A couple of years ago, after a great conversation at a networking event, I agreed to email a newcomer to Phoenix with a list of suggestions for local things to do, see, and eat.
While I wasn’t born in Arizona, I’ve proudly called Phoenix home since I moved here from Toronto in 1995.
Over the years, I’ve become somewhat of an evangelist for Phoenix and Arizona as a whole, taking it upon myself to help people new to town make Phoenix feel like home.
The email I ended up compiling, as you’ll see below, included quite a bit more than just a few things to do when you come to Phoenix. It also ended up being a great resource that I’ve shared many times since - making updates along the way.
I gladly agreed!
The following is my very own Things to do in Phoenix email.
I hope that this list provides you some inspiration and helps you fall in love with the great city and state I call home! Feel free to pass it along and add to it.
Great meeting you today!
Per our conversation, the following is a list of recommended things to do in and around Phoenix that I put together. I hope it helps make Phoenix feel (even more) like home!
First of all, check out the All Trails app – it’s a great place to find and track hikes, and my brothers and I all use it.
Another AZ classic in that area is Slide Rock, but it’s definitely a summer activity.
One of my favorite places in Flagstaff is Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered!) – they do tours and star gazing there.
Farther north is the Grand Canyon, which really is pretty incredible, even if you don’t hike it. It’s about 4hrs north, so not quite a day trip, but if you wanted to take a trip over several days or a weekend, you could see the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend over a long weekend. (I’m sure you’ve seen pics from Antelope Canyon – it’s one of the most beautiful places ever.)
In addition to Sedona and Flagstaff, there are some other cool day-trip cities in AZ – Jerome (basically a ghost town), Tombstone (kind of touristy, but still fun), Bisbee (a very charming and interesting town – highly recommend), and Prescott (hikes nearby and a nice little town square). There are more hikes and forest in the Show Low/Pinetop area, which are great towns to rent a cabin for a weekend
Next time you go to Vegas (which is only about a 4hr drive away), you should stop and check out the Hoover Dam – it’s very impressive!
Closer to/in Phoenix:
Rawhide – also kind of touristy, but still fun to visit once, especially if you have people visiting you here
The Desert Botanical Gardens – a MUST see, especially when the weather is nice
By the Botanical Gardens is a quick little hike (more of a walk) called Hole in the Rock – nice views and also a good place to take tourists
The Musical Instrument Museum (The MIM) is really really cool
If you like history, Montezuma Castle National Monument, about an hour away, is also an interesting thing to see when the weather is good. Make sure to stop for pie at Rock Springs Cafe in Black Canyon City on your way home – it’s a bit overpriced now that everyone knows about it, but it’s actually good pie, especially their Jack Daniels Pecan Pie… mmmm
If you even kind of like architecture and design, you should check out Taliesin West – Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, which is now basically a museum
Organ Stop Pizza is a really fun place (although the food isn’t very good) – more than just a restaurant, it is home to one of the world’s biggest pipe organs, and there are really talented musicians playing (and usually taking requests) while you eat your food.
Cave Creek is a town slightly north of Phoenix that has a wild-west vibe. It’s fun to walk along their main drag and look at all the trinkets and art stuff, but my favorite thing there is Buffalo Chip Saloon, which has live bull riding a couple nights a week ( Wednesday and Fridays). It’s a great place to go if you are ever looking for an excuse to wear cowboy boots and/or a cowboy hat (and/or get drunk and watch people ride actual bulls).
If you like Asian food/dim sum, I recommend Mekong Palace near Main and Dobson. It’s an indoor shopping mall with all sorts of Asian stuff, a big Asian market, and a number of Asian restaurants (it’s probably as close to a “China Town” as we have). The other place for dim sum is Great Wall, but that’s a stand-alone place. If you haven’t been for dim sum before, make sure you go early and go with someone who knows what they’re doing.
The Japanese Friendship Garden in Downtown Phoenix is one of our better kept secrets – go when the weather is nice, and make sure to spend the $3 and buy food to feed the koi fish
A really fun place to go if you have kids is the Phoenix Children’s Museum. Everything is hands-on and there is a ton to explore!
