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INSIDE: Surprisingly vibrant and walkable, we share a whole list of things to do Phoenix downtown–you won’t even need a car!

For years I thought of Phoenix as a “region.” Great weather & spectacular scenery? Sure. But a city? With a traditional downtown? Not so much. Then I went to a concert, expecting to leave right afterward, and discovered something unexpected . . .

Downtown Phoenix was hopping-there were people everywhere, out and about, walking around and having a great time. Wait, WHAT???

It was time to give the downtown “city” part of Phoenix a closer look.

Downtown Phoenix Arizona: It’s a (real) Thing

Clearly I had taken my eye off the ball regarding what was going on in the state’s largest city (and its capital). In recent years, Phoenix has committed to redeveloping its urban corridor to offer more experiences to both business and leisure travelers.

Translation: there’s lots of cool stuff in downtown Phoenix. And you can walk to it all.

It’s not just the “big things,” like the Convention Center, baseball stadium and basketball arena. Those are great, but not enough to create a downtown atmosphere. You could drive to an event, then go home afterwards.

To be a true downtown you need more. Specifically . . . people.

Woman in a hat holding up a microbrew in downtown phoenix
Megan Greenwood of Greenwood Brewing celebrates walkable downtown Phoenix Photo by Jenny Dupuis

Tons of new apartments and condos have sprouted up in recent years. Which means people are living downtown. And where people live, they shop, eat, and just plain do stuff.

Which makes being in downtown Phoenix fun.

And it’s all within walking distance, so you even get a little exercise in the process. (Which in my mind totally justifies stopping for a cookie! 🍪)

We’ve put together a guide of what to do in downtown Phoenix to get you started. Whether you’re looking to shop in funky boutiques, discover some history, or just enjoy the Arizona sunshine with a refreshing microbrew, you’ll find it here.

Next time you’re coming to town for a convention, or even just in from the ‘burbs to catch a Diamondbacks game, take some time to explore downtown Phoenix. It’ll be worth the trip.

Things to do Phoenix Downtown: Live Performances

Downtown Phoenix is no slouch in the live performance scene. From bass-thumping rock or hip-hop to an elegant ballet to live theater, Phoenix runs the gamut for creative entertainment. 🎸💃🏻

Every night is a unique artistic experience, where passion and creativity take center stage. Check out these terrific venues to find your performance of choice.

1. Footprint Center

An anchor in downtown Phoenix, the Footprint Center arena delivers an electrifying fusion of entertainment, sporting action, and local culture.

In addition to year-round sporting events (see below), this arena host an ever-changing array of BIG events. Whether it’s the Ringling Brothers circus, Tim McGraw or Megan Thee Stallion, there’s something heart-stopping for fans of all ages and tastes.

Attending an event at the Footprint Center can form the lynchpin for your exploration of Phoenix’s downtown scene.

2. Arizona Financial Theater

Despite the confusing name (they do NOT put on plays about mortgages 🙃), the Arizona Financial Theatre offers up a great lineup of all sorts of entertainment.

This 5,000 seat entertainment venue is equipped with state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment. I like to think of it as either an “intimate arena” or a “whompin’ big theater.”

This is the place to see comedy acts like Bret Goldstein and Bill Burr and multiple music genres, including latin, hip-hop, rock and country. You can even attend boxing matches here! 🥊

3. Phoenix Symphony Hall

If you’re craving a little high culture, Phoenix Symphony Hall will fix you up right.

This spectacular venue serves as home to a myriad of renowned organizations, including the illustrious Phoenix Symphony—the Southwest’s largest full-time symphony orchestra—as well as the Arizona Opera and Ballet Arizona.

Ballet dancers at Phoenix Symphony hall-one of the more cultural things to do Phoenix downtown
Attending a ballet is one of the more cultural things to do Phoenix downtown Photo: Ballet Arizona

READ NEXT: 21 Authentic Foods of Arizona You’ll want to Try

4. Herberger Theater Center

The Herberger Theater Center, serves as a cultural hub offering an immersive live arts experience. This captivating hive of creativity showcases a wide variety performance genres, encapsulating the city’s thriving arts scene. Events include thought-provoking plays, musicals an interactive art exhibitions.

For a change of pace (and budget ) try out the Lunch Time Theater program: One-act plays lasting 45 to 50 minutes, with tickets at $10 each, PLUS guests can bring a lunch (or pre-order one from the Herberger Theater’s caterer when ordering tickets.) Now that’s a great deal!

5. The Orpheum Theater

Every great city needs a grand old theater in it’s repertoire. The Orpheum Theater fits that bill for downtown Phoenix. It opened in January 1929, at the peak of the Roaring 20s-no expense was spared. The massive stage made it a popular stop for traveling vaudeville shows that changed weekly back in the day.

The elegant 1920s interior of the Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix
The elegant interior of the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix dates from the 1920s

This historic performance arts venue is a bit of an architectural show-off with its magnificent Italian Renaissance Revival design. It even had an early form of air conditioning!

Today the Orpheum plays host to a diverse range of performances that cater to every artistic taste. Performances range from the mesmerizing Broadway musical Wicked to showings of vintage silent films accompanied by live orchestra. The Orpheum Theater is indeed a crowning jewel in Phoenix’s vibrant arts scene.

6. The Van Buren

People standing in a music venue waiting for a concert to begin
The Van Buren offers an intimate spot to see live music in downtown Phoenix

If you’re looking for something a bit more intimate and edgy in the heart of downtown Phoenix, the Van Buren might just fit the bill.

Originally built in 1939 as an automotive showroom for the Phoenix Motor Company, it was repurposed into an eclectic music venue in 2017. Recent performances include Grammy-nominated artist, Leon Bridges, and indie rock band, The Arctic Monkeys, showcasing the Van Buren’s commitment to diverse and high-caliber entertainment.

Click here for upcoming events at the Van Buren.

7. The Crescent Ballroom

Part live performance venue, part Southwestern scratch kitchen, the Crescent Ballroom provides entertainment and sustenance at the western end of Phoenix’s downtown in a historic setting.

exterior view of the crescent ballroom in downtown phoenix, with people eating at outdoor tables
The Crescent Ballroom features live music & great Southwestern grub (Photo An T. Pham)

Housed in the F.L. Hart Garage, which was built in 1917, it sits along the original Dixie Overland Highway, more commonly known as US Highway 80. As a member of the inaugural class of US highways commissioned in 1926 [the same “class” as its neighbor to the north, Route 66], US 80 ran through Phoenix along Van Buren Street.

This route was often referred to as the “Broadway of America,” with motor lodges and automobile garages, catering to tourists. Today, the Crescent Ballroom showcases a wide variety of live music and related activities.

And the Arizona tapas, margaritas and more at onsite Cocina 10 are a welcome treat for a hungry wayfarer! 🌮🍹

What to do in Downtown Phoenix with Kids 🧒🏻🧒🧒🏽

Ignite your child’s curiosity with engaging museums, interactive exhibits, captivating live events, lush parks, and more. Designed for their endless amusement, downtown Phoenix has fun-filled adventure awaiting in every corner. Create unforgettable memories with these things to do Phoenix downtown today!

8. Valley Youth Theater

group of children putting on a play-things to do phoenix downtown
Potential future Oscar winners (photo: Robert Kneschke)

The Valley Youth Theater cultivates raw talent into masterful, world-renowned performers. This hub of artistic excellence proudly counts award-winning artists like Jordan Sparks and Emma Stone among its notable alumni.

Fun for kids and grownups alike, catch a performance at the VYT and you might just get a glimpse of a future Oscar winner. You can say, “I saw them when they were just a kid!”

9. Arizona Science Center (and Create! Annex)

Tweens in front of a giant mock-up of skin at Arizona Science Center
Arizona Science Center, (photo by Brad Olson)

Encourage your child’s curiosity (or your own!) at Arizona Science Center, featuring over 350 interactive exhibits.

Dive into the mind-bending Dorrance Planetarium or traverse the simulated Mars landscape. In the Create! annex, innovate with hands-on learning in design, 3D printing, and robotics.

My husband is not usually a “science guy,” but he definitely engaged with the Under the Hood, Engineered by Subaru! exhibit. He got to get up close and personal with a Boxer engine, and then “test-drive” wooden Subaru model cars on a track. Boys will be boys. 👦🏻👦🏻

The Science Center also offers a series of adults-only events, called “Science with a Twist.” These include a happy hour 🍸 along with an adults-oriented science program.

10. Children’s Museum of Phoenix

Who wouldn’t want to play in the Noodle Forest?

Housed in a beautifully restored, historic school building, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix offers engaging, interactive exhibits for children to learn through play.

Popular attractions like the Noodle Forest, the Climber, and the Art Studio captivate children’s imaginations, fostering curiosity and creativity. This award-winning museum encourages hands-on exploration and discovery, providing delightful experiences for young minds and making it a must-visit destination for family fun and learning.

11. Go on a City Mural Scavanger Hunt

Experience the vibrant street art throughout downtown Phoenix. This colorful explosion of creativity transforms buildings into kaleidoscopic canvases featuring everything from sprawling surreal landscapes to enchanting abstract pieces.

(I like to see if I can incorporate someone into the scene . . . see my husband, who has become “one with the cactus,” below 🤣)

man standing in front of cactus mural in downtown Phoenix
See if you can become part of the street art in Phoenix downtown murals

This interactive open-air museum provides a fun, educational activity for kids, provoking discussions about art and expression. Explore the dynamic world of Phoenix street art, where imagination meets urban landscape.

Delve into local History

Although downtown Phoenix is vibrant and modern, the area is rich with history. Snippets of the city’s (and the state’s) past are hiding in plain sight for anyone curious enough to take a peek.

Anyone with an interest in the past should include these on their list of things to do Phoenix downtown.

12. Heritage Square Walk

Take a peek at Phoenix’s vibrant Victorian Past at Heritage Square. Located on Block 14 of the original townsite of Phoenix, the Square dates back to the late 1800s.

Embark on a fascinating walking tour, which showcases the evolving history of the Phoenix area. From the pithouses of the Ancestral Sonoran Desert Peoples to the construction of the 1895 Rosson House and beyond, this walk will teach you much about how the city of the past shaped the downtown Phoenix of today.

13. Rosson House Museum

The crown jewel of Heritage Square, the Rosson House Museum, is preserved Victorian-era beauty that brings the past to life. Uncover Phoenix’s rich history with guided tours through the authentically-restored rooms.

Be transported back to the late 1800s as expert guides weave tales of past residents and the city’s early days. Explore Rosson House Museum, where every corner whispers untold stories.

14. Arizona Capitol Museum

Arizona Capitol building in downtown Phoenix
The Arizona Capitol Museum, walking distance to downtown Phoenix (photo © Corbis)

As the state’s capital, Phoenix holds treasures not just from the city’s past, but from all of Arizona as well.

This free museum, which is housed in the original Capitol building, provides an excellent glimpse into all facets of Arizona History-including from when it was just the “Arizona Territory.”

Explore four floors of interactive exhibits, antique artifacts, and historical records that weave a rich tapestry of statewide heritage. From early Native American origins to the ground-breaking Buffalo Soldiers to present-day politics, the museum offers a captivating journey through time.

✻The museum is located adjacent to the Arizona State Senate and House of Representatives. If you’re lucky (or you time it right), one of the houses will be in session and you can pop in and observe State Government at work.

15. Bolin Memorial Plaza

Bolin Memorial Plaza, located in a sprawling park just east of the historic state Capitol building, brings history to life through its captivating monuments.

man standing in front of giant anchor from USS Arizona (sunk at Pearl Harbor)
The anchor from the USS Arizona is a poignant memorial from the Pearl Harbor attack

A collection of stirring tributes such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, remind us of heroic stories and sacrifices. Unique attractions include artifacts from the USS Arizona (sunk during the Pearl Harbor attack), which provide a tangible connection to our past.

This memorial plaza is not just a place, but a journey through time, commemorating those who dedicated their lives for our freedom.

16. Phoenix Police Museum

old western Arizona marshall brass badge, surrounded by vintage bullets and rifle
Learn about law enforcement history from the Arizona Marshalls to modern CSI techniques at the Phoenix Police Museum photo by zim286

Experience the history of regional law enforcement at the Phoenix Police Museum, showcasing a rich collection of vintage police vehicles, artifacts, and memorabilia. It’s got a fitting location, set in the old City Hall.

Highlights include the exhibits through time, beginning with Phoenix’s first Marshall and jail, through the Arizona Rangers of the wild west, all the way up the sophisticated C.S.I. techniques of present day. Of particular note is the Phoenix connection to our famous “Miranda Rights:” Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix in 1963.

Kids will love that chance to try on a police uniform & get their own (sticker) badge to take home. Learn more at Phoenix Police Museum.

Be a Sport -Watch a Game . . . Right Downtown!

Experience exhilarating professional sports just steps away from downtown Phoenix. Thrilling games, outstanding athletes, all within easy reach of urban amenities. Your unforgettable sports journey starts here.

