West Valley Attractions You Should Not Miss

If you had only one day in West Valley, what would you do or see? Believe it or not, I get asked this question fairly often. Interesting to ponder, but impossible to answer. There are just too many factors. Will there be children along? Do you like to walk or drive? Is it summer or winter? Do you like museums or shopping? The West Valley has so much to offer. There are so many options--how do I recommend just one or two attractions or activities?

I have picked out places/activities that I think are unique or not to be missed when visiting the West Valley area. You'd never get these done in even a week, but some attractions will appeal to you more than others. Visiting when it's hot outside? The places or activities I've marked with a double asterisk (**) are indoor, cool, and comfortable. The others may not be appropriate in summer heat, or only if you are able to visit very early in the morning.

One more thing--these West Valley attractions and places of interest are not listed in any particular order. It was tough enough to come up with only these--please don't make me rank them!

Phoenix International Raceway

Phoenix International Raceway

In 1964, when Phoenix International Raceway was carved out of the foothills of the Estrella Mountains, it was intended to be a new jewel in the crown of American open wheel racing. Drivers like Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones and the Unsers soon came to love the one mile paved oval with the unique bend in the backstretch. And they really loved coming to Phoenix, where the tourism industry was just starting to grow and its western style hospitality was second to none.

But it wasn't until 1988, when NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing came to PIR, that auto racing in Phoenix really became a major sporting attraction for the "Valley of the Sun." New racing legends and legends-in-the-making like Davey Allison, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace and the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup stars found out firsthand what their champ-car brethren had known for years: Phoenix International Raceway is truly a great place to race, both for the drivers and especially the fans.

Today, Phoenix International Raceway has a tradition that is unmatched in the world of racing. The Indycars have made 58 visits to PIR, and the annual Fall NASCAR weekend -- including NASCAR Sprint Cup, Busch, Craftsman Trucks and Featherlite Southwest Series races -- is one of the biggest events in the entire state. As a matter of fact, the Checker Auto Parts 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race is arguably the largest one-day sporting event in Arizona.

As the sixth-largest city in America, Phoenix and the surrounding area offers all the food, lodging, and recreation/entertainment options one would expect from a town that thrives on tourism. Phoenix is world-famous for golf, tennis, shopping, and lots of sunshine - not to mention the most celebrated and storied racetrack in the West.

Link: Phoenix International Raceway

University of Phoenix Stadium**

University of Phoenix Stadium

The exterior design of the stadium has been created by world-renowned architect Peter Eisenman, along with HOK Sport and should become a landmark facility for Arizona. The basic form of the design takes its cue from a barrel cactus and offers alternating vertical slots with smooth panels. In addition, the translucent “Bird-Air” fabric roof will allow the stadium to have an open, airy feel even when the roof is closed. The roof has two large retractable panels that will uncover the entire playing field while providing maximum shading for fans. The roof can be closed and the facility air conditioned in the hot months, while the roof can be opened to take advantage of the Valley’s world-famous climate in cooler months.

The grass field remains outside the stadium in the sun until game day getting the maximum amount of sunshine and nourishment, eliminating humidity problems inside the stadium and providing unrestricted access to the stadium floor for events and staging.

The tray will take approximately 45 minutes to move. The tray will rest atop tracks and will roll out on steel wheel sets powered by small electric motors. The field will support approximately 94,000 square feet (over 2 acres) of natural grass.

Having the rollout field saves $50 million in costs since it is more economical to move the field than having the entire roof retract to allow the necessary sunshine to reach the grass. The natural grass playing surface is contained in a retractable, 12-million pound tray that is 234 feet wide by 400 feet long, and is the first of its kind in North America.

Link: University of Phoenix Stadium

White Tanks Regional Park

White Tanks Regional Park

Nearly 30,000 acres makes this the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains on the Valleys west side. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons, rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet. Infrequent heavy rains cause flash floodwaters to plunge through the canyons and pour onto the plain. These torrential flows, pouring down chutes and dropping off ledges, have scoured out a series of depressions, or tanks, in the white granite rock below, thus giving the mountains their name.

The park is located at 13025 N. White Tank Mountain Road in Waddell.

Link: White Tanks Regional Park

Challenger Space Center**

Challenger Space Center

Educational programs are the backbone of the Challenger Center. All of our programs are designed to meet or exceed Arizona state educational standards. All programs are specially designed to meet educational standards set for Math, Science, Technology and Workplace Skills.

The Challenger Space Center provides an exciting space-based learning environment where schoolchildren, families, senior citizens, corporate teams and others fly simulated space flight missions where they become flight crews, mission controllers and scientists.

Flight missions, led by Challenger Flight Directors, seamlessly integrate the concepts of teamwork, communications and leadership, along with math, science and technology skills, to help participants work together to overcome obstacles and emergencies and complete a successful mission.

Equal to education missions designed for students and their teachers, the Space Center — a community resource center — also features numerous public programming opportunities including stargazing, an indoor planetarium, space camps, lectures, telescope classes, space storytelling and more, to enable families, youth groups, Scout troops, community members, corporate teams, senior citizens and others to experience the awe-inspiring Center’s 21,433 square foot facility and all that she has to offer.

