48 Hours in Phoenix: The Ultimate Itinerary

Phoenix skyline and cactus
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For decades, Phoenix has attracted vacationers with its mild winters and 300-plus days of sunshine. But there’s much more to the nation’s fifth largest city than swimming pools, manicured golf courses, and luxurious desert resorts. Phoenix boasts world-class museums and attractions, James Beard award-winning chefs and restaurants, and outdoor adventures through the Sonoran Desert. While you won’t be able to see and do it all, here’s how to hit the highlights in 48 hours. 

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Heard Museum

Courtesy of Heard Museum 

9 a.m.: Phoenix has limited public transportation, and because the greater metropolitan area totals more than 14,500 square miles, consider renting a car when you arrive at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. A rental car offers the added benefit of providing a place to store your luggage while you get a head start on your day. If you plan to rely on a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft, keep in mind that you may pay up to $30 one-way for each trip between destinations, and you will need to allow time to drop your luggage off at the hotel.

10 a.m.: After securing transportation, head to the Heard Museum. Opened in 1929, the museum houses a collection of approximately 44,000 Native American artifacts and artwork, including 1,200 katsina dolls donated by the late Senator Barry M. Goldwater and the Fred Harvey Company. You’ll also see baskets, jewelry, pottery, textiles, paintings, and photographs on display. Not only is it a great introduction to Native American culture in Arizona, the museum also provides information about tribes from the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and elsewhere. Don’t miss the "East Gallery Boarding School" exhibit, which tells the story of Native American children sent to boarding schools in the late 1800s. 

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West
Jim Steinfeldt / Getty Images

12:30 p.m.: When you’ve finished visiting the Heard Museum, stop by Pizzeria Bianco’s original Heritage Square location for lunch. Made famous by James Beard award-winning chef Chris Bianco, the 40-seat pizzeria only accepts reservations for parties of six or more—but the artisanal pies are worth the wait and tables turn quickly. Keep it simple with the popular Margherita pizza, or opt for the Biancoverde, a mix of house-made mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, ricotta, and arugula. If you’re not in the mood for pizza, make your way to Barrio Café on 16th Street to sample authentic Mexican dishes by acclaimed chef Silvana Salcido Esparza instead. The cochinita pibil—pork marinated in achiote and sour orange, wrapped in a banana leaf, and slow roasted overnight—is a local favorite as are the chiles en nogada, a roasted poblano pepper filled with chicken, apple, pear, dried apricot, and pecans.  

3 p.m.: After you've satisfied your hunger, tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and school of architecture, Taliesin West. While walk-ins at this UNESCO World Heritage Site are welcome, reservations are recommended for the 90-minute Insight Tour. Reservations for other tours, however, are required. You can also see Wright’s influence at other locations throughout the Valley, including the Arizona Biltmore, designed by Albert MacArthur Chase. One of Wright's students, Chase had asked his mentor to contribute to the project. The resort features pre-cast textile blocks inspired by the famous architect and his beloved Sprites sculptures. With some pre-trip planning, you can also tour the Price House, considered by Wright one of the high points of his career. Visits to the Price House are by appointment only.

5 p.m.: Check into your hotel, and spend some time relaxing before dinner. The Valley offers a variety of accommodations but is known for its resorts. For a romantic escape, consider staying at the Royal Palms Resort and Spa or Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa. If you’re traveling with the whole family or want to squeeze in a round of golf, book a stay at either the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess or The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. Downtown Phoenix’s boutique hotels are a good option, too. Treat yourself to 48 hours at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix City Center, or explore the artsy and often quirky Found: Re

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Kai Restaurant at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass

Courtesy of Kai Restaurant at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass

7 p.m.: After freshening up, make your way to the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass for dinner at the resort’s signature restaurant, Kai. Named one of Open Table’s 10 Best Restaurants in America, this AAA Five Diamond Award winner incorporates Native American ingredients into its dishes—many of which are locally sourced from the Gila River Indian Community. Try the grilled tribal buffalo tenderloin, served with corn purée, cholla buds, and saguaro blossom syrup. Or, opt for the cocoa and mesquite cured duck breast, which comes with blue corn tamale, dried stone fruit mole, and sweet potato. If Kai seems a bit too formal or expensive, you can enjoy similar dishes at the resort’s more casual restaurant, Ko’Sin. 