17. Pro Basketball Year Round at the Footprint Center 🏀

If you love hoops, you can spend just about every month of the year at the Footprint Center.

In winter & spring, the NBA’s Phoenix Suns take to the court, with heart-stopping shots, adrenaline-fueled dribbles, and astounding blocks.

Watch pro basketball year round at the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix

Then, before you’ve had a chance to say “time out,” the ladies of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury 🔥 are swishing threes and setting up sweet layups. (And if you’ve been following women’s college basketball lately, you know that these gals can play!)

No matter which team you follow, you’re sure to be in for an electrifying atmosphere, packed with athletic thrills and off-court spectacle.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field ⚾️

Experience the exhilaration of Arizona Diamondbacks baseball at Chase Field.

Little kid cheering at a baseball game at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix
Root, root, root for the home team right in downtown Phoenix

Perfectly positioned in downtown Phoenix, this extraordinary stadium offers more than just a game. Its innovative retractable roof provides year-round comfort for spectators, making every a memorable experience.

Listen to the crack of the bats and cheer on the D-backs through spring, summer and fall. Be captivated by the raw energy, immerse yourself in the excitement, and feel the pulse of the city’s heart as it beats in rhythm with the home team’s performance. Chase Field delivers exceptional baseball, up close and personal.

Enjoy the Funky Neighborhood Vibe on Roosevelt Row

Roosevelt Row runs along Roosevelt Ave. on the northern end of Phoenix downtown and is a vibrant epicenter of art, culture, and community.

Experience its innovative galleries, inspiring murals, delectable restaurants, and trendy shops. Fostering creativity and diversity, this walkable urban district is a fascinating fusion of historical charm and modern chic.

mural at the entrance to Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix

Roosevelt Row is downtown Phoenix’s walkable arts district, home to art galleries, restaurants, bars and boutique shops in a landscape dotted by colorful street art.

19. First Fridays Art Walk in Downtown Phoenix

Experience Phoenix’s creative soul at the First Fridays Art Walk , which runs all along Roosevelt Row. The first Friday of every month the street becomes a kaleidoscope of color (and culture!) with artwork, music and crafts at every turn.

People shopping for art at street fair on roosevelt row, phoenix
First Fridays on Roosevelt Row

Ignite your senses and explore local artists’ unique expressions. Experience art in motion, in vision, in sound. Don’t just see art, live it.

20. Shop for Chic and Funky Goods

shelves at a shop filled with artisan pieces of pottery and prints in downtown phoenix
One-of-a-kind items by local artisans at Made Art Boutique

You’ll find unique blend of niche boutiques and eclectic shops along Roosevelt Row.

Made Art Boutique showcases one-of-a-kind works from local artisans and craftspeople (okay, I’m fessing up on my fascination for funky earrings here 😊). Whether you’re searching for handcrafted jewelry, hand-drawn notecards or unique pottery pieces you’ll find them here.

Dialog is the go-to spot for high-end home design, while Straw and Wool is the place to go for absolutely stunning hats.

This strip is a haven for the artsy, fashion-forward, and design-savvy. It’s a great place to shop if you’re looking for something that’s beautiful AND unique.

21. Sip your Beverage of Choice 🍺 ☕️🍸

As your ambling down Roosevelt, shopping for cool stuff and admiring the murals, there are plenty of spots to stop and “refresh yourself.” And there is variety . . . so you can opt for your cocktail, brew, coffee, or even mocktail of choice.

Watch the world go by with an artisan microbrew at either woman-owned Greenwood Brewing (that’s owner Megan Greenwood hoisting a glass at the top of the post!), Pedal Brewhaus or Wilderness Brewing, all of which are locally owned. 🍺

Image of a non-alcoholic cocktail alongside a cup of cappuccino
A unique selection of non-alcoholic cocktails and coffees at dialog. (Photos: dialog, Getty Images)

Enjoy your latte or macchiato . . . or chai in the soothing setting of Songbird Coffee & Tea House (plus their housemade pastries are definitely worth a stop!) Or go for the coffee & cocktails setting at Kahvi Coffee & Cafe.

If you prefer to stay completely alert, check out the unique “zero-proof” bar at Dialog (yep, the same folks listed above as carrying swanky home furnishings.) In addition to a selection of coffee & tea, they serve a unique selection of non-alcoholic beverages, including craft cocktails, wines and beers.

Nibble, Munch or Chow Down in Downtown Phoenix

Prepare yourself for a day of exploration of things to do Phoenix downtown by fueling up at one of many unique eateries in this district. Whether it’s breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner (or my hubby’s favorite: a snack), the restaurants of downtown Phoenix have got you covered.

PRO TIP: Take a Food Tour of Downtown Phoenix . . . you’ll get to sample some yummy treats while walking by many of the historic sites listed here!

Here are a few tasty samples (see what I did there? 😉):

22. Snag a Whompin’ Breakfast 🍳

overhead view of a restaurant breakfast, with eggs, potatoes, coffee in downtown phoenix
Ready for anything after this! (photo by Matt’s Big Breakfast)

Get the perfect start to your day of exploring things to do Phoenix downtown with a monumental morning meal.

Try Matt’s Big Breakfast for the “chop & chick” (shown above) or indulge in fluffy blueberry pancakes. At Breakfast Bitch, enjoy a lil’ bit o’ sass with your avocado toast and an iced caramel macchiato.

No matter what you choose, these spots will have you fueled up for the day!

23. Sample some Legendary Pizza 🍕

Pizzeria Bianco, in Phoenix’s Heritage Square District, is one of the city’s culinary gems. It’s right here-at this humble spot in the Heritage Square District-that artisan pizza in American became a thing.

Margherita pizza topped with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil at pizzeria bianco
The “OG” of artisan pizza in America

Established by James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Bianco, its artisanal pizzas are revered. From the Margherita’s sweet tomato finish to the Rosa’s tantalizing blend of Parmigiano-Reggiano and red onions, it charts a historic journey of Italian cuisine, redefined by the Arizona landscape.

Snagging a pie at Pizzeria Bianco is a way of merging 19th- and 21st-century downtown Phoenix together.

24. Get Crusty at Cornish Pasty Company

Everything tastes better wrapped in flaky pasty crust (photo by Andrew1Norton)

There’s just something about wrapping food in a yummy, flaky crust to make it taste even better. Enter the Cornish pasty: a handheld, crimped pastry, brimming with hearty fillings, which originated in Cornwall, England.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with downtown Phoenix? It turns out, plenty.

Owned by natives of Corwall, Cornish Pasty Company does a bang-up job of bringing that Cornish tradition to the valley of the Sun. With over 40 varieties to choose from, the menu caters to every palate. Savory offerings range from the traditional steak and potatoes to the exotic Moroccan-spiced lamb. Sweet pasties, like tangy apple or opulent chocolate, are the perfect finales to an epicurean adventure.

I also have it on good authority that the peanut butter & jelly with banana dessert pasty is delish (she said as she wiped the crumbs off the side of her mouth 🫢😍).

They make the pasties right next door–for a little foodie adventure, you can watch them rolling and crimping before or after your meal.

25. Go Local at the Churchill

people dining at the Churchill food hall Roosevelt Row downtown Phoenix
Eat (& shop) local at The Churchill (photo by Visit-PhoenixAn-Pham)

Can’t decide what to eat? Check out The Churchill.

Part food hall, part shopping destination, and overall neighborhood gathering spot, The Churchill showcases local businesses from downtown Phoenix in a communal environment, fostering a neighborhood atmosphere. Its mission revolves around promoting sustainability, education, and community growth.

Options abound, from satisfying pizza at Freak Bros. to nutritious acai bowls at InFruition to burgers & bagels at Stoop Kid. You might want to save room for a deep-dish cookie sundae (yes, I did say cookie and sundae in the same sentence 🍪🍨!) at The Scookie Bar.

Find ways to relax and chill

If all the excitement of things to do Phoenix downtown has you itching for a little peace and quiet, we’ve go some ideas for that too.

Explore these options to unwind at the end of a busy day-or just find some serenity in the midst of a bustling city.

26. Japanese Friendship Garden

Immerse yourself in an calming oasis at the Japanese Friendship Garden. 🌸

Japanese garden with statue, bonsai and water in downtown phoenix.
Serenity amidst the bustle of downtown Phoenix (photo courtesy Japanese Friendship Garden)

With meticulously manicured landscapes, tranquil waterfalls, and vibrant koi ponds, it’s a beautifully crafted haven offering a peaceful escape in the middle of the day.

Discover tranquility and embrace cultural enrichment in this picturesque Zen sanctuary, just a block or two away from the city’s bustle.

27. Sip from on high at a Rooftop Bar

cocktail at a rooftop bar with downtown phoenix in background
Sip something special at a rooftop bar high atop downtown Phoenix (photo courtesy Visit Phoenix)

Phoenix’s spectacular weather makes doing anything outside a no-brainer–particularly as the sun begins to set. What better way to celebrate the end of a busy day (or start off a fab evening) than with something sippable at a rooftop bar?

There are several hotels who have made the most of their upper stories. Check out the Eden Rooftop Bar at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar, Floor 13 atop the Hilton Garden Inn, or From the Rooftop at the Cambria Downtown.

No matter which you choose, sipping something special high above the bustle of downtown Phoenix is a fitting way to unwind after the day’s adventures. (I might add that it’s also a fun spot to watch the planes taking off and landing at PHX. But then, I’m a plane-spotting geek 🛫🤓)

Conclusion

From art and culture to food and entertainment, downtown Phoenix has it all. These 27 experiences are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring this vibrant city center. Make sure to add these to your itinerary and discover even more amazing things to do in Phoenix’s downtown core.

What are your favorite things to do Phoenix downtown? Hit the “contact us” button & let us know–we’ll add it to the list! And don’t forget to share this post with your friends and family who are planning a trip to Phoenix.

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Inside: Curious about the foods of Arizona? We share Mexican classics, Native American traditional foods, and new Arizona famous foods to try. YUM!

No matter where we travel, we always like to try local foods. It provides an added dimension on the area’s history, plus you get good eats . . . a win-win! One of the reasons we love Arizona is the strong food culture here.

Arizona’s rich culinary tapestry is woven with Mexican influences, Native American traditions, and modern classics, creating a foodie landscape that is as diverse as it is delicious. From ancient staple dishes to modern twists on classics, these foods of Arizona match it’s stunning scenery. Some might even surprise you.

Listed below you’ll find 21 foods Arizona is known for. Savoring any (or all! 🤩) of these will make any Arizona Journey taste even better (note clever way of inserting name of website here 😉).

Foods of Arizona: Exploring the Mexican Influences

There’s no denying that foods in Arizona have a strong Mexican influence. As you dive into the food scene here, you’ll quickly discover that Mexican flavors permeate everything, from street food stalls to upscale restaurants. Over time, it has evolved and adapted, incorporating ingredients and techniques from different regions and cultures.

The Mexican influence in Arizona’s food scene is a testament to the historical ties between the two regions and the cultural exchange that has taken place over the years. And while tacos 🌮 are certainly something you’ll find (as you’ll see in #5 below) , there’s more. Much more 🤩.

1. Sonoran Hot Dogs: an Arizona Famous Food

tray of sonoran hot dogs
A tray of Sonoran hot dogs-one of the signature foods of Arizona.

One of the most iconic Mexican dishes you’ll find in Arizona is the Sonoran hot dog. Even though it’s a newer arrival to the Arizona food scene, it’s certainly a rising star 🤩. In fact, it’s the only hot dog in America to be associated with a James Beard Award (Daniel Contreras, owner of El Guero Canelo, a hot dog mini-empire in Tucson).

This mouthwatering creation combines a juicy hot dog wrapped in bacon (an auspicious start!) nestled in a soft bolillo roll, topped with pinto beans, diced tomatoes, onions, mustard, mayonnaise, and a drizzle of jalapeno sauce. It’s a delicious blend of flavors that perfectly represents the fusion of Mexican and American culinary traditions and is now a staple on the foods of Arizona list. 🌭🇲🇽

  • Where to find Sonoran Hot Dogs: All over Tucson. See our post about the Sonoran Hot Dog for a comprehensive list.

2. Chimichangas: Traditional Arizona Food at its Best

plate with chimichanga, rice and beans, one of the most famous foods of arizona
The chimichanga was a “happy accident” that has become one of the most famous foods of Arizona (Photo by Getty Images)

The chimichanga is a happy accident: someone accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep fryer and created of the yummiest foods Arizona is known for. It’s typically filled with shredded beef or chicken, cheese, and beans, and then topped with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. Yes, please! 😋

The origin of the first Chimichanga is disputed: both El Charro Cafe (in Tucson) and Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen (in Phoenix) claim to be the first one to drop a burrito into the fryer, making them home to the first chimichanga. What no one disputes is that the Chimichanga was created in Arizona.

And no one disputes that they are muy delicioso! Be sure to try this Arizona famous food on your next visit.

