Photo Credit: Nati Burnside
Entrance to the Musical Instrument Museum.

Last week in Part 1 (Jewish Life in the Desert), we discussed the Jewish communities in Phoenix/Scottsdale including the minyanim, supermarkets, and kosher restaurants. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

In terms of activities in Phoenix/Scottsdale, there is a multitude of options for visitors of all ages. There are also some amazing marvels of nature within a few hours’ drive.


Only a few minutes from downtown Phoenix you can find the Desert Botanical Gardens. A truly unique experience awaits at this amazing garden that is both beautiful to look at and educational. The gardens house all sorts of desert plants from all over the country. These are things that you would never be able to see all in one place or up close.

If education is your thing, Phoenix has two museums that stand out above the rest. The Heard Museum is “dedicated to advancing Native American Art” and is known to be the best of its kind. From different eras to different types of art, this museum will give your trip that regional significance you might be craving.

The other museum in the area that gains wide acclaim is the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). With an incredible building full of amazing exhibits, you could spend an entire day there and not see the whole thing. As you walk in, they hand you a machine the size of an old Walkman with a pair of headphones. Any time you walk near a screen, your headphones will play the audio from that exhibit. The MIM houses at least one of almost every musical instrument ever made, separated by country of origin. You’ll see Chinese instruments that are almost 3,000 years old down the hallway from a guitar made in Africa from 100 percent recycled materials. It’s truly a unique experience.

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Also on the educational spectrum, Taliesin West is a true marvel to see for anyone who appreciates architecture. The winter compound of perhaps the greatest modern architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, this Scottsdale location offers tours to get an up-close look at what a truly creative mind can do when using the desert as a canvas.

For other interests, there is the newly minted Arizona Boardwalk in Scottsdale. While not in any way an actual boardwalk, this circular pavilion is full of great activities for the whole family. The attractions include OdySea Aquarium, Butterfly Wonderland, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Laser + Mirror Maze (featuring a funhouse-style maze and a room where you dodge security lasers like in a movie), VR XTREME (an arcade full of virtual reality games), Pangaea: Land of the Dinosaurs (an indoor park full of animatronic dinosaurs), Surprise Your Eyes (a gallery with backgrounds to take pictures that look 3D), and Johnny’s Playground (an indoor playground for kids of all ages).

Two attractions slightly east of the city make for a nice day trip when paired together. The first is Goldfield Ghost Town. Now a tourist site, this was a huge location during the Gold Rush as the town sits on top of what is likely still one of the greatest deposits of gold in the United States. Due to irreversible flooding, the town was abandoned until a few decades ago when an entrepreneur bought the land and restored it as a replica of the town, with all sorts of things to do including a historical steam engine ride, a tour of a replica of a mine, a museum, gold panning, and much more.

Only a few minutes away (via a truly scenic drive through winding mountain roads) is the Dolly Steamboat. Here you can take a cruise on scenic Canyon Lake as a guide tells you everything about the region. On this great trip through nature, it’s fairly common to spot bald eagles in the wild.

If you are willing to venture a bit farther, two hours north of Phoenix is Sedona, where many people go to hike the desert vistas that are sometimes described as otherworldly in appearance. Options abound for any difficulty level and length. If your family is a clan of hikers, this is a truly unmissable excursion.

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Last but certainly not least, the Grand Canyon is about two hours further north (four hours total). It goes without saying that it is an absolute marvel of nature. (In fact, upon seeing it one should say the bracha of osseh ma’asseh bereshit. Whether or not one should use Hashem’s name is a question for your local Orthodox rabbi.) There’s plenty to do at the Grand Canyon other than just look at it for several hours at a time in amazement (though there are multiple lookout points and a scenic drive around the edge if that is your goal). There’s a geological museum and a museum about the history of humans and the canyon. The visitors center also has an IMAX film with everything you need to know. Just remember that when you drive four hours north, it may not be any warmer than it is back home. That said, the canyon will be just as grand even if you need a winter coat.

Given everything available, Arizona is certainly a great place for a vacation. There are tons of things to do and see, all with access to kosher food and minyanim.

What more could a traveling Jew ask for?

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Nati Burnside lives in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a man of many interests. The opinions in this piece are his own, but feel free to adopt them for yourself. In fact, he encourages you to do so.