The 7 Best Urban Parks in America

When you hear ‘urban park’ and ‘America’ in the same sentence, one immediately thinks of Central Park in NYC, but it may surprise you to learn that all over America there are incredible urban parks. Parks play a key role in making a city desirable for both visitors and locals and it explains why cities are investing more and more money into them. From trapeze lessons on Governor’s Island to the impressive San Diego Zoo located in Balboa Park to parks that host awesome parties and festivals, here are seven urban parks that make these cities even more attractive to both live and visit.

7. Grant Park, Chicago

It is refereed to as Chicago’s “Front Yard”, a 319-acre public park that includes many notable features including Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago and Buckingham Fountain. As well this park happens to be the site of three world-class museums, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, performance venues, gardens and sculptures. The beautiful lakefront recreation center, Maggie Daley Park opened in 2014 as well as the ice skating ribbon, a skating experience unlike any other that winds its way through a rolling landscape with a city skyline as a backdrop. It is also home to the famous shiny reflective bean shaped sculpture that has become both a city icon and popular photo-op.

grant park

6. Schenley Park, Pittsburgh

This beautiful park is worth a visit anytime of the year, but especially in the summertime where free movies play on Flagstaff Hill, or during the fall where the leaves turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. There are enough sports for everyone here, from the 13 tennis courts to the soccer field to the running track, high-jump area to the 18-hole Frisbee golf course. Visitors can also choose to take it slow, wander through the Phipps Conservatory and gaze at the rare miniature orchids or the primitive tree ferns. The free Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix also takes place here during July and 150 sports cars navigate 23 turns around the parks Paddock Drive, while some 200,000 visitors cheer them on.

Joshua Haviv / Shutterstock.com
Joshua Haviv / Shutterstock.com

5. Balboa Park, San Diego

Sitting at just over 1,200 acres, this stunning park packs in more attractions than you could possibly visit in just one day, including the Tony Award-winning Old Glove theatre. It is here where visitors will find the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Museum of Art, numerous hiking and biking trails, a handful of playgrounds and more. There are a ton of restaurants to choose from here including tea pavilions, cafes, grills and pubs. Overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean and including buildings so stunning they have been used in movies and television shows, consider yourself lucky if you happen to have this incredible urban park as your backyard.

Balboa Park, San Diego

4. Encanto Park, Phoenix

This 222-acre oasis lies just a few blocks from the busy central corridor and features awesome picnic areas, a lagoon, boat house, swimming pool and more. Rent a paddle boat or canoe and enjoy the lagoon along with the opportunity for fishing and observing ducks. One of the best attractions here is the Enchanted Island Amusement Park, a park that features a ton of rides and activities for the whole family. There are a ton of free things to do as well here such as rollerblading along the paved trails, getting in a good workout at the exercise field, check out Art in Park or toss a Frisbee around in one of many green spaces.

Encanto Park, Phoenix

3. Discovery Green Park, Houston

This downtown paradise was made when the city decided to tear up numerous concrete parking lots and turn this otherwise unattractive part of the city into Discovery Green Park. This 12-acre park features awesome amenities such as a man-made lawn, 12-foot high arcing water jets, rolling green lawns and fine dining restaurants. Throughout the year numerous wacky competitions take place here, along with the dog jumping competitions and free classes. During the winter an amazing ice skating rink is open to the public as well as a field of lights, an awe-inspiring art installation that shines against the dark sky. Playgrounds, stages, trails, art installations, gardens, reading rooms and other awesome surprises await visitors at this awesome urban park.

goodcat / Shutterstock.com
goodcat / Shutterstock.com

2. Governors Island, New York City

This former military base off the tip of lower Manhattan has been turned into an amazing urban park, offering visitors and locals of NYC a second choice in awesome parks. It is here where you will find electric arts, food events and even a sandy beach to hang out at. Get here by taking the free ferry ride from Manhattan’s Battery Maritime Building or take the Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, which offers stunning views of the skyline and State of Liberty. Circus nerds will go nuts over the trapeze lessons that are offered on the weekends and music fans unite to rock out to some incredible waterfront concerts. The island is car-free so many choose to rent bikes and cycle around, go on Fridays between May and October and even get your bike for free!

Keith Sherwood / Shutterstock.com
Keith Sherwood / Shutterstock.com

1. City Park, New Orleans

This park is as magical and historical as the city of New Orleans itself, boasting the largest collection of mature live oaks in the world. These sculptural-looking marvels include some that have their branches spread out twice as wide as their height (up to 75ft)! There are way too many things in this park to mention, but some of the most notable include the New Orleans Botanical Garden, Big Lake, Art and Sculpture Garden, City Splash and numerous playgrounds and sports fields. Summertime brings genteel parties complete with mint juleps and performances at the Botanical Gardens and live bands at the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon. Enjoy the 18-hole golf course, the famous antique carousel and the beautiful Couturier Forest.

City Park, New Orleans

10 Breathtaking Gardens to Visit in the U.S.

If you are looking to find peace and tranquility there is absolutely no better place than one of America’s beautiful public gardens. Whether you want to spend an hour wandering through the trails, or have a whole day to explore, these gardens will inspire you. Discover a butterfly hatching into a tropical oasis, the largest display of orchids in the US, towering fountains, amazing koi ponds and hundreds of acres of complete bliss. From Arizona to New York City to Florida; here are 10 breathtaking gardens to visit in the US.

