It wasn't too long ago that Downtown Phoenix had only four tall buildings and little of interest to explore. You might even have seen tumbleweeds blowing through empty, dark, and dull streets! In the past two decades, however, Downtown Phoenix has emerged and continues to evolve as an exciting, and walkable, place to be. If you find yourself in Downtown Phoenix for a conference, or are visiting for a business meeting, you might have a couple of hours to get outside, learn about the history of the area, see some unique downtown Phoenix attractions, and experience the vibe of the downtown core.
You could certainly visit any or all of the following spots on your own, but you might not get as much background or detail as you would with a guided tour. The Phoenix Rising Tour Company offers walking tours, and the sights mentioned below are part of their Downtown Phoenix History & Highlights Walking Tour. The tours are focused primarily on art and history, describing the three phases... of development of Downtown Phoenix: pre-territorial, post-territorial, and the current revitalization of the Phoenix core. Add to the art and history a sprinkling of thought-provoking facts and trivia, and you have a quick-paced hour-and-a-half overview of the growth of downtown in the nation's sixth largest city. In addition to the walking tour, the company also offers a Downtown Phoenix History & Culture Trolley Tour (recommended for summer months when it's too hot to walk) and a Downtown Phoenix Art & Mural Bike Tour. Bring your comfortable walking shoes and your camera!
Note: The guided walking tours may vary the route and the places visited. Some stops might not be available for public access at certain times. All dates and offerings are subject to change without notice.
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Between 1st Street and 2nd Street (those are the streets from which may access the alley), south of Adams and north of Washington.
Public art is flourishing in many parts of the Valley of the Sun, and Downtown Phoenix is definitely a part of the excitement. Locals might not even know about the Alley of the Arts, the transformation of an alley dedicated to trash bins into a public space adorned with bright and meaningful murals painted by local artists. If you aren't careful, you might walk right past it!
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Phoenix Convention Center
2nd Street and Adams
No question that this is one of the premier convention centers in the U.S. Even if you aren't attending a conference here, you might want to pop in and look at some of the art installations, as well as the pictorial depiction of the history of Phoenix. Back outside, look up, and you'll see a round structure atop the Hyatt Regency Phoenix. That's Compass Grill, the only revolving restaurant in Arizona.
You might shudder at the thought of meeting up with a scorpion on your walking tour, but at the corner of 5th Street and Washington, outside the Phoenix Convention Center, you'll find a friendly one, along with a few other Social Invertebrates.
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6th Street and Monroe
The 19th century lives on in Downtown Phoenix, where you can see restored versions of original residences — built before air conditioning! The Rosson House Museum offers docent-led tours that last about an hour. There is a covered, outdoor pavilion, where special events take place. You can also arrange to have your wedding here. Two nationally acclaimed restaurants are located in Heritage Square: Pizzeria Bianco and Nobuo At Teeter House. The Arizona Science Center is just steps away, and is an entertaining and educational stop for both adults and children after your walking tour.
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St Mary's Basilica
3rd Street and Monroe
"St. Mary’s Basilica, named The Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin is the oldest Catholic parish in Phoenix and was the only Catholic parish in Phoenix until 1924....St. Mary’s became the 32nd basilica in the United States." If the church is open to the public while you are on your walk, step inside and take a look at the stunning stained glass windows, and see the plaque that commemorates where Pope John Paul II knelt in prayer during is visit in 1987. If you'd like to spend more time here, for a small fee you may purchase a pamphlet for a self-guided tour. St Mary's Basilica is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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ASU and U of A
On Monroe, between 5th Street and 7th Street
Both major Arizona state universities, Arizona State University (main campus in Tempe) and University of Arizona (main campus in Tucson) have satellite facilities in and around Downtown Phoenix. The Mercado is located just north of Heritage Square. It was originally built as a retail/commercial development, and was subsequently taken over by ASU. The College of Nursing is located here. Other Downtown Phoenix ASU facilities include the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.
On Van Buren, between 5th Street and 7th Street
The U of A is newer to the downtown Phoenix area, and is where the University of Arizona College of Medicine, College of Pharmacy and other health-related fields of study are conducted.
