At the heart of Phoenix’s appeal is its downtown, a bustling nexus of commerce, art, and culture – and home to some truly unique things to see and do.
Phoenix’s downtown district has undergone a dramatic revamp in recent years, with the addition of several new mixed-use commercial buildings featuring a diverse assortment of shops, cafes and restaurants. For those keen to check out some of the area’s best attractions, we’ve compiled a list of 12 of the most unique activities, landmarks and places of interest that you can enjoy here.
Explore a horticultural mecca
Created in the 1990s in honour of the long-standing links between Phoenix and its Sister City of Himeji, Japan, The Japanese Friendship Garden is a small slice of tranquility amid the hubbub of downtown. Spread over 3.5 acres, the pristinely maintained and landscaped garden is home to a 12-foot waterfall that feeds streams and a pond with more than 300 koi. There are also trees, a stone garden, a tea garden, a tea house with Japanese-style architecture and other Japanese flora and landscape features.
1125 North 3rd Avenue / Tues-Sun 10am-4pm Closed Mon
Spark your children’s scientific imaginations
A veritable temple of investigation and discovery, the Arizona Science Center is the perfect downtown family attraction for a rainy day. Spread over 140,000 square foot, the venue’s exterior is worth a visit alone, thanks to its unique design by acclaimed architect Antoine Predock. And inside is no less impressive, featuring four levels of hands-on exhibits, a state-of-the-art planetarium, and a 5-story high giant-screen theatre, all designed to educate and entertain kids in equal measure.
600 East Washington Street / Weds-Min 10.30am-4pm Closed Tues
Catch an NBA game
As with pretty much every US city, basketball in a seriously big deal in Phoenix. The city has its own distinguished NBA team in the shape of the Phoenix Suns, who play their home games at the Phoenix Suns Arena in downtown. While the team has a dedicated fanbase of season ticket holders, tickets are also available to the general ticket, which are available to buy in advance or at the gate itself on game day, meaning that visitors to the city can also get a taste of one of the quintessential American sporting experiences.
Phoenix Suns Arena, 201 East Jefferson Street
Tuck into some world class Mexican food
Of all the ethnic cuisine to be found in Phoenix, there’s little question that Mexican is the most popular. The city is home to a large number of Mexican food joints, from grab-and-go style outlets to sit-down eateries, with several to be found in downtown. One of the most cherished is Blanco Cocina, which offers a fresh twist on classic Mexican dishes in a light and breezy atmosphere.
123 East Washington Street / Mon-Thurs 11am-9pm Fri 11am-10pm Sat 12pm-10pm Sun 12pm-8pm
Another great downtown spot for Mexican grub is Chantico, a casual restaurant and event space that prides itself on its sourcing of fresh local produce. The indoor/outdoor design blends native desert flora with modern architecture, with the inviting indoor space offering a full-service bar and main atrium room, while outdoors you’ll find several unique spaces including a private fireplace patio. Diverse food, signature cocktails, and craft beer, plus regular live music, are the name of the game here.
1051 East Camelback Road / Mon-Thurs 2pm-9.30pm Fri 2pm-10.30pm Sat 10am-10.30pm Sun 10am-9.30pm
Look to the sky to admire an incredible art installation
Suspended more than 100 feet off the ground in the Phoenix Civic Space Park is an eye-catching public art installation that goes by the enigmatic name ‘Her Secret Is Patience’. The mastermind of acclaimed American sculptor Janet Echelman, the structure is named after a quote from the late American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and is designed to create “shadow drawings” inspired by Arizona’s cloud shadows that captivated its creator during her first visit to the state. At night it is lit up with kaleidoscope colours which change with the seasons.
Phoenix Civic Space Park / Mon-Sun 5pm-11pm
Get spooked on a haunted tour
Like most cities, Phoenix has plenty of spooky stories of ghosts and ghouls stalking the streets dating back centuries. Those with a taste for the spine-tingling can delve into this murky past by joining a Haunted Downtown Walking Tour. Guests can experience the city’s macabre history as they walk its (supposedly) haunted streets, visit its most notorious spots, and listen to creepy tales of yore, all the while accompanied by an experienced guide who knows just how to get under your skin.
Book at GetYourGuide.com
Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of downtown from the sky
There are few more captivating ways to see a city than from the air. Western Sky Helicopters is an acclaimed family-owned business that runs helicopter tours across the Phoenix metro area, including the downtown district with its many eye-catching landmarks and attractions. Flights take place aboard a state-of-the-art Robinson R44, Raven II helicopter and take off from the Scottsdale Airpark. Tours run for 30 minutes for a minimum of two guests and a maximum of three. Complimentary water, soft drinks, and snacks at the facility are all included in the price.
Gawp at a bison scrotum at a natural history emporium
A squid in a jar, a freeze-dried toad and a tanned bison scrotum are just three of the eclectic items to be found at Curious Nature, a tiny taxidermy emporium nestled behind an inconspicuous storefront in the city’s art district. Offering a fascinating – if a little stomach-turning at times – insight into natural history, the venue features a constantly changing assortment of preserved objects from the natural world, as well as animal skulls, framed insects, anatomical art, and more. It also offers its own in-store taxidermy classes.
5032 North Central Avenue / Mon-Fri 11am-6pm Sat-Sun 11am-5pm
Get a taste of Phoenix’s foodie scene
Phoenix has a vibrant culinary scene and visitors can get a flavour of it on the Downtown Phoenix Food Tour. In the company of an expert guide, you’ll be taken around the downtown district, stopping off at 5 different food joints to try out some of the local delicacies. Between tastings you’ll learn all about the city’s rich history and take in some of its historic buildings and hidden tunnels. The tour price includes all food tastings and beverages.
Book at Viator.com
Walk through Phoenix’s artistic heartland
Dotted with colourful artwork, Roosevelt Row Arts District is one of downtown Phoenix’s most distinctive and vibrant areas, as well as being the epicentre of the city’s thriving artistic scene. Pedestrians can admire dazzling murals adorning the walls between Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue while the presence of art galleries and studio space, as well as regular arts and cultural events, add to the district’s creative vibe.
Step back in time to an architectural heritage site
Located in downtown Phoenix is a truly unique area that invites visitors to step back into an era of classic Victorian architecture. Known as Heritage Square, the site includes numerous heritage homes and other buildings that have been carefully preserved down the years. Some of the buildings offer tours, including one that hosts activity kits and workshops during which guests get to use vintage tools and learn about the processes of making ink, fibre, wood and other materials that were essential during the 19th to early 20th century.
113 North 6th Street
Immerse yourself in world class art
Housing an extensive collection of art spanning from the Renaissance to the current day, Phoenix Art Museum is one of Arizona’s most prestigious cultural institutions. First opened in the late 1950s, the museum’s permanent collection galleries are drawn from more than 19,000 works of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design. The venue also hosts a regular programme of tours, lectures, films, photography exhibitions, and other special events.
1625 North Central Avenue / Tues-Sat 11am-5pm Closed Sun-Mon