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Phoenix, Arizona, often called The Valley of the Sun, is the fifth-largest city in the United States. Known for mild winters and sizzling summers, in this Sonoran Desert city, you’ll find plenty to do – whether it’s exploring the desert with its stately Saguaro cacti or cooling off in a world-class museum. On an early morning, you can find yourself high over the desert in a hot-air balloon or taking a hike on an urban mountain peak. The ideal time to come to Phoenix is between late October and late May, when you’ll find outdoor recreation at its peak, Spring Training baseball in full swing and margaritas flowing poolside at elegant resorts. Plan your desert city adventure from our list of top things to do and see in Phoenix.
Float over the desert landscape in the basket of a colorful hot-air balloon. You can go aloft at sunrise or sunset (in winter months) to drift over rocky crags and cacti galore. When your experience of a lifetime has ended, enjoy a post-flight celebration with Rainbow Ryders’ signature Prickly Pear Mimosas, local Arizona treats and a commemorative flight certificate. Fun for families (children must be over 5 years of age) and romantic couples as well. Riders must be able to stand throughout the flight.
The place where Arizona artisans hand craft and sell Cosanti bells to support Arcosanti, an otherworldly experimental town not far from Phoenix, is open to the public. Originally the gallery and studio of Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri, this beautiful and funky indoor-outdoor space with flowing concrete walls and rooms is where the bronze and ceramic bells, jewelry and other ornaments are created. It’s a peaceful, tree-shaded place, attractive to visit – even in the hot summer.
In the Phoenix West Valley, you can hike rugged or easy interpretive trails, see the desert in bloom and get up close and personal with a giant Saguaro cactus. After it’s rained, you might even find the waterfall flowing at the end of the popular Waterfall Trail. When you return to the trailhead, be sure to look out over the Valley of the Sun. You can see clear to downtown Phoenix. Learn about the early people who left their marks on rocks as petroglyphs, and check out the Visitor Center with its live rattlers, exhibits and a desert-item book and gift shop.
Phoenix is the Capitol of Arizona, the Copper State (and also known as the Grand Canyon State). Visit the Arizona Capitol Museum to learn about the history of Arizona through hands-on activities as well as exhibits with historical photos and artifacts. The Arizona State Capitol Museum was the state capitol building when Arizona became the 48th state in 1912. You’ll feel like you are going back in time as you walk the four floors of the old building with all its offices and legislative chambers. When in the rotunda, look down to see the huge state seal. You’ll find interesting exhibits such as a collection of artifacts from the USS Arizona, which sank during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Stop by the shop before you leave for a true Arizona souvenir.
Located in the Paradise Valley area of Phoenix, the steep trails of Camelback Mountain can be accessed at two locations. The Cholla Trailhead is located at 6131 E. Cholla Lane, and the Echo Canyon Trailhead is accessed via 4925 E. McDonald Drive. Camelback Mountain, which is shaped like a camel, is considered one of the nation’s top hiking destinations but be forewarned: these are tough hikes. Think steep climbs, no shade and uneven, rocky surfaces. But the view of the valley from the top can be absolutely awesome on a clear day. Officials suggest you check the weather and temperature reports before taking off on your hike, bring water, and, during warmer months, hike only in the early morning or evening.
Fun for kids and adults alike, the highly interactive Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) is a huge draw. Not only are there exhibits, but the MIM also puts on small concerts, which include groups from around the world. Kids will love the Experience Gallery where they can play such unusual instruments as the Javanese gamelan and the West African djembe. There are a Mechanical Music Gallery and groupings of instruments by country, including melodious marimbas from Guatemala.