United States

20 Things to Do with Kids in Arizona

by Paul Joseph  |  Published March 1, 2021

Home to iconic attractions including the Grand Canyon, as well as buzzing cities like Phoenix, Tucson and Scottsdale, the southwestern US state of Arizona is a fantastic destination for families.

A pelican enjoys a drink at Phoenix Zoo (Photo: Kenneth Hagemeyer via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Known as the “Copper State” owing to its abundance of the natural mineral, Arizona is steeped in history and culture, much of which is still celebrated today in its landmarks, buildings and other attractions. But the state is also forward-thinking in its mindset, ensuring the best of both worlds for visitors. For those planning to come here with kids, we’ve picked out 20 of the best child-friendly things to see and do across the state.

Enjoy a memorable day out at the zoo

There are few suggestions more guaranteed to excite the kids than a trip to the zoo. Housing over 3,000 animals, including Bornean orangutans, Asian elephants, Sumatran tigers, Komodo dragons, and Masai giraffes, Phoenix Zoo is one of the best attractions of its kind anywhere in Arizona. As well as its diverse array of exotic residents, there’s also a Safari Cruiser, a 4-D theatre, lush gardens, water landscapes, and outdoor cafes.

LOCATION 455 North Galvin Parkway, Phoenix HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-5pm

Immerse yourself in aviation history

Showcasing over a century of aviation history, the Pima Air & Space Museum is about as good as it gets for anyone with an interest in the evolution of aeroplanes and the role they have performed down the years. Almost 300 aircrafts, including military, commercial and civilian, are on display, as well as several replicas including the first plane ever built – the Wright Flyer. There are also Presidential aircrafts and a specially curated WWII-themed hanger that highlights the crucial contribution made by aircrafts during the global conflict.

LOCATION 6000 East Valencia Road, Tucson HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-5pm

Retired military aircrafts used as canvasses for contemporary artists at the Pima Air & Space Museum (Photo: Alan Wilson via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Embark on a magical heritage train ride to the Grand Canyon

It wouldn’t do it justice to call the Grand Canyon Railroad a mere train ride, as it so much more., Before departing, passengers are treated to a recreation of a Wild West shoot-out by actors clad in cowboy gear next to the depot before boarding your restored 1920s vintage Harriman coach to begin the 64-mile journey towards one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders – the Grand Canyon National Park. Once here, you’ll have ample opportunity to savour the majestic views before your return journey.

LOCATION Grand Canyon Village

A train hurtles along the heritage Grand Canyon railroad (Photo: Drew Jacksich via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Traverse Arizona’s incredible landscapes on an All-Terrain Vehicle

If you’ve got older kids with a sense of adventure then you may consider an action-packed tour with a difference. Arizona Outdoor Fun are an acclaimed company that host and operate thrilling tours across the Sonoran Desert, including the 2-hour Desert Tour which invites guests to take in the region’s stunning natural landscapes aboard a top of the line All-Terrain Vehicle or Utility Vehicle. During the experience you’ll be taken deep into the Sonoran Desert, through deep canyons, over mountains, and across the Agua Fria River, providing breath-taking views of mountains, ancient ruins and abundant wildlife, leaving you with memories to last a lifetime. Guests are accompanied the whole time by an experienced, friendly and knowledgeable guide who will ensure safety and fun in equal measure.

Two Desert Tour guests pose for a photo aboard their all-terrain vehicles (Photo: Arizona Outdoor Fun)

Explore music and culture at a fascinating museum

The often symbiotic relationship between music and culture are celebrated at the Musical Instrument Museum. Showcasing more than 6,800 musical instruments and objects from across the globe, the museum offers a fascinating insight into the foundations of human creativity, exploring how people have harnessed music for spiritual and emotional nourishment down the ages. The exhibits include hands-on activities such as the chance to bang a gong, strum a Peruvian harp, and try your hand at the theremin. A number of instruments once owned by iconic musicians such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash are also among the museum’s collection.

