Visiting Arizona

Parent Q&A

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  • Activities in Phoenix area for older kids

    (2 replies)

    We will be in Scottsdale, Arizona for spring break with our two boys, 10 and 14. Looking for fun day trip activities.  Any suggestions?

    Here is a list from the city of Scottsdale of things to do:

    I would recommend Butterfly World, Old Scottsdale, Taliesin, or the Botanical Gardens which have a many different types of cactuses ( go towards evening hours or you will roast in the sun).  You should definitely go to the Music Instrument Museum (it is amazing and you can spend an entire day there)  There is even a hands on room where kids can play instruments but it is amazing  Please have plenty of water throughout the day, the environment is very dry and dehydrating.

    Tom Thumb is a great and beautiful hike to do in northern scottsdale; Cracker Jax is a go cart, and other arcade fun place (my kids always loved it), jeep turn into the desert are fun and of course spring training! heard museum in phoenix is awesome..even for kids :-)

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Snow trip to Arizona in December

June 2014

I'm looking for recommendations for a family snow vacation in Arizona over the December holidays. We will be in Scottsdale visiting family and I want to include a short 2 or 3 day excursion to the snow. Skiing is not a requirement, but snow play, tubing, snow shoeing would be great. We are open to cabins, lodges, hotel/motel but nothing too expensive. Maybe the Grand Canyon area or maybe another less crowded destination? A two to three hour drive from Scottsdale would be ideal. desert snow bunny

Wow, you are really planning ahead!

Your best bet is Flagstaff, a 2-hour drive and generally you can find snow there, but amounts can vary a lot given the weather, so you may need to check as your trip approaches to make sure it's worth the drive. Pretty, though, even when there's not a lot of snow. The Grand Canyon is 2 hours past that, and usually less snow - it's a desert up there, too, so a lot less snowfall than other areas. The other option for snow is the Mogollon Rim, out towards Payson, but that's a 3-4 hour drive I think. Then there is Prescott or Sedona, which have their own attractions apart from the snow.

I think there have been some forest fires in AZ this year (I'm thinking of Oak Creek Canyon between Sedona and Flag, usually very pretty drive), so that may affect the scenicity of your destinations, something else to keep in mind. Former Zonie

Family vacation in Tucson - where to stay?

Jan 2014

We are planning a trip to Tucson in April with our kids (5 &10 years old). We are looking for affordable, child-friendly accommodations, ideally some place with a bit more character than your average motel. A B&B might be OK, if not too expensive. Or, on the other hand, maybe a hostel, where we could do some of our own cooking (but it would have to be a family-friendly place, and we do want some privacy). I'm open to different options, as long as we have access to a fridge, and can be comfortable there for a few days. We like hiking and bird watching, so easy access to the outdoors would be a plus. Any suggestions? Thanks! Love the desert!

Rent a house through! We have two kids and we ALWAYS rent a house or apartment. You don't have to eat out for every meal, you have WAY more room - it's great! We've rented in Seattle, Portland, Yosemite, Mexico, New Mexico, Santa Cruz, New Orleans, Austin, Tahoe, Russian River and we've never had a bad experience. The only way to go! Susan

I grew up in Tucson, so have lots of general suggestions about the place - I can't tell you too much about accommodations since I stay with family. I asked my parents and the main suggestion they had was to check out this website: It is a beautiful time because of mild weather, plants in bloom (and sometimes wildflowers). Good choice, but my parents warned you will have competition for lodging. It is also a popular golf destination for 'snow birds' in the East.

As for where to stay, the one thing to know is that Tucson is a very spread-out city, and no matter what, you will need a car. Good news is, traffic and distances are nothing like the Bay Area, so going from one place to another is relatively easy - mainly surface streets.

In terms of accommodation areas, If you choose to stay somewhere close to the desert, you will be outside the city and probably not have a lot of amenities. WIth kids, that can be a challenge, so something to consider. My suggestion, since you are looking for an area with character, is to stick close the Univ. of Arizona or downtown areas, both of which have funkiness and history to them. There is a great revitalization going on downtown and 4th Avenue is the street with vintage clothing stores, etc.. Also, you are within a reasonable range of the desert areas West of the city, including the can't-miss Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park West. BTW, the Desert Museum is like a zoo combined with botanical garden and is an amazing place for all ages.

You should know, though, that there are great desert areas on opposite sides of the city. To the direct East of the city is the Saguaro National Park East and Colossal Cave area. To the Northeast is Sabino Canyon. I would HIGHLY recommend Sabino Canyon for a family nature outing. You have to take a tram into the park, and it stops in different places where you can take walks of various lengths. You can then get picked back up by the tram. It is particularly lovely in the spring and if it has rained, the creek is full and there are WPA-built bridges to walk over.