  • Where to find Chimichangas: El Charro (4 locations in Tucson); Macayo’s Mexican Food (13 locations in greater Phoenix), and most other traditional Mexican restaurants.

3. Birria & Quesabirria Tacos

Deliciously rich birria, a traditional Mexican dish, has definitively marked its territory on the Arizona food map. This tantalizing slow-cooked beef is marinated in a medley of robust spices before braising to perfect tenderness. The resulting broth is also a joy to behold (and savor!).

quesabirria taco with broth and lime at Rollies Mexican Patio in Tucson
Rollie’s quesabirria taco with luscious slow-cooked broth for dipping . . . yea-ahhhh

Quesabirria tacos elevate this classic by folding the juicy, flavorful birria into a crispy seared corn tortilla with generous portions of melted cheese, topped with chopped onions and cilantro. (I told you tacos would show up on this list, didn’t I? 🌮)

This mouthwatering hybrid has truly encapsulated the hearts (and stomachs!) of Arizonians, cementing its status as on of the must-try foods Arizona is known for.

4. Carne Seca/Machaca

Platter of carne seca with rice, beans and limes, tradtional arizona food
Carne Seca at El Charro Cafe (Photo courtesy of Yelp)

Carne Seca (which is also known as Machaca) is a desert-dried beef delicacy, similar to beef jerky. It owes its unique flavor to the traditional drying process that includes air-drying the thinly sliced beef and a whole bunch of robust southwestern seasonings. (The Arizona sunshine doesn’t hurt either 😎.)

The resulting meat is super-tasty, sort of like a Mexican flavor concentrate. It’s used in dishes across the state, from hearty stews to spicy burritos . . . even topped on salads. Enjoying carne seca is experiencing Arizona’s heritage in every delicious bite.

Many classic Mexican restaurants serve carne seca/machaca; no foods of Arizona list is complete without it! You can also find it packaged at many carnicerias (meat markets) if you’d like to take it home to make your own goodies.

5. Tacos Rasurado

close up of taco rasurado from tacos apson-authentic foods of arizona
Grilled, juicy, meaty, messy . . . delicious! Taco Rasurado from Tacos Apson in Tucsonone of the foods of Arizona you really must try.

Time for some “taco math.” Tacos = good. Mesquite-grilled beef ribs = better. Tacos + mesquite-grilled beef ribs = WOWZA!!! 😲 (where is the “chef’s kiss” emoji when you need it?!)

That’s Tacos Rasurado: shaved rib meat on a warm corn tortilla, with a grilled chile along side. Salsa it up to your heart’s content. It’s a taco on an entirely new level.

Tacos Rasurado isn’t just a meal, it’s a tantalizing taste of Tucson tradition, passionately served, and one of the foods of Arizona worth seeking out. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this video from America’s Test Kitchen . . . I dare you not to drool! 🤤

  • Where to find Tacos Rasurado: Tacos Apson in Tucson (2 location) . . . featured in the video above.

6. Flour Tortillas

Flour tortillas are essential ingredients in such yummy mexican treats as burritos and chimichangas (see #2 above). And they have their origins in the Sonoran Desert, fully cementing them as one of the foods of Arizona.

uncooked flour tortilla on board dusted with flour, underneath rolling pin. Cooked flour tortilla in the background. Traditional Arizona food
Flour tortillas are traditionally unique to the Sonoran desert, one of the more historic foods of Arizona (Getty images)

The Spanish colonizers brought wheat with them as a crop when they came to the region 500 years ago. And the rest, as they say, is history. What began as a convenient winter crop has morphed into a staple of the Sonoran style of Mexican cooking. And it is definitely a traditional Arizona food.

Naturally they’re great when wrapped around burrito or chimichanga fixings. But they’re also pretty darned good warmed up and served with a little butter. Just sayin’ 😉.

  • Where to find authentic local flour tortillas: Tortillas Rosario in Phoenix; Alejandro’s Tortilla Factory in Tucson; also most carnicerias will carry these brands. (But if you go to the main stores you can get ’em while they’re still warm 🥰.)

7. Cheese Crisp

The cheese crisp, is a traditional Arizona food that’s especially popular in Tucson. (It’s also a fave of Tucson native Linda Ronstadt!) Essentially an open-faced quesadilla (but super-crispy!), it is a perfect fusion of its Mexican ancestry and American innovation.

This enticing dish is crafted with a large, open-faced flour tortilla, generously sprinkled with cheddar cheese, broiled to perfection.

Green chile cheese crisp at El Minuto in Tucson-Foods of Arizona
Just a lil’ bit o’ green chiles on El Minuto’s Cheese Crisp. . .perfecto! 😋

The tantalizingly crispy edges and gooey center offer a mouthwatering feast of textures. Some folks (me! ✋) like to add green chiles or (small amounts of meat) to give it some zing. The key is to not overload it with too much stuff on top, it will collapse and lose its signature crisp!

  • Where to find Cheese Crisp: El Minuto (Linda Ronstadt’s go-to when she’s in town); most other full-service Mexican restaurants in Tucson serve this classic in the foods of Arizona annals.

8. Santa Cruz Red Chile Powder

Exotic and flavor-packed, Santa Cruz Chili Powder is one of Arizona’s culinary treasures. It’s made from just one ingredient: anaheim chiles 🌶️, picked at the peak of ripeness, then dried and ground into this flavor-packed powder.

Arizona chefs and home cooks alike love this powder (including yours truly!), because it forms the basis for any proprietary chili blend. It invigorates any dish with its warm, robust flavor profile (although it’s not spicy–you can add that as part of your proprietary blend 😉).

This is one of the foods of Arizona you can experience no matter where you’re located. Grab a container of this classic chili powder, and create a taste of Arizona right at home.

  • Where to find Sant Cruz Red Chili Powder: Grocery stores throughout Arizona; mail order from Amazon.

Unearthing Native American Staple Dishes: Traditional Arizona Food

Table showing an array of native american ingredients in baskets
Native American ingredients form the basis of many of the foods of Arizona today (Getty images)

Mexican-inspired street food offers a burst of flavors and textures in Arizona, but the state’s culinary landscape got its start long before that.

The foods of Arizona also encompass an array of Native American staple dishes. Just looking at all the ancient structures in Arizona, such as Montezuma Castle, tells you that this area has been populated for millennia.

Drawing on the land’s natural resources, Native American cuisine in Arizona is a testament to sustainability and the deep connection between the people and their environment 🏜️. Many of the foods of Arizona as we know them today have their roots in Native American traditions.

9. Tamales

Although typically associated with Mexican food, the origin of tamales is traced all the way back to 7,000 B.C. in the Aztec empire. Tamales are a harmonious blend of corn dough, seasoned meat, and aromatic spices, all neatly enveloped in a corn husk.

Cutting board piled high with tamales, with avocado, lime and salsa in the foreground. native american food
Commonly associated with Mexican cooking today, tamales are one of the foods of Arizona with Native American roots (Getty Images)

When the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, this versatile and staple dish was already here. Over time tamales were absorbed into the Mexican culture throughout the Southwest US.

Tamales are a eaten all year long, but they are also a traditional Arizona food at Christmas🎄. Families gather together to prepare large batches of tamales to serve on Christmas Eve.

This delicately steamed delicacy exudes a richness that immerses the palate in a symphony of flavors. Although you can purchase frozen tamales many places (including Trader Joe’s), it’s not the same as freshly-made. (Think of the frozen pizza vs. fresh from the pizzeria comparison 🍕!)

Try a bit of of evolutionary food history on your next trip to Arizona with some authentic tamales. You’ll sample a bit of Native American and Mexican culture in every bite 😋.

10. Native American Frybread

bubbly native american frybread in foreground, with woman's hand turning frybread in background; native american foods of arizona
Despite a complex history, frybread is one of the key Native American foods of Arizona

One iconic staple is Native American frybread (also known as Navajo frybread) a delicious creation born out of necessity during times of scarcity. (And, frankly, some shameful acts by the government.)

But the resourceful Navajo (or Diné) people persevered, and frybread is one of the results.

Made from simple ingredients like flour, water, salt, and baking powder, this golden and fluffy bread is typically fried until crispy and served either plain or topped with a combination of sweet or savory toppings.

Its versatility makes it a popular choice as the base for many Native American-inspired dishes, such as Indian tacos or Navajo burgers. (But served with honey or cinnamon-sugar is pretty fabulous too! 🍯)

READ NEXT: Things to do in Downtown Phoenix

11. Posole

overhead shot of posole with pork, avocado, hominy and radish-foods of arizona
Colorful and hearty pozole has Native American roots (photo courtesy Pozoleria)

Posole, a traditional Native American stew of corn and pork, has also been commingled with Mexican food culture (where it is often spelled pozole).

This heartwarming stew, often enjoyed during celebrations, is a blend of harmonious flavors. Hominy, which is large, puffy corn kernels (that have been soaked for HOURS) forms the basis of this bracing dish.

Like the Native American peoples themselves, posole predates state (and federal) borders. As a result, posole can be found throughout the southwest, with slightly different flavor profiles. As a traditional Arizona food, the broth tends to be clear, with a robust chile zing.

Posole is often a weekend special on restaurant menus, and it’s worth trying when available. With each spoonful, you can taste the generations of history and the reverence for the land that this dish represents.

12. Tepary Beans

Side by side images of dried white and brown tepary beans, in packaging by Ramona Farms
Drought resistant tepary beans have been prized by the native peoples of Arizona for centuries for their nutritional benefits

Tepary Beans, a cherished Native American food, are a powerhouse of nutrition. Long prized for their drought-resistance, these tough little beans become amazingly creamy and flavorful when cooked.

Holding a treasure trove of proteins and fiber, tepary beans have been nourishing the population for centuries, proving that the best of nature is often preserved in its simplest forms 😇. Explore the richness of Native American heritage with every bite.

  • Where to find Tepary Beans: Served at the Courtyard Cafe in Phoenix; or purchase on Amazon & make them at home!

13. Prickly Pear Fruit

Throughout the Arizona desert you’ll find the prickly pear, with its signature flat pads telescoping out. (After the famous saguaro 🌵 it’s probably the most recognizable cactus!)

side by side images of bright pink prickly pear fruit next to a pink margarita with a salt-rimmed glass
Vivid pink prickly pear has been nourishing desert dwellers for ages; today it’s a popular ingredient in margaritas (Getty images, lma stock)

The namesake prickly pear fruit, which is a bright magenta in color, is one of the foods of Arizona that you’ll find growing wild just about everywhere. And it’s been nourishing the native peoples for centuries milennia.

You can enjoy its sweet-tart taste right off the cactus (if you’re patient enough to remove the spines–yeeouch!😫).

But you don’t need to risk a finger-piercing to taste it; prickly pear jellies, juices and syrups are available to buy. And any Arizona bar worth it’s salt should be able to whip up a yummy prickly pear margarita.🍹

  • Where to find prickly pear: Prickly pear syrup, jelly and candy made in Arizona by Cheri’s Desert Harvest is available on Amazon; prickly pear margaritas are available from fine mixologists throughout Arizona 😉

14. Mesquite Flour: foods of Arizona from the bounty of the desert

close up of Mesquite pods on a tree. Mesquite flour is one of the native american foods of arizona
The fruit of these mesquite pods makes a sweet, nutty (and nutritious) flour (Getty Images)

Mesquite flour originates from the pods of the mesquite tree, a drought-friendly plant native to the Sonoran desert. Native Americans, particularly the Pima and Tohono O’odham tribes of southern Arizona, have utilized this flour for centuries.

In addition to its sweet, nutty flavor, mesquite flour is packed with nutrients: it’s high in both protein and fiber.

The pods are ground into a flour, which is then used in baking and cooking for a variety of dishes. Traditionally, indigenous people used this food of Arizona to bake into a dry cake to carry them through the lean winter months.

Today, many southwestern chefs are using mesquite flour in place of traditional flour to create nutritious and tasty treats, including breads, tortillas . . . and cookies 🍪!

  • Where to find mesquite flour & products: Big Skye Bakers sells a range of baked goodies at Tucson Farmers Markets; flour available by mail order from Mount Hope Wholesale (despite the name they sell 2 lb. and 5 lb. bags)

15. Chiltepin

The chiltepin is a teeny tiny-yet fiery 🔥-chili pepper Sonoran Desert. (It sort of looks like a chili pepper 🌶️ and a peppercorn had a baby!)

The native peoples of these regions have been using this food of arizona for over 8,000 years, not only as a spicy food but as a potent medicine and a spiritual aid. Its intense heat and distinctive taste added zest to their food, while its medicinal properties helped them combat various ailments.

chiltepin bush, with tiny red chiltepin chilis, alongside an image of a hand holding red chiltepin chiles, which are the size of currants-one of the native foods of arizona
Tiny chiltepins are one of the native foods of Arizona . . . and hot Hot HOT! (Getty Images)

Today, the chiltepin is used in salsas, stews, and meat dishes to give them an extra zing 💥. Hotter than jalapenos and habaneros, these little fire bombs are prized for their fierce heat and smoky, citrusy notes. (I confess that I need to use them s…p…a…r…i…n…g…l…y 🥵)

  • Where to find chiltepins: Chilttepica Products sells chiltepins in a variety of sizes and mixed spice blends. Available at specialty stores throughout Arizona or by mail order (see website for details).

