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The 15 best things to do in Phoenix when you're not at Super Bowl 2023 or the Phoenix Open

KiMi Robinson, Ed Masley and Bill Goodykoontz
Arizona Republic
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Super Bowl 2023 and the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament overlap this year — the Super Bowl and the final round of the Phoenix Open are both on Sunday, Feb. 12. The week leading up to that drama-filled day is loaded with concerts and fan events.

But we're here to tell you that metro Phoenix — which includes Glendale, the Super Bowl's host city this year, and Scottsdale, home of the Phoenix Open — is brimming with swell things to do when these marquee events aren't on the schedule.

Phoenix is the nation’s fifth-largest city, after all. It’s not all cactus and bola ties anymore (and, frankly, it never was). Whether you’re looking for great shopping, cool places to eat and drink, fun hikes or a casino to play the slots, Arizona has you covered.

These are the top things to see and do in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale and throughout Valley of the Sun.

Complete guide to Super Bowl 2023:Date, ticket prices, performers, NFL team odds

1. Try your luck at a casino

It’s a sure bet that you can find a casino near where you’re staying; Arizona has 24 of them, including Desert Diamond Casino near State Farm Stadium, the site of Super Bowl 2023, and Talking Stick Resort and Casino, on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community adjacent to Scottsdale. You can play cards, slots and other games of chance. Or you can bet on games (even that game) in sports books. Some casino properties include hotels, multiple restaurants and showrooms that attract national acts. Check the Arizona Department of Gaming website for more information.

More:The new Desert Diamond Casino is open near Glendale. Here's a guide to games, food, drinks

2. Shopping options for every budget and interest

Start at Scottsdale Fashion Square. Even if you can’t afford to buy — luxury retailers include Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin and Gucci — it’s a great place to window shop and people watch. Try Tanger Outlets in Glendale or Phoenix Premium Outlets near Chandler for deals on clothes, accessories and more. Want to enjoy a beer or a cocktail while you shop? Check out Desert Ridge Sip & Stroll. And if retro or one of a kind is your style, there are vintage and used-clothing stores throughout metro Phoenix, including Antique Sugar and Wang’s Closet.

More:10 top secondhand stores in metro Phoenix for clothing, jewelry and home goods

3. Explore downtown Tempe from Tempe Town Lake to Mill Avenue

The first Super Bowl Arizona hosted was played in Tempe; State Farm Stadium didn’t exist. A lot has changed in Tempe since then, but downtown — known by its thoroughfare, Mill Avenue — while different, is still bustling with bars and shops (but RIP Long Wong’s), a mix of Arizona State University students and everyone else. Or stroll over to Tempe Town Lake, a manmade body of water (this is the desert) that is surprisingly cool. And a great place for sunrise and sunset photos.

Exclusive:How Minder Binders bar and its 'massive collection of weird junk' defined Tempe culture

4. Sample the historic charm of Catlin Court in Glendale

State Farm Stadium wasn’t built until 2006. The homes in the historical Glendale neighborhood of Catlin Court that have been converted into local businesses and shops have been around a lot longer than that. The district runs from 59th Avenue to 57th Drive between Myrtle and Palmaire avenues, and is home to shops, restaurants and a doll museum, among other things.

More:Peacocks, a rose garden and a super playground: Why families love this metro Phoenix park

5. Downtown Chandler: A walkable neighborhood of food and fun

It’s a bit of a hike from State Farm Stadium — the Valley is nothing if not sprawling — but downtown Chandler has a nice old-time charm. And several bars. Restaurants, too. It’s centered in a few palm-lined blocks between Chandler Boulevard and Frye Road. Start with SanTan Brewing Company and work your way around from there. Maybe wind up at LOOK Dine-In Cinemas. 

'It kept evolving':How a midcentury Chandler motel was transformed into a boutique property

6. Get hands on at the Musical Instrument Museum

Travel site 10Best.com in 2014 recognized a Phoenix museum as one of the 10 best museums for families. 
The Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., ranked fourth in a national list of family-friendly museums, and was the only Arizona museum nominated in the 10Best Readers' Choice contest.

Go for the stellar museum exhibits. Stay for the music. Where else can you go stand in front of John Lennon's piano − the one he used to write "Imagine" − and check out a bit of the drum kit Keith Moon played at Woodstock on your way to watching a world-class artist perform in a beautiful theater than only seats 300 people? Don't miss the Experience Gallery, where you can try instruments for yourself.

Details: 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix. 480-478-6000, mim.org.

7. Phoenix Art Museum: Fashion, manga and Southwestern art

It's the largest museum for visual art in the entire Southwest with a permanent collection of more than 19,000 works, with exhibitions ranging from the magic realism of Philip C. Curtis' Arizona landscapes to "Mr.: You Can Hear the Song of This Town," exploring the manga-inspired world of one of today’s most popular Japanese artists. By the time the Super Bowl gets here, the museum's latest fashion exhibition — "Move: The Modern Cut of Geoffrey Beene" — will have opened.

Details: 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. 602-257-1880, phxart.org.

