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20 Ultimate Things To Do in Arizona

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Everything you need to know before you visit.

From road trips to take in some of nature’s masterpieces to relaxing getaways for grownups to play, Arizona offers something for everyone. Here’s a sampling of some of the Grand Canyon State’s top experiences.

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Make a Pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon

Nothing can compete with the awe-inspiring power of Mother Nature, and visiting the Grand Canyon is a memorable experience, whether by car or foot. And while you’re sure to have the instinct to Insta-memorialize your visit, take at least a few moments to enjoy the experience with your senses. The South Rim is by far the most popular (consider reservations months in advance for tours or other special experiences). If you have several hours to explore, try a hike along the popular Bright Angel trail. Travel as far as you’re comfortable—just remember you have to hike the same distance, uphill, to get out. Bring snacks and water to stay safe, and wear responsibly comfortable footwear.

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Look Into the Past at the Petrified Forest

One of Arizona’s lesser-visited natural wonders, the Petrified Forest is nonetheless something special. In just a matter of an hour or two, you can drive backward through time, witnessing colors and textures from millennia past. Check out Newspaper Rock, and through the provided binoculars glimpse 500-year-old petroglyphs. To stretch your legs, take a half-hour to explore the Blue Mesa trail. It’s not especially challenging—so it’s good for just about all ages—and it provides a once-in-a-lifetime experience to hike along un-real blue and purple hills and rock.

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Stop at the Painted Desert

A swath of land encompassing nearly 100,000 acres, the Painted Desert is aptly named. Forget your impression of brown and boring desert land; the Painted Desert is awash in color, from deep red hues to lovely lavender. It’s like the sunset imprinted itself on the land. The Petrified Forest is located within the Painted Desert, and is one of the best places to stop and enjoy the view peacefully. Visit the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark, located near the north entrance of the Petrified Forest National Park, to take in the views from several vantage points.

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Find Your Vibe in Sedona

If the Grand Canyon is king in Arizona, then Sedona is its beautiful queen, yet another masterpiece of Mother Nature that leaves visitors aghast at the colors, vistas, and serenity. Some say that Sedona’s allure is more than skin deep, and within the red rock majesty lie four vortexes, or centers of energy. The many metaphysical and crystal shops in the town have maps to the vortexes; among the most popular is the Bell Rock vortex, which is said to strengthen and balance masculine and feminine energy. And if vortexes might not be your thing, no worries: the spas in Sedona are sure to provide an otherworldly escape as well.

 

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Play Golf at Troon North

Baseball is America’s pastime, but golf is Arizona’s. And when it comes to teeing off, no city can offer the caliber of golf courses quite like Scottsdale. Pick your course of choice: Want to play a rough desert course? Check out Troon North. Feel like walking in a pro’s shoes? Then the TPC Scottsdale (home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open) is for you. Want to channel Scotland? Then head to the Kierland Golf Club, where a bagpiper plays each night at dusk. If you didn’t travel with clubs, here’s a mulligan: most on-site pro shops can outfit you with all the gear you need for your day on the greens.

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Learn About Native American Art and History at the Heard Museum

Offering the most comprehensive collection of Native American art in the world, the Heard Museum is a must-visit for any traveler in Phoenix. View not only painted works of art, but also textiles, pottery, and jewelry. You’ll be so taken with the wares, it’s not uncommon to find a treasure in the museum’s gift shop. Offering works from Arizona-based artists, it’s one of the best places in the city to find a souvenir worth cherishing for years to come.

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See Famous Photographs Come to Life at Monument Valley

Ansel Adams’ photographs might have introduced you to Monument Valley. Hollywood Westerns probably enticed you to visit. And when you finally do, you’ll realize that this remarkably remote region of Arizona and Utah is impossible to view in a single frame. Like much of Arizona, this region is best viewed by hitting the road. A single, 17-mile drive along Valley Drive will provide views of the famous monuments you learned in your youth—the Mittens and Totem Pole, among others. It takes 2-4 hours, and will cost $20. You’ll likely find it’s worth every penny.

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Discover the Beauty of Cacti at the Desert Botanical Garden

Quick: Describe a cactus. Did you use the words “green,” “prickly” or even “ugly?” Then you need to visit the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, where you’ll quickly learn that a cactus also can be fragrant, colorful, and downright beautiful. Offering an up-close view of more than 4,000 species of desert flora, the garden is a glorious rebuttal to any claims that deserts are void of life.

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Raft on the Colorado River

If a simple hike along the Grand Canyon isn’t exciting enough for you, just add water and your experience will have all the adrenaline you need. Colorado River rafting trips have become the experience of choice for thrill-seekers. Sign up for a single-day adventure to jostle your joints. For the full experience, consider a multi-day adventure where you’ll brave rapids, watch nature, and view northern Arizona from a different vantage point.

INSIDER TIPMake your reservations early—sometimes many months in advance.

 

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Pay Respects to Native American History at Montezuma Castle National Monument

One of the best aspects of road-tripping through Arizona—in addition to the incredible views—is that historic sites are often, literally, a freeway exit away. Such is the case with Montezuma Castle National Monument. Located about halfway through the drive from Phoenix to Sedona or Flagstaff, Montezuma Castle is a 600-year-old dwelling that’s amazingly preserved. A simple, paved trail leads you past the monument. While you can’t go inside, you can get a good look while stretching your legs. Bonus point: It’s dog-friendly, too, as long as Fido is on a leash.

