22 Things to Do in Arizona

By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023

As you plan your journey through the distinct terrain of Arizona, the allure of both natural beauty and urban flair beckons. The state is not just a haven for those seeking the great outdoors; it boasts a rich selection of cultural experiences, from Phoenix’s bustling professional sports scene to Tucson’s renowned observatories and science centers.

Your itinerary could be as varied as Arizona’s landscapes, with each attraction offering a unique glimpse into this region’s heart and history. Craft a travel experience that embraces both the top attractions drawing tourists from around the globe and the spots treasured by locals. Arizona beckons with its iconic sights and hidden gems, ensuring that your visit is filled with moments that you’ll carry with you long after you depart.

Grand Canyon West

Embark on an aerial adventure to witness Grand Canyon West from a vantage point like no other. Helicopter tours, led by experienced pilots, elevate your sightseeing to new heights, offering an unparalleled perspective. Ideal for small groups, these flights often accommodate six to seven passengers.

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Your journey can begin from the South Rim or even the neon lights of Las Vegas. Travelers consistently regard these helicopter excursions as unforgettable, equating the views and experience to a worthy investment.

Saguaro National Park

Your adventure awaits less than 15 miles from Tucson, where Saguaro National Park unveils a remarkable expanse of the Sonoran Desert, highlighted by towering saguaro cacti. These iconic desert sentinels, reaching heights of up to 50 feet, have witnessed centuries pass by, some over 200 years old. As you traverse the park’s terrain, keep an eye out for native fauna, including the swift roadrunners and elusive Gila monsters.

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For an immersive experience in this unique ecosystem, consider joining a ranger-led tour that offers insights into the desert’s secrets. Should you seek comfort after a day’s hike, Tucson offers luxurious accommodations like the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort or the Miraval Arizona. Alternatively, embrace the untamed desert night by camping in the Saguaro Wilderness Area, where the stars shine uninhibited by city lights.

Monument Valley

Nestled on the border between Arizona and Utah, this park showcases a collection of towering sandstone structures rising as high as 1,000 feet. It’s a landscape replete with mesas and buttes—isolated hills with flat tops and steep sides—that draw visitors from around the globe. Renowned for sweeping views that have graced countless photographs and movie scenes, these formations epitomize the beauty of the American Southwest.

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Your adventure begins at the park’s visitor center, where panoramic views of the valley unfold. For an immersive experience, a 17-mile scenic drive loops through the iconic landmarks. Consider enhancing your visit with an authorized Navajo guide, offering deeper insight into this sacred landscape.

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, nestled within Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park in northern Arizona, offers a stunning visual spectacle of curving sandstone walls awash with vibrant orange hues. Sunlight filtering through the canyon creates mesmerizing light shafts, primarily witnessed during the summer. To access this natural wonder, you must join a guided tour, as unescorted exploration is not permitted to preserve the delicate environment.

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The town of Page lies in close proximity, providing a variety of accommodation options. Establishments such as the Best Western Plus and the Comfort Inn & Suites offer a comfortable stay after a day of canyon exploration. Guides are known for their invaluable photography tips, enhancing your visit to this must-see landmark.

Havasu Falls

Perched in the Grand Canyon lies the secluded Havasu Falls, part of the Havasupai Indian Reservation. A permit is necessary to visit, and the window for access extends from February to November. To complete the journey, visitors must secure at least a one-night reservation at either the nearby campground or the Havasupai Lodge.

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Embarking on the trek to Havasu Falls demands endurance, traversing a steep, 10-mile path down from the canyon’s edge. This challenging journey typically consumes roughly four hours. Summer treks particularly require preparation for intense heat, and it’s important to note that trailside water sources and emergency services are unavailable. Connectivity is absent; the campground provides neither Wi-Fi nor cellular service, and bringing alcohol is strictly against regulations.

Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam, an engineering marvel located on the border between Arizona and Nevada, is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. Completed in 1935, it was constructed during the Great Depression and named after President Herbert Hoover. The dam stands about 726 feet high and stretches 1,244 feet across the river. It was built to control floods, provide irrigation water, and generate hydroelectric power.

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Beyond its functional purpose, the Hoover Dam is a symbol of American ingenuity and resilience. It created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States by volume, when filled. The dam’s architecture features Art Deco design, making it a popular tourist attraction. The Hoover Dam continues to be a testament to human achievement and a crucial resource for water and power.

Horseshoe Curve at Glen Canyon

Surrounded by the sandstone landscape, the Horseshoe Curve is a mere 5 miles from Page and presents a stunning 270-degree bend of the Colorado River. This geographical marvel is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which draws over two million visitors every year. Access to this panorama is facilitated by a half-mile path which is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, starting from a parking area and leading to a spectacular overlook on the rim.

