Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Maricopa County, AZ

  • Published 2023/03/20

Maricopa County is in south-central Arizona and is one of the oldest and most iconic communities.

In the heart of the Sonoran Desert, this beautiful region is walled by mountain ranges, including the photographic Sierra Estrellas, Saddleback Mountains, Haley Hills, and Palo Verde.

The county was named after the Maricopa or Piipaash Native American Tribe and was established in parts of Yavapai and Pima counties in 1871.

The most populous county in Arizona has 14 regional parks and at least 21 protected areas for plants and animals, different shopping districts, great food, and people.

It’s also rich in history and offers many great destinations and landmarks.

Here are the best things to do in Maricopa County, Arizona:

Learn about Prehistoric Animals at Pangaea Land of the Dinosaurs

Exterior view of the Pangaea Land of the Dinosaurs

Richard N Horne, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Are you a fan of Jurassic Park?

Pangaea Land of the Dinosaurs teaches visitors about the different kinds of dinosaurs in its Dinosaur Exhibits.

See the Amargosaurus, Carnotaurus, Diplodocus, Oviraptor, Ptesaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and more.

Take part in the Etching art activities and draw your dinosaur.

Look for your choice of genuine fossils or gemstones in the panning activity while sifting a dirt bin through running water.

There are many free attractions and activities for everyone at the Clay Creation Station, Excavation, and Dino Dig Pit.

You’ll never regret dropping by Pangaea Land of the Dinosaurs.

Play at the token-operated Adventure Arcade with more than 20 games and many prizes at stake.

Bring Your Kids to Uptown Jungle

Are you throwing a surprise birthday party for your kid?

Celebrate your kid’s birthday with family and friends at Uptown Jungle!

This place is on North Dysart Road in Avondale.

This amusement center is an indoor facility and an ideal place to take your friends or family for a one-of-a-kind party experience.

Let your kids become explorers, superheroes, ninja warriors, and more as they explore the various courses at this fantastic indoor playground.

Uptown Jungle opened in 2004 and continues to provide unique entertainment with its trampolines, obstacle course, climbing walls, super slides, ninja courses, mega play structure, mini zips, ball blaster arena, and spider tower.

Wander the Butterfly Wonderland

Exterior view of the Butterfly Wonderland

Rosemarie Mosteller /

Along East Vía de Ventura, F100 in Scottsdale is the biggest butterfly conservatory in Arizona and the United States.

Butterfly Wonderland offers an impressive indoor conservatory that delivers a tropical rainforest to the Arizona desert, where thousands of butterflies fly unhindered.

You’ll learn about Monarch butterfly migration in an engaging 3D movie and watch stunning butterflies emerge from live chrysalises.

A pretty butterfly collecting nector from a flower at Butterfly Wonderland

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Spend time wandering through the conservatory with these beautiful insects and come close to reptiles from around the world that call the rainforest their home.

Don’t miss the interactive exhibits at Butterfly Wonderland, including Rainforest Reptile, Butterfly Emergence Gallery, Spineless Giants, Rainforest Birds, and many more.

Interior view of the Butterfly Wonderland

Around the World Photos /

Hike to Hole in the Rock in Papago Park

Hiking trail at Hole in the Rock in Papago Park

Checubus /

In the early days, the Hohokam Tribe used the Hole in the Rock to indicate the start of the summer and winter solstice.

There are illustrated areas and boulders inside, helping them plan their agricultural activities as soon as the sun hits at different periods of the year.

The Hole in the Rock hike is a brief, easy hike on North Galvin Parkway in Phoenix.

View of the Hole in the Rock in Papago Park

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Nestled in Papago park, this hike is ideal for anyone who wants a far-reaching view of the surrounding area.

If you’re a beginner, hiking a dirt slope and scaling a few rock stairs would be easy.

At the end of your quick trek, you’ll stand inside one of the holes formed by the wind, overlooking the city.

Hikers enjoying the sunset from Hole in the Rock in Papago Park

Checubus /

Explore the Arizona Museum of Natural History

Located in Mesa, the Arizona Museum of Natural History is the only natural history museum in the Phoenix area.

It’s a research institution and a public museum that exhibit different historical collections and artifacts, including ceramics, lithics, jewelry, photographs, maps, and more.

