Updated: Nov 18
Earlier this year, I took the family on a massive road trip from Utah through Page, Sedona, and Phoenix and then onto Los Angeles and Orange County, then back to Utah through Las Vegas. It was early in the summer and we were worried the heat in Phoenix would already be stifling. We found it surprisingly manageable, as long as we could cool off during the day at the pool. But our favorite time to go to Phoenix is during the winter. It's a great place to go to take a break from the cold and snow because the temps are an ideal 60s-70s during the day.
Phoenix Arizona is one of our favorite places to visit with the kids. There are tons of kid-friendly things to do in Phoenix from cultural experiences to hikes and sports. If you prefer to fly, you can find very affordable flights on Allegiant flying from Provo to Mesa. I, however, am a sucker for a good road trip and the drive from Utah to Phoenix takes you through places like Kanab UT, Page AZ, and Flagstaff AZ. You could do all kinds of side trips and excursions on a road trip like this (Grand Canyon, Sedona, Route 66...) and it's a beautiful drive through the desert. But we'll save those for another post. Without further ado, here are our favorite things to do in Phoenix for kids!
10. Gilbert Heritage District
Gilbert is a large town on the outskirts of Phoenix that was initially founded in 1902 and was once known as the “Hay Shipping Capital of the World”. Most of the ranches are long gone but the main street area known as the Heritage District is a vibrant place with lots of restaurants and a community theater called Hale Centre Theatre. There aren’t as many shops as I would expect in a place like this but it’s a great spot to take a stroll, check out some street art murals, and grab a bite at one of the many restaurants. Our favorites were Zinburger for some really juicy, messy (in a good way) burgers and Petersen’s Ice Cream and Café. We’re not huge ice cream people but we really loved this place, so you know it’s legit.
9. Sea Life Aquarium
What kid doesn’t love exploring life under the sea? SEA LIFE Aquarium at the Arizona Mills Mall is a nice kid-friendly activity full of everything you’d expect from an aquarium – sharks, jellyfish, starfish, sea turtles, and more. It also features Arizona’s only 360-degree ocean tunnel, where you can walk through and watch the sharks and fish swim all around you.
8. Play at Kiwanis Park
Kiwanis Park is a huge park complex in the city of Tempe, near Arizona State University. For the sports enthusiast, there are baseball diamonds, tennis courts, soccer fields, and basketball courts, with pickup games happening regularly. If the weather is hot, make sure to head there early in the morning while the temperature is still cool. There’s also a lake that’s stocked with fish and has lots of picnic tables around. For parents with young kids, there’s a great children’s playground with lots of sand, shade, and all the features that kids love. Our boys are obsessed with sand and will play in it any chance they get it. Ever since our first visit here, they still refer to this park as “The Sand Park” and ask us all the time to go back. The best time to visit the park is in the cooler winter months but for those times when the weather is unbearably hot, they also have a rec center with an indoor pool complete with a large wave pool that’s a lot of fun.
7. Hike Hole in the Rock
Hole in the Rock is actually one of the few places near Phoenix where you can experience the famous Arizona red rocks (northern Arizona is where you usually go for that). It’s located Papago Park near the Phoenix Zoo. It’s an easy, kid-friendly hike that’s just 0.3 miles round trip. And despite the boring yet descriptive name, it is not a boring hike. Our kids loved climbing through the arch, checking out all the saguaro, and enjoying the views of the city from up on the hill. If you have time and extra budget, make sure to check out the nearby Desert Botanical Garden as well.
Photo credit: The Outbound
6. Legoland Discovery Center
Also located at Arizona Mills Mall is the Legoland Discovery Center. This isn’t a full-on theme park like the one in San Diego, but it is does have lots of cool Lego exhibits, a play area, a theater with a short Lego movie, and a few small rides that younger kids will love. You can actually get a combo ticket for both Legoland and the aquarium, and spend the day inside taking a break from the Arizona sun.
5. Old Town Scottsdale
Scottsdale might be known for retirees and golfers, but Old Town Scottsdale is a must-do even for families with young kids. While Gilbert has a few really good restaurants, Old Town Scottsdale has dozens of shops and restaurants and has much more of the “old west” vibe that people love about Arizona. There’s something for every budget, from high-end luxury to affordable family fare. You’ll love walking around all the art galleries and gift shops. And Old Town Scottsdale is hands down THE place to get the Mexican food in town. For a family-friendly restaurant with a cool ambience, we recommend Old Town Tortilla Factory.
Photo credit: Experience Scottsdale
4. Major League Baseball
If you’re a fan of America’s favorite pastime, there are lots of great options for you. Not only is Phoenix home to MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks but it’s also home to the spring training Cactus League. From February-March, fifteen pro teams descend on Phoenix and neighboring towns for spring training, including the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Chicago Cubs. We’re big fans of the Dodgers after the two years we spent living in LA but spending the dough to take our four kids to Dodger Stadium and then hoping they’ll actually sit happily through nine innings of baseball isn’t the best idea. So when we visited Arizona in February to take a break from the Utah winter, we made sure to catch a game in Glendale. It’s a fun, more laid back, and less expensive alternative to regular season games in LA.
3. Ride an Old-Fashioned Steamboat at Canyon Lake
This is one of those hidden gems that I love coming across. I was looking at Google Maps and planning a recent road trip through Phoenix when I came across something on the map called “The Dolly Steamboat”. Upon further investigation, I discovered it was an old-fashioned steamboat that takes you on a cruise on Canyon Lake and up the Salt River. You can sit back and relax and see all kinds of rock formations, saguaro, and wildlife, like bighorn sheep and bald eagles. It’s not quite as grandiose as the Grand Canyon or Lake Powell, but it was still a really cool, unique experience and of the highlights of our trip. And cruises happen year round, even in the winter months.