So staying on that side of town is an option too. I would say that this area is more rural/suburban. Anyway, given that I have never had to seek a place to stay, you may end up finding a B&B or other place that is near one of these nature areas that works for you. I hope at least this gives you an idea.

BTW, as I mentioned, driving to these various places is very doable. For instance, my parents live in the center of town, and when we visit it is a very easy day trip to go to Sabino Canyon in the East or the Desert Museum in the West.

One more excursion-- going up to A Mountain, just outside the city to the West. It is not really a mountain, despite the name, and is a short drive but affords great views of the city.

I hope you enjoy your visit - I am glad to live in the SF area, but I absolutely love going back to Tucson. Marie

A week in New Mexico and Arizona with a 9 year old

May 2012

We're planning a late summer trip to Santa Fe, Taos, Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, and maybe Grand Canyon & Sedona for about a week. Any thoughts on how much we can squeeze in? Recommendations for places to stay, things we really MUST do, and things we really should avoid? We are two adults with a 9 yr old girl. Favorite restaurants? We're also thinking of a separate trip to Phoenix/Tempe area in late fall. I know I want to go to the Heard Museum. Any favorite places to stay/restaurants/things to do there? Have you been to Biosphere or Taliesin West? Thank you! janet

We moved to the B.A. from the Phoenix area just a few years ago, so I can help you out a little bit. Heard Museum is definitely a good one. The Musical Instrument Museum, which is pretty new and in N. Phoenix, is really amazing. I think age 9 is perfect to appreciate that one! The Botanical Gardens on the Tempe/Phx border are really lovely. If you're a sucker for zoos, the Phoenix Zoo is a good one and they have made a lot of great, recent improvements. Could be a nice change of pace from the zoos you're accustomed to. Pizzeria Bianco is Phoenix's famous pizza restaurant, but expect a wait (they only take reservations for large parties...). Also in the pizza realm, you can get the infamous Grimaldi's (of Brooklyn) experience - really amazing brick-oven pizza w/ fresh/organic ingredients!

In Tempe, check out their great independent bookstore (Changing Hands) and get some lunch at Wildflowers (soup/sandwich). For Mexican food, Los Dos Molinos is very good. (Remember that Mexican food in phx is different from bay area - spicier, heavier in phx. You should be able to find milder plates though)

If you're up for a true excursion, I am partial to Tucson (2-hr drive from phx). The Sonoran Desert Museum is really great and worth the drive. You'll also be able to take in great desert scenery by heading there. (Avoid Old Tucson and Tombstone: they are tourist traps.) Tucson has a lot of great restaurants - El Charro's and Beyond Bread come to mind. Tucson has more of a desert town feel and the mountains are majestically closer. But unless you're just doing the desert museum, you would need a couple days for Tucson to do museum and check out the city itself. I hope some of this is helpful! AZ native

I recently visited Tucson (work-related). Biosphere 2 is interesting, but I wouldn't make a special trip to Tucson just to see it. I didn't have time to do much else in Tucson, but boy there sure are a lot of cacti! If you go to Santa Fe, check out the Cowgirl BBQ and the Tune Up Cafe. Food around the main plaza in Santa Fe is underwhelming by Bay Area standards. The Santa Fe Opera is worth seeing in the summer. anon

Visiting Flagstaff with teens after a trip to the Grand Canyon

April 2011

I will be driving to the Grand Canyon this summer w 3 young teens. Any suggestions on places to stay and things to do on the way back? Flagstaff? Route 66? traveling w young teens

We took a two week car trip through Flagstaff three years ago and have quite a few tips. Two detours on old route 66 were especially fun. The first was a loop through Oatman on the western edge of Arizona. Also worth a stop is Seligman - the town that inspired the Pixar film 'Cars.'

We found a nice home to rent just south of Flagstaff via VRBO - a great resource - and used it as a base for a week. Flagstaff is the place to stay in Arizona because its elevation keeps it cool. It's a friendly town too. You can take any number of day trips easily from there.

The Grand Canyon is about two hours away and is a relatively easy day trip. Unless you are big hikers, one day at the Canyon is probably enough. Many people recommended taking the old train from Williams. We did that and were disappointed. Too slow, expensive, and just not very interesting. It left us with only a few hours at the canyon and no way to move very far from the masses of people at the rim other than a loop bus. Just drive!

Oak Creek Canyon south of Flagstaff offers great water play. You can slide down the rocks and cool off in the creek (more like a river). It's really beautiful too. Sedona is further down the canyon in a dramatic setting, but just too touristy and crowded for our taste. We did take a fun (but pricey) red rocks jeep tour for an afternoon.