The Anthropology Section researches and organizes exhibitions about Native American cultures and southern Arizona archaeology.

These exhibits include Dinosaur Hall, Dinosaur Mountain, Ancient Cultures of Mexico, Classic Maya, Arizona through Time, and Sculptures & Public Art.

The Natural History Section, on the other hand, focuses on exploring, excavating, documenting, preparing, conserving, and researching the fossil resources in the Museum’s collection.

If you want to know the significant history of Arizona and its early settlers, visit the Arizona Museum of Natural History.

Try Different Adventures at Phoenix Zoo

Entrance to the Phoenix Zoo

Gregory E. Clifford /

One of the biggest non-profit zoos in the US is the Phoenix Zoo, located in Phoenix.

This remarkable zoo shelters more than 3,000 animals, with almost 400 species represented, including several threatened and endangered species.

Rhinoceros at Phoenix Zoo

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The ground covers approximately 125 acres providing vast space for accommodating animals such as Asian elephants, white-faced saki monkeys, tarantulas, African lions, Komodo dragons, and more.

Try the different trails, including Arizona, Africa, Tropics, and Children’s Trails, and check out various fun activities for the whole family.

Cheetah at Phoenix Zoo

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Ride the Safari Cruiser, which offers 20 to 25 minutes of fun and a narrated tour, or stroll on the Wild Walk to learn fun ways to get in shape.

Phoenix Zoo allows you to journey back in time and see Dinosaurs in the Desert.

Macaw at Phoenix Zoo

kenelamb photographics /

Bring the Family to Enchanted Island Amusement Park

Entrance to Enchanted Island Amusement Park

Gregory E. Clifford /

Enchanted Island Amusement Park is the perfect venue to celebrate your kid’s birthday, a family reunion, a company teambuilding, or any special occasion.

Located on West Encanto Boulevard in Phoenix, this park offers excellent food, exciting rides, and fun activities.

The spacious exclusive picnic grounds, enclosed by 7.5 acres of picturesque waterways, have shaded ramadas that accommodate up to 10,000 people.

Your kids will love the Kiddie Cars, Dragon Wagon, and Bumper Boats and ascending the Giant Climbing Wall.

Test your skills against friends or loved ones at the Castle Clash by defending your position in your respective castles with water guns.

Enchanted Island Amusement Park is one of the many places you shouldn’t miss in Arizona.

Visit the Vulture City Ghost Town

Landscape of Vulture City Ghost Town

Wirestock Creators /

The term ghost town might be scary for many people.

However, Vulture City Ghost Town isn’t inhabited by ghosts.

Instead, it is a deserted settlement in the Sonoran Desert’s extraordinary landscape in Wickenburg.

Established in 1863, this community expanded to meet the needs of Arizona’s thriving gold mine.

Interior of an abandoned house at Vulture City Ghost Town

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The 15 restored buildings and numerous artifacts provide insights into the mining culture and American Southwest’s lifestyle during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

You’ll find an ironwood tree in good condition, believed to be two to three centuries old.

According to the Vulture City Ghost Town’s legend, 18 men were hanged from the ironwood tree for theft and other crimes.

Abandoned truck at Vulture City Ghost Town

Laurel Powell /

Explore the Plants and Trails at the Desert Botanical Garden

Outside view of Desert Botanical Garden

Oleg Kovtun Hydrobio /

Whether you’re a horticulturist, a botanist, or a plant lover, the Desert Botanical Garden is a sight for a sore eye.

Located on North Galvin Parkway in Phoenix, this wonderful 55-acre botanical garden protects thousands of trees, cacti, and flower species from around the world.

Sculptures at Desert Botanical Garden

Raeann Davies /

Marvel at the more than 50,000 plant displays presented in gorgeous outdoor exhibits, along with 519 rare and endangered species.

Explore the trails and delight your senses with the fragrant herbs and vegetable beds as you rest and relax in shady spots.

Join the upcoming events and exhibits at Desert Botanical Garden, such as Music in the Garden 2023, Dog Days at the Garden, Majestic Mariposas, Plant Sale, and more.

Plants at Desert Botanical Garden

Mary Elise Photography /

Check Out Mystery Castle

Facade of the Mystery Castle

Madi Bennerotte /

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to solve mysteries.

The story of the Mystery Castle started when Boyce Gully built this iconic building upon the request of her daughter, Mary Lou, when she was just a little girl.

