Phoenix – OUTSIDE

By Jimmy, The Outsider

In the intense heat of summer, these outside destinations might not be at the top of your arizona-desert-botanical-gardens-cactus-tallto-do list for Phoenix. But during the majority of the year, when the weather is glorious, revel in what Phoenix’s outdoor activities have to offer. 

Cactus is the norm in Phoenix and it’s the star at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Accredited by the American Association of Museums, it’s one of only a few botanical gardens in the country with that accreditation. Although the Gardens are in the city, you feel like you are in the middle of the desert because of its location between rocky bluffs that block out views of the city. Large and expansive, trails and labelled sections help keep you on track. Some areas feel meticulously planned while others feel raw and natural. It’s a completely unique botanical gardens experience compared to one in a more temperate climate – it’s such a different world! It’s so interesting to see the different kinds of cacti and succulents from those of massive heights to ones tangled and undulating along the ground. Look at how tall these were compared to me – and I’m a pretty tall guy! 

Worth a little side-trip in conjunction with visiting Taliesin West (see Courtney’s Phoenix – INSIDE), Cosanti  is an artist studio and exotic oasis in the midst of suburban Phoenix. Utopian architect and visionary, artist Paolo Soleri established Cosanti to create one-of-a-kind, signature wind chimes, sculptures and tiles all in an effort to fund his massive desert colony Arcosanti.  At Cosanti, you have the feeling that you’re walking around in the hollowed out underside of fossils. Bells of every size, shape, combination and sound can be seen, heard and bought. See artisans walking around and their works in various states of completion. The place is kind of bizarre and “out there,” but inviting. You feel like you are part of an artist’s process, witnessing their consistent need to create but also to sell the bells to fund Solari’s vision and projects. I had visited Cosanti more than 20 years ago and never forgot it. I bought a bell back then and it’s one of my treasures in my garden. I was so happy to return.


Cosanti is a peaceful oasis – even for a place that sells bells!

Scottsdale’s Downtown area is said to be a mix of the Old West with the New West. We’d certainly agree. It’s a fun place to meander in and out of shops and galleries. With a relaxing vibe, friendly shopkeeps and interesting water features, you’re as likely to find an elegant restaurant as a honkeytonk with music spilling out.


What a nice welcome in downtown Tempe.

Over in Tempe, you can get your outside time strolling the weekend artisan market downtown, hiking up “A” Mountain which provides great views from the top, or meander down to Tempe Town Lake. There, you’ll find miles of bike and pedestrian paths and opportunities to do some stand up paddleboarding (SUP) or paddleboating on the lake. You wouldn’t think of “Arizona” and “lake” in the same sentence, but, there you go. The Valley of the Sun is very surprising!

Safety Notes:

Don’t underestimate the desert heat!

Plan outdoor activities during cooler morning hours.

Take lots of water with you for all outdoor activities.

Use sunscreen, wear light loose clothing that covers your arms, and wear a sun hat with wide brim.

Watch out for desert wildlife like scorpions and snakes.

Read our entire feature about Phoenix, here