Arizona, renowned for its blazing deserts and towering saguaro cacti, is much more than just a haven for those who adore the sun. The state’s expansive geography encompasses mountain ranges, verdant forests, and numerous national and state parks, each one an emblem of the state’s startling diversity.
The Grand Canyon State is not only a natural wonderland, though. Arizona boasts an impressive array of historical and cultural attractions, showcasing the state’s Native American heritage, Wild West history, and flourishing arts scene. So, if you’re planning a trip, here’s your comprehensive guide to experiencing the best that Arizona has to offer.
Natural Attractions in Arizona
One of Arizona’s most remarkable features is its natural beauty. From vast canyons to red-rock formations and petrified forests, the state is a playground for nature lovers and adventurers alike.
First on our list, and quite rightly so, is the Grand Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Known for its breathtaking scale and sculptural and colorful landscapes, the Grand Canyon offers more than just a panoramic view.
It’s geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. The Canyon’s diverse and expansive vistas and intriguing side canyons make it a premier place for adventure and exploration.
You can hike the famed Rim-to-Rim trail, take a mule ride down the North Rim, or try white-water rafting down the Colorado River. Each of these activities offers a unique perspective of the Canyon and an unforgettable experience.
Sedona and Red Rock Scenic Byway
Next, we head to Sedona, a city famous for its stunning red rock formations. Sedona’s main attraction, the Red Rock Scenic Byway, is a photographer’s paradise. The Byway offers a panoramic view of Sedona’s beautiful red rocks, green pine trees, and clear blue skies.
Apart from the scenic drive, Sedona also offers a variety of outdoor activities. You can embark on a thrilling jeep tour, explore the numerous hiking trails, or experience the town’s spiritual side through meditation and yoga amidst the tranquil landscape. The mystical energy of Sedona’s vortices also draws many spiritual seekers to this enchanting land.
Petrified Forest National Park
Deep into the heart of Arizona lies the Petrified Forest National Park, home to one of the world’s largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood. This park doesn’t just stop at its forest of stone; it also boasts incredible views of the Painted Desert, ancient petroglyphs, and stunningly beautiful badlands.
Walking the park’s trails, visitors can experience a unique and awe-inspiring landscape where trees have turned to stone due to a process of fossilization that took millions of years. Photography enthusiasts will be particularly drawn to the vibrant colors of the petrified logs, while history buffs might enjoy hunting for ancient artifacts.
Monument Valley, situated on the Arizona-Utah state line, is another must-visit
destination. Known for its iconic sandstone buttes, Monument Valley has been a staple of American cinema, particularly the Western genre. This sacred Navajo land features in many film and photography works, showcasing the stark and mesmerizing beauty of the American West.
Guided tours by the Navajo people are highly recommended here. These tours offer not just a geographical exploration but also a cultural one, providing deep insights into the Navajo way of life. And, if you’re keen on capturing the valley’s raw beauty, the sunrise and sunset provide the perfect backdrop for breathtaking photography.
Saguaro National Park
Last but not least on our list of natural attractions is the Saguaro National Park. Named after the massive Saguaro cactus native to its desert environment, this park is a symbol of the American Southwest.
The park’s popular Night Skies program lets you stargaze like never before, thanks to the area’s low light pollution. Additionally, birdwatchers will appreciate the park’s diverse avian population, while hiking enthusiasts have a wide array of trails to explore, from leisurely walks to challenging hikes.
Historical and Cultural Attractions in Arizona
Now, let’s move on from Arizona’s natural beauty to its rich history and vibrant culture. This state’s historical landmarks and cultural institutions tell tales of its indigenous tribes, early settlers, and transformative events.
In the southeast corner of Arizona, you’ll find Tombstone, famously known as “The Town too Tough to Die.” This historic town provides a glimpse into the Wild West era, complete with saloon doors, horse-drawn carriages, and period actors roaming the streets.
A trip to Tombstone isn’t complete without a visit to the O.K. Corral, where the infamous gunfight involving Wyatt Earp took place. The Boothill Graveyard is another intriguing stop, where you’ll find the graves of the town’s early settlers, each with a story to tell.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Next up is the Montezuma Castle National Monument, one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America. This prehistoric high-rise apartment, nestled into a towering limestone cliff, tells a story of ingenuity, survival, and the eventual demise of the Sinagua people.
While you can’t enter the dwelling itself for preservation reasons, there’s an excellent view from the trail below. The museum at the visitor center provides further insights into the Sinagua people’s way of life, featuring various artifacts uncovered from the site.
The Heard Museum, Phoenix
If you’re interested in indigenous art and history, Phoenix’s Heard Museum is a must-visit. This world-renowned museum is dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art.
