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Phoenix is a massive, diverse city with a huge variety of activities for visitors and locals alike to enjoy. Hiking in the surrounding hills, perusing some of the country’s best clusters of art galleries, and sampling a famously excellent variety of regional and international food are just a few of the tempting options that greet travelers. Phoenix can also be used as a jumping-off point to explore the Sonoran Desert or, via helicopter, the Grand Canyon and other major natural features of the Southwest. With so many different activities on offer, it’s no wonder that Phoenix-based tour companies offer all sorts of excellent options. From urban adventures to desert explorations, these are the very best tours available.
Best Driving Tour: Half-Day Phoenix Highlights Tour
Hop in an air-conditioned van and take a comfortable guided trip around Phoenix on this surprisingly comprehensive half-day tour. You’ll get a taste of the outdoors, with guided descriptions (and possible wild sightings) of the plant and animal life of the Sonoran Desert and view natural wonders like Camelback Mountain and South Mountain Park, including the lookout point on the latter that allows you a gorgeous view of Downtown Phoenix.
Phoenix’s urban highlights are also part of the agenda, with stops at major landmark buildings such as the Arizona Capitol Building (built before statehood was even granted) and the Wrigley Mansion, as well as the places where the Phoenix Suns, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Arizona Cardinals play.
Finally, you’ll get a taste of the quaint historic Old Town Scottsdale, a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood packed with art galleries, boutiques, and eateries of all kinds. Here, you’ll have a full hour to explore on your own, with helpful tips from your guide on the best places to eat, shop, and browse. The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off and lasts about four hours.
Best Private Tour: Custom Private City Tour of Phoenix
If you have specific interests or just enjoy the personal attention of a private guided tour, consider splurging on this one. You’ll be shuttled around town in a comfy Chrysler Town and Country van — air-conditioned, of course — following an itinerary that you make with your driver/guide based on the interests of you and your group. Sports fans? Your guide will highlight the city’s stadiums and other sports landmarks. Art lovers? Focus your day on the city’s best galleries and museums. History, nature, architecture, food — whatever you love, you can make the focus of the day. (Your guide will also happily work with you to simply create an itinerary of a variety of highlights, if that’s your preference.)
The tour does not include meals, but these can be built into the day’s itinerary based on your preferences. Note that this price is per van (up to five people), not per person, so though the cost appears quite a lot higher than many others, if you have a group, the math can work out to not much more than a large-group tour, per person — very possibly worth it if your interests are super-specific.
Best Small-Group Tour: Deluxe Phoenix and Scottsdale Day Trip
Want to take a deep dive into the history, architecture, art, food, and natural wonders of the greater Phoenix metro? Consider this small-group full-day tour. It’s an ideal choice for the first day of a longer trip — you’ll really be able to get your bearings, plus you’ll find places that you’ll want to return for a longer look — but it also works well if your trip is a short one and you want to see as much as possible in one fell swoop.
Among the highlights: the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Arizona Biltmore, downtown Phoenix’s skyscrapers and athletic stadiums, and Old Town Scottsdale, which combines a Wild West aesthetic with a touch of Southwest New Ageiness. The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off. It is a family-friendly tour, but if your child requires a carseat or booster, you’ll need to provide it.
Best Hot Air Balloon Tour: Phoenix Hot Air Balloon Morning Ride
Get a whole new view of Phoenix and the gorgeous surrounding Sonoran Desert from a hot air balloon on this serene flight over the breathtaking landscape below. Your day will begin before sunrise with a pickup at your Phoenix hotel. You’ll be shuttled to the Deer Valley Airport, where you’ll watch your pilot and crew prepare your balloon for the ride. Your actual flight lasts about an hour, following the wind as it blows softly above the desert, watching the sun rise in the distance and cast long shadows of saguaros and rock formations over the desert floor.
When the balloon lands, you’ll toast your successful flight with a glass of champagne and enjoy a decadent catered gourmet breakfast at your landing spot. A bit of luxury and a bit of adventure — quite a way to start the morning!
Best Night Tour: Hummer Night Tour in the Sonoran Desert
For much of the year, the Sonoran Desert is quite hot and can be difficult to see much of in the daytime, but wandering into the desert on foot at night is obviously unsafe. What’s a curious explorer to do? How about a nighttime four-wheel-drive tour that lets you go well into off-road territory and see some of the desert’s coolest features (and coolest creatures) during the coolest part of the day?
You’ll meet your driver at a designated spot in Phoenix around sunset and hit the road in a Hummer with your knowledgeable nature-loving guide. You’ll spend around four hours wheeling over hills and past massive saguaro cacti, looking for rattlesnakes, coyotes, tarantulas, gophers, kit foxes, and other creatures of the night.
