How to Spend Three Days in Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix is a vibrant desert city that has grown from a humble ranch town to the fifth-most populated city in the USA. Now the heart of Arizona, Phoenix, is a buzzing hub and a region unto itself. 

With a glorious mix of sunshine, scenery, art and history, the Valley of the Sun provides ample opportunities for travelers, whatever your tastes may be.

Tossing up whether to make the trip to Phoenix? Our 3-day Phoenix itinerary will guide you to the top attractions, uncover hidden gems and allow you to discover the amazing natural world around the city.

The beautiful Phoenix skyline. Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

Where to Stay in Phoenix

With public transport and so much to do around the city, you should consider hiring a car for your time in Phoenix. While this may eat into your budget, it opens up the options when it comes to accommodation.

Downtown Phoenix is a popular choice, seeing as it’s so close to many major activities such as museums, galleries and delectable eats. This makes it a great place for first-timers to stay.

Tempe offers travelers close proximity to South Mountain and Papago Park while being a great option for budget travelers. Tempe has some great nightlife on the back of being the home of Arizona State University.

Lastly, Scottsdale is an excellent option for those who enjoy exploring new places on foot. Lively, vibrant and artistic, Scottsdale boasts several excellent dining, shopping and historic districts.

If you visit Phoenix in winter, you’ll get to see cacti in front of snow-capped mountains. LHBLLC/Shutterstock

The Best Time of Year to Visit Phoenix

Known for its sunny, dry climate, Phoenix sees over 300 days of sunshine every year. This would suggest that Phoenix is a year-round destination. But the summers are very hot, with an average high of 104f (40c). 

Fall begins hot before tapering away to a more temperate and enjoyable experience. Because of that, the best time to visit Phoenix is between late fall and early spring. 

Enjoy crisper days among the beautiful desert landscape with wildflowers blooming and not have any issues exploring the town, Scottsdale and Tempe on foot. 

Papago Park is so scenic. Digital Masters Imaging/Shutterstock

Day One: Hikes, Zoos, and Brews

When traveling through the aptly named Valley of the Sun, it would be remiss of you to immediately head into the many amazing museums and galleries in Phoenix. No, you have to bathe in the warm Arizona sun!

Spanning more than 1500 acres, the Papago Park is a gorgeous urban desert preserve that brings the vibe of a national park to Pheonix’s doorstep. Scenic and accessible, the park is the perfect place to begin your adventures. You could easily spend all day exploring the nature trails that guide you through red butte formations and lagoons.

Papago Park harbors a lot of Phoenix history as the home of indigenous communities, a fish hatchery through the Great Depression and the park was even a POW camp during the Second World War. 

Our favorite hike in Papago Park is Hole-in-the-Rock. Checubus/Shutterstock

Hiking in Papago Park is relatively simple, with gradual elevation gains making it easy to get around on foot or even on the seat of a mountain bike. There are two hikes in the park that will help you enjoy the full experience. 

The first being the Double Butte Loop. This 2.3-mile trail is on the west side of the Galvin Parkway. The trail has accessible and paved sections along with multiple side trails around the big and small butte. Under the clear Phoenix sky, the red sandstone buttes which formed more than 6 million years ago are an awe-inspiring sight.

The second must do hike is on the other side of the parkway and one of the top hikes in Phoenix, Hole-in-the-Rock. Featuring Papago Park’s most popular viewpoint, the trail itself is only 0.3 miles long. The majority of the trail is steps rising to the ‘chamber’ that brings stunning views to hikers.

From the Hole-in-the-wall you will be surrounded by red rock but with views towards the lagoons and the distant Phoenix skyline. The contrast in colors provides amazing photography opportunities. If you fall in love, return later in your travels for a top-notch sunset!

Colorful Desert Botanical Garden. Mary Elise Photography/Shutterstock

After exploring the sandstone formations of Papago Park, stick around to explore the Desert Botanical Garden. In contrast to your typical botanic garden, the Desert Botanical Garden helps you experience the flora that thrives in this harsh ecosystem. Far from just dirt and tumbleweeds, explore thousands of species of cactus, trees and blooming flowers from all corners of the globe. Almost 400 of these plants are rare, endangered or threatened.

The vibrant colors of the plants stand out among the red rocks of the Sonoran Desert. Tours are included with your admission and your expert guide will take you along a series of trails that help you feel deep in the Arizona desert with soaring saguaro cacti everywhere you turn. 

The entrance to the Phoenix Zoo. Gregory E. Clifford/Shutterstock

Finish up your day in Papago Park with one of the top things to do in Phoenix for kids. That is, of course, the Phoenix Zoo. The sheer size of Papago Park is on display, fitting not only an abundance of hiking trails, but gardens, zoos and even the Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting!

The Phoenix Zoo is one of the largest privately owned zoos in the United States. Sitting on 125 sprawling acres, the zoo comes with interactive exhibits, shows that the kids will love and also the chance to jump on your very own safari. 

The zoo is home to around 3000 animals, focusing strongly on wildlife from the surrounding Sonoran Desert. You’ll also have the chance to spot animals from Africa and Southeast Asia.

