go down at South Mountain Park and Preserve
- Reward your taste buds with the authentic Mexican cuisine at the Phoenix Ranch Market, where artisans make everything from tortillas to hibiscus juice.
- Stroll through Bentley Projects, a downtown warehouse district full of art galleries.
When is the best time to visit Phoenix
Given the city’s desert setting, the best time to visit Phoenix is from November to April.
So, this was my take on Phoenix, Arizona Things to do in 72 hours. You can do a lot of other things if you have ample time in hand. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in the Valley of Sun and would definitely recommend visiting Phoenix along with the nearby Spa Capital of the USA – Scottsdale.
A section of this story was published in DB Post: Scottsdale – The Spa Capital of the US
Things to do in Scottsdale, Arizona: the green heart of the Sonoran Desert
The USA Travel – Things you should know before your visit
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Travel See Write Recommends the following books
|A history of the Indians in the United States||The Cherokees by Grace Steele Woodward|
I was hosted by Visit Phoenix but all the views expressed above are solely mine and based on my personal experiences. Many thanks to Visit Phoenix, Wild Horse Pass Resort, We-Ko-Pa Resort, Heard Museum, and Desert Botanical Garden for the incredible experiences I had. Pictures posted above are clicked by me.
I was pleasantly surprised by your recommendations, tbh. I was expecting this to do in the city but you have presented several outdoor activities to experience! 🙂 Aside from the outdoors, the resort where you stayed looks really good and sounds like a great place to stay in for a day or two!
As a hiker and a person who loves nature, I would love to check out Camelback mountain. The view looks amazing. 🙂 Great advise here as I hope to hit up the state for the first time ever shortly.
I would have never thought about Phoenix as a place to travel to, but you’re right – it looks like there’s plenty of things to fill a few days with! I think I’ll be headed to Scottsdale for some spa treatments, too, as that sounds really relaxing. I’d like to visit those gardens – super unique!
I think I’d love to visit the Desert Botanical Garden, I like the look of the cactus and greenery against the arid, brown desert landscape. Love all your pictures. And the treatments at the spa look interesting too!
Nice compilation of things to do. I remember when V had gone there he also mentioned driving to lake pleasant that’s probably a couple of hours away. I hope to visit there sometime in my life 🙂 🙂
I’ve only ever been stuck in Phoenix for a layover, now I’ll have to go back! We love a good museum stroll, especially when the days get too hot as they can in Arizona! A botanical garden in the desert seems crazy, I never would have thought to check that out. Good idea not climbing 2700 feet in 90 degree heat, that would be way too much.
Your photography is amazing, and I’d love to experience getting the composition and shot right in some of these more desert like locations. Camelback Mountain looks really beautiful – whilst Phoenix might not be extraordinary, there is still much of note there!
Phoenix, Arizona has a strange and wild beauty that is so bewitching. There are so many things to do there and experience too. Unfortunately, when we were there apart from the customary Grand Canyon tour we were not able to see much of Phoenix. Hope to make amends next time. love the horses and the fact that the ranch has real cowboys makes the experience even more thrilling.Loved the post.
I lived in the Phoenix are for a year and although a little too warm in the middle of summer for my liking, the scenery was stunning. I took my parents to Camelback Mountain when they visited. A hot air balloon would be a great way to see the desert landscape.
I never knew that Phoenix has so much to offer. I loved your coloured picture in the Desert botanical garden. Horse riding at Fort Mc Dowell will be fun & the Native American treatment at Aji Spa looks super relaxing. The Heard Museum seems to have an immense collection of artefacts. Watching sunset from mountain top is what I would love doing.
We loved visiting Phoenix, but we missed out on some great things to do. We didn’t visit the Heard museum because, well we hadn’t heard of it. We did some hiking but in different places. I guess we will have to go back again because what you talked about sounds fun. Since we loved the place it will be our pleasure to go there again.