The American Southwest is a family road trip classic for a reason. Home to an ample array of things to see and do and multiple deserts that span several states, including Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah, there are plenty of things to do in the Southwest for everyone, including families, road trippers, luxury lovers, foodies, and city breakers. From museums to musical entertainment, fine dining to delicious street food, spectacular spas to incredible outdoor experiences—and even roller coasters—there is something to suit everyone’s needs.
It would be impossible to cover everything the expansive Southwest has to offer in just one post. In this post, we’ll take a look at what makes the southwest region unique, including 4 of the most compelling reasons to visit the Southwest on your next family vacation, what to do in the southwest, and when to visit the southwest USA.
Let’s start with what makes the southwest region unique:
Home to Native American tribes such as the Hopi, the Hualapai, the Navajo, and the Apache (to name just a few), the Southwest region is strongly influenced by Native American culture. With human history dating back to 9,000 BCE, you will find unique historical structures such as pueblos, as well as some of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the country across the area.
From exploring the area’s rich and varied human history to sampling modern Tex Mex cuisine, the Southwest is abundant in opportunities to learn about historical cultures and sample the best of the area’s more modern developments, from food and music to art and architecture.
Browse Grand Canyon West & Valley of Fire Tours
2. Desert beauty
In addition to its rich cultural history, the Southwest boasts some of the most impressive and iconic landscapes in the world. It has incredible deserts, unique flora and fauna that evolved specifically to survive and thrive in the harsh desert landscape, and beautiful geological formations unlike anything else you will find in the United States. Some of its most striking and unique examples include places like:
3. City sights
The Southwest is home to five major cities, each with their own unique attractions. If you’re wondering what to do in the southwest, here are just a few highlights from each spot:
- Taliesin West – Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, open for tours.
- Phoenix Zoo
- Musical Instrument Museum
- Heard Museum – Where “the tradition, culture and history of 22 regional American Indian tribes converge.”
- Phoenix Art Museum
- Desert Botanical Garden
- Kitt Peak National Observatory
- Tucson Botanical Gardens
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
- Pima Air and Space Museum
- Tucson Museum of Art
- The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
Santa Fe, NM
- The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
- New Mexico History Museum
- Canyon Road – “a mile-long stretch of famous galleries and boutiques.”
- Museum of International Folk Art
- El Rancho de las Golondrinas – A living history museum.
- Meow Wolf Santa Fe – An immersive collection of art installations.
- Albuquerque Museum of Art and History
- Albuquerque Old Town
- ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden
- ABQ BioPark Zoo
- Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum
- New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society
Las Vegas, NV
Learn more about what to see and do in Las Vegas.
The Southwest also has many interesting smaller cities and towns that are also worth visiting, such as Laughlin, NV, Silver City, NM, and Sedona, AZ. Learn more about where to stop if you’re road tripping around the area in our guide, and check out 11 Easy Day Trips from Las Vegas and 10 Places to See in the Southwest Outside of Sin City.
4. National Parks, monuments, preserves, and more
The Southwest is home to an incredible number of state and national parks, monuments, historic sites and trails, preserves, reserves, and recreation areas worth seeing. Each location offers its own range of outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding, camping, bouldering, fishing, and other in- or on-the-water options. Whether you decide to visit yourself or take a tour, these are some of the must-see spots the Southwest has to offer:
- Red Rock Canyon
- Hoover Dam
- Valley of Fire
- Death Valley National Park
- The Grand Canyon: South Rim, North Rim, and West Rim
- Antelope Canyon
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
- Petroglyph National Monument
- Arches National Park
- Big Bend National Park
- Great Basin National Park
- White Sands National Park
When to Visit the Southwest USA
Since it is largely made up of an arid desert climate, the best time to visit the Southwest is typically late winter to spring. The weather is much cooler (you may even want to bring layers—some areas get snow!) and, if you’re lucky and the conditions have been just right, you may catch the beautiful wildflower superbloom that takes place in areas like Death Valley.
In the summer, you may be limited in what activities you can participate in due to the high temperatures many parts of the region face. For example, hiking or spending extended periods of time outdoors are typically not recommended after 10am in the summer months. If you are planning to spend most of the time indoors on your trip, then temperature becomes less of a concern.
From its unique culture to its incredible natural areas, the American Southwest has a lot to offer on your next family vacation. There is no better time to visit than late winter to spring and there are lots of things to do in the Southwest: