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sonora desert arizona

8 Awesome Things to Do in Arizona (That Aren’t the Grand Canyon)

Tired of seeing photos of the Grand Canyon’s Horseshoe Bend on your Instagram account? Me too. While the Grand Canyon absolutely deserves a visit, Arizona has plenty of other awe-inspiring sights that many visitors miss. From long-table dining on a farm to a desert botanical garden founded in the ‘30s, here are eight great things to do in Arizona that have nothing to do with its glorious canyon.

Arizona Fresh Foodie Trail

Arizona is a big agricultural player in the U.S., producing much of the country’s produce. Because of this, the agritourism trend is popular in the Phoenix Metro Area. The city of Mesa even offers its own Foodie Trail experience. You can book a visit with a tour operator—stops include an olive mill, orange grove, and an urban farming community—or opt to go the self-guided route.

Glamp in the Desert  

Get ready to sleep on the property that belongs to one of the state’s oldest farming families. At The Cozy Peach at Schnepf Farms, you’ll sleep one of the 1950s-era Airstream trailers from its collection set on a 300-acre peach farm with views of the San Tan Mountains. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served cooked-to-order from the on-site bakery and cafe; but there are also barbecues, tables, and chairs to use. Time your visit right and you might even be there for one of Schnepf Farms’ seasonal long-table dinners (ask when booking).

Watch this video on the SmarterTravel YouTube channel to see what it’s like inside!

Cloth & Flame also offers luxury desert glamping in the Superstition Wilderness for groups via its offshoot brand Tela (call for a booking).

Learn About the Ecosystem at the Desert Botanical Garden

Ashley Rossi

Located in Scottsdale, Arizona’s Desert Botanical Garden is an activity that the whole family can enjoy while learning about the Sonoran Desert. Offering both day and night activities like behind-the-scenes tours and nighttime light shows make it worth visiting more than once. Visit on your own or book a half-day tour of the Phoenix Metro Area that includes admission.

Hike Less-Traveled Trails 

You’ll find hundreds of hiking trails in the Phoenix Metro Area. The Mesa area is home to Usery Mountain Regional Park and the popular Wind Cave hike, as well as Lost Dutchman State Park, San Tan Mountain Regional Park, and the Toto National Forest, which includes Four Peaks and the Superstition Wilderness areas. Check out the Wave Cave Hike if you’re looking for that perfect Instagram to rival Horseshoe Bend.


Get on the Water at Saguaro Lake or Salt River 

While Arizona is sometimes thought of as just a desert landscape, the Phoenix Metro Area is home to lakes and rivers to explore—though the river can be dry depending on the time of year. To experience this watery side of Arizona, kayak or SUP along the canyon-carved waterways of Saguaro Lake, or book a lake cruise on the Desert Belle. The nearby Salt River is popular for leisure sports like tubing and paddle boarding, with plenty of tour operators offering activities.

Other bodies of water include Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, Canyon Lake (check out the day trip on the Dolly Steamboat or dinner cruise for stargazing), and the Verde River (popular for horseback riding and fishing).

Explore Downtown Phoenix’s Art Scene 


With so many visitor-friendly activities in the Phoenix Metro Area, travelers often overlook the offerings in downtown Phoenix. In recent years, Phoenix’s downtown art scene has blossomed thanks to neighborhood revitalization projects that have paved the way for new boutique hotels and street art projects. The FOUND:RE Phoenix hotel, for instance, features local curated art at its arts-centric location near both street art projects and museums.

Museums are plentiful in the downtown area—the Children’s Museum, Arizona Science CenterWells Fargo Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, and Heard Museum are all nearby. And don’t miss The Churchill complex, a hot new destination made of shipping containers that’s home to local shops and food joints.

Star Gaze and Experience Vortices in Sedona

Ashley Rossi

Spend some time in Sedona and discover the “Day Hike Capital” of the world. With endless trail offerings, a landscape like no other, and funky traits like a mint green McDonalds’ Arch, exploring Sedona is one of the best things to do in Arizona. The city is a certified Dark Sky Reserve—which is why the McDonalds’ sign couldn’t be yellow as it didn’t meet regulations—and offers amazing stargazing. Many believe that certain spots among the famous red rock canyons have vortices—swirling centers of healing energy—and going on a search tour to find them is a popular thing to do here.

If you’re looking for more to do, take the stunning drive to nearby Flagstaff, which is under an hour away. The city is home to a ski resort, an observatory, popular breweries, and the state’s tallest mountain, Humphreys Peak.

Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Summer Home

Andrew Pie via TripAdvisor

The famous architect called Scottsdale his summer home, and his legacy is present through many home designs in the region. Taliesin West is designed to blend into the mountain landscape. Guided tours are offered day and night, and reservations are strongly recommended. The property was also home to Wright’s School of Architecture, which students still attend today. There are also private residents living in some parts, so you feel like you’re a part of living history.

More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley Rossi traveled to Arizona as a guest of Visit Mesa. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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