Downtown Tempe, Arizona. Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

After a big day exploring life in the desert, refresh and recenter for a night on the town. A great area to go for nightlife while in Phoenix is nearby downtown Tempe. The chic and youthful vibe offers an outstanding balance between a vibrant happening evening and a laid-back Arizona experience.

Come here for a great selection of craft breweries, including Fate Brewing and Four Peaks Brewing. You’ll also have your pick of local distilleries, like Adventurous Stills and live music at the Culinary Dropout at the Yard.

All night adventures in downtown Tempe eventually lead to C.A.S.A. The spacious patio bar serves up delicious Mexican cuisine, DJs and even block parties.

Where to Eat on Day One in Phoenix

Post exploring Papago Park, stop by Maria’s Frybread & Mexican Food on your way back to downtown. The simple, family-run restaurants serves up insane homemade frybreads to complement the delicious Mexican cuisine. Unpretentious and will big servings, what’s not to love?

For dinner before your evening in downtown Tempe, you must visit Little Miss BBQ. If you’re a fan of bbq, then you can experience arguably the best in Arizona right here in Phoenix. Come for the fatty brisket and stick around for the jalapeno cheddar grits.

A hot air balloon flies over Phoenix at sunrise. RaulCano/Shutterstock

Day Two: Hot-Air Ballooning, Museums, and Ghost Towns

After a big night out in downtown Tempe, the thought of getting up for a sunrise may be the last thing you want to do. But this isn’t just any sunrise, it’s a hot-air balloon ride over the desert, seeing the blazing sun creep up over the red landscape. 

Some say coastal sunrises and sunsets can’t be beat. But to me the peace of the environment, the colors, lack of humidity and clear blue skies, puts the desert in first place. We will leave it up to you to decide. Either way, the stunning views of the Sonoran Desert, the rising sun and the feeling of floating in the clouds, make this one of the best experiences in Phoenix.

After your ride, touchdown and tuck into your luxurious champagne breakfast as you reflect on the magical experience.

The courtyard of the Heard Museum. Manuela Durson/Shutterstock

As one of the top museums in Phoenix, Arizona, the Heard Museum is a must-visit. It is also one of the most unique attractions in the city. The Heard Museum began in 1929 and over the years has expanded through throwing world-class exhibitions focusing primarily on Native American art. Telling the stories of local indigenous peoples through a first-person perspective allows the museum to be as educational as it is beautiful. 

The Head Museum also has 11 permanent exhibits that center on a collection of history artifacts, combined with modern jewelry and contemporary paintings. To do the museum justice, you have to sign up for an in-depth guided tour. 

Another part of what makes the museum popular among locals and travelers alike is the multitude of festivals thrown by the Heard Museum. None are more enthralling than the Native American and Canadian First Nations Hoop Dance Contest. Hoop dancing honors cultural traditions and now celebrates artistic expression and modern day indigenous life. 

The Phoenix Art Museum. BondRocketImages/Shutterstock

Two museums that are also worth exploring, if you have the time, are the Phoenix Art Museum and the Arizona Science Museum. If exploring the Heard Museum wasn’t enough of an art fix, the Phoenix Art Museum houses over 18,000 words separated into different eras. Travel through time from the Renaissance to the 21st century, seeing works from such iconic artists as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

The Arizona Science Museum is another great option for those with kids in tow. With a variety of all-age exhibits, four floors of immersive experiences and an IMAX Theater, there is endless fun for the family.

The Goldfield ghost town in Youngsberg. Atmosphere1/Shutterstock

Between Phoenix and the Superstition Mountains, is an old town that hails from the Wild West Era. After a morning of hot air balloons and museums jump in the car for a scenic 45-minute drive to the Goldfield Ghost Town.

Populated by those hoping to strike it rich and later abandoned, the Goldfield Ghost Town comes with its own underground mine, a saloon, a narrow-gauge train and Wild West-style shootouts.

Come and stroll through the dusty landscape, where the rolling tumbleweeds will send you right back to a long-gone era. There are many fun activities for young and old, including the underground mind walk, train and horseback rides along with a zipline experience.

As you’re making the most of the fun, you’ll spot ‘locals’ walking around in period costumes, allowing you to further indulge in the ambiance of the old mining town.

Try your luck at panning for gold at Prospector’s Palace or hang around Main Street waiting for the Goldfield Gunfighters. Every hour on the hour, cowboys and law enforcement go head-to-head in an engaging battle. From the safe spot on the boardwalks, you will feel as if you’re on the set of an old Western film.

The bronze horse fountain in Old Town Scottsdale. Noah Sauve/Shutterstock

On your way back to Phoenix, stop by Old Town Scottsdale. The walkable streets make it an enjoyable end to a big day. There are several historic attractions from the Little Red Schoolhouse, the Old Olive Trees and the Mission Church. Not to mention the abundance of striking public art around the neighborhood.

