Live Like a Tourist

M.V. MoorheadNovember 21, 2019
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Desert Jeep/Hummer Tours; Photo by Michael Woodall; models: Dominique Taylor & Derek Eligio/Ford Robert Black Agency
Desert Jeep/Hummer Tours; Photo by Michael Woodall; models: Dominique Taylor & Derek Eligio/Ford Robert Black Agency

Bored with same-old pastimes, restaurants and things to do?
Maybe it’s time to…

Live Like A Tourist

Tourist traps get a bad rap. Corny, maybe. Crowded, sometimes. But remember: The “touristy” stigma is only there in the first place because a given pizza parlor, hiking trail, art museum or pub crawl is so universally appealing. So don’t avoid them. Embrace them. And discover a new-to-you piece of the Valley that’s been there all along.

Photography by Eric Cox, Diana Elizabeth, Carrie Evans, Michael Hannan, Mirelle Inglefield, Kevin Kaminski, Mark Lipczynski, John Mendoza, David B. Moore, Laura Moss, Nicole Neri, Dave Seibert, Ken Shoemaker, Michael Woodall

1. Desert Jeep/Hummer Tours

Desert Dog Offroad Adventures and Off-Road Jeep Adventures both provide off-road adventures available day or night; some include instruction in the desert ecosystem. Learn about local flora and impress your friends.;

2. Scottsdale Segway Tours

“Like a true nature’s child, I was born, born to be wild…” Join a helmeted gang for a two-wheeled guided tour through Old Town Scottsdale. Christmas lights tours are available through December.

3. Arizona Science Center

Both the standard and the weird varieties of science, from anatomy to astronomy, may be found at this Downtown museum. Great for kids, but there’s also an Adult’s Night Out lecture series.

4. Rosson House

A brick Victorian mansion constitutes, in itself, a sight to be seen in the Valley. But this 1895 residence of Phoenix physician and politician Roland Rosson would be a beautiful specimen in any city. Grab a pie at Pizzeria Bianco afterward for a tourism double whammy.

Scottsdale Segway Tours; Photo by Mark Lipczynski; models: Taylor McGlone & Kyle O’Malley/Ford Robert Black Agency
Scottsdale Segway Tours; Photo by Mark Lipczynski; models: Taylor McGlone & Kyle O’Malley/Ford Robert Black Agency


Photo courtesy Dave Seibert
Photo courtesy Dave Seibert

5. Hole in the Rock

The big lump of perforated sandstone in Papago Park is, arguably, the perfect tourist trap here in the Valley: a fine view both ways, an easy climb for almost all fitness levels, and free.

Photo courtesy Desert Botanical Garden
Photo courtesy Desert Botanical Garden

6. Desert Botanical Garden

Flora not just from Arizona but from deserts around the world can be found at this botany preserve near the Phoenix Zoo. The fauna, however, ranging from snakes to tarantula hawks, is pure Southwest.

Photo courtesy Phoenix Zoo
Photo courtesy Phoenix Zoo

7. Phoenix Zoo

Along with the standard lions and tigers and bears, you’ll find spotted-necked otters, white-faced saki monkeys and the endangered Arabian oryx at the Valley’s world-class menagerie. ZooLights is an annual cool-weather, after-dark treat.


8. HIKE the…

As long as it isn’t as hot as Mercury’s equator, Phoenix is a great place to hike. Here are the Valley’s three most popular city hikes, as voted on by PHOENIX readers.

Photo by Kevin Kaminski
Photo by Kevin Kaminski

1. Flatiron-Siphon Draw

Beautiful wildflowers and killer views elevate this difficult, 5.5-mile back-and-out trail near Apache Junction to the top of the hiking heap. Pair it with No. 36.

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield

2. Piestewa Peak

Craving a brisk, stair-like workout with a panoramic cherry on top? This popular north-central Phoenix peak is your jam.

Photo by Laura Moss
Photo by Laura Moss

3. Camelback Mountain

The Valley’s most-trafficked hiking spot, with upward of 450,000 yearly visitors, is also one of its most technical, with boulder scrambles and steep handrails.

9. The Drive Up South Mountain

You’ll feel like the Road Runner and/or Wile E. Coyote winding your way up this quintessentially Southwestern roadway. At the top, you can take a deep breath; you’re above the smog.

