Arizona's Big-City Destination
Splashy resort and spa websites gush with words like “posh” and “pampered.” “South Beach meets the Sonoran Desert” sums up the nightlife and shopping. And there are more than enough golf courses here (250-plus at last count) to keep Tiger Woods out of trouble. Phoenix, once known as little more than a tanning salon for traveling retirees, has become the Arizona desert's big-city vacation oasis for all ages.
The downtown core, while pleasant enough with fun things to do, isn't going to knock your socks off like, say, the flashy Las Vegas Strip or historic Santa Fe, New Mexico. But that's not what you're here on vacation for. It's those plush resorts (and the fancy-schmancy places to eat inside them), the outstanding museums, the top-flight pro sports venues, the culture (from art galleries to symphony concerts) and, most importantly, the ideal fall-to-spring weather you've come to experience.
Things to Do in PhoenixIn Phoenix, if you don't drink plenty of water, a golf stroke is promptly followed by heat stroke. Precious H20. Piped in from the Colorado, Salt and Verde rivers, it's what makes this ultrahot metropolis possible. Lush resorts, posh spas, superb museums and excellent local restaurants surrounded by a starkly beautiful landscape, Phoenix is Arizona's big city-vacation destination.
If your mental picture of Arizona is one of a Marlboro man riding merrily across the saguaro cactus-studded desert, that's here, too. Rising behind the downtown skyscrapers is Camelback Mountain, the go-to spot for desert-style hiking. East of the city, beyond the spill of cookie-cutter suburbs, are the rugged Superstition Mountains.
Of course, from late spring to late summer when daytime temps spike past the century mark for weeks on end, the only hiking you'll be doing is from Nordstrom to Neiman Marcus at the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall. Located about 10 miles northeast of downtown, Scottsdale—with its golf resorts, upscale eateries, hip nightlife and art galleries galore—is the state capital's tourist hot spot.
Downtown Phoenix, which has been spruced up over the past few decades, is where you can see the Arizona Diamondbacks turn double plays in their retractable-roofed stadium, listen to a Brahms concerto at Symphony Hall or watch a Phoenix Suns point guard hit an outside jump shot at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The downtown core is loaded with restaurants, lively bars and fun places to go, especially in the streets surrounding sports venues. But unless you get a charge out of staring up at modern glass-and-steel towers inhabited by banks, this isn't exactly the stuff of walking tour brochures. A few exceptions include the 1929 Art Deco-style Luhrs Tower (at the corner of First Avenue and Jefferson Street) and Heritage Square, where the city's original Victorian brick buildings house small museums and a pair of popular restaurants.
Greater Phoenix, often maligned for its housing tracts full of stucco schlock, boasts many architectural jewels. Frank Lloyd Wright chose Scottsdale for the site of his gorgeous Taliesin West winter retreat, which started out as a rustic camp in the desert but over the remaining years of Wright’s life evolved into a renowned and exclusive architecture school. And as a consulting architect working with a former student, Wright also influenced the Mayan textile block design of the beautiful Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, which opened its doors in 1929.
In the older neighborhoods surrounding the downtown core you'll take a trip down sunbaked boulevards lined with ranch-style homes and aging strip malls. In these areas you'll find several outstanding Mexican eateries and a handful of small joints dishing up cheap and tasty Native American food.
The Ancestral Desert People were the first to settle in the Valley of the Sun (as the Phoenix area is known). They built a network of irrigation canals, farmed the beautiful wasteland and created a great city. But around the mid-1400s, they mysteriously vanished. The 1860s saw a new frontier town begin to take shape atop the old site. This rebirth, like the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes, is what gives the city its name.
Now crisscrossed by a network of wide L.A.-style freeways, the greater metro area is home to some 4.3 million residents, making it the largest city in the desert Southwest. One reason behind the explosive growth of the past 20 years is that the weather isn't always comparable to an oven set on broil. In the often warm, mild months of late fall, winter and early spring, Phoenix residents are wearing shorts and reserving tee times.
By CarMajor highways make Phoenix readily accessible from all directions. The main route from Flagstaff and other points north is I-17, while the main route from the south and southeast is I-10. US 60, coming from the east, joins I-10 just north of Baseline Road.
In Phoenix I-10 intersects I-17 at 20th Street and leads west to Los Angeles. West of Phoenix, SR 85 intersects with I-10 and continues south to Gila Bend; I-8 can then be followed to Yuma and San Diego.
Street SystemThe streets in Phoenix form an orderly grid. Numbered streets run north and south, intersected by named streets going east and west. The axis is formed by Washington Street, which divides the city north and south, and Central Avenue, which determines the east and west sections. All avenues run west of Central; all streets, east.
Unless otherwise posted the speed limit on most streets is 25 mph. A right turn on red after a complete stop is legal unless otherwise posted. During rush hours the center turn lanes of 7th Avenue and 7th Street are reverse traffic flow lanes: morning rush hour one way into the city and evening rush hour one way out of the city. Try to avoid rush hours, 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
ParkingParking is regulated by meters, which are enforced daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m. with an hourly rate of $1 to $1.50. Most parking meters accept credit and debit cards as well as coins. During business hours and in the downtown area certain one-way streets have restricted parking hours. Rates at public lots start at $1.50 per hour.
Sales TaxThe statewide sales tax is 5.6 percent; an additional 2 percent is added in Phoenix and an additional 0.7 percent is added in Maricopa County. There is a hotel/motel tax of 12.27 percent. Rental cars incur a 10.3 percent tax, plus an 11.11 percent concession fee. There is a stadium tax of 3.25 percent. Airport parking includes a daily surcharge of 4.5 percent.
