what to do near phoenix airport

Embarking on a journey to Phoenix, Arizona, presented me with an opportunity to explore the vicinity of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) during a lengthy layover.

Phoenix, known for its vibrant culture, stunning desert landscapes, and rich history, offers an abundance of activities and sights near the airport that can turn any layover into an adventure.

Based on my experience, here’s a curated guide to what you can do near PHX, ensuring your time in Phoenix is as enriching as it is enjoyable.

Desert Botanical Garden: A Blooming Oasis

Just a short drive from PHX, the Desert Botanical Garden was my first stop. This 140-acre garden showcases an extensive collection of arid-land plants from deserts around the world.

Desert Botanical Garden

The themed trails, such as the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop and the Desert Discovery Loop, offer a deep dive into the beauty and diversity of desert flora.

The peaceful ambiance and stunning landscapes provide a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the airport.

  • How to Get There from PHX Airport:
    • By Car: The most direct route is via Loop 202 East. Exit at 52nd St/Center Pkwy and follow the signs to the Garden. It typically takes about 15 minutes, traffic permitting.
    • Public Transport: Public transportation options are limited and may involve multiple transfers and a significant amount of walking. Using a rideshare service or taxi is recommended for convenience.
    • Rideshare/Taxi: A rideshare or taxi can take you directly to the Desert Botanical Garden from PHX, offering a hassle-free journey.
  • Distance from PHX: Approximately 8 miles, making it a relatively quick and straightforward trip from the airport.
  • Time to Spend There:
    • Suggested Duration: Plan to spend at least 2 to 3 hours exploring the Desert Botanical Garden. This allows you to leisurely walk the trails, enjoy the plant displays, and perhaps participate in any guided tours or special exhibitions available during your visit. If you’re a photography enthusiast or a nature lover, you might want to allocate even more time to fully immerse yourself in the beauty and tranquility of the garden.

Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park: A Step Back in Time

Near the airport, the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park offers a glimpse into the ancient Hohokam culture.

This pre-Columbian archaeological site features a platform mound, ballcourt, and interpretive trails that take you through the ruins of this ancient village.

Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park

The museum’s exhibits on the Hohokam people and their ingenious canal system were fascinating and educational, making it a worthwhile visit for history buffs and curious travelers alike.

  • Getting There from PHX Airport: The Desert Botanical Garden is located at 1201 N. Galvin Parkway in Phoenix. The most direct route from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport involves taking E Sky Harbor Blvd to AZ-202 Loop E. Continue on AZ-202 Loop E to N Galvin Parkway. The journey typically takes about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on traffic conditions.
  • Distance from PHX: Approximately 7 miles, making it an easily accessible destination for travelers with a layover or those staying near the airport.
  • Time to Spend There: To fully appreciate the beauty and diversity of the Desert Botanical Garden, I recommend allocating at least 2 to 3 hours. This allows enough time to explore the various trails and exhibits at a leisurely pace, including the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop and the Desert Discovery Loop, without feeling rushed. If you’re particularly interested in botany or desert landscapes, you might find yourself wanting to stay longer.

Papago Park: Nature and Recreation

Papago Park, a sprawling urban park featuring distinctive red sandstone formations, is located close to PHX.

The park is home to several major attractions, including the Phoenix Zoo and the Hole-in-the-Rock, a natural geological formation offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

Papago Park

I found Papago Park to be the perfect spot for a leisurely hike, a picnic, or simply a moment of relaxation in nature.

Getting There from PHX Airport:

  • By Car: The most direct route is via Loop 202 and Priest Drive, taking about 10-15 minutes under normal traffic conditions.
  • Public Transportation: Options are limited, but you can take the PHX Sky Train to the 44th Street PHX Sky Train Station, then transfer to a Valley Metro bus that gets you closer to the park. Expect a travel time of about 30-45 minutes, depending on transfer times.
  • Ride-Sharing/Taxi: A convenient option, taking about 10-15 minutes from the airport, depending on traffic.

Distance from PHX Airport:

  • Approximately 5-6 miles, making it a nearby escape into nature that’s easily accessible.

Time to Spend There:

  • Short Visit: 1-2 hours if you’re pressed for time, allowing you to see the major highlights like the Hole-in-the-Rock and stroll around some of the easily accessible trails.
  • Extended Visit: 3-4 hours or more if you have the time. This allows you to thoroughly explore the park’s attractions, such as the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden (if you decide to visit both on the same trip), and take longer hikes around the scenic trails. Papago Park’s relatively flat terrain makes it an easy and enjoyable experience for visitors of all fitness levels.