10. Taliesin West

Legendary designer Frank Lloyd Wright wasn’t just an architectural genius – he was also smart enough not to spend his winters at Taliesin in Wisconsin. The original snowbird’s Arizona digs are open for tours.

11. ASU Gammage

Broadway tours and bus-and-truck shows play the venue regularly. But you can also go just to get a look at it from outside – it’s among the last major works of Frank Lloyd Wright.

12. Tempe Butte

Adorned, like Hester Prynne, with an “A” – though yellow, not scarlet – this hill commands a fine view of, depending on which way you face, Tempe Town Lake, downtown Tempe and Sun Devil Stadium.

Photo courtesy Taliesin West/ By Andrew Pielage
Photo courtesy Taliesin West/ By Andrew Pielage
Photo courtesy Sphinx Date Co.
Photo courtesy Sphinx Date Co.


13. Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry

Part of tourist-ing is buying gifts for out-of-town friends and family. This Scottsdale emporium for the fruit of Phoenix dactylifera (date palm) offers a sweet abundance of choices.

14. Cerreta Candy Company

Along with the unmistakable green French mints and a wide array of other chocolate and caramel goodies, the venerable candy factory near downtown Glendale offers twice-daily (weekday) tours. Golden Ticket not required.

15. Jokake Inn

The ’20s-era “mud house” on the grounds of The Phoenician is currently shuttered, but it’s still worth a tourist-y selfie out front, if only for the memorable role it played in the movie Raising Arizona.

Photos courtesy Cerreta Candy Company
Photos courtesy Cerreta Candy Company

16. Hotel Valley Ho

A “staycation” at this old-school Scotts-dale haven will give you your Mad Men fix without that pesky midcentury social exclusion and repression. For a quick fix, just drop by for a drink.


17. Cosanti

You can get a smaller taste of controversial architectural visionary Paolo Soleri without having to drive north to Arcosanti. This Paradise Valley studio is the place to buy one of his famous wind bells– handmade by his faithful army of acolytes.

18. The Old Spaghetti Factory

The Central Avenue location of the Portland, Oregon-based pasta chain frequently seems jammed with tourists. It’s also a historic landmark in its own right, inhabiting two conjoined houses from the 1920s.

Photos courtesy Cosanti
Photos courtesy Cosanti

19. Durant’s

Like Hotel Valley Ho, the red-velvet steakhouse on Central Avenue, celebrating its 70th birthday next year, will also give you an authentic Mad Men vibe. Have a martini, and don’t forget the sautéed chicken livers.

20. Wrigley Mansion

Build a better stick of gum, and… well, you can get a ballpark named after you in Chicago, and a pretty nice heap of plaster and tile here in Phoenix. Tours are offered Tuesday-Sunday.

21. Wildlife World Zoo

There are those who believe that Litchfield Park’s zoo, aquarium and safari park is at least the equal of Phoenix Zoo. Feeding the giraffes at eye level is an experience everyone should have.

22. Phoenix Sunrise Balloon Rides

Rainbow Ryders flies over Deer Valley daily, November to March, followed by prickly pear mimosas, which some of us would need just to get in the thing in the first place. Sunset rides are also available.

23. Eludesions Escape Rooms

The “escape room” role-playing adventures here are inspired by everything from The X-Files to Alice in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz and more. It brings a whole new meaning to the term “escapism.”

Photos courtesy Rainbow Ryders
Photos courtesy Rainbow Ryders

24. Compass Arizona Grill

Don’t care for the view where you’ve been seated at this disc-shaped diner atop the Hyatt Regency Phoenix Downtown? Don’t worry: It’ll soon change, offering a 360-degree gawk at the Valley in under an hour.

25. Organ Stop Pizza

It’s been said that the beer’s not so cold and the pizza’s not so hot here. But the entertainment, from the “Mighty Wurlitzer” theater organ boasting nearly 6,000 pipes, is without peer.

Monuments, Memorials & Statuary

The Valley has plenty of these suckers, from the imposing to the obscure to the potently emotional.

Photo by Michael Hannan
Photo by Michael Hannan

26. Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza

Start with this assortment of more than two dozen memorials in front of the Arizona State Capitol – including the 9/11 Memorial, controversial since its debut for including dissenting remarks among the sun-cast pronouncements on its circular shape. Other memorials on the plaza honor subjects including Confederate troops, Martin Luther King Jr., Jewish war veterans, Father Albert Braun and Navajo Codetalkers.

