I loved when my parents owned a condo in Phoenix, Arizona. The city is an amazing place to visit, especially with children. While the golfing is superb, there are many wonderful activities to share as a family, especially the Phoenix Zoo. Where else can you pet a stingray, ride a camel, feed a giraffe and visit inside a monkey village all in one day? After a fun-filled visit to the zoo, don’t overlook other nearby activities, like taking a ride on a miniature replica railroad or watching Native American dancing.
Phoenix for Kids
Being from the East Coast, we loved our semi-annual visits to Phoenix to see my parents and show our children something of the western US. Spring break is always a popular time to head to Arizona, with its gorgeous sunny, dry weather and tons of outdoor activities. During our numerous visits, we always found many activities to share as a family, from riding a miniature version of a steam railroad and enjoying Native American dancing to one of our favorites, a family visit to the Phoenix Zoo.
Family Fun at the Phoenix Zoo
Located within five miles of the airport, the Phoenix Zoo is consistently rated by family magazines and websites as one of the top 10 children’s zoos in the US. The zoo is a 125 acre adventure with more than 1,400 animals divided into four main walking trails – Arizona, Africa, Tropics and Children’s. Exhibits are scattered along the trails and blend nicely with the desert landscape and terrain of Phoenix.
We particularly liked the Arizona Trail, since we got to see animals native to the state including a mountain lion, bobcat, golden eagle and javelin, which is the only wild pig-like animal found in the US. The prairie dogs were the highlight, though, as they are very social animals and the children loved watching them pop in and out of their homes in the ground – think of live “jack in the boxes!”
They also loved the petting zoo, part of the Children’s Trail, with horses, cows, chicken, turkeys and sheep, and especially liked getting to brush the goats. There are also several playgrounds located inside the zoo, with features like water sprinklers, a log cabin slide and a cavern complete with stalagmites and stalactites.
The Monkey Village was another huge hit, and we all loved going inside the enclosed mesh compound where nothing separated us from more than a dozen tiny squirrel monkeys. We all enjoyed watching them walk along ropes strung up inside the compound, swing from branch to branch and carry babies on their backs without any barriers between us and them! There are always several volunteers within the compound to answer questions and help keep the curious monkeys off the visitors.
Both children also adored the camel rides, the hand painted endangered animal carousel and petting the sting rays in the large indoor pool. The highlight, however, was feeding lettuce leaves to a giraffe as they had never done that anywhere else before. They were initially hesitant, given a giraffe’s height and especially its 18” tongue, but ended up loving the experience!
All of these extras range from $3-5 each which, in addition to the admission price of $20 for adults and $14 for children 3-13, can certainly add up. Nevertheless, we found our zoo experience to be a highlight each time during our vacations to Phoenix.
TravelingMom Expert Tips: Try to visit in the cool of the day (particularly in summer months), as the animals tend to stay indoors when it’s too hot outside, and bring a stroller as the walking trails can be tiring for little ones. The zoo rents both strollers and wheelchairs for an additional fee.
At the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, the entire family enjoyed the mile-long ride around the park on the miniature replica of a Colorado narrow gauge railroad. You can sit in one of the open air freight cars or one of the enclosed passenger compartments and during various holidays, the ride includes going through a Halloween maze or Christmas light setting.
Both children also enjoyed the Scottsdale Charro Carousel, an antique carousel with 30 colorful horse and 2 wheelchair chariots to choose from. Both the train and carousel cost $2 each, but discount ticket books and all-day wristbands are available onsite.
The two free playgrounds, complete with water sprinklers and slides, are beautifully maintained and lots of fun. My little ones particularly liked the cowboy-themed play area, complete with a stagecoach to climb on and a jail inside a fort that they enjoyed playing hide-and-seek inside.
The free train exhibits are also worth a look, particularly walking through the Roald Amundsen Pullman Car. Built in 1928, this luxurious train car was used by every president from Herbert Hoover to Dwight D. Eisenhower. The train car has been placed on the National Historic Register and we enjoyed seeing where these presidents ate, slept and carried out their responsibilities while traveling by rail.
Native American Dancing
Every Friday during our trips to Phoenix, we ended our day at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort, to enjoy the free Native American dancing at 5pm in the courtyard. Parking was free and you could sit and enjoy the 30 minute show without ordering anything from the lounge, although the homemade jalapeno cucumber margaritas were delicious. Both children were fascinated by the colorful costumes and instruments of these dancers from the Navajo, Apache and other tribes.
The highlight of the show was the famous Hoop Dance, where the performer uses many hoops to tell a story using animal shapes and symbols. It is an extremely difficult dance and we all thoroughly enjoyed watching the skill and artistry of the performer, a world champion. At the end of the show, all little ones are invited to join the dancers in a celebratory circle dance. The show was a great way to end our Fridays and continues to be offered year around!