Beyond Sedona is the ghost town of Jerome, now inhabited by artists (quite a bit less schlocky than Sedona's if I may say that) and restaurants - plus great views

To the north of Flagstaff are several interesting old pueblo sites that make a nice day trip. Also Sunset Crater Volcano.

You can hang out a day in Flagstaff and visit the Riordan mansion in town - very interesting and beautiful - stuffed with arts and crafts masterpieces. (Our kids like architecture and loved it.)

We drove home through southern Utah to check out Lake Powell and Bryce Canyon. Definitely worth the slightly longer trip. Antelope Canyon near Page Arizona was the highlight of our two weeks. Just amazing.

Have fun with your teens! Becky

Arizona/New Mexico/Joshua Tree over Xmas break?

Sept 2010

We are looking for a warm place to travel to over the holiday break. Airfare and lodging in Latin America/Hawaii looks prohibitive, so we thought maybe the desert? We are considering renting an RV and driving. Has anyone been to any of those places during the winter? What would be a good route? We were hoping to see some sites, natl. parks and then spend some time by a pool. Am I off my rocker.

Thanks for any suggestions! warmseeker

Arizona, New Mexico and Joshua Tree can have lots of sun in late December, but aren't really that warm. For example, the average high in Tucson, AZ in late December is 65 degrees, and Albuquerque, NM has highs around 50. It is even colder at higher elevations and the temperature really drops at night. Sunny but cold

The Southwest can be a lovely place to spend the holidays. And it's certainly typically warmer there than the bay area that time of year. I've spent a few Christmases at my parents' house in Phoenix, and it was really nice having Christmas breakfast outside on the patio. And it's a great time to visit there and hike, etc. compared to the crazy hot summer. However, if it's really heat you're seeking, it's not that kind of weather in the winter. It's warm, but not really pool weather, as I remember it at least. (And Phoenix tends to be one of the warmer areas of AZ-- some other areas up north or in the Mountains are of course quite cold, even snowy sometimes). lukewarm

Arizona trip to Sedona, Prescott, and the Grand Canyon

April 2007

We are taking a trip to Arizona with our 13 and 10 year olds in June. We are going to Sedona for 4 days, the south rim of the Grand Canyon for 2 days and Prescott for 2 days. We would like to avoid crowds and be in nature and have a peaceful time. Any suggestions as to how to do that given our itinerary? Any places to avoid or to get to? Thanks!

My family went to Sedona every summer growing up. That said, I haven't been there in 10 or so years, but my brother lives in the Prescott area so I'll try to give some recommendations.

I expect Sedona will be crowded. You should definitely try to go up Oak Creek Canyon to the West Fork trailhead -- it goes past the site of an old guest lodge (that my mom stayed at as a kid) and is a great hike up the west fork of Oak Creek. Very nice, gentle hike, kid friendly, and lots of opportunities for creek play. Also, if you go up to Flagstaff you will be out of the crowds more. San Francisco Peaks and Sunset Crater are both beautiful places to hike.

Slide Rock State Park will be very crowded but your kids will love it -- it's a natural water slide formed by the sandstone.

If you're a carnivore, eat at Rod's Steak House in Williams on your way to the Grand Canyon. Delicious prime rib, biscuits, and salad dressing so good we'd make them bottle some up for us to take home with us. Erin

I've been to that area many time, but with kids much younger than yours. Here are the places/things to do that I enjoy most in the area.

-Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon, a short drive from Sedona into the canyon, just beautiful and you can swim in the fresh water creek, climb the rocks, take in the view, we spend hours just walking along the water, you can also picnic there, go early in the am to avoid the crowds.

-Take a jeep tour in Sedona, your kids will love it but be sure to buckle up, the tours take you off-road and are spectacular, the Pink Jeep tours are very good, there are lots of companies that do them but I like the pink ones best.

-Visit Jerome: an old restored mining town at 5,000ft, a 20 minute drive straight up the mountain (or hill) from Sedona, unbelievable views and great shopping and food. Great day trip.

-Take some Hikes to see the views, especially during sunset, Airport Road is also good for sunsets and you can drive up and park. love sedona

We just spent spring break in Sedona and also went to the Grand Canyon. Sedona, unfortunately, is booming. It was much more crowded than we anticipated (roads are being widened, housing developments are popping up). It is gorgeous, though. I advise you to get up and out early if you want to avoid crowds. If your kids like hiking, you're in luck because one of the great things about Sedona is just going out and exploring the trails among the red rocks. I recommend renting a 4-wheel drive if you are renting a vehicle. We got a Toyota Highlander, which allowed us to get pretty far up on the unpaved roads, which we couldn't have done in a sedan or minivan.