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

27. Hunt’s Tomb

Look up while you’re at the zoo to spot the little pyramid in Papago Park marking the resting place of George W.P. Hunt, the surprisingly progressive first governor of our state, and his family.

Photo by Michael Hannan
Photo by Michael Hannan

28. Barry Goldwater Memorial

Paradise Valley is home to sculptor Joe Beeler’s statue of Arizona’s beloved “Mr. Conservative,” standing resolutely on a pedestal of rock.

Photo by Michael Hannan
Photo by Michael Hannan

29. Big Jackrabbits in Downtown Tempe

If you’re in downtown Tempe and you’re not working, a student or homeless, then you’re already sort of living like a tourist. Get a selfie with the big bronze bunny statues by sculptor Mark Rossi – it’s free.

Photo by Michael Hannan
Photo by Michael Hannan

30. National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona

The facility includes a peaceful walkway of monuments, ranging in subject from Vietnam Veterans, Navy Seabees, the pyramid-shaped “Eternal Flame” and the striking World War II Submarine Torpedo.

31. The Dolly Steamboat

It’s not the Mighty Mississippi, but Canyon Lake’s stunning scenery is no slouch when viewed from Dolly. See bighorn sheep by day, or contemplate the cosmos with an astronomy tour after dark.

32. Sugar Bowl

The eye-catchingly pink ice creamery on Scottsdale Road, founded in 1958 and often featured in Bil Keane’s The Family Circus, still serves fine sweet treats. The old-timey ice cream sodas are the best.

33. Paddleboating at Tempe Town Lake

Rental crafts ranging from kayaks to pontoon boats are available to navigate TTL’s waters. But perhaps the most companionable vessel is a two-person paddleboat, which gives you a surprisingly robust leg workout.

34. The Stockyards

With Monti’s La Casa Vieja’s lamented passing into Arizona memory, The Stockyards is one of the Valley’s few remaining retro steakhouses, delighting beef lovers since 1947. Get your elk or bison fix here, too.

Photo by Ken Shoemaker
Photo by Ken Shoemaker
Photo courtesy Mccormick-Stillman Railroad Park
Photo courtesy Mccormick-Stillman Railroad Park

35. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

Miniature trains to ride, a historic Pullman car and a museum of all things locomotive make this spry little Scottsdale theme park one of the Valley’s top family destinations. There’s also a carousel, for less straight-and-narrow travel.


36. Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Copper magnate and botanical enthusiast William Boyce Thompson founded this sprawling tree garden/research facility in 1924, and it became a state park in 1976. Every year, there’s a fall plant sale in October.

37. Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights

There’s a long waiting list for tickets to tour the odd wedding-cake-shaped stucco mansion, built in the late ’20s and early ’30s. It may have become the biggest sneaky-popular attraction in the Valley.


38. Phoenix First Friday Art Walk

Galleries and cool shops in various artsy Downtown districts – like Roosevelt Row and Grand Avenue – party it up on the day in question. Complimentary trolleys will carry you around. Bring home something cool for your wall.

Photo by Carrie Evans; wardrobe Styling by Shannon Campbell; Wardrobe provided by Saks Fifth Avenue, Phoenix; Models: Elizabeth Sing; George Mayer/Ford Robert Black Agency
Photo by Carrie Evans; wardrobe Styling by Shannon Campbell; Wardrobe provided by Saks Fifth Avenue, Phoenix; Models: Elizabeth Sing; George Mayer/Ford Robert Black Agency

Tours, Tours, Tours

Tourists go on tours – it’s right there in the word. Here are some excursion options.

Mural “Flora and Fauna” by Tara Sharpe and Eric Cox; Photo by Michael Woodall
Mural “Flora and Fauna” by Tara Sharpe and Eric Cox; Photo by Michael Woodall

39. Arizona Party Bike

Want to discover a city’s soul? We suggest two strategies: a pub crawl, or a group bike ride. Or both at the same time? APB lets you and a bunch of fellow revelers hit the watering holes in Old Town Scottsdale or Downtown Phoenix without getting behind the wheel. The majestic title vehicle is piloted by a trained driver, but powered by the pedaling of the partiers (with electric assistance). So you won’t even miss your workout.

40. Bike Tours

For drier pedal-pushing, check out these guided tours of Valley cities and towns.

