Many attractions in the Valley of the Sun are stewards of singular specimens. Others are continual cultivators. And some are so vast—or represent such complex ideas—that one visit is but an appetizer. Seize the chance to see something significant. When visiting Phoenix and Scottsdale, don't miss these unique cultural attractions.
The Architecture of Wright & Soleri
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West and Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti top any list of Arizona’s most curious and influential residential architecture.
Taliesin West in Scottsdale offers an overlapping schedule of daily tours, 1 to 3.5 hours in duration, to acquaint visitors with the Wisconsin-born architect’s ideas about the scale of sleeping versus gathering space, building in harmony with surroundings, and nurturing well-rounded, articulate architects-for-hire.
Apprentice-residents at Arcosanti, about an hour north of Phoenix, lead groups throughout Italian-born Soleri’s life-size pursuit of a high-density, car-free community, pointing out shade-casting breezeways, thermal-mass materials and productive fruit trees along the way. Soleri also kept a home and think tank called Cosanti, in Phoenix-adjacent Paradise Valley, where interpretive exhibits remain on-view today, and artists continue to craft windbells that are sold to fund ongoing construction projects.
Desert Botanical Garden
Talk about a continual cultivator: Growing cacti and succulents—then labeling them and explaining their structural oddities to the delight of desert-smitten visitors—is Desert Botanical Garden’s most basic business. Some guests gravitate toward photography workshops or xeriscape clinics and others drop in for concerts and plant sales. Large-scale, temporary art installations have drawn record crowds. And on just about any day, the Garden provides photo ops at every turn as well as close encounters with butterflies and hummingbirds.
Scottsdale Arts District
Main Street is an entertaining contradiction, playing to kitsch-seeking tourists with feather jewelry and scorpion paperweights east of Scottsdale Road, and romancing worldly travelers with landscapes in oil and sculptures in bronze west of Scottsdale Road. The art galleries that extend to Goldwater Boulevard are too numerous to tackle in just one day, but curb parking and large window displays make targeted return visits easy. For increased chances at meeting a featured artist or being offered a glass of wine on the house, wander during the weekly ArtWalk, Thursday nights from 7 to 9 pm.
Other Important Stops
•Equal parts scholarly and social, Phoenix’s Heard Museum documents the lives and styles of American Indians.
•The relatively young Musical Instrument Museum acquires noisemakers from remote jungles and scarcely known nations—plotting them on maps and sampling their sounds—while also celebrating songs many Americans know by heart.