Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Phoenix Right Now

Including urban park picnics, an epic bike ride, and self-guided art walks.

Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we go about our lives, from how we shop to how we work. But it’s also given us all a new perspective and a new appreciation for the things we all took for granted at one time or another. We’re shopping small. We’re ordering takeout from local restaurants. We’re spending more time outdoors. While many of our favorite things—food festivals, live shows, and large public gatherings—remain on pause or have altogether been canceled, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do and ways to support the businesses, restaurants, and artists in our community. From self-guided public art walks and urban hikes to outdoor dining activations, here’s a shortlist of some actually cool things that'll make you appreciate living in Phoenix, while masked up and socially distanced, of course.

Shop your community farmers market, in-person and online

Multiple locations, online
Whether you’re searching for locally made pasta, fresh-baked breads, cage-free eggs, seasonal organic veggies and fruits, or tapenades, Valley farmers markets including the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market, Uptown Farmers Market, and Mesa Farmers Market & Flea have what just what you need to conquer your shopping list. You'll leave with a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that you’re supporting local farmers, makers, and vendors during these uncertain times. And that feels good, doesn’t it?

phoenix park
Photo by Mark Lipczynski

Have an open-air picnic in an urban park

Multiple locations 
Takeout boxes piling up in the living room? It’s time to peel yourself off the sofa and get some fresh air. Our city offers countless parks to explore. In fact, the Phoenix Metro is brimming with 200 green spaces. City parks like Papago, Encanto, Civic Space Park, and Hance Park all make ideal picnic locations. Find a public park in your neighborhood.

Photo by Visit Phoenix/An Pham

Patron the Sauvage virtual bottle shop

Downtown Phoenix, online
Don’t forget the wine! Local bottle shop Sauvage has bottles on bottles just waiting to find a home on your personal wine rack. Really, they offer a rotating selection of craft ciders, orange vinos, hard-to-find spirits, canned options, and so much more. So, if you need a way to effortlessly impress a Zoom date or you’re searching for a natural wine to bring to a picnic in the park, any bottle, really, from Sauvage, is sure to spark a “spirited” (get it?) conversation.

Find tranquility and peace at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Downtown Phoenix
Let’s be real, we could all use a little zen these days, right? Modeled after the traditional strolling gardens throughout Japan, Phoenix’s own Japanese Friendship Garden provides a serene and peaceful setting that often plays host to traditional tea ceremonies, informative workshops, seasonal experiences like Illumination 2020 in the Garden, and socially distanced group activities including tai chi classes. In an effort to keep visitors safe, The Japanese Friendship Garden is abiding by CDC guidelines and requests that all guests properly social distance and wear a mask throughout the duration of their visit.

phoenix murals
Photo by Visit Phoenix/An Pham

Get acquainted with the downtown arts districts and murals

Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue 
Our city’s murals are way more than trendy selfie backdrops. Many of these murals paint a picture of current social issues and tell stories of the past. It’s not hard to be inspired by the vivid colors and beautiful pictures local street artists tell through their larger-than-life artworks. And there’s a lot to explore. Roosevelt Row is certainly the darling of Phoenix’s arts districts, no doubt. But not too far away is The Grand Avenue neighborhood, one of the city’s oldest commercial districts. This quirky hood provides a unique art-centered experience of its own. Positioned on the western edge of Downtown Phoenix, this funky neighborhood is packed with galleries, artist studios, and eye-popping vintage architecture mixed with adaptive reuse projects and public art installations that includes murals and decorated planters at every turn. And it’s all best explored on foot or two wheels.

Phoenix Art Museum
Photo courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

And get reacquainted with the Phoenix Art Museum

Downtown Phoenix
The Phoenix Art Museum has swung open its doors again after a months-long shutdown. Here you’ll encounter exhibitions such as Still Life: Ordinary Pleasures, which features works from artists that run the gamut from Georgia O’Keeffe to Pablo Picasso. And you can experience the immersive You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies. Want to keep the arts shining bright in your city? Adopt a digital firefly from the installation. You’ll get sweet perks like unlimited admission, invitations to exclusive members only events, free or discounted tickets to workshops, lectures, and films, plus some other cool benefits, too. Plot your visit and explore the world-class exhibits and comprehensive, and we mean comprehensive, collections right here. The Phoenix Art Museum is the largest art museum in the Southwest, after all. Museum-goers are encouraged to reserve tickets online for a seamless no-touch or low-touch check-in experience.

Desert Botanical Garden
Photo courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden

Take a leisurely stroll in the Desert Botanical Garden

Spanning 140-acres, this urban garden space is basically a living museum where art and nature collide. Home to thousands of species of trees, flowers, and cactus, including 485 rare and endangered species, the Desert Botanical Garden, one of only 24 botanical gardens accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, is undeniably a plant-lovers dream. DBG also hosts fun, limited-capacity events including dog-friendly days, large-scale art exhibitions, and seasonal experiences like Las Noches de las Luminarias, an annual affair that lights up the garden with thousands of luminarias and twinkly lights. See what’s happening in the garden right now, here. Advanced ticket reservations and masks are required to visit DBG.

Federal Pizza
Photo courtesy of Federal Pizza

Hit the drive-thru, but not the fast-food type

Multiple locations
Hungry? Take your rumbling stomach to the drive-thru. Local joints like Federal Pizza, 32 Shea, Luci’s at the Orchard, and Melrose’s Copper Star Coffee all have really fantastic menus and convenient drive-thrus. Fast food just got a lot tastier. Now, who’s up for some eggplant parm ‘za and saucy meatballs?

hiking phoenix
Photo by Visit Phoenix/

Go on socially distanced urban hiking adventure or scenic bike ride

Multiple locations
Travel might look different these days, but adventure is a lot closer than you might think. Lace up your hiking boots and point your GPS towards local urban hiking hotspots like Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak, McDowell Mountain Regional Park, or South Mountain Park & Preserve. Rather explore your city on two wheels? Spanning 11-miles, The Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt features an oasis of explorable paths, parks, and lakes, which lands it on a list of the top urban green spaces in the state. The greenbelt begins at Tempe Beach Park and stretches all the way to Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale. Explore the scenic route on a group bike tour or opt for a self-guided ride and pedal at your own pace. As always, use caution when visiting trails, wear your mask around others, and bring plenty of water. But you know that already.

downtown phoenix
Photo by Visit Phoenix/An Pham

Dine outside and support Downtown Phoenix restaurants

Downtown Phoenix 
In an effort to expand the overall dining capacity of local restaurants, city centers around the country are closing down streets to regular traffic and opening up these spaces to hungry restaurant goers. Downtown Phoenix is no exception. Enter Downtown Dine-Out. The concept is simple: give people a place to safely social distance outdoors, all while enjoying live music and takeout from their favorite Downtown Phoenix restaurants. The Larder + The Delta, Cornish Pasty Co., Taco Chelo, and Carly’s Bistro can take your orders online. You can snag a table every Thursday and Friday at CityScape or Renaissance Square. But you’ll have to leave the drinks behind, the outdoor dining activation is a booze-free zone.

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Lauren Reichert is a Phoenix-based multimedia storyteller and content creator. Her work has been featured in local travel guides and national publications. Follow her on Instagram @hungryinphoenix.