In the northeast corner of the Sonoran Desert, in a region referred to as the Valley of the Sun, is an urban oasis called the City of Phoenix. Phoenix, the state capital of Arizona and the 5th largest city in the United States, anchors the 11th largest metropolitan area in the country. Over 22 million people visit the Valley each year to play golf, escape the cold up north, and take in all that Phoenix has to offer.

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01Desert Botanical Garden

botanical gardens Phoenix

Created in 1931, Desert Botanical Garden sits inside Papago Park and is home to a wealth of events, displays, and activities. During the winter months, the desert comes alive with a light and music display during the evening hours in the garden. Concerts and talks are also regularly featured as well as a handicap accessible trail that brings you close to desert wildflowers, cacti, and other flora. The garden is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m Sunday - Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday - Saturday.

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02Tour First Friday Art Walks

In downtown Phoenix, Roosevelt Row hosts a showcase of local art every Friday that's not to be missed. On the first Friday every month, you can participate in one of the country's largest self-guided art walks, with free event shuttles running throughout the city. If you're there at a different time, don't worry — the third Friday of every month sees exhibition openings in dozens of local galleries, while live performances, artist spotlights, and other events are on every Friday, as are the Roosevelt Row markets.

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03Japanese Friendship Garden

Designed and built by architect Nozomu Okita in partnership with Phoenix's sister city Himeji, the Japanese Friendship Garden is a traditional Japanese stroll garden located right in the city's heart. Sitting on 3.5 acres of land, the garden features 1500 tons of hand-picked rock and more than 50 varieties of plants, a 12-foot waterfall, lanterns, streams, walking paths, and a massive Koi pond housing over 300 Koi fish. Visitors can also join a traditional tea ceremony in the Japanese Tea House, open once per month.

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04Rent a boat or kayak in Tempe

Sunset over the Tempe Town Lake in Tempe, Arizona. Adrian Velez / Getty Images

The best place to rent a boat or kayak near Phoenix is right in Tempe. Beautiful and centrally located, Tempe Town Lake features a 2-mile stretch of water perfect for paddling. Visitors can hire kayaks, canoes, dragon boats, outriggers, rowing boats, stand-up paddleboards, or even go sailing on the lake. If you're looking for a bit more adventure, how about going a bit further afield and taking a kayaking trip on the beautiful Lower Salt River?

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05Uptown Farmers' Market

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Are you going to be looking for fresh produce and other food items? You should look no further than the number one rated farmers' market in the Phoenix area, Uptown Farmers' Market. It has everything local farms have to offer, and it also has farmers who will chop, dice, and prepare food and vegetables the way you want after you purchase them for use later. The market is open on Wednesday from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m.

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06Chandler Museum

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The Chandler Museum is located in the pueblo revival-styled McCullough-Price House and is home to artifacts and exhibits detailing the early years of the Phoenix area. Research and archive facilities are located in the house. On the grounds, there is a Tumbleweed Ranch that teaches about agriculture in the desert. There is an old farmhouse built in 1917, an old-style grocery store, and old farm equipment. The museum is open Tuesday - Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 1-5 p.m.

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07Wren House Brewing

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After a day of hiking and visiting sites, you can head over to the Wren House Brewing Company. Wren House is the locals' favorite craft beer brewing facility, and it makes different styles beers and ales depending on the season such as:

  • Pilsners
  • IPAs
  • Sour Ales
  • Stouts
  • Porters

Wren House Brewing is open Monday - Thursday from noon -10 p.m., Friday and Saturdays from 11 a.m. - midnight, and Sundays from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

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08Golf Courses

golf courses Phoenix

One of the greatest draws to Phoenix is the golf courses. There are almost 200 courses in the area from local municipal ones to prestigious ones like TPC Scottsdale that hosts the USPGA's Phoenix Open. You have the opportunity to play on greens lined with pine trees or on ones that seemingly take you away from everything as you head out into the desert. Most courses are only open during daylight hours, but some are lit so you can play at night.

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09Piestewa Peak Summit Trail

summit Phoenix

One of the best spot to go hiking to get a good view of the Valley of the Sun is Piestewa Peak. The peak rises to 2,608 feet above the base of the valley and is surrounded by diverse landscapes and valleys. The views are remarkable, and there are six trailheads located around the base where you can gain entry. The trails are open every day from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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10Little Miss BBQ

bbq Phoenix

One of the best places to go out to eat, according to many locals, is Little Miss BBQ. The restaurant serves sandwiches piled high with meat covered with its famous barbecue sauce as well as sausages, briskets, pastrami, and more. Little Miss BBQ has two locations. One is located at 4301 E. University in Phoenix and opens at 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. This location closes early if they sell out what they had prepared for the day, so always plan to arrive well before 4. The second location is at 8901 N. 7th Street and is open Tuesday to Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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11Arizona Balloon Classic

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One of the biggest festivals in the Phoenix area is the Arizona Balloon Classic. The festival draws spectators and balloonists to the Phoenix area for one weekend each year in January. Families and spectators get to walk around the balloons on the field before they lift up to get a close look at them and take pictures.

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12Camelback Mountain

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The best view of the Phoenix can be had by climbing the trails at Camelback Mountain between Phoenix and Paradise Valley. There are two trails that will lead you up to the peak: a steep, rugged trail called Echo Canyon and a less strenuous trail called Cholla. The trails are over a mile long (1.14 and 1.4 miles respectively). The trails are open from sunrise to sunset.

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13Best Time to Visit

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The best time to visit Phoenix is when the snowbirds come down from the north between November and April. The temperatures in Valley of the Sun range from highs in the 60s to the low 80s during this time. Blue skies and mild temperatures make the winter season here a perfect time to visit so you can hike, golf, dine and stroll around outside to see everything the city and desert areas have to offer without having to deal with the heat of summer.

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14KOLI Equestrian Center

The KOLI Equestrian Center, located in the Gila River Indian Community Reservation near downtown Phoenix, provides family-friendly horseback rides for riders of all experience levels. All trial rides are designated as "walking" rides to keep things gentle for beginners, while more experienced riders can book a private session that allows them to go at a more challenging pace. All riders will experience breathtaking scenery and a chance to get up close and personal with wild horses. KOLI Equestrian Center also offers hay wagon rides, carriage rides, cattle drives, and special events.

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15Pueblo Grande Museum

Located on a 1500-year-old archaeological site belonging to the Hohokam culture, the Pueblo Grande Museum represents Phoenix's largest preserved archaeological site. An accessible trail takes visitors through a prehistoric Hohokam archaeological village site, while the museum's three galleries include a permanent display of artifacts of the Hohokam, a rotating display of exhibits on archaeology, southwest cultures, and Arizona history, and a children's gallery featuring fun, hands-on experiences.

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16Phoenix highlights