An area where a lot of tourists spend time is Old Town Scottsdale (OTS)
During the days, OTS is a nice place to walk around, with lots of patio dining and art galleries to explore
In the evening, OTS transitions into what is probably Phx’s most active club/bar scene
A lot of the food in OTS is a bit overpriced, as is the case in most touristy places, but a local gem we really like is called Malee’s Thai Bistro. It’s a local spot that’s been around for many years and has awesome, “upscale” thai food
OTS is also home to Fashion Square, Phoenix’s most upscale, indoor shopping mall
During nice weather, there are often outdoor festivals and art walks and a really good farmers market on the weekend
If you’re farther north in Scottsdale, a great place to shop, eat, and walk around is the Kierland Commons/Scottsdale Quarter “area”. While technically two different outdoor shopping centers, they are on opposite sides of the street and connected by a nice crosswalk. Both have lots of shopping and food and are very “pedestrian friendly”
There is a TON of good food in Phoenix, but here are a few of my wife’s and my favorite places:
Sicilian Butcher – homemade pasta and other great Italian food! We go here a lot b/c it’s close by and it’s delicious. The also have a dessert place attached called the Sicilian Baker that has a build-your-own cannoli bar, in addition to other desserts
Pita Jungle (multiple locations) – there is one by our house, and it’s just a reasonably priced, tasty, and consistent place we really like to go
Oreganos (it’s a chain, but it’s a Phoenix-based chain, and the food is good and reasonably priced). Oreganos is another staple for my family.
A place that’s similar that we went to a lot when we were in Tempe is called RigaTony’s
Ocotillo – lots of “Phoenix” vibes and great food. This is a place I usually bring out of towners. Also, if you’re into brunch but are looking for a more unique menu, Ocotillo is the spot.
Four Peaks (go to the Tempe location) - bought by Anheuser-Busch in 2018, Four Peaks is probably AZ's most well known local brewery, and their Tempe location is where they started. Kilt Lifter is my favorite beer of theirs, and they have good food too
Kodo Sushi/Harumi Sushi/Pick & Roll – Harumi is downtown and no-frills, just really great sushi. The chef’s second restaurant is Kodo, which is up north and has a much nicer vibe, and he recently opened a fast-casual sushi/poke place called Pick & Roll, which has the same super quality of sushi but at a really affordable price
If you like Korean BBQ, the place I like is Manna BBQ and they have a few Phoenix locations now. (I actually liked going there when I was in San Diego, so I was very happy when they opened in Phx!)
Original Breakfast House for the best down-home breakfast you’ll have (they are cash only, but it’s worth the stop at the bank)
If you want to ball incredibly hard, Binkley’s is an insane culinary experience
Buck and Rider if you’re craving oysters or any seafood
Chula’s Seafood for what is probably the best fish you can get in Phoenix - their South Scottsdale location is smaller with a more limited menu, but they opened a second location in Uptown Phoenix that has a full menu. Both also sell incredibly fresh fish
Crepe Bar is a super good place in Tempe
Another Tempe place I loved going while in school (and pick up whenever I’m close by) is Hummus Express – think Chipotle, but with really good Mediterranean food
Little Miss BBQ is probably as good of BBQ as you’ll get in Phoenix, but I also really like Naked BBQ and The Thumb BBQ, which is attached to what is basically a nice gas station near Tom’s Thumb trail (Guy Fieri went there)
La Santisima – soooo good! This is a Mexican place, but what sets them apart is their bar of unique, homemade salsas. I highly recommend!
Another Mexican place I like a lot is Los Reyes De La Torta
Luci’s at the Orchard for a good breakfast, esp if you want to sit outside
Another nice place for outdoor eating is The Farm at South Mountain
Clever Koi is trendy Asian food, but cool vibes and in a cool area of Phoenix. There are lots of cool bars near there
Speaking of cool bars, the Yard (there are a couple locations) is a good place to hang out w/ friends
Another Phoenix classic is called Chino Bandido – it’s very no-frills place that makes a combo of Mexican and Chinese food (Guy Fieri went there)
Another place that Guy Fieri went is that is great is called Joe’s Farm Grill – it’s in Gilbert, so I wouldn’t go just for that, but if you’re ever in that area, it’s definitely worth the visit.
A fun activity in the Gilbert/Queen Creek area, esp when the weather nice, is the Queen Creek Olive Mill - in addition to a little market/deli/restaurant, they actually produce olive oil there and have a worthwhile tour
If you are ever up north in the Desert Ridge area (which is where I live – hit me up!), there are a couple cool bars called The Whining Pig and Pigtails. Also near me is a place called Sandbar, which is fun and divorcee central, if you’re into that kind of thing.
I like spending time downtown where there are a lot of cool places:
For jazz music, the Nash (also Downtown) is probably the closest we have to a jazz club
Tucson is lousier than Phoenix, but it has some great food and a couple really cool places to see near there – Biosphere 2 (where Biodome with Pauly Shore was filmed), and one of my favorite places, the Pima Air and Space Museum (they have one of only 11 SR-71 Blackbirds ever made!)
About an hour south of Tucson, which is about 2 hours south of Phoenix, is Kartchner Caverns. I haven’t been since I was a kid, but I remember them being really interesting
If you go to Tucson in the summer, you can find killer deals at really nice resorts - my wife and I have stayed at the JW Marriott and Loews Ventana. Let me know if you end up going to Tucson, and I’ll make some more specific food recommendations