10. Longwood Gardens -Kennett Square, PA

In the Brandywine Creek Valley sits 1,077 acres of magnificent gardens, woodlands and meadows known as Longwood Gardens. The longtime home of industrialist Pierre S. du Pont, this public garden boasts century old trees that were the inspiration behind du Pont conserving this land. The historic four acre conservatory is not to be missed, packed full of colorful flowers, ferns and fruits. Du Pont had much of a hand in designing this garden and in fact the Italian water garden was done entirely by him. Visit during the summer to catch one of the concerts in the grand ballroom, complete with a massive organ. If you want to catch the breathtaking colors of the Norway Maples, make sure to come in fall as they surround the 130 foot main fountain which becomes emblazoned in gold. Spring is the best time to see the impressive crocus and trillium carpeting the forest floor.

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA

9. Desert Botanical Garden -Phoenix, AZ

Throw away any notion you may have of an ugly desert and experience the magic of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Spanning 145 acres this garden showcases more than 50,000 plants including the ever traditional cacti. This garden has a distinct mission to focus solely on desert plants while thrilling visitors with its colorful wildflower exhibit. The absolute best time to head here is during the spring when the wildflower exhibit explodes with color and the butterflies take flight in the covered pavilion. This garden also hosts a number of events including flashlight tours, music in the garden, kids programs and classes for adults. Discover the Mexican poppies, desert lupine and a large array of agave and other succulents in this awesome desert garden that pops with color.

Images by Dr. Alan Lipkin / Shutterstock.com
Images by Dr. Alan Lipkin / Shutterstock.com

8. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens -Boothbay, ME

This is one the newest gardens on our list and only opened in 2007, quick to become one of Maine’s most popular attractions. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens span 248 acres with a mile of waterfront and took over 16 years to plan, build and plant. The beautiful walking trails, plant life and sculptures can be appreciated by spending the entire day here. Visitors will find everything here, from manicured formal gardens to waterfalls to thousands of species of herbs, plants and flowers. A hands-on children’s garden makes this destination family friendly. The summer is the ultimate time to visit as everything is in bloom and the weather is warm, make sure you pack a picnic to enjoy either in the butterfly gardens or the meditation gardens. Lectures and education talks are offered all year round, as are guided tours throughout the gardens and this is quickly becoming one of the most beautiful gardens in America.

Photo by: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Photo by: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

7. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens -Coral Gables, FL

The southern climate in this state makes for great year round growing and at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens visitors are privy to rare exotic fruit species and an abundance of lush foliage. Located less than 10 miles from downtown Miami, this space showcases more than 3,400 tropical species, many of them gathered by the founder of this garden. David Fairchild actually traveled the globe in search of useful plants and in 1938 opened the 83 acre garden. Today it is home to an impressive number of palms, cycads and fruit species. Also on the property is a magnificent butterfly conservatory that features almost 3,000 butterflies. Visitors can watch them hatch and be released into the conservatory. Visitors will want to head here in winter for cooler temperatures and fewer bugs.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, Coral Gables, FL

6. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park -Grand Rapids, MI

The motto of this garden is always growing, always beautiful and always new. The sculpture program at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park features over 200 works in the permanent collected, both indoors and out, spread over 158 acres. This haven is one of the best when it comes to incorporating horticulture and sculptures throughout its site. Plan on spending an entire day here while you discover the tropical conservatory featuring over 500 species from around the world, complete with waterfalls, bridges and a variety of tropical birds. Or head to the new Japanese gardens which spans over 8 acres complete with serene bridges and ponds. The children’s garden is a hit among the little ones as they are encouraged to dig for fossils, sit in the giants bird nest or look through the viewpoints at the numerous sculptures. Don’t miss the annual exhibition when the butterflies hatch and take flight in the tropical conservatory.

Photo by: Brett McPherson/Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Photo by: Brett McPherson/Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

5. Chicago Botanic Garden -Chicago, IL

The Chicago Botanic Garden draws about a million visitors annually and is considered one of the largest botanical gardens in the U.S, spanning nearly 400 acres. It is actually considered to be a living museum and this garden has a big hand in groundbreaking plant conservation research. Visitors will want to come here between late April and November to see the nearly 200 Bonsai that are on display. These miniature masterpieces are cultivated by bonsai master Susumu Nakamura and it is considered one of the best public displays of bonsai. Visitors here will also find a local-centric fruit and vegetable garden, a classic English walled garden and 100 acre native oak woodland. Spanning across nine islands and six miles of lakeshore, this garden is absolutely one of the most breathtaking in all of America.

Chicago Botanic Garden

4. Portland Japanese Garden -Portland, OR

This 5.5 acre garden is quite small compared to the rest of the beautiful gardens on this list but makes up for its size with what it offers visitors. The late landscape architect Takuma Tono created this magnificent garden true to the traditions of his native Japan with stunning results. The landscape here is split into five distinct gardens- the flat garden, strolling pond garden, tea garden, natural garden and sand and stone garden. If you have never been to a Japanese garden before, prepare yourself for the peace and tranquility that overwhelms you as you enter. These gardens are designed to make visitors feel as part of nature, not overwhelmed by it. One of the best times to visit is in the spring with the famous weeping cheery erupts into the beautiful pink blossoms. It is important to note that this garden has many trails that make it quite difficult for wheelchair guests.