Explore Old Town while simultaneously enjoying the best wine in the region thanks to the Scottsdale Wine Trail. Featuring 5 wineries predominantly on Stetson Drive and Marshall Way, the trail offers an authentic Arizona wine-tasting experience. Grab an official passport at your first winery to save along the journey. Plus, you’ll end up with a wonderful keepsake to remember your 3 days in Phoenix.

Where to Eat On Day Two in Phoenix

If you’re still peckish after your champagne breakfast and hot-air balloon experience, pay a visit to Ocotillo in Midtown Phoenix. Indulge in the best breakfast treats, including iron skillet pancakes or smoked briskets and parmy polenta. Top it off with fresh mimosas, and day two couldn’t start any better.

La Grande Orange is the place to go for lunch on day two. A local favorite, the restaurant cannot miss a beat. Grab more breakfast treats, including the Commuter breakfast sandwich or try their specialty pizzas.

When exploring Old Town Scottsdale, enjoy dinner at FnB. The farm-to-table restaurant has a reputation for being one of the top establishments in the city, with a fresh menu that changes with the seasons. The intimate space is impressive for date night so be sure to leave room for the sumptuous desserts.

Sunrise hiking over Phoenix. Globe Guide Media Inc/Shutterstock

Day Three: Treks, Rock Art, and Spas

Before the sun reaches its peak, get in some more outdoor experiences to round out your Phoenix itinerary. A morning trek to Piestewa Peak or Camelback Mountain provides amazing views and challenging but rewarding walks. However, you can’t go wrong by sticking close to Phoenix and exploring South Mountain, which offers another amazing urban trail.

Mormon Loop Trail. Suzanne Pratt/Shutterstock

The Mormon Trail-Hidden Valley Loop comes with everything you need on a hike, stunning views, hidden gems, heritage sites and some gnarly rock sections.

The trail immediately ascends 700ft up to Neighborhood Canyon, getting the climbing portion out of the way while you’re still fresh. Along the way, you’ll pass giant boulders and rocky corridors with sections painted with desert wildflowers.

The rock sculptures provide ample views as you make your way to Hidden Valley Loop. Eventually, you’ll reach Fat Man’s Pass, a rather creative name for a tight path between two boulders and the gateway to the enchanting Hidden Valley.

A petroglyph on the trail. GoodFocused/Shutterstock

In the valley, a half-mile stroll through a secluded passage awaits, explore lush vegetation, rock overhangs and petroglyph panels. The Mormon Trail section comes with more rock art, painted by the Hohokam people who frequented the region as early as the fifth century.

All up the hike is 6.2 miles long and beyond the initial climb is a moderate trek and a great way to start your last morning in Phoenix. 

Once the hike is complete, it’s time to pamper yourself with a deluxe spa treatment, Phoenix-style! There are many spa resorts to choose from, including the Biltmore, the Boulders and the Phoenician. All will do the trick, but you can’t beat the Aji Spa experience at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort.

The state-of-the-art facility in the Gila River Indian Community is a pure sanctuary with mesmerizing architecture that blends perfectly with the desert environment. Some of the top treatments include the ACHK massage or the 80-minute pond indigenous water experience.

With gentle movements in the spa pond, the massage and stretching will have you rejuvenated after an action-packed 72 hours in Phoenix. Other options include the Swedish massage and authentic Pima rituals. 

Refreshed and relaxed, finish up your travels in Phoenix at the Farm, back at South Mountain. Beneath the pecan trees in an organic garden, the Farm is your go-to spot in the city for sustainability and eco-friendly dining.

Blessed with naturally rich soil, the Farm offers multiple restaurants serving farm-to-table style meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For your midday meal, head to the Farm Kitchen for fresh sandwiches, soups, salads and baked goods made on site from scratch.

The rows of trees provide ample shade as you dine on the picnic tables or sprawl out along the lush grass. Complement your meal with the Farm Kitchen’s unique cocktails and craft beers.  

After three days of hiking, exploring museums and getting to know Phoenix, there’s no better place to reflect than right here.

Where to Eat on Day Three in Phoenix

Before venturing to do the Mormon Trail and Hidden Valley Loop, breakfast is served at Windsor. Fill up on comfort foods such as the made-from-scratch cinnamon rolls, waffles, breakfast burgers and mouthwatering cheddar biscuits and gravy. You’ll also find endless spices and garnishes on the restaurant’s rolling bar cart.

If you don’t make your way to the Farm Kitchen before departing Phoenix, grab some authentic tacos for the road. Tacos Chiwas is the place to go for cheap, authentic and downright yummy tacos. You can’t go wrong, but the shredded beef gordita topped with caramelized onions will send you to heaven. 

Final Thoughts

With plenty of cheap and direct flights (getting to Phoenix is a breeze as the local airport is a major hub for American Airlines), you’ll have many opportunities to take an exciting three-day trip to the Valley of the Sun.

And so you should, with a strong connection with local indigenous communities, galleries and museums are elevated and broader reaching. The mountains and red desert landscapes offer ample adventures and a ton of Insta-worthy shots. Add in some memorable farm-to-table dining, cheap and delicious eats and some fun nightlife, your three days in Phoenix will tick all the boxes.

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