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Phoenix is America’s desert capital. If you want wall-to-wall sunshine, love hiking in beautiful rock formations, and hate the prospect of rain, it’s the ideal place to book a city break.
There’s plenty here for lovers of the great outdoors. Pack enchiladas, beers, and fresh fruit and vegetables for a picnic in Papago Park, try out water parks like Oasis or Wet’n’Wild, or fire up a golf kart and test your game against superb courses like Scottsdale.
On the other side, Phoenix has everything a top-class, major city should offer. From great museums like the Heard Museum or the Phoenix Art Museum to major sporting attractions like the Phoenix Suns; families, couples, and solo travelers will fall in love with this friendly western destination.
There are gourmet attractions too, from the stunning vistas and first-rate dishes at Different Pointe of View to satisfying street food like the burritos from Filiberto’s. It’s a city that will satisfy foodies, sports fans, and hikers alike.
The landscape around Phoenix is rocky desert characterized by outlandish rock formations and desert plants like cacti. Any visitors from other parts of the country should head to hiking spots like Papago Park or Sedona to see some of the most beautiful terrain the U.S.A. has to offer.
Phoenix offers spectator sports, with the Phoenix Suns and the Diamondbacks playing NBA and Major League Baseball respectively. However, it’s really an outdoor destination. Head to water parks like Oasis or Wet’n’Wild, or book riding excursions on the miles of desert trails.
Phoenix is also renowned as a golfing destination, with exceptional courses like Wildfire, Raven, and Legacy as well as the TPC course at Scottsdale, one of the finest anywhere in the country.
Phoenix is one of the best places in the country to enjoy high-quality Mexican food, but there’s much more available than great burritos. Try the gourmet American and European dishes at the mountaintop Different Pointe of View restaurant, the seafood dishes at St. Francis, or the craft cocktails at Blue Hound Kitchen.
Phoenix is Arizona’s cultural hub, with no end of galleries and museums to visit. The most rewarding of all is probably the Heard Museum of Native American culture, with a massive collection of kachina dolls and intricately weaved basketwork. You can also visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West or honor firefighting heroes at the Hall of Flame Fire Museum.
One of the best things about Phoenix is the beauty of its desert surroundings, and there are some stunning hiking destinations within the city limits. The easiest to get to is probably Papago Park. With its unusual rock formations and restful ponds, it’s one of the best picnic spots in town.
The Phoenix Suns may not be one of the NBA’s most successful teams, but the Talking Stick Resort Arena is still a fun place to go. If you don’t love basketball, it also hosts plenty of other events, including WWF wrestling and major music acts.
The Carnival of Illusion is one of America’s most spectacular and well-presented magic shows. The carnival often performs at Phoenix’s Biltmore Resort and the intimate show is a truly unique experience.
Phoenix hosts one of America’s finest film festivals. Held every April, the Phoenix Film Festival is a great showcase for independent film, with talks and screenings of up-and-coming directors from across the world.
There’s no shortage of sites of exceptional natural beauty near Phoenix, but the most impressive of them all are the red rock formations at Sedona. Located around 90 minutes north of Phoenix, Sedona is also known for its music, art, and film festivals, making it a great day trip destination.
The key thing to remember about Phoenix is that it’s a desert city and summer temperatures can be unbearably hot. However, at other times of the year, the climate can be extremely pleasant. For the best conditions, visit any time from March to May or late September to November.
Most people arrive in Phoenix via Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, located around 3 miles southeast of the city center. Getting into Downtown Phoenix is simple. You can take the #13 Valley Bus to Buckeye & Central Ave and then catch the #0 bus to the city center, or take the free PHX Sky Train to 44th St & Washington Light Rail station and then take the rail network into town. Shuttle buses are also provided by Skoot Airport Shuttle to most parts of the city.
Phoenix doesn’t have an Amtrak connection any longer, but passengers can reach the city by train if they are happy to disembark at nearby Maricopa. From there, it’s a 1-hour taxi ride to Phoenix, which costs around $50.
Drivers can easily reach Phoenix by taking I-10 from the west or south or I-17 from northern destinations. If you’re coming from the east, the best option is to take Route 60.
