The country’s fifth largest city, the shining capital of Arizona state, and the jewel of the Sonoran Desert: it’s time to zone in on Phoenix.
“The Valley” is a picturesque, sunny, year-round desert escape that’s far from dry, dull, or boring.
Whether you’re after interesting discoveries, a booming nightlife scene, cultural explorations, or outdoor adventures, Phoenix won’t disappoint.
Forget a long vacation or a multi-destination trip like you’d get in a Phoenix-Sedona-Grand Canyon adventure.
A pointed travel plan in one specific part of a city as lively as Phoenix can hit the spot just as well. So, embrace a day trip to Phoenix instead.
With limited time, it’s about picking a special target area in the 602. One eclectic place delivers buzzing urban spaces and that classic southwestern charm: downtown Phoenix.
Here’s what to do in the city’s heartbeat in one day when you plan a trip to Phoenix, AZ. All recommendations are coming from my experience as a Phoenix resident!
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Phoenix Packing List | What to Bring for 1 Day in Phoenix
Your Phoenix trip starts way before you actually set foot in Arizona, during the all-important packing stage.
With these six must-haves, you’ll be sorted:
- Sunscreen – Phoenix’s enduring warm weather means good sun protection is non-negotiable.
- Hat – A stylish wide-brim hat will keep you cool, shielding you from the sun’s harsh rays.
- Comfortable walking shoes – There’s enough walking to necessitate comfy footwear for your downtown expedition.
- Light sweater – You’ll feel breezy yet well-prepared for a sudden nippy temperature turn if you don a light sweater.
- Leggings – Well-fitting leggings or joggers go a long way in ensuring comfort while exploring.
- Backpack – A lightweight backpack or daypack makes all the difference for keeping and carrying your basics as you uncover downtown Phoenix.
Best Time to Visit and Spend a Day in Phoenix
It isn’t dubbed the “Valley of the Sun” for no reason. Eighty percent of the year are sunny days in Phoenix, AZ, and when it’s hot – it’s blistering.
You’ll get the most out of your one-day escapade if you travel at the right time.
The best time to visit and spend a day in Phoenix is springtime (March to May).
The days are warm, wildflowers abound, and occasional rain sprinkles cool things down wonderfully.
Next Read: Even just one day somewhere enthralling, like Phoenix, can inspire the best snaps. Get tips on how to capture unforgettable moments – adventure photographer-style – here.
What to Do in Downtown Phoenix in One Day
The Valley is a popular destination for day trips from Scottsdale and further afield. When deciding what to see in Phoenix in one day, the city center is calling.
Here’s the ideal one-day itinerary for the city’s glorious downtown area – a colorful hub for business, culture, art, and exquisite cuisine.
Arrival | Kicking Off Your Phoenix Itinerary
Take in the Views at Papago Park
One of the best ways to kick off your Phoenix one-day itinerary is to head to Papago Park for a short hike, some reflection time, and to behold spectacular city views.
Located just 15 minutes (seven miles) from downtown Phoenix, this is a marvelous way to get the day going before hitting the city center action.
Consider tackling the 0.3-mile round-trip trek along the Hole-In-the-Rock trail. This isn’t just any old hole in a giant stone; it’s an intriguing sandstone landmark in a striking natural setting.
You might have heard of the mysterious Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. This mesmerizing, jagged wilderness is around 50 miles from the downtown area.
It’s best to save an outdoor adventure here for an extended Arizona road trip when you can spend more than a day in Phoenix.
You’d Like: Scottsdale versus Phoenix
Breakfast | A Day in Downtown Phoenix
Fill Up on a Hearty Meal at Matt’s Big Breakfast
After getting a scenic lay of the land at Papago Park, a day in Phoenix needs to be set in motion with some delicious grub as fuel in the tank for the activities that’ll unfold.
One of the most cherished spots in downtown Phoenix for a simple yet scrumptious meal is Matt’s Big Breakfast.
They offer delectable breakfast sandwiches, brunch specials, and trusty morning staples.
With a full belly and your energy all the way up, get the shopping ball rolling by exploring the local retail scene.