Police (non-emergency)(602) 262-6151
HospitalsBanner Estrella Medical Center, (623) 327-4000; Banner—University Medical Center, (602) 839-2000; Maricopa Integrated Health System, (602) 344-5011; Maryvale Hospital, (623) 848-5000; St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, (602) 406-3000.
Visitor InformationVisit Phoenix 125 N. 2nd St., Suite 120 Phoenix, AZ 85004. Phone:(602)254-6500 or (877)225-5749
Visit Phoenix distributes the Official Travel Guide to Greater Phoenix and Downtown Phoenix Dining Guide.
Air TravelPhoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), 4 miles southeast of downtown, is served by 17 major airlines. SuperShuttle is a 24-hour shared-ride service; phone (602) 244-9000 in metro Phoenix, or (800) 258-3826 outside Arizona. ExecuCar also is available from SuperShuttle; phone (602) 232-4600 or (800) 410-4444.
Airport limousine service, independent of the hotels, starts at $90. Some companies that serve the airport and certain downtown hotels are Arizona Limousines, (602) 267-7097; Carey Limousine, (602) 996-1955 or (800) 336-4646; and Desert Rose Limousine Service, (602) 256-7200 or (800) 716-8660. Cab service to downtown averages 20 minutes and costs an average of $20.
Rental CarsAt the airport, Hertz, (602) 267-8822 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
BusesGreyhound Lines Inc. has terminals at 2115 E. Buckeye Rd., (602) 389-4200, and 2647 W. Glendale Ave., (602) 246-0907 or (800) 231-2222.
TaxisTaxi companies serving the greater Phoenix area include AAA Yellow Cab, (602) 252-5252; Discount Cab, (602) 200-2000; and VIP Taxi, (602) 300-3000.
Public TransportationValley METRO Light Rail connects downtown Phoenix to the neighboring communities of Tempe and Mesa. To reach Sky Harbor International Airport, get off at the station at 44th and Washington streets. From there, the free PHX Sky Train connects to the East Economy parking area and Terminals 3 and 4. At Terminal 4, shuttle buses provide transportation to Terminals 2 and 3.
METRO Light Rail and bus fares are $2 per ride, $4 for an all-day pass or $20 for a 7-day pass; an additional $1.25 is charged for Express/RAPID. Self-serve ticket machines located at all stations accept cash and credit cards. The light rail operates 4:30 a.m.-midnight, with extended hours on Friday and Saturday. More information and printed route maps are available at downtown's Central Station (300 N. Central Ave.), or by phoning (602) 253-5000.
What to Do in PhoenixTouch scarlet cactus fruit and watch butterflies settle on wildflowers and giant saguaro cacti at the Desert Botanical Garden (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy.), where you'll find plenty of Sonoran Desert wonders to admire during your vacation.
Hike up Camelback Mountain, the double-humped peak that soars above Paradise Valley and Arcadia. A strenuous trail beginning in Echo Canyon Recreation Area (4925 E. McDonald Dr.) is called—for good reason—the “Scenic Stairmaster.” At the top, scan the spectacular panorama of metropolitan Phoenix and the Sonoran Desert beyond.
Pamper yourself in one of the spa capitals of the world. Walking through the tranquil lobby of the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort (2400 E. Missouri Ave.)—with architecture inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright—is a great way to begin your luxurious experience. At the spa, delight in a massage with warm basalt stones, and enjoy other fun things to do.
Be a cowpoke for a day and ride a horse through Sonoran Desert country. In the foothills of South Mountain Park (109019 S. Central Ave.) you can trot and canter along more than 40 miles of trails. Hire horses and guides through Ponderosa Stables (10215 S. Central Ave.).
“Batter up!” If it's late February or March, catch spring training with Major League Baseball's Cactus League. In the autumn, check out the Arizona Fall League, a proving ground for Major League farm teams. Phoenix has plenty of interesting things to do for sports fans—this is the hometown of the NBA Suns, NHL Coyotes, NFL Cardinals and MLB Diamondbacks.
Hear bells at Cosanti (6433 E. Doubletree Ranch Rd.) in Paradise Valley. Paolo Soleri, an architect, sculptor and protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, founded this site to further his organically inspired architecture. An hour north of Phoenix in Mayer is Soleri's experimental community, Arcosanti (13555 S. Cross L Rd.), where you can see his distinctive spiraling, swooping buildings.
Phoenix Travel with Kids
Under 13Start the day with a fun-filled trip to the Arizona Science Center (600 E. Washington St.). Five themed galleries feature more than 300 hands-on exhibits, including a rock-climbing wall and the Evans Family SkyCycle, which allows riders to pedal along a 90-foot cable suspended in midair. There's also an IMAX and a planetarium, giving you enough choices to fill an entire afternoon with educational activities!
Fans of G.I. Joe and antique dolls alike should head to the Arizona Doll and Toy Museum (5847 W. Myrtle Ave.). There are figurines and even a classroom filled with porcelain students. Meanwhile, parents should get a kick out of seeing toys they recognize, such as a rare Vinyl Cape Jawa from “Star Wars.”
In the South Mountain foothills, the butte-top, cowboy-themed Rustler’s Rooste steakhouse (8383 S. 48th St.) offers an entertaining spot for a family night out. A live longhorn steer next to the front entrance? Check. An indoor waterfall and children’s slide? Check. Live country music nightly? Check. Fried rattlesnake appetizer? Naturally. Unabashedly touristy? Of course, but that’s part of the fun.
The renowned Heard Museum (2301 N. Central Ave.) highlights Native American culture and art. With audiovisual guides and interactive exhibits, you can develop a greater appreciation for the region’s culture. You can even step inside a traditional Navajo hogan and think about how different it is from your own home.
