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Phoenix, Arizona: 10 Reasons to Visit This Top Desert Destination

Overlooking Phoenix, the capital of Arizona.

The city of Phoenix is located smack dab in the middle of Arizona in a region known as “The Valley of the Sun.” The seat of Maricopa County and the capital of Arizona, its metro area includes other popular cities like Scottsdale, Mesa, and Tempe. All said and done, it is a little over 200 miles south of the Grand Canyon.

Whether you’re driving through the Southwest from Los Angeles to New Mexico, or flying in from New York on official business, the city has a ton to offer. Below you’ll find a list of fun and entertaining things to do while in the Phoenix area.

What is the Capital of Arizona?

Ding, ding, ding! If you guessed Phoenix, you’re in the right place. In a rare turn of events, Arizona’s state capital is actually the largest city in the state with over 1.5 million residents. The second closest is the city’s neighbor, Tucson, with a population of about 540,000. That’s one-third of what the capital city has!

Although control of the region that would eventually become the state of Arizona has passed through many hands, the Phoenix area wasn’t really settled until after the Civil War. Former Confederate soldier Jack Swilling is usually credited with this development. The area was originally intended to be the breadbasket of a nearby mining town in the northwest corner of the Salt River Valley that Phoenix shares.

However, Phoenix was not Arizona’s first capital. Before the region was granted statehood, its territorial capital was first Prescott, then Tucson, then Prescott again. The territorial government eventually moved the capital to its present location following significant political power shifts.

Although it was already a part of the country, the Arizona Territory gained USA statehood only a little over 100 years ago. You might be surprised to know it was the 48th state, making it the last continuous state added to the Union. It is only followed by Hawaii and Alaska.

10 Reasons to Visit the Capital of Arizona

1. Arizona State Capitol Building

Built in 1901, the original capitol building you want to see is more often thought of as the Arizona Capitol Museum. Exhibits include 19th-century artwork, a preserved governor’s office, and artifacts from the USS Arizona, which was destroyed at Pearl Harbor. The capitol building also houses the Arizona State Library and is particularly well known for its central copper dome.

2. Pueblo Grande Museum

The grounds of this cultural and educational destination are basically an active archaeological site that dates back to 500 A.D. In addition to a short interpretive trail, the museum features exhibits and events that focus on local native legacies. Much of the site has been reconstructed to give visitors a feel for ancient pueblo life.

3. Desert Botanical Garden

Overflowing with lush desert flora, the Desert Botanical Garden is a cactus lover’s dream come true. Alongside its many meandering trails, the garden hosts a breathtaking butterfly pavilion. Its grounds also include a library dedicated to desert horticulture and a fancy farm-to-table restaurant.

4. Phoenix Art Museum

If you need a quick break from history and the outdoors, the Phoenix Art Museum is a great choice. Here you can enjoy an engaging collection of modern art while in the presence of modern conveniences like air conditioning. Of course, the museum’s permanent collection also includes centuries-old work from across the world, and traveling exhibitions regularly roll through.

5. Phoenix Zoo

Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m., visiting the Phoenix Zoo is sure to take up the better part of a day. Miles of trail loop through several wildlife habitats which include Tropical, African, and Arizonan biomes, among others. The zoo also has a fun “Wild Walk” system visitors can follow. Each Wild Walk station features suggested exercises for everyday health, as well as information about animals.

6. OdySea Aquarium

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While zoos are great, hanging out in the sun all day can wear anyone out. If you want to see more animals but you’re starting to feel a little landlocked out in the desert, you should definitely check out this massive aquarium. It’s just one of the many attractions you’ll find at the quirkily named “Arizona Boardwalk,” alongside other points of interest like a Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

7. Papago Park

Papago Park is actually a whole green region of town that contains both the botanical garden and the zoo, not to mention a stadium and a couple of golf courses. A short drive past the airport from Downtown Phoenix, the park is famous for its Hole in the Rock formation. Miles of trail cover the park, leading to this scenic centerpiece and more.

8. Arizona Science Center

Not far from other popular destinations like a Children’s Museum and the Phoenix Sun’s Arena, you’ll come across this sprawling monument to science. The museum is full of engaging interactive exhibits that kids and shameless adults will love. It has a rotating selection of events and demonstrations, so you might want to plan and show up on a day that speaks to your preferences.

9. Heard Museum

Founded in 1929, the Heard Museum is dedicated to native art. In addition to permanent exhibits, it hosts events and festivals in its outdoor gallery and performance spaces.  There’s also a convenient cafe located on the grounds, making it a great place to stay over for lunch.

10. Goldfield Ghost Town

Located on the eastern edge of the metro area, this ghost town is more a theme park than a haunted relic. It hosts numerous attractions, including a shooting gallery, nightly ghost tours, and a zipline that goes over the town, just to name a few. Along with its museum and mystery shack, it also has a saloon-style restaurant that serves steaks, burgers, and cold drinks.

Know some fun things folks shouldn’t miss when visiting Phoenix? Share the love on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!

READ MORE: 5 Arizona Road Trips Bringing Culture & Natural Beauty to Life