It's hard to put a label on Phoenix. Just when you've dismissed it as a faux-dobe wasteland of cookie-cutter subdivisions, bland shopping malls and water-gobbling golf courses, you're pulled short by a golden sunset setting the urban peaks aglow. Or a stubborn desert bloom determined to make a go of it in the dry, scrubby heat. Or maybe it's the mom-and-pop breakfast joint drawing crowds and thumbing its nose at the ubiquitous chains that dominate the landscape.
It's these little markers of hope – or defiance – that let travelers know there's more substance here than initially meets the eye. The catch? You've got to pull off the interstate and get out of the car to appreciate them. And with more than 300 days of sunshine a year – hence the nickname 'Valley of the Sun' – this isn't a disagreeable proposition (except in June, July and August when the mercury tops 100°F, or about 40°C).Heard Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum. The Desert Botanical Garden is a stunning introduction to the region's flora and fauna. For sports fans, there are local teams in the national football, baseball and ice hockey leagues, and the area is dotted with more than 200 golf courses.
Greater Phoenix – also referred to as the Valley – may be vast and amorphous, but the areas of visitor interest are limited to three or four communities. Phoenix is the largest city and combines a businesslike demeanor with a burgeoning cultural scene and top-notch sports facilities. Southeast of here, student-flavored Tempe (tem-pee) is a lively district hugging 2-mile-long Tempe Town Lake. Further east it segues smoothly into ho-hum Mesa, which has a couple of interesting museums. North of Phoenix, Paradise Valley and Scottsdale are both ritzy enclaves.
While the former is mostly residential, Scottsdale is known for its cutesy old town, galleries and lavish resorts.
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