When you think of Phoenix, Arizona, visions of cactus and desolate desert might pop into your head. But whether you’re looking for a warm winter family getaway or on your way to visit snowbird grandparents, you will be pleasantly surprised to find Phoenix is a fantastic family friendly destination.
If you’ve never been to Phoenix, you may be shocked to learn that the “Valley of the Sun” metro area is home to nearly 4.5 million people over 9,000 square miles. But no matter which part of the Valley you visit, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Phoenix with a toddler.
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Things to do with Toddlers in Phoenix, AZ
1. Railroad Park
Whether you’re big or small you’ll discover something to love at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, making it a perfect place for families. Your toddler will love riding the miniature trains and carousel, and you’ll enjoy them as well.
The model railroad building at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park contains 10,000 square feet of working model trains built by four local model railroad clubs, full of buttons for toddlers to activate trains and city scenes.
The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is also home to the Roald Amundsen Pullman Car, which in its day was the American presidential railcar. (Think the United States’ Air Force One in train form!)
Once everyone has seen something they enjoy at Railroad Park, your toddler can burn off energy at two unique playgrounds with railroad and Old West themes.
The trains, carousel, and museum cost a few dollars each while the model trains and playgrounds are free. The Railroad Park has a snack bar as well as plenty of picnic tables.
If you are visiting Phoenix around the holidays, make an evening visit as the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is in full holiday mode. It’s such a treat to ride the train through the holiday light displays. Prepare for long lines though, as the Railroad Park is an extremely popular family-friendly activity in Phoenix over the holidays.
2. Go on a Toddler-Friendly Hike in Phoenix
Most people don’t realize that Phoenix, AZ lies in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges, which is the reason for the “Valley of the Sun” nickname. This beautiful mountainous landscape offers a wide variety of hiking trails around Phoenix, from short and paved to stenuous and tough.
No matter where you are in Phoenix, you’re bound to find a hiking trail that fits your family perfectly. Here are a few toddler-friendly hikes around Phoenix:
- Papago Park, which is next door to both the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo, offers smooth, easy hiking trails with little elevation change.
- The McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona provides family programs and educational kids programs, while the Usery Mountain Recreation Area in Mesa has a variety of easy trails that provide nice views.
- A fun hike for toddlers is “A” Mountain, otherwise known as Hayden Butte, near Arizona State University in Tempe. You can’t miss the mountain, as it has a large “A” emblazoned on it, which you might even see from your plane window.
This family-friendly hike near Phoenix is nearly completely paved, with just a little bit of natural hiking at the top. What makes this easy hike a really fun thing to do with toddlers in Phoenix is that once you reach the top, you can watch planes take off and land at Sky Harbor Airport and look out over the Valley of the Sun from every angle.
Don’t miss our posts on How to Hike with a Toddler and our Resources for Hiking with a Baby or Toddler. We cover everything from hiking tips to the best carriers for hiking. Also, don’t miss our list of the best family hikes in the USA or the best family hikes around the world.
3. Catch a MLB Game
Fifteen Major League Baseball teams call Arizona home for Cactus League Spring Training. With ten stadiums spread out across the metro area in Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Surprise, and Tempe, you’ll likely be near one to catch a ball game with your kids.
Many of these baseball stadiums are only a few years old and have built family friendliness right into the experience by offering inexpensive lawn seats. Once you’re at the ball game, you can spread out your lawn blanket, graze through the food stands and trucks for something to eat, and have fun in the kids’ activity area.
And since the Cactus League tickets are relatively cheap, you don’t need to worry if your toddler doesn’t have the attention span for a whole ball game. Remember that the Arizona sun is strong even in the spring, so you may want to look for evening games or seats in the shade.
4. Riverview Park Playground
There are many fantastic playgrounds around Phoenix, but one of the best is Riverview Park, just east of Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs, in Mesa, AZ. Riverview Park has it all – including playground structures for all ages, a 50 foot tall climbing tower, a 60 foot caterpillar mesh rope climber, a “spray ground” splash pad, and a community fishing lake.
If you’re staying in the East Valley, Riverview Park is the perfect place to go with a toddler not only before or after a baseball game, but also a great stop to burn off energy before or after a flight as it’s straight east of Sky Harbor Airport.
5. Cool Off At A Splash Park
With the Arizona heat, it should be no surprise to find many splash parks across the Valley. What might surprise you though, is even though it’s warm all year ’round, the Phoenix splash pads aren’t necessarily open year ’round. Be sure to check schedules before heading out.
6. Desert Botanical Garden
Another of the best things to do in Phoenix with a toddler is a visit to the beautiful Desert Botanical Garden, which is near the Sky Harbor Airport and Papago Park. Your family can spend a few hours at the Desert Botanical Garden strolling through six trails while learning about Arizona’s unique landscape, beautiful desert plants and checking out fantastic views of the city and surrounding mountains.
The Desert Botanical Garden, which is free on the second Tuesday of every month, is especially beautiful in the spring during wildflower season.
7. Phoenix Zoo
After a fun visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, head next door to the Phoenix Zoo for another of the best toddler activities in Phoenix. Your toddler will love looking at the lions, tigers, and bears and 1,400 of their closest friends.
Your family will enjoy the children’s trail as well as the many play areas spread throughout the Phoenix Zoo. Camel rides and paddle boats are available, too.
And if you’re visiting around the holidays, be sure to visit at night for ZooLights to see the zoo lit up with millions of lights.
Final Tips for Visiting Phoenix with a Toddler
The Arizona sun will be strong regardless of what time of year you visit Phoenix. Learn about toddler sun safety and have sunscreen on hand even on overcast days. During the summer months temperatures in Phoenix will climb over 100F, so you may need to limit your activities to the mornings and evenings.
In addition to sunscreen, it’s important for everyone in the family to stay hydrated, so bring a water bladder for outings where you can’t easily buy more liquids.
Don’t worry though, as you should be able to find a pool during the middle of the day to cool off.
Remember that Arizona doesn’t change time, so the state is on Mountain Time in the winter months and Pacific Time in the summer months.
No matter where you look in Phoenix, you’ll find something fun to do with your kids. And don’t forget to just relax and simply just enjoy the warmth and beautiful blue skies of the Valley of the Sun!
Guest Post Written By Karla Lemmon.
Karla Lemmon calls Phoenix her second home and is the founder of Little Peanut on the Go, a mobile app for parents to use any time they or their kids are away from home. Parents can create emergency information and care instructions to share with caregivers, build packing lists and to-do lists, and connect with their kids while they’re away. Anytime you need a sitter or a suitcase, use Little Peanut on the Go to keep you organized and connected while you’re on the go!