Ready to enjoy the hot sun of Arizona? The city of Phoenix is a sprawling metropolis nestled in the Valley of the Sun, essentially in the middle of a desert. However, despite this, we are talking about a thriving community here and a city with a long tradition of tourism. As a matter of fact, tourism is Phoenix’s oldest industry, so you can be absolutely sure the place has a lot to offer. Unique natural surroundings, loads of culture to explore and excellent food guarantee that your one day in Phoenix will be a day to remember. Here’s how to spend it best.
Plan your trip to Phoenix
1. What’s the best time to visit Phoenix?
2. A few facts about Phoenix
3. One Day in Phoenix Itinerary
3.1. Have some coffee and breakfast to start your day right
3.2. Explore the Desert Botanical Garden
3.3. Continue through Papago Park
3.4. Check out the Phoenix zoo
3.5. Hike up the Camelback Mountain
3.6. Have some very special lunch
3.7. Enjoy the art in Roosevelt Row
3.8. Learn about the native cultures at the Heard Museum
3.9. Phoenix nightlife
4. Where to stay in Phoenix?
5. Day trips from Phoenix
6. Extra tips for visiting Phoenix
You may already be aware that Phoenix is not exactly the coldest place on Earth. As mentioned earlier, the city is located in a desert, and for many Americans the hot sun is the first thing they think of when someone starts talking about coming here. Indeed, the summers are extremely hot, so you may want to avoid them when planning your trip, especially because they are also the monsoon season. With that in mind, anywhere between the end of September and May would be a great time to visit Phoenix, and the chances are you’ll come across an interesting festival or event while in town.
Phoenix is the capital city of the state of Arizona and the only state capital in the US with more than one million people. As a matter of fact, with its 1.6 million people, it is the fifth city in the United States. The first settlers came to what would become Phoenix in 1867, and the settlement officially became a city in 1881. However, before that, this area was home to the Hohokam for more than two millennia. Due to the climate, the city is always among top holiday destinations for Americans, and it has certainly taken advantage of that, as you will now see.
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Phoenix.
The coffee scene in Phoenix has developed quite a bit recently, so you have a variety of types of coffee and coffee shops to choose from. All kinds of blends, brews and roasts are at your disposal, but why not accompany that with a great breakfast? Dutch Bros at the crossing of East McDowell and North Scottsdale roads is the perfect location – they offer excellent coffee, you can grab a bagel just across the street, and several major Phoenix attractions are very close by. You will be close to the town of Tempe, but from Tempe to Phoenix takes literally minutes, so you’re essentially still in the city.
After you finish your breakfast, head slightly east to that huge green patch of land. Desert Botanical Garden is the first thing to see here, and it sure is something special. Due to the specific climate of the area, you’ll feel like you’re in a cowboy movie. Cacti, trees and wildflowers are set against towering rocks to give you a true feeling of the life in the Sonoran Desert (the desert surrounding the city). Everything is beautifully designed and many festivals take place here, so do check if you there’s an event when you’re in town because the experience is absolutely magical. No wonder both tourists and locals adore this place.
The incredible scenery does not end once you leave the botanical garden. Another thing to do in Tempe, visiting Papago Park will bring you close to incredible red buttes and criss-crossed with various trails which provide more enjoyment and beautiful views. Just a short and easy hike away is Hole in the Rock, a fascinating formation and an excellent photo opportunity. The pictures you take here will make all your friends jealous. This is arguably the number one free thing to do in Phoenix. After your photo-session, take a moment to just look around and soak everything in. Should you come here in the evening, you won’t regret it – the view at sunset is simply mesmerising.
Right next to the park is the Phoenix zoo, another very popular destination, one of the best things to do in Phoenix (Tempe) with kids. There are almost 1500 different species to see, and you can enjoy some interaction with some of them – you can feed the giraffes, for example. Keep in mind that this is a non-profit organization and one of the largest such zoos in the country. When you see how much work was put into this, you will surely appreciate the dedication these people have when it comes to helping and preserving animals. Get an admission ticket in advance here.
If you still haven’t had enough of the unique nature and sights this city provides, head straight up north via 64 Street from the botanic park. You will soon reach Camelback Mountain, a location that is among favourite recreational places for people here who love to visit it on weekends. There are two trails you can hike, and the view of the Phoenix Mountains on one side and the city on the other is something really special. Once again, this is a great place to visit at sunset, but given that you have only one day in Phoenix, you may want to head there now.
