Arizona, with its majestic deserts and snowy wintertime mountains, draws more than 38 million overnight visitors each year, according to the state tourism office. Southern Arizona’s balmy winters offer welcome respite from snowier locales. However, the Grand Canyon State’s sizzling summers bring more than dry heat — they also bring good deals. Whatever season you choose to visit, we’ve compiled a list of not-to-miss tourist attractions in Arizona to help you plan your trip.
Rapidly growing Phoenix is young compared to more established cities, but has recently made great strides in developing downtown and broadening cultural attractions. Sports fans may take in a game at one of the downtown stadiums, followed by a visit to nearby CityScape, which features restaurants, bars, an upscale bowling alley/pool hall and comedy club.
Other attractions include the Desert Botanical Garden, a showcase for native plants, where you’ll also find a farm-to-table restaurant. Art lovers will want to tour the city’s museum circuit, including the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard Museum, which displays Native American art and culture. Other cultural delights include the renowned Musical Instrument Museum and the Arizona Science Center.
Just north of downtown, in the Biltmore and Arcadia neighborhoods, hip restaurants collide with Biltmore Fashion Park’s ritzy shopping. Those charmed by old-world elegance might enjoy a tour of the Biltmore Hotel, designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright protégé and frequented by Marilyn Monroe.
Those who enjoy festivals and unusual sights might consider the Arizona Balloon Classic, which takes place every January in Phoenix. It features great food, live music, and, of course, hot air balloons. Although much smaller than the The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in neighboring New Mexico, it’s still a fun event for all ages.
Scottsdale is home to Old Town Scottsdale, offering the best of cowboy culture and modern fare with trendy restaurants and nightclubs in addition to art galleries and southwest-inspired shopping. Old Town’s Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is small, but offers a continually rotating series of exhibits as well as frequent events, such as the Lit Lounge where writers and performers tell live stories accompanied by music.
Near Old Town, you’ll find Scottsdale Fashion Square, a sprawling shoppers’ paradise lined with designer shops and featuring an array of dining options. Near the mall, the Waterfront area beckons with trendy shops and restaurants, many of them with outdoor patios overlooking the namesake waterfront. Combined, these elements make Scottsdale a nice Arizona vacation destination for less outdoors-y travelers.
Sedona’s infamous red rocks have drawn artists and new age devotees for decades. The town’s proximity to the scenic Grand Canyon and forests of Flagstaff make this mecca both a destination and a convenient stop along the way. Besides hiking and exploring Sedona’s charming main drag, full of shops, art galleries and restaurants, visitors can explore nearby wineries and the East Verde River that flows through town. In fact, you might combine the two and take a kayaking tour to visit a nearby winery.
One of the top tourist attractions in Arizona are the hikes to be found near Sedona. Check out the Devil’s Bridge Trail (pictured above) for the photo opportunity of a lifetime – if you’re brave enough! Then gear up for a challenging hike to Cathedral Rock. Other great options are Soldier Pass, Doe Mountain Trail, and Fay Canyon.
Tucson, located about two hours south of Phoenix, offers a host of interesting activities and old time charm. For the ultimate Wild West experience, visit Old Tucson. This area, backdrop to more than 300 films and television shows, allows visitors to travel back in time to see gun shows, pan for gold and ride an antique car. If shopping is more your speed, visit Fourth Avenue, a historic drag lined with shops and restaurants. Each second Saturday welcomes live music and fun. For the ultimate in highbrow entertainment, take in a show at Tucson’s professional theater or symphony. If the cacti have you mesmerized, be sure to visit Saguaro National Park, which covers more than 90,000 acres and offers trails for hiking and driving through Arizona’s beautiful desert.
Bisbee, located south of Tucson, is an Old West mining town full of history. The Copper Queen Hotel, originally built for visiting dignitaries and investors, now hosts weary travelers of all stripes. The hotel features charming Victorian details and a courtyard with a fountain and wrought iron chairs. To learn more about the area’s origins, visit the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, which is the Southwest’s first museum to be included in the Smithsonian Institution’s Affiliate Program. If you’re a sucker for a scare, take the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour, which leads you through the town’s most haunted areas while regaling you with tales sure to keep you up that night. Boo!
Of course, no trip to Arizona is complete without a visit to the Grand Canyon, and perhaps Havasu Falls as well. We just figured that deserves its own separate post instead.
We hope these towns and tourist attractions in Arizona inspire you to make a trip out west to visit the amazing state. Do you have Arizona travel tips of your own? Special places in the state of Arizona you like to visit? If so, leave a comment below!