Phoenix has plenty of bus connections, but there isn’t a central bus station, so check where your service arrives to arrange onward transportation. The major bus operator is Greyhound, whose services stop at 2115 E Buckeye Rd and connect the city to cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tucson, and Denver.
Other bus companies serving Phoenix include Continental Transportation, Hoang Express (to Californian cities), Arizona Shuttles (to local cities like Tucson or Flagstaff), and Autobus Americanos, which links the city to Mexican destinations.
Phoenix is not short of accommodation options, with a wide range of out-of-town resorts, budget motels, and city center hotels. Good Downtown hotels include the Hyatt Regency, Hotel Palomar, and the historic Hotel San Carlos, which includes a heated rooftop pool. There’s also a Hostelling International Hostel in the center of town which offers discount accommodation. A little out of the center, the Sheraton Crescent in North Phoenix is conveniently near hiking trails, while the Arizona Biltmore Resort in Camelback East is a popular up-market resort in beautiful desert surroundings.
Midtown – Midtown is Phoenix’s historic center and has most of its cultural institutions as well, including the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard Museum of Native American culture. It’s also a great place for nightlife fans, with bars like Aunt Chilada's and the British-themed George and Dragon Pub.
Camelback East – One of the city’s most up-market areas, Camelback East is actually more like a village within the city than a classic suburb. Aside from restaurants like Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen or Delux Burger, the district is also close to some of Phoenix’s beauty spots. With a car, you can quickly scale Piestewa Peak for gorgeous views across the city or visit the Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park.
Downtown – The heart of Phoenix is the most convenient place to base yourself if you want to explore the rest of town and it has plenty of attractions in its own right. There’s the beautiful 1920s Orpheum Theatre, Phoenix Farmers Market on Sundays and Thursdays, and the Phoenix Festival of the Arts, held every December at Margaret T. Hance Park. It’s also the place to be for sports fans, as it’s home to the Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball and the Suns of the NBA.
Public transportation in Phoenix has a poor reputation. The city grew up around the automobile, and the municipal authorities haven’t invested in an extensive bus network. However, the light rail system can be handy for tourists. Day passes cost $4, and on most routes trains arrive every 12 minutes. On the weekend, the trains also run until 2:00 a.m., which can be a help for bar hoppers or clubbers.
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, taxis are an essential way to get around Phoenix. There’s a general base fare of $3 and then a rate of $2.25 per mile. Uber can be slightly cheaper, with base fares of $4 but a lower cost per mile of $2.
For most visitors to Phoenix, having a car is essential. If you do rent a car, try to avoid renting a vehicle at the airport where the car rental agencies can be expensive. Instead, head to a local car rental office and rent a vehicle as a local person would. The city itself has a regular grid system based on a major east-west axis (Washington St) and north-south axis (Central Ave).
If you love to shop, Phoenix is a great place to visit. There are discount malls like Christown Spectrum Mall, which is home to popular stores like Target and Costco and more up-market malls like Biltmore Fashion Park, home to Sak’s and Jonathan Adler. There are also many locally owned fashion boutiques like Bunky’s on N. 1st St which specializes in baby clothes and jewelry, and Purple Lizard on N. 15th Ave which has a bohemian, Mexican-influenced style.
Phoenix has a wide range of supermarkets to choose from, including chains like Albertson’s, Safeway, Fry’s, and WinCo as well as organic and upscale grocery stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts Farmers Market. The cost of living is generally lower than in other American cities, with essentials like milk and eggs below the national average.
Mexican food is huge in Phoenix, just like the burritos at fast food restaurants like Filiberto’s that you’ll find across town. For a sit-down Mexican meal, try local favorites like Comedor Guadalajara or Barrio Café. There are excellent Italian restaurants in most districts, including CIBO in the center and Tomaso’s in East Camelback, along with gourmet burger restaurants like Delux and Rehab Burger Therapy. There are also some great vegetarian places to try, including the Indian delights at Marigold Maison and the healthy dishes at Veggie Village. Expect to pay as little as $10 for a medium-range meal and $30-60 for a meal at a high-end restaurant.