16. Sonoran Wheat Flour

Sonoran wheat was the first wheat cultivated in the New World. It was introduced to the Sonoran Desert by the Spanish Missionaries in the 1600s. Wait . . . you might be thinking, “doesn’t that make it more a mexican food?”

Not really. That came a little later.

The local Tohono O’odham and Pima peoples quickly realized this crop was ideal for the desert climate-Yay! 🎉 Plus, it also grew during the winter, when the planting fields were usually fallow-Yay Again! 🙌. So . . .

The indigenous folks knew a good thing when they saw it, and wheat quickly became part of O’odham cuisine. Cooks incorporated wheat berries into traditional poshol, a stew with tepary beans, as well as pinole (a kind of porridge).

Today bakers love heritage Sonoran wheat, with its slightly nutty taste and low protein for use in pastries and pastas, and blended with other heritage wheats in breads. (I’m a baker & I love it for delicate, crispy cookies! 😋).

  • Where to find Sonoran Wheat: Multiple products, including flour, wheat berries & crackers from Hayden Flour Mills (available either from Amazon or at Whole Foods); breads from [James Beard Award Winner] Don Guerra at Barrio Bread (see above) in Tucson.

Foods Arizona is known For: Modern Twists on Classic Recipes

While Arizona’s culinary heritage is deeply rooted in Native American culture and the rich flavors of the Mexico, the state’s food scene also embraces innovation and modernization. Chefs and food enthusiasts alike have found ways to put a contemporary spin on classic recipes, creating a delightful fusion of old and new.

Check out these “newer” foods of Arizona to find some mouthwatering surprises. 🤤

17. Artisan Pizza: Foods of Arizona???

I bet your thinking, wait, WHAT? What does Arizona have to do with Artisan pizza?

Chris Bianco, that’s what. (Or should I say “who”?)

Back in the 1980’s, when pizza was still relegated to bowling alleys and strip malls (remember the flimsy take out boxes?), Chris Bianco started making wood-fired pizza in the back of a Phoenix Italian grocery store. It was good-very good. People noticed.

holding a margherita pizza outside pizzeria bianco
Chris Bianco’s innovation placed artisan pizza firmly in the “foods of Arizona” category

Fast forward a few years and Chris’ Pizzeria Bianco is being hailed as “the best pizza in America” from food critics all over the country. In 2003 he was the first pizziaolo (pizza maker) ever to receive a James Beard award. A Big. Deal.

Today foodies can find wood-fired artisan pizza 🍕 all over the US, which is absolutely terrific. But it all started in a little Italian grocery in Phoenix. Cool 🤩.

  • Where to find Chris Bianco’s Pizza: Multiple locations of Bianco Restaurants in Phoenix. Each has a slightly different menu, but they all serve pizza.

18. Steaks & Burgers made from Grass-Fed Beef

grilled medium-rare ribeye steak sliced crosswise with knife alongside and parsley garnish-getty images
Steaks and burgers from grass-fed beef have been foods of Arizona since the cowboy days. (Getty Images)

Arizona has a rich ranching heritage, with cattle grazing the sprawling grasslands. So the “emerging trend” of grass fed beef 🌱 is tried and true here in Arizona.

Multiple ranches in the state have been doin’ it this way for generations (Thank ye kindly, ma’am 🤠). The good old-fashioned way: better for the cows, better for the planet, better for you.

This may be one of the most traditional foods of Arizona of the modern era. To try one of these steaks or burgers is to taste a bit of cattle ranching history 🥩 (and a baked potato alongside isn’t bad, either 😉).

19. The Tequila Sunrise

When talking about foods of Arizona, do drinks count? I think so.

Tequila sunrise (no orange juice!) with a coaster from the Arizona Biltmore--where it was invented. One of the foods arizona is famous for.
A tequila sunrise where it was invented–one of the famous foods of Arizona. (NO ORANGE JUICE!)

Despite the song of the same name, the classic rock group Eagles did not invent the Tequila Sunrise. (Although they do have a strong connection to Arizona, with Standing on the Corner Winslow Arizona!)

The honor of the drink’s invention goes to bartender Gene Sulit of the (super swanky✨) Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, waaay back in the 1930s.

Legend has it that a guest requested a refreshing drink to take poolside, and asked Gene to “surprise me.”

Mr Sulit created a concoction that was as pretty as it was delicious: a blend of soda and tequila with crème de cassis and fresh lime juice. The super-thick crème de cassis’ settled at the bottom of the glass, creating the gradient of colors that mimics a sunrise and created a name. 🍹🌅

(Curious to note that there is NO orange juice 🍊 in this original version!)

And the rest, as they say, is history (and an Eagles song 🦅).

  • Where to get a tequila sunrise: Um, well how about the Wright Bar at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel? (Which would of course be the Tequila Sunrise.)

20. The Arizona “Original” Chopped Salad: one of the more recently-created foods of Arizona

Image of chopped salad, with rows of tomatoes, corn, pepitas, aruguly, cous cous and smoked salmon; foods of arizona
The “Original Chopped Salad”, one of the newest foods of Arizona (photo courtesy the Gladly)

About 25 years ago Scottsdale chef Bernie Kantak developed a really tasty salad at a restaurant called Cowboy Ciao. In keeping with the cowboy theme he named it the Stetson.

It involved a curious combination of chopped ingredients-smoked salmon, arugula, pearl couscous, pepitas, currants, dried sweet corn, and marinated tomatoes-artfully presented in a bowl in neat little rows, that were then tossed together table-side with a buttermilk herb dressing.

People loved it. [It’s really good!]

So much so that when Kantak left his former employer to open the Citizen Public House he took his signature salad with him. But he couldn’t bring the name.

So he rechristened it the “Original,” and onto the menu it went.

Today there are replicas of the Chopped Salad scattered around Phoenix and Scottsdale. But there’s only one “Original.” Well, technically there are three: Chef Kantak has three restaurants and you can get the salad at all of them . (in case you’re fact-checking 😉)

21. The Date Shake

There are only two states in the country that grow dates: Arizona and California The dry, sunny climate mimics that of the Middle East, where dates grow natively. 🌴

Enterprising farmers imported date trees to Arizona in the early 1900s and soon began selling this nutritious, sweet fruit from roadside stands. Heck, the scientific name for a date palm is even called Phoenix dactylifera, so what does THAT tell you???

Date shake in a large plastic cup alongside an image of the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera. Getty images
Date shakes are definitely one of the foods of Arizona–the tree, Phoenix dactylifera, even has an Arizona name! (Getty Images)

Travelers passing through would stop and stock up on yummy dates to bring home as souvenirs. But there was an even bigger treatat these rest stops: the date shake. 🥤

Using 3 simple ingredients: milk, ice cream & sweet sticky dates, the date shake became a refreshing way to break up a trip through the desert. [Spoiler alert: I also like to make a “healthy” version at home with yogurt 🥰]

Today many of these roadside stands are gone, but a few remain to provide one of the historic and sweet foods of Arizona, a reminder of Arizona days gone by.

While Arizona’s culinary heritage is deeply rooted in Native American culture and the rich flavors of the Wild West, the state’s food scene also embraces innovation and modernization. Chefs and food enthusiasts alike have found ways to put a contemporary spin on classic recipes, creating a delightful fusion of old and new.

I invite you to immerse yourself in the flavors and foods of Arizona. Take a bite out of history and indulge in the vibrant cultural tapestry that flavors this state. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience these 21 must-try authentic foods of Arizona that have made their mark on the state’s culinary landscape.

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Inside: Everything you need to know to visit Montezuma Well, a stunning pool of deep water with cliff dwellings nearby Montezuma Castle.

Imagine living in the desert 1,000 years ago and stumbling on this huge pool of water at the top of a hill . . . you’d probably gasp, right?

Spoiler alert: I actually gasped myself when I first saw it last year! Montezuma Well is truly a breathtaking sight.

What is Montezuma Well?

Montezuma Well is a deep pool of water that is actually a giant sinkhole perched high atop a hill. It’s one of several Arizona National Monuments dedicated to Native American culture.

View of montezuma well surrounded by limestone and fall foliage, with cliff dwellings in upper left
View of Montezuma Well from the water level. Note cliff dwellings on upper left

The “well” was created by the collapse of an underground cave thousands of years ago, and is replenished daily by underground streams. Montezuma well is about the size of a football field and maintains a steady water level year-round.

It’s like a giant pond nestled in a hilltop nest of limestone. Add in evidence of ancient peoples, such as cliff-dwellings and water-level cave rooms, and you’ve got a site that’s truly worth seeing.

And to top it all off, its absolutely FREE!

Take the Montezuma Well Hike

Follow the 1/2-mile trail, which will take you past all the discoveries at this magical place.

Ascend a gentle 80-yard rocky slope to reach the rim of the well. Roughly 100 feet below you’ll see the serene blue water snuggled amid reeds and mesquite trees in its limestone nest. Gasp! 😲 (told you!)

View 100 feet above montezuma well from edge-with iron railing
The unexpected well as you reach the top of the hill

You can walk along the edge to view the well from multiple angles. (Note: keep toddlers in check, the railings are sturdy, but they’d be easy for little ones to squirm through.)

Exploring the Cliff Dwellings and Caves

From your rim viewpoint search for clues of prior inhabitants.

Remains of rooms tucked into the stone cliffs overlooking the well (to your left) along the rim are evidence of the native peoples who have lived here. Experts believe the Sinagua, Hohokam, Hopi, Zuni and Yavapai all used the well at one time or another over the centuries. Because of their cliffside location, this is as close as you’ll be able to get.

close up view of cliff dwellings at montezuma well
Cliff dwellings: 1000-year old condo with a water view!

Keep looking. There are more clues . . .

A small sign points toward the “Swallet Ruins.” Hmmm, not sure what a “swallet” is, but “ruins” sounds promising. Looks like it goes right down to the water’s edge.

Descend a short trail of 112 stone steps. With each step the temperature drops, delivering a cooling respite from the Arizona heat. That coolness is welcome today; for indigenous peoples centuries ago (pre-A/C!) it would have been downright miraculous.

Soon you find yourself at some small rooms carved into the limestone wall right at the water’s edge. This is awesome! It’s like you’ve just discovered some centuries-old secret hideout!

You have. You’ve found the cliff dwellings down at the water’s edge. It feels pretty safe down here. These dwellings would have kept their inhabitants cool in the summer, and protected from storms in the winter.

And you’ve also found the beginning of the swallet: the point where the water leaves the well and goes out to the nearby creek.

Hang out for a bit in these cool (literally and figuratively 😎) spaces, envisioning one of the Sinagua grinding corn or washing clothes 900 years ago. There’s something serene about these simple domestic tasks in such a unique setting.

There’s one more historic surprise waiting down here, although the culture isn’t quite so ancient, and unfortunately it’s inconsiderate. See if you can spot the 200-year-old graffiti on one of the walls.

Avoid the temptation to add your “tag” here. As the nearby placard will warn, these are still sacred sites to the native peoples, and graffiti such as this is disrespectful. (Not to mention it’s now a National Monument, and you don’t want to be “that guy” who defaces federal property.)

Completing the Montezuma Well Hike

Return back to the rim of the well and continue on the path, which will take you down toward Beaver Creek before looping back to the parking lot.

You’ll be back in the high desert landscape of grasses, mesquite and prickly pear cactus.

Along the way you will see the remains of a few more stone dwellings, this time simply built out on the open grassy plain. Compared to what you’ve just seen, these remains might seem a little . . . mundane.

Man in front of Hilltop ruins on the montezuma well hike with fall foliage in background
These hilltop ruins at Montezuma Well only hint at the wonders nearby

But it’s these remains that provided an indication that there was, perhaps, a little more going on around here. Something that said, “look a little harder, explore a little more.”

Aren’t you glad you did?

If you like archaelology and Native American Culture, be sure to check out this post:

Details about visiting Montezuma Well

You can visit Montezuma Castle and Well on the same day. Montezuma Well National Monument is a short drive (roughly 10 miles) from Montezuma Castle.

  • Admission:Montezuma Well is free (unlike the Castle, which charges a small fee).
  • Opening Hours: 8am to 4:45pm, daily. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day) Picnic area closes at 4pm.
  • Services: Picnic Area with flush toilets, water refill station. Pit toilets on the trail.

Montezuma Castle National Monument was established in 1906 as the third National Monument devoted to Native American culture. Montezuma Well was added as an annex to the Monument in 1947.

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Inside: Montezuma Castle in AZ: one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in America. Plus TWO BONUS free ancient sites nearby. So. Very. Cool! 😎

Can you imagine living in a 5-story apartment building . . . built into a CLIFF? Oh, and it was built 900 years ago!

