If you haven’t yet finalized your family’s spring break plans, chances are you might not be going to that beach resort, theme park, or cruise ship you’ve been contemplating for months now. Unless you don’t mind paying the big bucks to book last-minute deals to popular family destinations like Florida, the Caribbean, or California, you may want to consider a just-as-attractive alternative: Arizona.
Our family spent almost three weeks in the “Grand Canyon State.” Although we didn’t come close to experiencing everything it has to offer, we managed to cover a lot of ground. So if your kids have a week off from school and you can find reasonable airfare to Phoenix, here’s a sampling of attractions that can make for a great vacation.
Phoenix is probably the best place to begin and end your trip, so it’s worth staying in the area for a few days to take in some of Arizona’s famous desert environment. The Goldfield Ghost Town in nearby Apache Junction is a fun place to start. Make sure to take the tour of the original mineshaft to allow the kids to learn about the region’s history in a way that will keep everyone entertained. Jeep tours, horseback riding, and guided hikes through Lost Dutchman State Park are also available. My boys were particularly fascinated by the stories about the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine. Though many have died trying, we heard people are still searching for a very rich gold mine hidden somewhere in the nearby Superstition Mountains.
Depending on what part of the country you’re from, it might interest the kids to see where ice-cream comes from — a much-welcomed salvo to the desert heat. Before urban sprawl engulfed most of the Phoenix’s surrounding cities, much of the area was farmland. Residence for almost 1,000 cows, Superstition Farms offers families an inside look at life on an “agritourist” dairy farm. My son helped milk a goat, hold a chicken, and of course, sampled some of their freshly handmade Udder Delights ice cream.
The Arizona Museum of Natural History in downtown Mesa is also worth a visit. Not only does it provide some indoor relief from the sun, it also serves up some great exhibits on what many kids (especially boys) love about the Southwest: dinosaurs and Indians. Attractions include a three-story Dinosaur Mountain, Native Peoples Gallery and do-it-yourself gold panning. The slivers of gold dust they take away may not be real, but you don’t have to tell them that.
My children also have a fascination with snakes, which the Arizona desert apparently has plenty of. If you’re like me and prefer to see them though a glass window, the Phoenix Zoo has them safely on display. The zoo is home to more than 1,300 other animals, including some impressive bengal tigers and orangutans. Kids can also feed giraffes and pet stingrays in Stingray Bay.
As far as dining out, there are some good family-friendly spots I’d recommend where the parents will enjoy themselves and the kids won’t put up a fuss: breakfast at BLD’s in Chandler; lunch at Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert or The Mining Camp in Apache Junction; and dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory in the Chandler Fashion Center or at Monti’s La Casa Vieja in downtown Tempe.
Now that you’re acclimated to the desert weather, it’s time to explore more of what Arizona has to offer, including the Grand Canyon. To do so, I suggest getting off the beaten path, which I’ll review in my next post later this week.
Follow Rainer on Twitter at @JenssTravel