Family Travel: Things to do in Phoenix, AZ with children

thingstodowithkidsPhoenix

We just came back from an unforgettable Spring Break vacation in Phoenix, Sedona and Grand Canyon. Arizona offers some spectacular sights and experiences. Even though we spent 8 full days actively visiting places, there are still many places left to go back and visit. There are more than enough family friendly places to visit and activities to do. Even though we find that it’s very easy and fun to travel with our kids who are 9 and 11, we have seen many families with younger children at most of these locations listed below. I’m sharing the locations we visited in Phoenix during our 3-day stay as well as alternative locations depending on weather, mood etc..

We stayed at Hilton Garden Inn Midtown Phoenix. We had a rental car during our trip.  Our 3-day itinerary in Phoenix wasn’t too heavily loaded. We gave ourselves and the children enough time to rest and regroup in the afternoon by the hotel pool, in order to be able to survive until the end of our trip without a meltdown.

3-day travel itinerary with kids in Phoenix

Day 1
Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden is highly recommended to visit with families especially in Spring. It is one of a kind botanical garden filled with cacti of all sizes and shapes as well as succulents. There are one main and 5 side trails. (Trail Map) It’s also home to many wildlife which we spotted few during our visit. There are docents presenting and showcasing various parts and aspects of desert life. We learned how birds open holes to use insides of the cactus as a nest. We also learned how cacti evolved to adapt to desert life and different types of cacti from different parts of the world. There are also indoor exhibitions. We happened to be visiting on a day when they were holding a succulent competition. A casual stroll through the botanical garden with the main (red) trail and a side trail takes about 2,5 hours. There are also indoor exhibitions. We happened to be there on a day when there was a succulent competition.  Website

Hole in the Rock


Hole in the Rock is an unusual red rock formation with a hole on top of it. It’s in Papago Park right by the Desert Botanical Garden. After you park in the parking lot right by the rock, you go up a 5-10 minute medium difficult trail to reach the hole. You can see much of Phoenix from up there. It was our first hike of the trip, which was fun for the kids. Free activity.

Pro Tip: When you are pulling up directions on Google Maps to any of these hiking locations add “parking lot” at the end in the search box.

Phoenix Zoo*

Phoenix Zoo is right by the Hole in the Rock in Papago Park. Make sure you check the visiting hours, as they vary by season and it closes early in the summer. We opted to go back to the hotel to rest by the pool instead of another zoo visit.

Website

Dining at Revolving Rooftop at Compass Arizona Grill

Compass Arizona Grill is our second revolving rooftop dining experience. The first one was at Skylon Tower during our Niagara Falls trip.  We made a reservation before going. The restaurant is at Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Phoenix. It has a casual setting and s very family friendly. My son timed how long the revolving system took to make one full turn. :D The food was delicious as well.  Website

Day 2
Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Site


Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Site sits on a pre-Columbian archeological site and ruins left behind buy peoples called Hohokams. Entrance to the museum is very inexpensive. You start the tour inside the museum. You watch a video about Hohokams and ruins. In the next hands-on gallery, kids learn about the science of archeology. Then you go out and tour the trail around the archeological site. There is are a historic platform mound and a ballcourt and some dwellings are replicas of what used to stand there. Still, it’s a great learning experience of ancient civilizations. When we finished the site tour we came back in the museum and learned more about Hohokams, Arizona History and desert life at the exhibit galleries. You can print out a discovery guide prior to your visit to make your visit more engaging for your children.

