When I told my sister in law that I was taking my eldest daughter to Sunny Arizona she scoffed at me and said, “There is nothing to do there.” I understood what she meant as, when she goes to Arizona, it is to visit family, not for a vacation.
While I knew why her opinions were a bit negative I will admit I was thrilled to find so many fun family activities near Phoenix; some purely fun, some with sneaky education and many delicious.
Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction
Our trip took us to the communities of Tempe, Chandler, Mesa and Apache Junction; each town with its own unique flavor of fabulous.
Family Fun in Chandler, Arizona
My daughter would say that some of her best fun was in the pool at the Hampton Inn. This new hotel has all the amenities a family would want- including a refrigerator in the room and complimentary hot breakfast. Comfy beds and free wifi won top points with me.
Chandler hosts a Third Friday Art Walk downtown which shouldn’t be missed. Artisans of all types set up booths around the square, showcasing everything from jewelry to paintings, blown glass to cuddly creations. Wandering through the booths is great fun! Tip: bring cash!
Arrive early –like 5pm- and have dinner at Serrano’s, the oldest continuous family owned business in Chandler. Be sure to try the Prickly Pear Margarita (also available without alcohol)- it’s yummy! Finish your evening at Paletas Betty for a delicious frozen treat.
Paletas from Paletas Betty, Chandler
If you need to wear the kids out take them to Jump Street, an indoor trampoline park. With a dozen massive trampolines, a trampoline dodge ball court and a special area just for kids under 7, this is really fun for kids of all ages.
Fun at Jump Street Trampoline Park
For a sweet treat make a stop at Sweeties Candy, the largest candy store in the state. You’ll find holiday themed treats as well as nostalgic candies from way back when.
Family Adventures in Apache Junction, Arizona
The highlight of Apache Junction is the Superstition Mountains. Tales of the Lost Dutchman mine still draw treasure hunters hoping to discover his vein of gold.
At the base of the Superstition Mountains is Goldfield Ghost Town, a recreation built in the footprints of the town that disappeared overnight. Here you can explore the town as it was in 1892, wander the shops, take a mine tour and maybe even see a gun fight.
Horseback Riding at Goldfield Ghost Town
Goldfield is also a base for Jeep, horseback riding and hiking tours along the Apache Trail, into the Superstitions or the closer Goldfield Mountains.
While you’ll find plenty of dining in Goldfield Ghost Town, a quick drive to the Mining Camp Restaurant takes you back to the days of Cook Shanties, where the miners would gather to eat. Meals are served family style, all you can eat, with fresh rolls and sweet cactus jelly. Take your time eating because the “Amazing McNasty Brothers” put on a fun show filled with music and good humored banter.
The McNasty Brothers perform at Mining Camp Restaurant
Museums and More in Mesa
The Arizona Museum for Youth is what I like to call “sneaky education”. Fun activities like a life size Lite Brite, puppet theater and creation stations will keep kids entertained for hours. For the little ones the ArtVille play place is designed for exploration that can’t be wandered away from.
Life Size Lite Brite at Arizona Museum for Youth
For your future paleontologists a visit to the Arizona Museum of Natural History is a must. Not only are there rooms of dinosaurs- and a Paleo Dig- but you can explore territorial jail cells and pan for gold!
Just outside Mesa is Superstition Farms. This working, family-owned farm offers tours starring their herd of dairy cows. New calves are a common site in the maternity pen if you’re alert. Cuddle a bunny or chicken, hand feed goats and pet the calf in the petting zoo, then try the farm’s Udder Delights homemade ice cream.
Feeding a goat at Superstition Farms
Turtles and Tigers in Tempe
Built inside the massive Arizona Mills shopping and entertainment center, the Arizona Sea Life Aquarium was built to engage children. Filled with touch pools and interactive centers, this aquarium will entrance kids of all ages. One of the most incredible displays is the Ocean Tunnel, a 360° viewing area filled with 161,000 gallons of water.
Ocean Tunnel at SeaLife Aquarium
On the very edge of Tempe, in Papago Park, is the Phoenix Zoo (which totally brought back memories of my African safari trip planning that started here). One of the top 5 zoos in the US for kids, you’ll find a animals from warm climates (sorry, no polar bears or penguins here). Bighorn sheep roam the nearby mountain while giraffe and Watusi Cattle roam the savanna. Don’t miss the Monkey Village where you are inside the habitat with the adorable squirrel monkeys. Be sure to bring comfy walking shoes and a stroller for the little ones. You can easily make a day of your trip by packing a lunch and drinks- coolers are allowed inside the zoo grounds (just don’t bring alcohol or glass bottles).
Feeding Giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo
This is just a handful of the fun family vacation activities you’ll find near Phoenix. Next time you fly in for a trip to the Grand Canyon take a day or two to explore Sunny Arizona!
Photo credits: Jody Halsted
Jody Halsted shares her family’s
travels, tips and favorite travel
products at her Family Rambling site.
Disclosure: I would like to thank the SunnyAZ CVB for hosting us and arranging our itinerary for this trip.