How to Spend a Day and Explore the Best of Arizona


The state of Arizona in the United States of America is famous for its natural beauty and national parks, in particular, the Grand Canyon National Park. It has an economy built on the 5 Cs (Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus, and Climate), and it features a rich history, Native American Heritage, and a vibrant city – Phoenix.

To experience what Arizona has to offer, Phoenix is a very good pitstop. Phoenix is the capital of Arizona, and it’s the most populous state capital in the United States. Phoenix is nicknamed as “Valley of the Sun” due to its hot desert climate – the city enjoys a long, hot summer and short, cool winter – 85% of the year is sunny, and rainfalls are occasional, especially in December.

I invited my fellow travel bloggers to recommend places and attractions that are worth exploring from Phoenix, and it has more than Grand Canyon.

View Saguaro Cactus in Saguaro National Park

Agnes from the Van Escape

The saguaro cactus is a symbol of Arizona.

A trip to Saguaro National Park should be on every Phoenix visitor’s bucket list. The saguaro cactus is a symbol of Arizona. You can even see it on license plates. Plus, the park’s small size and the fact that it’s only 113 miles north of Phenix make it an ideal destination for a day trip. You can reach it on your own or with an organized tour from Phoenix.

There are 25 different species of cacti on the 92,000-acre site. However, the most impressive is the saguaro cacti. They are found only in the Sonoran Desert area. The number of saguaros in Saguaro National Park is estimated at 1.9 million.

The park consists of two parts, separated by charming Tucson. It is possible to visit both parts in one day. The Tucson Mountain District (TMD) is about 10 miles west of Tucson, and the Rincon Mountain District (RMD) is about 10 miles east of the city.

One of the best things to do when visiting is to seek out the tallest cacti in the area and photograph them to see the scale. Typically, they can grow up to 40 feet tall.

It is also exciting to take a drive through the loop trail. There are interesting viewpoints and short hiking trails along the way. There are many trails in the park, but if you only have a day, I recommend short and scenic trails: Cactus Wren Trail and Valley View Overlook Trail in the West District or Cactus Forest Trail in the East District.

It’s worth waiting for the sunset during your trip. The sunsets in Saguaro are spectacular, and you can take great photos. The sight will always remain in your memory, and you will decide to return to this park for a longer time.

The best time to visit the park is in the spring when the cacti are in bloom and in the fall when the temperatures are a bit more pleasant. The park is also beautiful in the summer, but be prepared for the heat and remember to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen.

See over 50,000 plants in Desert Botanical Garden

Nikki from Inspired Routes

Desert Botanical Garden is home to over 50,000 plants.

If you’re looking for the best Phoenix activities, then visit the Desert Botanical Gardens. It’s one of the main attractions for the city of Phoenix, and one you won’t want to miss!

Home to over 50,000 plants, this garden is the perfect spot for a leisure afternoon, soaking in all the amazing natural plant life that grows in the Phoenix area. Because of this, it is one of the must-see attractions in Scottsdale AZ, attracting many tourists. The Desert Botanical Gardens is located on the eastern side of the city, near Tempe and Scottsdale. It’s within the larger Papago Park, which entails the Papago Golf Club and the Phoenix Zoo, all within close proximity.

Wear good walking shoes as there are over 2 miles of trails within the park! Be sure to purchase tickets in advance and plan to visit the on-site restaurant, Gertrude’s. Avoid the afternoon in the summertime as the heat can be unbearable. Go when they first open or for an evening stroll. And definitely be sure to see the Chihuly glass sculptures which are nestled within the gardens. They’re phenomenal!

If you’re going to be in Phoenix, definitely take advantage of the local flora and fauna by visiting the Desert Botanical Gardens. There’s more than just Saguaro Cacti in there!

Unwind in the Japanese Friendship Garden

Trijit from the Budget Travel Buff

Japanese Friendship Garden is situated in the phoenix region in Arizona. The whole area spreads around 3.5 acres of land including a beautiful tea garden and a tea house. In 1976 Himeji and Phoenix created a garden that reflects the strong bond between both cities. Phoenix and Himeji were friends and business partners. As a friendship memory, they have decided to develop this Friendship Garden in Arizona.

