“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is fast approaching the 40th anniversary of the classic movie’s 1986 release. While I work hard – and juggle a lot of side gigs with the same fervor – I identify with the iconic film for a couple of reasons. For starters, I am a Midwestern native, growing up a short car ride away from Chicago and its suburbs, the setting for the high school hookie adventure. And like the main character, I believe in playing hard, too – sharing in Ferris’ motto that, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Which brings me to one of my latest thrill-rides …
Things to do in Phoenix in February
Things to do in Phoenix February 2024College basketball boasts “March Madness.” The Major League Baseball playoffs own October with the “Fall Classic.”
Here in the Phoenix tourism industry, the most special time of the year is “Frantic February,” which annually revs up in late January with the world’s greatest celebration of the automobile -- the Barrett-Jackson Car Collector Auction.
Following quickly on those wheels in early February is the PGA Tour’s rowdiest good time – the Waste Management Phoenix Open -- before the “Boys of Summer” end their winter slumber, with pitchers and catchers reporting mid-month for baseball’s spring training and Cactus League exhibition games beginning before March.
Those three momentous events converging together in a month-long window help make the Valley of the Sun an especially exciting place to either reside or visit.
With an incredible climate and endless amounts of fun in the sun, Arizona is a popular destination – and the Phoenix metro area is specially equipped to manage the additional chaos of all these incredible happenings occurring back-to-back-to-back.
Take it from this Phoenix adventure tours owner, there is no lack of amazing activities outdoors to ensure your stay is unforgettable for you and your team – whether that means your family or travel group of friends.
Here are some important tips for travelers visiting for any or all of those big-ticket events – as well as a short list of “amazing things to do in Phoenix February 2024” from me -- the owner and operator of the five-star reviewed and rated Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
Special events in Phoenix in FebruaryHere is a look at the main events during our “Frantic February:”
Promotional image courtesy Barrett-Jackson.com
Barrett-Jackson Car Collector Auction (Jan. 20, 2023 - Jan. 28, 2024)
The Barrett-Jackson Car Auction Company was founded in Scottsdale after a pair of transplanted Midwesterners launched a car show in 1967 to raise money for local families. A self-titled car auction followed in 1971 and was intended as a one-time event. Instead, the show became such a hit, the annual celebration of the automobile marked a 50th anniversary in January 2022 at Scottsdale’s WestWorld Events Center. Additional auctions also were added in the 2000s -- in vacation destinations including Las Vegas and Florida. However, the granddaddy of them all makes the Phoenix area the automobile capital of the world for one week out of the year in late January. Celebrity cars and bidders, vehicles used in TV and the movies, unusual or hard-to-find models, and all sorts of memorabilia are the highlights annually of an event that is now nationally televised. Some of the cars are auctioned to benefit charity, and the show is open to the public with an admission fee, though a small percentage of the massive crowds drawn from around the country are actual bidders.
Players consider the crowd at the Phoenix Open to be the best on the PGA Tour. Picture courtesy wmphoenixopen.com.
PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open (Feb. 5-11)
Started in 1934, this traditional PGA season starter is annually voted by players as one of their favorite tournaments on the tour. Now played at TPC Scottsdale, the Phoenix Open also is a favorite among golf fans because the atmosphere is a mixture of a college keg party and backyard barbecue for the whole neighborhood. The excitement and electricity is especially infectious during the final round annually on the tournament’s final day. Golf fans often wear football jerseys and have a rowdy good time cheering, high-fiving, and interacting with the pros to break the buttoned-up, prim-and-proper image of a golf tournament and golf fans with their polite golf claps and collared polo shirts and khakis. This is hardly a tea party – unless you are thinking of Boston before the Revolutionary War.
Promotional image for baseball's spring training in Arizona, courtesy of cactusleague.com.
Major League Baseball’s Spring Training (Feb. 12-March 24)
Many would say one of the best things about the United States is the game of baseball. But we aren't talking about the Arizona Diamondbacks playing at Chase Field here in downtown Phoenix, we are talking about the real start of the baseball season, spring training.
Pitchers and catchers start trickling into training camps the day after the Phoenix Open’s final round. Baseball fans begin arriving from around the country to vacation with their favorite teams by Thursday, Feb. 22 when Cactus League exhibition games start in Arizona. The schedule of games runs through the final weekend of March, when big league clubs return home for the March 28 start of the MLB season. This year marks the 76th anniversary of spring training in Arizona. The 2024 Cactus League includes my Chicago Cubbies, as well as the 14 other teams – the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, the Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, San Fransisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and the home state Arizona Diamondbacks.
Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show (Feb. 15-25)
Arizona Renaissance Festival (Feb. 3-March 31)
With one of Arizona's Easter egg-colored sunsets as the backdrop, bicycle lights reveal an amazing desert landscape during one of the special Phoenix mountain bike tours offered at dusk by the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
Adventurous Outdoor things to do in Phoenix
Here is a Top 10 must-do list of Phoenix adventure tours I highly recommend enjoying whenever you are in the Valley of the Sun:
No. 1: Wild Bunch Desert Guides mountain bike tours
A Phoenix mountain bike tours group pauses to take in some iconic Sonoran Desert scenery during a journey with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
No. 2: Wild Bunch Desert Guides hiking tours
A trio of friends pause for a picture with a beautiful vista in the background during one of the Phoenix hiking tours offered by the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
No. 3: Stellar Adventures
Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (left) enjoys an off-roading experience with her mother at Stellar Adventures.
For off-road joy-riding fun in the desert, Stellar Adventures is the best in the business. Stellar offers H1 hummers, KM1009 Blazers, ATVS, UTVS. My personal favorite is the shooting experience with an NRA-certified safety instructor. Please note: You are not shooting at Sonoran Desert flora or fauna. Instead, you are shooting at standing targets. You can combine a shooting experience with an off-road vehicle experience and have major adrenaline going all day! Special note: Stellar’s owner J.J. Briles is my business mentor and sets the bar high for the rest of us in the Phoenix adventure tours industry – so know a good time awaits no matter what you choose to do! Contact info: stellaradventures.com or 602-402-0548.
No. 4 Mad Desert Trekking
Wild Bunch Desert Guides veteran Matt Kalina (right) boldly goes where few go anymore by offering Camelback Mountain hiking tours through his off-shoot, Mad Desert Trekking. Matt is showing off an incredible view to a guest from the iconic Phoenix landmark in this picture.
My longtime loyal guide and fellow transplanted Midwesterner Matt Kalina offers a hiking service we refer to guests who have their hearts set on summiting the iconic Phoenix landmark, Camelback Mountain. Wild Bunch no longer offers Camelback Mountain hiking tours, but if you are dead set on taking up that iconic challenge, my advice is to hire a guide to get you to the top – and nobody is better than Matt’s first-class service. Contact info: maddesert.com or 480-818-6821.
No. 5: Windwalker Expeditions
Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (left) and her boyfriend Brett Talcott enjoy a horseback ride in the desert with Windwalker Expeditions.
Looking for an amazing experience with a guide boasting three decades in the business? Saddle up with Windwalker Expeditions for a guided horseback adventure. This outfit not only knows the desert like the back of their hands, but they are also the nicest people in the Arizona adventure travel tour industry. During one ride, I saw five Gila Monsters and some of the most beautiful desert scenery I have ever experienced – and that is saying something, considering I practically live in the Sonoran Desert. Like the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, Windwalker is a small, private boutique, so they offer a special, personalized touch with a truly fantastic experience. Contact info: windwalkerexpeditions.com and 480-585-3382.
No. 6: Hot Air Expeditions
Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (green hat, center) enjoying a flight with Hot Air Expeditions.
You can imagine the breathtaking beauty when my Wild Bunch Desert Guides are out on a guided Phoenix hiking tour or guided Scottsdale mountain bike tour and look up into the sky and see a ton of colorful hot air balloons drifting overhead. Trust me, the view from above the desert floor is even better! I admit I was a tiny bit scared of the landing before I did my first flight, but Hot Air Expeditions took fantastic care of me and allayed my fears. I even had the privilege of seeing snowcapped mountains thanks to a storm the night before my journey. Like the Wild Bunch, Hot Air Expeditions is one of our “girl powered” Phoenix adventure tours, with the fun provided by sister owners Amanda and Stephanie Long. Consider booking one of their delightful early morning tours, which have been profiled on NBC’s Today Show. Contact info: hotairexpeditions.com or 480-502-6999.
No. 7: JoyridesAZ
Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (center) enjoys a golf cart ride in Old Town Scottsdale with JoyridesAz.
Monica and Captain Kirk are just awesome people. They are professional goofballs who know how to make any golf-cart ride super fun. This local small business is in Old Town Scottsdale, and they know EVERYTHING about the community, including all the cool places and super fun stuff. JoyridesAZ can take you on an Instagram tour for pictures, a wine-tasting tour for connoisseurs, a historical tour for history buffs, a dive-bar tour for lounge lizards -- you name it, they can customize it. They are the ONLY golf-cart outfit that is properly Insured and licensed, too. I highly recommend jumping on a cart tour with them to experience Old Town Scottsdale their way. Contact info: joyridesaz.com or 480-675-7857.
No. 8: 360 Adventures
Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (left) enjoys a mountain bike ride with friends in Sedona.