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Cacti budding flowers

TripSavvy / Claire Cohen

9 a.m.: Fuel up for the day at Matt’s Big Breakfast. The “Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives” alum makes everything in-house and completely from scratch, including its cake-y waffles and piping hot griddlecakes. For a protein-packed breakfast, order The Chop & Chick, two eggs served with a skillet-seared Iowa pork rib. You can visit the original restaurant on 1st Street in Phoenix, but the Tempe location on Rio Salado Parkway is a better option for today’s itinerary. Or, dig into a hearty egg scramble, huevos rancheros, or fluffy pancakes at Perk Eatery in Scottsdale. The Original Breakfast House in Phoenix is worth the drive for its deep-fried French toast and homemade, strawberry-filled Pop Tarts. 

10 a.m.: To better understand and appreciate the Sonoran Desert, spend the morning at the Desert Botanical Garden. Its four major trails—Desert Discovery, Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert, Desert Wildflower, and Sonoran Desert Nature—explore the plants and animals that thrive here. Come in the spring to see the wildflowers and the 32,000 square-foot butterfly exhibit at its peak. If you get an earlier start on your day, add a trip to the Phoenix Zoo next door to see native animals such as the Mexican grey wolf and the mountain lion. Those who want to experience the Sonoran Desert firsthand can skip the botanical garden and book a jeep tour with Wild West Jeep Tours instead. The company’s signature Sonoran Desert tour gives an overview of the local history and plant life.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Musical Instrument Museum - MIM

 Courtesy of Musical Instrument Museum - MIM

1 p.m.: Queue up for what’s considered by many the best barbecue in the Southwest at Little Miss BBQ. Your choices might be limited at this point in the afternoon, but you'll appreciate the simply-seasoned, flavorful meats whether you get sliced brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, turkey breast or house-made sausage. Tacos Chiwas is another option. The taco shop serves authentic Mexican tacos filled with pastor, lengua (beef tongue), tripe, barbacoa, and other meats. Short Leash HotDogs elevates the frankfurter with toppings like fried green tomatoes, grilled pears, cheese curds, and mango chutney. 

3 p.m.: Don’t linger over lunch: You’ll want plenty of time to explore the Musical Instrument Museum, which takes visitors on a musical tour of the world. Divided by geographical region, the museum not only has more than 6,500 instruments on display, wireless headsets allow you to hear them play as you approach. Video demonstrations show craftsmen making the instruments and musicians using them. Be sure to explore the Artist Gallery, where you can view instruments played by greats like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. At the Experience Gallery, you’ll have the chance to play everything from a Peruvian harp to a Native American communal drum. 

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

DPOV ( Different Pointe of View )

Courtesy of DPOV ( Different Pointe of View )

7 p.m.: End your visit on a high note with dinner at FnB. Chef Charleen Badman, a James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Southwest, is known as the “veggie whisperer” for her ability to bring out the best in local produce. Try the braised leeks topped with mozzarella, mustard, breadcrumbs, and a sunny-side-up egg. For great food and an equally great view, make a reservation at Different Pointe of View at Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the Valley from North Mountain to downtown Phoenix and beyond. Kick off the meal with the house specialty, Lobster Bisque, then continue with perfectly grilled filet mignon, braised lamb shank, or seared diver scallops. 

10 p.m.: If you don’t have an early flight, consider driving downtown to experience Phoenix’s craft cocktail scene. Bitter & Twisted gets high marks for its innovative menu and creative presentations—think drinks served in bear-shaped, plastic honey bottles. Meanwhile, its sister bar, Little Rituals, was a finalist for Best New Cocktail Bar in the 2019 Spirited Awards. Servers can give suggestions at either if you feel overwhelmed by the options. For a more casual experience, test your vintage video gaming skills at Cobra Arcade Bar. In addition to a few video game-inspired cocktails, the bar serves canned and draft beer, wine by the glass, cider, and shots.

Article Sources
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  1. James Beard Foundation. "The 2019 James Beard Award Winners." May 06, 2019.

  2. Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. "Regional Top 10 Honorees for the 13th Annual Spirited Awards." June 05, 2019.