The Valley of the Sun, a.k.a. Greater Phoenix, promises warmth, sunshine and plenty of family fun and adventures. Over 500 area hotels guarantee accommodations that fit your family style and budget, and easy and affordable direct flights make it easier than ever to reach the sunshine. Here are the top 10 things to do on your trip!
1. Desert Botanical Garden.
The incredible plants at the Desert Botanical Garden amaze visitors not only for their beauty but for the amazing ways in which they have adapted to their desert environment. Set on over 140 acres, this unique botanical garden features the world’s finest collection of arid-land plants from deserts around the world. My two kids, ages 5 and 13, both enjoyed the docent-led Garden Tour, which taught us many things about the unique plants of the Sonoran Desert. We were most impressed with the towering, tree-like saguaro – their blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona.
1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix
2. Wet ‘n’ Wild
Cool off at Wet ‘n’ Wild, the largest theme park in the state. Take a lazy river ride along the Cactus Cooler; zoom 42 feet on the Phoenix Flyers; or test your sliding skills on the swift Desert Racers.
4243 W. Pinnacle Peak Rd., Glendale
3. Children’s Museum of Phoenix
The Children’s Museum of Phoenix offers hands-on learning experiences for toddlers and young kids. Create your next masterpiece in the Art Studio, build a skyscraper in the Blockmania, make your way through the Noodle Forest and more. Be sure to check out the 3rd floor where the whimsical paintings of Arizona artist Carolyn Schmitz are scattered throughout.
215 N. 7th St., Phoenix
4. Phoenix Zoo
Meet your favorite animals at the Phoenix Zoo, one of the nation’s largest non-profit zoos: from the Asian elephant to the great Sumatran tiger, you’ll find them all here. Don’t miss the up close and personal Giraffe Encounter, and cool off at the Leapin’ Lagoon waterplay area.
455 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix
5. The Wrigley Mansion
This magnificent Phoenix mansion, built in 1932 by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., features a 360-degree view of the mountains and the city below thanks to its hilltop perch. Take the tour ($15 per person) to learn more about the mansion and the Wrigley family, and stay for lunch at the fine in-house restaurant, Geordie’s (family-style sides and a children’s menu are available; be sure to ask for a table on the expansive outdoor patio with a view to remember).
2501 E. Telawa Trail, Phoenix
6. Usery Mountain Regional Park
Best known for its variety of desert plants and animals, Usery Mountain Regional Park gives you a chance to experience the scenic lower Sonoran Desert. Arrange a guided hike with Arizona Outback Adventures, one of the Southwest’s premier adventure tour companies. The Usery Mountain Regional Park’s welcoming center also has a gift shop where you can find a great selection of regional interest activity books for kids.
3939 N. Usery Pass Rd., Mesa
7. Riverview Park
Thanks to its two enormous playgrounds featuring the latest in hands-on play equipment, Riverview Park stands out as one of the coolest parks in the U.S. If you have a Spider-kid in your family, challenge them to climb the 300 ft. natural linear climbing wall complete with a covered fort. Follow the palm-tree lined walkway, called the Paseo by locals, to Cubs Park, where you just might find the Chicago Cubs in action at their Spring Training Stadium (480-668-0500; mlb.com/chc/mesa/)
2100 W. 8th St., Mesa
8. Hot Air Balloon Expedition
Soar 5,000 feet into the Arizona sky in a hot air balloon with Hot Air Expeditions. You’ll enjoy 360 degree views of the desert as you drift over saguaros and palos verdes; if you keep your eyes peeled you just might spot quail, roadrunners, or deer. And relax: hot air ballooning is one of the safest forms of flight known to man.
2243 E. Rose Garden Loop, Phoenix
9. Phoenix Art Museum
The Phoenix Art Museum is the largest art museum in the southwestern United States. Its Art of the American West collection showcases both artists of the past and those working today. Pick up a kid-friendly Scavenger Hunt at Visitor Services to help guide your family through the collections, or try to visit during one of the quarterly themed PhxArtKids Days which highlight one of the special exhibitions with unique art-making activities. The PhxArtKids Gallery offers a great election of hands-on activities to introduce children to the world of art.
1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
10. Cave Creek Trail Rides
Cave Creek Trail Rides offers guided rides through the desert. Travel through the mining history of Cave Creek and learn more about the unique desert flora and fauna as you ride into the sunset. Kids must be at least 6-year-old to embark on a trail ride.
37019 North 32nd St.; Cave Creek
Where to Stay
The historic Arizona Biltmore, a.k.a. the “Jewel of the Desert” has been welcoming guests to its luxe resort since 1929. Nestled on 39 acres at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, the legendary resort is best known for its distinctive Frank Lloyd Wright architectural style and reputation as a playground of the rich and famous.
2400 East Missouri Avenue, Phoenix
The historic Wigwam Resort was once the gathering place for the Ohio-based executives of Goodyear Tire & Rubber. Spanning over 440 acres on an estate-like setting, the Wigwam Resort features 331 casita-style guest rooms, including 72 suites, crafted from distinctive adobe architecture, 54 holes of championship golf, a 26,000-square-foot Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, and four pools with two twisting water slides. Perhaps the best feature, however, is the variety of activities and events for families.
300 East Wigwam Boulevard, Litchfield Park