Here in this Japanese Friendship Garden and its nearby places, you can do a lot of things such as the RoRo Street Art Tour, Phoenix Ghost Tour, Morning Hot Air Balloon Flight, Antelope Canyon Day Trip, Grand Canyon Day Trip in a small group, Camelback Mountain Hiking Trip, Apache Trail Day Tour in group and many other interesting things too.

Inside the Japanese Friendship Garden, you will find a tea garden and a river that has an ongoing stream. Walk by the side of this flowing stream to get refreshment from your busy life. Another interesting fact about this Japanese Friendship Garden is that it has a 12 feet long waterfall which enhances the beauty of this Friendship Garden. This Garden organizes tea events regularly where you can get a sip of refreshment too.

Phoenix is one of the cheapest places to vacation in the US. If your budget is tight then the Japanese Friendship Garden is highly recommended. There is a nominal entry fee(General: $12, Student: $10, Senior (65+): $10, Military: $10), but try to purchase tickets in advance online to avoid the queue. This is one of the most peaceful and well-decorated places in Arizona where you can feel nature and a good ambiance too.

You have to come to the nearest railway station which is Roosevelt Stop. From there The Japanese Friendship Garden is 0.3 miles away. This garden remains open from October to May and the opening time is 10 am and gets closed by 4 pm.

Appreciate modern art at Phoenix Art Museum

Rachel from Bucket List Places

The Phoenix Art Museum is the largest art museum in the southwest US, with 285,000 square feet filled with permanent and traveling exhibits. The collections span continents, with art and artifacts from the Americas, Europe, and Asia, and a huge variety of mediums, such as paintings, sculptures, fashion design, and photography. The museum itself is located on North Central Avenue, just north of downtown, so it’s easy to access for visitors coming by plane or bus to Phoenix. If you’re a resident or plan on driving, the museum also offers free parking on the east side of Central.

Once inside, the first bucket list piece is a permanent installation by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama titled You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies ( or the Fireflies Infinity Room for short). Kusama is world-renowned for creating mind-boggling rooms lined with mirrors and filled with beautiful, multi-colored lights, and the Fireflies room epitomizes this technique.

For more traditional pieces, peruse the Phoenix Art Museum’s collection of European art, which spans the 14th to 19th centuries and covers Early Renaissance to Impressionism with art by Marco Palmezzano and Claude Monet. The Asian gallery contains highlights from across the continent, with pieces from India, Iran, China, and Japan, as well as religious Hindu and Buddhist art.

General admission tickets are $23 for adults, $20 for seniors, $18 for students, and $5 for kids between 6 and 17 years old. Children under 5, military personnel, and museum members have free admission. Be sure to book tickets online in advance to save $2!

Explore Native American art at Heard Museum

The Heard Museum is one of the best in the region that exhibits Native Americans’ art and culture and illustrates the impact of their integration with the new colonists.

Founded in 1929, the Heard Museum is a private, non-profit organization, housing Dwight B. and Maie Barlett Heards’s (the two museum founders), personal collection of art. The original building was a charming mansion designed by American architect Bennie Gonzales; As it continued to grow in size and scale and it gained international recognition, the size of the building has expanded quite a lot as well.

The city celebrates a rich Native American culture. There were Native Americans performing a traditional dance – visitors will be pleasantly surprised that the museum has so much more to explore – the exhibit showcased the conflict between the Native American and the ‘immigrants’ in the past.

The museum hosts a number of temporary exhibitions, one of the most noteworthy exhibitions was the feature of Georgia O’Keeffe – an important artist of American modern art. To appreciate more about the artist’s previous works, just move to the Phoenix Art Museum which is about half a mile away.

