Arizona boasts numerous acclaimed cultural attractions, where you can learn about everything from architecture to zithers. Besides exhibits and tours, many of these iconic institutions invite you to linger over lunch and cocktails, or indulge in a little retail therapy by bringing home an art book or some jewelry. Here are just a few places where you can not only learn, but stay to dine and shop.
Since 1929, the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix has been known worldwide for its devotion to the art and culture of native peoples.
After you’ve spent time exploring the Spanish Colonial-style museum’s many galleries, revive yourself with lunch at the shady Courtyard Café, where the menu emphasizes fresh, indigenous ingredients and dishes, such as tepary bean hummus and a chopped salad studded with black beans and jicama.
The café is next to Books & More, which features tomes exploring American Indian art and Southwestern history and culture. It also abuts the Heard Museum Shop, which has been selling American Indian art since 1958, including jewelry, Katsina dolls, paintings, basketry and more. Both shops also host events, like book signings and artist demonstrations.
Musical Instrument Museum
In northeast Phoenix, the vast Musical Instrument Museum has quickly made a name for itself internationally since opening in 2010, with exhibits featuring thousands of instruments from some 200 countries, spotlights on artists and an intimate concert hall.
You’ll need a lunch interlude during your visit, so segue into the museum’s Café Allegro. The ever-changing, chef-centric menu in this airy, modern space features dishes like vegan lentil curry and chicken mole poblano, made from local and seasonal ingredients.
Walk off calories by exploring the museum’s store, where you can snap up a singing bowl, ukulele and talking drum, not to mention CDs, books, ornaments and even a guitar-shaped cheese board.
Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and architectural community, has grown organically near Scottsdale’s McDowell Mountains since its founding in 1937.
If you take a guided tour of the historic compound’s angular rock and glass buildings, you’ll buy your tickets on-site at Anneliese’s Bookstore, where you can also find scores of books by and about Wright, as well as Wright-designed tableware and home accessories, mugs, greeting cards and more.
Up the steps from the partially subterranean bookstore, you can get caffeinated at the desert outpost of Phoenix-based Royal Coffee Bar, a small kiosk that serves espresso and cold-brewed coffee drinks, plus pastries like citrus-berry scones, sandwiches and healthy salads, which you can enjoy at outdoor tables.
Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block
In Southern Arizona, Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block includes a soaring, contemporary museum building and several restored 19th-century homes, all connected by a sculpture-filled plaza.
Spend an afternoon viewing works from the museum’s permanent collection or traveling exhibitions, then browse the museum store, where you can find ceramics and art glass by Tucson artists, hand-painted scarves, jewelry, calendars and desk accessories.
End your day across the plaza with happy hour or dinner at charming Café a la C’Art, located in one of the museum complex’s historic homes. Sip a rum-based Sonoran Monsoon cocktail indoors or on the patio as you savor dishes such as achiote pork tacos or chile-braised lamb shank.
Against a backdrop of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains, 49-acre Tohono Chul is equal parts botanical garden, art gallery and cultural center.
After you’ve wandered past specimen cacti, viewed sculpture and joined a tour or class, stop at the Garden Bistro to enjoy prickly pear margaritas and the restaurant’s signature poblano-chile quesadilla in a gracious adobe building that was once a private home.
Leave time to explore the park’s three retail venues. La Fuente, next to the bistro, offers children’s books, plus Southwestern foods and cookbooks, while La Galeria sells jewelry and pottery, as well as Tucson hiking maps. La Entrada, a greenhouse, stocks cacti and arid-region plants, along with plant books and garden accessories.
Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
At the edge of Tucson, Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum’s 98 acres are dedicated to the flora and fauna of the surrounding desert.
Take trails past outdoor exhibits explaining riparian zones or a canyon where bobcats roam, then hike to the contemporary stone and glass complex that’s home to the museum’s two eateries – Ironwood Terraces, a food court serving burgers and sandwiches, and Ocotillo Café (open seasonally), where you can lunch on seafood posole (Mexican-style soup) and sip a civilized glass of wine.
After lunch, shop at the Ironwood Gift Shop, where you’ll find apparel by local artists, jewelry, fossils and minerals, or the Mountain House Gift Shop, which features American Indian crafts, children’s stuffed animals (desert critters, of course), wildflower seeds and natural history books.