If you’re looking for a getaway full of adventure, good food, beautiful sunsets and plenty of activity for both you and the kids, consider a visit to the Phoenix/Mesa area of Arizona. Both cities, only 15 miles apart, offer an abundance of options for everyone, from learning about Indians, to hot air ballooning, to farm excursions to hiking trails in the desert. Here’s my list of top things to do in Phoenix/Mesa with kids:
Learn about Native American heritage
The Heard Museum is a museum dedicated to the diverse cultures and art of Native Americans of the Southwest. These are groups that my children, and myself, have little knowledge of, and I was eager for the education.
Open since 1929 and located right downtown, the Heard is not only a history lesson but it’s a salute and homage to Native Americans. Every child will be smitten with the artifacts, dolls, clothes and art created by Native Americans. They also offer hands-on activities for kids of all ages.
See Phoenix from a bird’s eye view
For a real thrill and adventure (for kids ages 5 and up), take a hot air balloon ride in the sky overlooking the desert with Hot Air Expeditions. You’ll marvel at the views and it really is bucket-list worthy. We took the 6am flight to watch the desert during sunrise.
Our captain, Patrick, was very skilled and an excellent storyteller. We were surprised at how warm we were flying in the sky, 2,400 feet above ground level. When we landed, we had a full champagne breakfast waiting for us, complete with chocolate croissants and quiche. This is an experience everyone should have, and one your kids won’t soon forget.
Experience mother nature
Usery Mountain Regional Park is set on 3,648 acres at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Park. They offer a number of special programs for both adults and young children. Everything from Stargazing, Venomous Reptiles, Archery, Fitness hiking, Bird Watching. For kids in particular options include: Storytime, Find the Ranger, Little Desert Explorers, Toddler Cruise, Terrible Lizards, Wildlife Safari. Parents can opt for yoga classes with certified instructors facing the desert as the sun rises.
The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Papago Park, not far from downtown Phoenix. It’s a local gem for any visitor either living in the area or coming from another place, like me. A “Phoenix Point of Pride,” it’s one of only a few botanical gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums. And it feels like a museum!
The 20,000 plants from around the world represent 3,931 plant classifications in 139 plant families. There are five walking trails with yucca-fiber, wildflowers and a zillion cacti of all sizes for children to observe.
Ride the water
Since Arizona is warm all year long, you can always check out their water sports options. There are three lakes and two rivers within 30 minutes of Mesa that allow for desert boating, fishing, rafting, kayaking, water skiing, wake boarding and jet skiing. Or, partake in the ever-popular activity of “tubing,” a leisurely float along the cool waters of the Salt River via inner-tube.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, go paddle boarding with Southwest Stand Up and Paddle! It takes courage. Your children can watch.
Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Phoenix
The food in Phoenix/Mesa is fresh, innovative and mouth-watering. Here are a few options to check out that appeal to adults and kids alike:
- The Angel Trumpet Ale House features an interesting menu full of specialty beer and comfort food that includes flatbreads, fish tacos, pizza, grilled cheese and something called the Nutter (peanut butter, bananas, raspberry-chipotle jam plus homemade marshmallow fluff and peppered bacon).
- Dinner at North Fattoria Italiana is truly inspired cuisine and is great for anyone, including kids and families. Created by Chef Chris Curtiss, pizza and pasta dough is made from scratch. The prices are reasonable and the quality of the good could not be greater.
- Lunch at Joe’s Farm Grill is another experience, unique to Phoenix. The food comes directly from the farm on which the restaurant lies, with much of the produce harvested the same day they cook it. They make their own pickles, marinades, sell their fruit, vegetables, and herbs from The Farm at Agritopia and use other local farmers striving to do their part in keeping the menu entirely local.
- For dessert, head to Liberty Market, a sister restaurant of Joe’s Farm & Grill in nearby Gilbert and order their famous Salt River bar. Three layers of buttery crackers, peanut butter chips, and brown sugar caramel, topped with a thick, fudgy layer of melted chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt. You may die and go heaven.
Where to Stay in Phoenix with kids
Ciao Bambino features the Fairmont Scottsdale, a full service resort, and Firesky, a Kimpton hotel, in our best kid-friendly hotel portfolio. Read the reviews for details and use our Check Availability button for customized, best pricing.
Editorial Note: Holly recently went on a press trip to Phoenix and Mesa and was provided with complimentary accommodations, meals and attraction tickets, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Holly Rosen Fink.