Portland Japanese Garden

3. Missouri Botanical Garden -St. Louis, MO

The breathtaking Missouri Botanical Garden spans over 79 acres and includes an amazing 14 acre Japanese garden, an original 1850’s estate home and one of the world’s largest collections of rare and endangered orchids. The collection of orchids includes over 3,000 species with colors ranging from bright pink to dainty spotted varieties. February and March are the only moths to see the full orchid display and we guarantee it is like nothing you have seen before. But that’s not all this garden offers, there are also more than 700 types of daffodils on display and an amazing collection of daylilies. This garden is also home to the iconic Climatron conservatory, a clime controlled geodesic dome built in the 1960’s that features an impressive tropical paradise. From summer music festivals to train shows to holiday flower shows, there is something happening at this garden every day of the year.

Photo by: Carlos Muela
Photo by: Carlos Muela

2. The New York Botanical Garden -New York City, NY

This national historic landmark spans over 250 acres in the Bronx and gives the ever bustling city a sense of peace and tranquility. These gardens were established way back in 1891 and along with the millions of plants is home to a number of historic buildings. The 1902-era conservatory is a hit among visitors as it includes eleven distinct plant habitats including a tropical rainforest and desert environment of the Americas and Africa. The garden is arranged in fifty distinct areas and includes a century old collection of conifers, a 4,000 plant rose garden and the largest old growth deciduous forest in New York. Helpful guides are always located throughout this garden spouting bits of useful information to visitors, a welcome touch. Visitors flock here for the spring orchid exhibit and in the summer for fields of blooming daffodils.

The New York Botanical Garden

1. Atlanta Botanical Garden -Atlanta, GA

This 30 acre botanical garden boasts the largest collection of orchid species on permanent display in the US, and that is just one of the many reasons that visitors flock to experience this garden. There is fun for the whole family here, including a children’s garden complete with fountains, sculptures and fun exhibits on botany and ecology. The hit among many visitors is the 600 foot long canopy walk that takes you through the branches of oaks, hickories and poplars while overlooking native species of hydrangeas, perennials and camellias. A pond full of aquatic plants, a Japanese garden and rose garden are just a few things you should expect to explore here. Between the concerts they offer, the chef demonstrations and the guided tours; there is truly something for everyone. Check out the garden at night in the summers when unique structures feature hundreds of miles of optic fiber, turning the garden into an enchanting storybook setting.

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Things to See and Do in Arizona

Located in southwestern United States, the state of Arizona is the sixth largest and 15th most populous state in the country. Being one of the four-corner states, it borders on New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California and Mexico. It is most notable for its desert climate with very hot summers and mild winters. The northern half of the state is alive with Pine, Douglas Fir and Spruce forests, mountain ranges and canyons. It has much more mild temperatures in the summer than the southern part and significant snowfall amounts in the winter making it a great place for ski resorts. With such diverse landscape and climate, Arizona is a great destination for your vacation.

12. Big Surf

Located in Tempe, Big Surf is a waterpark that opened in 1969 and is reputed to have had the first wave pool in the United States. The Waikiki Beach Wave Pool was recognized for being “the first inland surfing facility in North America” and became the first waterpark to receive status as an ASME Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

Big Surf is the perfect destination for the entire family with the wave pool where you can surf, boogie board or raft. They even have surf boards, boogie boards and rafts on hand for your use. Bora Bora Bay is great for the kids who love to climb but adults must be accompanied by children to enter. The slides are incredible…with Otter Slides, Hurricane Slides, The Black Hole, Tornado Twisters and more. The park even has the Mauna Kea Zip Line which sends you zipping over the wave pool from one side to the other. Thrilling, safe and fun times will be had by all.

Photo by: Big Surf
Photo by: Big Surf

11. Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped portion of the Colorado River located near the town of Page, Arizona. A hike of 1.5 miles (2.4 km) round trip off U.S. Route 89 will take you there, but there is also an access road available because it is part of a state park. You can also view the bend from the cliff above.

Venture out to Horseshoe Bend on foot or in your vehicle or you can see it via other means. There are helicopter tours where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the bend from above, showing you the full expanse and beautiful colors of the waters and land below. There is also the Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon Tour where you can be picked up from your hotel in Flagstaff or Sedona, go north to Antelope Canyon after a walk through a slot canyon and then over to Horseshoe Bend for a hike to the rim overlook. Though there is some hiking involved, this trip is suitable for just about anyone.

Horseshoe Bend

10. Bird Cage Theater

Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater was a theater, saloon, gambling parlor and brothel that operated from 1881 to 1889. The name actually referred to the fourteen cages or boxes that were situated on the two balconies on either side of the main central hall. The boxes were equipped with drapes that could be drawn while the ladies of the brothel entertained their customers. The main hall contained a stage and orchestra pit where live performances took place. It is now a tourist attraction preserving the old west.

It has a reputation for being one of the wildest and wickedest places in Tombstone during its eight year stint in the 1880s where it is said that 26 people were killed there. Over one hundred and twenty bullet holes remain as evidence of the wild and dangerous past of the building. The theater is full of authentic memorabilia from back then with photographs adorning the walls. I would take several days to really see and experience everything housed in this theater.

