Having just recently returned from my own family getaway to Phoenix, Arizona, I feel it is oftentimes overlooked as a vacation spot for families. There were ten of us traveling in total as a multi-gen family, including 4 kids all 4 and under! We had an amazing time and I want to tell you why you should consider it for your next trip as a family.
While it doesn’t have the beaches of Florida or California, Arizona does have beautiful weather year-round, the impressive Sonoran desert landscape, and a plethora of active and outdoor adventures for families who love to be on the go.
Because Phoenix and crown-jewel Scottsdale are in the desert, you will find fluctuating temperatures and it can get quite chilly in the mornings and evenings depending on the time of year you visit. The most popular time for visitors is February – May, with March beginning the Spring season and ushering in more reliably warm weather. We traveled in February and had a perfect week of sunny, blue skies and warm days great for swimming and being outside.
This time of year is perfect for traveling with children because it offers the opportunity to be active outside without oppressive heat. And there’s so much to do outdoors in Phoenix and Scottsdale! Here’s the based-on-my-experience list of my recommendations for things to do in Phoenix for families with young children.
Stay at a Family-Friendly Hotel
This may seem like an obvious one, but it is so critical to having an amazing vacation with your family. A comfortable home-away-from-home that offers respite and relaxation and also entertainment and excitement for young children can truly enhance your overall experience. Phoenix and Scottsdale are no strangers to incredible resorts so choosing the right one that fits the needs of your family is crucial. And we’re here for you to help!
We visited 5 top-notch resorts and are partners with many more in the area. The ones that really stood out for going the extra mile for families were The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort, Scottsdale and The Fairmont Princess Scottsdale.
The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort, Scottsdale
This resort – which sits majestically up against Camelback Mountain – has been a highly-lauded 4-star, 5 diamond property for 15 consecutive years! Even the Standard rooms here are huge and very well-appointed. The property consists of the main building with standard rooms up to suites offering up to 2 Queen beds, as well as lovely Casitas with up to 2-bedroom suites, and finally the grand jewel of the property – the Canyon Suites, a 5-star, 5-Diamond boutique hotel on property grounds.
The Canyon Suites provides a more intimate experience and offers all suites with up to 3 bedrooms. It has its own pool, but can also make use of any of the facilities at the main resort including the two large kid-friendly pools and my favorite part of the Phoenician for families, the Kid Zone.
It’s hard to go on vacation with kids and not talk pools. Our stay here was significantly enhanced by the beautiful pool grounds and fun for kids. The heated pools were large and never felt overcrowded. The staff did a fantastic job of managing proper social distancing between parties relaxing on the lounge chairs. Service for food and beverage was readily available and speedy, and the food was excellent. Definitely go for the lamb gyro!
The pièce de résistance was the Kid Zone and waterslide. I can’t tell you how many times our kids went down the waterslide – exhilarating and safe even for kids as young as 4 (even the dads went down a few times!).
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
The Fairmont Princess has so much to do it is like a small village within Scottsdale itself! The impressive, 5-diamond resort is built on expansive grounds offering over 750 rooms including 2-bedroom casitas and 3-bedroom suites, 6 pools, 4 restaurants, a premier spa, and walk-on access to the TPC Scottsdale golf course.
Only one of the 6 pools is adults-only. However, the Sonoran Splash Pool was designed specifically for families. It also offers exciting water slides, as well as a sandbox area and a zero-entry pool deck. Two pools on property offer zero-entry, including the Sunset Beach Pool which also showcases a white sand beach and splash pad! A true haven for families.
The resort offers year-round activities, like its annual Christmas at the Princess. For 8 weeks around the holidays, the resort is decorated with over 4.5 million lights, a 4-story Christmas tree, and Santa’s headquarters. A magical place to bring children!
While we were visiting they were hosting “Winter at the Princess” with activities like two ice-skating rinks with skate rentals, fire pits for enjoy smores, a large snow slide for tubing down, a ferris-wheel, and an entire mini-village dedicated to entertainment and activities for smaller children.
