Family Vacations to Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona

The booming metro enclave of Phoenix/Scottsdale and its surrounding region offer a fascinating meld of the cowboy, American Indian, and Hispanic cultures in a rugged desert landscape. Here, the 15-foot-tall saguaro cacti seem to beckon you forward. So whether you’re lounging poolside in the midday heat or on an evening nature ramble, you’re sure to feel like you’ve escaped the ordinary.

Phoenix is definitely perfect for outdoor activities in the fall and winter, but even the summers are very nice. Is it hot? It certainly can be with average high temperatures in July reaching 106 degrees and lows of 83 degrees. However, Phoenix has a dry heat (high temps but low humidity) that many say is much more comfortable than higher humidity regions.

What to do in Phoenix

As America’s sixth-largest city (population: 1.5 million), Phoenix offers a surprising amount of outdoor adventure and wilderness solitude. Covering more than 16,500 acres on the city’s southern fringe, South Mountain Park and Preserve offers more than 50 miles of trails flanked by towering cacti and ancient Anasazi petroglyphs. While you certainly aren’t guaranteed solitude at iconic Camelback Mountain, this Phoenix rite of passage will get your heart rate up as you make the final, rugged ascent. For a more laid-back approach to the outdoors, visitors can hop on a trusty steed and tour the mountain ranges throughout the area or lace up their sneakers for a stroll through Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden, where a collection of 50,000 arid-land plants line five thematic trails.

There are also more reasons to be in the Phoenix metro area during the summer. You can find great deals at amusement parks, resorts, golf courses, and many other venues! Summer is the perfect time to find deep discounts because it’s considered the non-peak season. Fun for the entire family is easy to find. As a parent, I have to plan every vacation around not only my wife and I, but our children as well. To find a single destination that’s great for children while providing fun for adults is a must.

Heard Museum

Get acquainted with the best of Southwestern art at the Heard Museum, known for its superb collection of Pima baskets, Navajo rugs, Hopi katsina dolls, pottery, beadwork, jewelry, and other Native American objects. The Heard Museum West is slated to open in the West Valley area of Phoenix in summer 2006, to complement the main facility on Central Avenue, Phoenix, and its Scottsdale branch, the Heard Museum North.

Desert Botanical Gardens

Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Gardens reveal the world’s arid habitats in a 50-acre display of 10,000 plants. A visit here is sure to dispel the myth that deserts are boring and barren. On the self-guided walking tour, discover the myriad shades of green that color the desert and how many diverse plants flourish here. Walk by huge acacia trees, mesquite thickets, and tiers of purple-tinged prickly pear cactus. Get your kids to count the number of lizards they spy darting in the underbrush. Along the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail, kids can twist agave fibers into twine and pound mesquite beans into flour. During Family Saturdays, the garden has puppet shows, craft-making sessions, and animal displays. On Thursday nights (the best time to visit since the temperatures are cooler) in June and July, families can go on Flashlight Discovery Tours through the desert to see the night-blooming flowers, watch for owls, and listen to the coyotes howl.

Sonoran Desert

With your cactus-spotting skills honed, venture into the Sonoran Desert, a rugged landscape of boulders, cacti, sagebrush, and feathery palo verde trees. You can drive through it on a jeep tour, glide over it in a hot-air balloon, go cowboy style on horseback, or get in a Hummer for a backcountry nighttime tour up steep ridges and over giant rocks (after all, it is a Hummer) for a look at the stars. Ask your hotel concierge to recommend an outfitter near your lodging.

See more stars at the Arizona Science Center’s planetarium. It’s daily at 11 a.m. “Starry Storytime” show is aimed at ages three to seven. At the center’s Many Hands Make a Home exhibit, kids get a hands-on look at how electricity, plumbing, and carpentry come together to create a house. In Wired for Thought, learn about the developing brain.

Phoenix Zoo

The Phoenix Zoo features elephants, orangutans, giraffes, and a 10,000-square-foot Monkey Village where you can watch squirrel monkeys scamper and jump through the trees right next to you. Ride the Safari Train to get oriented, or if you want an easy-on-the-feet special tour, book a Safari Cart Tour, a customized one-hour guided tour for up to five people.

Tip: This is the desert after all, so summer gets hot. Always carry plenty of water, plan to be outdoors exploring in the morning and in the evening when it’s cooler, and stay poolside in the shade or indoors in the air-conditioning during the afternoon.

Phoenix/Scottsdale Highlights

  • Admire and learn about Native American beadwork, pottery, jewelry, and baskets at the Heard Museum.
  • Explore the desert from a jeep, Hummer, hot-air-balloon, or horseback tour.
  • Find out about desert plants and animals at the Desert Botanical Gardens.
  • Take a customized guided tour through the Phoenix Zoo.
  • Discover the night sky and how the brain works at the Arizona Science Center.

Phoenix has all the right ingredients to make this a perfect family destination. Everything from the weather, the championship golf course, to the water parks are one of a kind. You’ll find great deals during the summer months and will make memories that will last a lifetime.

Recommended Side Trips: Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Tucson

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