Full disclosure: I worked as a guide for owner Bruce Leadbetter years ago during the summer and it was AWESOME to snap the pictures of mountain bike riders who had never before seen Sedona. This is the reason I am in business and why I love guided mountain bike tours so much. I LOVED guiding visitors on rides of the legendary Red Rocks so much that I jumped whenever given the chance. The magnificent vistas are only part of the attraction. You can close your eyes and feel the vortex of energy. That makes booking a Sedona mountain bike or hiking tour with 360 Adventures an absolute MUST DO when in Arizona. Contact info: 360-adventures.com or 480-722-0360.
No. 9: Detours American West Apache Trail
The Desert Belle cruise on the Apache Trail.
This is a great way to see some of the beauty of the Superstition Mountains while having a guide talk to you about the fascinating history. You visit a small old-fashioned ghost town before traversing an old Native American trail to the Dolly Steamboat Cruise of Canyon Lake to see some pretty cool wildlife. If you talk your guide into it, you also can get some famous Prickly Pear ice cream at the little ice cream shop in the historic Western stop of Tortilla Flat. This is a must-do for a day trip. Contact info: detoursamericanwest.com or 480-663-9013.
No. 10: Peoria Kayak Rental
Promotional image courtesy peoriakayakrental.com
Six scenic lakes with multiple launch points are available within a short drive in the Phoenix metropolitan area. This is arguably the best rental company in the area offering kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, peddle boats and Jon boats. These are unguided outings, though, and you must have the proper vehicles to transport the rentals. However, nobody is more affordable or easier to deal with – and there are a wide variety of rental times available. Contact info: peoriakayakrental.com or 602-777-0289.
Cowboys on horseback are part of the parade at Old Town Scottsdale's Western Week celebration. (Courtesy scottsdalewesternweek.com)
Other outdoor activities include Old Town Scottsdale Western Week, which reveals early Arizona flavor.
The Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show returns on February 15th and continues through the 25th at Westworld. Nearly 2400 horses, top owners, trainers & breeders come from around the world to compete for big money.
Scottsdale's Mardi Gras Bar Crawl Saturday, February 17th, 2024, in downtown Scottsdale.
Phoenix Children's Foundation is holding a Beach Ball at the Arizona Biltmore in February. Billed as a cocktail party, it's an early evening affair with over 500 community and industry leaders and live entertainment.
And, of course, innumerable golf courses are within a short drive from whichever hotel or world-class resort you are staying at.
The Museum of the West captures Arizona's Old West past. (Courtesy experiencescottsdale.com)
Indoor things to do in Phoenix
It rarely rains at our sporting events, but if you can't stand our beautiful weather for another minute, we do have plenty of things to do inside, including some top museums.
Scottsdale's Museum of the West
The Musical Instrument Museum is a unique experience with interactive exhibits and is a fun time for children of all ages.
The Phoenix area's only natural history museum, the Arizona Museum of Natural History, showcases a large part of Arizona's history and is located in nearby Mesa, AZ.
If art is more your style, the Phoenix Art Museum is a great experience, and they have several publicly available tours.
For fans of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, be sure and visit Taliesin West, found in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, AZ. They have both a 60-minute and a 90-minute in-depth walking tour that are both indoor and outdoor as you experience the unusual results of Wright's architectural design.
A guest descends a Cactus-dotted scenic trail during one of the Phoenix mountain bike tours with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
Visiting Phoenix in February?
Some tips for travelers visiting in February from the owner and operator of a five-star rated Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours outfit.
Book your adventures early!
Once you have booked your flights and hotel/motel/resort -- as well as tickets to the event bringing you to Arizona – make sure to also reserve the Phoenix adventure tours you hope to do while in the Valley of the Sun. Whether or not your choices for fun are on my above to-do list of recommendations, book those extracurricular activities before arriving in Phoenix – otherwise you could find yourself out of luck, especially with so much going on and so many visitors in town during our “Frantic February.” I have enjoyed free-flowing, spur-of-the-moment, decide-as-you-go vacations, too. But with big events overlapping like this, if you wait, it might be too late to make plans and reserve a spot once you arrive in town. Chances are, everything will be booked long before then during a “Frantic February,” and that only leads to a lot more “F” words – including “frustrating.”
Book your adventures in the morning
Typically, travelers for the big events will find the best practice is picking out Phoenix adventure tours to enjoy in the mornings before their main events and nighttime dinners, parties, and get-togethers. Remember: The early bird gets the best (and most) fun in the sun.
Avoid booking an adventure for the same day you arrive
You are better off not trying to cram in a Phoenix adventure tour right away. If you are flying in at night? Resist the urge of racing right out the next morning. If you are arriving in the morning? Avoid booking an afternoon activity for the same day. There are so many things that can go wrong travel-wise – especially with flights getting canceled last minute like they seem to do a lot these days. So, arriving in Phoenix at 10 a.m. and planning to go on a Phoenix adventure tour at 1 p.m. is cutting it awfully close. If you are late for your reservation because your flight was delayed or postponed, any adventure tour operator is going to charge you for the booking – and they may not have the wriggle room to get you back on the schedule for a makeup with schedules so jam-packed because of the many big events. If you have a short trip planned, you may not have much choice. But otherwise skip the risk and wait a day to get climatized and settled. Catch a nap. Eat something, Lounge around the pool. Rest and relax after travelling because busier days are directly ahead.