LOCATION 4725 East Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-5pm

Javanese percussion instruments on display at the Musical Instrument Museum (Photo: ksblack99 via Flickr)

Step back into medieval times at a Renaissance Festival

Across America a number of festivals of this kind take place each year, and none are bigger or better than the Arizona Renaissance Festival. A veritable medieval amusement park, the festival is designed to recreate what life was like some 500 years ago through a packed programme of evocative events, activities and performances, including a circus, a jousting tournament, and an arts & crafts fair. Visitors can also meet and interact with the 2,000-plus costumed characters in attendance.

LOCATION Arizona Renaissance Festival Grounds, Queen Valley DATES Feb-March each year

A jousting display at the Arizona Renaissance Festival (Photo: ksblack99 via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Marvel at the wonders of the night sky

With its famously dark skies, the city of Flagstaff is widely considered one of America’s best spots for star gazing. For the most enthralling views, you can head to Mars Hill and the grounds of the Lowell Observatory, where visitors can gaze upwards through a giant 19th century Clark refractor, or via one of the six advanced telescopes found on the venue’s Open Deck observing plaza.

LOCATION 1400 West Mars Hill Road, Flagstaff HOURS Weds-Sun 6.30am-8.30pm Closed Tues

A visitor at Lowell Observatory examines the telescope used to discover Pluto (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Let the kids loose in a children’s museum

An ideal option for a rainy Arizona day, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix captivates little ones with its wide array of immersive, interactive exhibits and activities, all designed to spark the imagination and get both those mental and physical muscles working hard. Stand-out attractions include a Noodle Forest, a fort-building area, an art studio, a role-play market, a block-building zone, a book loft, and a texture café.

LOCATION 215 North 7th Street, Phoenix HOURS Fri-Sun 9am-4pm Closed Mon-Thurs

Provide juice for the imagination at a science centre

Spread across four levels and some 140,000 square foot of venue space, the vast Arizona Science Center is absolutely full of exhibits and galleries designed to educate and entertain kids of all ages and predilictions. Through numerous hands-on displays, as well as a high-tech planetarium and giant-screen movie theatre, children are invited to explore and investigate the endless wonders of scientific discovery, earth and the universe.

LOCATION 600 East Washington Street, Phoenix HOURS Weds-Mon 10.30am-4pm

Discover a railroad themed amusement park

The family-oriented McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a railway-themed entertainment venue that’s a major draw with kids and adults alike. Highlights include a 1950’s carousel ride, a miniature railway, interactive exhibits, model railway displays, and a historical railroad museum. There are also reservable picnic tables, two food concessions, and a well-stocked souvenir shop.

LOCATION 7301 East Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-5pm

A steam train at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park (Photo: Dru Bloomfield via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Learn about endangered animals at a wildlife zoo

Said to contain the biggest collection of exotic species in Arizona, the Wildlife World Zoo Aquarium and Safari Park is an animal lover’s paradise. Visitors can get up close and personal with some of the park’s inhabitants through animal encounter sessions with everything from giraffes to stingrays. There’s also a strong emphasis on educating people on the importance of protecting our animal populations with a number of the venue’s residents being members of endangered species.

LOCATION 16501 West Northern Avenue, Litchfield Park HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-6pm

Walk through an authentic desert museum

Far removed from a conventional museum, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a mainly outdoors venue designed to inform and educate on the majesty of the Sonoran Desert. While walking through the museum’s trails, visitors will discover all the characteristics of desert life, including prairie dogs, coyotes, a mountain lion, and 1,200 local plant species. There’s also an art gallery, a botanical garden, and a choice of four on-site eateries.

LOCATION 2021 North Kinney Road, Tucson HOURS Mon-Sun 8.30am-5pm

Cactus plans at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Photo: Anna Irene via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Head to a sandy beach

Arizona may be better known for its arid deserts, but the state also has a sprinkling of top class beaches too – many of which are extremely family-friendly. One of its best sandy shorelines can be found at Gateway Park, nestled at Yuma Crossing, where picnic areas, a playground and plenty of shade and grassy areas make this the perfect spot to relax with kids in tow. Meanwhile plenty of affordable kids’ activities and calm swimming waters add to the appeal.