Tempe Town Lake: Waterfront Activities

A few miles from PHX, Tempe Town Lake is an urban reservoir that offers a variety of recreational activities.

Whether you’re interested in kayaking, paddleboarding, or just enjoying the scenic views, the lake provides a refreshing waterfront escape.

Tempe Town Lake

The adjacent Tempe Beach Park, with its walking and biking paths, playgrounds, and picnic areas, makes for a delightful outdoor experience.

Getting There from PHX Airport:

  • By Car: The quickest route is via AZ-202 Loop E, taking about 10-15 minutes depending on traffic.
  • Public Transportation: Public transport involves taking the PHX Sky Train to the 44th Street PHX Sky Train Station, followed by a light rail ride towards Tempe. The journey can take around 30-45 minutes.
  • Ride-Sharing/Taxi: A direct ride-sharing service or taxi can get you there in about 10-15 minutes, making it a straightforward option for travelers.

Distance from PHX Airport:

  • Tempe Town Lake is approximately 7 miles from the airport, positioned as a convenient and refreshing stop for those seeking outdoor activities or simply a serene view near the water.

Time to Spend There:

  • Quick Stop: Spend around 1 hour if you’re looking for a brief visit. This gives you enough time to walk along the lake, enjoy the views, and maybe have a quick snack or coffee at one of the nearby cafes.
  • Leisurely Visit: 2-3 hours or more is ideal for taking advantage of the recreational activities available, such as paddleboarding, kayaking, or enjoying a bike ride around the area. The Tempe Beach Park, adjacent to the lake, is perfect for picnicking, making it a great spot to relax and enjoy the outdoors for an extended period.

Phoenix Art Museum: A Cultural Gem

For art enthusiasts, the Phoenix Art Museum, located a short drive from the airport, features an impressive collection of art spanning from the Renaissance to the present day.

The museum’s exhibitions of American, Asian, European, and Latin American art, along with contemporary works and fashion design, offer a rich cultural experience.

Phoenix Art Museum

The tranquil sculpture garden was a highlight of my visit, providing a space for reflection amidst the beauty of art.

Getting There from PHX Airport:

  • By Car: Drive time is typically around 10-15 minutes via E Sky Harbor Blvd and I-10 W. Parking is available at the museum.
  • Public Transportation: Take the PHX Sky Train to the 44th Street/Washington station, then switch to the Valley Metro Rail towards Montebello/19th Ave. Get off at the McDowell/Central Ave stop. The museum is a short walk from there. Total transit time is about 30-45 minutes.
  • Ride-Sharing/Taxi: Likely the most direct and quickest option, with a travel time of about 10-15 minutes, depending on traffic conditions.

Distance from PHX Airport:

  • The museum is approximately 7 miles from the airport, making it a relatively short trip and an easy addition to your itinerary.

Time to Spend There:

  • Short Visit: Allocate at least 1-2 hours if you’re short on time. This should give you a chance to explore the museum’s highlights, including the contemporary art section and the Thorne Miniature Rooms.
  • Extended Visit: If your schedule allows, 3-4 hours would enable a more comprehensive exploration of the museum’s extensive collections. This includes American, European, Asian, Latin American art, and the museum’s rotating special exhibitions. Additionally, the Sculpture Garden and the museum café can provide a relaxing break between galleries.

Nearby Hotels for a Comfortable Layover

For those with overnight layovers or early morning flights, staying near PHX is convenient. Based on my experience and research, here are some nearby hotels offering comfort and easy airport access:

  • Crowne Plaza Phoenix Airport – PHX: This hotel stands out for its proximity to the airport, offering modern amenities and a complimentary shuttle service.
  • SureStay Hotel by Best Western Phoenix Airport: An affordable option with comfortable accommodations and close to the airport, ideal for budget-conscious travelers.
  • DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Phoenix: Known for its spacious suites and warm hospitality, including the signature chocolate chip cookie at check-in.
  • Motel 6 Phoenix, AZ – Airport – 24th Street: A no-frills option for those looking for basic accommodations near PHX.
  • Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Airport North: Offers comfortable rooms and a range of amenities, including a fitness center and pool, just a short distance from the airport.

Final Thoughts

My layover near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport turned into an unexpected adventure, allowing me to explore the natural beauty, cultural richness, and historical depth of Phoenix.

Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature, dive into the local culture, or simply find a comfortable spot to rest, the area surrounding PHX offers something for every traveler.

With a bit of planning and an adventurous spirit, your layover in Phoenix can become a memorable part of your journey.

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