Greenbelt Bike Tours of Scottsdale

Scottsdale and Tempe are the focus of this tour.

Tempe E-Bike Tours

Check out the scenic beauty of Tempe Town Lake and Papago Park.

Pedego Electric Bikes

The eBike brand conducts tours around Tempe, Scottsdale and the Arcadia area.

Crescent Community Bike Ride

The ride is held every Thursday at 7 p.m. for “Caliente” (fast riders) and 8 p.m. for more relaxed pedalers, starting at the Crescent Ballroom.

Photos clockwise from top left: courtesy Pedego Electric Bikes; Greenbelt Bike Tours of Scottsdale; Adobe stock Images; John Mendoza; Nicole Neri
Photos clockwise from top left: courtesy Pedego Electric Bikes; Greenbelt Bike Tours of Scottsdale; Adobe stock Images; John Mendoza; Nicole Neri


41. Frontier Town Cave Creek

Everything from turquoise jewelry to corny T-shirts can be had in the shops, live music and beverages can be had in the taverns; you can even get married in the chapel. You can’t swing a dead jackrabbit without hitting a souvenir. You can probably even get a dead jackrabbit.

42. Fun on the Rez

From penguins in the desert to jousting, there’s quite the welter of curiosities at Talking Stick Entertainment District.

Photo courtesy Odysea Aquarium
Photo courtesy Odysea Aquarium

OdySea in the Desert

There’s the aquarium, sure, but also attractions like a Titanic artifact exhibit, the Laser & Mirror Maze, the Surprise Your Eyes optical illusion gallery and the Pangaea interactive dinosaur exhibit.

Photo courtesy Butterfly Wonderland
Photo courtesy Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

This hothouse will certainly make you sweat, and it may make you anxious for the fate of the poor creatures, against tourist feet and rear ends. But the beauty is undeniable.

Photo courtesy Medieval Times
Photo courtesy Medieval Times

Medieval Times

Watch jousting and corny acting; eat chicken with your hands at this recent addition to the district’s roster of attractions. Wield plastic weapons; cheer your bold knight; enjoy.

Photos courtesy iFly
Photos courtesy iFly

iFLY Phoenix

Kids (starting at age 3!) and adults alike can make like a superhero and defy gravity on a cushion of air in this indoor skydiving facility’s wind tunnel.

43. Have a Museum day… or 10

That old tourist standby – the museum – is an edifying day-killer for us townies, too. Here are the Valley’s 10 most popular, as rated by tourism website TripAdvisor’s readers.

Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting; Photo by Brandson Sullivan
Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting; Photo by Brandson Sullivan

1. Musical Instrument Museum

Even if you’re not that into music, this Smithsonian-level facility offers fine geography and anthropology lessons.

2. Heard Museum

The venerable gallery has been showcasing Indigenous American art since 1929.

3. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West

Southwestern art, from paintings to pottery to bronzes to Barry Goldwater’s photos, is the focus here.

4. Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

It’s a performance venue, but the galleries are good, too.

5. Arizona Capitol Museum

Where else can you see former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s robe and a Lego flag in the same place?

6. Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting

The world’s largest museum of firefighting history features firetrucks, steamers and hand-pumpers from around the world.

7. Wells Fargo Museum

The collection of everything from stagecoaches to firearms to N.C. Wyeth’s art is free to visit.

8. Phoenix Art Museum

World-class exhibitions from Old Masters to 20th-century fashion illustration.

9. Children’s Museum of Phoenix

The emphasis is on the link between play and learning; “hands on” is the key concept.

10. Phoenix Police Museum

A great collection on the Miranda case, a police helicopter and more.

44. Queen Creek Day Trip

It can feel like driving to Mars. But a visit to Schnepf Farms to pick some eggplant, or to Queen Creek Olive Mill for oil to cook it in, makes it worthwhile.;

45. Ben Avery Shooting Facility

Well, it is Arizona, after all. This shootery, operated by Arizona Game & Fish, has provided a place to fire one’s clip since 1960, as well as archery and skeet ranges.

46. Lost Dutchman State Park

If you happen to spot a hole in the ground and think it might be the legendary gold mine… don’t go in. Just admire the park’s breathtaking scenery. That’s the real treasure.