Avoid partying the night before a ‘human-powered’ adventure
Drinking alcohol dehydrates you -- and in the Sonoran Desert heat, that is no joke. Heat illness is a serious issue in Arizona, especially when combined with outdoor activities that require physical effort, such as Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours. So, while we know you are going to party – and we certainly encourage you to enjoy the nightlife in Old Town Scottsdale and other places with your friends and family when you are on vacation – make sure to have that margarita waiting for you to celebrate after your Phoenix adventure tour rather than the night before. Be smart – whatever activities you choose to do while in Arizona, avoid showing up hung over and dehydrated. You will enjoy your experience a lot more. And a word of caution – you can not call the morning after a night out to cancel because now you do not feel good. Every adventure outfit in the Arizona tourism industry uses a 48-hour cancellation policy – same as flights and hotels -- so avoid getting hung over, missing your adventure, and getting charged.
Dress appropriately for your adventure
For instance, do not show up wearing sandals or flip-flops for Phoenix hiking tours on rugged terrain – or to try working the pedals on Phoenix mountain bike tours. Use common sense. You would not show up in a suit and tie or a formal dress to go swimming, either. A pair of running shoes is perfect for most adventures. Wear a hat or head covering and sunglasses to protect you from the sun. Wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothing to effectively battle the heat. Wear something warm you can take off and put in a backpack if beginning temperatures are chilly for you.
When booking large groups, contact the company first
My Wild Bunch Desert Guides already have large groups calling about February – and we are far from alone, with Phoenix a popular destination for corporate and special group outings regardless of the time of year. If booking a group larger than eight guests, make sure to contact whatever company you are planning to adventure with – they will appreciate knowing for the advance planning necessary to manage the logistical challenge of a large group. For instance, Wild Bunch has a capacity of 70-75 guests for Phoenix hiking tours and 20-25 guests are the maximum for Phoenix mountain bike tours. The difference involves limits on the number of mountain bikes in our fleet and the fact hikers travel at roughly the same walking speed – whereas the speed and skill levels of bicyclists can vary wildly, making it tougher to shepherd a group of cyclists. My boutique service is completely private, though – with the adventure for only you and your family or travel group. Never will you be asked to absorb another person, couple, family, or group into your Phoenix adventure tour. So, our adventures are unlike the cattle calls or bus tours you will find at the big box operators. Instead of offering the same adventure over-and-over again in cookie-cutter fashion, our adventures also are customizable for your group’s wishes and physical limitations. Wild Bunch also requires no more than an 8:1 ratio of guests to a dedicated guide – so we keep experiences very personal and intimate. We want to take the time to get to know you because you are so much more than a number to us. Our goal is delivering incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences every time with medically trained expert guides ensuring your safety on the trails while showing you the best Arizona has to offer.
Adventure companies are not a toy
Whatever activity or Phoenix adventure company you are choosing, remember these are all small businesses. For instance, you do not call a hotel or airline and ask them to hold your reservation because you are paying cash when you arrive. You need to book with a credit card – and there is a 48-hour cancellation policy at any Phoenix adventure tour company worth your business -- same as with hotels and flights. Call 48 hours or more to cancel before your adventure? You receive a full refund. Call the morning of your adventure because you are sick and hung over? You will be charged because that small company has turned down other business to reserve your spot. Remember if you are running late, contact your adventure company to hold your guide, but remember that also is time off your adventure. Every company has a tight schedule to keep, so it is not possible to make up the 30 minutes lost if you are not on time. Also, understand: Phoenix adventure tour guides are not just sitting around the TV waiting for visitors to call seeking an adventure – they are real people with real lives, and they are working around other jobs to make a once-in-a-lifetime experience happen for you and your family or friends. Appreciate their time and expertise. Tips are absolutely welcome and much appreciated. Guides are just like a waiter or waitress in the service industry. If you appreciate the service, a 20-percent gratuity is a good guideline.
Please have the time of your life!
This is your hard-earned vacation and even harder-earned dollars, so make sure to let us know if there is any way we can help make this a truly memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can foresee every Phoenix adventure tour operator having to turn away business because it is going to be certifiably crazy with so many big events jam-packed into a small window. But if you book with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, I can promise you we will do our absolute best to accommodate your group and ensure this is a “Frantic February” you will forever remember.
Laurel Darren, owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. (Photo by Michelle Craig)