When you think of Phoenix, Arizona, visions of cactus and desolate desert might pop into your head. But whether you’re looking for a warm winter family getaway or on your way to visit snowbird grandparents, you will be pleasantly surprised to find a fantastic family friendly destination.
If you’ve never been to Phoenix, you may be shocked to learn that the “Valley of the Sun” metro area is home to nearly 4.5 million people over 9,000 square miles. But no matter which part of the Valley you visit, you’ll find family fun.
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Ride the Rails
Whether you’re big or small you’ll discover something to love at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, making it a perfect place for families. Your little ones will love riding the miniature trains and carousel, and you’ll enjoy them as well. Their model railroad building contains 10,000 square feet of working models built by four local model railroad clubs, full of buttons for little hands to activate trains and city scenes. The park is also home to the Roald Amundsen Pullman Car, which in its day was the American presidential rail car. (Think the United States’ Air Force One in train form!) Once everyone has seen something they enjoy, your little ones can burn off energy at two unique playgrounds with railroad and Old West themes.
The trains, carousel, and museum cost a few dollars each while the model trains and playgrounds are free. The park has a snack bar as well as plenty of picnic tables. If you’re in the area around the holidays, make an evening visit as the park is in full holiday mode. It’s such a treat to ride the train through the holiday light displays. Prepare for long lines though, as it’s an extremely popular holiday attraction.
Take a Hike
Most people don’t realize that Phoenix lies in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges, which is the reason for the “Valley of the Sun” nickname. This offers families many options for hiking, from short and paved to strenuous and tough.
No matter where you are in the Valley you’re bound to find a trail that fits your family perfectly. Papago Park, which is next door to both the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo, offers smooth, easy trails with little elevation change. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale provides family programs and educational kids programs, while the Usery Mountain Recreation Area in Mesa has a variety of easy trails that provide nice views.
A fun hike for toddlers is “A” Mountain, otherwise known as Hayden Butte, near Arizona State University in Tempe. You can’t miss the mountain, as it has a large “A” emblazoned on it, which you might even see from your plane window. The trail is nearly completely paved, with just a little bit of natural hiking at the top. From there you can watch planes take off and land at Sky Harbor Airport and look out over the Valley of the Sun from every angle.
Don’t miss all our Resources for Hiking with a Baby or Toddler. We cover everything from hiking tips to the best carriers for hiking.
Catch a Game
Fifteen Major League Baseball teams call Arizona home for Cactus League Spring Training. With ten stadiums spread out across the metro area in Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Surprise, and Tempe, you’ll likely be near one to catch a game. Many of the stadiums are only a few years old and have built family friendliness right into the experience by offering inexpensive lawn seats. Once you’re there you can spread out your lawn blanket, graze through the food stands and trucks for something to eat, and have fun in the kids’ activity area. And since the tickets are relatively cheap, you don’t need to worry if your family can’t make it through the whole game. Remember that the sun is strong even in the spring, so you may want to look for evening games or seats in the shade.
Splash and Play
You’ll find fantastic playgrounds all over the Valley. One of the best is Riverview Park, just east of Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs, in Mesa. This park has it all – playground structures for all ages, a 50 foot tall climbing tower, a 60 foot caterpillar mesh rope climber, a “spray ground” splash pad, and a community fishing lake. If you’re staying in the East Valley, it’s the perfect place to enjoy not only before or after a baseball game, but also a great stop to burn off energy before or after a flight as it’s straight east of Sky Harbor Airport.
With the Arizona heat, it should be no surprise to find many splash parks across the Valley. What might surprise you though, is even though it’s warm all year ‘round, the splash pads aren’t necessarily open year ‘round. Be sure to check schedules before heading out.
Find Flora and Fauna
Near Sky Harbor Airport and Papago Park are the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo. Spend a few hours at the DBG strolling through six trails while learning about Arizona’s unique landscape and checking out fantastic views of the city and surrounding mountains. Then head next door to the Phoenix Zoo to visit lions, tigers, and bears, along with 1,400 of their closest friends. Your family will enjoy the children’s trail as well as the many play areas spread throughout the zoo. Camel rides and paddle boats are available, too. And if you’re visiting around the holidays, be sure to visit at night for ZooLights to see the zoo lit up with millions of lights. The DBG, which is free on the second Tuesday of every month, is especially beautiful in the spring during wildflower season.
The sun will be strong regardless of what time of year you visit Phoenix. Have sunscreen on hand even on overcast days, and bring water to stay hydrated. During the summer months temperatures will climb over 100F, so you may need to limit your activities to the mornings and evenings. Don’t worry though, as you should be able to find a pool during the middle of the day to cool off. Remember that Arizona doesn’t change time, so the state is on Mountain Time in the winter months and Pacific Time in the summer months.
No matter where you look in Phoenix, you’ll find something fun to do with your kids. And don’t forget to just relax and simply just enjoy the warmth and beautiful blue skies of the Valley of the Sun!
Guest Post Written By Karla Lemmon.
Karla Lemmon calls Phoenix her second home and is the founder of Little Peanut on the Go, a mobile app for parents to use any time they or their kids are away from home. Parents can create emergency information and care instructions to share with caregivers, build packing lists and to-do lists, and connect with their kids while they’re away. Any time you need a sitter or a suitcase, use Little Peanut on the Go to keep you organized and connected while you’re on the go!
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