What was it like to live in the American Wild West and ride with the likes of Wyatt Earp?
A road trip to Phoenix, Arizona, can give your kids a first-hand look at a city that was built on the lands of a lost civilization, has appeared in more movies than you can shake a stick at, and has a vibrant history of descendants of Native Americans who settled in the region over a thousand years before the arrival of the first Spanish.
Long before Arizona received its statehood, Phoenix had already been established as the territorial capital in 1889. Today, two-thirds of the Arizona population live in the Phoenix area, making it a metropolis with something fun to offer for visitors of all ages.
Here are a few of the highlights you won’t want to miss when you’re road tripping through Phoneix.
1. Mystery Castle
You wouldn’t expect to find the words castle and Phoenix in the same sentence, much less the same zip code. Yet on 800 E. Mineral Road, you’ll find exactly that in the palatial 1930s estate of Boyce Luther Gulley. Like many people who continue to flock to Arizona for its toasty climate, Gulley originally hailed from the very wet state of Washington.
When doctors told him that he needed to seek hotter weather as a cure for his tuberculosis, he traveled to Phoenix and built himself what was considered at the time to be a quirky brick mansion. It’s still quirky but a fun place to explore and admire the Gulley family’s various collections.
2. Heritage Square
When we think of the Southwest, we usually imagine ranch houses or adobe bungalows that look like something the Flintstones would live in. At the turn of the 19th century, however, those who had come westward to find their fortune in the region’s copper and silver mines also brought wives who insisted on raising their families in elegant surroundings reminiscent of the east coast.
At Heritage Square on Monroe Street, you can see the Victorian influence in the restored community that comprised Phoenix’s original civilized neighborhood. Several of these homes are open for tours and display artifacts of the era. There is even a toy and doll museum that reveals how kids entertained themselves before the advent of Game Boys and iPhones.
3. Arizona Mining And Mineral Museum
Do your kids like rocks? They’ll find plenty to look at in the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum, which conducts tours Mondays through Saturdays.
The Museum also hosts an annual Family Day every October, which teaches kids how to pan for gold, make jewelry, identify various rocks, minerals, and fossils, and receive free samples with which to start terrariums or use as paperweights for their homework. The museum is located at 15th and Washington.
4. Desert Botanical Garden
Arizona has more saguaro cactus than anywhere else. The saguaro and 50 acres of other Southwest flora can be found at the Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park.
This is a good place to take sketchpads and have the kids try to capture the many different varieties, colors, and shapes of desert vegetation. Don’t miss the Plants and People Trail, which includes authentic replicas of how early Native Americans lived, slept, and cooked their food.
5. The Heard Museum
The State of Arizona has more Native American reservations than anywhere else in the country. You and your kids can learn about most of the region’s tribes at the Heard Museum.
Located in the heart of downtown Phoenix, this expansive museum has nearly 40,000 artifacts related to Native American history and life, as well as tribal demonstrations and interactive arts, galleries, lectures, and insights not only into the culture and beliefs of Arizona’s indigenous populations but respect for the contributions they have made to modern society.
6. Arizona Capitol Museum
How did Arizona get to be a state? The Monday through Friday free tours offered in the restored Capitol Building will tell you how. A museum also houses information about some of Phoenix’s most famous people, traveling exhibits, and a gift store with a good selection of educational books on the state’s colorful history.
And although we’re pretty sure he’s not included among the Phoenix notables, you can impress your offspring with how cool you are by telling them that one of the city’s native sons is Alice Cooper.
7. Chase Field (Formerly Bank One Ballpark)
If your brood starts insisting, Take me out to the ball game, head over to Chase Field at 401 E. Jefferson. Then again, this high-tech sports complex with air conditioning and a retractable roof might spoil them for wanting to go to games anywhere else!
Catch the Arizona Diamondbacks during the MLB season, or you might even be in town to catch a concert or special at Arizona’s premier event stadium.
8. Biltmore Fashion Park
Teen girls, of course, (and maybe their mothers) will set their sights on Biltmore Fashion Park, an indoor/outdoor galleria of boutiques, eateries, and galleries. Plan to stay there for at least a couple of hours to see everything.
9. Phoenix Zoo
From flora to fauna, the Phoenix Zoo is fairly new and exists entirely on the generosity of private donations and grants. It is also very active in ecological and conservation programs, recognizing that the natural habitats of wildlife need to be preserved to keep creatures off the endangered species lists.
The zoo is open every day of the year, including holidays. During the summer, however, its residents get just as hot and sleepy as the two-footed visitors and may retreat to their caves.
10. Name That Movie!
How many movies can you name that may have been shot in parts of the Phoenix area?
While westerns such as Gunfight at the OK Corral, Rio Bravo, The Outlaw Josie Wales, and How the West Was Won are obvious choices, you can dazzle your kids with a few others they may not have thought of: The Exorcist (the original one), The Mummy, Windtalkers, Three Kings, Eight-Legged Freaks, Traffic, and The Postman.
Rent some of these after returning from vacation and see how many spots they can identify!
11. Ghost Towns of Arizona
What kid doesn’t like ghost stories? Within easy driving of your Phoenix home base, there are many old mining towns that were abandoned after fortunes started to run out.
They’re a great place for family photo ops, especially if you have photography software programs that can later reproduce them as vintage sepia prints.
Bumble Bee, Vulture Mine, Copper Creek, and Goldfield are just a few of the popular tourist draws that can show your kids what it was like to live in a wild west town.
To no great surprise, the film industry continues to use a lot of them as backdrops for sets rather than building reproductions on Hollywood’s back lots.
Where to Stay in Phoenix
If you like to be in the heart of the action, Downtown Phoenix it is, or one of our favored areas when traveling with the kids is Chandler.
Have you got any more suggestions to add? Let us know in the comments your favorite things to do in Phoenix AZ with kids!
More Road Trip Ideas and Tips For Arizona
- Extended your trip to Phoenix with these exciting day trip ideas.
- Natural lovers will want to seek out these incredible natural wonders of Arizona.
- Looking for more exciting things to do in Arizona? Why not check out these Arizona hidden gems many visitors forget to put on their list!
- Driving to Phoenix from California? You’ll love this detailed San Diego to Grand Canyon itinerary to enjoy even more of the southwest, taking you via Phoenix and Flagstaff, or try this direct San Diego to Phoenix itinerary.
- Hitting the road in Arizona, you’ll want to make sure you have these desert driving tips up your sleeve for the often extreme weather conditions.
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