Welcome to the Valley of the Sun, where the desert landscape meets vibrant city life in Phoenix, AZ. Nestled in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix beckons adventurers, travelers, and foodies alike to embark on a diverse collection of experiences. 

From the iconic Camelback Mountain, challenging hikers with its majestic peaks, to the thriving arts scene in downtown’s Roosevelt Row, Phoenix unfolds a tapestry of experiences waiting to be explored. Whether you’re soaring above the city in a hot air balloon, immersing yourself in Native American art at the Heard Museum, or savoring the flavors of Southwestern cuisine, this Phoenix bucket list is your guide to the extraordinary and unforgettable activities that define the essence of Phoenix. 

Get ready to uncover the treasures of the Valley in this Redfin article, where every adventure promises a blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and the unmistakable spirit of the Southwest. Maybe you’ll start looking around at renting an apartment in Phoenix, AZ, or buying a house in the city and wondering what it’s like to live in Phoenix because you will simply never want to leave.

1. Take up mountain biking

It’s essential to explore all the outdoor recreation that Phoenix is known for. Greater Phoenix promises mountain biking nirvana with its endless stretches of cactus-dotted trails. “From South Mountain’s steep inclines to McDowell Mountain’s flowing single-track, there are hundreds of miles of paths catering to all skill levels across the valley’s parks and preserves,” says Blake Barnett of Blare Media, a local video production company. “One moment you’re deep in the rugged Sonoran Desert filled with towering saguaros, the next you’ve emerged minutes later to city views and craft breweries to celebrate a day well-ridden.”

Two mountain bikers crossing off a Phoenix bucket list item

2. Learn a new art

Traveling is a great opportunity to try something new, so why not try your hand at a new art? Creative Color Art Studios offers a popular Van Gogh Vino Paint & Sip class that’s friendly to beginners and professionals, in addition to a myriad of other classes from locally trained professionals

Kayti Bovey of popular escape room company Escapology recommends As You Wish as her favorite place to make a unique piece of pottery. “They have unique pieces that you can customize to your heart’s content and let your creativity blossom. They make great gifts or keepsakes to have for generations.”

3. Check out the massive VNSA Book Sale

If you’re visiting in February, you can’t miss the annual VNSA Book Sale at the State Fairgrounds. Heidi Capriotti of VNSA shares, “VNSA will sell 5 semi trucks full of books and media that they collected from donations all year long. With no paid staff, all proceeds benefit human service charities in Maricopa County. When you’re finished with those books, donate them to VNSA anytime using dropboxes located all over the Valley.”

A row of books displayed outside for a fundraiser

4. Try your hand at an escape room

With so much outdoor activity, why not take a trip inside and experience an escape room. “You might have conquered an escape room before but there is a 98% chance that The Nemesis Club escape rooms will greatly exceed your expectations,” says Randy of Escape Rumors, a resource for finding reviews for beginners and enthusiasts. “I’ve played both their games and they were fantastic, with set builds and props on par with Disney attractions. The immersion and tech were solid and the overall experience in both escape rooms were a couple of levels above most of the 600 escape rooms I have played. My only complaint was that I wanted more.”

Another popular location for an escape room is Alcatraz Escape Games. With four escape rooms of different difficulty and a team of moderators to help guide you through your experience, you’re bound to survive the zombie apocalypse or get out of an ancient Egyptian tomb alive.

5. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city with a trip to the Desert Botanical Gardens, one of the many unique things to do in Phoenix, AZ. With 140-acres of garden trails and galleries, you’ll never want to leave. Enjoy farm to table food at Gertrude’s or a quick bite at the Patio Café before embarking on another adventure. 

A photo of the flora within the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, AZ

6. Hike Camelback Mountain

Located in the middle of Phoenix Valley with stunning views, climbing Camelback Mountain is a can’t miss Phoenix Bucket List item. The Mountain is home to the famous Saguaro Cacti in addition to other flora including Ocotillo, Palo Verde, Cholla, Barrel Cactus, and the Creosote Bush.

7. View Phoenix from above in a hot air balloon ride

What better way to experience Phoenix than from the air? Home to the most flyable days per year for hot air ballooning, a hot air balloon ride is essential to any Phoenix Bucket list. Hot Air Expeditions offers year-round morning balloon rides and afternoon balloon rides from November 1st to March 15th.