Thats Montezuma Castle. It’s the ruins of a five-story cliff dwelling of more than two dozen rooms burrowed into a limestone cliff in central Arizona by the Sinagua People centuries ago. Can you imagine having to climb ladders to get home? Talk about a 5-story walkup! 🪜😳

You can visit Montezuma Castle National Monument as a day-trip from Phoenix, or on your way to points north, such as Sedona or the Grand Canyon. There are SO MANY reasons to visit . . . including getting access to TWO bonus parks for your admission fee!

1. See INCREDIBLE Architecture at Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle in AZ-view of cliff dwellings as seen from a distance-high up in the cliff

What, exactly, is Montezuma Castle? THIS! 👆👆👆 Pretty cool, huh?

Montezuma Castle is a 5-story, 20-room structure, built with stone and mortar. Simple enough, right? But here’s the kicker: it’s built into a cliff, nearly 100 feet above the ground. Suddenly it’s not-so-simple 🧐.

In fact, it’s pretty dang astonishing.

So, what’s the story here?

2-4. Learn about Montezuma Castle: History & People

Visiting provides incredible insight into people that lived in a prior millennium.

I mean, you can read about this stuff until your eyeballs 👀 get scratchy. But sooner or later, you just gotta see it for yourself. (And hopefully reading this blog post will make you want to do just that! 😊)

You’ll see that while in some ways the culture was primitive, in others they were remarkably sophisticated.

View of Montezuma Castle looking up through trees with fall foliage

2. Discover Who Built Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle was built by the Sinagua people. They established their culture in Arizona from AD 600 through AD 1450.

Experts theorize that the Sinagua settled here to be near Beaver Creek, which flows alongside the cliff. Experts theorize that the “castle” was built so high into the cliff to protect it from periodic flooding from the creek. No leaky basements for these guys!

View of Montezuma Castle from a distance perched high on a cliff from a
Approaching Montezuma Castle in AZ

3. Learn who discovered Montezuma Castle in AZ

Spanish settlers who arrived in the area 1500s gave the name Sinagua to the people that had come before them. The name means “without water.”

The Spaniards marveled at the magnificent structure they had built into the cliff, and arid landscape in which they had thrived. The Spaniards must’ve been scratching their heads, just like we all do! 🤔

4. Understand the name “Montezuma Castle”

Since “Montezuma” is the name of an Aztec emperor, Montezuma Castle in AZ must be connected the Aztecs . . . right? But the words “Montezuma Arizona” don’t exactly go together . . .

Spoiler alert! There is NO connection to the Aztecs. Early Spanish settlers misnamed the site. They assumed something so grand had to be associated with a regal figure like the emperor Montezuma. I suppose in the 1500s that sort of made sense. But it was a big leap . . . and an incorrect one.

Okay, chalk that one up to one of history’s great misnomers! 🤷‍♀️

5-10: Things to do AT Montezuma Castle in AZ

Once you’ve got your head around the basic history, here are some things you can do while visiting Montezuma Castle:

5. Take the Montezuma Castle Hike

Taking the Montezuma Castle hike gives you access to all that the site has to offer.

There are multiple sun shelters along the way, so you’ve got plenty of protection from the strong Arizona sunshine.

Best of all, the path is paved, and fully-accessible for anyone with mobility concerns! So everyone can experience the magnificence of Montezuma Castle in AZ.

Cartoon map of the walking trail at Montezuma Castle National Monument in AZ, including icons for the Castle and Cavate sights

6. Observe the Cliff Dwelling from Multiple Viewpoints

Stop periodically along the hike to view Montezuma Castle from different angles.

The sun will cast shadows on different parts of the structure, depending on where you’re standing.

This will help you get a more accurate 3-D picture of how intricate and sophisticated the structure really is.

7. Walk through the low-level Cliff Dwellings (Cavates)

You can walk through some of the ruins at the base of the cliff.

These low-level rooms, or “cavates,” are located at the western end of the hike, just before it begins to turn toward the river.

No one knows exactly how these were used, but many experts theorize they may have been storage rooms for grains and other living staples.

8. Study the Architectural Model of Montezuma Castle

At roughly the midpoint of the hike, you’ll find a model of Montezuma Castle in AZ in a glass case.

The model shows a cut-away version of what the castle looked like inside, and how the Sinagua people lived there.

Press the button at the front of the model to hear a short narration about life inside Montezuma Castle.

9. Take in the nature that inspired this ideal building location

There’s a reason the Sinagua chose this location: the beautiful valley with the water of Beaver Creek flowing by.

Take a few moments to stop and observe the tranquil setting and imagine someone 900 years ago coming to collect water.

Man reading placard overlooking river with trees-Montezuma Castle

10. View ancient artifacts at the Visitor Center Museum

Be sure to take some time to explore the small museum in the Visitor Center.

It’s not very large–you can view the whole thing in 10 minutes (if you’re quick!). There are several large posters and some examples of artifacts.

Spending a few minutes here will give you a better understanding of the Sinagua people, and help you appreciate Montezuma Castle in AZ even more!

Display of artifacts and placards at Montezuma Castle Visitor Center

11-15: Things to do NEAR Montezuma Castle in AZ

11. Visit Monetzuma Well (BONUS PARK #1 !!!): 10miles, 15 minutes

This crater-like “pond” is a shocking sight in the middle of the desert and an awesome bonus. Admission here is free.

Walk around the rim, where you can see cliff dwellings, then down to see the cavate structures near the water’s edge. (It’s really cool–literally–the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler down there! 😎)

12. Explore Sedona and the Red Rocks: 25 miles, 40 minutes

Montezuma Castle to Sedona is an easy drive. The magnificent red rocks of Sedona are a short drive up the road.

There you can hike to your heart’s content, shop til you drop, or find your inner Zen at one of the many yoga retreats.

(If you’re staying in Sedona, Montezuma Castle makes an excellent day trip.)

13. Tuzigoot National Monument (BONUS Park #2!!!): 22 miles, 35 minutes

For a sort-of parallel universe view of the Sinagua people, check out Tuzigoot.

This hilltop pueblo was built around the same time as Montezuma Caste, but has a very different look: less ladders, more sprawling.

Just as awesome.

And, like Montezuma Well, admission is included in your ticket to Montezuma Castle–BONUS! 🎉

Stone Ruins of Tuzigoot pueblo on a rise, with mountain in background

14. See more cave dwellings at Walnut Canyon: 63 miles, 56 minutes

This part of Arizona could be described as “cave dwelling” central.

The dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monutment were also constructed by the Sinagua people around the same time as Montezuma Castle in AZ.

Take the 1-mile-long “Island Trail,” where you can explore inside the 25 dwellings built along the edge of the mountain.

View of pine trees viewed through opening of cliff dwelling at Walnut Canyon National Monument

15. Verde Valley Archaeology Center: 5 miles, 8 minutes

If you want to place the remarkable achievement of Montezuma Castle in AZ into context of the surrounding terrain, this is the museum for you!

Verde Valley Archaelogy Center & Museum has a series of exhibits that compare & contrast the many cultures that have inhabited the region over the millinnea.

Don’t miss the Space Rocks! display, showcasing meteorites that have fallen to earth in the vicinity. 🪐☄️

Visitor information for Montezuma Castle in AZ

Sign at the entrance to Montezuma Castle National Monument
  • Where is Montezuma Castle located? Montezuma Castle is located right off Interstate 17, 94 miles north of Phoenix and 53 miles south of Flagstaff.
  • What does Montezuma Castle cost to visit? Admission to Montezuma Castle is $10 per adult, which is good for 7 days. Children aged 15 and under are free. ***This fee also covers admission to Tuzigoot National Monument.
  • When is Montezuma Castle open? Montezuma Castle is open every day from 8:00am to 4:45pm. (Note: closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Park closes at 1:45pm on Christmas Eve.)
  • When is the best time to visit Montezuma Castle? The best time to visit is spring and fall, when the weather is mild.
  • Can you go inside Montezuma Castle? No, you cannot go inside Montezuma Castle, but you can go inside the cavates at the base of the cliff, below the castle.
  • Is Monetzuma Castle worth visiting? I certainly hope you agree that the answer is YES! 👍

Want to learn more about the archaeology at Montezuma Castle? Check out this video from Arizona Project Archaeology (a state-approved educational organization). Go on . . . geek out! 🤓🤩

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I’ve always wanted to be one of those “carefree travelers” who breezes along with the perfect suitcase.

Having been full-time travelers since 2011 we know what makes the best 4 wheeled suitcase. We show you what to look for–and what to avoid when choosing spinner carry on luggage and more.

We literally live out of our suitcases. My husband and I have been full-time travelers since 2011, so luggage plays an important role in our lives. I’ve learned to be efficient in my packing, using luggage that’s functional, sturdy and not too big. And that comes in handy when taking an Arizona Road Trip. (Or any other road trip for that matter 😉)

Here are some guidelines to help you do the same:

Which is better: a 2 or 4 Wheeled Suitcase?

For several years we used 2-wheeled suitcases (some people call these “Rollaboard” suitcases, a brand name trademarked by TravelPro.) Two-wheeled suitcases work well, but you must “tilt and pull” them along behind you. This is fine for short spurts, but eventually that motion was wrenching on our shoulders. Additionally, adding an extra bag (such as a tote or computer bag) was cumbersome. Stacking it on top of the main bag changed the ergonomics (trust me on this one), making it super-heavy to pull. Using an “add-a-bag” strap made pulling the bags along easier, but the bags were out of balance when standing still and had a tendency to fall over.

blue and black 4 wheeled suitcase side by side in front of an adobe wall

When it came time to upgrade (after a particularly shoulder-wrenching sprint through an airport to catch a connecting flight, we investigated 4-wheeled models. We ultimately opted to upgrade to these 4 wheeled suitcases, also known as “spinners.” The name “spinners” comes from the fact that the suitcase can spin around on its wheels. The transition has been much easier on our joints. Spinners are terrific on smooth surfaces, such as airport floors and parking lots; even densely packed bags glide along with very little effort.

Note that spinners can get difficult to maneuver on carpeting or rough surfaces, such as cobblestones. During these instances it’s best to tilt the bag so it works like a 2-wheeled suitcase. Shop for spinners whose rear wheels rotate smoothly and are sturdy enough to handle this conversion. Otherwise you’ll be dragging along a bag that behaves like a reluctant shopping cart (no fun at all!).

All that being said, all 4 wheeled suitcases are NOT alike. Following are points to consider when choosing a 4 wheeled suitcase:

Size and Weight of 4 Wheeled Suitcases

Most people have a tendency to overpack. A good rule is to bring along less (or smaller) luggage than you think you need. Overly large suitcases encourage packing unnecessary extras, which adds weight that you’ll have to heft around. Even if your cruise or tour includes luggage transfers, you still have to hoist your baggage to the airport and in your hotel or stateroom. These are the awkward moments when backs get wrenched.

Size limits for carry on bags vary by geographic location. If not checking your bags is important to you, be sure to check with the airline you’re flying regarding their carry on size limitations. For example, United Airlines carry on policy allows for a bag as high as 22″ to fit in the overhead bin. Whereas your Southwest Airlines carry on can be up to 24″.

Overall weight is also an important consideration. You might think, “but these things are on wheels, isn’t that the point?” Then answer to that is “yes, BUT . . . ” Even though you’ll be breezing through airports and down hotel corridors using the wheels, you still have to lift your 4 wheeled suitcase into overhead bins. If you’re taking a Route 66 road trip in Arizona you’ll likely be taking your bags in and out of your car every few days.

There’s no sense starting with a heavy bag, then packing it with even more weight. Look for luggage brands that offer a “lightweight” line and purchase the lightest bag possible—without sacrificing sturdiness. My main suitcase is a 21-inch model that weighs just under 6 pounds. It’s small enough to fit in most overhead bins, yet large enough to hold what I need.

Spinner suitcases: External Features

Hard Shell vs. Soft-Sided

There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to exterior materials: hard shell vs. soft sided (fabric). Both come in lightweight versions. I prefer the soft-side fabric exterior as it has a little extra “give” in case I need to cram in a few more items (also known by the highly technical term, the “squishy factor” 😉).

Soft-sided luggage is also more forgiving for the inevitable times when your luggage bangs into your shins. Fabric 4 wheeled suitcases also offer exterior zip pockets that are handy for stowing tickets or often-used accessories.

Some people prefer the hard shell version of a 4 wheeled suitcase. The hard shell case is more resistant to moisture (if you spend a lot of time traveling in rainy climates this might be a consideration) Many of them come with built-in locks, a handy feature if security is an issue.

Both hard shell and soft sided varieties are available with zippered expansion panels, allowing you to add a few cubic inches of packing space without moving up to a larger size bag. This feature comes in handy for any souvenirs that are picked up along the way.

When shopping for soft-sided luggage, look for rip-stop fabric, which resists punctures and minimizes tearing. Cheap luggage is often made of basic canvas fabric, this allows tears to “bloom” along the width of the suitcase. If you prefer hard-shell cases, look for lightweight material that is flexible (think of that old TV ad with the gorilla stomping on luggage); bags that are too stiff are prone to dent or, worse yet, crack.