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Beyond the curve, your adventure might take you to the vast waters of Lake Powell, located within the same recreation area. Opportunities for lodging are plentiful, with options such as Lake Powell Resort and the conveniently located Hyatt Place Page Lake Powell. These accommodations offer a comfortable base from which you can visit nearby wonders like Antelope Canyon, the extraordinary Rainbow Bridge National Monument, and the vivid Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

Route 66

Embark on a journey through time as you traverse the renowned Route 66, Arizona’s well-preserved historic corridor. Starting from Topock in the west, this route meanders across the state to the eastern border at Lupton, passing landmarks full of Americana that offer an immersive road trip experience. Pit stops include the spirited town of Oatman, where staged gunfights revive Wild West legends, and the Weatherford Hotel in Flagstaff, providing refueling spots with a side of history.

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For an evening rest, the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook beckons with its unique teepee-shaped rooms, blending vintage charm and contemporary comforts. Further enhancing the drive, the roadside is dotted with a parade of classic cars, presenting a visual treat and inviting you to step out, explore, and create travel memories against an authentically retro backdrop.

Tombstone

Located around 75 miles southeast of Tucson, you can immerse yourself in the authentic atmosphere of the Old West in Tombstone. This National Historic Landmark has meticulously maintained its 19th-century frontier appearance. Here, you’ll witness where the infamous O.K. Corral gunfight broke out in 1881—a battle that remains etched as the most renowned encounter of the Wild West.

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Tombstone not only gained fame from its historic gunfights but also earned a place in pop culture with its depiction in the 1993 film, “Tombstone.” On your visit, you can tour the bygone era’s saloons and storefronts at the Old Tombstone Western Theme Park.

Lowell Observatory

Founded in 1894, Lowell Observatory is a stellar destination where the dwarf planet Pluto was first identified. This observatory is not just a historical site but a continuing hub for celestial exploration, offering you a chance to look through their telescopes and participate in constellation tours, bringing the mysteries of the universe closer to earth.

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During your visit, you can witness the actual telescope that played a pivotal role in discovering Pluto. The observatory provides guides who enhance your experience with insightful science demonstrations, making your time both educational and entertaining. Enthusiasts often suggest scheduling a guided tour to fully appreciate the observatory’s contributions to astronomy.

Arizona Snowbowl Gondola

Embark on a journey above the treetops of Coconino National Forest aboard the gondola at Arizona Snowbowl. During this 15-minute ascent, glide up to 11,500 feet and marvel at panoramic views that stretch to the Grand Canyon and the crimson cliffs of Sedona.

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Once you reach the summit, consider dining at the Agassiz Lodge Restaurant for a scenic meal. Should your adventure align with autumn, the golden hues of aspen trees below offer a breathtaking spectacle. For those seeking a memorable moment, a sunset gondola tour is an unmatched experience.

Walnut Canyon

Embark on a journey through the Walnut Canyon National Monument located near Flagstaff, Arizona, where you’ll discover ancient cliff dwellings from over 700 years ago. The park boasts a diverse array of wildlife, including coyotes, jackrabbits, mule deer, and an impressive variety of over 120 bird species. Opt for the Walnut Canyon Rim Trail for a leisurely hike that skirts the canyon’s edge with fewer stairs, providing a comfortable path for all visitors.

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The more adventurous can traverse the Island Trail, revealing exquisite perspectives of the historic ruins nestled within the canyon walls. Though camping within the monument is not permitted, don’t worry—accommodation is available at Bonito and Canyon Vista campgrounds, conveniently located nearby. These campgrounds offer the perfect base to extend your exploration to other remarkable sites in the region, such as the Canyon de Chelly National Monument and the unique landscapes of Petrified Forest National Park.

Heard Museum

Explore the rich tapestry of Indigenous American artworks at Phoenix’s treasured Heard Museum. With a history stretching back to 1929, the museum boasts a range of galleries displaying intricate art, a serene sculpture garden to wander, and a café for refreshments. Don’t miss the museum shop, a source of authentic creations including pottery, jewelry, and textiles made by Native American artisans.

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Nearby, find comfortable lodgings such as the Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix Convention Center and the Hampton Inn Phoenix-Midtown-Downtown Area. Previous visitors to the Heard highly recommend allocating at least two hours to fully embrace this indispensable Phoenix cultural experience.

Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, is a unique showcase of the beauty and diversity of desert flora. Spanning 140 acres, this garden is home to thousands of species of cacti, trees, and flowers from deserts around the world. Established in 1939, it offers a stunning display of the various forms and adaptations of desert plants, arranged in thematic exhibits that educate visitors about the ecology and conservation of desert environments.

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Apart from its botanical collections, the Desert Botanical Garden also serves as a center for research, education, and conservation. It provides an array of educational programs and events for all ages, including art exhibitions, plant sales, and guided tours. The garden’s trails meander through lush desert landscapes, offering a tranquil retreat in the heart of the city. With its combination of natural beauty and educational opportunities, the Desert Botanical Garden is a valuable cultural and ecological asset in Arizona.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, immerse yourself in the vibrant ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert. Your journey here includes interactive opportunities such as witnessing majestic raptors in flight and even feeling the smooth glide of a stingray beneath your fingertips. Wander through a meticulously recreated Sonoran Desert landscape, or find yourself enthralled by the delicate flutters within a hummingbird aviary.

