Fun Things to Do in Arizona (Including 5 Beginner Travel Tips)

You’ll find lots of fun things to do in Arizona – so many that it can be overwhelming! That’s why we’ve put together this short list with beginner travel tips. It will help you get a big-picture of what you might like to see and do in AZ, and decide on the must-see attractions when you plan your trip to Arizona. Read our recommendations, below.

CONTENTS – In this article, you will learn about 5 fun things to do in Arizona as a first timer, including: 

Planning Your First Trip to Arizona

If you haven’t travelled to Arizona, you might be wondering what there is to do there. Fear not, we are here to help you generate some good ideas for your trip.

But first, the basics.

Where is Arizona? 

You’ll find Arizona in the southwestern United States, bordering California to the west and Mexico to the south. It’s the 4th largest state in America, and the 48th and last state to be admitted into the contiguous United States (1912). 

Known for its hot desert climate in the south, and its forests and mountain ranges to the north, Arizona is where where you’ll find the Grand Canyon.

The terrain and weather conditions in Arizona can be somewhat otherworldly at times. In addition to the Grand Canyon, you’ll find incredibly scenic and vast landscapes, like:

  • Havasu Falls
  • Death Valley
  • Horseshoe Bend

Best Time to Visit Arizona

Some say the best time to visit Arizona is in the late spring and early fall. At those times of year, you’ll likely encounter cooler temps in the mountains and warm weather in the desert, and also save some money. But don’t expect flowers in spring or fall foliage.

Tourist season is November and December, so if you want to avoid crowds and high prices, avoid this time frame.

Note that it’s cheapest to fly to Arizona in August.

At times, Arizona’s weather can be extreme and unpredictable.

Besides extreme heat in the desert, high winds can cause massive dust storms to fly across the fields and desert terrain. (The good news is, these stunning weather events are usually brief–but be forewarned: they can sweep across the highways and suddenly decrease visibility.)

You may also encounter heavy rainstorms during summer monsoon season, as well as desert thunderstorms in August through September.

And don’t be surprised to get snow as late as Memorial Day in the mountains.

Don’t worry, though. You’ll see all kinds of beauty whenever you go.

Related Post: Find out the benefits of traveling in the shoulder season here.

Fun Things to Do | Arizona

1. Eat Local Food in Arizona

We believe that when you travel, you should try out the local cuisine.

Foodies, you’ll find a wide array of flavors in Arizona, so go ahead try out some mediterranean food in Arizona if you’re craving it, along with some of the other local delicacies as well. 

As you might guess, Arizona boasts some of the best authentic Mexican food in the world, since it borders Mexico. One favorite regional specialty is a proper chimichanga. In fact, it’s the unofficial state food!

If you’ve never had chimichanga, it’s a kind of deep-fried burrito that reflects Arizona’s Mexican-American culture.

Since there are also a lot of Native American Reservations in Arizona, you will also be able to enjoy Native American cuisine of the region.

But don’t stop there. If you’re making a foodie bucket list, here’s a list of regional specialties you’ll want to try out in Arizona: 