Hop on a Steamboat at the Canyon Lake

JJ from The Minivan Bucket List

Few places in the United States evoke a feeling of the classic Old West quite like Arizona. You can certainly get your cowboy fix by visiting one of the many saguaro reserves or ghost towns, but one unique adventure is unlike anything else around. Harness your inner Mark Twin and hop on The Dolly Steamboat for an old-fashioned cruise up the Salt River, where it’s easy to imagine yourself transported back to the 1800s. All it takes is a one-hour drive from Phoenix to Canyon Lake near Tortilla Flat, so it makes for a great day trip, especially if you’re trying to beat the heat. Canyon Lake is a reservoir created by damming the Salt River in 1925. The landscape features stunning cliffs and plentiful saguaro cacti. The tour takes you across the lake and then up the scenic Salt River for six miles. The daytime cruise lasts 90 minutes and costs $30 for adults and $15 for kids. In fact, it’s one of the best things to do in Phoenix with kids. They’re sure to love the treats and endless popcorn served on board while you cruise around, enjoying the scenery and looking for bighorn sheep and bald eagles. Be sure to bring some binoculars so you can get a better view of the nests perched high up on the clifftops. Or you can opt for an out-of-the-ordinary date night with your significant other and do the sunset dinner cruise instead for $80 per person. Arizona may be the Grand Canyon State but don’t overlook the remarkable hidden gem that is Canyon Lake!

Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home Taliesin West

Catherine Xu from Nomadicated 

Taliesin West was the winter home and studio of world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who is considered the father of modern architecture. This beautiful geometrically-shaped structure is located on the outskirts of Scottsdale, Arizona, in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains.

Wright designed Taliesin West as a desert camp built into the hillside using materials native to the area. Taliesin West is one of the most significant examples of Wright’s organic architecture, which seeks to integrate buildings with their natural surroundings.

One of the best things to do in Southern Arizona, Taliesin West is a must-see for anyone interested in architecture or the desert landscape. The building itself is one of a kind, with sweeping views of Phoenix below.

Visitors can take guided tours of Taliesin West, which offer a great opportunity to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright’s life and work.

Tickets can be purchased online or at the Visitor Center and typically last 1 – 1.5 hours. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation often changes its offerings, with tours occurring almost every day of the year. However, bring extra water and shade in the summer as the heat in the Arizona desert can be brutal.

Frank Lloyd Wright architected two Taliesin’s: Taliesin in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona. If purchasing online, make sure you are buying the correct tour ticket.

Learn about cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle and Well

Alanna from Periodic Adventures

Located just an hour from Phoenix, you’ll find a piece of history tucked away in the desert. Montezuma Castle and Well is a national monument split between two sites (the castle and the well), that’s worth a day trip!

Built 800 years ago, Montezuma Castle is a cliff dwelling of the Sinagua people that stands an impressive 90 feet up the side of a cliff side. Take the 1/3 mile loop past the main dwelling, and along a creek with lots of unique desert, vegetation to admire.

At the second site, Montezuma Well is a natural spring that still provides water to the surrounding town. It receives 1.5 million gallons of water daily and still travels along irrigation ditches developed by the Sinagua people.

Be sure to read the signs at both sites to learn about the architecture, innovation, and local plants and animals you may spot.

Because it is a national monument, you need to pay $10 for admission to Montezuma Castle; however Montezuma Well is free. You can also use your America the Beautiful national park pass here.

A final tip is to be very cautious of the heat. The Montezuma Castle loop is mostly unprotected from the sun and half of the Montezuma Well trails are in direct sunlight as well. You can cool off by the irrigation ditches as those are fully shaded and much cooler.

Traveling to a little mining town, Jerome

Ryan from Passions and Places

During Phoenix’s blazing hot summers, everyone’s looking for an escape from the heat. Fortunately, the little mining town of Jerome is only two hours north of the city and about 4,000 feet higher, which keeps it a comfortable 15 degrees cooler on average.

