Experience 3 days of family fun in Phoenix

This neverending winter has made a long weekend getaway to a warmer climate more of a sanity saver than an indulgence. The Valley of the Sun, a.k.a. Greater Phoenix, is a great pick if you’re looking for an easy getaway that promises warmth, sunshine and plenty of family fun and adventures.

Home to nearly 500 hotels – including 40 luxury resorts – you’re bound to find accommodations that fit your family style and budget. And with easy and affordable direct flights out of O’Hare and Midway, you can escape Chiberia in the morning and be lunching poolside by the early afternoon. Here are our picks for a fabulous long weekend family escape to Phoenix.

Day 1

Wander the stunning Desert Botanical Garden

The incredible plants at the Desert Botanical Garden amaze visitors not only for their beauty, but for the amazing ways in which they have adapted to their desert environment. Set on over 140 acres, this unique botanical garden features the world’s finest collection of arid-land plants from deserts around the world.

My two kids, ages five and 13, both enjoyed the docent-led Garden Tour, which taught us many things about the unique plants of the Sonoran Desert. We were most impressed with the towering, tree-like saguaro — their blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona.

Insider tips: Bring a water bottle, wear a hat, sunscreen and comfortable walking shoes. Upon entry, ask for some free kids’ activity sheets to help guide you as you stroll through the garden.

Experience Chicago history in Arizona at the Wrigley Mansion

In 1932, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. gave his wife Ada a 50th anniversary gift to remember: a magnificent Phoenix mansion with a 360-degree view of the mountains and the city below thanks to its hilltop perch. Take the tour ($15 per person) to learn more about the mansion and the Wrigley family, and stay for lunch at the fine in-house restaurant, Geordie’s. Family-style sides and a children’s menu are available and be sure to ask for a table on the expansive outdoor patio with a view to remember.

Insider tip: Ask to see the phone operator’s room and take a good look at the wall; it’s lined with silver chewing gum wrappers!

Day 2

Take a desert hike

The Usery Mountain Regional Park is best known for its variety of desert plants and animals, giving you a chance to experience the scenic lower Sonoran Desert. We arranged a guided hike with Arizona Outback Adventures, one of the Southwest’s premier adventure tour companies. Our guide gave us a better understanding of the desert environment, showing us some of the tricks of the cactus trade – beware of the not-so-cuddly Teddy Bear cactus! – and lead us to the top of a small mountain where the view took our breath away. My kids both felt challenged by the hike and learned many things about the desert along the way; our guide adapted our hike to fit my kids’ ages and taught us some basic desert hiking skills. The Usery Mountain Regional Park’s welcoming center also has a gift shop where you can find a great selection of regional interest activity books for kids.

Insider tip: Arizona Outback Adventures also offers rafting trips, kayak trips, and road bike and mountain biking tours in the Greater Phoenix area; if you’ve got older tweens and teens in your family, consider taking on a more challenging adventure!

Enjoy lunch at Joe’s Farm Grill

Just across from Agritopia, an urban farm designed to flourish in the desert conditions, you’ll find Joe’s Farm Grill. Grab some burgers and sweet potato fries from the 60’s era mid-century modern burger stand and then settle on a picnic table under the 100+ year-old trees. The food here makes use of Agritopia’s same-day harvest and Joe’s Farm Grill even makes their own pickles and marinades.

Insider tip: Check out the Farmstand, located steps away from Joe’s Farm Grill. We got a kick out of all the fresh citrus on display, and the giant Ponderosa lemons were simply amazing!

Swing, jump and climb a 50 ft. tower at Mesa’s Riverview Park

Riverview Park stands out as one of the coolest parks in the U.S. with its two enormous playgrounds featuring the latest in hands-on play equipment. If you have a Spider-kid in your family, challenge them to climb the 300 ft. natural linear climbing wall complete with a covered fort. My 13-year-old took on the world’s tallest rope climbing tower – it stretches 50 feet into the air! The 75-foot zip line was a blast, too. Follow the palm-tree lined walkway, called the Paseo by locals, to Cubs Park, where you just might find the Chicago Cubs in action at their Spring Training Stadium.

Day 3

Soar 5,000 feet above Phoenix in a hot air balloon

End your trip to Arizona 5,000 feet in the sky, in a hot air balloon with Hot Air Expeditions. You’ll enjoy 360 degree views of the dessert as you drift over saguaros and palos verdes. If you keep your eyes peeled you just might spot quail, roadrunners or deer. And relax, hot air ballooning is one of the safest forms of flight known to man.

Where to stay

The Arizona Biltmore

The historic Arizona Biltmore, a.k.a. the “Jewel of the Desert,” has been welcoming guests to its luxe resort since 1929. Nestled on 39 acres at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, the legendary resort is best known for its distinctive Frank Lloyd Wright architectural style and reputation as a playground of the rich and famous. Marilyn Monroe adored the swimming pool at the Arizona Biltmore and the Tequila Sunrise was invented here! Of course, our family appreciated the eight swimming pools, including the spectacular Paradise Pool with its a 92-foot-long water slide, the most.

Insider tips: Your kids won’t forget ordering a smoothie from the poolside Cabana Club’s swim-up bar. Save time for a game of chess on the resort’s lush grounds.

The Wigwam Resort

This “Historic Hotel of America” was once the gathering place for the Ohio-based executives of Goodyear Tire & Rubber. Spanning over 440 acres on an estate-like setting, the Wigwam Resort features 331 casita-style guest rooms, including 72 suites, crafted from distinctive adobe architecture, 54 holes of championship golf, a 26,000-square-foot Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, and four pools with two twisting water slides. Perhaps the best feature, however, is the variety of activities and events for families. We happened to be staying when the Wigwam was hosting a regional art fair and had a chance to watch a striking Native American hoop dance on the outdoor stage.

Insider tip: Ask the concierge to surprise your little ones with an in-room teepee. My 5-year-old loved cuddling up in hers with books at bedtime.

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