If you only have one day in Phoenix, you might not even need to rent a car. The sky train at the airport connects to the light rail that takes you downtown, where you’ll find plenty of opportunities to explore the unique blend of culture the city offers. This itinerary shows you how to spend a day in downtown Phoenix and the immediate surrounding area.
Note: If you are visiting in the summer, you might need to adjust the itinerary to spend as little time outdoors as possible unless you are by a pool. Where possible, we will give you a hot-weather alternative. You might opt to rent a car or use Uber to get around to minimize walking in over the 105-degree weather on hot concrete.
Once you are downtown, whether you took the light rail, a shuttle, a rental car, or woke up in a hotel here, you’ll need a good breakfast before setting off to explore the city. Head over to Matt’s Big Breakfast for traditional fare, made from high-quality ingredients; cage-free, farm-fresh eggs; real butter; grain-fed pork; and beef. They serve real maple syrup with their waffles if that‘s your thing, but for a treat of a big breakfast, try their special Chop & Chick.
After breakfast, take some time to explore Roosevelt Row, the city’s walkable art district, where you can enjoy creative and colorful work by local street artists, then stop in one of the galleries, like monOrchid or eyelounge. Or, if you want some unique shopping done, stop in one of the boutique stores.
If you’re visiting in summer, take your time really appreciating the indoor art in the galleries, or opt to drive through the neighborhood to check out the street art.
Walk over to the Historic Heritage Square, where you’ll see the Rosson House, a fully restored Queen Anne Victorian House dating from 1895. If it’s open, you can take a guided tour of the house to learn about Arizona’s pioneer days. Then visit the Arizona Science Center, an exciting hands-on museum, with exhibits ranging from mechanical and electromagnetic displays to interactions with forces of nature, the human body, and experimenting with the digital world.
You don’t need to leave Heritage Square for great lunch options since you’ll find the award-winning, best pizza in town, Pizzeria Bianco, across from the Science Museum. If you’d rather opt for Asian fare, try Nobuo at Teeter House.
You can walk over to the Heard Museum, or take the light rail one stop or an Uber during a summer visit. Dedicated to the Native Americans of the Southwest and other indigenous people around the world, the museum gives you a sense of the culture and history. You can spend an hour or a few there, browsing through an extensive collection of Hopi kachina dolls and exhibits featuring other tribes of the area. If you are there at the right time, you can watch contemporary and traditional Native American dancers and musicians perform in their auditorium and hear their legends and stories right from the source.
You can’t leave Phoenix without a visit to Papago Park. It’s easy to get an Uber from downtown to cover the eight miles to this city park laying across from the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo. Enjoy the surrounding desert, walk the Interpretive Nature trail to learn about its flora and fauna, then later in the day hike up to and inside the Hole-in-the-Rock to watch the sunset over the city.
Again, you might need to skip this if you are here in the summer. Instead, spend time in the Phoenix Art Museum, and enjoy a walk through hundreds of art pieces in an air-conditioned setting.
Since it is your only dinner in town, make it memorable. Try the award-winning Vincent on Camelback for a unique blend of classic French cuisine with Southwestern ingredients, creations of Chef Vincent, the only classically trained French chef in Arizona. Or, if you’d rather go more authentic, try KAI for an upscale Native American culinary adventure with dishes made from locally farmed and foraged ingredients. For a taste of Mexico, you can’t beat Barrio Café, which serves the best Mexican regional dishes originating from places like Yucatan, Puebla or Oaxaca, and more.
For a late night drink or entertainment, you can spend time and have a few drinks at the Bitter & Twisted, housed in the former Prohibition Headquarters, at walking distance from everything downtown. Or, if you want to feel lost at sea in a schooner, take an Uber to UnderTow, an underground tiki bar set up to make guests feel like they are sailing the seven seas.