Bird Cage Theater

9. O.K. Corral

The O.K. Corral is located in Tombstone and was originally a livery and horse corral. Though best known for the infamous ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’, the shootout actually took place in a lot six door west of the rear entrance to the corral. The 1957 movie, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was responsible for making this particular shootout a classic movie moment engrained in the public’s memories.

The actual gunfight at the O.K. Corral lasted only about 30 seconds between outlaw cowboys and lawmen and is touted as the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Wild West. It was the result of a long-time feud involving Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury and the opposing lawmen of the town – Marshall Virgil Earp, Assistant Town Marshall Morgan Earp and temporary deputy Marshalls Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Though Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne walked away unharmed, Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were not so fortunate and were killed. Virgil, Morgan and Doc Holiday were injured but Wyatt Earp walked away unscathed. You can experience this famous gunfight with entertaining re-enactments in an Old West setting.

Atomazul / Shutterstock.com
Atomazul / Shutterstock.com

8. Reid Park Zoo

The Reid Park Zoo is a 24 acre (97 hectare) non-profit city-owned zoo located in Tucson. With over 500 animals it consists of four zones organized by habitats and the animals housed there. The Adaptation Zone houses animals including grizzly bears and the Aldabra giant tortoise, the South America Zone houses animals like the jaguar and spectacled bear, the Asian Zone houses such animals as tigers and Malayan sun bear and the African Animals Zone is home to animals such as lions and giraffes. An expansion to the African Animals Zone is Expedition Tanzania which houses a herd of 6 African elephants. Flight Connection is a large aviary which serves as home to dozens of bird species from Australia, Africa and Asia.

The Zoo hosts summer camps, free workshops for teachers and even hosts a tour of South Africa. This very interactive Zoo is not only fun but also educational and exciting because of the many programs and activities always going on.

Peacock

7. Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon, often referred to as the little cousin of the Grand Canyon because of its breathtaking scenery, is a river gorge located between Flagstaff and Sedona. You can enter the canyon via many hairpin turns on Route 89A and continue down until it reaches the bottom in Sedona. It’s about 12 miles (19 km) long, ranges in width from about 0.8 to 2.5 miles (1.3 to 4.0 km) and ranges in depth from 800 to 2,000 feet (240 to 610 m). Oak Creek runs through the bottom of the canyon.

Touted as one of the top 5 most scenic drives in America, the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive is about 14 miles (22.5 km) long. You can ascend the canyon from Sedona or descend from Flagstaff since either route is equally beautiful. The red-faced cliffs, massive oak trees and evergreen pine trees make for a stunning vibrant panorama. A popular stop along the drive is Slide Rock where you can enjoy some aquatic recreation. Passengers have the advantage during the drive, since the driver’s full attention is needed for the hairpin turns, but there are many places to pull off and enjoy the view along the way.

Oak Creek Canyon

6. Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam, formerly known as Boulder Dam, is located on the Colorado River between the borders of Arizona and Nevada. Constructed during the great depression, the dam was built at the cost of over one hundred lives. The concrete arch-gravity dam holds back Lake Mead and produces hydroelectric power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona and California.

The view from the dam is awe-inspiring and no trip to Arizona would be complete without stopping there. Even if you have time constraints, driving over the dam just to experience its massive size and amazing view is well worth the trip. There are many viewpoints around the dam too where you can just stop for a few moments to take it all in and snap some pictures. If you have more time, there are power plant tours which offer presentations and exhibits on how the dam operates and will allow you to see some of the lesser known areas of the dam. There are many accommodations close to the dam including hotels and campgrounds if you want to stay in the area a little longer.

Hoover Dam

5. Phoenix Zoo

Opened in 1962, the Phoenix Zoo is a privately owned non-profit zoo and has been designated a Phoenix Point of Pride. There are over 1,400 animals who call the zoo home and has 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of walking trails. The trails are divided into four distinct theme areas: The Arizona Trail, the Africa Trail, the Tropics Trail and the Children’s Trail.

The Arizona Trail features the wildlife and plants native to the state of Arizona which include coyotes, the collared peccary, mountain lion and bobcat to name a few, as well as plants including the saguaro cactus. The Africa Trail showcases animals like African wild dogs, mandrills, ostriches, white rhinos, meerkats, giraffes, African lions, Sumatran tigers and more. The Tropics Trail has two parts with the inner trail following the lake and home to Tropical Flights aviary as well as ring-tailed lemurs, and Monkey Village. The outer trail runs by the Land of the Dragons exhibit, Asian elephants, anteaters and many different kinds of tropical birds. The Children’s Trail features a petting zoo at the Harmony Farm and lets children get up close and personal with small mammals from around the world.

flamingos

4. River Rafting

If you are the adventuresome type, there are opportunities for river rafting all over the state of Arizona. The natural beauty and rivers all over this state are abundant just about everywhere you go. You can go to Phoenix, Scottsdale, Flagstaff or Marble Canyon for rafting adventure with one of the many river rafting adventure companies.