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Light Rail Art
3rd Street and Washington
Valley Metro operates the light rail system in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa. At each station, art has been incorporated to beautify the stations and make transportation more enjoyable for both visitors and residents. In Downtown Phoenix, at the Jefferson Street/First Avenue, station you'll see a dedication to Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman Supreme Court Justice (and Phoenix resident), as part of the Downtown Justice artwork created by Tucson artist Stephen Farley. At the 3rd St./Washington light rail station, take note of the fact that this station has solar panels cooling the station during the summer, and displays of more than 50 art pieces dedicated to Arizona's official state tie.
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1st Street and Adams
The 26 Blocks art project is on display for hotel guests and the general public in the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel's lower lobby until 2018. 26 photographers, 26 writers, and one sculptor collaborated on a celebration of Downtown Phoenix by focusing on the past, present, or imagined future of 26 randomly selected city blocks.
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Hotel San Carlos
Central Avenue and Monroe
Right in the downtown core you'll find one of Arizona's most noted purportedly haunted places. This hotel has been open since 1928, and it is a boutique, one-of-kind property. If you don't mind small rooms and you love vintage, this might be the hotel for you! Even if you don't stay here, you can visit the lobby and get a feel for what Downtown Phoenix was like nearly a century ago. In the fall there are ghost tours conducted here. Is it really haunted? That's for you to decide.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Civic Space Park
Central Avenue and Polk
Civic Space Park is a green area in Downtown Phoenix, a respite from all the high-rise condos, large commercial buildings, sports venues, theaters, and parking lots. It is a public park operated by the City of Phoenix, and is well-utilized by the college students who live and go to school in the area. There are year-round musical events, outdoor movies, food trucks, and other activities for casual gatherings. During the summer there is a free splash pad for the kids. There are plenty of shady areas, access to public transportation, and an oft-photographed sculpture created by artist Janet Echelman; it is illuminated at night, with colors changing with the seasons. The installation of the sculpture was not without controversy!
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Other Places of Interest To Notice on Your Walk
- Talking Stick Resort Arena
1st Street and Jefferson
Originally called America West Arena and then US Airways Center, it is currently the home of the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury, and Arizona Rattlers. Big name concerts and shows are held here.
- Chase Field
Randy Johnson Way (4th Street) and Jefferson
Home of the 2001 World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks. You can take a guided tour of the ballpark year-round, but you must make reservations. There is also a restaurant in right field at Chase Field, Friday's Front Row (part of the TGI Friday's family), that is open to the public 363 days a year with a full bar & restaurant menu. On days when there is no game or event it is open to the public, and you can see any activity (groundskeepers?) that is taking place on the field.
- Symphony Hall
2nd Street and Adams
The Phoenix Symphony, Arizona Opera, and Ballet Arizona call this venue home. It is operated by the City of Phoenix.
From 1st Street to 1st Avenue, and Jefferson to... Washington
CityScape is a multi-use development with retail, restaurants, entertainment, and hotel. Outdoor events often take place here in the grassy area (Patriots Park), including a very popular ice skating rink during the winter holidays. In the summer, kids take advantage of the splash pad.
- Talking Stick Resort Arena
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Some Things to Know Before You Go
Whether you are taking the guided tour, or wandering on your own, there are a few things you should know.
- Parking in Downtown Phoenix is not cheap. If you are visiting the Arizona Science Center, some of your parking fee at the Heritage Square Garage may be waived with ticket validation. People attending mass at St. Mary's Basilica may also be able to park for free at their garage, on 5th Street between Van Buren and Monroe.
- Parking meters are not free on weekends! Payment is required until 10 p.m., 24/7, 365 days of the year. Some of the meters allow only a maximum of one hour parking. Willing to take a chance? Parking time limits are strictly enforced, and a parking ticket might cost you more than $50. You might be able to find street parking, most likely south of the stadiums or west of Central Avenue, if you are willing to add up to half a mile to your walk.