Continue time-traveling during your vacation by visiting the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve (3711 W. Deer Valley Rd.), a 30-minute drive to the Hedgpeth Hills, to see firsthand examples of Native American heritage. More than 1,500 petroglyphs, or carved symbols, cover the black basalt boulders. Walk the quarter-mile Petroglyph Trail, visit the museum to learn about the people and culture behind the petroglyphs or just enjoy the scenery. You may even see roadrunners and coyotes (not necessarily giving chase).
The nearby Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum (3901 W. Pioneer Rd.) adds to the state’s story with a pioneer village from the late 19th century. Costumed interpreters fill the old buildings—complete with an opera house, blacksmith shop and jail—with new life by reenacting historical events.
All AgesCloser to the airport, there’s Pueblo Grande Museum (4619 E. Washington St.) with its ruins of a 1,500-year-old Hohokam village. Along with an ancient ball court and platform mound, this destination sports an updated theater and galleries, including a hands-on children’s section.
Desert Botanical Garden
Shopping in PhoenixIf your monthly credit card statements read like shopping mall directories, this is your kinda town. The metro Phoenix phone book lists some two dozen major shopping malls.
At the high end is Biltmore Fashion Park , 2502 E. Camelback Rd., an open-air affair loaded with budget-busting names like Saks Fifth Avenue and Ralph Lauren. Desert Sky Mall , west of downtown at 7611 W. Thomas Rd., is more akin to the all-purpose suburban center you'll find back home (think Hot Topic, Sunglass Hut and Sears). Try Desert Ridge Marketplace , 21001 N. Tatum Blvd., for an open-air shopping center.
The Outlets at Anthem , SR 17 and Anthem Way, are a good 30 minutes north of the city center, but if you're crazy for Ann Taylor and Calvin Klein at cut-rate prices, it's worth the drive.
CityScape Phoenix , bounded by Washington and Jefferson streets and First Avenue, features an entertainment complex filled with hip dining and shopping options. Plus, after you exercise your buying power, you can get a workout in the on-site gym.
For authentic Native American arts and crafts, there's no topping the Heard Museum Shop, 2301 N. Central Ave. From high-quality jewelry and weavings to pottery and Kachina dolls, everything is purchased directly from Native American artists. The shop also stocks an extensive selection of books on the Southwest.
The pedestrian-friendly Roosevelt Row (RoRo), Roosevelt Street between 7th Avenue and 16th Street, is the heart of the Downtown Arts District. Once a run-down part of town, it's now home to several indie art galleries. If cutting-edge art is your thing, it's a must. If not, stick to Scottsdale, where you'll find galleries of all kinds, as well as the valley's best shopping in general.
Phoenix NightlifeYou'll find most of the valley's nocturnal action in Scottsdale and Tempe, but Phoenix proper is no slouch when it comes to fun things to do. With live music, cocktail lounges and casual bars happening all over town, pick up the free weekly Phoenix New Times or view it online for a comprehensive roundup of club and concert listings if you need help figuring out what to do today.
The downtown streets are brimming with sports bars and local restaurants that get wild on big game nights. Located between Talking Stick Resort Arena and Chase Field, Coach's Corner Grill, 333 E. Jefferson St., is loaded with flat-screen TVs and sports memorabilia. The beer is cold and the menu features chicken wings, hamburgers and hot dogs as well as elevated pub grub.
Sit Back and Laugh
Stand Up Live at CityScape Phoenix is the latest place to catch top comedy acts in the CityScapes complex. Nearby Lucky Strike combines state-of-the-art bowling with an upscale menu and full-service bar—definitely not your daddy's bowling alley.
Grab a Drink
Everyone knows what to expect from Hard Rock Cafe, 3 S. 2nd St., and the Phoenix branch near Talking Stick Resort Arena holds no surprises. But it's still a fun spot to grab a pre- or post-game brew. If you're looking for places to eat, Majerle's Sports Grill , 24 N. 2nd St., is owned by ex-Suns great Dan Majerle and draws big crowds during the NBA season.
If suds and ESPN SportsCenter aren't part of your vacation scene, the city has several classy cocktail bars where you can sip a $12 appletini and chill in style. SoHo meets the Southwest at MercBar , 2525 E. Camelback Rd., a dark, sexy lounge across the street from Biltmore Fashion Park. A short trip northwest of downtown is SideBar , 1514 N. 7th Ave., a snug watering hole with swank décor and bartenders who know their business.
When the kids are in bed and you’re in search of things for couples to do, Chivas Regal on the rocks is best enjoyed while gazing out at twinkling city lights. The upscale Jade Bar, 5700 E. McDonald Dr., obliges with outstanding nighttime views from its lofty locale at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain resort.
Catch Some Tunes During Your Vacation
The Rhythm Room , 1019 E. Indian School Rd., is the place to catch live blues, roots rock and R&B. In the Downtown Arts District, the Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. 2nd Ave., hosts live jazz several nights a week. For country music and line dancing, you'll need to saddle up and travel to Scottsdale.
Phoenix Performing ArtsPhoenix's rapid growth has been cultural as well as industrial, and it’s quickly becoming a vacation destination for fans of performing arts. The following theaters present many fun things to do with a mix of classic and contemporary drama: Herberger Theater Center, (602) 254-7399, 222 E. Monroe; Phoenix Theatre, (602) 254-2151, 100 E. McDowell Rd.; Greasepaint Youtheatre, (480) 949-7529, 7020 E. 2nd St. in Scottsdale; and TheaterWorks, (623) 815-7930, at 10580 N. 83rd Dr. in Peoria. Arizona's professional state theater group, the Arizona Theater Co., (602) 256-6995, performs at the Herberger Theater Center during its October to June season.