 

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Shop for Native American Crafts at Hubbell Trading Post

If you’ve got an itch for shopping during your northern Arizona journey, find a trading post. These traditional hubs of commerce offer an expansive assortment of everything from tchotchkes to fine works of art. At the Hubbell Trading Post south of Canyon de Chelly, beautiful rugs can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Hand-made jewelry, baskets, and other crafts also are available. You might have the chance to meet the artist as well—the Cameron Trading Post, southwest of Tuba City, often has an on-site weaver creating a rug.

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Check out the Tucson Art Scene at the Tucson Museum of Art and MOCA

Thanks to its Western roots, university-town vibe, and pop-culture connection to film, Tucson is an artist’s haven. Start with the museums, including the Tucson Museum of Art  and MOCA—the Museum of Contemporary Art. Then move on to the boutique galleries that showcase everything from photography to landscapes and surrealist works. Popular sites include the Center for Creative Photography (founded, in part, by Ansel Adams), Davis Dominguez Gallery, and Baker + Hesseldenz Fine Art.

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Live out Your Wild West Fantasies in Tombstone

The vast expanses of golf courses and spas might make it seem like the Old West has disappeared from Arizona. Not quite. The Wild West spirit is very much alive in towns such as Tombstone and Bisbee, Western towns where the mining boom gave way to outlaws and shootouts. In Tombstone, you can witness a recreation of the famous O.K. Corral gunfight and dine in a saloon. A short drive away, you can rest your head at a Victorian hotel in Bisbee.

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Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Interstates might be efficient, but there’s one giant thing they’re missing: charm. Fortunately, Arizona has the perfect diversion: classic, American Route 66. Take a bypass from Interstate 40 and drive the 75 miles from Seligman to Kingman. Stop for lunch at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In. Along the way you’ll see beautiful scenery, your blood pressure will drop a bit, and you’ll remember that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

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Experience the Magic of Antelope Canyon

One of the most photographed places in Arizona, Antelope Canyon, makes you question texture and matter. How can rock look liquid? How can something so smooth also be fierce? If you’re making the drive to Page, this site is a must-visit. Experts recommend taking pictures at high noon. And be prepared for blowing dust—the colorful rocks, after all, are petrified sand dunes.

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Witness Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Often overshadowed by the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly National Monument is yet another one of nature’s masterpieces in northern Arizona. Home of pueblo ruins that date back to 350, it’s still the residence for a Navajo community that lives along the canyon’s floor. Depending on your desire, you might need a guide. You can drive the 36-mile South Rim on your own—there are overlooks so you can stop and take a view. But if you want to get closer and also learn more about Navajo history and culture, consider hiring a guide from a tour operator such as Ancient Canyon Tours.

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Play at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

One of the most kid-friendly sites in Tucson, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum provides one of the best places for little ones to see the desert without concern of being stung or poked. Equal parts museum, zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden, the Museum has every type of desert creature imaginable—scorpions, snakes, hummingbirds, coyotes, and much more.

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See the Desert’s Most Famous Cactus in Saguaro National Park

There’s an old joke about travelers in Arizona: A guy from the East Coast came to Arizona and saw a saguaro cactus. His response? “Same to you, buddy.” While reactions to seeing Arizona’s iconic cacti range from curious (yes, some of them look like they’re making a rude gesture) to fearful (yes, those needles are sharp), a visit to a site such as the Saguaro National Park can help explain why Arizonans love these towering wonders so much. They’re amazing feats of nature—with a lifespan of up to 200 years—and can extend to 60 feet tall. They don’t produce their first arm until around age 50. Visit the national park in Tucson, and you’ll see an entire forest of them.

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Eat Like a Local at Arriba Mexican Grill

If there is a single must-do in Arizona, it is this: eat Mexican food. Often. In copious amounts. And with every meal, you must have some salsa. (OK, and perhaps a margarita—but that’s another topic.) Depending on the city you’re visiting, you’ll find the salsas change in texture, flavor, and heat. Chunky and sweet. Spicy and smooth. Tear-inducing. Finger-licking good. Some restaurants, like Arriba Mexican Grill in the Phoenix area, offer multiple salsas. Compare the heat, sweetness, and acidity. You’ll need water, too. They’re all delicious, and make you wonder why any other condiment exists.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of L’Auberge de Sedona
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Relax in Style at L'Auberge de Sedona

Put away your phone. Get in a warm robe. Listen to nature and feel the warmth of the sun. Arizona is a haven for doing—golfing, hiking, rafting—but it’s also one of the best destinations for relaxing. Its spas are world-renowned and offer treatments ranging from massages to facials, scrubs to wraps. Doing nothing has never been so wonderful.

Take in a creekside treatment at L’Auberge de Sedona, where you’ll be immersed in nature while your stresses are washed away. Before your treatments, take a dip in the mineral pool at Spa Avania at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch, where you’ll peacefully relax under the canopy of palm trees. Or for a more extensive experience, enjoy an entire wellness vacation at Miraval in Tucson, where you’ll pamper mind, body, and spirit.