Website

Heritage Square

IMG_6226Heritage Square is literally a square consisting of about a dozen historical houses, some of which are museums, restaurants, and stores. In fact, that whole area is called Heritage Square and Science Park. We visited Heritage Square to get lunch and then visit that area. We had lunch at Pizzeria Bianco (recommended). Rosson House Museum in the Heritage square is a Queen Anne Victorian house. What caught my interest more than any other victorian house in the square was Lath Pavillion, a huge gazebo filled with tropical trees and plants. Apparently, this area is rented out for special events. Website

Arizona Science Museum*

Arizona Science Museum is right across from Heritage Center. It includes a science museum and a planetarium (Dorrance Planetarium). It opens at 11:30 am and is a great afternoon indoor destination after a lunch at one of the family friendly restaurants the Heritage Square. Website

Day 3
Hiking at Camelback Mountain

On our last full day, we decided to go hiking. Hiking at Camelback Mountain was on top of all “things to do in Phoenix” list even though there are many other mountains and hiking trails around Phoenix. I looked up and read there were 2 main trails at Camelback: Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla Trail. Both trails are rated as extremely difficult with 1,200 ft elevation gain in a short distance. Echo Canyon was shorter but steeper. Cholla was longer and less steep, so I picked Cholla Trail.

If you look up “Cholla trail parking” on google maps and drive to your destination, in reality, there isn’t a parking lot. You park on Invergordon Road and walk up to the entrance of the trail. The trail is 1.4 miles. We hiked up about 1.2 miles and came down without hiking the last 0.2 miles which was way too steep and difficult for us not only to climb up but to climb down. It took us 3,5 hours for us to hike up and down the trail with occasional photo ops and rest breaks.

Tips: You must have hats and put on sunscreen for your hike. You must carry a big bottle of water for each hiker. Carrying your sunscreen, water bottles and other small items in you small backpack is recommended to be able to have both hands free for climbing at times.  The trail is pretty popular over the weekend. There are all types of hikers from pro-looking ambitious “runner hikers” to elderly amateurs. If you can obtain, hiking pole might come handy. There were parents with babies in baby carriers but there are some parts of the trail up high that I think are risky for a baby or a toddler in back. However, there were 5-6 year-olds climbing down from the peak with their parents and they were as chill as cucumbers.

Overall, despite not climbing up to the peak, it was a great experience for our family.

Website

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland is the largest butterfly conservatory in North America. It is a 15-minute car ride away from Cholla trail. I would have loved to visit this butterfly conservatory because it’s been a long time since we’ve visited one since our Niagara Falls trip. However, we were so exhausted from the hike and headed right back to the hotel after eating lunch at the nearby Scottsdale Fashion Square.

Website

Museums

We’ve read and heard really good reviews about these museums. I was especially heartbroken that we missed Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Exhibit at Heard Museum by one day.

Heard Museum

Website

Phoenix Art Museum

Website

Musical Instrument Museum

Website

Children’s Museum of Phoenix

Website

Hiking Spots

Phoenix is a great destination for hiking. As you will tell from our itinerary we prefer outdoor destination when weather allows. There are many mountains and mountain ranges wth trails for every level and skill. You might go up hiking early in the morning or towards dusk to watch the sunset. Just make sure you have lighting to help go down after the sun goes down. Here are some that were recommended.

  • McDowell mountain range
  • Tom’s Thumb, Sunrise Peak
  • Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Shaw Butte, Quartz Ridge Trail, Piestwea Peak

  • South Mountain Preserve

Alta Trail, Desert Classic

  • Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
  • Pinnacle Peak

If you’d like to copy and paste, I summarized the itinerary for you below:

3-day travel itinerary with kids in Phoenix

Day 1
Desert Botanical Garden
Hole in the Rock
Phoenix Zoo
Dining at Revolving Rooftop at Compass Arizona Grill
Day 2
Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Site
Heritage Square
Arizona Science Museum*
Day3
Hiking at Camelback Mountain
Butterfly Wonderland
Museums
Heard Museum
Phoenix Art Museum
Musical Instrument Museum
Children’s Museum of Phoenix
Hiking Spots
McDowell mountain range
Tom’s Thumb, Sunrise Peak
Phoenix Mountain Preserve
South Mountain Preserve
Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
Pinnacle Peak

You can see all of our photos from our Arizona trip here.

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