Being that Arizona is “The Grand Canyon State,” you can pretty much guess what the top tourist attraction might be. (And yes, it’s featured on the list below. Don’t worry.) But if you think a jaw-dropping hole in the ground is all the state has to offer, think again. You’re about to have your eyes opened to a whole new world full of sprawling red rock vistas, rip-roaring Old West towns, Hollywood backdrops, ginormous cacti, and old-timey scenic byways that will tug at your heartstrings.
You could easily spend several weeks in Arizona and never get bored, but there are a few must-see items to include in your itinerary if you’ve only got a few days. Whether you do one or all of them, you won’t be disappointed — but you will want to come back.
Grab a bite to eat in Tucson
Everyone knows that the highlight of any good vacation is the food. So why not start things off by ordering up a plate of some of the tastiest food in the country? Among many other attractions, Tucson is famous for its world-class culinary arts and some of the best Mexican food in the nation. In 2015, Tucson was the first city in the U.S. to be named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
Be sure to get your Mexican food fix at the famous El Charro Café, the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant to be operated by the same family. Or if you’re feeling like getting in touch with your adventurous foodie side, hop on the Taco Bike Tour through town. You’ll get to try a half dozen authentic tacos from the best spots. (If you get taco-ed out, you can swap one for a Sonoran hot dog — a Tucson specialty!)
Whatever type of food you’re craving, you’ll find it in Tucson. You can check out some of the top dishes and places to eat here.
Return to the Wild West in Tombstone
Go back in time to the days of gun-toting outlaws, cowboys, and saloons at the historic Wild West town of Tombstone. If you know your history (or if you’ve seen the 1993 movie starring Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell), then you know this area is famous for a legendary shootout involving Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and other men at the O.K. Corral. You can even catch a daily reenactment of the scene at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Just make sure you purchase your tickets early — they go like hotcakes!
Spot the giant cacti at Saguaro National Park
Don’t miss your chance to take a selfie with the largest cacti in the world at Saguaro National Park. The Saguaro cacti can grow up to 40 feet tall and weigh more than a ton! You never knew a desert cactus could be so cool. There are several hikes and scenic drives to take once you’re in the park, so don’t worry — you’ll see plenty of these famous plants. Get your camera ready.
(Pro tip: It’s best not to visit in the summertime — unless you’re a fan of heatstroke.)
Check out the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix
As the sixth-largest metropolitan city in the U.S., you can bet that there’s plenty to do in Phoenix. This is just one of several ways to pass the time in the Valley of the Sun — and the top-recommended activity on Tripadvisor. The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix will keep you entertained for hours as you peruse a collection of over 8,000 instruments from more than 200 countries. Designed to provide the optimal guest experience, you can count on an enriching, inspirational, and fun visit. Don’t miss it!
See the red sandstone in Sedona
After spending some time in the big city, you might enjoy slipping away to somewhere more serene. And since it’s known as a spiritual mecca for those seeking enlightenment and healing, Sedona is the perfect retreat to clear your mind. While there are literally hundreds of uplifting activities in the area, the surreal, red rock sandstone formations are worth the trip alone. Driving, walking, or biking, this map will help you hit the best sightseeing spots.
(Pro Tip: Make sure you hit Devils Bridge. It’s a must-hike.)
Take a dip in Lake Havasu
Feeling like taking a break from the desert heat? Cool off in the waters of Lake Havasu on Arizona’s western coast. You can take a swim, go boating or even pull out your fishing pole to enjoy some of the best year-round fishing in the Southwest. (At least that’s what the Google reviews are saying!)
Gaze down the Grand Canyon
Taking a trip to Arizona without visiting the Grand Canyon — you know, one of the seven natural wonders of the world — should be considered a crime. It’s not often that you get to take in a mile-deep canyon that’s 277 river miles long and 18 miles wide, so don’t miss this photo opportunity of a lifetime. Your best bet for any time of the year is to enter the South Rim of the canyon, which is open all year. According to the National Park Service, 90% of visitors choose this route over the North Rim because it’s open all year.
Simply taking in the full panoramic, jaw-dropping view is worth the drive. But if you’re an adrenaline junkie up for some excitement, you can also backpack, camp, or take a river trip through the canyon along the Colorado River. (Just be aware that these trips last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.)
Explore Monument Valley
Take a drive through Monument Valley and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped onto a movie set — because, in a way, you have! The area has been featured in several popular films, including “Forrest Gump,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” and a few John Wayne westerns. Whether you’re a movie buff or you just have a healthy appreciation for nature, you’ll enjoy visiting this site along the Arizona-Utah border.
Treat yourself to a spa day in Scottsdale
For the opulent traveler, a stop in Scottsdale is a must. Known for its luxurious desert resorts and championship golf courses, Scottsdale is a pampering, posh paradise. After your spa treatment, you can take a stroll through more than 100 art galleries lining the streets in Old Town.
Take a scenic drive along Route 66
Finally, for a nostalgic blast from the past, drive along the famous Route 66 (a.k.a. “Main Street of America”). From Petrified Forest National Park to the Wigwam Hotels and quaint gas stations, you’ll be reminded of simpler times. Create your road trip playlist (be sure to include plenty of oldies), grab the snacks, and hit the road! Check out the top attractions along the way here.
Come back soon!
Consider this list your sample platter of all that the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer because there’s a full buffet more where that came from. Let these destinations whet your appetite and you’ll be back in no time.