12 unique things to do in downtown Phoenix

by Paul Joseph  |  Published September 8, 2020

All-year-round sunshine, an array of world class golf courses, and several pumping nightlife venues are just some of the features and attractions that help make the desert city of Phoenix such a popular destination, both for those who live there and the large number of visitors who arrive in the Arizona capital every year seeking fun and adventure.

A view of Phoenix Convention Center in the city’s downtown district (Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

At the heart of the city’s activity is its downtown district, a bustling nexus of commerce, art, and culture that has undergone a dramatic revamp in recent years with the addition of several new mixed-use commercial buildings featuring a diverse mix of shops and restaurants. For those keen to check out some of the district’s lesser known attractions, we’ve compiled a list of Downtown Phoenix’s most unique places of interest.

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.

LOCATION Phoenix Civic Space Park HOURS Mon-Sun 5pm-11pm

Milford Sound

The eye-catching “Her Secret is Patience” installation in Phoenix Civic Space Park (Photo: Michael Ruiz via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

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.

LOCATION 5032 North Central Avenue HOURS Mon-Fri 11am-6pm Sat-Sun 11am-5pm

Chow down at a fun-packed pizza festival

Pizza is one of the world’s most enduringly popular food items and each year it is celebrated at pizza-themed festivals in a number of cities across the world. Among the biggest and best is the annual Phoenix Pizza Festival, which plays host to around 20 pizza makers serving up every type of pizza under the sun for hungry revellers. The family-friendly, one-day event also features live stage music, local craft brews, a wine bar, lawn games, a vendor market, and a dedicated kid’s zone.

LOCATION Margaret T. Hance Park DATES November each year

Phoenix Pizza Festival

Hungry revellers link arms for a ceremonial bite of pizza (Photo: Flargus )

Sink some pints at a family-owned brewhouse

A lively, urban space that coexists in perfect harmony with its buzzing downtown surroundings, State 48 Brewery DTPHX invites patrons to come and experience a quintessential American Brewhouse and restaurant. Part of the family-owned State 48 Brewery that has four sites across Arizona, the downtown venue is housed within a historic building and offers an impressive 60 beer taps. It also places as much emphasis on its food as its drinks, with handcrafted culinary offerings ranging from hearty American classics to smaller bites. Meanwhile, custom graffiti-style murals created by a local artist add to the authentic urban look and feel.

LOCATION 345 West Van Buren Street HOURS Mon-Thurs 11am-12am Fri-Sat 11am-2am Sun 11am-10pm

State 48 Brewery DTPHX

A bottle of beer sits tantalisingly on he bar at State 48 Brewery DTPHX (Photo: State 48 Brewery DTPHX)

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.

Roosevelt Row

Public art along Roosevelt Row (Photo: Kenneth Hagemeyer via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Watch a hotly contested hoop dancing competition

A long-standing form of artistic expression across a number of native cultures, hoop dancing is celebrated in Phoenix each year at its annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest. The two-day event features over 90 competitors across five age groups vying for glory, with participants using dozens of hoops – typically decorated to symbolise the changing colours of each season – to perform their routines. Dancers are judged on skills such as timing, rhythm, showmanship, creativity, and speed.

LOCATION Heard Museum, 2301 North Central Avenue DATES 13-14 February 2021

Step back in time to an architectural heritage site

Located within 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 number of heritage homes and other buildings that have been touchingly 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 and early 20th century.

LOCATION 113 North 6th Street

Heritage Square

One of the impressive buildings in Heritage Square (Photo: David Taylor via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

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.

LOCATION 1625 North Central Avenue HOURS Tues-Sat 11am-5pm Closed Sun-Mon

Phoenix Art Museum

Eye-catching artwork at the Phoenix Art Museum (Photo: bobistraveling via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Visit an historic American diner

A staple of Phoenix’s restaurant scene since the late 1930s, MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain is a quintessential American diner that still houses many of its original fittings including a soda fountain, malt machine and – either charmingly or repulsively depending on your tastes – decades-old gum left beneath its counters by former customers. Today patrons can still pick from more than 99 soda flavours at the vintage fountain, including time-honoured classics such as bubblegum and red velvet, while other favourites like malted milkshakes and egg creams. Diners can eat in charming wooden booths against a backdrop of old jukebox tunes.

LOCATION 2303 North 7th Street HOURS Sun-Thurs 11am-7pm Fri-Sat 11am-8pm

MacAlpine's Soda Fountain

An exterior shot of the legendary MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain (Photo: Christopher Amrich via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

See dogs dressed in Halloween costumes for charity

Halloween is famously a popular time for dressing up, but it’s fair to say far less typically for our canine friends. That’s where The Big Dog Show – held in aid of the Arizona Humane Society which raises money for pets in-need around the country – begs to differ. Part of the city’s annual Howl-o-ween celebrations, revellers are invited to dress up their four-legged friends for a hilarious parade. There’s a grand prize for best costumed doggie and other giveaway goodies, plus giant dog sculptures, food trucks, and plenty more family fun.

LOCATION Margaret T. Hance Park DATES October each year

Let your hair down in a hip drinking space

Innovative, award-winning cocktails are just part of the draw of the stylish downtown haunt known as Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, which combines an atmospheric old-world décor with a truly modern take on the art of mixology. Housed inside the former Arizona Prohibition Headquarters at the historic Luhrs Building, the perpetually busy nightspot is the go-to joint for the city’s fun-seeking hipsters who lap up the extensive menu of both classic and original cocktails, all given a flourish by handcrafted ice cubes. It’s that kinda place.

LOCATION 1 West Jefferson Street HOURS Tues-Sat 4pm-2am Closed Sun-Mon

Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour

A delectable concoction at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour (Photo: Lauren Topor via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Dine in style at a revolving restaurant

For a unique dining destination in downtown Phoenix, Compass Arizona Grill is hard to beat. Situated on the top floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the upscale eatery is not only acclaimed for its top notch food but also the fact that it is one of the world’s only revolving restaurants. As it turns leisurely through 360 degrees, diners can enjoy their gourmet meal while admiring panoramic views of Phoenix without leaving their seat.

LOCATION Hyatt Regency Hotel HOURS Mon-Sun 5pm-11pm