Where Is Arizona in the Southwest?

map of the Southwest US

Judy Hedding / David Sweet

Portions of the United States are often referred to by region. Let's begin by defining the Southwest, and then we'll demarcate ArizonaMaricopa County (including what people mean when they say Greater Phoenix) and, finally, we'll discuss where Phoenix is located.

Which States Are in the Southwest U.S.?

There is no official designation of states by region, so when you hear or read about the Southwest U.S. it might be unclear exactly which states are included. In the map above, the states shown in yellow are sometimes referred to as being in the Southwest, but not always. The states referred to as being in the Southwest may or may not be California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, or parts of those states. It just depends on the topic. A discussion about weather or ecology might include some states, while a discussion about Native American or Mexican history and culture in that region might include other states.

In Which Region Does Arizona Belong?

Notwithstanding what is written above, there seems to be general agreement that both Arizona and New Mexico are always considered to be in the Southwest.

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Where Is Arizona?

Arizona in the Southwest U.S. map
Judy Hedding/U.S. map courtesy of David Sweet

Arizona is located in the Southwest U.S. The State of Arizona is shown on the map in red.

Mexico is to the south, California and part of Nevada ​are to the west, Utah is to the north, and New Mexico is to the east. Arizona is 113,909 square miles, making it the 6th largest state in the country.

The 48th state, Arizona was granted statehood in 1912, the last of the contiguous U.S. states.

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Where Is Maricopa County?

Maricopa County on map of USA
Judy Hedding/U.S. map courtesy of David Sweet

Maricopa County is located somewhat centrally in the State of Arizona. It is shown on the map in white, although the image shows a general shape of the county is not drawn to scale.

Maricopa County is one of 15 counties in the State of Arizona. It covers just over 9,200 square miles. While it is not the largest county in Arizona by area, it is the most populous county; more than half the people in the State of Arizona live in Maricopa County.

Census Definition of the Phoenix Metro Area

MSA is a term used by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) for use by Federal statistical agencies, including the U.S. Census, to collect, tabulate, and publish Federal statistics. The acronym MSA stands for Metropolitan and Statistical Area. It is a geographical area where there is a high degree of social and economic integration. In other words, where people live, work and play.

When a U.S. agency refers to a "metro area" that is just a short name for MSA. A metro area (or MSA) contains a core urban area of 50,000 or more population, may be comprised of one or more counties and includes the counties containing the core urban area, as well as any adjacent counties that are closely aligned economically or socially.

The standards for defining MSAs are reviewed and revised once every ten years, prior to each official census in years ending in zero. Between censuses, delineations are updated annually to reflect the most recent Census Bureau population estimates. Areas based on the 2010 standards and Census Bureau data were delineated in February of 2013. There are 381 MSAs in the U.S. (Feb 2013). About 85% of the population of the U.S. lives in an area defined as an MSA.

The Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale MSA has had different names. For a time it was Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale. It was also Phoenix-Mesa. Years ago it was just Phoenix.

When people refer to the Greater Phoenix area, they often mean Maricopa County, although that is not really correct. Greater Phoenix, or Metro Phoenix, is the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) as defined by the U.S. Census, and includes Pinal County.

Arizona's Capital

The capital of Arizona, Phoenix, is located in Maricopa County. The City of Phoenix is the largest city, by population, in Maricopa County, and in Arizona.
Tip: There is also a city in Arizona called Maricopa. Don't confuse Maricopa with Maricopa County. Actually, Maricopa isn't even in Maricopa County, it is in Pinal County!

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Where Is Phoenix?

Phoenix on a map of the USA
Judy Hedding/U.S. map courtesy of David Sweet

First of all, we need to clarify. Most people, when referring to the City of Phoenix, mean the one in Arizona. There are other cities named Phoenix in the United States. There's one in California, New York, Illinois, and Oregon. Maybe there are others! In any case, we're referring only to Phoenix, Arizona here.

Where Is Phoenix?

The City of Phoenix (black dot on the map) is in Maricopa County (white area). It is rather centrally located in the State of Arizona. Note that the map is not drawn to scale; these are simply general shapes and locations for your reference.

More About Phoenix

The City of Phoenix is the capital of Arizona. It is one of the largest cities in the country, 5th largest as of the 2016 U.S. Census estimates. It covers 517 square miles.

The phrases Greater Phoenix, Metro Phoenix, and Phoenix area refer to the metropolitan area of which the City of Phoenix is the hub. The cities of Scottsdale, Tempe, Glendale and more than 25 other cities and towns comprise the Greater Phoenix area. Care should be taken, therefore, when reading about statistics and surveys comparing "Phoenix" to other cities. It is important to know if the reference is to Greater Phoenix or the City of Phoenix. Some research companies aren't especially diligent in defining their survey methodology or mode of sampling.

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