You can contact Arizona River Runners for a Grand Canyon adventure of a lifetime. You will see the soaring canyon walls, Indian ruins, wildlife and of course the amazing white water guided by knowledgeable professionals. Salt River Rafting runs guided white water rafting trips through Salt River Canyon and is family-friendly…a safe and fun adventure for everyone. You can take half-day, one-day or multi-day and camp-out raft trips which include wetsuits and great guides. Arizona Raft Adventures specialize in 6 to 16 day raft trips through the Grand Canyon if you are a die-hard rafter. No matter what your skill/fear level, the professionals can assure that you enjoy a safe and amazing experience.

rafting grand canyon

3. Saguaro National Park

The Saguaro National Park is divided in two districts with Rincon Mountain District lying approximately 20 miles (32 km) east and the Tucson Mountain District lying 15 miles (24 km) west of the center of Tucson, Arizona. There are two visitors’ centers, one in each district and are both easily accessible by car but there is no public transportation available into the park. The name Saguaro comes from the name of a cactus native to the area though there are many other kinds of cacti abundant in the park as well.

In 1933 the Saguaro National Monument was erected. If you travel in the heat of summer, you can find some great deals at local resorts but in the winter months when the weather is milder, prices tend to rise significantly. The park has some amazing trails like the narrow, rocky and steep Tanque Verde Ridge Trail in the east district featuring a spectacular view of the Tucson Basin and King Canyon Trail in the west which leads to the summit of Wasson Peak, the highest point in the park.

Saguaro National Park

2. Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden is a 140 acres (57 hectares) botanical garden in Phoenix, Arizona. The garden houses more than 21,000 plants, of which one third is native to the area and 139 are endangered or threatened and very rare. It has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.

You can tour the Botanical Gardens independently on their scenic trails or take a tour and join in on some of the special family-friendly activities hosted there. There is an Ask a Gardener held on weekends where you can get hints and advice from professionals for your own garden. The Garden Flashlight Tours are Thursday and Saturday evening events where you get to see, hear and feel the desert night. It’s a self-paced tour and perfect for all ages. Other activities include Garden Discovery Stations, Talks in the Garden, Birds in the Garden, audio tours and activities specially designed for children. The Music in the Garden Concert Series is held from October to June and allows you to stroll through the garden to the Ullman Terrace where you can sit and listen to the Valley’s premier musicians.

Sue Stokes / Shutterstock.com
Sue Stokes / Shutterstock.com

1. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States. The central feature consists of the Grand Canyon and is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The park covers 1,217,262 acres (492,608 hectares) in two counties. Though the landmark was well known long before, it wasn’t declared a National Park until 1919.

You can visit the South Rim which has close to two dozen vantage points giving you the most common views over the canyon as seen on TV and movies. Grand Canyon West is a little harder to get to so requires some prior planning but is well worth the effort with its three blue-green waterfalls. Grand Canyon East is home to two of the canyon’s hidden treasures, the Little Colorado River Tribal Park and Horseshoe Bend where you can have your photo taken with the Colorado River in the background and The North Rim, though part of the same canyon, feels like a totally different area where you can hear the echoes of canyon wren in the peace and tranquility all around you.

Grand Canyon South Rim

12 Things to See and Do in Phoenix

Phoenix, Arizona, doesn’t usually rank very high on most people’s list of “Places to Visit Before I Die.” Despite being the most populous state capital in the U.S., the desert metropolis is continually passed over for destinations like New York City, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. In fact, many people would likely scoff if someone suggested Phoenix as a great destination for their next vacation.

Phoenix is as good a vacation locale as any, though—and possibly better than some. With a subtropical desert climate, the weather is almost always good in the Valley of the Sun and Phoenix serves as a jumping-off point to most other attractions in the area, including the Grand Canyon. Not only that, but Phoenix deftly mixes its Old West heritage with modern cosmopolitan fare, making it a true oasis of culture in the American west. There’s no shortage of things to see and do in the city; here are just 12 of the activities that Phoenix has to offer.

12. Golf

Heading out to find lush greens in the middle of the Sonoran Desert might seem a little crazy at first, until you realize that playing golf might very well be the most stereotypical thing to do in Phoenix, as plenty of travelers from the northern latitudes head south to hit the greens during the winter months.

Despite its arid climate, Phoenix is home to over 200 golf courses, though, which means you have your pick of greens. Whether you prefer a secluded desert canyon or a ritzy resort-owned golf course, Phoenix has many to choose from. As a host city for various LPGA and PGA tournaments, Phoenix also boasts championship courses that will challenge even seasoned golfers. If you’re up for it, head over to TPC Scottsdale and try out the Stadium Course, which was designed by Jay Moorish and Tom Weiskopf for the PGA Tour’s largest and most popular event, the annual Waste Management Phoenix Open, held in February each year.

Golfing Phoenix

11. Visit Camelback Mountain

Phoenix’s climate might be hot and dry, but the desert is also home to gorgeous mountain vistas. One of the more popular areas is Camelback Mountain, a peak rising 2,704 feet above sea level. Camelback is part of Echo Canyon Recreation Area, and 2 trails will take you to the summit of Camelback. The climb rises about 1,200 feet and is popular with intermediate-to-advanced athletes. Particularly popular with hikers is the 1.4 mile long Cholla Trail, as is mountain biking in the area. The Echo Canyon Trail is slightly shorter, at 1.14 miles. Both hikes have steep grades and are considered strenuous. Also popular is rock climbing; the 100-foot tall Praying Monk formation is one of the better-known attractions for climbers.