All this nature has probably made you hungry by now, so it’s time to take a break for lunch. Head to Phoenix downtown to Taco Guild, a unique restaurant specializing in Mexican cuisine. It’s unique in that it’s actually in a small chapel from the late 19th century, so you are guaranteed an unforgettable atmosphere. But if you want some unconventional food and don’t mind driving across the Salt River, Rustler’s Roost has some great rattlesnake appetizers in store for you. Yes, rattlesnake! Apart from that, though, they offer a wide selection of barbecued meat, so you can skip the snake if that’s not your cup of tea.
If you’ve stayed for lunch in downtown Phoenix, this next attraction on your itinerary is very close by. Roosevelt Row is the city’s art district full of galleries and studios, all wrapped in some very colourful street art. And if your one day here happens to be the first Friday of the month, you will be able to enjoy a First Fridays Art Walk from 6 to 10 p.m. Shuttles will be free, so everything will be very easily accessible.
Just north of Roosevelt Row is the Heard Museum, one of the most important museums in Phoenix. This place is important to many American Indian artists as it contains a myriad of traditional and contemporary pieces of art. Therefore, you can learn a whole lot about the culture of these people just by spending an hour or two in this fascinating museum. You can also grab a snack and buy some great souvenirs here, which only adds to the tourist experience.
If you still have the energy to experience Phoenix nightlife, just head back to Phoenix Downtown. There are plenty of bars, clubs and even concert venues you can visit there, so there really should be something for everybody. Gypsy Bar is a great club and a place where you can mingle with the locals with some fancy drinks while a DJ is playing in the background, whereas Bar Smith is a rooftop bar from which you can enjoy a view of this amazing city at night. Oh, and if you find yourself craving for a snack, try to get your hands on a Sonoran hot dog – this local delicacy is sure to satisfy your taste buds!
Royal Palms Resort & Spa-in the Unbound Collection by Hyatt
5200 East Camelback Road, Camelback East, Phoenix
If you want to combine the incredible nature of this city and five star accommodation, Royal Palms Resort & Spa is the perfect choice for you. Located right below the Camelback Mountain and very close to the botanical garden and zoo, this hotel is beautifully designed with citrus trees and lush greenery all around it. The place looks like a Spanish villa and the courtyards and fountains will make you feel like you’re in another world.
Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix Cityscape
2 East Jefferson Street, Downtown Phoenix, Phoenix
Booking a room at Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix Cityscape means that you will be staying at the very heart of this magnificent city. The hotel offers a concierge to help you find the best Phoenix attractions, plus you also get access to the fitness centre, business centre and outdoor pool. The rooms are well designed with spacious bathrooms and free toiletries, plus there is a bar and a restaurant at the hotel, too.
Drury Inn & Suites Phoenix Happy Valley
2335 West Pinnacle Peak Road, Deer Valley, Phoenix
If you’re coming here with a car and don’t mind staying slightly out of town, Drury Inn & Suites Phoenix Happy Valley is the best value you can get for your money. Free breakfast is served daily, and snacks and beverages await you in the evening. An exceptionally cozy establishment, the hotel has its pool, fitness studio and a business centre. The rooms are warm and well equipped, with a microwave, coffee machine, fridge and a flat-screen TV in each of them.
2948 West Polk Street, Estrella, Phoenix
For those of you who are on a tight budget or simply want to hang out with other young travellers, La Casita is a perfect choice. This hostel is located just outside downtown Phoenix and offers continental breakfasts and a barbecue, so you can be sure you’ll eat well. Some rooms also have a kitchen of their own, so remember to ask if they’re available if you want something like that to have at hand. Free WiFi and free parking are also included.
If you have more than one day in Phoenix or you’d simply like to explore the city’s surroundings, don’t worry – you’ll have plenty of options. There are so many things to do in Arizona, especially around Phoenix, from the amazing nature that is the Grand Canyon to the atmosphere of the Wild West. Follow the footsteps of the Apache tribe, visit the infamous town of Tombstone where the legendary battle of O.K. Corral took place and much more. As a matter of fact, there is a whole article dedicated to day trips from Phoenix on this website, so make sure you read it if you’re planning something like that while in the city. All you need to do is click here.
While the public transport system does exist and includes buses and light rail, you should seriously consider renting a car if you don’t have one with you when you visit Phoenix. It will be quicker and quite possibly cheaper if you want to visit as many places as possible. You can rent a car for as little as 10$ a day, so it’s really worth it.
Due to the heat, water is an absolute must no matter where you go. Always drink more than you think you need, especially if you’re not used to weather like this back home. Also, if you plan on using a car DO NOT leave your pets or children inside, no matter how short your stop is.
When it comes to tipping in bars in restaurants, 15% is the standard here. A dollar or two per bag is also a customary tip if a bellboy helps you out in your hotel.
PIN FOR LATER!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).