View of hot air balloons in Phoenix, Arizona

City Guide / Phoenix

6 Fun Things to Do in Phoenix

By Bri Hand | Aug 3, 2021

Phoenix is one of the Southwest’s most vibrant and picturesque cities—not to mention it has that unique desert-culture flair. For artists, nature lovers, and hot-weather enthusiasts, you can’t find a better urban home.

With its relaxed vibe, this Arizona city can seem quiet on the surface, but there’s a ton in town to keep you busy! Here’s the inside scoop of all the fun things to do in Phoenix:

1. Taste the multi-faceted Phoenix cuisine

Wondering what Phoenix is known for? Phoenix is a mecca of Southwest culture—in sight, sound, and taste. On the city’s plate, you’ll find the one-of-a-kind native cuisines of Sonora, Apache, and Navajo tribes mixed with the latest urban dining trends. Indulge a sample platter of Phoenix’s top eats:

Native cuisine and old staples

Without indigenous or native tribes, Phoenix simply wouldn’t have its distinct (and delicious) food scene. Try out these bites for a taste of Arizona’s top-rated, traditional cultural influences:

  • Fry Bread House: In the artsy and energetic Melrose District, seek out the Fry Bread House. Crispy, salty, and deliciously greasy, this Southwest delicacy can’t be missed. (Pro tip: Top your fry bread with spiced ground beef or gooey cheese for an extra level of flavor.)
  • Taqueria El Fundador: Travel to the Phoenix’s quieter west side and you’ll stumble upon this hole-in-the-wall gem of Mexican cuisine. Pulling from the Sonoran region, Taqueria El Fundador offers fresh and authentic tacos, tortas, menudo, and burritos. 
  • Native Coffee: This isn’t your average cup of joe. Arizona indigenous cultures underlie every part of Native Coffee, from its locally sourced Quetzal coffee beans to its saguaro blossom tea.
  • Jalapeno Bucks: Maybe you’ve tasted Texas or Tennessee barbecue, but it’s got nothing on the smoky flavors of Jalapeno Bucks. Originally a roadside stand, this hit family-owned BBQ joint has operated in Phoenix for over 35 years. 

Fresh and new hits of Melrose

To match its blended roots, Phoenix has an equally eclectic up-and-coming dining scene, particularly in the hip Melrose neighborhood. From nuevo Mexican to bustling bistros, here are the top food spots in this artsy district if you’re looking for fun things to do:

  • Belly: A new Southeast Asian hot spot, Belly is the perfect dinner to beat the heat. Start with a refreshing island-themed cocktail (the Masala Sour is highly recommended), then chow down on richly spiced claypot meals.
  • Restaurant Progress: “New American” sounds like an old concept, but Restaurant Progress reinvigorates this cuisine with locally bought produce and fresh new takes. It’s known for its funky twists on classics, like its mouth-watering curried carrots with dukkah and its delicious maple-glazed chicken wings.
  • The Refuge Cafe: Coffee shop by day and wine bar by night, the Refuge Cafe is the perfect introduction to the Melrose community. The best part? They donate all their profits to supporting refugees and foster children.

2. Hike the desert

One reason people live in Phoenix? To get out of Phoenix. Just beyond the city borders, you’ll find extraordinary trails and viewpoints unlike anywhere else in the country. That’s why Phoenix is the perfect desert landscape for those looking for an idyllic blend of city and nature.

For beginner and expert adventurers alike, there’s always a variety of cactus-lined hiking trails trail to make for a thrilling day trip:

  • McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Due Northwest of the city, you’ll find a serene desert paradise with hiking trails for all levels. Try the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead for an easy route, or Tom’s Thumb Trailhead for an Instagram-worthy shot of the namesake rock formation.
  • Phoenix Mountains Preserve: Want to get your sweat on? This state park collection has all the steep climbs you need for a heart-pumping excursion. Take the Piestewa Summit Trail or Lookout Summit Mountain Trail for treks with a breathtaking view.
  • Usery Mountain Regional Park: This far-west park has caves, beautiful desert plants, and hike-worthy peaks. Whether you’re taking the easy Blevins Trail trek or the high-altitude Wind Cave Trail, Usery offers a path for everyone and is a must-do.

3. Explore desert fauna and flora

In the Sonoran desert, you might not expect a lot of greenery, but the Sonora climate is ripe for growing some truly unique desert plants. From cacti to cherry blossoms, check out these must-see cultivated collections for a relaxing (and sweet-smelling) afternoon:

  • Desert Botanical Gardens: Spanning over 140 acres and 50,000 different plants, these gardens are well worth the drive south. Make sure to check out the special agave collection, too! 
  • Japanese Friendship Garden: Step into this lush, green paradise to break away from the red-brown desert. Waterfalls, stone gardens, and traditional Japanese plants fill this peaceful oasis within the city.
  • Rio Salado Audubon Center: An ode to Arizona wildlife, this conservation center protects all types of native Southwest birds. Go for the monthly happy hour or even volunteer through its adult programs.
  • The Phoenix Zoo: This family-friendly attraction is great for an afternoon observing wildlife like lions, jaguars, and orangutans, or local animals like coyotes.