Camelback can get quite busy, especially during peak season in April; luckily, there are alternatives in the Echo Canyon Recreation Area, including the North and South Mountains. All provide wonderful views of the Sonoran Desert. Need some post-hike fuel? Stop off at El Chorro Lodge at the mountain’s base for a bite to eat.

Camelback Mountain Phoenix

10. Try Authentic Mexican Cuisine

For many of us, Mexican cuisine starts and ends with something out of a box or a meal at a big chain restaurant. Some of us might not even be aware that some of our favorite dishes aren’t really Mexican. In Phoenix, you don’t need to search far and wide to get a taste of authenticity with your meal. For those who maybe aren’t quite as adventurous—or have many palettes to please—fusion restaurants are abundant, with blends of Spanish, Mexican and American cuisines ready to serve up.

Many restaurants, like Mi Amigo’s in downtown Phoenix, are owned and operated by families with Mexican roots. Some of them, like Aunt Chilada’s, are institutions that have been in the city for ages. Serving up enchiladas, tamales, fajitas, chimchangas and tacos, Mi Amigo’s is popular with locals. Aunt Chilada’s is located in a converted 19th-century building, which gives the restaurant a hacienda feel. Both offer fiesta fare on important Mexican holidays and both have happy hour.

Enchiladas

9. Visit the Heard Museum

The Heard Museum, which was founded in 1929 by Dwight B. and Maie Bartlett Heard, houses a large collection of Native American artifacts and art. The Heard has over 40,000 items, and not only is it a historic museum, it’s a living museum. It showcases contemporary Native cultures and art, as well as historical pieces, such as the Barry Goldwater Collection of 437 Hopi kachina dolls. The Heard is internationally recognized for the quality of its collections, including its library and archives.

The museum sponsors festivals and competitions as part of its mandate to educate the public about the heritage, arts and cultures of Native Americans, with a particular focus on the Southwest tribes, such as the Hopi and the Zuni, whose descendants still live in the area and keep their culture alive. One such event is the annual Holidays at the Heard celebration, which allows visitors to enjoy Native American music and dancing via live performances. The museum’s exhibits often have hands-on components, which make them kid-friendly.

Heard Museum Phoenix

8. Check out the Architecture

This might come as a surprise to some, but Phoenix has long hosted a community of architects, which means that Phoenix is home to some unique and beautiful buildings. Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright lived in Phoenix, building Taliesen West, his winter home, along with the main campus for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the Gammage Auditorium in nearby Tempe, which was the last public building he designed.

Other architects who have left their mark on Phoenix include Al N. Beadle and Will Bruder. Bruder has designed many public buildings, including the Agave Library and the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix, his largest work to date. Beadle is most famous for the Case Study Apartment #1, a 3-unit building in downtown Phoenix that is now known as the Triad. Beadle’s work shows influence from modernists such as Mies van der Rohe and Richard Neutra. A number of renowned architectural firms are headquartered in and around Phoenix.

Photo by: Ellen Forsyth
Photo by: Ellen Forsyth

7. Visit Papago Park

Papago Park in east Phoenix is home to some of Phoenix’s greatest attractions. First up, there’s the Desert Botanical Gardens, inaugurated in 1939, and one of the few gardens dedicated to desert plants in the U.S. It has 21,000 plants, with an especially rich collection of agave and cacti. The garden houses plants from various types of ecosystems around the world, including Australia, South America and Baja California in Mexico.

Nearby is the famed Phoenix Zoo, the largest privately owned non-profit zoo in America. The zoo is home to 1,400 animals and has a special focus on conservation, stemming from its contribution to Operation Oryx, which reintroduced the Arabian oryx into the wild. There are also several golf courses and the Hole-in-the-Rock formation, a small sandstone hill that has been eroded over time and now has several openings in its face. The hill had significance for the Hohokam people as they used the sunlight shining through the openings to mark equinoxes and solstices. A smooth path climbs up to the openings and the main chamber, which will provide a scenic view of Phoenix to the west.

Sue Stokes / Shutterstock.com
Sue Stokes / Shutterstock.com

6. View the Her Secret Is Patience Sculpture

Although people were skeptical when this art installation first opened in 2009, artist Janet Echelman’s sculpture has since become a source of pride for the city of Phoenix. The 100-foot high sculpture, which is made of netting and suspended 38 feet above Civic Space Park in the downtown, was meant to resemble a cumulus cloud formation. In the daytime, it casts shadows and sways with the wind, creating “shadow drawings” and at night, hundreds of multi-colored lights illuminate the netting, casting a glow that changes hues with the season.

The sculpture is part and parcel of Phoenix’s growing art scene, much of which has been centered in the downtown area in the past decade. Although the art scene in Phoenix has traditionally been small and is often dwarfed compared to other U.S. cities, the city’s successful launch of First Friday events, organized by Artlink and several galleries (including the Phoenix Art Museum), have helped reinvigorate the arts scene in Phoenix.