8. Heard Museum: Modern and traditional Indigenous artwork

The mission of the Heard Museum is "to be the world’s preeminent museum for the presentation, interpretation and advancement of American Indian art, emphasizing its intersection with broader artistic and cultural themes." That definitely comes across, especially in such highlights as the ongoing installation "Away From Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories" and "In the Service Of: American Indian Veteran Artists and Tributes." The museum also hosts the annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest. And, don't miss the gift shop, which has an amazing assortment of jewelry, kachina figures and more.

Details: 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. 602-252-8840, heard.org.

At the Heard:Hoop dance world championship returns to Phoenix

9. You don't have to be a kid to love the Phoenix Zoo

It's a great zoo. And what better time of year to spend a day outdoors in Phoenix when most of the country is in the frozen grip of winter? You may not even need a jacket. There's nearly 400 species of animals spread across 125 acres in Papago Park, divided into four themed areas: American Southwest flora and fauna, the Africa Trail, the Tropics Trail and the Children's Trail, which has a petting zoo and a really cool play area. There's also a safari train and camel rides.

Details: 455 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix. 602-286-3800, phoenixzoo.org/visit.

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10. See Mystery Castle, the original upcycled building

Boyce Luther Gulley built this 18-room, three-story "castle" for his daughter Mary Lou from found or inexpensive objects, from car parts to telephone poles and railroad tracks. It's reportedly held together by a combination of mortar, cement, calcium and goat milk. Yes, goat milk! Life magazine ran a story on the castle back in 1948. The headline summed up the mysterious appeal with "A Young Girl Rules Over the Strange Secrets of a Fairy Tale Dream House in the Arizona Desert." Mystery Castle is open for tours from October through May.

Details: 800 E. Mineral Road, Phoenix. mymysterycastle.com.

More:Mystery Castle is a Phoenix landmark. This man has lovingly cared for it for 42 years

11. Taliesin West: Take a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home

Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and desert laboratory, located within Scottsdale’s McDowell Mountains, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Established in 1937, Taliesin West is one of the architect’s more personal creations, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright foundation; he and his apprentices built the structures from the ground up using the natural surroundings.

Taliesin West hosts daily tours and special events such as sunset happy hours and film screenings. Check the website for the schedule.

Details: 12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale. 480-860-2700, http://franklloydwright.org/taliesin-west.

Valley 101 podcast:How the desert inspired Frank Lloyd Wright and shaped his designs

12. Hit the trail: Try South Mountain, Tom's Thumb or Camelback

Locals and visitors alike love the seemingly limitless hiking opportunities, from one end of the Valley to the other and from easy, ADA-accessible trails to bomber routes for experts only. Popular destinations include South Mountain Park and Preserve, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and Camelback Mountain.

Try the Kiwanis Trail (2 miles round trip, rated moderate) for expansive views of downtown Phoenix from South Mountain. Or head to Tom’s Thumb Trail (5 miles, rated difficult) and get ready to scramble to an iconic geological feature that pays off with scenic views. To see what all the fuss is about Camelback Mountain, hop on the Echo Canyon (2.5 miles, rated difficult) or Cholla (3 miles, rated difficult) trails if you’re ready for a challenging ascent. Pro tip: Don’t let the short distances fool you. These trails are steep and rocky.

The best desert hikes:Here are five great trails across metro Phoenix

13. Explore art, food and fun along Roosevelt Row in Phoenix

One of the most walkable neighborhoods in the Valley, the Roosevelt Row Arts District in downtown Phoenix is home to bars, restaurants, boutiques and entertainment venues.

Jazz enthusiasts should check out The Nash Jazz Club's schedule of performances. Gamers can enjoy a drink and an arcade game at Cobra Arcade Bar. To experience one of Phoenix’s buzziest taco places, head to Taco Boy’s. Or shop local at Straw and Wool, Bunky Boutique and MADE Art Boutique. Wherever you go, keep an out eye for local artists’ murals across Roosevelt’s alleys and walls.

Pro tip: If you’re heading out on the first Friday of the month, get ready to face the First Friday crowds.

More:First Fridays Phoenix: Your ultimate guide to parking, galleries, museums and what's free

14. Desert Botanical Garden shows off the Sonoran's lushness

Nothing says “I visited Phoenix, Arizona,” like posing with a bunch of cactuses. Stroll through Desert Botanical Garden’s trails to see the Sonoran Desert’s plant life, including an organ pipe cactus forest, desert wildflowers and towering saguaros. Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, you might see special art exhibitions, live music performances, or Southwestern luminarias at the garden.

Details: 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix. 480-941-1225, http://dbg.org.

15. Old Town Scottsdale is for the party people

If the women of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” visit Old Town Scottsdale — which is also one of the country’s top bachelorette party destinations — it must be an area worth visiting. To recreate the “Housewives” experience, hop on a party bike and drink as a captain navigates the streets of Old Town for you.

If you want to see where celebrities find staples for their closets, check out Vintage By Misty and its curated selection of vintage designer apparel and accessories. For a more arts-and-culture experience, explore the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibits and Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. And when you need a break, stop in one of the numerous tasting rooms to sample the best Arizona wines.

More:Old Town Scottsdale is full of wine tasting rooms. Here's what to expect at each one

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