4. Paint the town with local arts and culture

There’s a reason the city has a turquoise-bejeweled reputation. Between its natural beauty and eclectic heritage, Phoenix is an underrated artistic paradise. 

Of course, Phoenix has plenty of traditional fine art centers, from the Heard Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum to the Mesa Arts Center, but there are more local gems to awake your inner artist:

  • Musical Instrument Museum: An unparalleled collection, this multicultural sonic experience has 6,000 instruments from over 200 world areas. Don’t miss the outdoor weekend concerts, either.
  • Taliesin West: Few know that Arizona is home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s late-life winter home, known as Taliesin West. Head northwest and take a tour of Wright’s colorful, spacey spin on classic southwest architecture.
  • Eisendrath House: Once an aristocratic vacation home, the Eisendrath House is now a public exhibit for all Phoenix residents to enjoy. Peek into the gorgeous 1930s adobe architecture, restored to its historic beauty.
  • Roosevelt Row District: In downtown Phoenix, you might stumble onto this magnificent district filled with public art. Past the street-long wall of murals, you’ll find plenty of chic restaurants and galleries that are a great place to wander through on a sunny afternoon.   

5. Get sporty in the heat

Year-round warm weather and beautiful surroundings? Phoenix is the perfect destination for outdoor sporting enthusiasts. Get your sweat on (Southwest-style) with fun things fit for all types of athletes. 

Golf

There’s a reason Arizona ranks high among golf enthusiasts—dry heat and internationally applauded courses. Even if you’ve barely held a club before, strolling the vast green of a golf course is a great way to bond with coworkers, clients, or newfound friends. Check out these top public golf courses in Phoenix:

Horseback riding

In the desert, do as the cowboys do, and saddle up. 

You don’t have to own a horse to get your gallop going. Local ranches like Saguaro Lake Ranch Stables and Koli Equestrian Center offer guided horseback riding tours across some of the most scenic nearby trails. It’s the authentic Southwest experience—you can’t beat a sunset view on horseback atop the Goldfield mountains. 

Water sports

Cool off in the desert heat with some of Phoenix’s best oases. From the Salt River to Lake Pleasant, dive into the many water sports excursions for rent around the city:

  • White water rafting: Drive an hour outside Phoenix, and you can glide right down the middle of the 2,000-feet-deep Salt River Canyon. The many crags and twists make this spot nature’s best water park ride.
  • Jet skiing: For a good time, rent a jet ski and cruise the waters of Lake Pleasant or Bartlett Lake. The city offers plenty of jet ski rental companies for the day or weekend.
  • Kayaking: Almost every major body of water near Phoenix has kayak rentals nearby. It’s the perfect activity for a relaxing and low-key afternoon with friends. 
  • Sailing: Want to have a full day on the water? Rent a sailboat to cruise up the Agua Fria River or chill atop Lake Pleasant. 

Hot air ballooning

A Southwest specialty, hot air balloon rides are a Phoenix must. Not only will you enjoy floating high with the cool breeze, but you’ll also get an unparalleled view of Arizona’s vast beauty. Check out these acclaimed hot air balloon ride services for a trip like no other:

For other fun things to do in the city, you can learn archery at Papago Park, ride go-karts at K1 Speed Phoenix, or watch a baseball game at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix. 

6. Take a night out on the town

Overall, this city has a chill, laid-back vibe, and Phoenix nightlife reflects that. While you won’t find many dance floors, Phoenix’s local hotspots will definitely bring some memorable nights. For post-grad and working adults, these are our favorite Phoenix venues to explore after dark:

  • Warehouse District music: At night, Phoenix’s local music scene comes alive right above Central City. Dance your shoes off at The Van Buren, relax to classical tunes at The Phoenix Symphony, or sway to up-and-coming acts at the hip Valley Bar
  • Outdoor date nights: Take advantage of warm weather and watch a film under the stars with Moonlight Movie Nights in Scottsdale. Or, skip the movie and go stargazing at the Clarendon Hotel’s SkyDeck

Fall in love with Phoenix with Landing

Between its stunning desert landscapes, bustling districts, and distinct Southwestern tinge, there’s plenty of fun things to do in Phoenix. If you’re looking to move to the area, Landing offers fully furnished apartments in Phoenix, with flexible lease terms that make it easy to stay as long as you please, or move with ease. Browse our available apartments in Phoenix, or contact us to learn more about what a Landing membership can do for you!

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About the author

Bri Hand

Bri Hand is Landing's Content Marketing Manager. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts, with her partner and dog, Arlo, but relishes any opportunity she can to travel so she can try new foods, see gorgeous sights, and daydream about living somewhere new after visiting there for less than 24 hours.