The historic Orpheum Theatre, (800) 430-8903, at 203 W. Adams St., was originally built for vaudeville acts and movies in 1929. Scheduled to be condemned, the city bought the theater and in 1997 reopened it as a 1,400-seat performing arts center offering unique things to do in Phoenix throughout the year.
Cabarets, special concerts, big-name entertainment, shows and lectures travel from all over the world to perform at the Herberger Theater Center, (602) 252-8497, 222 E. Monroe; and the ASU Gammage, (480) 965-3434, on the campus of Arizona State University at Mill Avenue and Apache Boulevard in Tempe.
Other special performance areas to see during your trip include Talking Stick Resort Arena, (602) 379-7800, 201 E. Jefferson St.; Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, (602) 252-6771, 1826 W. McDowell Rd.; Celebrity Theatre, (602) 267-1600, 440 N. 32nd St.; Ak-Chin Pavilion, (602) 254-7200, 2121 N. 83rd Ave.; and the Comerica Theatre, (602) 379-2800, 400 W. Washington St. In Mesa are the Mesa Arts Center, (480) 644-6500, 1 E. Main St.; and the Mesa Amphitheater, (480) 644-2560, 263 N. Center St. Many venues are close to local restaurants if you’re looking for places to eat before a show.
Phoenix Sports and RecreationPhoenix's mild winters make it an all-year sports paradise. For spectators the winter months mean horse racing at Turf Paradise from October through early May; phone (602) 942-1101.
Note: Policies vary concerning admittance of children to pari-mutuel betting facilities. Phone for information.
During baseball season the Arizona Diamondbacks, 2001 World Series champs, play at the retractable-roofed Chase Field, 401 E. Jefferson St. in downtown Phoenix; phone (602) 462-6500. Both the Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies conduct spring training at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale; phone (480) 270-5000 or (480) 362-9467 for ticket information.
Other teams with spring training sites in the Phoenix area include the Milwaukee Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, (800) 933-7890; Oakland Athletics at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, (480) 644-4451; the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, (480) 350-5205; the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, (623) 222-2222; the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, (623) 773-8700 or (623) 773-8720; the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, (623) 302-5000; the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds at the Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, (623) 882-3120; and the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, (480) 312-2580; and the Chicago Cubs at Sloan Park (formerly the Cubs Stadium) in Mesa, (480) 668-0500.
Professional football is played in Glendale, where the NFL Arizona Cardinals take the field at State Farm Stadium, 1 Cardinals Dr.; phone (602) 379-0102. The Fiesta Bowl football classic at the stadium is an early January highlight.
Drift and drag racing are at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, about 8 miles south of Phoenix at Maricopa Road and I-10; phone (520) 796-5601. Indy cars, NASCAR stock cars and trucks, and Grand Am sports cars race at ISM Raceway; phone (623) 463-5400.
Licensed drivers can experience race car driving at Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, I-10 and Maricopa Road; phone (480) 403-7600 or (800) 842-7223.
Public and private courses include Club West, (480) 460-4400, at 16400 S. 14th Ave.; Encanto, (602) 253-3963, at 2745 N. 15th Ave.; The Foothills, (480) 460-4653, at 2201 E. Clubhouse Dr.; Grand Canyon University Golf Course, (623) 846-4022, at 5902 W. Indian School Rd.; Papago, (602) 275-8428, in Papago Park at 5595 E. Moreland St.; The Arizona Grand Golf Resort, (602) 431-6480, at 8000 S. Arizona Grand Pkwy.; Lookout Mountain Golf Club, (602) 866-6356, at 11111 N. 7th St.; and Stonecreek, (602) 953-9111, at 4435 E. Paradise Village Pkwy. S.
Golf courses in nearby Mesa include: Dobson Ranch, (480) 644-2291, at 2155 S. Dobson Rd.; Red Mountain Ranch Country Club, (480) 981-6501, at 6425 E. Teton Cir.; and Superstition Springs, (480) 985-5622, at 6542 E. Baseline Rd.
Courses in Scottsdale include: Marriott's Camelback, (480) 596-7050, at 7847 N. Mockingbird Ln.; McCormick Ranch, (480) 948-0260, at 7505 E. McCormick Pkwy.; Starfire at Scottsdale Country Club, (480) 948-6000, at 11500 N. Hayden Rd.; TPC Scottsdale, (480) 585-4334, at 17020 N. Hayden Rd.; and Troon North, (480) 585-5300, at 10320 E. Dynamite Blvd.
Other area courses include: Gold Canyon, (480) 982-9090, at 6100 S. Kings Ranch Rd. in Apache Junction; Hillcrest, (623) 584-1500, at 20002 N. Star Ridge Dr. in Sun City West; The Legend at Arrowhead, (623) 561-1902, at 21027 N. 67th Ave. in Glendale; Ocotillo, (480) 917-6660, at 3751 S. Clubhouse Dr. in Chandler; We-Ko-Pa, (480) 836-9000, at 18200 East Toh Vee Cir. in Fort McDowell; and The Wigwam Resort, (623) 935-3811, at 300 E. Wigwam Blvd. in Litchfield Park. In Tempe are ASU-Karsten, (480) 921-8070, at 1125 E. Rio Salado Pkwy.; and Ken McDonald, (480) 350-5250, at 800 E. Divot Dr.
Tennis courts open to the public are plentiful at several high schools and park areas, including Encanto Park, 15th Avenue and Encanto Drive, and Granada Park, 6505 N. 20th St. The Phoenix Tennis Center, (602) 249-3712, at 6330 N. 21st Ave., has 25 lighted courts and reasonable rates; reservations are accepted.