Practical Art is a gallery and retail studio selling handmade items from over 100 local craftspeople and artists.
You can find a new statement piece (or two) and Phoenix mementos, like unique jewelry, garments, and decoratives.
Morning | Things to Do in Phoenix for a Day
Experience the Vibe and Get More of Your Retail Fix at The Churchill
With the day well underway, your next stop is The Churchill – a definite downtown Phoenix must-see attraction.
This jazzy space was born when shipping containers were converted into a vibey courtyard-style location with shops and eateries.
You can spend the first part of your morning sampling what’s on offer at the three restaurants, a smoothie shop, two bars, and a grocery outlet.
There are also three retail stores for continued shopping exploits.
The Churchill brings together art, music, food and drinks, and a small market experience in a way that celebrates Phoenix’s diverse urban community.
What makes this building more extraordinary is the emphasis on collaboration and community service.
Vendors are encouraged to pay it forward with “social rent”, which entails volunteering as part of the monthly rent.
Mid-Morning | Things to Do in Phoenix During the Day
Spend a Couple of Hours at Some Museums
Is it an authentic downtown experience without a museum tour? Of course not, and luckily for you, one of the top things to do during the day in Phoenix is to visit the Phoenix Art Museum.
Discover exceptional exhibitions and masterpieces from some of the world’s most talented creators in a contemporary space with over 20,000 artifacts.
The museum displays modern artworks in the form of oil paintings, sculptures, weavings, and jewelry.
If one museum isn’t enough, include an inspiring, art-focused cultural exploration at the Heard Museum. This is the home of astonishing collections of Native American artwork.
For a different museum atmosphere altogether, geek out at the Arizona Science Center to tickle and appease the nerd in you.
Afternoon | What to See in Phoenix Downtown
Meander Through Roosevelt Row
Roosevelt Row is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining downtown Phoenix attractions – a vivid arts district full of restaurants, galleries, quaint shops, and bars.
The walls and brick faces are splashed with imaginative designs and popping street art.
Each mural tells its own story, detailing a timeless moment, mood, and emotion.
So significant is this part of the neighborhood that it’s now considered a protected area – the city’s cultural core, and thus an unmissable location while discovering Phoenix in a day.
In Roosevelt Row in Phoenix, Arizona, downtown, you’ll find the Japanese Friendship Garden. This is a tranquil park of serenity and beauty for quiet walks and garden tours.
You can enhance your experience and join a Chanoyu Japanese tea ceremony for an enriching cultural experience.
Next Read: Roosevelt Row and the Japanese Friendship Garden are just two of many Instagrammable places in Phoenix.
Evening | Enjoying Day Trips in Phoenix
Treat Yourself to Fine Dining – the Downtown Phoenix, AZ Way
By the time the sun is setting, the pulse and pace of your Phoenix day trip needn’t slow down.
Venture into the evening spell by grabbing dinner at Cocina Madrigal Tacos + Tequila. This is an excellent Mexican restaurant where spice and flavor are in no short supply.
Perhaps you’re in the mood for a juicy steak or posh comfort food, in which case The Arrogant Butcher is a winning bet.
You can also snag a table at Pizzeria Bianco, another dining hotspot where wood-fired pizzas and Neapolitan-style pies are all the rage.
If you’re one of the ‘brave ones’ who don’t limit their fish indulgence to the coastal cities only, why not try a yummy swordfish dish at Chula Seafood?
After all, who says you can’t munch good-quality marine food in the desert, right?
Night | Downtown in Phoenix
Get a Taste of the Phoenix Nightlife
In the nighttime, as you wind down your trip to Phoenix, a splendid seal to your downtown deal will be Century Grand.
This is a three-in-one cocktail bar venue where specialty crafts are the order of the day (or, more aptly, the night).
Think of the Century Grand as a bar-hopping adventure with more bar and less hop, as the spaces are in the same vicinity. What to expect, you ask?
- Platform 18 – This luxe cocktail bar is designed to emulate a moving train, allowing you to sip on something exotic while giving you a New Orleans bayou feel.
- Grey Hen Rx – The Grey Hen is apothecary-inspired and is your bar of choice if premium whiskeys and bourbons are your poison.
