Being surrounded by cacti, brush, and other desert greenery can be a highlight on a trip to Phoenix, but that is not the only thing this culturally stimulating and beautiful city offers to travelers looking to connect with nature. Arizona locals have perfected the art form of irrigation and cultivation; so many types of plants (and animals) that wouldn’t normally grow naturally in this part of the U.S. can thrive in the desert environment. From downtown to the suburbs, spend as much time as you can outdoors while visiting Phoenix, as some of its best offerings are captured in the fresh air and garden parks.

The City’s Grandest Garden

Although Phoenix has a plethora of choices when it comes to gardens and parks, the best to experience may be Papago Park. This is home to several notable attractions, including the Hall of Flame, the city’s firefighting museum that honors these great heroes. Inside Papago is the Phoenix Zoo as well as a scenic golf course to play a few rounds in the desert links.

No matter your main reason for visiting Papago, be sure to make the Desert Botanical Garden a stop on your trip. Open daily; the park is a sanctuary for local and exotic plants from all over the world, displayed in ever-revolving events and exhibits. Each month brings a new type of seasonal bloom to the space as well, so there’s always something new to see. Springtime is for varietals like Golden Poppies, while the summer months are for night-blooming cacti. Dispersed among the plants are others kinds of art, such as the ongoing Chihuly exhibit featuring whimsical and colorful blown glass.

Downtown Delights

Travelers do not have to venture far for a chance to relax in a Phoenix garden. For instance, the Margaret T. Hance Park on North Central Avenue has a unique layout situated over the city’s major freeway, making for some great views of the landscape below. The design has been inspired by tranquility and escape, so keep an eye out for easy-to-follow pathways through the trees, places for dogs to run, and picnic areas. Bring the kids to these attractions to let them get out some energy while they enjoy the playground, sand volleyball court, and large lawns.

Sunny Sanctuaries

To get a feel of some thrilling and exotic Japanese style, make a beeline for an afternoon at the Japanese Friendship Garden, located inside the main Hance Park. Open to the public, this space boasts plenty of winding paths that take guests by cascading waterfalls, swaying trees, and monuments paying homage to ancient Japanese tradition. After admiring the lush greenery, take a break at the teahouse to witness a ceremony kept alive for centuries. Take a guided tour or explore the gardens on your own — both are perfect opportunities for photos. In fact, many professionals use the gardens for exclusive photo shoots. You may just see joyful couples capturing their engagement photos near the trees, waterfalls or koi pond.

Phoenix cultivates and mind and the appetite with its galleries, live performances and cuisine, but the gardens and incredible horticulture displays are sure to appeal to the natural and spiritual sides as well.