There are many fun activities to do in Phoenix, AZ, from visiting the Musical Instrument Museum to watching an Arizona Cardinals game. It’s clear that living in Phoenix comes with many perks and unique activities. However, if you are looking for something that is more under-the-radar, figuring out what to do can be a challenge. That’s why we reached out to locals to give us their favorite hidden gems of Phoenix. Whether you’re renting an apartment downtown or just moved into a ranch style house in Camelback East, read on to see what secret spots you need to check out.
Hidden gem locations to check out while in Phoenix
1. Arizona Capitol Museum and Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza
The Arizona Capitol Museum showcases the history and culture of Arizona. There are many interactive educational exhibits that focus on the evolution of Arizona from a territory to a state. Across the way is the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza which is an urban park and gathering space.
Spirit of Arizona Tours shares, “My favorite hidden gem in Phoenix would have to be the Arizona Capitol Museum and Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza across the street. It’s no longer the active State Capitol but is now a free museum. The exhibits inside are very unique to Arizona’s story. Right across the street, you have the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza filled with all kinds of memorials from various wars and veterans to unique characters in Arizona history.”
2. Phoenix Art Museum
The Phoenix Art Museum houses a multitude of different art forms from the Renaissance to modern art.
“One of our favorite hidden gems in Phoenix is the Phoenix Art Museum,” remarks Haute Media. “This gem features unique public art of all kinds, and we love capturing photography and videography at their events.”
3. Rewind Vintage & Antique
Rewind Vintage & Antique is an awesome Melrose Neighborhood store that has wonderful retro and mid-century decor, vinyl, as well as their own fledgling record label.
“They support and sign local artists and sponsor neighborhood music festivals. The shop is right in the middle of the most colorful hidden gem in Phoenix – a vibrant art district full of murals, street art, funky shops, coffee houses, and restaurants. While most Instagram influencers are told to head to Roosevelt Row for its artistic vibes – Melrose has all that and more,” raves Anjeanette Photography.
4. Desert Botanical Gardens
The Desert Botanical Gardens is the perfect place for date night or a simple stroll due to its lush desert scenery and eclectic food and drink.
Thomas Shull remarks, “As an Arizona wedding photographer my favorite hidden gem is Desert Botanical Gardens. It’s centrally located, provides easy access to some of the most beautiful desert plants and landscapes in Arizona, and its restaurant Gertrude’s is a local favorite.”
Hidden gem hiking trails in Phoenix you need to try
5. Hidden Valley Trail via Mormon Trail
Hidden Valley Trail via Mormon Trail offers unique tunnels, waterfalls, and breathtaking views.
“One of my favorite hikes is Mormon Trail to Hidden Valley in Phoenix South Mountain Park,” says AZ Wonders. “The moderate 3.4-mile hike features a cool rock tunnel, ancient petroglyphs, and great views of the city.”
6. The Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail
Regarded as a moderate trail, the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail is perfect for those whole love to hike or bike. Make sure to give yourself a lot of time as it can take around 5 hours to complete.
“The Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail is a must-do, family-friendly outdoor activity in Phoenix Arizona. The easy-to-traverse paths weave through breathtaking cacti that are as enormous as they are beautiful. As you explore the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop trail, educational placards help give context and interesting information about the amazing botanical sculptures of the desert. This easy and accessible hike is a great chance to learn about the flora and fauna of a diverse and beautiful region,” raves Carefree Covered RV Storage.
7. Dobbins Lookout at South Mountain
Dobbins Lookout provides breathtaking views of the city. It’s an easy hike for those who don’t want to walk much while still providing stunning scenery.
“One of my favorite hidden gems is Dobbins Lookout at South Mountain,” shares Fearless Elopement. “As a phoenix wedding photographer, I’m always looking for beautiful places I can take my couples to. The lookout closes at 7 pm, but the exit gate won’t close until 11 pm so you can stay up there later and watch the beautiful cityscape and all the cool lights.”
8. Phon D Sutton Recreation Area
Phon D Sutton Recreation area is the perfect place to find a number of different hiking trails that are sure to excite you. You can get everything from river views by checking out the Lower Salt River Nature Trail to stunning hillsides by hiking the Phon D Sutton Loop.
“Since we are photographers, we’re always searching for beautiful outdoor locations that are unique. One of our favorites is Phon D Sutton Recreation Area, right on the Salt River. It has amazing views, towering cacti, easy hiking trails, and wild horses,” boasts Joy and Ben Photography.
9. Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area hosts a number of hiking trails, different cacti species, and numerous animals. There is a small entry fee, however, locals are eligible for an annual pass.
“We stumbled across Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek,” notes Blair Ballin Realtor. “Much to our surprise, there are multiple trails there. One of which has a beautiful stream going through it called the Jewel of the Desert and also The Metate Trail where you can find a metate. Both are amazing, and we always look forward to visiting Spur Cross.”
