Phoenix / Scottsdale Arizona Kosher Vacation


“You are going to Arizona – are you going to the Grand Canyon?”

“Well, the Jewish community in Scottsdale is near the only major airport in the area.  It’s a 4.5 hr drive to the hole in the ground.  Driving in the area – and then only two hours in the other direction I found plenty of scenery with fields and fields of cactus – or cacti if you prefer – and a very nice Whole Foods.”

Thus is my summary of my vacation in Arizona. Find a map of many of the places discussed, below. Also, see my son’s article about Phoenix.

The rest of the articles follows after the photo gallery. In order – Musical Instrument Museum, Butterfly Gardens, ‘Kids that Rip’ indoor play, Goldfield Ghost Town, Canyon Lake, Tucson Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Art Museum.

Photo Gallery (click to enlarge and see description)

Tourist zach?  CVS!

… because it’s funnier to start the article this way.  Want a deck of cards?  $8 in a tourist location.  An Arizona sweatshirt? $50.  Go to the CVS at 325 W Apache Trail, Apache Junction, AZ 85120 and you’ll find all the Arizona tourist stuff at less than half the price!  … and a very nice, happy lady working there.  I asked a transplant to the area, “are all the locals like this?  Perpetually perky and full of pep?”  She said yes.

The Phoenix Area Outdoors

There are a lot of hikes and natural beauty around.  I hear if you go North to Sedona you can find lots of local rocks-heal-you type stores (and another very nice Whole Foods – my son has convinced me that for $20 at Whole Foods you can get a nice kosher lunch and table to sit and eat … rather than having to make an extra stop to get often so-so food at a kosher restaurant that costs more).  

In the Phoenix area – there are some very difficult hikes – turns out “double black diamond” applies to hikes in Phoenix because, I guess, the lack of snow.  Further, such a trail is called “Camelback mountain” which is literally a ski slope in Pennsylvania.

Going West you can find the “Wind Cave Trail” and “Canyon Lake”.  Canyon lake – beautiful.  Pictures don’t do it justice.  The drive there is through a cactus forest followed by a calm lake with colorful mountains behind.  Just sitting and looking out meditatively – including davening Mincha there – is so restful.  Boat rentals are also possible.

Goldfield Ghost Town

On the way to Canyon Lake is, well, the CVS, and Goldfield Ghost town – aka. partially tourist trap and partially good educational stuff.  The ‘ghost town’ is an abandoned mine which, for a fee, you can see a very small part of.  (Go to the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in New Jersey for a much larger mine with a more extensive tour.)  For a fee you can ride “the safest zipline in the world”.  Despite the name, it’s pretty good, albeit a quick ride.  For another fee you can go in the ‘museum’ of junk left around that probably should have been thrown out 50 years ago.  There’s some interesting old stuff – and … Donald Trump coins.  The lady there said she can’t keep them in stock.

For another fee, you can see a couple’s snake collection.  The lady there was the most interesting for me – asked her all about what she fees the snakes (e.g. frozen baby mice and creepy crawly sheratzim – which we go to touch), the economics of running the place, and the legalities of trading in snakes in Arizona.  

This place is about a 2 – 3 hour activity and … everything is a separate fee.  At least feel good about the $20 sweatshirt you got at CVS when you look at the price tags at this place.

Phoenix Area Indoors Play Places

Bam Kazam – similar to Level 99 in Massachusetts (which nothing I have seen can match up to), there are a multitude of sort of “escape rooms” which different puzzles and themes.  Figure out how to have everyone touch a button in a different place, hide from a scary monster behind curtains and under couches, scream nonsense instructions to each other to operate a ship, and so on.  Some games are exceedingly hard and require you to ask hints from the staff.  There are three rooms within each puzzle and when you lose, you exit and start from the beginning.  It’s more “low tech” than other places in that you simply enter – there’s no keeping track of progress / points, hints on the door, etc.  

In the same shopping plaza is an indoor kids place (“Kids that Rip“) with trampolines, scooter park with rentals, and a ‘pool’ filled with one huge pillow.  It’s fun.  The price went from $90-something dollars to about $30-something dollars for two people midweek after it was clear I wasn’t going to pay that much and was leaving.  Turns out there was a ‘special’.  <shrug>

There’s also go carts in the same shopping center …

Phoenix Area Museums

The Musical Instrument Museum – it is very professionally done.  I don’t see how one could make it better. Perhaps I had very high expectations – I wasn’t a fan.  They give you a 1980s-looking walkman with comparatively looking headphones.  The sound quality, however, was excellent.  (Their Sennheiser.)  As you walk around you hear sounds from the closest exhibit you are next to … which worked for the most part.

