The Best Tourist Attractions in Metro Phoenix That Are Still Fun for Locals

Experience Phoenix's natural beauty (and maybe get a little sweaty) at the Desert Botanical Garden.EXPAND
Experience Phoenix's natural beauty (and maybe get a little sweaty) at the Desert Botanical Garden.
Desert Botanical Garden

In Phoenix, it's a challenge to point out a tourist at any given theater, museum, or cultural center. We're all wearing T-shirts and shorts. Most of us are taking pictures and Instagramming anything that moves. And no matter how many times we say we've acclimated, there's not a soul who won't break a sweat during the summer. There are plenty of places to drag your extended family on a day trip or drive around the city, but let's face it, we could go to these spots any day. Here are a few of our favorite Phoenix attractions — touristy or not.

Desert Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden is a standard for any weekend or day trip through Phoenix, but if you're staying the night (or forever) and want to take a cooler walk through the desert landscape, you'll want to see what the natural reserve has on the calendar. During the summer, staff members give flashlight tours where viewers can check out desert blossoms and bugs after the sun goes down. And the Garden hosts plant sales — in case you really like what you see — as well as concerts, art exhibitions in a dedicated gallery space, and sculptural installations. The Garden is open daily, but the grounds are closed on holidays, including July 4, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. General admission is $22 for adults, $20 for seniors, $12 for students, $10 for kids, and free for children 3 or younger. For more info and to buy tickets, see Desert Botanical Garden's website or call 480-941-1225.

Arizona Science Center
Easy to find and easy to spend an afternoon in is downtown Phoenix's Arizona Science Center, which is packed with exhibitions and activities to keep geeks of all ages occupied. Currently on view is "POPnology," which explores the influence that science-fiction pop culture has had on real-life technology. The center's permanent exhibitions include films and visuals in the Dorrance Planetarium, anatomy activities, physics- and construction-themed interactive displays, public art installations, and musical shows. The Center is open daily. Tickets are $18 for adults, $13 for kids ages 3 to 17, and free for kids younger than 3. For details, see Arizona Science Center's website or call 602-716-2000.

The Best Tourist Attractions in Metro Phoenix That Are Still Fun for Locals
Laurel Powell

Japanese Friendship Garden
If you're looking for a Zen experience, look no further than the Japanese Friendship Garden. The 3.5-acre park is a symbol of friendship between Phoenix and its sister city Himeji, Japan. It took 50 architects from Japan more than 60 trips to Phoenix since 1987 to build and perfect the oasis. Here, you won't find Sakura, the popular Japanese cherry blossom trees, but you will spot purple leaf plums, Japanese maples, and evergreen pears that provide plenty of shady spots to take a zen moment. The garden is closed on Mondays. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for students, seniors, children, and military personnel with ID, and kids 6 and younger get in free. For more information, see the Japanese Friendship Garden's website

The Best Tourist Attractions in Metro Phoenix That Are Still Fun for Locals
Phoenix Art Museum. Photo by Bill Timmerman.

Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix Art Museum is easy to find: just follow the light of Josiah McElheny's The Last Scattering Surface — a handblown glass, chrome-plated aluminum, electric, hanging installation that lights the entrance to the museum in Central Phoenix. We could spend hours perusing the modern art collection on the second floor, the latest couture exhibition curated by the sharp and careful eyes of Dennita Sewell, the sculpture garden, or the museum's current contemporary show (and grabbing lunch or drinks in between at the museum's restaurant). Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $10 for students, $6 for kids aged 6 to 17, and free for those 5 and younger. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and offers free admission on Wednesday evenings, First Fridays, and Second Sundays. For the complete rundown of current events and exhibitions, see Phoenix Art Museum's website

The Best Tourist Attractions in Metro Phoenix That Are Still Fun for Locals
Courtesy of Arizona Biltmore

Arizona Biltmore
Located in Phoenix near 24th Street and Camelback Road, this resort is part of Hilton Hotels' luxury collection Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts, and was also featured on the Travel Channel show Great Hotels. Visitors can expect gorgeous vistas, nice restaurants, and important Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture. Thanks to a 92-foot water slide, private cabanas, and a multitude of pools, this spot ranks high on the list of poolside vacation (or staycation) destinations. For details on all of the above, visit the Arizona Biltmore website.


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