Trails for hiking and biking are plentiful. A favorite hike is the 1-mile scenic trek to the summit of Piestewa Peak. Formerly known as Squaw Peak, the peak was renamed in honor of Lori Piestewa, an American servicewoman and Hopi who was killed in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Guided hiking trips along several mountain trails in Phoenix and Scottsdale are offered by 360 Adventures; phone (480) 722-0360 or (877) 445-3749.
The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, (602) 534-6587, operates a number of parks; some have municipal swimming pools. Saguaro Lake and Canyon Lake offer water skiing, boating and fishing. The Salt River is popular with tubing enthusiasts. Salt River Tubing and Recreation, (480) 984-3305, rents tubes and also provides shuttle-bus service along the Salt River.
For the shooting enthusiast, the Ben Avery Shooting Range, (623) 582-8313, 25 miles north of Phoenix off I-17 exit 223, offers pistol, rifle and archery ranges and trap and skeet fields.
The suburb of Tempe boasts inland surfing at Big Surf, (480) 994-2297; and ice skating at the Oceanside Ice Arena, (480) 941-0944, at 1520 N. McClintock Dr.
Bus, Four-wheel-drive and Van ToursA tour is the best way to get an overall view of the city during your trip, especially if you have an interest in adventure travel. Several companies offer travel packages with fun things to do such as four-wheel-drive or van tours of the desert: Open Road Tours , (602) 997-6474 or (800) 766-7117; Vaughan's Southwest Custom Tours, (602) 971-1381 or (800) 513-1381; and Wayward Wind Tours Inc., (602) 867-7825 or (800) 804-0480.
flickr/Grand Canyon National Park
Phoenix in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your vacation in Phoenix.
Phoenix and its surrounding areas comprise more than 400 square miles, so it's essential to have your own wheels for this itinerary. Pay parking lots and garages abound all over downtown; away from the city center, parking is typically plentiful and free. METRO Light Rail is the only practical public transportation option, but it offers only one route, which links the Tempe/Mesa area with downtown Phoenix. If your hotel is in either of these spots, METRO can be used for your travel for the “Day 2: Evening” suggestions.
Day 1: MorningStart your trip by communing with nature at the Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park on the east side of town. This is where you'll really come to understand the majesty of the Sonoran Desert.
Day 1: Afternoon
Now duck indoors away from the desert heat at the Heard Museum , where you can view fascinating exhibits about Native American cultures and arts.
A few minutes to the southwest, a visit to the Arizona Capitol Museum will definitely thrill the History Channel-nut among you.
Day 1: Evening
Day 2: MorningGet an early start and hike through desert terrain to the top of Camelback Mountain on the Summit Trail (aka Echo Canyon Trail). Note: This is a rigorous hike, so bring plenty of water and take frequent breaks during your trip.
If you'd rather let a horse do the hoofin' while you enjoy the desert scenery, head down to South Mountain Park. Ponderosa Stables offers guided horseback rides Monday through Saturday beginning at 8 a.m.
Day 2: AfternoonAfter sun, salts or Sonoran desert, you've worked up an appetite. Luckily there are plenty of local restaurants close by. Try Miracle Mile Delicatessen , a New York-style deli known for its pastrami sandwiches. Or maybe you'd prefer succulent baby back ribs or a salad at Phoenix City Grille . If you're up for some Native American-style tacos, head to The Fry Bread House , where the cooks load huge discs of Navajo fry bread full of meat (beef, spicy pork), beans, cheese and lettuce.
Opened in 2010, the Musical Instrument Museum has quickly become a major destination in the valley. Drive up to north Phoenix and get ready to spend hours ogling more than 3,000 musical instruments from around the world. We're talking everything from Australian didgeridoos to Moog synthesizers. And not only will you see a complete gamelan ensemble from Indonesia, you'll hear it being played through the museum's state-of-the-art audio tour headphone system.
Day 2: EveningPhoenix presents plenty of opportunities to watch overpaid pro athletes in action. Score tickets to see the NBA Suns sink jump shots at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Head over to Glendale and watch the NHL Coyotes cross-check, high-stick and duke it out with the competition at Gila River Arena. Or take yourself out to the ballgame and root root root for the MLB Diamondbacks at Chase Field (cheering is optional for fans of NL West division rivals). Be sure to sample local fare from one of the many places to eat on the crowded stadium concourses.
Stolen bases and slam dunks not your thing? Feast on gourmet pie at the stylish La Bocca . Then, after dinner, slip into a nightclub or two along Mill Avenue.
Day 3: MorningGrab a quick breakfast near your hotel, then spend the day in Scottsdale, east of Phoenix. Tour the grounds and building complex at Taliesin West , the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright. Splurge on the 90-minute Insights Tour, which visits Wright's personal living quarters; the basic 1-hour Panorama Tour does not.
Day 3: AfternoonIf you’re looking for unique things to do in Phoenix, grab lunch near Taliesin West at du Jour Restaurant , the on-campus training facility for students of the Arizona Culinary Institute. Or, in Scottsdale, down a wood-fired pizza or a roasted chicken pita at Pita Jungle .
Beat the midday heat and slip inside the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art to enjoy a premier modern art collection. The museum is chockablock with original Abstract, Cubist and Expressionist works.
Inspired to buy some art? Stroll palm-lined Main Street in the downtown Arts District. The area has more than 100 galleries; if you're a collector, keep the high-limit plastic handy.
Too rich for your blood? The shops in Old Town Scottsdale (just across Scottsdale Road) traffic in the usual T-shirts and desert-themed souvenirs (think rubber tomahawks and mini cacti). But that's not all. Behind the Old West wooden storefronts you'll also find shops selling Western wear and authentic Native American arts and crafts.