A boomtown built in the late 19th century to capitalize on rich deposits of gold and copper, Jerome was once one of the wildest towns in America. In its heyday, the hotels and saloons overflowed with unsavory, violent characters, some of their spirits reportedly haunting the town to this day. When the mines became unprofitable in the middle of the 20th century, Jerome and the surrounding Verde Valley turned to tourism to bolster the economy.

While breaking free of Phoenix’s oppressive heat might be your chief reason for traveling to Jerome, taking in its unusual sights should be a close second. Just a few miles outside of town, at the Gold King Mine, is one of the greatest oddball collections of Americana ever assembled. Everything from old ice cream trucks to farm tools to retro signs are scattered around a few acres of what used to be Jerome’s first mine.

Back in town, you can book a ghost tour exploring the high school or the cemetery – and you’ll learn some local history even if you don’t believe in ghosts. There’s also the Jerome Bible Art Museum, where all of the exhibits are done in what can only be described as the style of 1990s claymation videos. Then cap off the afternoon with a glass of wine from Caduceus Cellars, owned by Tool and Puscifer frontman Maynard James Keenan.

Take a historic train ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad

Theresa from The Local Tourist

If you like history, luxury, and beautiful scenery, the Verde Canyon Railroad is a perfect day trip from Phoenix. This heritage train takes you on a tour along the Verde River. The tracks were originally laid in 1912 to bring copper from the mines in Jerome to Drake. Today, excursionists can ride in luxuriously refurbished cars or step outside to one of the open-air viewing cars. Although the ride to Perkinsville is only twenty miles, the round-trip takes four hours. It’s one of the most relaxing four hours you’ll spend.

Riders are greeted with a glass of champagne and individually packaged appetizers by their hosts, who also narrate throughout the journey. You’ll learn about the history of the train and of Arizona, and about the unique landscape around you. Be on the lookout for unique rock formations, including one that looks like the head of a T-Rex.

A full bar is available on the train in each car. You can also arrive early and get a bite to eat at the Copper Spike Cafe and shop for souvenirs at Boxcar Gift Store. The John Bell Museum, located inside the depot, is a free museum highlighting Jerome, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, local ranching families, the Yavapai-Apache Tribe, the copper industry, and the rail lines that developed the valley.

The schedule varies, with fewer tours during the hot Arizona summers. Check for exact times. That’s also where you can purchase tickets, which range from $99 to $109 depending on the season. The depot is located about two hours north of Phoenix in Clarkdale.

Walk on the red rocks in Sedona

Jessica from Uprootedtraveler

Located less than two hours north of Phoenix, Sedona is a treasure trove of outdoor adventure. This small town, known for its striking red rock canyons, mesas, and other formations and towering Ponderosa pine tree forests, is brimming with world-class hiking and mountain biking, and camping opportunities.

To reach Sedona, you’ll simply drive along the Arizona Veterans Highway, driving your way past a landscape that shifts from towering cacti to a more densely forested high desert scenery.

Once you’ve arrived, you can try your hand at any of the iconic hikes in Sedona, like Devil’s Bridge, where you’ll scramble your way to a sandstone arch overlooking the forest below, or Cathedral Rock, where you’ll climb up to a mesa that provides a birds-eye view of the surrounding red rock formations. Sedona and its trails are quite popular, though- so your best bet is getting to the trails early if you want a chance of snagging parking!

Beyond just its incredible outdoor scene, Sedona’s red rocks are believed by some to be the home of “energy vortexes” and have, thus, attracted quite a number of crystal shops, aura readers, and other New Agey activities. Even if crystal healing isn’t up your alley, it’s still interesting to explore the many quirky shops and cafes that have set up shop here.

While Sedona doesn’t get quite as blisteringly hot as its lower elevation neighbors in Arizona, it’s best to avoid visiting in the summertime, when the weather can be too hot to comfortably explore outside. It would be a shame to drive here and not be able to get up close and personal with the gorgeous red rocks that have made this small town so beloved!

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    1. Wow that’s a lot for the recommendation – what about the museum and what do you think about the site?

    1. Agree! While cactus is not only limited to Arizona yet the red rock is a great backdrop viewing them.

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