A hot air balloon against a clear blue sky

8. Visit the Heard Museum

The Heard Museum offers a journey through the rich tapestry of Native American art, history, and heritage. Renowned for its extensive collection, the Heard Museum displays artworks, traditional crafts, and artifacts to represent the stories and traditions of Indigenous peoples across North America. Michael Cook of South Mountain Performing Arts says, “As a Valley resident, exploring this renowned institution offers a profound insight into the diverse heritage and deep history of Arizona, providing a unique opportunity to connect with the vibrant traditions that shape our community.” 

9. Have a night out on Roosevelt Row

Explore Roosevelt Row to take in all the city’s walkable arts district has to offer. Home to art galleries, restaurants, bars, and boutique shops, a stroll through this part of the city is a treat on its own.

“I really love Roosevelt Row and the surrounding historic neighborhoods,” shares Ashley Hammond of local restaurant First & Last. “There are a lot of outstanding restaurants, amazing places to catch a show like The Nash for jazz, The Van Buren, Crescent Ballroom and the stunning Orpheum Theatre. There are great coffee shops, breweries, cocktail bars, shops and murals dotted throughout the area. It’s also one of the areas of Phoenix that is very walkable!  It’s lovely to soak up your surroundings on foot with plenty of places to pop into and check out along the way.”

Downtown Phoenix Arizona

10. Catch a show at Crescent Ballroom

If you’re a music fan, you can’t miss seeing a show at Crescent Ballroom. With tons of concerts and community events, you’re bound to find something to peak your interest. Crescent Ballroom is also home to Cocina 10, serving homemade Arizona cuisine inspired by the I-10 and the people and places that surround it.

11. Take a quick trip to Sedona

If you have the time and the adventurous spirit, a trip to Sedona will be well worth the drive. Contrary to popular belief, Sedona is not Sedona National Park. Sedona, AZ is home to two massive state parks: Red Rock State Park and Slide Rock State Park. Enjoy a bird walk hosted at Red Rock State Park or visit Montezuma Castle to learn more about the Indigenous peoples that once lived on these lands.

The dry desert landscape of Red Rock State Park, an essential to any Phoenix Bucket List

12. Enjoy the food of Phoenix

While in Phoenix, enjoying the wide variety of food the city has to offer needs to be on your Phoenix Bucket List. Laurie Canfield of Sunshine Sunflower Ceramics provides insight into several can’t-miss restaurants. “Our studio is located in the Melrose district, so when I am able to run out for a bite to eat, we tend to stay close by to support other local businesses. Favorites include Phoenix Burrito House on 7th Ave, Short Leash Hot Dogs on 7th Ave, Toasted Owl on Camelback, and The Original Hamburger on 15th & Thomas. They all offer excellent food, good service, and fantastic atmosphere.”

13. Take a whiskey, wine, and beer tour

If you’re looking for a drink, you’ve come to the right place. Phoenix is home to some of the finest wineries, breweries, and distilleries in the country, making this a must-add to your Phoenix Bucket List. For high-quality and small-batch spirits, you have to visit Wild Hare Distillery. Wendy Tilton, co-owner of Wild Hare Distillery says “When you visit the distillery and tasting room, Jim or I will walk you through our award-winning process. The tour is about 35 to 45 minutes, and the tasting itself is an experience that takes time.”

Another great experience in Phoenix is to take a trip to GenuWine Arizona, a self-serve wine bar located in downtown Phoenix. Sample several of the 24 different wines being severed, order a cheese board, and relax the day away.

A hand pours whiskey into a glass

14. Take a trip to the farmer’s market

There’s no better way to experience the community of Phoenix than by visiting one of the great farmers markets around town to support local businesses. “You can find unique gifts, delicious food, and many handmade products. Go out and soak up the beautiful Arizona sunshine on Saturday markets and don’t forget to visit us while you are there,” says Kaitlyn Torzala of local honey company Absolutely Delightful Honey.

15. Experience Phoenix’s thriving art scene

Phoenix is also home to a vibrant art scene with cutting-edge and accessible theater. Catch a show at The Phoenix Theatre Company or make your way downtown to listen to the famous Phoenix Symphony. Phoenix also has a strong fringe theater scene with company’s like Detour Company Theatre producing accessible, inclusive, anti-ableist plays and musicals starring adult actors with disabilities. Performances include ASL Interpreting and open captioning above the stage, in addition to free admission.

An actor stands on a stage performing a scene

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