Day 3: EveningFor dinner, go upscale and book a table at the Roaring Fork , which specializes in Southwestern dishes and sauces.
A tad more casual, Malee's Thai On Main is a good bet if you're in the mood for some spicy noodles and nice outdoor seating. The Old Town Tortilla Factory does Mexican classics well. And it's tough to beat their homemade tortillas and killer margaritas.
After supper, put a glide in your stride and check out one of Scottsdale's flashy nightclubs. The 18,000-square-foot scenester-club Axis/Radius (7340 E. Indian Plaza) is a hip spot to bump-n-grind; phone (480) 970-1112.
Feeling lucky after dinner? Head to the We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center . The low-key, 24-hour casino offers plenty of fun things to do during the evening, provided you're winning big.
Desert Botanical Garden.
Best Attractions in PhoenixIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend time while you’re on vacation. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
Keep Busy During Your Trip
While a round of golf or a spa treatment tops most Phoenix vacation itineraries, there's no shortage of fun things to do after you birdie the 18th hole or peel off that detoxifying seaweed wrap. When planning an outing, keep in mind that the Valley of the Sun—which includes Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa, Sun City and Glendale—covers a big area. Public transportation is limited, and driving the freeways from one end of the valley to the other can take some time, especially in rush-hour traffic. Keep a cool head, and if it's summer, crank up the AC.
Walk With Nature
Desert Botanical Garden
Immerse Yourself in History
Stroll through the Heard Museum , a AAA GEM attraction that explores the rich history and arts of the Southwest's Native American cultures. The downtown museum has a massive permanent collection—pottery, jewelry, sculpture, textiles, hundreds of Kachina dolls—but the layout is so seamless you won't feel overwhelmed. A museum highlight is Steven Yazzie's provocative, 160-foot-wide “Fear of a Red Planet” mural, which depicts Southwest Native American history, from the coming of Kit Carson to modern tribal casinos.
The Arizona Capitol Museum , another AAA GEM attraction, has a copper roof symbolizing an important state industry: mining. Inside, you'll gain an understanding of how the rough-and-tumble Arizona Territory became a state in 1912. The downtown museum no longer serves as the capitol building, but visitors can walk through former state offices and chambers and explore interactive exhibits. Artifacts include the silver service removed from the USS Arizona before it sailed to its fate in Pearl Harbor.
Want to entertain the kids and learn a little something yourself? Check out the Arizona Science Center , which offers more than 300 hands-on exhibits explaining the world and its workings. At this educational playground you can experiment with gravity and friction, explore the world of digital communications and learn about the human body and brain. There's also a planetarium and a five-story IMAX theater. You're bound to have fun here, but try to avoid visiting on weekend afternoons when the place can get seriously crowded.
Tour the weirdest, wildest building in town: Mystery Castle (open October through June) at the foot of the South Mountains. An extraordinary example of folk art, this adobe and stone house is a structural jumble. Boyce Luther Gulley began building the three-story dwelling in the 1930s for his daughter, using glass bottles and other bizarre materials—goat's milk, mortar, calcium, auto parts—to fashion crenellated turrets and parapets.
Phoenix's first inhabitants are the focus of the Pueblo Grande Museum , near Sky Harbor Airport. This museum and the surrounding ruins offer a fascinating look at the Ancestral Desert People, who lived here for more than 1,500 years. You can walk through the ruins of a village that was mysteriously abandoned in the 15th century. The site artifacts on display are as interesting as the ruins; an outdoor trail leads to reconstructed and furnished Hohokam-style houses.
From the trail at the 47-acre Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve in Hedgpeth Hills, you can see more than 1,500 petroglyphs on hundreds of boulders. Some of the religiously significant petroglyphs at this sacred site were carved into the rocks more than 5,000 years ago; many animal motifs tell hunting stories. Before you travel the trail, rent binoculars to get an up-close look at these ancient and revered works of art.
Travel to the “New” West
Nearby Scottsdale, on the east side of the valley, isn't the Wild West town it was a century ago. With a plethora of shops and local restaurants, it's now more 5th Avenue than Five Bar Ranch, and the only wagons you'll see are SUVs. The daringly designed Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is the cream of the city's crop of art galleries. The valley's foremost purveyor of modern art displays a variety of styles—abstract, cubist, expressionist—along with quite a few works featuring cowboys and Native Americans. The Wild West lives on in Scottsdale.
On the north side of Scottsdale, visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West , where the renowned architect made his winter home. He also worked here—it's a 600-acre architectural workshop in the desert. The interiors are a fascinating study in 20th-century decor, and the buildings' facades mirror the Sonoran Desert's rough textures and brilliant colors. Because it's still a functioning school, the only way to see Taliesin is by guided tour; the most popular trip is the 90-minute Insights Tour.
Get out of town and hit the dusty desert road in search of fun places to go. Starting in Apache Junction, drive the Apache Trail , which was built as a road in 1905 to carry supplies to Roosevelt Dam. The route loops around the Superstition Mountains , home to the legendary Lost Dutchman Gold Mine (see Insider Info). Beyond Lost Dutchman State Park , the road twists, turns and climbs through saguaro cactus-studded foothills before arriving at pretty Canyon Lake . Up next is Tortilla Flat, a tiny “town” with a restaurant and general store. Beyond here, the road is unpaved (suitable for a passenger car), and the scenery is a knockout: deep gorges, vertigo-inducing cliffs and windblown grasslands. (Caution: If it's raining or you're an inexperienced driver, do not attempt to drive past Tortilla Flat).
