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Visiting Phoenix in the dead of summer when it regularly breaks 100 degrees may sound crazy, but the sizzling temperatures are just indicative of the city’s ability to turn up. And while most would think hiding out in the air conditioning or plopping down in a pool are the only reprieve from the sweltering desert heat, there’s fun to be had indoors, outdoors and everywhere in between.

As the fifth largest city in the U.S., Phoenix has plenty to offer visitors year-round with summer actually being the secret season to find incredible deals and steals. Hotels have amazing bargains and you can say you lived to tell the tale. There’s Wild West culture, American Indian history, and good old-fashioned nostalgic pastimes. Here are just a few of the things you should do in Phoenix this summer:

Eat Your Way Around Town

Called a “Rising Phoenix” by the Guardian, the Southwest is experiencing a major culinary revolution. Far less big boxy and chain-y than the many strip malls would suggest, there are hundreds of restaurants, local flavors and edible plants to try (prickly pear cactus being one of the most popular), making dishes innovative and “desert to table.” Although somehow Phoenix does manage to get the best of the rest, privy to an In-N-Out, Shake Shack, Giordano’s and Portillo’s…color me jealous.

A handful of James Beard nominees and recipients lead the charge with FnB, Binkley’s, and El Charro some of the culinary mainstays to seek out. Other not-to-miss spots regularly racking up accolades and press include Pizzeria Bianco (yup, it’s neither NYC or Chicago said to have the best pizza in America), Little Miss BBQ (Texas-style ‘cue), and Bitter & Twisted for its crazy cool cocktail program. You also can’t go wrong with any of the Fox Restaurant Concepts (helmed by restauranteur Sam Fox) with Flower Child, Culinary Dropout, and Zinburger all having dishes as tasty as they are photogenic.

Mural Hop and Selfie Spots

Roosevelt Row is downtown Phoenix’s walkable arts district and main creative hub, peppered with galleries and murals everywhere you turn. The First Fridays Art Walk is the place to be when more than 70 galleries and spaces open their doors to the public for free. Visitors are shuttled around on free hop on/hop off buses so grab a drink, snack from the street vendors (DIY food crawl anyone?), and get artsy.

Find a Watering Hole

If you’re in need of a little R&R, Phoenix has a number of amazing resorts with spas, pools and cabanas, many which offer discounts in the summer. For a more adrenaline-filled way to cool off, Big Surf Waterpark has a Waikiki-style wave pool where you can practice hanging 10, while Maya Day & Nightclub is billed as having Vegas-style pool parties complete with fishbowls and bottle service. For a fun day out, miles upon miles of historic canals are lined with waterfront dining, breweries, bats (like in Austin!), and secret waterfalls. Natural hot springs are sprinkled throughout Arizona if you’re up for a day trip and looking to treat yo ‘self.

See the Native Landscape

I go to Phoenix 2-4 times a year and the giant saguaro cacti still amaze me every time. The most iconic panoramic views are from Camelback Mountain or Papago Park, but there are tons of protected outdoor spaces with well-maintained trail networks.

While you may think hiking in Phoenix in the summertime is crazy, it just means you have to wake up a little earlier and pack more water, which is fine with us because the early bird catches the shot (and those epic Southwest sunsets!). Some of our favorite places to explore are McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Superstition Wilderness Area, and South Mountain Park and Preserve. If you’d prefer to stay in town, the Desert Botanical Garden is one of the best in the country with 140-acres of flora and fauna unique to the desert.

Explore by Land or Air

Adrenaline junkies rejoice because the Southwest’s unique terrain is ripe for exploration. Stellar Adventures can take you on hummers through the rugged rocks to views and vistas only seen by getting off-the-beaten-path (literally). But a hot air balloon ride with a company such as Rainbow Ryders will also give you a bird’s eye view of the sprawling landscape.

Things to do in Phoenix, Arizona. Travel tips for surviving summer in the hot hot desert heat and things to do with kids, families, adventure, and free fun. It's a great budget trip destination in the off-season with ideas for road tripping around the Grand Canyon state and activity suggestions for food, parks, art, gardens and selfie spots in one of America's beautiful Southwest cities. #vacations #summer #arizona #az #phoenix

Migrate North

While most snowbirds head south for the winter, Phoenicians can head north during the daytime and be back in the city by nightfall. There are charming towns like Sedona or Prescott with gorgeous billion-year old colored rock formations where you can kayak and standup paddleboard, take in the Wild West history, toss one back at the saloon, and stay at a converted brothel. You can drive parts of classic Route 66, visit Oatman, Arizona, which is home to more wild burros than people, try to score a coveted Havasupai Falls permit, or take in the views of Grand Canyon National Park. Whichever direction you head, Phoenix is a great base for adventure.

Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Phoenix

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12 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    My dad lives in Phoenix and rarely goes out in the summer as it’s too hot for him. Therefore when we visit we are always looking for new things to do. Perhaps an early morning balloon ride?

    • Lo
      Lo says:

      That’d be lovely. I have tons of active friends there, I think the secret is just to be an early riser and do everything before 10 am ish.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    The scenery around Phoenix looks amazing. I hadn’t heard about the up and coming food scene in Phoenix but it sounds like any visitor would be spoiled for choice. I’m not sure I could handle the Arizona heat in the summer though!

  3. Alicia
    Alicia says:

    I can not imagine being outside when it’s a 100 degrees but that’s coming a Brit who can happily wear a t-shirt in 15 degrees Celsius! That said Phoneix looks like a wonderful city to explore, I did not know it was the 5th biggest in the US though! The landscape looks incredible. The Grand Canyon is still to this day my favourite place in the world and I’d love to take my partner! Maybe we’ll get the chance to visit Phoneix at the same time!

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I have to admit that the heat in Phoenix makes me a bit nervous – but these ideas look great! We love hot air balloon rides and taking one at sunrise sounds lovely. The giant saguaro cacti also look amazing. I would love to photograph them!

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Wait – hold on. FIFTH LARGEST IN THE COUNTRY??????????????????????????? WHAT!!?? Okay, now that the initial shock is over – hold on again. YOU CAN ACTUALLY GO OUTSIDE IN THE SUMMER??????? Hahah. Thanks for this, because I was totally under the impression Phoenix was basically a no-fly zone until it cooled off in the fall haha. Maybe I’ll give it a try now!

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Great list! I’ve always thought of Phoenix as a winter-only destination but this makes me want to visit in the summer too.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I’ve lived here for over 30 years and I’m still not one to tell family to visit in August. If you’re at a resort, in the pool, that’s fine. But man, even getting in and out of a car (that still hasn’t cooled down after 10 minutes!) can be brutal. This summer hasn’t actually been too bad yet. May was gorgeous!!! The other day at 115? Eh, not so much! I totally agree with your list, we have some amazing things to do here. Big Surf is a family favorite for us, and I might mention that if you’re going to be here for awhile, consider an annual pass. It’s about $50, so if you’re going 3-4 times it easily pays for itself, plus gives you coupons. Again though, you still have to be careful if it’s 110+ and you’re out in the pool. Definitely stay hydrated!


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