As you explore, your guide will tell you about the history of this place, both geological and human, and share some of the stories of the people who’ve made this place home over thousands of years. It’s a rare glimpse into a seldom-seen landscape and, let’s face it, it’s also pretty cool, rolling through the dark desert in a Hummer.
Best Drinking Tour: Party Bike Pub Crawl of Downtown Phoenix
If you’ve been to a beach town in the past decade, you’ve probably seen these mobile party bikes: they’re configured kind of like a long table, with people sitting along both sides and one “driver” in the front, and everyone has a set of pedals, which power the whole contraption. It’s a silly machine, to say the least, but it is honest-to-goodness a whole lot of fun. This tour takes up to 15 people on a pub crawl through some of Downtown Phoenix’s finest drinking establishments, stopping at several to refill your cups, which you can continue to sip as you pedal through the city streets. (Fear not: your tour guide doubles as a designated “driver” — all you need to do is provide the pedal power.) The party bike is lit up and wired for sound, so it really does feel a bit like an unholy but glorious mash-up of a nightclub and a spin class.
Best Food Tour: Downtown Phoenix Historic Food Tour
Phoenix is an international city with a famously diverse and high-quality restaurant scene. This tour combines tasting stops at five of its most interesting downtown restaurants with a history-infused stroll of the downtown area. Though restaurants are subject to change, the tour typically includes a tasting at a top-rated Thai restaurant, a chic modern Italian bistro, and a restaurant that specializes in upscale takes on Central and South American street food favorites.
Between stops, which last about 25 minutes each and involve several nibbles each, your guide will show you around the historic part of town, explaining the architectural significance of some of the more striking buildings and explaining some of Phoenix’s history and impact on the wider world. Because at least one of the stops is a bar stop which includes cocktails (mocktails are available for non-drinkers), this tour is not appropriate for children.
Guests should be able to walk around two miles total, with plenty of air-conditioned rest breaks in between.
Best Self-Guided Tour: Phoenix Scavenger Hunt Adventure
Fun for both first-timers and long-term residents of the area, this tour turns the buildings and landmarks of Downtown Phoenix into a real-life board game. You’ll follow a course that winds through downtown, past the Herberger Theater Center, the Arizona Center, Heritage Square, the Orpheum Theater, and the County Courthouse, among others, all while stopping at designated spots to solve puzzles and collect clues. The cool part is that the whole thing is run from your cell phone, so you can work through it slowly at your own pace. (If you’re competitive, you can also work through it at top speed and try to top the online leaderboard.)
This is a great, extremely affordable option for families with kids, and seems to be particularly ideal for those just moving to Phoenix and looking to get a lay of the land.
Best Apache Trail Tour: Apache Trail Day Tour from Phoenix
The Apache Trail was originally a trading path for the indigenous people of the Sonoran Desert, a footpath which crossed the massive and striking Superstition Mountains, which later became an important stagecoach path for the miners and ranchers passing from Phoenix out into the mining towns in the hills. In more recent times, its largely-preserved Wild West charm and beautiful natural views earned it the designation of Arizona Historic Highway, and it has become a favorite destination for travelers.
This full-day tour begins with a six-mile cruise on a steamboat on Canyon Lake, from which you’ll enjoy the natural splendor of the volcanic cliffs and possibly do some wild animal spotting (don’t forget to look up — bald eagles nest on these cliffs). You’ll then visit the historic gold mining town of Goldfield, followed by stops at Tortilla Flat and Fish Creek Hill, for both Wild West charm and stunning desert views.
Your knowledgeable guide will contextualize all of your stops for you with fascinating historical background, and also help you spot desert critters and even cool plants. Pick-up and drop-off from your Phoenix hotel is included.
Best Grand Canyon Tour: Small-Group Deluxe Grand Canyon Day Trip
Phoenix is one of the closest cities to the Grand Canyon, so it’s definitely common to combine a day trip out to this natural wonder with your otherwise-urban vacation, and this tour is a perfect way to do it. The morning starts with pickups at select Phoenix and Scottsdale hotels (and alternate meeting points) and starts with a comfortable, air-conditioned drive through the gorgeous Sonoran Desert.
You’ll pass Flagstaff as you ascend into the Ponderosa Pine Forest, with the San Francisco Peaks (Dookʼoʼoosłííd in Dine/Navajo) in the distance. You’ll make a quick stop at the historic Route 66 town of Williams and then it’s on into the Grand Canyon National Park. You’ll have three hours of exploration time, with stops at multiple scenic lookout points, as well as Hopi House and the El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon Village.
A simple box lunch is provided. With a tour capacity capped at 13 people, you’re guaranteed lots of personalized attention from your expert guide and a range of motion that’s harder to find with a bus-sized group. At the end of the day, you’ll be dropped back at your hotel, likely still trying to find words to describe the majesty of what you saw.