We took a jeep tour and loved it. (We used Pink Jeep tours, but there are a ton of reputable ones in Sedona. Even Biodesiel Hummer tours!) My kids enjoyed the Native American ruins and pictographs in and around Sedona. We didn't make it to Montezuma's Castle or Well, but both were highly recommended to us.

The Grand Canyon is just going to be crowded if you're going to the South end (closest to Flagstaff/Sedona). If you're driving from the Bay Area, you can hit the West end of the Canyon, which i hear is less crowded. We were on the South rim for a day and it was very crowded. The place is still beautiful and awe-inspiring. My kids regretted that we didn't do a pack-mule overnight. Those look like a lot of fun. If your itinerary permits, you should look into it.

Frommer's Arizona 2007 guide was excellent. It had a lot of detail on the areas you're visiting, inlcuding Prescott. I recommend picking it up.

SF Giants Spring Training in Scottsdale?

Jan 2007

Have you gone to Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona? If so, I'd love some advice on how to make the most of the trip. Hotels, restaurants, golf, stuff to do other than baseball, anything else you'd like to add? Thanks in advance! Giants Fan

We go to Giants/A's Spring Training every year and have been taking our 3 yr old daughter since she was 3 months old. Getting flights and hotels on the weekends during March is tough but so worth it. We love walking around old Scottsdale, going to breakfast or lunch at Pishke's Paradise, going to dinner at Don and Charlies (a legendary place where you will have to wait but worth it if you are a sports fan). There is a great mall right in that area if you get bored of sports with all the great stores and good restaurants.

last year we took our daughter to a great park up Indian Bend rd and was so much fun, called McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park. There was a huge train to ride on, an actual FDR train car to walk through and great play structures. If you like to hike, check out Camelback mountain. It is so beautiful and a nice hiking trail (but gets steep at the top).

There is a nice art museum right in Civic center plaza to check out and so much to do around there. It is always one of our favorite family vacations. The Giants stadium is also walking distance if you stay in old town scottsdale. WS

Tucson with two moms and a baby

March 2005

We're heading to Tucson in April for a friend's commitment ceremony. We could stay a regular hotel, but we're thinking it might be fun to stay at a B&B. I''ve never been to Tucson, but I gather that the event will be near the Air Force Base. We'll be renting a car, so I guess anywhere in Tucson could work. Our baby will be 6 mos old and we're a lesbian couple, so we need somewhere ''family'' friendly in both senses of the word! A plus would be a place with a pool/hot tub and hikes nearby. Anyone have a place to recommend? Also, any tips for what to do with baby in Tucson? Thanks!

Tucson in general is ''family'' friendly, in both senses of the word, but the most diverse and open-minded areas are Downtown and 4th Avenue (adjacent to each other, connected by a tunnel). I don't know about B&Bs (I'm sure there are plenty--check out, but the Hotel Congress is a historic landmark in downtown Tucson and its cafe and night club are magnets for a very diverse and hip section of the community, although I don't think it has a pool/hot tub. There is another hotel nearby, the Clarion Santa Rita, which does have hot tub and pool and other more modern amenities, as well as a wonderful restaurant, Cafe Poca Cosa (which unfortunately does not have high chairs so I guess kids aren't welcome--we dined while my mom watched the baby).

Tucson has mountains on all 4 sides of town, so pretty much anywhere you stay is close to hiking. Also the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (a few miles west of downtown) is a great place to take kids to see desert plants and animals in their natural setting (somewhat better than a zoo in the same way that the San Diego Wild Animal Park is). Have fun in Tucson--I lived there for 4 years in college and loved it! --Wildcat Alum

Family-friendly Phoenix/Scottsdale Resort

March 2005

We will be celebrating my parent's 50th wedding anniversary this summer and my family is looking for a hotel/resort for a couple of nights in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area that would be fun for all ages (grandparents, teenagers and toddlers). We would prefer something close to Scottsdale (not much more than a 1 hour drive) that is family friendly, possibly has some interesting attractions, fairly low key and not apt to break the budget. Can anyone recommend such a place? Thanks. Valerie