The Heard Museum offers an immersive experience through its collection of contemporary fine art, cultural artifacts, and historical exhibits. Each gallery tells a story, bringing to life the vibrant cultures and artistry of Native American people.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Desert Laboratory
Just outside of Scottsdale, Arizona, lies Taliesin West, the winter home and school of the acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Taliesin West showcases Wright’s ability to seamlessly blend indoor and outdoor spaces.
On the outskirts of Tucson, you’ll find the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission. Known as the “White Dove of the Desert,” this stunningly beautiful mission is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, offering a glimpse into the state’s Spanish colonial history.
The Mission’s architecture is a marvel to behold, with its intricate carvings and frescoes, Moorish-inspired arches, and ornate statues. Beyond its physical beauty, visitors can also experience the cultural significance of the Mission through its active parish community.
Family-Friendly Attractions in Arizona
Let’s not forget the little ones. Arizona has a range of family-friendly attractions that promise fun and learning for kids and adults alike.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a unique fusion of a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium. The museum offers a comprehensive view of the Sonoran Desert’s rich biodiversity, with live animal exhibits and beautiful desert gardens.
Among the exhibits you can explore are the hummingbird aviary, cactus garden, and the earth sciences center, which includes a fascinating cave exploration. There’s also an art gallery featuring works inspired by the natural world.
Out of Africa Wildlife Park
Located in Camp Verde, the Out of Africa Wildlife Park is another great spot for families. This park is home to hundreds of animals from around the world. It offers visitors a unique, intimate experience with its inhabitants.
Whether it’s watching a tiger leap to catch its food during the Tiger Splash show or feeding a giraffe from your own hand, the park offers plenty of thrilling encounters. The Predator Zip Line tour, a soaring adventure over the park’s animal habitats, is a bonus for thrill-seekers.
At the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, you and your family can literally reach for the stars. Known as the place where Pluto was discovered, the observatory offers day and night programs that captivate audiences of all ages.
During the day, you can explore the observatory’s interactive exhibits or view the sun through a specially equipped solar telescope. At night, you can gaze upon the stars, planets, and distant galaxies through the observatory’s high-powered telescopes.
The Phoenix Zoo
Lastly, we have the Phoenix Zoo, one of the nation’s largest privately-owned, non-profit zoos. It houses over 3,000 animals, with 400 species represented, including many threatened/endangered ones.
At the Phoenix Zoo, children can enjoy close encounters with animals at the petting zoo, ride a camel, or take a leisurely stroll through the Forest of Uco, a four-acre forest featuring animals from the rainforest.
Before we wrap up, let’s address some common questions about traveling in Arizona.
What is the best time of year to visit Arizona?
The best time to visit Arizona largely depends on the activities you’re interested in. Spring (March to May) offers comfortable temperatures and is a great time to visit the Grand Canyon and other outdoor attractions. Fall (September to November) is also an excellent time to visit when temperatures are cooler and crowds at popular attractions are smaller.
What are some good places to eat in Arizona?
Arizona has a rich culinary scene, from traditional Mexican cuisine to innovative farm-to-table American dishes. In Phoenix, try Pizzeria Bianco for some of the best pizzas in the country. For Mexican fare, Barrio Café in Phoenix and El Charro Café in Tucson are local favorites. For those interested in Native American cuisine, try Kai Restaurant in Chandler.
How to travel around Arizona?
The easiest way to travel around Arizona is by car, which allows the flexibility to explore the state’s varied attractions. The state’s major sights are well-connected by highways and interstates. Alternatively, shuttle services are available to major attractions like the Grand Canyon. In cities like Phoenix and Tucson, public transit options include buses and light rail.
What are some family-friendly activities in Arizona?
Arizona offers many family-friendly activities. You can visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, which combines a zoo, botanical garden, and art gallery. In Phoenix, the Phoenix Zoo and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix are popular choices. The Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde provides an exciting wildlife experience.
Conclusion: What are things to do in Arizona?
Arizona, with its unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, vibrant culture, and family-friendly attractions has something to offer every traveler.
Whether you’re marveling at the enormity of the Grand Canyon, stepping back in time in the historic town of Tombstone, experiencing the spiritual vortexes of Sedona, or exploring the diverse desert ecosystem at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, you’re bound to leave Arizona with unforgettable memories.
However, this guide just scratches the surface of what the Grand Canyon State has to offer. From its towering mountain ranges to its sprawling deserts, from its bustling cities to its peaceful countryside, Arizona’s charm lies in its diversity.
Each visit promises a new discovery, a new adventure, a new story. So pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable Arizona experience.