- Valley Metro Rail will get you to the downtown core. It is reasonably priced, and even if you have a car you can use the... free Park-n-Ride lots at many of the stations.
- If you're walking around on your own, and can't find what you are looking for, the Phoenix Visitor Information Center is located at 125 N. 2nd St. Unit 120, at the Phoenix Convention Center West Building, opposite the Hyatt Regency Phoenix.
- During the day, Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors are also on the prowl, looking for people who need directions, advice or assistance. They are usually riding around on bicycles. Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors headquarters is located on the southeast corner of Central Avenue and Washington Street at CityScape.
- About Our Streets
Central Avenue is the dividing point between east and west in Phoenix. The north/south streets are numbered, starting with E. 1st St., E. 2nd Street, E. 3rd Street and so on. West of Central Avenue are numbered avenues, starting with W. 1st Ave., W. 2nd Ave., W. 3rd Ave. and so on. Streets are on the east, avenues are on the west.
- An address that is 110 E. XXXX Street, would be between 1st Street and 2nd Street on XXXX, closer to 1st Street. An address that is 650 E. XXXX would be between 6th Street and 7th Street on XXXX, but closer to 7th Street.
- An address that is 110 W. XXXX, would be between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue on XXXX, closer to 1st Avenue. An address that is 650 W. XXXX would be between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue on XXXX, but closer to 7th Avenue.
- You'll notice that the east/west streets in Downtown Phoenix are all named for U.S. Presidents. Unfortunately, there is no order to how those streets were named, so knowing the order of our Presidents won't help you find the street!
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Is That All? Nope.
The points of interest that are included on the walking tour outlines here are generally east of Central Avenue, but if you have the energy to keep going after your guided tour, or want to extend your self-guided walk, here are a few more points of interest on the west side that I recommend:
- Phoenix Police Museum
200 W. Jefferson St., on the 1st floor of Historic City Hall Phoenix
Free admission. See full-size vehicles and get historical timelines about the department. The museum also includes a memorial to fallen officers. I estimate that most people would spend about 30 to 45 minutes to explore the museum. Yes, there's a gift shop, too.
- Wells Fargo History Museum
Between 1st and 2nd Avenues on Adams, in the Wells Fargo Plaza Building
Free admission. Exhibits include a gallery of western art, historical photographs and prints, relics and historic documents, an authentic 19th century stagecoach (no touching) and a replica stagecoach (touch it all you'd like!).
- Orpheum Theatre
2nd... Avenue and Adams
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this theatre first opened here in 1929. While it is nice to walk by, the beauty is on the inside, and free tours are offered with a reservation.
- Arizona Capitol Museum
17th Avenue and Washington
Free admission. This is in the government complex, a bit away from the downtown core, but it is a wonderful museum for those that want to learn about the history of Arizona, from territorial days to current era. This was the actual state capitol building when Arizona became the 48th state of the United State in 1912. You can find free parking here. If you are in Downtown Phoenix, and don't have a car, you can use the free Phoenix DASH at Central Station (Civic Space Park) to get here.
- Wesley Bolin Plaza
17th Avenue and Washington
Free admission. This is an outdoor space directly across from the Arizona Capitol Museum. Designated a Phoenix Point of Pride, there are several memorials here, including a 9-11 Memorial. You can find free parking here. If you are in Downtown Phoenix, and don't have a car, you can use the free Phoenix DASH at Central Station (Civic Space Park) to get here.
- If you are simply interested in walking or running for exercise, and you are free on a Monday evening, Downtown Phoenix has the perfect solution. It's called Meet Me Downtown. Every Monday evening people of all ages are invited to walk/run for fitness and to enjoy the downtown experience. Check in to register and you may have your parking validated. It's 3.3 miles, with a 1.8 extension for runners. Discounts on restaurants, social interaction, and prizes may ensue! You won't get any guided-tour tidbits, but you'll walk past many of the points of interest mentioned here. Want to stop somewhere and have a snack? Want to veer off the suggested route? Have kids? Have a dog? It's all good.
All dates, times, prices and offerings are subject to change without notice.
- Phoenix Police Museum