I highly recommend the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale. I have stayed their twice with my now-3 1/2 year old over the past couple years and am heading back again in May. It is very family friendly and set up well for all ages. It is directly across the street from a really nice outdoor mall with fountains kids can play in too. The pool area at the resort is set up like a beach complete with sand.There is another pool with a ''river'' that has a slow current that you can sit in innertubes and cruise around it, a waterslide, water play area for little ones and also around a nice, large adults-only pool. At night, they project movies onto a wall you can watch while in the pool, also they have great caribbean bands play poolside after dinner with baskets of instruments for kids to join in with. The restaurants are really great, especially the breakfasts but there are lots of choices also at the mall too. It has a golf course but I have not used it-it's gorgeous to wander around though. Also, there is a nice spa. There are rooms in the main hotel - comfiest beds ever! and I believe they just opened little ''villas'' you can rent as well. I have gotten deals through Expedia and paid as low as $82 a night off- season but I know prices can be high at times here. It helps to call and check with the hotel directly. I have never been a big fan of Arizona but this resort has kept me coming back. Cna't Wait to Go Back!

Canyon de Chelly in Arizona

June 2004

We will be in Northern Arizona this July and are thinking about visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Does anyone have any experience/recommendations to share about this area? Thanks. Mary

I grew up in Northwestern New Mexico, and I have fond memories of going to Canyon de Chelly as a child. It's beautiful, interesting, and best yet, there is a river at the bottom of the canyon to play in. However, it does get very hot, so it is best to go early in the morning. You can stay overnight in a nearby town (the name of which I can't recall, but there is a Holiday Inn there), so that you can get hiking early. It's definitely worth going. Have fun! Kris Kris

My husband and I went camping there about 6 years ago and had a great time. We hired an indian guide to take us down into the valley and he gave us a guided tour. We met him outside the tourist center. I don't think it was expensive. Lots of mosquitos. Lori

We recently visited Canyon de Chelly with our kids in April. We loved it. It will probably be pretty warm in the summer. The one hike you can do without a guide is a great one, and not too long or arduous as long as you take time and bring plenty of water. If you take the hike into the Canyon, bring some money with you because the sell cold drinks and doo-dads down there. The Navajo expect you to bargain as you would in Mexico. The other sites that you see from the drive are pretty far away, and require good binoculars to get a close look. We stayed one night at the Best Western in Chinle right outside of Canyon de Chelly. Very kid friendly with a nice indoor pool. There isn't any good food in Chinle, though. I'm not picky about such things, but my husband is. No alcohol on the reservation either. Have fun! Eden

Tucson with a toddler

April 2003

Anyone familiar with Tucson? We're going in a couple of weeks with our 17-mo. old (staying at the Arizona Inn), and would love to get some recommendations for places to eat and places to go, especially, good places to see desert flowers in bloom, that have easy enough walking access to bring a toddler. I noticed that there's a desert nature reserve about 30 miles away... anyone thoughts about that would also be appreciated. Thanks! sh

We've been visiting Tucson with our two kids ever since they were born. Our favorite excursions have been the Desert Museum and Sabino Canyon. There's a tram ride at Sabino that makes multiple stops along the canyon (like a bus service) so you can see the whole canyon while riding, or you can get off and picnic or hike at any spot you find interesting. The Tucson Zoo is okay too...and there's a small Children's Museum that you might enjoy. Have fun! Jeff

Kid-friendly resort in Arizona

Jan 2003

Our extended family is looking for a New Year's getaway next year, preferably Arizona/New Mexico, that's kid- friendly. There will be four sets of parents, ten kids ranging from 2 - 16 years old, and one set of grandparents. We'd like a fairly nice place with amenities for both kids and grownups, good food, stuff to do. Anybody know of anything? We're planning ahead! Thanks. Laura

My family has gone to the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch in Tucson, AZ. They've got a kids program for kids starting age 4. Kids can eat in their own dining room or with their parents, and have all sorts of activities they can engage in, from riding lessons to tennis to a crafts room. The ranch is primarily a dude ranch, so there is lots of horsey activity for the whole family. They also have a nice outdoor pool, indoor pool, and other amenities. The ranch is pricy, but all food and activities are included in the room price. Oh, and unfortunately the food is very middle America: okay for most guests, but not that wonderful is you are used to Bay Area standards. Carolyn

If you all are interested in outdoor activities, you might enjoy Tanque Verde Guest Ranch in Tuscon. My family (parents and siblings) has gone there 3 times over the winter holidays and we all have a great time. They have lots of horseback riding and hiking, as well as nature walks, mountain biking, and tennis. They also have swimming pools and hot tubs. There is a childrens program for ages 4-12. The last time I went my son was 2, and we had a nanny come in from town (found through a service) for about 4 hours each day so that I could ride or do a strenuous hike, though I hiked with him in the backpack too. The weather in Tuscon is pretty nice at that time of year, though it's not exactly tropical. Check out their website -- -- or feel free to contact me if you want any specific info. Tara