Goldfield Ghost Town
Goldfield can be viewed in two ways – as a corny tourist trap, or as an interesting stop along the Superstition Mountains perfect for families. I view it as the latter. Goldfield was a mini town established back in the 1890s before officially becoming a ghost town in the early 1900s.
Today, the site sits on the historic Apache Trail and has been recreated to look and feel like the town did back then. With impressive views of the mountain in the background, the small town offers plenty to do to keep you busy for a half-full day. An interesting train ride (in our family, just say train ride and the kids are jumping up and down) shares the town’s history, and an interactive mine tour re-creates what it was like to enter the mines years ago. But don’t worry if you are claustrophobic or have kids who might be shy or fearful – it is safe, well-lit, and with much more space than an actual mine.
Then, you can pan for gold or sluice for rocks – I recommend the sluicing if you have young kids like ours. They had so much fun, and it is easier for them to do on their own. Other things you can do are the Shooting Gallery, the Mystery Shack, and a Bordello tour.
From 12-4 on weekends the town’s outlaws put on a little gun-fight re-enactment. Emphasis on little – it is a short, cheesy skit, but the kids loved it. It is loud so prepare your kids ahead of time, or cover their ears if they are sensitive!
Families with older kids can take advantage of a small zipline or even horseback riding at the town. A bakery, a saloon, and an ice cream parlor make up the food offerings and there’s also plenty of merchants offering souvenirs and western wares. If you are feeling up for it, an antique photo at the Time after Time studio is so much fun!
A Desert Jeep Tour
While all of Phoenix is a desert, it really takes one of these off-road adventures to take you deep into the heart of the Sonoran to discover its beauty and uniqueness. Which tour is right for your family is going to largely depend on the age of your kids, but even at 2 years old we found an adventure perfect for our age group.
9 of us enjoyed our desert tour where we were taken out in a large H1 Hummer about an hour or so from Phoenix into the heart of the Sonoran. Our guide, Ken, was fantastic and so knowledgeable about the flora and fauna in the area. He was also wonderful with children! We work closely with our partners to ensure the right guides are selected based on the needs and personalities of our travelers.
Our kids loved this tour – Ken shared secrets about the variety of cacti we uncovered and the wildlife we tracked down (as well as those that we didn’t – thank goodness we didn’t see a rattle snake!). But the best part for them was the open-air vehicle and the bumpy (read: very bumpy) desert roads we traveled along.
A disclaimer here – the desert tours are not safe for pregnant women. When they say the roads are bumpy, they mean it. My 6- month pregnant sister-in-law sat this activity out. The good news? It is a perfect time for the mama-to-be to seek out some R&R at the spa!
Walk Old Town Scottsdale
Old Town Scottsdale is a charming area full of art galleries, shops selling Southwestern jewelry and souvenirs, and lively restaurants and cafes. Take a stroll around the area before stopping at one of its many restaurants for a shaded respite.
One of the places that was on our list we never made it to was the Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl is an old-time restaurant and ice cream parlor with a family-friendly focus. They have an old fashioned soda fountain, and plenty of sweet treats like sundaes, splits, malts, floats, and scooped ice cream.
On Thursdays, the ArtWalk happens in Old Town. The ArtWalk provides an opportunity to leisurely enjoy the area in a festive setting with live music, horse-drawn carriages, golf carts, and trolley rides, and more.
Visit a Ranch for a Cowboy Cookout
While our kids were too young to do a full horseback ride on the trail, we knew we wanted to visit a ranch and see horses. Our kids adore pony rides and we knew they would get a kick out of acting like cowboys for the day.
If your kids are old enough to ride – they have to be able to ride on their own and not with an adult – they will love exploring the desert in this unique way. It is completely unspoiled and natural. But, keep in mind these rides are built for all skill levels and so, go slowly. If you are an advanced rider, it would be best to do a private ride.