LOCATION East 1st Street & South Gila Street, Yuma HOURS Mon-Sun 6am-11pm

Delve into the heroic history of firefighting

There’s something about firefighting that captures the imagination of children and those visiting Arizona can indulge that inclination by visiting the Hall of Flame Fire Fighter Museum. Here you’ll find firefighting equipment from all around the world – some dating back to the mid-18th century – plus a 10-minute introductory video screened in the museum’s 50-seat theatre, and a hands-on exhibit about fire safety. There’s also a sombre and highly moving National Firefighting Hall of Heroes list that names thousands of firefighters who have died in action down the years.

LOCATION 6101 East Van Buren Street, Phoenix HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-6pm Closed Sun-Mon

A vintage fire fighting truck on display at the Hall of Flame Fire Fighter Museum (Photo: Lonny Weaver via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Attend an arts and crafts festival

Organised and hosted by Art Attack Az Promotions, an organisation that promotes fun, local arts festivals across Arizona, the Ahwatukee Arts and Crafts Festival is a great place to visit for kids with a penchant for creativity – or indeed for parents keen to inspire their little ones to take an interest. The show features artists primarily hailing from Phoenix and Tucson who come here to present their unique and handmade items across an eclectic mix of mediums including painting, jewellery, clothing, beading, photography, wood works, metal art and home decor.

LOCATION Ahwatukee Plaza, 5031 East Elliot Road, Phoenix DATES 20-21 March 2021

Hike the Red Rocks of Sedona

The unique geology of Sedona has afforded its mountainous areas a stunning red appearance, and this natural quirk can be admired in its full glory by embarking on a hike. There are several kid-friendly trails here, including the Bell Rock Path, which offers sublime views as you get closer and closer to the iconic red rock formations. The trail is only a 3.5-mile round trip, so depending on your walking pace and how many stop-offs you make, it’s likely to take around 1.5 hours.

The eye-catching Red Rock State Park nature reserve (Photo: CGP Grey via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Navigate the Sonoran Desert on horseback

Self-described as Arizona’s premier horseback riding stable, MacDonald’s Ranch invites everyone from families to single riders and “Wild West”-seeking tourists to traverse the scenic environs of the Sonoran Desert aboard a majestic horse. Open to both novices and seasoned riders alike, you’ll be guided through scenic trails with endless views of saguaros and the possibility of spotting desert wildlife along the way. Rides are available for children aged 5 and above.

LOCATION 26540 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale HOURS Mon-Sun 8.30am-5.30pm

Peer into the future of planet earth

Run by the University of Arizona, the Biosphere 2 research facility contains numerous large-scale projects, including replicas of a tropical rainforests, a coral reef, and a fog desert, plus a model city to help scientists study the effects of urbanization. Daily guided tours take visitors through several of these biomes, all designed to offer an insightful glimpse into the future of our planet.

LOCATION 32540 S Biosphere Road, Oracle HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-4pm

The Biosphere 2 science research facility (Photo: CGP Grey via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Dive deep into the aquatic world

Part of the entertainment district known as OdySea in the Desert, OdySea Aquarium provides a memorable look into the marine world. The multi-level, state-of-the-art facility offers an educational and interactive experience for visitors by combining theme-park style amusement with engaging presentations of aquatic life. More than 370 species are represented here and there’s also what is said to be world’s only revolving aquarium experience.

LOCATION 9500 East Vía de Ventura Suite A-100, Scottsdale HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-7pm

Enter a butterfly haven

Butterflies are a captivating inspect species, not just due to their visual appearance but the process of metamorphosis by which they transition from cocoons. Housed in an expansive rainforest environment, Butterfly Wonderland boasts the largest butterfly atrium in the United States, with some 50 different species of butterflies, and over 2,500 butterflies flying around at any one time. The venue received new shipments of butterflies every week ensuring there’ll always be plenty of new residents for the eagle-eyed to spot on every visit.

LOCATION 9500 East Vía de Ventura F100, Scottsdale HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-7pm

One of the pretty inhabitants at Butterfly Wonderland (Photo: StarsApart via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)