Phoenix’s cool modern identity celebrates the desert and the desert dwellers who made it possible.
Without the Salt and Gila Rivers, the Hohokam couldn’t have built the canal systems necessary to settle the valley more than a thousand years ago. Modern humans and animals are as dependent on the waterways as ever. For some of the best wildlife viewing—from blue herons and bald eagles to javelina and herds of mustangs—paddle the Lower Salt River.
For many Phoenix residents, the best part of the city is the surrounding Sonoran Desert, from saguaros with their trademark arms to water-pocked and wind-worn sandstone buttes. To explore this natural wonder head to Papago Park, just minutes from downtown, or South Mountain, one of the largest municipal parks in the United States.
Just 225 miles from Phoenix, the Colorado River carves through the surrounding plateau. For six million years, the water has sliced geologic time, exposing bands of sandstone, limestone, and shale. The resulting Grand Canyon—one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders—winds for 227 river miles, at times diving a mile deep, at others gaping as wide as 18 miles.
The Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park, open to the public since 1929, provides a window into the life of the Hohokam people who inhabited the Valley of the Sun until 1375. A trail highlights ruins of a prehistoric ball court and platform mound, re-created dwellings, an interpretive garden, and multimedia and interactive exhibits.
On the first and third Fridays of the month, local organization Artlink coordinates art walks and trolley tours of the city’s creative districts. Outside of those days, the historic Roosevelt Row neighborhood is a walkable art hub with murals, galleries, and museums to ogle by day and jazz clubs and themed bars to tuck into after dark.
Off the Beaten Path
For a fresh perspective on the Valley of the Sun, check out the metro area’s many architectural gems, including Frank Lloyd Wright creations and Paolo Soleri’s urban laboratory for consciously designed communities. Get a closer look at the downtown architecture on Phoenix Rising Tours’s seasonal walking, biking, and trolley tours of historic and modern buildings.
Most Iconic Place
Sprawling across 140 acres, the Desert Botanical Garden showcases the stark beauty of Sonoran flora. Trails loop through more than 50,000 plant displays, including wildflower plots and edible gardens. A Phoenix institution since 1939, the DBG supports research and conservation and hosts rotating exhibitions as well as classes and workshops. Daily tours are led by seriously passionate and knowledgeable guides.
Phoenix is in the midst of an indie music explosion, and intimate pop, rock, jazz, and country bands are performing in reimagined spaces. Set in a former garage, Crescent Ballroom is a lounge and restaurant with free live music. The city’s newest venue, The Van Buren, was once a historic car dealership.
The Heard Museum introduces visitors to the Native American and Hispanic cultures that have influenced and continue to shape Central Arizona and the Southwestern United States. Founded in 1929, the world-renowned museum reminds us that cultures are alive and history is still being made. Displays include work from contemporary artists, and educational programs and festivals run throughout the year.
The Phoenix metro area’s booze scene is booming. From Garage-East's made-to-order, citrus-infused breakfast wine to Helio Basin’s Monarch Belgian Blonde—brewed with honey from Arizona mesquite flowers—the locally made tipple reflects the region’s landscape, surprising agricultural diversity, and frequently quirky character. Don't want to drink and drive? Several local companies offer tours of area makers.