The castle is made up of native stones with 18 rooms, 13 fireplaces, parapets, and several adorable nooks and crannies, and equipped with southwestern antiques.

Sttaue at Mystery Castle

Raeann Davies /

Mary Lou was already an adult when she moved to her “castle” and shared her dominion with visitors through guided tours until she died in 2010.

Mystery Castle remains open to the public for touring.

The Mystery Castle Foundation maintains the castle to continue its history and magic for the years to come.

A distant view of Mystery Castle

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Hike the South Mountain Park and Preserve

Landscape of South Mountain Park and Preserve

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One of Arizona’s leading municipally managed parks is South Mountain Park and Preserve on South Central Avenue in Phoenix.

It encompasses three mountain ranges: Ma Ha Tauk, Gila, and Guadalupe.

Likewise, the park offers over 50 miles of trails perfect for mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

Hiking trail at South Mountain Park and Preserve

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Dobbins Lookout is situated in the park, rising at 2,330 feet.

It is the highest point accessible to the public.

The stone ramada provides shade, and the small observation deck distinguishes different Phoenix landmarks, including downtown Phoenix, Camelback Mountain, and local mountain ranges.

South Mountain Park and Preserve were chosen as a Phoenix Point of Pride.

Park bench with a view at South Mountain Park and Preserve

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Catch Fish at Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake during vibrant sunset

Digital Masters Imaging /

Fishing at Tempe Town Lake with loved ones or friends is more fun.

This lake is more than two miles long, developed by damming a part of the dry Salt River and adding water.

Aerial view of Tempe Town Lake

Tim Roberts Photography /

You can catch catfish, sunfish, bass, and trout, but bring the appropriate fishing license before trying to catch fish.

A series of paths allows you to walk, run, or jog, but you can also ride your bike.

You can also explore public artwork at Tempe Town Lake found along the lake.

Kayaking at Tempe Town Lake

Gregory E. Clifford /

Learn History at Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park

Exterior view of the Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park

Steve Cukrov /

Located on East Washington Street in Phoenix, Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park is an impressive archaeological site that links Phoenix to its ancient roots.

This 1,500-year-old archaeological site and Museum is also the only publicly accessible ancestral village place in the city.

Indoor exhibits offer artifacts from the site and interactive activities.

At the same time, they preserve and interpret Phoenix’s cultural history.

Display of pots at Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park

Steve Cukrov /

Historic Pima [O’odham], prehistoric Hohokam culture villages, historic territorial Phoenix, and other archaeological sites are common archaeological sites.

The collection in Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park is crucial to studying the Salt River Valley’s archaeology.

It also contains the Pueblo Grande site, Hohokam archaeology, and the original Phoenix townsite history.

View of Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park

Steve Cukrov /

Wander Old Town Scottsdale

Fountain at Old Town Scottsdale

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From Chaparral Road south to Osborn Road, Old Town Scottsdale offers more than a hundred restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, not to mention shops.

You’ll find over 45 extraordinary public art installations on the streets from 68th Street East to Miller Road.

Street view of Old Town Scottsdale

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Drop by Old Adobe Mission, Scottsdale’s oldest church constructed with 14,000 adobe bricks.

This old church in Old Town Scottsdale was for Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Mexicans built the church in the late 1910s using their bare hands.

Old Town Scottsdale Waterfront view

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Spend the Day at the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park

Entrance to Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park

You Touch Pix of EuToch /

The Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park in West Northern Avenue in Litchfield Park has the most massive collection of exotic and threatened animals.

There are over 600 species, rides, a petting zoo, and daily shows for the whole family.

See the cheetah in person or take a train ride on the Safari for a different experience.

Interior view of the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park

You Touch Pix of EuToch /

See the aquatic animals, including rays, sharks, fishes, and more, at the Aquarium featuring 80 exhibits.

Safari Camp provides your child an interactive experience with animals and explores their determination.

You can do so much at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park, so don’t miss them.

Toy train at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park

You Touch Pix of EuToch /

Final Thoughts

Are you planning to spend time with friends or family away from home?

Don’t forget to include Maricopa County in your bucket list of go-to places.

It’s a wonderful county full of beautiful and historical places worth visiting.

Enjoy the best things to do in Maricopa County, Arizona!

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