If you're a stickler for authenticity, check out the 90-acre Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum . Located north of Phoenix off I-17, this collection of mostly-original pioneer buildings will give you a taste of what life was like before iPhones and Xboxes (the horror!). Pick out a cowboy hat or bonnet at the Mercantile gift shop, and then immerse yourself in simpler times as costumed interpreters go about their 19th-century routines and gunslingers stage mock shootouts.
Take a Flight to Outer Space
Blast off at Peoria's Challenger Space Center , where you can play astronaut in the center's Technology Flight Deck. Count down to liftoff in a mission control room modeled after the Johnson Space Center, glide in a mock spacecraft and roam a room that simulates the interior of the International Space Station. Not yet ready for atmospheric reentry? Catch a Starlab Planetarium show, learn how to use a telescope or ogle the NASA history exhibits.
Museums for Any Interest
In Tempe, the home of Arizona State University, is the Arizona State University Art Museum at the Nelson Fine Arts Center. Its galleries display crafts, prints and contemporary and Latin American art, with American masterworks by Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Frederic Remington. The museum's architecture, dramatically angled with a purplish facade, is widely regarded as a work of art itself.
A great way to experience the beginnings of the Valley of the Sun is by strolling Glendale's Sahuaro Ranch Park Historic Area . The ranch's towering date palms, parading peacocks and restored farmhouse evoke the late 19th century. Touring the site's original buildings and 17 acres of fruit trees and rose plots, you'll discover the roots of modern Phoenix.
The new kid on the Phoenix attractions block is the massive Musical Instrument Museum on the north side of town. Packed with more than 3,000 instruments from around the globe—from Gibson Les Paul guitars to Tibetan trumpets—this state-of-the-art museum takes you on a musical and cultural journey from Motown to Mozambique and every imaginable geographic point in between. If music's your passion, you’ll be hard pressed to find more interesting things to do in Phoenix. Plan to spend the better part of a day here. Yes, it's that big.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
Best Restaurants in PhoenixOur favorite places to eat include some of this destination's best local restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
A Regional Classic
Owned and operated by Native Americans, The Fry Bread House isn't on most tourists' radar, but it should be on yours. Located in central Phoenix, a short trip north of downtown, this hole-in-the-wall diner dishes up what are arguably the best fry bread tacos in the city. Bring a hearty appetite because these babies are huge: deep-fried, melt-in-your-mouth discs of Navajo fry bread loaded with the meat of your choice (green or red chile beef, spicy pork), cheese, beans and lettuce. Prices are cheap and you will leave stuffed. You can thank us later.
Paradise for Carnivores
Joe's Real BBQ in Gilbert smokes its own meat and chicken over pecan grill fires for an unbeatable flavor. Try the tender ribs, the barbecue pit beans (chunky with meat) and the zesty coleslaw. For dessert—you are on vacation after all—there's homemade root beer and brownies. On weekends, take-out service may be faster—there's usually a line out the door—but you just might want to wait and enjoy the fun of serve-yourself eating on the outdoor patio. Locals know Joe's as a great place to take the kids.
An ever-growing legion of pizza geeks and foodies swear that Pizzeria Bianco serves the best gourmet pie in the country. Chef Chris Bianco smokes his own mozzarella, hand tosses the dough, tops his creative pizzas with high-quality ingredients and cooks them in a classic wood-fired oven. To feast on what even The New York Times has admitted “just might be the best pizza in America,” you must first endure an epic line that typically stretches down the block from this culinary travel destination (reservations are accepted for groups of 6 to 10 only; smaller parties often queue-up an hour before opening time). Want to whet your whistle while you wait, and wait and wait? There's an excellent wine bar next door.
In the recycled Arcadia post office, Postino Winecafe blends Mediterranean tastes and flavors. Try the bruschetta on a serving board with toppings of roasted artichoke or ricotta with pistachios. Freshly made soups, crisp salads and panini sandwiches round out the menu. Service is relaxed, and the décor is charming—garage-style glass doors open to the sunny outside dining patio. There's always a waiting line for lunch.
At Vincent on Camelback in central Phoenix, chef-owner Vincent Guerithault prepares dishes with French flair, using fresh seafood, lobster, veal, duck, lamb, beef and Cornish hen. The wait staff works as a seamless team to provide a high level of attention and expertise in each of several intimate dining rooms. Though the sauces are French, the cuisine style is “light.” Order the dessert soufflés—they're big enough for two and worth the short preparation time.
For great steaks, a warm, friendly atmosphere and accomplished service, Durant's fits the bill. The meat is aged to perfection, and a series of “Porterhouse Club” plaques on the walls attest to all the diners who've eaten the 48-ounce Porterhouse steak in one sitting. Fresh seafood is flown in daily and includes stone crab (in season) and Idaho trout. As you're walking in from the parking area, be sure to greet the grill chef as you pass through the kitchen. Durant's has been in business for more than 60 years and is often mentioned as one of the best restaurants in town for steaks; the well-trained staff strives to make every visit exceptional.
Roaring Fork in Scottsdale is ideal for any special occasion. Service is consistently friendly and accomplished, and chef Bryan Hulihee combines Southwestern herbs and sauces with meat and fish in unique ways; his braised “Dr Pepper” beef short ribs are a signature dish. From a fantastic dessert list, the chocolate opera cake is a dieter's downfall. The warm and intimate dining rooms of this “American Western bistro” have canal views and small niches for romantic dining.
Feast on Local Ingredients
Using Arizona's indigenous foods, the chef at Kai (in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort) has created a changing menu of seasonal recipes—many featuring Native American ingredients and spices. Heirloom produce comes from ancient seeds cultivated by Southwestern tribal groups. Specialties include soup made with huitlacoche, a smoky-tasting fungus that grows on ears of corn; pan-seared duck breast with prickly pear compote; and beef tenderloin with a pomegranate demi-glace. In this elegant, modern space, you'll savor every bite.