Handles on 4 Wheeled Suitcases

Examine the handles carefully. Quality luggage will have sturdy telescoping handles that adjust to different heights. Inexpensive pieces have flimsy handles (usually just a single metal tube) that aren’t height adjustable. Some (good quality) 4 wheeled suitcases have handles that are a single central bar that telescopes up. They are sturdy, but we’ve don’t like them because they make stacking tote bags on top of the luggage difficult. A traditional dual pull-up handle acts as a brace for any smaller back you might like to stack on top. It also serves as a more secure anchor if your totebag has a trolley strap.

Interior Features of a 4 Wheeled Suitcase

Open Suitcase: single compartment or half & half?

Think of where a suitcase will be placed when it’s opened—likely on a luggage rack in a hotel room, on a bed, or on a floor. A single large interior compartment works best for maximum storage. A single zip compartment in the suitcase lid is useful for separating accessories or dirty clothes; look for models where the zippered side faces upward when the open case is propped up against the wall. This allows you to access items in this pocket without them slithering onto the floor.

Most hard shell luggage opens “half-and-half” style, where the zipper that opens the luggage basically slices the luggage in half, leaving you two equal compartments on the top and bottom. Some people like natural organizational ability of this half-and-half configuration. However, the tradeoff is that, when opened, this type of 4 wheeled suitcase will be too large to fit on a luggage rack. (And one half will be too heavy to prop up against the wall). In most cases you’ll need to keep the suitcase open on a hotel room floor.

4 Wheeled Luggage: Price Range

We prefer moderately-priced suitcases, generally $125-$250, depending on size and brand; all the features described above can be found in this price range. Avoid those cheap “4 bags for $100” sets sold in discount stores. They are poorly made and unlikely to withstand the rigors of travel. Expensive designer bags may look stylish, but they scream “expensive items are packed inside” and are a magnet to would-be thieves.

Once you’ve chosen a suitcase, test pack it at home and put it through its’ paces. If it’s too heavy or some feature doesn’t work, exchange it. There are plenty of variables when traveling. Your suitcase shouldn’t be one of them.

Our Choice for a 4 Wheeled Suitcase?

Based on all the features discussed above, we like the Travelpro Maxlite soft-sided series. We’ve had them for a few years now, and can attest to both their functionality and durability. We like the 21″ carry-on version, (more about packing that in a future post!), which is also sturdy enough to withstand being checked. This series also comes in 25″ and 29″ checked baggage versions, if you really insist on packing a lot. I purchased my suitcase on Amazon.

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Pizza is a special treat for me, so when I “go for it,” I want it to be special.

Ask someone about their favorite pizza and you’re likely to end up in a heated discussion. Some prefer New York, others Chicago’s deep-dish while New Haven white clam pizza often gets a nod.

For years I’ve been reading that Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona makes the best pizza in America. That’s a pretty bold statement. Since I’m a bit obsessed with pizza I scurried to Phoenix, with my somewhat jaded eyes wide open, to test the claims made about Pizzeria Bianco. (Phoenix also boasts another one of our fave eateries: Ted’s Hot Dogs.)

holding a margherita pizza outside pizzeria bianco
A Margherita pizza outside the original Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix

History of Pizzeria Bianco

First a little background. Pizza chef Chris Bianco is a native New Yorker who moved to Phoenix in the 1980s. When Chris Bianco started Pizzeria Bianco in the back corner of a Phoenix grocery store in 1988, he had no idea that he would become a driving force in the artisanal pizza movement. All he knew was that his food would reflect the respect and sincere intention that he brings to each of his recipes, as the result of his relationships with farmers, local producers, customers, and staff. He had a gift for making pizza which he honed during a two-year stint in Italy.

When he returned to America in 1994 he opened Pizzeria Bianco and became a pioneer making artisanal pizza in the U.S. In 2003 Bianco won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest in 2003. He was the first pizza maker (“pizzaiolo” in Italian) to be honored with this award. Accolades as “the best pizza in America” followed from the likes of the New York Times and Rachael Ray.

The wood burning oven is a key requirement for a Bianco pizza

READ NEXT: 21 Authentic Foods of Arizona you’ll want to Try

Bianco Pizzas: Fresh, Simple, Delicious

Bianco’s pizzas start out with high-protein flour, San Marzano tomatoes and house-made mozzarella. The pizzas are baked for three minutes at 800 degrees in a wood-fired brick oven and arrive at the table with the crust still crackling. Bianco’s devotion to fresh ingredients and locally sourced products is legendary.

Margherita pizza topped with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil at pizzeria bianco
The classic Margherita, fresh out of the wood-burning oven at Pizzeria Bianco

The menu at Pizzeria Bianco is refreshingly simple: a few appetizers, salads and six pizzas. We went with the classic, a Margherita with just tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil. Oh, and a side order of house-made crispy Italian bread and olive oil; you can never have too many carbs.

When the pizza arrived it looked like something out of a magazine on “What pizza should look like.” The crust had reacted properly to the extreme heat of the oven and was buckled with charred air bubbles, just how I like it. The basil was torn into big enough chunks so you still knew it was basil and the melted cheese made itself one with the bright red sauce. Underneath the crust was just how I like it; charred in bits from the brick floor of the oven.

The feel of the pizza was just right. I grew up in New York so I’m a pizza folder and each slice folded nicely. There was enough spring in the crispy crust that it didn’t crack. The crust had just the right blend of crispy and chewy.

perfectly charred bottom of crust at pizzeria bianco
Pizzeria Bianco crust: just the right combination of crispy and chewy

The sauce gave a full tomato feel but Larissa thought it could have used some more seasoning, if there were onions in it we didn’t pick it up. Fresh mozzarella is usually more bland than regular so she also ended up sprinkling a little salt on her slice. I’m not as into salt so I went without.

At $17, the 12″ pizza was not cheap but with the bread dish we were able to fill up on a single pie at lunch. One pie probably wouldn’t be enough for dinner for two people but I couldn’t see spending $34 on two pizzas.

Is Pizzeria Bianco the Best Pizza in America?

But back to the original question, is Pizzeria Bianco the best pizza in America? It certainly ranks as one of our top pies and we’re glad we made it to Phoenix to check out what all the fuss was about. But “the best”? That’s such a tough questions to answer. Can there really be a “best” or a “best anything” for that matter? It goes back to personal taste, and just what type of pizza (or hot dogs, or ice cream or whatever) you like.

pizza peels outside wood burning oven at pizzeria bianco
Pizza peels outside the wood burning brick oven at Pizzeria Bianco-serious stuff

What important to note is that Pizzeria Bianco puts out a top-notch pizza, even 30 years after Chris Bianco first started tossing dough in the air. But it’s really not fair to make it live up to “best pizza in America” status.

If there were an “artisanal pizza family tree” in America, Chris Bianco would be at the roots. Today there are wood burning pizza ovens across America. Hundreds–if not thousands–of independent restaurants are serving up outstanding artisanal pizza on a daily basis. And that’s all because of Chris Bianco. He redefined what we think of as great pizza. And for that 1 reason alone, Pizzeria Bianco deserves the title of “the best.”

Where to find Pizzeria Bianco and other Chris Bianco Restaurants

Chris Bianco has five eateries in and around Phoenix: two focus on pizza, one is a casual sandwich/salad spot, one is a more traditional Italian restaurant, and the last is a bar that serves nibbles in addition to drinks. Following is a listing of the Chris Bianco Restaurants, along with addresses and opening times.

  • Pizzeria Bianco Heritage Square: This is the original location in downtown Phoenix, which serves mostly pizzas and has the same menu all day. Address is 623 E. Adams St. Phoenix, AZ 85004; phone (602) 258-8300. Hours: Tue-Sat 11am-9pm, Sun 12-8pm. Closed Mon. NOTE: Seating is first-come, first-served, so be prepared to wait during busy times.
  • Pizzeria Bianco Town & Country: The second pizzeria serves an expanded menu, including some larger entrees (“secondi”), with slightly different lunch and dinner menus. Address is 4743 N 20th St. Phoenix, AZ 85016; phone (602) 368-3273. Hours: Daily, 11am to 9pm. Reservations accepted.
  • Pane Bianco: Started as a takeout sandwich shop, this is now a full service casual restaurant offering sandwiches, salads and the Roman-style pizza al taglio (more like a foccacia). Address: 4404 N Central Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85012; phone (602) 234-2100. Hours: Monday – Saturday: 11am – 3pm. No reservations.
  • Tratto: This newest restaurant in the Bianco family, recently opened. Unlike the pizzerias, the focus at this dinner-only spot is on antipasti, hand-made pastas and big plates. Address: 1505 E Van Buren, Phoenix, AZ 85006; phone (602) 296-7761. Hours: Wed, Thurs, Sun: 5-9pm; Fri & Sat: 5-10pm. Reservations accepted.
  • Bar Bianco Heritage Square: Located next door to the original Pizzeria Bianco, this is the spot to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine with some house-made bar snacks while you’re waiting for your table at the pizzeria. Address: 623 E. Adams St. Phoenix, AZ 85004. Hours: Fri & Sat: 4-9pm.

PRO TIP: The original Pizzeria Bianco (at Heritage Square) does not accept reservations, and there can be a long wait for a table. If you don’t like to wait, make a reservation at the Town & Country location.

Get Chris Bianco’s Cookbook!

Can’t make it to Phoenix, or just want to try whipping up some pizza of your own? Pick up Chris Bianco’s cookbook, Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like. Packed with tons of full-color photos and step by step instructions, this book is as much fun to read as it is to cook from! Purchase at Amazon.

Are you hungry for some more pizza? Check out this story about tasting pizza on six continents to seek the best pizza in the world.

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As summer days began to fade I was craving some autumn atmosphere.

Want to find a pumpkin patch in Arizona? We’ll help you out. There’s something just so autumnal about a pumpkin patch. . . the bright orange color, the rustling of leaves and yellowing corn stalks in the neighboring fields beckon on a crisp fall afternoon. You can choose a big ol’ “punkin” or just indulge in little festive fall fun (such as family-friendly games and corn mazes). Whether you’re an Arizona local or visiting on vacation, a stop at an AZ pumpkin patch is sure to brighten your day. It’s as classic a fall event as exploring Apples in Arizona.

PRO TIP: Most pumpkin patches and fall festivals have Covid-19 safety precautions in place. Please check individual sites for more information

Pumpkin Patch in Arizona: Northern Arizona

FLAGSTAFF PUMPKIN PATCH

This Flagstaff pumpkin patch has been serving up autumn fun since 2001. Located at the Viola’s Flower Garden nursery, you’ll have fun picking out pumpkins in this country setting tucked into the pines. Choose from 25 (!) different pumpkin varieties, scattered among hay bales with tons of scarecrows and photo ops.

Photo courtesy Flagstaff Pumpkin Patch

PRO TIP: Continue a few miles south of Flagstaff on 89A to see the foliage at Oak Creek Canyon, one of the fun things to do in Sedona in the Fall.

THE WILLIS FARM (SNOWFLAKE, AZ)

Plenty of fall fun on this farm in northeastern Arizona (not far from Petrified Forest National Park). Pick your pumpkin from a patch out in the field, or select gourds and “Indian” corn. Try your luck navigating the corn maze, or simply take a train ride around the property.

There’s also a game zone for little ones and paint ball & laser tag for older kids.For those who like a scary thrill, Willis Farm hosts “Haunt Nights” every Saturday in October–tickets are timed, be sure to order online ahead of your arrival.

Photo courtesy Willis Farm
  • Location: 381 S. 1st E. Street Snowflake, AZ 85937
  • Dates: September 25 through October 30 (note: Closed on Sundays)
  • Website: Willis Farm & Ranch

Where to find an AZ pumpkin patch near Phoenix

FAIRMONT SCOTTSDALE PRINCESS (SCOTTSDALE, AZ)

Those looking to add a little “glam” to their fall pumpkin experience need look no further than the Pumpkin Fest at this luxury hotel. Fall-themed treats abound for young and old alike, including (sort-of spooky) kiddie rides, toasted marshmallows, skeleton storytellers, and–new for 2021–a Cider Orchard offering both both hard and soft versions of the fall favorite. Visit for just the day, or can cap off the event with specially-priced hotel and spa packages.

JUSTICE BROTHERS U-PICK FARM (WADDELL, AZ)

Head out to the western fringes of Phoenix to farm and orange grove country to find this u-pick pumpkin patch. Pay for your pumpkin, then stop at the free decorating station to jazz it up. There are plenty of photo ops in this Arizona pumpkin patch, and you can even make your own scarecrow!

Photo courtesy Justice Bros.
  • Location: 14629 W. Peoria Avenue, Waddell AZ 85355
  • Dates: October 1 through 31 (note: Open Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon; closed Tue, Wed, Thur)
  • Website: Justice Brothers Ranch & U-Pick

MACDONALD’S RANCH (SCOTTSDALE, AZ)

At MacDonald’s ranch, there are pumpkins, and a whole lot more. Admission to this Arizona pumpkin patch gives you access to a petting zoo, panning for gold, hay bale maze, kids’ pedal car track, lawn games and plenty of photo areas. Purchase pumpkins, and optional pony rides.