Hidden gem eats you need to try in and around Phoenix
10. Snooze, an A.M. Eatery
Snooze, an A.M. Eatery is a popular breakfast chain restaurant that aims to make the breakfast experience into a party. The chain has restaurants across different states like Georgia, California, Colorado, and Arizona, among others.
“Snooze, an A.M. Eatery is the perfect place to grab weekend brunch with friends and family,” raves Kelly Dodge, Co-Founder of Home & Jet. “This Denver-based breakfast spot has locations scattered across Arizona such as Scottsdale and Tempe, but no location is cooler than the historical Circles Records Building in Downtown Phoenix.”
If you are looking for something sweet, Kelly recommends trying the OMG! French Toast or Signature Pancake Flight which consists of pineapple upside down, blueberry danish, and sweet potato pancakes. If your palette prefers something savory, she recommends the Barbacoa Chile Verde Benny or the Snooze Breakfast Burrito.
11. Old Town Tavern
Located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, Old Town Tavern offers great live entertainment, a stellar bar, and outdoor patio space.
“My favorite hidden gem in Scottsdale for live music is Old Town Tavern, or as us locals call it OTT, remarks Margie Van Zee of Bella Palazzo. “It is a small, neighborhood-friendly establishment that has live bands every day. They also have misters in the summer to help beat the heat.”
12. Virtù Honest Craft
Led by Chef Gio Osso, Virtù Honest Craft offers Mediterranean-style food that rotates weekly giving frequent patrons a unique experience every time they dine.
“My hidden gem is the restaurant Virtù Honest Craft in Scottsdale,” shares The Jet Set Life. “Virtù Honest Craft is an exquisite hidden gem of a restaurant nestled in the Bespoke Inn Scottsdale Bed and Breakfast. It’s an intimate, white-tablecloth Mediterranean restaurant with outdoor seating underneath twinkling candles and string lights. Fire and water features make the courtyard feel magical. Not only is the setting spectacular, but the food is incredible, serving a prix fixe award-winning menu that often changes daily.”
“The hidden gem that stands out to me the most is Valentine, a charming, New-American, Southwestern restaurant that offers delicious brunch and dinner, and has a sultry speakeasy bar attached. There’s a relaxed outdoor patio if you’re craving warmth from the sun while drinking an iced oat honey latte, but if you’re looking for something moodier, check out the chic, dimly lit speakeasy bar with creative concoctions,” says ChiVeg.
She also notes that she was blown away by their dinner menu which consisted of al pastor mushrooms with mole, a Sonoran pretzel, and their house-made tagliarini with elote-style corn.
14. Frashers Tavern
Arizona Boating & Watersports boasts, “Frashers Tavern is indeed a hidden gem. This local favorite is reminiscent of vintage steak houses, including wood and leather decor, decorative memorabilia, stellar service, and great steaks. The bar, main dining room, and outside dining area are supervised daily by the owner George Frasher. The personal touches here elicit an ‘I-belong-here’ atmosphere.”
The restaurant offers an expansive meat menu including filet mignon, ribeye steak, prime rib, and rack of lamb.
15. Lom Wong
Having just opened a few months ago in downtown Phoenix, Lom Wong has burst onto the foodie scene with its outstanding Thai food and hospitality.
TEXAZTASTE shares that “Co-owner Alex Martin spent several years living in Thailand, where he met his wife, Yotaka, and together they are churning out some of the best food Phoenix has to offer. Many of the dishes have been in Yotaka’s family for generations, and a few not to miss include the Yam Mamuang Boran (green mango salad with torn shrimp) and the Kaeng Phet Charinda (beef shank with curry paste).”
16. Rokerij and Richardson’s
Rokerij is housed in a beautiful stone house and offers an intimate setting complete with dim lighting, a fireplace, booths, and a copper-topped bar. Richardson’s offers a unique atmosphere with cozy booths, tiles, and southwestern art.
“One of my favorite local dining spots that always comes to mind is Rokerij and Richardson’s in North Central Phoenix,” notes Living in Phoenix AZ. “Rokerij and Richardson’s are sister restaurants located in the same location and specialize in New Mexican fare. Some of my favorite go-to’s are the Carne Adovada, Bacon Wrapped Grilled Shrimp, New Mexico Enchiladas, and the Surf and Turf.”
17. Flower Child
Flower Child makes made-from-scratch food as well as customizable bowls, wraps, and salads.
“My favorite hidden gem in Phoenix is the Flower Child restaurant. Not only is the food amazing, but it is also a healthy and organic restaurant. My favorite meals there are the Organic Kale Salad with Shrimp and Forbidden Rice with Chicken,” boasts James Templeton, founder of The Templeton List, an interactive guide to the healthiest restaurants in America.
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Ryan is part of the Content Marketing team and enjoys writing about market trends and local insights. His dream home would be a large cape cod-style house by the beach.