  • Cheese Crisps – open-faced quesadillas that are made with extra large and thin flour tortillas, toasted with butter and cheddar cheese, then usually topped with strips of mild green chiles; reportedly made famous by El Charro Café in Tucson
  • Chimichangas – a deep-fried burrito, usually served on a plate (rather than wrapped as a burrito); a flour tortilla filled with meats, beans, and cheese that is fried then topped with salsa and/or sour cream; the name translates to “a deep-fried wet burrito”
  • Navajo Tacos – Indian Fry Bread topped with taco-flavored beef, beans, shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomato, and sour cream; also known as Indian Tacos
  • Piki Bread – an earthy flavored bread that melts in your mouth made from ground blue corn, water, juniper ashes; it’s rolled into almost transparent cylinder after being peeled from a rock. It takes several days to make when prepared from scratch.
  • Posole – a light chicken or pork stew made with hominy (hulled corn kernals), and sometimes red chiles (Posole Rojo); top with a mix of garnishes like avocado, chiles, cilantro, lime, onions, radishes, salsa, shredded cabbage, radishes.
  • Salsa – a sauce made from anything from tomatoes to chiles; it can be green, red, brown, yellow, spicy or mild, chunky or blended. Travel Tip: visit the Salsa Trail along Old West Highway (US 70) 
  • Prickly Pear – try anything made from this fruit of the cactus Opuntia erinacea found in the Mohave and Coconino Counties; you’ll find prickly pear lollipops, prickly pear liquor, prickly pear soda, even prickly pear coffee! The fruit and oval pads of this cactus have been a staple of southwestern tribal diets for many years.
  • Sonoran Hot Dog – two Sonora hotdogs in a bollilo bun topped with diced tomato, green chile sauce, minced onion, mustard, mayo, and pinto beans; Sonora hotdogs are wrapped in bacon and grilled and sold as streed food by dogueros.
  • Sun Tea – tea bags in a clear jar filled with water and set out in the sun for about 3 to 5 hours to brew; served over ice cubes to chill.
  • Tamales – made from corn dough (masa), filled with meats, beans, and/or cheese, and wrapped and steamed in a corn husk, which is removed to eat; served hot and drizzled with spicy salsa. Named so because the word tamalli “means wrapped.”
  • Native American Fry Bread – also known as Navajo fry bread or Indian frybread, this dish can be sweet or savory. It’s made from flour, salt, baking powder and water, then deep fried in lard.
  • Cholla (“choy-ah”) – fruit buds of the cholla cactus said to taste like a combination of green bean, artichoke heart, and asparagus; can be eaten straight (they are a bit gooey) or incorporated into salsa.
  • Mesquite Flour – a sweet, nutty, red flour made from the dried, ground pods of the mesquite plant (Prosopis glandulosa); it’s a superfood with a flavor akin to a mix of cocoa, hazelnut, and molasses. It’s also a good gluton-free alternative to ordinary flour.
  • Chiltepin Peppers (Capsicum annuum var glabriuculum) – wild chiles found only in the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona and Northern Mexico. Also known as Arizona peppers or “bird’s eye peppers,” these very small, round peppers are very hot!
  • Cochinitos – these a Mexican sweet bread (pan dulce) shaped like little pigs, Also known as puerquitos or Mexican Piggy Cookies.
  • Tepary Beans – nutritious, low glycemic beans enjoyed by the Southwest Native Americans before the introduction of pinto beans. These nutty beans can be brown, black, or white and were almost extinct until grown by Arizona’s Gila River Indian Reservation.

With all of these delicious regional favorites, you can see why food is one of the fun things to do in Arizona.

2. Visit the Tourist Hotspots

If there is one place that Arizona is famous for, it is the Grand Canyon. This natural wonder of the world is worth the visit.It’s hard to describe how breathtaking it is until you see it for yourself. It’s so vast that it’s bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island!

But it’s just one of many fun things to do in Arizona.

Here are several other popular tourist hotspots in Arizona: 

  • Apache Junctionthe junction of the Apache Trail and Old West Highway.
  • Lake Havasu – formed by Parker Dam on the Colorado River, this reservoir borders San Bernardino County, California and La Paz County, Arizona. It’s known as one of the best bass fishing lakes in America, and also for recreational boatig and off-road trails.
  • Montezuma Castle National Monument – a National Monument in Arizona’s Verde Valley; dedicated to preserving Native American culture, including a cliff dwelling, Montezuma Castle, and a giant sinkhole
  • Monument Valley – Navajo Nations tribal park; with it’s towering sand-stone rock formatios, it’s one of the most photographed and scenic places on earth.
  • Petrified Forest National Park – in Northeastern Arizona, specifically Navajo and Apache counties, where you’ll find sizable deposits of petrified wood – tree fossils from about 225 million years ago.
  • Vermilion Cliffs National Monument – 280,000-acre monument in northern Arizona with spectacular trails and views; habitat to the endangered California and other wildlife.