Great Spots for Couples
Looking for things for couples to do? Make a reservation at T. Cook's , where elegant high ceilings and flowing draperies create Old World ambiance. This restaurant in the Royal Palms Resort and Spa offers a selection of Mediterranean entrées, including delectable rotisserie dishes. Try the Maine lobster served with a champagne-chive butter sauce or the house specialty, paella with lobster claws.
French-influenced Mediterranean cuisine isn't the only star at Different Pointe of View . This restaurant at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort should be on anyone’s list of things to do in Phoenix, as it sits some 700 feet above the city and offers a spectacular sunset view of the valley and its sparkling evening lights. From thick and creamy soups like lobster bisque to delicate fish in savory sauces, the menu takes advantage of fresh seasonal ingredients. The award-winning international wine list is another selling point.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
Phoenix EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals, events and a host of fun things to do that may coincide with your vacation.
What are New Year’s festivities without college football? Pregame fun for the Cactus Bowl , held the day after Christmas, includes a party near Chase Stadium with marching bands, pep rallies and live music. Starting in mid-November enjoy a hole-in-one golf tournament and a block party that leads up to the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl , held at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, in early January. The excitement continues with Phoenix’s annual National Bank of Arizona Fiesta Bowl Parade , one of the country’s largest. It proceeds down Central Avenue and includes marching bands that travel from around the country, gussied-up horses, lavish floats and colorful balloons.
In March, the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market brings together the finest Native American artists in the Southwest. You'll see pottery, carved Kachina dolls, baskets, jewelry, photography and paintings—along with talented musicians, drummers and feather-costumed dancers. If you’re wondering where to eat, be sure to try the fry bread and posole stew.
The Valley of the Sun knows how to put on a party for Independence Day, and the Fabulous Phoenix Fourth lives up to its name. Enjoy live entertainment by local acts, amusement rides, a classic car exhibit and lots of food from local restaurants. The party wraps up with a spectacular fireworks display at Steele Indian School Park.
The bratwurst's steaming, the accordion's jamming and the tap's open at Tempe's annual Four Peaks Oktoberfest . Knockwurst and potato latkes are on the menu, and so is your favorite brew. Sitting is verboten, so boogie to an R&B band, feel irie with a reggae outfit or oompah into the night with polka players.
In December, more than 3.5 million lights transform the Phoenix Zoo into a twinkling holiday wonderland that’s one of the most magical things to do in Phoenix. ZooLights features fantastic creatures and light sculptures, including an 18-foot-long rattlesnake and a life-size talking giraffe. For holiday shopping, don't miss the Pueblo Grande Museum Indian Market , held on the museum grounds. One-of-a-kind crafts by more than 100 top artisans make perfect gifts for friends and family.
From late November to late December you can experience Christmas lights the old-fashioned way at the Desert Botanical Garden's Las Noches de las Luminarias . A Southwestern Christmas tradition, luminarias are sand-weighted paper bags holding a candle, and they're typically spaced along walkways and rooflines. In the botanical garden, thousands of luminarias light the paths and cast a radiant glow on beautiful desert flora. Stroll the garden and enjoy musical entertainment, and sip on a glass of wine or warm cider to keep the December chill at bay.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
The Lost Dutchman MineJust outside Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains loom with the possibility of striking it rich during your trip—if you believe the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. According to the lore of Western movies and books, the Superstitions horde millions in unmined gold. The cache is elusive; no one has found the mysterious mine in more than a century. Undeterred by previous failures, prospectors and adventure travel enthusiasts continue to scour the forbidding peaks and basaltic rock of this destination, hoping for the ultimate payday: the Dutchman's gold by the buckets full.
The legend itself is based on a few facts; the rest is up for grabs. Jacob Waltz, a German prospector known as the “Dutchman,” emerged in Phoenix during the 1870s with a saddlebag of high-quality gold. Waltz boasted he had found a rich gold vein—but he steadfastly refused to reveal its whereabouts in the Superstition Mountains.
Back then, few ventured into the Sonoran Desert and the inhospitable Superstitions, as it was one of the most dangerous things to do in Phoenix. If heat or thirst didn't kill you, the Apaches would—trespassing was forbidden in this sacred terrain. In the midst of so much danger, Jacob Waltz somehow defied the odds and struck it rich. And he returned to the barren mountains countless times to add to his golden stash.
After living a long, quiet life, Waltz died in 1891. Legend has it that before he passed away, he whispered cryptic clues about the mine's location to his caretaker, Julia Thomas, who later found gold under his bed. Finally convinced by the tale, she followed the old man's directions, as did thousands of others. Every gold-panner has come up empty, and many have died mysterious or gruesome deaths. After all this time, Waltz's gold remains lost.
The name is a misnomer, of course—the mine is lost, not the Dutchman—and naysayers abound. Geologists doubt that the Superstitions even contain gold. Did Waltz really find his treasure in these hills? Or was it a hoax? It doesn't really matter. The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine lives on as an enduring—and fascinating—legend of the Southwest.
You can travel to these legendary mountains during your vacation and judge for yourself; Lost Dutchman State Park is at the foot of the Superstitions, 30 miles east of Phoenix. A visit to this park is on the list of fun things to do with friends, as you don’t want to explore the wilderness on your own. The summer heat can be dangerous, so plan your trip for the cooler months and pack some trail food from one of the city’s many local restaurants. And keep a sharp eye out for zealous gold prospectors.
Places in Vicinity