Photo by: stuinaz
Photo by: stuinaz

5. Get Cultured!

Phoenix has an array of arts and culture houses, so whether you fancy the opera, the ballet or a play, Phoenix has you covered. Both the Phoenix Opera and the Arizona Opera have shows in the city, with the Arizona Opera even offering intimate performances. Ballet Arizona regularly performs at 3 different theaters. At the Herberger Theater Center, you’ll find the Arizona Theatre Company and the Centre Dance Ensemble, along with Valley Youth Theatre and Actors Theater. The Phoenix Symphony Hall is home to the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, and also hosts performances by Arizona Opera and Ballet Arizona. Smaller theaters, such as the Crescent Ballroom, Modified Arts and the Celebrity Theatre also have regular theater and musical performances, usually by independents.

For more contemporary culture, concerts are abundant, with several venues of varying size: from the gigantic arena venues, such as the US Airways Center, to the smaller, independent clubs.

Photo by: Nick Bastian
Photo by: Nick Bastian

4. Visit the Musical Instrument Museum

The Musical Instrument Museum is a relative newcomer to the Phoenix landscape, opening its doors in 2010. With a mess of other museums to compete with in Phoenix, the museum might have had its work cut out for it if it wasn’t for a secret weapon: the largest collection of musical instruments in the world. It houses over 15,000 instruments and artifacts from over 200 countries, often divided into subsections for different types of ethnic and tribal music from various nations and cultures. Each exhibit has a video component, which shows local musicians performing on native instruments. Visitors can listen via wireless headphones.

Another great attraction at the museum is the Artist Gallery, which houses paraphernalia such as photographs and instruments associated with musical icons and innovators, including John Lennon and Elvis Presley. The MIM also has a concert theater with seating for approximately 300 people and has hosted musicians such as Jordin Sparks and Lyle Lovett. The Experience Gallery allows guests to interact with various musical instruments.

Photo by: MIM
Photo by: MIM

3. Root for the Home Team

All of them, to be exact. There are only 12 cities in the U.S. that are home to a franchise from all of the 4 major professional leagues and Phoenix is one of those cities. Whether you’re a basketball fan (the NBA’s Suns and the WNBA’s Mercury), a football fanatic (the NFL’s Cardinals), a baseball aficionado (the MLB’s Diamondbacks) or a hockey enthusiast (the NHL’s Coyotes), it’s more than likely that you’ll find a game that piques your interest, whether you’re watching from the arena or from one of Phoenix’s bars or lounges. Phoenix is also home to the Phoenix International Raceway, a 1.5 mile-course that hosts motorsports events, including 2 annual NASCAR races, as well as events from IndyCar and other organizations. The MLB’s Cactus League, 1 of 2 spring training leagues, is centered entirely in and around Phoenix.

There are also semi-pro sports, including the Arizona Scorpions of the ABA, a roller-derby league, an arena football team, a soccer team, and Arizona State University’s Sun Devils athletics programs.

Mark Skalny / Shutterstock.com
Mark Skalny / Shutterstock.com

2. Hit a Casino

We probably shouldn’t endorse gambling, but for any high-rollers reading this article, you should know that Vegas isn’t the only American desert city with world-class casinos. With 8 gaming venues in the area, you definitely don’t need to leave the Valley to experience some of the glitz and glamor that Vegas has become renowned for.

When the sun goes down and the stars dot the desert sky, make tracks to Talking Stick Resort’s Orange Sky restaurant before hitting the casino floor. With blackjack, poker, slots and more, may the odds be ever in your favor here. Feeling lucky? Strike out for the AAA four-diamond Fort McDowell Resort & Casino, tucked away in a scenic desert landscape between Phoenix and Scottsdale. This venue boasts true Las Vegas-style gaming, with 850 machines, 20 blackjack tables and 27 poker tables. If you’re in it for the long haul, Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino and its 2 sister properties, Lone Butte and Vie Quiva casinos, will keep you rollin’ all night long.

Casino gaming

1. Relax at a Desert Spa

Sure, you might be able to relax at a spa just about anywhere in the world, but Phoenix brings the world to you. The Joya Spa offers up an authentic Moroccan spa experience, including a Hammam, while the Alvadora Spa takes its cues from the luxury of old world Europe.

For something truly unique though, you’ll want to take a trip to one of the spas that are inspired by the Arizona landscape and desert clime itself. The Willow Stream Spa draws its inspiration from the blue waters of the Grand Canyon’s Havasupai Falls. At the Agave Spa in the Westin Kierland Resort, you’ll find any number of luxurious spa treatments incorporating the spa’s namesake plant. The Aji Spa, located at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, draws on the rituals and traditions of Arizona’s Native American peoples to create their spa treatments, such as the Pima Medicine Massage. Many of the spa’s treatments use locally sourced ingredients, such as red clay from the Gila River and Cholla cactus bud.

Photo by: Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
Photo by: Westin Kierland Resort & Spa

Top 10 Cities to Invest in Real Estate in the US for 2014

With the recession growing more distant as each day passes, it’s the perfect time to set your sights on investing in real estate in the United States. Affordable housing, low vacancy rates and low interest rates make this market attractive to all types of investors. Cities are finally experiencing population growth, job growth and expansion of international markets which is making the real estate market finally begin to rise. The time to get into that market is now and here we show you the ten best cities to invest in. Whether you’re buying a vacation home, rental property or a place to call home; these cities can offer up a great place to invest.