If you prefer a man made wonder, the Hoover Dam is a great spot to marvel at the wonders of engineering.

And, you’ll also want to check out one or more of these well-known cities in Arizona, depending on how much time you have, including:

  • Page – a small town known for its red rock formations, canyons, and Native American heritage
  • Phoenix – find golf, desert spas, camelback mountain, and outstanding hotels in the Capital city of Arizona
  • Scottsdale – where you’ll enjoy high end boutiques, championship golf courses, and sprawling resorts
  • Sedona – might be the prettiest city in Arizona, which hosts Cathedral Rock, dramatic colorful, canyons, art galleries, jeep tours, hiking, and more
  • Tombstone – known for its mining history, the gun battle at the OK Corral between the famous Earp brothers
  • Tucson – here, you’ll find the Sonora desert and the saguaro cactus and others in this vibrant, multi-cultural scene
  • Yuma – the sunniest year round place in the US, with a relatively low humidity – an excellent destination for winter snowbirds

3. Go Shopping for Unique Artifacts & Luxury Gifts

Scottsdale Fashion Mall is the biggest mall in the state and a must visit if you are in the area. It’s an expansive, upscale luxury mall where you’ll find regional specialties.

Another of the largest shopping malls in the southwest is Arizona Mills and Outlets in Anthem

While Arizona might lack the glamour of the New York streets when it comes to shops, but you don’t want to overlook it. That’s because instead, you’ll find unique artifacts, luxurious handbags, authentic cowboy boots, and quirky gifts.

What they lack in big name brands they make up for with a diverse range of small businesses and creators. If you want something different, then this is the state to find it.

For souvenirs, look for cactus themed gifts, southwest decor, and regional food items. You might even bring home a small cactus – just careful of the pickers!

4. Scout for Movie Locations

Arizona is a real hotspot for the stars, movie stars, that is. Over the last 100 years, there have been over 5,000 movies filmed in the state, so you have a lot of movie locations to choose from if you are a movie buff. 

Scenes from movies from Return to the Jedi (Yuma) to Little Miss Sunshine (Flagstaff) to Psycho (Phoenix) have been filmed in Arizona. And of course, many famous Westerns were filmed in the state, including many award-winning films featuring the iconic John Wanye (Elgin). 

So, if things are looking a little familiar on your trip to Arizona, it might be because you may have seen it before in a movie!

5. Embrace Thrilling Adventures

If you are looking for more fun things to do in Arizona, you won’t be disappointed. Not only is there a wide range of incredible food, beautiful vistas, vibrant cities, and film sets to see, you’ll find a wider selection of adventure activities you can take part in. 

As if the natural landscape weren’t adventurous enough, Arizona has some of the best:

  • Water Parks – like Big Surf, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Phoenix and Golfland Sunsplash
  • Indoor Skydiving – iFLY Indoor Skydiving
  • Adventure Parks – Urban Air Trampoline Park, Enchanted Island Amusement Park, Castles and Coasters, Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course
  • Hot Air Balloon Rides

And, let’s not forget about the tours and excursions you can take with guided tour companies. There really is so much to do in the state of Arizona.

Final Thoughts on Arizona

So, as you plan your first trip to Arizona, you now know the options that await you! You will have an amazing trip whether you go for a few days or an extended visit to the southwestern United States.

One thing is for sure—you won’t run out of fun things to do in Arizona. And if you don’t get to them all? You’ll just have to come back.


Photo credit: Image by Free-Photos (Pixabay)

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Jackie Gately

Jackie Gately is a seasoned travel writer, photographer, and marketing consultant who is passionate about travel. She loves casual-luxury experiences, coastal getaways, cultural attractions, and local, wholesome food and wine pairings. A perfect day ends with her toes in the sand or by chasing the sunset with her camera--ideally both.