While a few of us were out riding, our kiddos were back at the ranch having their own mini-rides with the horses, enjoying the petting zoo, and many other games around the ranch. After an hour, we were back on the ranch and ready to begin our Cowboy Cookout. The Cookout can start with either a horseback ride or a hayride, and the hayride is perfect for families with small children who can’t partake in horseback riding.
When we returned, the bonfire was roaring and there was a charming Cowboy strumming his guitar and singing Western songs.
The kids were having a ball playing a giant Connect-4 game as the picnic tables were set and the food was put out.
Our expectations had been pretty low for the quality of food but we were pleasantly surprised at how nicely prepared everything was. The kids danced to the tunes of the singing cowboy and enjoyed his tall tales. Then came the grand finale – desert of s’mores around the campfire.
There’s not much quite like an Arizona sunset or a starry desert sky, and being out at a real-life working ranch, away from the city lights, allows you to experience both. Families with kids of all ages will enjoy a day spent out west at a traditional ranch, and Arizona has plenty to choose from!
Spend a Night in Sedona
When you are in Phoenix for a week, there are several side trips that you can consider. To me, places like the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are a bit too far for a day trip at around 4 hours from Phoenix. Sedona, on the other hand, is an easy two-hour drive with plenty of gorgeous scenery along the route. And the Red Rocks are well worth the effort!
Sedona has some of the most impressive landscapes I have ever seen. It sits in the high desert, and as such runs about 15 degrees colder than Phoenix. This is an important thing to remember when you are packing since you will want to spend most of your time in Sedona outside.
I recommend families spend at least one night in this gorgeous area at Enchantment Resort. Enchantment is a luxury resort that sits majestically in the cradle of Boynton Canyon, with full 360 degree views of the Red Rocks surrounding you. It is a sophisticated property built in adobe-style architecture.
The best part about Enchantment, though, is that it welcomes families with open arms!
It has large casita rooms with private patios (and basically every room has a view of the Red Rocks) – some of which have kitchens, separate bedrooms, or private pools making it easy to keep your distance and privacy from others.
The Casas on property are large homes with full kitchens, grills, and massive patios perfect for large families or multi-gen getaways. If you don’t feel like making an entire meal but don’t want to sit at a restaurant, either, the chef will prepare a meal for your grill and deliver it to your door so all you have to do is grill it up.
Enchantment’s shining star is without a doubt its heated pool – possibly the most picturesque in the whole country. But not far behind is its recreation area where you can spend hours playing bocce ball, bags, pitch-and-put, and more. The Trail House is perfect for active travelers and families with older kids – there’s mountain biking gear available, and a wide range of hiking trails to access directly from the resort grounds.
Lastly, you can’t mention the Enchantment and not talk about its two amazing restaurants. Tii Gavo, the more casual offering, and Che Ah Chi, for fine dining, have equally stunning views of the Rocks from practically every seat in the house. We had some of our favorite meals of our whole trip at Enchantment. Che Ah Chi is great for families during breakfast, and you just can’t miss out on the Huevos Rancheros – the best breakfast I have ever had. Kid’s menus are available at each restaurant, along with the cutest desserts such as this Cookie Monster or Road Runner option at Tii Gavo.
Sedona is a must-see in Arizona.
Enchantment allows families even with very small children to find plenty to do and take full advantage of the outdoor paradise that is Sedona, Arizona. While there, families should absolutely consider taking an off-road adventure into Red Rocks National Park on one of the many tour options, a guided hiking trip, or a Vortex tour. Sedona is a magical place for families!
This list is certainly not exhaustive. There’s a laundry list of other great activities for families in Phoenix, of course, but these are my favorites that I believe make Arizona the unique destination it is. A combination of Old West history, desert landscapes, and outdoor adventures in nature.
When you’re ready to take an adventure out west with your family, let me know here! We’ll hook you up with perks and make you feel like a VIP at any of these Virtuoso partner properties.