1. Houston, Texas

With a booming economy and adequate room for expansion, Houston is number one on our list of top cities to invest in. Being the fourth largest city in the United States and an international business hub; it is the gateway to Latin America. With affordable housing options, low cost of living and high quality of living; this city is begging to be lived in. With its growing population and job growth that will continue into 2015; Houston has ever growing industries. Being named the energy capital of the world with over half of Fortune 500 companies being headquartered in Houston; this city is moving forward and the right time to invest in it is now.

Skyline of Houston, Texas in daytime under blue sky

2. Orlando, Florida

Being one of the hardest hit cities during the recession, Orlando is still struggling to bounce back into the forefront of the market. In saying that; it’s also one of the top cities to grab up real estate right now. With low priced homes along with low interest rates; investors can score big on buying. High rental rates make Orlando more attractive to investors and with a massive tourist industry; rental units are a top investment choice. Along with the tourist industry, Orlando boasts an above average job growth and booming health science industry; both leading to further growth in this sunny destination. With prices on the rise and the country coming out of the recession; we suggest you get in the game now!

Orlando downtown welcome sign with tropical scene

3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

During the recession, Pittsburgh proved to be one of the most resilient cities in the country and that is one of the reasons investing in real estate here is a great choice. With growth in medical, banking and education industries; Pittsburgh is seeing an increase in both in-town and out-of-town investors. Historic low vacancy rates and affordable house prices lets buyers into the market without breaking the bank. With a growing demand in the oil and gas industry, this city is proving to be unstoppable in terms of growth and stability.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

4. Minneapolis, Minnesota

The time to invest in real estate in Minneapolis is now. The strong diverse economy and low housing prices together with the low rental vacancy rates makes this city desirable for all types of investors. Currently out of town investors are snapping up huge chunks of apartment buildings in the core center. Although this means housing is harder to come by than some of the other cities we have mentioned, the value of real estate is quickly rising. Younger generations who don’t want to leave the Midwest are flocking to Minneapolis after graduating. The time is now to buy in this quickly growing market where one can choose to pick a long term investment or “turn and burn” a property to make money.

Morning view of Minneapolis, MN skyline

5. Atlanta, Georgia

More homes were seized in Atlanta than any major metro area in the country according to CoreLogic Inc, which makes this city a buyer’s market. With its usually warm winters, home of a dozen fortune 500 companies including Coca-Cola and Home Depot; Atlanta offers up a great place to invest in real estate. With a cost of living less than half that of Manhattans and a multitude of houses available; this city is the perfect place to grab some real estate. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, there are plenty of opportunities to buy a fixer upper well below the average price of $200,000 for a single dwelling unit.

Downtown Atlanta, Georgia, USA skyline

6. Seattle, Washington

As the economy continues to rebound; this city shows no sign of slowing down. Seattle is filled with not just rainy days but world renowned coffee and massive companies such as Amazon, Boeing and Microsoft. Always being a great city to buy property, Seattle remains true to its origins and is still a top choice to invest in real estate. Young people are flocking to this city to work for giant companies and the city is shifting from suburban to urban and there’s no sign of this city’s growth slowing down. Do yourself a favor and invest in an apartment, house or commercial property. It will be well worth it.

Downtown Seattle as seen from the Kerry park in the evening

7. Raleigh, North Carolina

Affordable cost of living and job growth in stable fields have propelled this city into our top ten list. Raleigh prides itself on being the hub of education and with job stability comes a great market for real estate investment. A low foreclosure rate and strong commercial real estate opportunities will propel Raleigh into a strong future. Real estate investors will feel confident in this city as there is nowhere to go but up.

Skyline of Raleigh, NC

8. Phoenix, Arizona

Sun lovers are scooping up real estate in this now trending city; one of the hardest hit cities when the housing market bubble burst. Bargain prices, plenty of availability and a steady job growth makes Phoenix an attractive place to invest. Top companies such as Walmart and Intel support the job growth and housing market. Investors are choosing secondary markets such as Phoenix over major cities where real estate markets are flooded. Take a page from their book and get your hands on some sun soaked property here, but act quickly; this housing market is only going up. With big banks such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America employing people; this city is bouncing back.

Phoenix Arizona

9. Manhattan, New York

By far the most expensive city to buy real estate in this list, Manhattan nonetheless is an excellent city to invest in –if you can afford it. With thousands of employees coming to work at the World Trade Center; the market is booming, especially in the financial district. Couple that fact with New York’s ever growing population and notoriously trendy “Hipster” neighborhoods; there doesn’t seem to be a bad time to invest in this city when it comes to real estate. You will have to have deep pockets to invest here, but in the long run this Empire State will make it worth your while.

Aerial view of Manhattan skyline at sunset, New York City

10. Dallas, Texas

One of the fastest growing cities; Dallas rounds off our list of top cities in The United States to invest in real estate. With houses priced below 12% of their actual value, it’s a great time to buy in Texas. Constant job growth, the ability to profit from future gas and oil development and home to the third busiest airport in the world; there is no shortage of growth in this city. With the ever growing technology industry taking place in Dallas; this is the place for people looking for long-term economic stability. Invest in real estate here today and in ten years you will wonder why you didn’t invest sooner.

A View of the Skyline of Dallas, Texas, USA