Best time to visit: Not in peak summer or peak winter (desert climate). As it gets really hot, stay hydrated.
Reasons to visit
- Be amazed at Desert Botanical Garden: Any trip to PHX must include a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden (it’s free on the 2nd Tuesday of each month if that helps in making a case). Not only are there many varieties of cacti & succulents, when we visited we were also treated to a number of Chihuly glass sculptures that quite complemented the flora.
Our personal highlight was seeing a number of hummingbirds flitting about in the main garden. We were also lucky to catch a spectacular Arizona sunset on the day we visited. As the garden is quite large with some hill sections in it, seeing it properly will need about 3 hours.
- Tip: Check out their calendar to see if they have ongoing / upcoming events that catch your fancy here. You can also make a day trip out of your visit by visiting the Phoenix Zoo next door.
- Tip: The minor issue with Desert Botanical Garden is that it is hard to reach by public transit. The one bus that serves it (56) is a bit infrequent. If you are in a Tempe hotel (as we were), use the shuttle facility provided by said hotel. A taxi from downtown PHX might be a bit expensive but taking the lightrail to Tempe & then a taxi will be much cheaper.
- Nerd out at the Arizona Science Centre: We are suckers for any nerd out opportunity so we paid a visit to the Arizona Science Centre. It is definitely great for kids & as a family outing. Though we were slightly underwhelmed when we made our visit, we think it was a pretty good museum in retrospect as it had a number of interactive exhibits (something UK science museums sorely lack). The water based exhibits are a huge hit with the kids during extremely hot days.
- Tempe Festival of the Arts: Another good thing about our visit was that it coincided with the Festival of Arts in Tempe. Held around the last week of March in Spring & December in winter, it is an eclectic mix of stalls, artisans, performers & street food that we quite enjoyed partaking in.
- Take in some sports: As with major cities, the greater Phoenix area is home to an American football (Cardinals in Glendale), a baseball (Diamondbacks in Downtown PHX) & an NBA (Suns) team. The rich history of sporting gives a non-US visitor to Phoenix opportunities to check out some of it for themselves.
Food & Drink
We ate a fair bit in Tempe where we were based.
- We had a big dinner with friends at Casey Moore’s Oyster House, which is apparently haunted. We did initially get seated at the haunted upstairs room but once the whole group was told about the “hauntedness”, we chickened out & sat downstairs. 😛 Food-wise we had escargot, surf & turf and a few more things that tasted pretty good. Its a lively joint perfect for group meals!
- The pasties at Cornish Pasty Company in Tempe were pretty good and filling.
- We did have sushi in downtown Tempe (at RA sushi bar) which was mediocre compared to Seattle standards.
- Tempe also has a Chick-Fil-A.
Getting In & Around
- PHX Sky Harbour airport is well served by Southwest Airlines 😀 That’s a great result in of itself.
- The aforementioned Valley Metro light rail that connects Downtown Phoenix & Downtown Tempe goes through the Airport & was at the heart of all the public transit we needed to use. Then again we did not see much of Phoenix so this is far from authoritative.
- An all day pass costs $4 (exact change needed, even for machines) which is great value as a single trip is $2. Make sure you buy the pass from one of the ticket machines at the light rail stations as buy an all day pass from within a bus costs $6.