Japanese garden

Look beyond the desert on a stroll through Phoenix’s Japanese Friendship Garden. (Photo: Wendy Rose Gould)


The Phoenix Bucket List: 11 Things You Must See and Do

Here’s a little secret Phoenix insiders know: Despite its reputation for scorching heat, this is one very cool city. Just a few of the things you can do: grab a locally roasted coffee, hike or kayak in the morning, satisfy your inner foodie at lunchtime, get your culture on in the afternoon and wrap up the day with a show or an award-winning cocktail.

Not sure where to start? Here are 11 things locals say should be on your Phoenix bucket list. As always, check for travel restrictions or closures before planning your trip.

1. Have tea at the Japanese Friendship Garden.

This tiny sanctuary in the heart of the city houses waterfalls, stone paths, and a koi pond with hundreds of fish. Take a stroll through the 3.5-acre garden and feel tranquility set in as you cross stone foot bridges, watch the streaming 12-foot waterfall, and admire the dozens of varieties of plants.

The garden is designed to reflect Japanese traditions and culture, and even features a tea house and tea garden, which you can visit by making a reservation via the garden’s website.

2. Eat an authentic street taco from Los Taquitos.

Tacos at Los Taquitos. (Photo: Wendy Rose Gould)

Mexican restaurants abound in Phoenix, but few are as memorable as Los Taquitos. This local, family-owned favorite was an obscure, strip-mall dive until locals elevated it to icon status.

Now, you can grab a handful of mouthwatering street tacos (try the asada and pastor) at three locations citywide.

3. Float down the Salt River.

If it does happen to be hot in Phoenix, cool off with a trip down the Lower Salt River rapids. Seasonally operated, full-service outfitters make it easy to chill on water, offering tube or kayak rentals and shuttles to the float’s starting point.

You’ll wind your way through Tonto National Forest on two-, three- or five-hour trips, weather permitting. Just wear your swimsuit and sunscreen and keep an eye out for wild horses along the banks.

4. See a saguaro up close at South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the U.S.

The iconic saguaro cactus. (Photo: Wendy Rose Gould)

South Mountain Park is a vast, 16,000-acre preserve and home to three mountain ranges: the Ma Ha Tauk, Gila and Guadalupe. You’ll find more than 50 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

Don’t leave the park without visiting Dobbins Lookout. At 2,330 feet, it’s the highest point in the park accessible to the public, and offers sweeping views of Phoenix and the valley beyond.

5. Hike Camelback Mountain at sunrise.

Feel like a challenge? Experienced hikers can hit the trails at Camelback Mountain, which are rated “extremely difficult.” Pack plenty of water and a taste for adventure; the summit lies at 2,704 feet above sea level.

Your reward for the steep hike is arguably the best view of the city.

6. Watch a spring training baseball game.

Cactus League fans can catch their favorite teams at several venues in metro Phoenix and the surrounding ‘burbs from mid-February until April 1, including the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Cubs.

Check the Cactus league website for information on the upcoming pre-season trainings.

7. Stroll and see the famous murals in Roosevelt Row (RoRo) arts district.

Street art in the RoRo arts district. (Photo: Wendy Rose Gould)

Urban renewal is at its best in RoRo, a walkable, creative arts district in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Take a self-guided tour of the area and stumble upon colorful street art murals, eclectic galleries, boutique shopping, restaurants and more.

Pick up souvenirs at MADE Art Boutique, where you can choose from an ever-changing collection of locally made items, including jewelry, ceramics, prints, cards, soaps and more. After exploring the galleries and shops, refuel at local’s favorite, Welcome Diner, where you can tuck into comfort food classics like chicken and biscuits or gooey mac and cheese.

8. See a show at the historic Orpheum Theatre.

The Orpheum Theater is a classic venue. (Photo: Wendy Rose Gould)

Once a venue for vaudeville acts, the restored Orpheum has hosted a wide array of entertainers, from Jimmy Fallon to Primus. Built in 1929, the theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

9. Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s genius is on display at Taliesin West. (Photo: Wendy Rose Gould)

A mecca for mid-century modern fans, Taliesin West gives you a peek into the mind and work of the master architect, Frank LLoyd Wright. Established in the 1930s, the space served as Wright’s winter home, the space was entirely built and maintained by Wright and his apprentices, and is noted as one of his more personal creations.

Take a self-guided audio tour, and understand firsthand why Wright once declared, “Taliesin West is a look over the rim of the world.”

10. Visit the “Bat Cave” on the Arizona Canal at dusk and watch 20,000 bats take flight.

The Bat Cave. (Photo: Wendy Rose Gould)

Much to the surprise of many visitors, Arizona — and Phoenix, in particular — is a true haven for bat lovers, or simply those curious to see the spectacle of thousands of the creatures take flight at dusk.  Each summer (generally from June through August) several thousand Mexican free-tailed bats and canyon bats set up camp, using the Maricopa County Flood Control Tunnel as a roost.

Head to the tunnel before dusk to see them emerge. You’ll follow a path to a viewing area at the top of the tunnel to witness the unforgettable spectacle.

11. Sample a beer flight at Four Peaks Brewery and/or grab an espresso at Cartel Coffee Lab.

Try a flight of local beer. (Photo: Wendy Rose Gould)

These venues demonstrate that Arizonans take their vices very seriously. One taste of the brews from Four Peaks and Cartel’s, and you’ll be hooked.

Though Four Peaks brews everything from IPA’s to Scottish ales — as well as seasonal and special edition beers, a perennial favorite among locals is the Hop Knot IPA. And for java lovers, Cartel’s pour-over coffee menu is a consistent, caffeinated win.

This article was published through a partnership with Visit the USA, inspiring travelers to explore America’s boundless possibilities.

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