Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
Itineraries, Day Trips & Tours
What to Eat and Drink
The nation's fifth largest city, Phoenix has been an escape for the rich, famous, and winter weary since The Wigwam and the Arizona Biltmore opened in 1929. While these resorts and others like them still lure visitors with sprawling swimming pools and championship golf courses, Phoenix and the Greater Phoenix area—known collectively as the Valley of the Sun—offer so much more.
From incredible hikes through the Sonoran Desert to UNESCO World Heritage sites, Phoenix is a one-of-a-kind destination. This Phoenix travel guide will help you plan your trip so you don't miss it at its best.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: To enjoy the Valley's sunny days and mild temperatures, plan your trip between November and March, keeping in mind that January through March are considered high season (rooms can be hard to come by last minute during Cactus League spring training). However, if you don't mind triple digit heat, you can find amazing deals on resort stays Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Getting Around: The Valley has limited public transportation. Valley Metro Light Rail runs from northwest Phoenix through downtown Phoenix and into the East Valley. Buses operate throughout the Valley but don't always go to points of interest; you will be limited on where you can go if you rely on them. Because the metropolitan area stretches nearly 15,000 square miles, most visitors rent a car or rely on ride-hailing services like Uber.
Travel Tip: With its central location, Phoenix makes a great base for exploring the state of Arizona. Set aside time for a day trip to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Tucson, or Tombstone.
Things to Do
Phoenix is known for the amazing Sonoran Desert that surrounds it, but there's more to do than pose with a saguaro or take in some rays at the pool. You can explore the Valley's world-class museums (including one dedicated solely to musical instruments) or visit incredible attractions such as architect Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home. History buffs can learn about the native people and early settlers who paved the way for the city we enjoy today, while sports fan can cheer for their favorite professional players. There's so much to do in the Valley that you won't be able to squeeze all into one vacation. Here are a few highlights to get you started:
- Discover the Sonoran Desert: Hike the popular Camelback Mountain, or explore one of the world's largest municipal parks, South Mountain Park. For more leisure-oriented travelers, jeep tours and horseback rides are less of a physical challenge, and guides share stories about the flora, fauna, and local history. To learn about the plants that thrive in the Sonoran Desert on your own, visit the Desert Botanical Garden.
- Check Out a Museum: Considered one of the top 20 museums in the nation, the Musical Instrument Museum showcases more than 8,000 instruments from more than 200 countries and territories around the globe. Art lovers, meanwhile, will appreciate the world-renowned Heard Museum's collection of 44,000 Native American pieces. The Pueblo Grande Museum Archeological Park features a prehistoric ball court, replica dwellings, and a museum dedicated to the area's earliest settlers, the Hohokam people.
- Visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Winter Home: Celebrate Frank Lloyd Wright by visiting Taliesin West, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the 90-minute tour will take you through the famous architect's home, drafting room, and music pavilion. Those interested in seeing more of Wright's work can tour the Arizona Biltmore, on which he served as a consultant, or the Price House (by appointment only).
- Attend a Sports Game: From the end of February until opening day, 15 Major League Baseball teams participate in Cactus League spring training games at 10 ballparks throughout the Valley. In January, Phoenix hosts the best-attended golf tournament of the year, Waste Management Phoenix Open.
What to Eat and Drink
Phoenix is known for its steaks and Mexican food. Sample prime cuts at The Stockyards, built on what was formerly the world's largest cattle feedlot, or at Durant's, a favorite with celebrities and local politicians. Several resorts boast five-star steakhouses as well. For exceptional Mexican, head to Barrio Café, or try a cheese crisp (a toasted tortilla covered with gooey cheddar cheese) at Macayo's. The latter also claims to have invented the chimichanga when its founder accidentally dropped a burrito in the fryer.
Although you once would have been hard pressed to find much beyond steaks and Mexican cuisine, the Valley today boasts everything from Thai to Ethiopian food. It's also home to what some consider the best pizzeria in the nation, Pizzeria Bianco.
When it comes to cocktails, the city has an emerging scene that is garnering national attention. Bitter & Twisted, Century Grand, and Little Rituals have all been honorees for the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, the international equivalent of the James Beard Awards for cocktails.
The Valley also has an impressive craft beer scene with breweries predominantly located in downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, and the East Valley. If you're a fan of sours, be sure to drop by Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., named the best new brewery in the world when it opened in 2013.
Where to Stay
Whether you want to crawl between the highest thread counts of luxurious sheets inside a Five-Diamond resort, sip cocktails in an eclectic lounge of a boutique hotel, or simply be more budget conscious in a conveniently located hotel room, you have plenty of options in the Valley.
Boasting gorgeous swimming pools, traditional and desert golf courses, and fine-dining restaurants, the resorts that surround Phoenix and Scottsdale are among the best in the country. The iconic Arizona Biltmore, known as the “Jewel of the Desert,” has hosted every sitting president from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush. (It's also where the Tequila Sunrise cocktail was created and where Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas" poolside.) The Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa is one of the newer luxury resorts and features stunning views of Camelback Mountain.
Many of the Valley's best boutique hotels are located in Old Town Scottsdale. Built in 1956, Hotel Valley Ho is a boutique hideaway that combines mid-century modern architecture with a cool, contemporary vibe. Or, book a room at the Bespoke Inn Scottsdale, a boutique inn with a 43-foot long infinity lap pool and a James Beard Foundation-nominated restaurant, Virtù. In downtown Phoenix, consider a boutique stay at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar or the art-centric Found:Re.
For a budget-friendly downtown experience, try the Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Downtown. Housed in a building originally constructed in 1932, it features an original Art Deco design and a grand lobby with restored columns and marble touches.
The best way to get to Phoenix is by flying directly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). In the East Valley, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport (AZA) is another option but has far fewer commercial flights. Either way, you'll want to rent a car to explore the city and beyond.
Money Saving Tips
- Many resorts and hotels deeply discount their rooms during the summer. You can also save tremendously on your car rental if you visit during the summer, and some restaurants even have special summer deals.
- Several of the Valley’s smaller museums are free while others have free days. The Heard Museum and Phoenix Art Museum are free on First Fridays.
- City parks throughout the Valley are free. Hike South Mountain or Papago Park, stroll around Tempe Town Lake, or explore Sahuaro Ranch Park.
Learn more budget-friendly ways to have fun with our article on best free things to do in Phoenix.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. "The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright."
Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. "Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Announces Regional Top 10 Honorees for the 2020 Spirited Awards." April 14, 2020.
James Beard Foundation. "The 2014 Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists." February 19, 2014.