Photo courtesy MacDonalds Ranch
  • Location: 26540 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85255
  • Dates: October 1 through 31 (note: closed Tuesdays)
  • Website: MacDonald’s Ranch

MORTIMER FARMS (DEWEY, AZ)

There’s something for everyone at the Mortimer Farms Pumpkin Fest and Corn Maze. There are games, hayrides, ziplines and more. Oh yeah, you can pick a pumpkin, too! Add in some farm to table food, and you’ve got a great fall day! NOTE: Purchase tickets in advance online.


MOTHER NATURE’S FARM (GILBERT, AZ)

At this Arizona pumpkin patch you can pick out pumpkins grown right at the farm in any size: from 1 ounce to 500 pounds! For the price of admission you can take a hayride, visit the OZ pumpkin, or do a spider crawl. Unlike many other pumpkin patches, Mother Nature’s Farm lets you bring your own picnic (although they have a concession stand as well).

  • Location: 1663 E. Baseline Road Gilbert, AZ 85233
  • Dates: September 25 – October 31
  • Website: Mother Nature’s Farm

SCHNEPF FARMS (QUEEN CREEK, AZ)

With an event known as a “Pumpkin and Chili Party” you know you’re in for a great time. This fall extravaganza includes kiddie carnival rides, corn mazes, ziplines, a petting zoo and a slew of other games for all ages. In addition to chili, there are food tents offering chicken, burgers, pizza and (because . . . fall) succotash. Reserve tickets online.

Note: Filmed prior to COVID-precautions are now in place

PRO TIP: For a fall getaway break, book a spot at Schnepf Farms’ adjacent glamping resort, The Cozy Peach. Stay in one of 9 fully refurbished vintage trailers!


TOLMACHOFF FARMS (GLENDALE, AZ)

This 4-generation family farm kicks off their “Pumpkin Days and Corn Maze” event on October 1. This AZ pumpkin patch has something for the whole family: Great big pumpkin patch and 3(!) corn mazes: a 6-acre family corn maze, a mini corn maze for little ones & a haunted corn maze (ideal for jaded teenagers 🙄.) Other activities include a petting zoo, train ride, hay pyramid, corn box, adult/child pedal cart track, jumping pillow and much more.

  • Location: 5726 N. 75th Ave. Glendale, AZ 85303
  • Dates: October 1 – 31 (Note: Closed Mon, Tue)
  • Website: Tolmachoff Farms

VERTUCCIO FARMS (MESA, AZ)

Celebrate “Cooler Days in the Corn Maze” at Vertuccio Farms’ Arizona pumpkin patch in Mesa. In addition to the maze there’s a train ride around the farm, a petting zoo and games galore, including a giant tube slide and the ever-popular pumpkin bowling (sign us up!)

Photo courtesy Vertuccio Farms

  • Location: 4011 S. Power Rd., Mesa, AZ 85212
  • Dates: October 1 through 31, 7 days/week
  • Website: Vertuccio Farms

Arizona pumpkin patches in Southern AZ

APPLE ANNIE’S (WILLCOX, AZ)

Grab a wheelbarrow and head out to the field to pick your ideal pumpkin. Or better yet, get a ticket for a hayride out to the pumpkin patch, in a wagon pulled by one of Apple Annie’s tractors. Set aside some time for the corn maze; the average visit is 2 hours! And if you come on a weekend, be sure to walk through the Sunflower Spectacular, with fields of 12 varieties of sunflowers on display-gorgeous! (Spoiler alert: they have apples, too. But you probably already figured that out 🙂 .)


MARANA PUMPKIN PATCH (MARANA, AZ)

With 50 acres of freshly grown pumpkins you’re sure to find the perfect specimen at the Marana Pumpkin Patch and Fall Festival. Admission includes a wagon ride out to the patch (pumpkins priced separately, by the pound), along with access to the corn maze, swings and games, a petting zoo and a ride on the 1/4-scale diesel train (perfect for the train geek in your group! 🚂 )

Photo courtesy Marana Pumpkin Patch
  • Location: 14950 N Trico Rd, Marana, AZ 85653
  • Dates: October 2-31 (closed Mon, Tues, Wed)
  • Website: Marana Pumpkin Patch

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The yellowing of leaves put me in the mood for apple pie. And supermarket apples just weren’t going to cut it.

Want to know where find local apples in Arizona during the fall? Here are six ways to experience Arizona’s apple-growing heritage. We’re including u-pick farms, markets, a guest ranch in a orchard and one trek that’s, erm, a little out there, but we wanted to offer all sorts of options . . .

a crate full of freshly picked apples in a field

Go Arizona Apple Picking at Apple Annie’s

Apple picking is about as wholesome as it gets-it’s the ultimate family-friendly event. Although most orchards are now wholesale only, Apple Annie’s Orchard in Willcox is one Arizona apple orchard where picking is encouraged. Harvest season is late August through October; you pay for what you pick. It’s a fun day’s activity, but best of all you get to go home with a basket of fresh, crisp apples! Don’t feel like picking your own? No problem, you can buy an already-picked batch at the Country Store on site.

During weekends throughout the fall there are festive events most weekends, including pancake breakfasts with hot cider syrup and apple topping, apple cider donuts (our favorite!), lunch at the Orchard Grill (which features burgers cooked over apple wood) and pies, pies and more pies.

  • Location: 2081 W Hardy Rd. Willcox, AZ 85643
  • Phone: (520) 384-2084
  • Website: Apple Annie’s
  • Hours: Fruit orchard open daily, 8am to 5pm July-September; 9am to 5:30pm in October. Country Store open daily 8am to 5pm year round. (Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas).

PRO TIP: Apple Annie’s also has a terrific Arizona Pumpkin Patch, and a beautiful sunflower display.

Spend the night in an Arizona apple orchard

The Beatty’s dog, Red, out in the orchard in Miller Canyon, photo courtesy Beatty’s Guest Ranch

If you really want to immerse yourself in the orchard experience there’s no better way than to sleep among the apple trees. In this case we mean a cabin in the orchard, not literally sleeping under the trees (more about that later . . . ). Here at Beatty’s Guest Ranch, cabins are tucked into the orchard, which itself is tucked into Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Spend a few nights in this cozy setting; at 5,800 feet in altitude, you can be sure of cool fall evenings.

Whip up breakfast in your cabin using some of Beatty’s farm-fresh eggs accompanied by apples and other goodies grown at the ranch. All foods grown at the ranch are available for purchase in their on site store. The ranch is adjacent to several Miller Canyon trails, and only a few miles from the Coronado National Memorial, part of the National Park System. This area is also birding country; warblers pass through during their fall migration. In summer the apples aren’t yet ripe, but you might just see a hummingbird or two–or twelve. The ranch holds the record for the most species (14) ever spotted in one day!

  • Location: 2173 E. Miller Canyon Road, Hereford, AZ 85615
  • Phone: (520) 378-2728
  • Website: Beatty’s Guest Ranch
A cabin in the orchard, photo courtesy Beatty’s Guest Ranch

PRO TIP: Miller Canyon is prime birding territory; in addition to apples, during a stay at Beatty’s Ranch you may “harvest” a few hummingbird and warbler sightings, depending on when you visit

Explore Sedona’s heritage of apples in Arizona

image of apple sorting equipment-apples in arizona

It’s hard to imagine now, but 100 years ago Sedona was the place to go to find an Arizona apple orchard. Nearby Oak Creek provided ready access to water, and Sedona farmers developed irrigation systems to supply their orchards. The Sedona Heritage Museum at Jordan Historical Park is housed at a former apple processing facilty. The museum’s logo is even the signature red rocks superimposed on an apple!

The orchard acreage was sold off in the 1970s, but the remaining buildings of the Jordan family farmstead remain to illuminate Sedona’s fruit-filled history. View vintage farm equipment and apple sorting machinery, and see a 1940s one-room farmhouse, where apples took pride of place. (While there, be sure to explore the exhibit on Sedona’s history in western movies.) This is one of the cool things to do during the Fall in Sedona.

  • Location: 735 Jordan Road, Sedona, Arizona
  • Phone: (928) 282-7038
  • Website: Sedona Heritage Museum
  • Hours: Open daily 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Major Holidays.
Old farmhouse at Sedona Heritage Museum against a backdrop of red rocks.
Jordan farmhouse at the Sedona Heritage Museum

Visit a historic Arizona apple orchard & homestead

historic, rusty farm equipment in front of Pendley orchards at slide rock state park
Historic farm equipment on display in front of the historic Pendley apple orchard at Slide Rock State Park

What is now Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona was once the Pendley apple orchard and homestead. Summertime visitors love to sluice down the water slide of the creek, but in the fall visitors come to see the beautiful colors . . . and the apples. The orchard, farm machinery, packing shed, old cabins and farmhouse at the site of the old Pendley homestead are all available to visit.

Frank Pendley planted his first apple orchard in 1912 after acquiring the site two years earlier under the Homestead Act. Park staff still farm the orchard, using Pendley’s original irrigation system. Be sure to visit in September and October, when the 13 varieties of apples grown on site are harvested and available for sale.

  • Location: 6871 N. Highway 89A, Sedona, AZ 86336
  • Phone: (928) 282-3034
  • Website: Slide Rock State Park
  • Hours: Open daily, 8am to 6pm, Feb through November; 9am to 5pm Dec, Jan. Closed Christmas.
apples in a wooden box

Trek to a forgotten apple orchard in the mountains

wild apples out in an untended orchard-apples in arizona
Imagine finding these after a 10-mile hike through desert landscape!

Earlier I mentioned an apple experience in Arizona that was a little “out there.” This is it . . . literally and figuratively. In the late 1800s a quirky character named Elisha Reavis established a farm and in a remote valley in the otherwise dry, forbidding Superstition Mountains in eastern Arizona. Many rumors circulated about Reavis: some called him the “Hermit of the Superstition Mountains,” other say he scrapped with the Apaches. No one really knows for sure, but an apple orchard on the site planted after his death is a lasting legacy.

Today, what remains of this Arizona apple orchard continues to flourish (in a wild sort of way) in this tucked-away corner of the Tonto National Forest. Those intrepid enough to find Reavis Ranch can enjoy all the apples their belly can hold–after a 10-mile hike to reach it! Plan to make this an overnight trek, camping at the orchard before making the 10-mile trek back. For some, it’s an annual pilgrimage:

  • Location: Trailhead is located at Reavis Trailhead Rd, Apache Junction, AZ 85119 (off state route 88)
  • Hours: Open all year; apple trees bloom in the spring, and are likely bearing fruit in September and October.

Pick up fresh Arizona apples at a Farmer’s Market

apples lined up in wooden bins at a farmers market apples in arizona

There are places in Arizona that produce apples, but are not open to the public. Most, however make their products available at local farmers’ markets throughout the state. So if you find yourself craving the the delicious fruit from an Arizona apple orchard, but aren’t in the mood to pick your own (or go on a 20-mile hike), download this Arizona Farmers Markets Directory to find one near you.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE AT RIGHT TO DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY OF A GUIDE TO ARIZONA’S FARMERS’ MARKETS!

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I wanted to love our weekend in Sedona. But I had no idea where to begin.

Fall in Sedona is a magical time: the heat of summer has begun to fade, and the foliage turns shades of crimson, orange and yellow, complimenting those famous red rocks. The cooler weather makes enjoying the outdoors–and Sedona’s spectacular scenery–especially pleasant. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy Sedona in the fall.

Ogle the Foliage at Oak Creek Canyon

One of the great joys of fall in Sedona is the magnificent display of colorful foliage. The best place to see this is via a drive through Oak Creek Canyon. A series of switchbacks along Arizona Highway 89A just north of Sedona will have you winding through spectacular scenery that is especially resplendent in autumn.

Creek with fall foliage in background fall in sedona

Be sure to stop at Oak Creek Vista, near the canyon’s northern end. As the title implies, it will give you a tremendous view-and a perfect photo op. There are also Native American craftsmen who display there wares here, if you’d like to do a little shopping.

PRO TIP: Just north of Oak Creek Canyon, near Flagstaff, stop in at an Arizona Pumpkin Patch for some additional Fall Fun!

Visit a Historic Apple Farm

No fruit says “fall” more than apples! The Pendley Homestead is a 43-acre historic apple farm located in Oak Creek Canyon. The farm was established by Frank L. Pendley, who acquired the land in 1910 as part of the Homestead Act, and began his apple orchard in 1912. The state of Arizona acquired the homestead in 1985 and opened it as Slide Rock State Park in 1987.

Apple tree with box of red arizona apples on the ground, tractor in background; fall in sedona
Enjoy some fresh-picked Arizona apples from Sedona in the fall

There are still 300 fruit-producing trees in the orchard, along with the historic homestead buildings and farm equipment on display. When visiting Sedona in the fall, be sure to stop by the park to pick up some fresh Pendley Homestead apples!

