Without a beach or a giant mouse-themed amusement park nearby, Phoenix might not be the first destination that comes to mind for travel-planning parents. However, the city offers plenty of southwestern family fun, from old west experiences to desert adventures. Consider these eight reasons to take the kids to Phoenix, Arizona.
On the road from Las Vegas to Phoenix | Image by Sarah Vernetti
1. Yell “All Aboard” at a Railroad-Themed Park
McCormick-Stillman Park in Scottsdale is a must-visit for families. Not only does it feature the usual playground fare, like slides and swings, it also gives kids the chance to explore their love of trains. The park has an outdoor kiddie train and an indoor 10,000-square foot space that houses model trains and other railroad-related displays. Visitors can also hop aboard the park’s carousel or explore the general store.
2. Explore Downtown Scottsdale
Scottsdale’s downtown is divided into distinct districts, including the Arts District, Old Town, and Fashion Square. With plenty of family-friendly resorts located nearby, Downtown Scottsdale is a great place to explore with the kids. In Old Town, head to The Sugar Bowl for a sweet treat. Kids will love the old-fashioned desserts, the opportunity to sit at the counter, and the pink décor. Older kids and adults will want to check out the nearby Arts District, which is home to a wide range of local galleries and offers everything from antiques to contemporary art. If you are in town on a Thursday, be sure to experience the Scottsdale ArtWalk.
3. Learn Something New at the Arizona Science Center
Want to learn about what happens to the trash that’s floating around in space? In the mood to crawl through a life-size model snake? Then a visit to the Arizona Science Center needs to be added to your itinerary. Watch the 3D movie Space Junk and learn about the odd ring of debris that has been left in the cosmos by the space program. Then check out the interactive exhibit The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which opens in February 2014. Don’t leave the science center until you’ve checked out one of their newest permanent exhibits, The W.O.N.D.E.R. Center, which focuses on the human brain.
4. Experience the Wild West
One of the great things about the American Southwest is that it gives kids the opportunity to learn more about the Old West. For kids who love action, head to Rawhide, a wild-west town with a steakhouse, general store, pony rides, and even faux shoot-outs in the middle of the street.
5. Travel to Nearby Bucket-List Destinations
Phoenix is less than a day’s drive from iconic destinations like the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. No trip to the American Southwest is complete without a visit to one of these famous landmarks. Drive north from Phoenix and then choose your adventure. Explore the Grand Canyon, stopping off in either Williams or Flagstaff before you arrive. Another option is to drive northwest through Kingman, AZ until you reach Hoover Dam in Boulder City, NV. Take a guided tour of the dam, or just walk across it on your own. You’ll also want to check out the Michael O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge that overlooks the dam and offers incredible views. Be sure to take a moment to look for the marker dividing Arizona and Nevada; it’s always fun to stand in two states at the same time.
6. Experience Life in the Desert
Visitors can hike at Camelback Mountain or take a stroll through the Desert Botanical Garden. With a wide range of desert plants like cacti and yucca plants, the botanical garden is a unique outing for those who are accustomed to greener (and less scaldingly hot) pastures.
7. Find Animal Adventures at the Phoenix Zoo and the SEA LIFE Aquarium
Few people would expect to find tropical fish and sea turtles in the desert, but Phoenix is full of surprises. The SEA LIFE Aquarium is home to Jr., a white tip reef shark, Ziva the green sea turtle, and a giant Pacific octopus named Loki. For animal adventures on dry land, try the Phoenix Zoo. Don’t leave before you’ve taken a ride on the zoo train and said hello to the giraffes.
8. Visit Unusual Museums
Phoenix is home to some unusual museums that families won’t find in other destinations. The Hall of Flame Fire Museum is a fun outing for future firefighters. The museum includes antique firefighting equipment and vehicles. For more musically inclined families, the Musical Instrument Museum offers a collection of instruments from around the world. Be sure to check out the wireless audio tour that allows visitors to hear each of the instruments that are on display. Families traveling with younger kids will want to visit the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. What could be more fun than a room full of fort-building supplies?
So, break out of your beaches-and-roller-coasters routine and take the family to Phoenix. Just make sure to pack your sunscreen…and a cowboy hat.