I'm writing this blog post while looking at the gloomy sky outside my window in Boston and still can't believe that just over a week ago I was in sunny and warm Phoenix! I’ve never had a strong desire to go to Phoenix simply because I didn't know much about it. But now that I've been there and explored the area, I can tell that Phoenix is a very underrated travel destination. If you're looking for a perfect place to escape the winter that has museums, beautiful natural surroundings, fun activities to do outdoors, a lot of art and a very diverse and high-quality food scene - Phoenix meets all the criteria. It's one of those places you definitely want to come back to! If you're planning a visit to Phoenix soon, here's a list of the things I recommend doing!
1. TAKE A WALKING TOUR OF DOWNTOWN PHOENIX
I believe that the best way to get acquainted with a new place is to take a walk there. Even though Phoenix is spread over a large area, the downtown is quite small and very walkable. We did the History and Highlights Walking Tour with Phoenix Rising Tours that lasted around two hours. The tour guide led us through the streets of Phoenix, showing us all the hidden spots and telling us their history! It was very informative! If you're not a huge fan of walking, there are also biking and trolley tours available.
2. ADMIRE UNIQUE STREET ART
Phoenix is a very colorful city with artsy murals on every corner! I was really surprised by the amount of graffiti and street art there. It's every Instagrammer's dream! Make sure to explore the Roosevelt Row Arts District in downtown Phoenix that's known for its murals, galleries with rotating exhibitions, and restaurants.
3. VISIT THE DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN
You can't come to Phoenix and not visit the Desert Botanical Garden! This was probably my favorite part of this trip! As someone who is so used to living surrounded by trees and forests, I find the desert landscape to be very fascinating! At the Desert Botanical Garden, you'll see acres of beautiful cacti, succulents, other desert-living species from around the world growing among red rock formations. Such a beautiful place makes you feel like you're far far away from the city.
4. VISIT HEARD MUSEUM
If you like museums and history, I recommend stopping by The Heard Museum. It's dedicated to both traditional and contemporary Native American art and presents the stories of American Indian people from a first-person perspective. One of my favorite exhibits was "Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience" - it's heart wrenching and honest.
5. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE VERDE VALLEY
People who enjoy wine tasting and vineyard tours might be surprised to learn that Arizona has a flourishing wine industry that has experienced phenomenal growth in the last 10 years or so. Within a few hours of the Phoenix area, you can visit many tasting rooms that feature some of the award-winning wines cultivated from Arizona orchards. On top of that, the Verde Valley area is incredibly picturesque, so it's totally worth it to take a day and explore this part of the state.
6. TAKE A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE
We had a magical 1-hour hot air balloon ride with Hot Air Expedition. I finally crossed this off my bucket list and you should too! Phoenix has daily sunrise flights all throughout the year. It was truly an unforgettable experience. We were floating up in the air, flying over the desert and highways, listening to our captain telling us interesting facts and stories about the area, and snapping photos of the glorious views! After the landing, we had champagne and breakfast served right out in the desert. That morning could not have been any more perfect! I didn't even mind waking up at 5 am for this. :)
7. TAKE A TOUR OF TALIESIN WEST
Built in 1937, Taliesin West served as both the winter home of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife, as well as a school of architecture. In a quite ingenious way, Wright designed the structure to blend in with its desert surroundings. You cannot visit the property unless you book a guided tour, but there is a variety of tours available ranging from 45 minutes to 3.5 hours, and they are absolutely worthy of your time. This place would be very interesting for anyone who appreciates home design and unique architecture, whether you're already a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright's work, or like me, know very little about him. All parts of Taliesin West have Wright's personal touch - the grounds and the interior design look very modern. Every single detail is so well thought out.
8. VISIT MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MUSEUM
The Musical Instrument Museum Phoenix is fairly new. It was opened just a few years ago and has a very impressive collection of musical instruments, curated from all over the world. Rated as the #1 attraction in Phoenix, this museum is a must-see if you have any connection to music at all. At the entrance, you'll receive a headset that will allow you to listen to video and audio performances of various exhibits as you approach them. You’ll also see instruments from music icons such as John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and others. My favorite part of the museum was the Encore Gallery - it's a room where you can play different instruments yourself! So much fun!
9. EAT EAT EAT
If you know me, you know how much I love to eat! Trying out new delicious cuisines is one of the most exciting aspects of traveling. I'm happy to say that food scene in Phoenix did not disappoint! Some of the restaurants I loved:
- Barrio Cafe - best Mexican food I've ever tried
- Hash Kitchen - make sure to get their loaded Bloody Mary
- The Sicilian Butcher - if you're in the mood for meatballs
- Postino Wine Cafe - for a pre-dinner glass of wine or sparkling rose
- Mora Italian - beautiful place with excellent Italian cuisine