In addition to being the capital of Arizona, Phoenix is also the most populous city in the state. With the 2020 census reporting a total population of over 1.6 million, it's also the most populous state capital in the United States and the fifth most populous city in the country as a whole. Settled in 1867 as an agricultural community, it became the capital of the Arizona Territory just over 20 years later, bolstering the already thriving economy with "the Five Cs": cotton, cattle, citrus, copper and climate. These remained the driving economic forces of the city until after WWII, when the air conditioning industry began thriving during the parched desert summers.
A city overflowing with history and culture, it's no surprise that Phoenix is bustling with fun activities and attractions for all ages, from vast, awe-inspiring desert expanses and botanical gardens to its parks, museums and state-of-the-art zoo. Here's a look at just a few of the exciting things to do around Phoenix.
When Bob Ulrich (then-CEO of Target Corporation and founder of Phoenix's Musical Instrument Museum) realized that most musical instrument museums exclusively featured Western classical instruments, he was inspired to establish a new kind of instrument museum that showcased instruments played by all cultures across the world. From the beginning, the goal has been to deliver an enriching guest experience that leaves an impression. With a collection of more than 8,000 instruments from over 200 countries, the diversity throughout the museum's galleries reminds visitors of the love of music that unites the globe.
Founded by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society in 1937, this 140-acre botanical garden located in Papago Park is home to 50,000 plants, one-third of which are native to the region. On top of this, 379 species are rare or endangered. The garden has an extensive collection of agave and cacti, and the attraction has become a Phoenix Point of Pride. Patrons can take part in tours, workshops and lectures on photography, horticulture, and health and wellness. During spring and autumn, the garden also hosts an open-air acoustic concert series and multiple art exhibitions.
Designed and built by garden master Nozomu Okita in 1987 as a joint effort with the City of Phoenix, the Japanese Friendship Garden (officially named RoHoEn) is a place of immeasurable beauty and serenity that offers an escape from city life right in the heart of downtown Phoenix. The surrounding tea garden and tea house were established about a decade later in November 1996. The garden consists of four major sections: the tea garden, the stroll garden, the stone garden and a courtyard area. Hundreds of thousands of hours of careful design went into this 3.5-acre plot of land, from 1500 tons of hand-picked rock and 50 varieties of plants to a 12-foot waterfall and a Koi pond with over 300 Koi. Parking is free, and senior admission is only $8 (20% off from general).
Opened in 1962, the Phoenix Zoo is the largest privately owned, nonprofit museum in the United States. It claims almost an equal amount of acres in Papago Park as the Desert Botanical Garden and has become a Phoenix Point of Pride. With over 1,400 animals and 2.5 miles of trails, the zoo has been conservation- and preservation-driven since the beginning and is home to several endangered species. The Arizona Trail displays flora and fauna of the American Southwest, and the Africa Trail is home to a multitude of animals from across the African continent. The Tropics Trails showcases the residents of the rainforest, and the Children's Trail features a petting zoo. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, it also offers wheelchair and stroller rentals.
The largest museum of visual art in the southwest United States, Phoenix Art Museum's comprehensive international collection of exhibits contains over 20,000 works from American, Latin American, European and Asian cultures. Among thousands of other globally known names, its permanent collection galleries feature original works by the likes of Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Philip C. Curtis. Its ever-revolving exhibitions temporarily house pieces of art from across centuries and all around the globe, and the events the museum hosts keep it alive with music and movement at all times. From film series and lectures to artistic demonstrations and musical performances, Phoenix Art Museum is far more than a massive collection of curated art.
The museum is also privy to the city's longest-running community-access program: Pay What You Wish Wednesdays. Ushering in over a million visitors over the course of 20 years, this program has helped ensure access to art and culture for all and reduce economic barriers. On other days of the week, general admission tickets are free for museum members, military and children 5 and under. Senior admission is $17, discounted 15% from the $20 adult admission. Tickets for children ages 6-17 are only $5.
The museum also does its best to cater to any accessibility needs of its visitors, from mobility to service animals. You can call or email its guest services department to discuss accommodations.
This list only scratches the surface, so consider getting a group of neighbors from your assisted living community together to explore all the culture and beauty Phoenix has to offer.