Schnepf Farms; Photo by Diana Elizabeth
Schnepf Farms; Photo by Diana Elizabeth

47. The Farm at South Mountain

The sylvan hideaway serves soups, salads and sammies sourced heavily from Arizona agriculture. It’s plenty yummy, sure, but the idyllic setting is almost as important to the place’s appeal.

48. Last Chance

It sounds like scare signage from a desert highway gas station, but this outlet at Camelback Colonnade is actually Nordstrom’s final-clearance store, and Phoenix has one of only two in the country.

49. Out-of-Town Tours

Grand Canyon with Across Arizona Tours

Theodore Roosevelt said the “Big Ditch” up north was “the one great sight which every American should see.” This company will do the driving while you obey Teddy.
Cost: $151 per adult
Duration: 12-13 hours

Gray Line Tour’s Tombstone Adventure

The Tucson branch of the tour company will take you to the O.K. Corral, where Wyatt Earp and pals mixed it up with the Clantons.
Cost: $115 per person; six person minimum
Duration: 8 hours (from Tucson)

Mural by Lalo Cota and Thomas “Breeze” Marcus; Photo by Eric Cox
Mural by Lalo Cota and Thomas “Breeze” Marcus; Photo by Eric Cox

El Barrio Street Art Tour

Or, you could stay here in Phoenix and tour the Mexican mural scene, and other examples of cool street art.
Cost: $25 per person
Duration: 2 hours

50. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Detour

By Leah LeMoine

Some people plan entire vacations around restaurants featured on the Food Network favorite that launched Guy Fieri’s empire. Luckily, Phoenix has no shortage of Flavor Town outposts.

Perk Eatery

A full bar sweetens the deal at this North Scottsdale diner, where you can order Guy Fieri’s favorite Chicken on the Coop (sausage and sage stuffing with eggs) or Wine Country French Toast with roasted red grapes and rosemary-wine syrup.

Haus Murphy’s

Live polka music, a German biergarten and Teutonic favorites like schnitzel, spaetzle and sauerkraut keep the oompah vibes going at this kitschy downtown Glendale institution.

Perk Eatery; Photo by David B. Moore
Perk Eatery; Photo by David B. Moore

Matt’s Big Breakfast

The Godfather of seriously good breakfast joints in the Valley, Matt Pool’s titular spot (now with four locations) does griddle cakes, omelets, waffles and bacon better than pretty much anywhere else.

The Thumb

Get your car washed and fueled while you feast on scratch-made barbecue and mouthwatering pastries at this far North Scottsdale anomaly. There’s a fully outfitted gift shop, too, so souvenirs are a cinch.

Joe’s Farm Grill

Gilbert real estate and restaurant mogul Joe Johnston’s signature spot slings all-American comfort food – burgers, ribs, chicken, fries, fried green beans – executed exceptionally well.

Barrio Cafe

Multiple James Beard Award nominee Silvana Salcido Esparza showcases the soul of regional Mexican cuisine with elegant dishes including cochinita pibil and churros with cajeta crema.

Chino Bandido

Mexican-Chinese fusion? Don’t knock it ’til you try it at this North Phoenix cult favorite, where you can get Chinese barbecue pork quesadillas, chile relleno rice bowls and delicious snickerdoodles.

The Duce

A 1920s produce warehouse morphed into Downtown Phoenix’s oddest hub of frivolity. Where else can you order chicken pot pie from a vintage Airstream trailer, slam a cocktail under a tiki ramada, hula hoop next to a boxing ring and buy Army surplus gear?

Barrio Cafe; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Barrio Cafe; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield

La Santísima Gourmet Taco Shop

No Tex-Mex here. Phoenix’s La Santísima specializes in regional Mexican cuisine, from Baja Sur shark tacos to Mayan cochinita pibil. It has one of the best salsa bars in the state, too.

La Santísima Gourmet Taco Shop; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
La Santísima Gourmet Taco Shop; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield

Paradise Valley Burger Company

If Cheech & Chong ran a burger joint, the menu would look like the fare at this stoner-rific North Phoenix shop. Country-fried burger patties, burnt sugar, whiskey-pickled chiles and a green chile-vodka-bacon cream sauce all make appearances.

51. Rent a Super Car

If you want to step outside your routine, if only for one blessed afternoon, a surefire solution is to have a four-wheeled fling with one of the exotics at Johnson American Driving Experience. Rent a Bentley, Mini or classic Porsche, and curry jealous looks like you mean it. Pair it with No. 4.

Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images

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