Explore and Discover the City of Phoenix, Arizona

Introducing guest blogger Kate from Parked in Paradise

Phoenix, Arizona may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of a family vacation, but this city in the desert has so much to offer adventurous families. In fact, there is much more to do in Arizona than visiting the Grand Canyon.

This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of local parents

In the central part of the state, Phoenix has enough activities to keep you occupied for weeks on end. Before you take off, remember – you’re headed to the desert. Outdoor activities are some of the best ways to get to know the landscape, but you’ll want to pack appropriately. It gets hot! Don’t forget to pack:

  • Light, cool clothing
  • Comfortable, cool shoes
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun hat
  • Skin Moisturizer
  • A backpack

Where To Stay in Phoenix

Spending up to a week in Phoenix will give you the best opportunity to enjoy the area. While the city itself has a number of hotels to choose from, I recommend finding accommodations in the city of Tempe, which is only 15 minutes away.

Tempe, Arizona is a college town so the accommodations are cheaper and there is a large variety of restaurants and events that happen every weekend. Mill Avenue is a hotspot for shopping and dining. There are also a number of ice cream shops for the kids, and the street leads you straight to Tempe Beach Park.

Although there is public transit in Phoenix, you’ll want to plan to rent a car. Many of the best sites throughout the area are not accessible with the bus or rail system. Going it alone means that you can set your own pace and see the sites that spark your interest.

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Tempe Beach Park

If you book your stay on Mill Avenue, Tempe Beach Park is within walking distance. This is a highly popular park that all ages enjoy. In fact, you could spend your whole weekend in just this area.

Tempe Beach Park
Tempe Beach Park – Image Credit RandyNelsonPhoto via Canva

There is a large playground, sandy beach, and watercraft rentals to enjoy on the lake. Not to mention, there are over 60 events scheduled annually so the chances of running into a festival are high. Here are the most popular features surrounding the beach:

  • Two-mile-long water center, Splash Park, designed for all ages with sand play areas, water slides, free playground
  • Enjoy boating, sailing, fishing, kayaking, rowing, canoeing. (rental center available.)
  • Run or walk the five-mile loop, stopping at one of the many picnic areas to eat lunch and rest.
  • Get the list of annual festivals, concerts, and popular events. There are well over 60 fun events every year.
  • Picnic areas with umbrella-covered tables.
  • The Luis Gonzalez Arizona Diamondbacks Field of Dreams. This baseball diamond schedules over 60 events on-site such as concerts, festivals, Oktoberfest, Ironman Competitions, and more.
  • Shopping venues, many restaurants, and nightlife

Papago Park

Just north of Tempe Beach Park is Papago Park. This is a municipal park that covers 1,200 acres. I recommend hiking the rolling hills in this desert park with natural geological formations that are more than 10 million years old.

Papago Park Phoenix
Papago Park – Image Credit Faina Gurevich via Canva

Not only will you see the typical desert plants found in Arizona, but there are ponds with fish, small lakes, and long rolling bicycle paths that zigzag around the area. Atop a hill on the south side of the park, you can hike to the pyramidal Tomb of George W.P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor.

One of the best parts about Papago Park is that it overlooks the Phoenix Zoo. From George Hunt’s tomb you can get a direct view over the giraffe cage. You’re also likely to spot mountain goats hanging out along the rocks–even from outside the park.

Phoenix Zoo

Kids will especially enjoy the Phoenix Zoo. Located right next to Papago and Tempe Beach Park, it’s easy to get to so you can browse through the area in just an afternoon. There are three main trails throughout the zoo, the Africa trail, Arizona trail, and Tropics trail. The zoo really specializes in animals of the area.

There is also a children’s trail designed just for kids that includes a petting zoo, farm animals, and exhibits on agriculture. The Phoenix zoo is only 125 acres, which sounds small, but it’s the perfect amount of space to keep the kids attention without getting overwhelming.

Desert Botanical Garden

Next to both Papago Park and the Phoenix Zoo is the Desert Botanical Garden. This is the best place to really get a sense of the Phoenix landscape. With hundreds of native plants, you can walk through flowering cacti, observe butterflies, and watch the famous Phoenix sunsets.

Desert Botanical Garden – Parked in Paradise

I recommend getting to the botanical gardens just before dark. Every year there are various displays to attend including blown glass desert plants, and breathtaking desert light shows.

Camelback Mountain

For a more rugged adventure, make sure to visit Camelback mountain. This is a natural preserve, located in Echo Canyon Recreation Area. This destination is home to one of the most popular hiking trails in the city. Kids will especially love the hike because it involves climbing over boulders and crawling over steep desert rock formations.

camelback mountain - parked in paradise
Camelback Mountain – Parked in Paradise

Luckily, the hike is only 1.5 miles to the top, so it can be accomplished in one long morning. Rock climbing is also popular in the area and is located on the northern slope and is about 100 feet high. After your hike, you can sit back and watch the climbers tackle the rockface.

A great spot to hone your hiking skills in Arizona before taking on some of the larger national park trails.

South Mountain

For a less populated hike, visit South Mountain Park. This is the largest municipal park in America with 16,000 acres. There are over 50 miles of trails that you can hike, run, or mountain bike at South Mountain.

South Mountain – Parked in Paradise

The views throughout the park are spectacular and if you climb to the top of one of the mountain peaks, you can see the entire city of phoenix. With the kids, you can enjoy horseback riding from two stables available. There is also mountain biking for all skill levels.

That’s A Wrap!

Phoenix is truly an incredible city that the whole family can enjoy. If you’re into hiking, there’s no better place than Camelback or South Mountain. For the kids, Tempe Beach Park, the Phoenix Zoo, and the Desert Botanical Gardens cannot be beat.

Try to set aside at least a week for the trip, it will be an experience you won’t forget! Got a little extra time? Consider heading to Horseshoe Bend or touring the famous Antelope Canyon before leaving the state.

About the Blogger

Kate has been traveling in a camper van conversion throughout the US and Canada for over two years. She uses her blog ParkedInParadise.com to teach other travelers about van life and RV living.

You can follow along with Parked In Paradise here:


With thanks to Kate for her contribution to our guest series.  You may also like to read about Las Vegas with Kids, or head for more outdoor adventures around Colorado Springs

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