Link: Challenger Space Center

Wildlife World Zoo

Wildlife World Zoo

At 22 years old and growing stronger, Wildlife World Zoo has Arizona's largest collection of exotic animals, totaling over 2400 individual animals representing in excess of 400 species.

Wildlife World Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). It is one of a few nationally accredited privately owned zoos in the United States. In 2004, the zoo was also inducted into the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). Only about one quarter of AZA's 200 plus member institutions are currently selected for membership in WAZA.

One satisfied zoo member comments: "If you want to see animals up close, this is the zoo for you. You won't find concrete sidewalks here, you are surrounded by nature. This place is a safe haven for animals, a present day Noah's ark."

The zoo is located at 16501 W. Northern Avenue in Litchfield Park.

Link: World Wildlife Zoo

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

One of the most scenic water recreation areas in the “Valley of the Sun,” this northwest Valley park is a recreationist’s dream. The park offers many activities, such as camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. At the Lake Pleasant Visitor Center, guests learn about the history of the area nd desert wildlife. Step out onto the balcony surrounding the Visitor Center to get a beautiful view of Lake leasant and an up-close look at Waddell Dam. The breathtaking views offer visitors a great place to relax, whether it is from a boat or shoreline picnic site.

The park is located at 41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Road, in Morristown.

Link: Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Ak-Chin Pavilion

Ak-Chin Pavilion This huge venue serves up some of the Valley's best outdoor concerts and entertainment, from Bob Dylan to Marshall Tucker, Gypsy Kings to Aerosmith. The amphitheater can seat 8,000 fans in the reserved area under the pavilion roof, while the outdoor area can accommodate another 12,000. Grab a blanket and take a seat under the stars for a concert experience on the Festival Lawn. The spacious, sloping hillside provides a clear view of the stage, while big screen video monitors and state-of-the-art acoustics provide indoor arena-like clarity.

The Ak-Chin Pavilion is located at 2121 North 83rd Avenue (83rd & Encanto Blvd) in Phoenix.

Link: Ak-Chin Pavilion

Westgate City Center**

Westgate City Center In the shadow of the extraordinary new Glendale Arena and the new Arizona Cardinals NFL stadium, the Westgate City Center is beginning to take shape.

The Glendale Arena, in the heart of Westgate, hosts over 160 events each year, from NHL hockey to pro lacrosse and the brightest stars in music including Prince, Britney, Bette Midler, Kenny Chesney, Jessica Simpson and more. The new 4,000 seat AMC Westgate 20 will be a movie-going experience like no other and provide an entertaining destination any night of the week.

Life at Westgate City Center will be anything but sedate.

Living within Arizona’s newest and most exciting community will mean living in the heart of the action — with some of the best sporting events, concerts, shopping, bars and restaurants right at your impeccably designed doorstep.

From sleek urban townhouses to chic apartments, you’ll find that your residential options at Westgate City Center are vital, modern and sophisticated. The Quarter at Westgate will feature 171 airy, loft-like townhouses, available for sale beginning in early 2006. The Alexan Westgate apartment community will be available for lease in Fall 2006. Both will feature the kind of contemporary designs and luxury amenities that fuse perfectly with a lifestyle that’s very grown-up, but not at all settled down

Link: Westgate City Center

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

These 19,840 acres of desert and mountains became the first regional park in the Maricopa County Park System in 1954. Located near the meeting of the Gila and Agua Fria Rivers in the southwest Valley, the park includes a large wetland, or riparian, area. The majority of the park remains pristine desert, very similar in appearance to the landscape seen by the first settlers and explorers. The Sierra Estrella range, or Star Mountains, was once within the Mexican border, and remained so until the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. Today, many amenities are available to visitors, including the only grass picnic area in the Maricopa County Park System.

The park is located at 14805 West Vineyard Avenue in Goodyear.

Link: Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Deer Valley Rock Art Center

Deer Valley Rock Art Center

The Deer Valley Rock Art Center is a museum, nature preserve and archaeological site with the largest concentration of Native American rock art in the Phoenix Valley. The handicapped-accessible interpretive trail takes visitors to a place where ancient people marked boulders with thousands of special symbols called petroglyphs.

Located in the Northwest Valley, the center comprises over 47 acres of pristine desert, a hill of basaltic boulders covered in upwards of 1,500 ancient petroglyphs, an ethnobotanical garden, a museum, native wildlife and, in the spring, copious wildflower blooms. Outdoor picnic tables and an amphitheater area offer ideal places for picnicking.

An incredible variety of desert plants are found throughout the grounds and along the ¼-mile trail that winds past the petroglyphs. There are also roadrunners, quail, rock squirrels, ground squirrels, cottontails, jackrabbits, javelina, hummingbirds, great horned owls, Harris hawks and red-tailed hawks.

Signage on the petroglyph trail informs visitors of the archaeology of the site and identifies plant species. Upon their arrival, visitors also receive a trail guide and map that will offer additional information.

The museum is located at 3711 W. Deer Valley Road, approximately 2 miles north of Highway 101 and 2 miles west of I-17.

Link: Deer Valley Rock Art Center