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The museum gives you insights into a variety of habitats, placing you face-to-face with prairie dogs in the Desert Grassland or eye-to-eye with bobcats in Cat Canyon. Discover aquatic creatures in the Warden Aquarium, providing a glimpse into the watery wonders of the desert. While exploring this predominantly outdoor venue, keep an eye out for native fauna that roam the grounds.

Musical Instrument Museum

Your exploration of musical cultures brings you to the impressive array of displays at the museum. Encounter musical customs from every corner of the globe in the Geographic Galleries. Engage with instruments hands-on in the interactive Experience Gallery, a favorite for immersive learning.

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In the heart of the museum, the Conservation Lab offers a unique peek at the care of musical artifacts. Observe the meticulous preservation efforts by the team. With regular events—from concerts to film screenings—educational opportunities infuse your visit with rhythm. Refresh at the cafe, fuel up at the coffee bar, and find keepsakes in the museum store.

San Xavier del Bac

While touring Tucson, make time for San Xavier del Bac, known as the “White Dove of the Desert.” This historic church, dating from the 18th century, stands as the most venerable European-built structure in Arizona. Admire its Baroque architecture, complete with authentic sculptures and murals.

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The church, still active today, features numerous shell motifs symbolizing pilgrimage. Its religious and architectural significance makes it a must-see alongside visits to other Spanish colonial missions, including those at Tumacácori National Historical Park.

Vermilion Cliffs

Spanning 280,000 acres, the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is a natural masterpiece on the Arizona-Utah border. Your visit might lead you to The Wave, a mesmerizing pattern of sandstone that photographers treasure. To protect its fragile beauty, entrance to Coyotes Buttes North, The Wave’s location, is governed by a lottery-based permit system. Prepare for your journey with a four-wheel-drive, as terrain here demands it, and staying informed on the latest park conditions is crucial for a safe expedition.

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Respite from the desert expanse is not found in any nearby cities, as this region is remotely nestled. However, approximately 75 miles northwest, Kanab in Utah offers lodging solutions such as the Hampton Inn Kanab or the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Kanab, ensuring comfort after a day of exploration among cliffs, canyons, and dunes.

Lake Havasu State Park

Located on the border with California, Lake Havasu State Park offers a variety of outdoor activities set against the backdrop of Arizona’s desert scenery. The park’s namesake, Lake Havasu, is central to many water-based activities. You can enjoy swimming, boating on the lake’s calm waters, or fishing for your next big catch. Well-maintained campgrounds and pristine beaches provide the perfect base for your adventures.

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Besides water activities, the surrounding areas beckon you to explore further. Embark on a journey through nearby Cattail Cove State Park and Buckskin Mountain State Park, or indulge in a round of golf at local courses. Mountain biking enthusiasts will find trails that cater to their adventurous spirit. For a unique cultural experience, visit the historic London Bridge and delve into the regional history at the Lake Havasu Museum of History.

Scottsdale

In Scottsdale lies the creative brilliance of Frank Lloyd Wright with Taliesin West, a renowned historical site. This masterpiece served as the winter residence and creative playground for the distinguished architect. Wright’s vision brought forth a structure that harmonizes with the desert surroundings, offering an inspired perspective akin to gazing over the edge of the world.

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Taliesin West is open to the public for exploration, featuring an array of tours throughout the year. Your visit would be well complemented by a leisurely stroll around the scenic grounds. Additionally, a specialty store is available on the premises, presenting a selection of items reflecting Wright’s influence including artwork, literature, and home adornments. Booking tickets in advance online is highly recommended to ensure your spot on this architectural discovery.

State Farm Stadium

Attend an Arizona Cardinals game at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by innovation, from the metallic exterior to the pioneering retractable natural turf. Annually, it’s also the proud venue of the festive Fiesta Bowl, offering a slice of local tradition and sports enthusiasm.

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In the vicinity of the stadium, accommodation options abound—choose from Aloft Glendale at Westgate, Renaissance Phoenix Glendale Hotel & Spa, or Tru by Hilton Phoenix Glendale Westgate. During quieter months, seize the opportunity for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of this acclaimed architectural marvel.

Bedrock City

If you cherish the antics of “The Flintstones,” Bedrock City welcomes you for an unusual peek into the Stone Age life. Nestled within Raptor Ranch at Williams, this tribute to the iconic cartoon family’s hometown is merely 30 miles from the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon. Imagine strolling through Fred Flintstone’s abode or mailing a postcard from the quaint Bedrock post office, while various stone-cast sculptures of the beloved characters stand in silent camaraderie.

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Your visit could be complimentary with a stay at the Raptor Ranch campground, otherwise a nominal fee grants you a day’s access. Visitors with youngsters have noted the charm and brevity of the experience, often wrapping up the tour in under 60 minutes, making it an ideal jaunt for families seeking a brief, yet vivid, adventure into a page right out of history.