There’s only so many countries with clarinets (a big feature) that you can walk by and hear the local music.  It gets old, quickly for me.  There is a play-the-insturments room that others have told me is the best part.  The player piano was fun to see for the first time in my life, not in a cartoon.  When I was there, there was a group of very little kids so my experience perhaps was different than others.

The gift shop, however – oh, the gift shop!  You don’t actually purchase stuff there because it’s way too expensive.  There are, however, many instruments to play and when it’s not busy you can take a personal free tour of all of them.  I liked the bowl you spin a pestle around to hear the reverberation, for example.  Would I spend $100 to $400 on one?  Nah.

The Phoenix Art museum was “meh”.  That’s all there is to say about that.  Boston, New York, London, even Savanna – better.

The boardwork” – a fun name for a place surrounded by a hundreds of miles of desert.  (It’s like double-black diamond trails without snow, I suppose.)  The Butterfly Gardens are there – great for taking pictures and fun.  I wouldn’t expect to spend more than an hour there before petering out your joy.  In the same area are more touristy things … Ripley’s Believe it or Not, a very nice mirror maze (I really like them for some reason – perhaps because I didn’t get to go at the amusement park as a kid), and that sort of thing.

TopGolf – couldn’t get in on a weekday night.  Really that busy?  Apparently so.


Drive about two hours south of Scottsdale on highways that people are traveling at about 85 MPH and you reach Tucson.

Tucson, like Phoenix, is very clean.  We went for the Tucson Botanical Gardens … see various types of cactus you’ve never heard of, or only seen in cartoons.  Apparently the big ones take 80 years to sprout their first arm and at full size can hold 4000 gallons of water because they never know when the next water supply is coming.

In the area is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – on the way, stop and take pictures.  It’s a regret of mine that I didn’t do so though I have plenty of other great pictures.  The view from the winding roads and cliffs – it was comparable or better, in my opinion, than Glacier National Park and without the traffic … and free.  Rolling hills of cactus … very different than we get to see up North.

The Desert Museum was … so-so.  The cave is nice and fun for kids to climb through.  There’s a lot of walking around and, honestly, a few later, nothing else from the visit really stands out in my mind.  The journey to the museum was better than museum.

The Expensive Stuff

Hot Air Balloon – In the Sedona area, you can find plenty of these.  In Phoenix, there’s one called “Hot Air Expeditions”.  It’s one of those things I want to do once in my life – it’s just too expensive to be worth it.  So far my experience has been: a) NJ Hot Air Balloon festival – rained out, over priced just to get in, and hanging out next to high voltage cables to get out of the rain followed by pushing a stroller through troughs of mud; b) Phoenix Hot Air Expeditions – can’t find the place at the airport – no one is where the directions say to go and they won’t answer the phone – and at 6:26am for a 6:30am arrival time they text me (can’t even call) to say it’s canceled.  (On the plus side, I made it to a 7am minyan at a Sefardi shul that felt like Israel.)

ATV – this is another “once in my life I want to do this” which is like … snow-mobiling for people in Arizona.  Up in another desert are trails through the cactus … fun for a bit.  Like I said – it’s for trying once in your life.  Snowmobiling … that’s for twice in my life as I await the next opportunity.

Kosher Food

Milk and Honey – in the Scottsdale JCC (which seems very active) – this is what a restaurant should be.  It’s a dairy cafe with excellent service, excellent food, and well priced.  If you go to one kosher restaurant in Scottsdale, go here.  If you plan for zero kosher restaurants in Scottsdale, go here anyway to see what a restaurant should be.

Fata Morgana – it’s meat … was fine.

Kitchen 18 – during Yeshiva Week they had all their food set out for an all you can eat buffet.  Having gone to various places during Yeshiva Week that can’t handle the crowd, I applaud Kitchen 18 for doing this.  It’s efficient and you can try everything.  It was very “what we’d find at an Ashkenazi Shabbos meal” type of food.


They’re all over and very spread out.  AirBNBs and hotels can be found very close to shuls. Lots of sefardim and very happy and lively crowds, much like the cashier at CVS.  (I really liked the CVS.)


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