Our top suggestions to get the most out of your family vacation to beautiful Phoenix and neighboring Scottsdale, Arizona, where the sunny weather is accompanied by a high dose of Southwest culture.
The largest city in the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern United States, Phoenix, Arizona, boasts 310 days of sunshine annually, making the beautiful sunny weather the main reason that families venture to the city. However, Phoenix has much more to offer than just fabulous weather - it's home to one of the largest municipal parks in the world, an innovative art scene, beautiful desert scenery, and so much more. There is plenty for the family to do, both in and outdoors. Here are some of our top suggestions to get your vacation to beautiful Phoenix and neighboring Scottsdale underway.
Southwest Culture, from Cactus to Art
Now a thriving urban city center, Phoenix's history is one of desert landscape and Native American culture. Start your visit to the city by getting in touch with its roots (literally) at the Desert Botanical Garden, 50-acres nestled in the red buttes of Papago Park in Phoenix. With the largest collection of desert plants in the world, the garden has cacti and also houses 139 rare and endangered species of plant life from all over the globe.
If your kids are really taken with the desert landscape, it may be fun to take them on a little excursion with Desert Storm Hummer Tours. Running for more than 15 years, this operator, voted to the top 100 adventure tours in America by National Geographic, offers exciting off-road trips through the Sonoran Desert. And you don't even have to leave the city to get to it: The company will bring your and your family on this unforgettable journey straight from its pick-up point, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Phoenix. To schedule a tour and find out departure times and rates, call 480-922-0020.
Another great spot to learn about the prehistoric and historic cultures of the area is The Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, which offers changing events and activities such as discovery hikes and archaeology workshops, and an outdoor trail containing ruins and replicated housing of the Hohokam, the prehistoric inhabitants of the region.
The internationally recognized Heard Museum is also worth a stop. It contains more than 35,000 artifacts and works of art. Dedicated to the accurate portrayal of Native American arts and culture, the institution offers six to eight changing educational exhibitions. Also fun for kids are the interactive activities such as beading and basket weaving. Plus, the live performances and presentations by local American Indian artists are sure to entertain.
Kids will love the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in nearby Scottsdale, AZ, where they can climb aboard "The Paradise and Pacific Railroad," ride the restored Charros Carousel, view historical exhibits, and enjoy picnic and playground areas. Also located in Scottsdale is the Phoenix Zoo, voted one of the nation's Top 5 Zoos for kids. It features thematic trails that take visitors everywhere from Arizona to the Tropics, encountering mountain lions, bighorn sheep, cheetahs, rhinos, orangutans, and many other species along the way. There are plenty of opportunities for the kidsto get up close and personal with the animals too. The giraffe encounter and stingray bay are two worthwhile spots, plus the camel rides are a big hit as well!
Back in downtown Phoenix there is still plenty to do, if your family has the time. The Arizona Science Center, with more than 300 interactive exhibits, a planetarium, a five-story giant screen theater, and live demonstrations, is a great educational experience for kids. Exhibits include "All About You," exploring the human mind and body, and "My Digital World," where little ones can explore digital communication technology.
One last must-see for families of young kids is the Children's Museum of Phoenix, a 70,000-square-foot facility in the historic Monroe School Building. All exhibits on the premises are hands-on and interactive, designed to engage children ages ten and under to use their minds, bodies and imaginations. A new exhibit just opening in 2011 is "10,000 Blocks: The Sky's the Limit," which gives children blocks of all sizes, shapes, and colors and lets them build to their heart's content.
There is plenty more for a family to do and see in the warm desert city of Phoenix, Arizona. For a few more ideas while planning your trip, visit www.visitphoenix.com.
Jillian Ryan is a travel writer who lives in Astoria, NY. She dedicates this article to her friend Keri and her family, who have hosted her in Phoenix many times (she hopes they know she will be back very soon!).
Also see: Warm-Weather Vacations for Families