- UnderTow – This zany, nautical-themed cocktail bar offers an immersive, tiki-inspired experience. Enjoy drinks and a bit of theatrics, thanks to sound effects, flashing lights, and a viewing screen with peculiar displays. I LOVE this bar!
Pro Tip: Although walk-ins are welcome, book a reservation to eliminate disappointment or long waiting times.
A Day in Downtown Phoenix | Map
Take a look at this map to see what your movements entail when you spend a day in downtown Phoenix.
- Papago Park
- Practical Art
- The Churchill
- Phoenix Art Museum
- Heard Museum
- Arizona Science Center
- Roosevelt Row
- Japanese Friendship Garden
- Restaurants & Bars
- Matt’s Big Breakfast
- Cocina Madrigal Tacos + Tequila
- The Arrogant Butcher
- Pizzeria Bianco
- Chula Seafood
- Century Grand
Must-Know Things | What to Do in Phoenix for a Day
When planning a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, even for one day, there are a few things to remember to maximize the overall experience.
The following info will help elevate your day trip to Arizona state’s capital:
- The Valley is a Sonoran desert landscape. Most of the time, the weather is hot and dry. So, keeping well hydrated is an essential part of enjoying your visit.
- Phoenix is a large city, making it pretty neat that this day trip only focuses on one area. Downtown is very walkable, with a fantastic fusion of open areas, retail outlets, restaurants, and attractions. Bike or scooter rentals are fun options, too, if you’d like to zip around the neighborhood with ease.
- Arizona’s summer is monsoon season. If you’re visiting Phoenix between June and September, be prepared for a cloudburst or two.
Next Read: Phoenix’s warmth and sunshine guarantee awesome location pictures, but a little tweaking for the perfect Insta shot never hurts. Learn about the niftiest aesthetic photo editing apps.
Where to Eat in Phoenix | Best Downtown Spots
Nothing captures a city’s essence like its food. These top downtown picks will give you a proper taste of what Phoenix’s culinary scene is all about:
- Breakfast – Matt’s Big Breakfast serves tasty morning and brunch classics. Crispy bacon, potatoes, eggs, and fluffy pancakes? They’ve got it all.
- Lunch – Pomo Pizzeria is your go-to for an Italian-style lunch, from pizzas to pasta to gourmet paninis and more.
- Dinner – For the best Mexican fare, pop into Cocina Madrigal Tacos + Tequila for dinner. Or you can chomp on prime steaks and upscale comfort food at The Arrogant Butcher.
Next Read: Take your food snaps to a whole new level with viral IG reels.
Where to Stay in Phoenix | Downtown Accommodations
- If you love historic districts, this remodeled duplex in Garfield, a downtown neighborhood that pops with culture and diversity, is the place for you.
- Chelsea Place’s Unit 22 near Hance Park is a bright, airy space with beautiful interiors and ample relaxing chill spots.
- Enjoy a modern stay in a swanky studio complex in downtown Phoenix with all the stylings and amenities you need.
- The Hyatt Regency Phoenix oozes class with cozy rooms, a pool, a hot tub, and an on-site restaurant.
- FOUND:RE Phoenix is adorned with chic urban decor and lovely bursts of color – fit for travelers who appreciate comfort, convenience, and aesthetics.
- The Best Western Downtown Phoenix, where breakfast is included, has spacious rooms, a pool, a hot tub, and a gym.
Next Read: All trips, even short one-day excursions like this one, are best enjoyed when you have your travel safety tips in check.
Parting Thoughts | One Day in Phoenix Downtown
If the question is, is Phoenix worth visiting, this scoop proves that the resounding answer is yes!
From quirky, vibrant spaces like The Churchill to the museums to the famous Roosevelt Row, downtown is the place to be when embarking on a one-day trip.
You know exactly where to go now, and there’ll be no shortage of what to do in Phoenix for a few hours when you make the downtown area your prime destination.
You can also enjoy a Phoenix stop during longer journeys, like an Arizona-Utah road trip. It’s your chance to seize a remarkable memory-making holiday opportunity.