There’s no shortage of art and culture to be found in the Greater Phoenix area. From colorful murals to desert plants from around the world, Arizona has arboretums, walkable art districts, and thousands of years of archaeological history to explore. These seven outdoor museums and gardens—all within an hour’s drive of downtown—will convince you that art and nature are best when enjoyed together.
rivers and swelling ponds will make you forget that you’re in the middle of the desert. In the fall and winter, visitors can enjoy a stunning array of bold colors and beautiful desert foliage. The cooler months are also prime time for wildlife viewing—if you get lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a turkey vulture or coatimundi. Gazebos, intricate mosaics, and a suspension bridge seamlessly connect the arboretum’s various gardens. And while the landscape here is always changing, one thing remains constant: Regardless of when you choose to visit, you’ll find beauty throughout the arboretum’s nearly 350 acres of 19,000 desert plants from all over the world. Endorsed by Ability360, Boyce Thompson has accessible trails for all ages and abilities.
Located just east of downtown Phoenix in Papago Park, the Desert Botanical Garden houses more than 50,000 different plants, including a wide variety of rare desert species. The garden comprises five major accessible trails, each of which highlights a different aspect of native desert life. General admission grants you access to all of the trails; some of the more popular ones include the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail and the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail. If you visit in early spring or late fall, be sure to stop by the tented butterfly pavilion and find yourself surrounded by hundreds of monarchs and swallowtails. The Desert Botanical Garden stays open until 8 p.m. and visiting at night is a unique experience, with epic sunsets and illuminated art installations under the stars. If you’re an early riser, the garden allows visitors to bring their dogs during the morning hours of specially-designated “Dog Days.”
A joint project with Phoenix’s sister city Himeji, Japan, the Japanese Friendship Garden transports visitors a world away from downtown with the sound of trickling waterfalls, rustling leaves, and delicate wind chimes. It’s not uncommon to find visitors meditating on the grass or simply sitting in the shade with their eyes closed. Named RoHoEn, the 3.5-acre garden includes a tea garden and tea house, a 12-foot waterfall, and more than 50 varieties of plants. With a 300-fish koi pond, multiple stone footbridges, accessible pathways, and intricate lanterns, the Japanese Friendship Garden has created a relaxing oasis in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.
One of the oldest and most historic museums in Greater Phoenix, the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park has been open for almost a century. With an emphasis on sharing the rich culture of the Indigenous people of the Salt River Valley, Pueblo Grande not only features galleries of original artifacts, but also regularly hosts rituals and ceremonies—everything from dances and performances to cooking demonstrations and archery lessons. Inside, the museum features three galleries displaying artifacts and information on the Hohokam culture, a hands-on children’s gallery, and a store selling Native American gifts, art, and jewelry. Outdoors, a fully-accessible 2/3-mile trail takes you through a prehistoric Hohokam archaeological village site with a partially excavated platform mound, ball court, and replicated prehistoric houses.
Roosevelt Row, referred to as “RoRo,” is an arts district in downtown Phoenix full of murals, galleries, sculptures, art installations, boutiques, restaurants, and breweries. Most of the shops are centered around East Roosevelt Street, but the entire district covers multiple blocks in all directions. With ample parking and endless street art to explore, a self-guided mural tour is a great way to get to know RoRo. Don’t miss the alley behind The Churchill, a mixed-use space made of 10 shipping containers, where you’ll find the “1 1/2 Street Mural Project,” a colorful and collaborative effort by 12 local artists stretching the full length of the alley.
The USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River is both impressive and humbling. Located west of Loop 101 in Scottsdale, the 5-acre Memorial Gardens includes a piece of the original boathouse of the USS Arizona that sank at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Originally part of the larger Pearl Harbor Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii, the piece was gifted to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in 2018. The gardens—which includes a light installation designed to outline the exact length and width of the USS Arizona—have been built around the boat house relic, which is housed in a large, temperature-controlled glass case. The Memorial Gardens is open every day from dawn to dusk and is free to the public.
The Pioneer Living History Museum, located in the black rock foothills of Northern Phoenix, is a must-see for history buffs. The buildings that populate the 90-acre open-air museum are a mix of authentic 19th-century structures and incredibly detailed recreations. An exhibit hall is filled with pieces and artifacts from all across the West. With 30 different buildings, including a bank, barber shop, Victorian-style home, and sheriff’s office (with gallows), you may feel as if you’ve walked onto an old Western a movie set.
Banner Photo Credit: Chris Curtis
It's time to go beyond. Follow trails that reveal mighty mountaintops. Wander among iconic landscapes beneath picture-perfect skies. Let the Sonoran Desert be your guide to limitless adventure.