READ NEXT: Where to find Apples in Arizona during the fall

Chill Out at the Sedona Stupa

Stupa in Sedona in the fall, with banners coming from peak

Sedona is a must-visit place for spiritual seekers the world over. The Sedona Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park offers a rare opportunity for solace at a form of sacred architecture that is typically found in Asia. Stupas date back over 2,500 years, to the time of Buddha. The structure represents the Mind of Enlightenment, and is considered to be living presence of the Buddha.

This sacred place is a soothing spot to visit during the fall in Sedona. It’s tucked into a clearing among pinion and juniper pines, under the watchful eye of Cathedral Rock. Take a short trek up winding trails for prayer, meditation, healing, and peace. The Amitabha Stupa (and the smaller Tara Stupa) is open every day from dawn until dusk. Like all places of worship, it is free to visit, but donations are accepted.

Hike the Red Rocks near Sedona in the Fall

Fall in Sedona is the perfect time to explore the area on foot. There are a myriad of trails for all abilities winding through the red rocks, valleys and Canyons. Southwest of Sedona, Red Rock State Park offers a collection of relatively short hikes (0.2-0.5 miles each) that can be combined to create longer treks. There is a small admission fee to the park.

For a broader range of hikes throughout the region, be sure to stop into the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center of the Coconino National Forest, located on AZ Route 179 just north of Interstate 17. There you’ll find an excellent selection of trail maps, with knowledgeable park rangers who can make suggestions based on your interests.

PRO TIP: Hiking is free in the Coconino National Forest, but parking areas at most of the trailheads require a fee. Pick up a Red Rock Pass at the Visitor Center, or purchase online ahead of your visit.

Taste Wines in the Verde Valley while spending Fall in Sedona

Yellowing Grape vines in Verde Valley in the fall with a "syrah" sign

The fertile lands along the Verde River have been an agricultural hub for Arizona inhabitants for centuries, and is now home to the Verde Valley Wine Region. Wine tasting is a perfect activity to do in Sedona in the fall! The vines are ready to yield the season’s bounty and the the new vintages are making their way through the fermentation process.

Over 20 wineries and tasting rooms are clustered around the town of Cottonwood, just a few miles east of Sedona. For those that like to turn tasting into a quest, download a passport to the Verde Valley Wine Trail, and check ’em off as you go! (If you’d like to have a designated driver, consider this wine tour with transportation.)

Hunt for ghosts in nearby Jerome

Front entrance Jerome Grand Hotel at night

Perched on the side of a mountain about 30 miles west of Sedona, the former mining town of Jerome is reputed to have its fair share of ghosts. Front and center is the Jerome Grand Hotel, which was repurposed from a former hospital. Some say the hotel is “the most haunted place in Arizona.” When visiting Sedona in the fall, all that vortex energy, coupled with Halloween, has got to raise a spirit or two. Right?

Oh, and did I mention the hotel restaurant is called “The Asylum”? That’s not TOO spooky!

Browse the shops and galleries of Tlaquepaque

Many destinations have shopping areas and galleries, but it takes a place as special as Sedona to have Tlaquepaque Arts and Craft Village. Far more than a simple “shopping center,” Tlaquepaque was actually built to resemble a traditional village of the same name in Mexico. Although it was constructed in the early 1970s, it has a feeling of being around for centuries–the buildings themselves feel like a work of art.

Outdoor fountain filled with pumpkins and other fall decorations, with southwestern shops in Sedona in background
The shops at Tlaquepaque decorate beautifully for fall in Sedona

Originally conceived as an artist community, Tlaquepaque today has over 50 specialty shops and art galleries, many of which contain artists working on-site. As you stroll around trickling fountains under the shade of a giant sycamore, you’re bound to be tempted by ceramics, architectural decor pieces and contemporary jewelry along with fine art paintings and more.

Attend an Arts Festival

Artist standing with completed work outdoors at Sedona art festival; red rocks in background
Outdoor judging at a Sedona Art Festival

Browse unique works of art while helping to support future artists and artisans. Established in 1989, the Sedona Arts Festival is the oldest and largest arts festival in the community. Every fall in Sedona this festival exhibits the work of more than 125 artists in a variety of artistic mediums. Explore creations in ceramics, photography, sculpture, drawing, fiber art and more during the two-day festival, which is held outdoors with the magnificent red rocks as a backdrop.

Attend knowing you’ll be supporting art programs at schools, parks, camps and more. The festival has funded nearly $300,000 of programs during its history. And if all that browsing has worked up an appetite, be sure to check out the Gourmet Gallery for tasty locally-sourced treats.

Observe (or participate in) Art en Plein Air

Artist painting outdoors (in shadow) in foreground, with historic building and Sedona red rocks in background. Fall in Sedona Arizona
An artist captures the beauty of fall in Sedona “en plein air”

The dry sunny climate of Sedona in the fall is perfect for creating art outdoors, or “en plein air,” as the French dubbed it. Each year the Sedona Arts Center holds a week-long festival to celebrate this unique artistic experience. The Sedona Plein Air Festival consists of master artists painting, along with workshops, lectures and free events, all amid the magical scenery of Sedona.

The Sedona Arts Center originated over 60 years ago, when the region was just becoming known as an “art colony.” Sign up for one of the workshops and maybe you, too, will one day be one of the master artists!

Go back in time at the Sedona Heritage Museum

Nothing says “autumn” like shiny red apples, and in the early-mid 20th century, apples were big business in and around Sedona. So it seems only fitting that a museum celebrating Sedona’s past should be located on a former apple farmstead. To learn more about this history a visit to Sedona in the fall should include a stop at the Sedona Heritage Museum, located at Jordan Historical Park in Upper Sedona.

Old farmhouse at Sedona Heritage Museum against a backdrop of red rocks.
Historic Jordan Farmhouse at the Sedona Heritage Museum (note the apple tree out front!)

The farmstead buildings have been preserved and repurposed into exhibit halls, where visitors can learn about various periods in the region’s history, including Early Settlers, Ranching & Cowboys, the Orchard Industry, movies made in Sedona. There’s even a display about Sedona Schnebly, the woman for whom the town was named.

Ride the leaf-peeping Rails

Fall foliage in Arizona is at its most resplendent near rivers and streams, when the summer greenery changes to vivid reds and yellows. Along the Verde River northwest of Sedona much of this magnificent foliage is unavailable to view–unless you go by rail. A ride on the historic Verde Canyon Railroad will take you through canyons you’d otherwise be unable to see–and it’s especially beautiful during fall in Sedona.

Aerial shot of Verde Canyon Railroad going through canyon along a river with trees displaying fall foliage-near Sedona in fall
The Verde Canyon railroad snakes through gorgeous fall foliage. Photo by Tom Johnson via Flickr

The 40-mile, 4-hour ride takes you on a lazy ride through the canyons along the Verde River. Plenty of windows–and outdoor viewing platforms–give you plenty of terrific photo ops. The train departs from Clarkdale, about 25 miles west of Sedona. Refreshments can be purchased on board, and there are also special event rides, such as the Grape Train Escape Wine Tasting train ride (now there’s a way to multi-task!).

Take a Yoga Hike

In a destination where inner peace and hiking are both so important, a yoga hike is a natural combination. For those who like multi-tasking, yet really need to relax, this is a perfect solution. Spend 3 hours communing with nature as you reach within yourself. All out in the splendid scenery of Sedona in the fall.

There are so many ways to enjoy Sedona in the fall . . . which ones will you choose?

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There are days when a char-grilled hot dog is my idea of a gourmet meal. And I found just the spot (no lighter fluid required).

Ted’s Hot Dogs in Phoenix (well, technically Tempe) is the lone western outpost of a legendary Buffalo, New York hot dog empire. We’re big fans, so when we learned there was a Ted’s in Arizona we just had to give it a try. Could the classic Buffalo dog make the journey to the southwest?

Wait, what? Hot dogs in Buffalo? What about Phoenix?

(We’ll get to the hot dogs in Phoenix in a bit, bear with us. ) Most people think of chicken wings when they think of Buffalo. But the city on lake Erie may also be the hot dog capital of America. One of the things that makes Buffalo hot dogs special is that they are chargrilled over real hardwood charcoal to give them a crisp smoky taste. Imagine being able to get that awesome 4th-of-July-backyard-barbecue flavor whenever you want . . . sign us up! When we mention to Buffalonians how lucky they are to get chargrilled hot dogs all over town they just shrug their shoulders: that’s how they’ve always eaten their hot dogs.

Hot dogs on a tray at Ted's Hot Dogs in Phoenix (Tempe), Arizona

READ NEXT: 21 Authentic Foods of Arizona You’ll want to Try

A little context: the history of Buffalo hot dogs

One of the most popular spots for hot dogs in Buffalo is Ted’s Hot Dogs. Founded in 1927 by Greek immigrant Theodore Spiro Liaros, the restaurant was an upgrade from the cart he had used to sell his dogs. It wasn’t until 1948 that Ted’s opened their second location in the Buffalo area and have now expanded to nine locations in Western New York.

The menu is a simple one consisting of chargrilled hot dogs, burgers, chicken and sausage. Sides include french fries and onion rings with a range of sauces including Ted’s cheddar, chipotle ranch and creamy horseradish. If you have room for it, you can add a milkshake made with real ice cream, not a mix like other fast food joints. Although all the food is good, we really come for the chargrilled hot dogs.

Another thing we like about Buffalo hot dogs is that you can have it how you want it. We were once almost kicked out of a dog house in Chicago when we dared ask for ketchup (a big NO-NO on a Chicago dawg). Buffalonians have a more “live and let live attitude” with how you decorate your dog. Some people put the fries or onion rings directly on top, while others are more content with a squirt of ketchup and mustard with a bit of relish. You might try adding Ted’s signature Hot Sauce, which appears to be a sweet-spicy ketchup-based red relish mixed with a secret blend of spices

PRO TIP: If you like a nice crispy hot dog, (like us!) be sure to ask for it “well done”! (Just sayin’)

A bit of hot dog “science”

A few years ago we wrote about Buffalo hot dogs for USA Today 10Best. We learned one of the tricks is using only Sahlen’s hot dogs, lovingly made (natch) in Buffalo, NY. Sahlen’s hot dogs are a combination of pork and beef that are produced by the 5th generation of the Sahlen family. But wait . . . there’s more! It turns out it’s not just the brand that makes the difference.

Sahlen’s produces both natural casing and skinless hot dogs. According to company spokesperson Jeff Vance, hot dogs that are grilled over charcoal should have a natural casing, which is better for the high heat of an open flame grill. The natural casing hot dog will split as it cooks, heating up the interior while still providing a signature bubbly browned exterior, that many people, including us crave. Vance says, “Skinless franks are wasted on a charcoal grill – they don’t split and just turn black.” (On the other hand, Sonoran Hot Dogs in Tucson are cooked on a flat-top griddle; skinless is best in that case.)

A Sahlen’s hot dog in perfect chargrilled crispiness (from Sahlen’s website).

Hot dogs in Phoenix: Why did Ted’s open there?

With such a loyal fan base in Buffalo, how did this lone outpost of Ted’s Hot Dogs end up in the Phoenix area? Well, have you ever been to Buffalo in the winter? It’s freezing and the lake effect snow wafting off of frigid Lake Erie can build up tall enough to cover an NBA center (Seriously. Buffalo gets an average of 7 feet of snow per year.) It turns out many Buffalonian snowbirds make their way to Arizona for the winter and what they really miss is a taste of home. Which is why in the 80s Ted’s opened their Arizona location in Tempe.

(This is a similar story of how Chris Bianco, founder of the famous Pizzeria Bianco, came to Phoenix . . . only he came to escape the humidity (and cold) of New York City.)

Hot dogs in Phoenix: Does Ted’s measure up?

We’re happy to say that it does. We were nervous before we got there. Would they stick with their signature hardwood charcoal, or simplify the process, making hot dogs in Phoenix on a flat-top griddle? Nope. The signature aroma of burning charcoal that met us told us we were about to have the real thing.

Fortunately, Ted’s is not a one-trick pony; the side of onion rings along with a loganberry milk shake (another Buffalo local flavor) lived up to the quality of the hot dog. The food is also reasonably priced for what you are getting. It’s wonderful to see that a Buffalo New York legend has made the transition to Arizona. New generations will get to savor hot dogs in Phoenix as they were meant to be, grilled over hardwood charcoal with a smoky flavor redolent of backyard cookouts of my youth.

Native Buffalonians can savor a true taste of home in Phoenix. And that taste is char-grilled hot dogs, not chicken wings. Let’s face it, you can find wings anywhere.

How to find Ted’s Hot Dogs in Arizona

  • Address: 1755 E. Broadway, Tempe, AZ 85282
  • Hours: Monday- Saturday 10am -10pm, Sunday 10:30am- 10pm
  • Phone: 480-968-6678
Map showing location of Teds hot dogs in phoenix (tempe)

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