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Phoenix, Arizona is one of the American Southwest’s most attractive and livable cities and it’s not hard to guess why. Known for its warm and balmy temperatures year-round, Phoenix offers the perfect mix of nature and culture. It boasts proximity to several top-notch natural attractions, including the wildly popular Sonoran Desert (known for its 12-meter-tall cacti!) and the Grand Canyon National Park, as well as outdoor activities like rock climbing, horse-riding, tubing, hiking, and mountain biking. The city is also home to a multiethnic population, with prominent Mexican and First Nation influences. As if that weren’t enough, the metropolitan city - known as Valley of the Sun - houses youthful college crowds and, unsurprisingly, top-notch nightlife. Phoenix is a top tourist destination in the Wild West of the United States, and it is best explored with your own vehicle. Book your Phoenix car rental in advance with Enjoy Travel for a seamless trip.
Guide to Phoenix
Phoenix lies in the south-central part of Arizona, about 120 miles north of the Mexico border. It is located at the extreme northern part of the Sonoran Desert, where the Salt and Gila rivers meet. To the far east of Phoenix lie the rugged volcanoes of the Superstition Mountains, while the McDowell Mountains, White Tank Mountains, South Mountain, and Sierra Estrella flank the city’s northeast, west, south, and southwest, respectively.
Climate in Phoenix
Phoenix has a hot and arid desert-type climate with low annual rainfall and low relative humidity. As such, the best time to travel to this city is during winter and spring, spanning from November through April, when the weather is most pleasant and comfortable temperatures accompany clear blue skies. This is also when the famous cacti of the Sonoran Desert bloom.
Known as the ‘5 Cs,’ the First Nation tribes that settled in the area developed a canal system which led to the growth of cotton, cattle, citrus, climate, and copper. Phoenix’s cultural landscape is a unique confluence of Mexican, Native American, and Western influences. It forms a key part of the American Southwest, shaping everything from cuisine to language. In recent years, Phoenix has emerged as a financial, telecommunications, transportation, and tourism hub.
Things To Do in Phoenix
Immerse yourself in musical history
With a thoughtfully curated collection of more than 6800 instruments and artifacts from nearly 200 countries, the Phoenix Musical Instruments Museum is definitely a must-visit for music lovers. The five permanent galleries - the Geographic Gallery, the Artists Gallery, the Mechanical Music Gallery, the STEM Gallery, and the Experience Gallery - are housed in a magnificent building and, as you wind your way through them, you can observe various instruments showcased in high-tech display cases with video and audio features. The Experience Gallery has rare instruments that you can try your hand at, including a theremin, gong, and a Peruvian harp. The Artists Gallery has collections from famous musicians like John Lenon, Elvis Presley, Carlos Santana, Taylor Swift, Ravi Shankar, and others. The entry tickets come with a complimentary audio guide, which tells you all about the instruments, their cultural contexts, and allows you to hear them in action. You can also observe skilled craftsmen restoring instruments in the Conservation Lab, or sit in on live concerts in their 300-seat theater.
Venture into the desert
Lying at the northernmost end of the sprawling Papago Park is the Desert Botanical Garden, a beautiful oasis in the midst of the Sonoran Desert. This garden is home to over 50,000 species of flora from all across the world, including massive collections of cacti and agave. Go on a series of themed trails to get acquainted with blooming wildflowers and desert life. Art installations dot the property making it all the more picturesque. From March till May, there is also a butterfly exhibit in a special pavilion designed for their lifecycle. Finally, check in advance if the Desert Botanical Garden is hosting any outdoor concerts or culinary demonstrations on the day of your trip; they’re sometimes free and a great value addition to your overall experience.
Learn about Native history
The Heard Museum in Phoenix has a fantastic collection of art created by Native American (also known as First Nation) tribes of the Southwest, dating back to 1929. These include Navajo textiles, Hopi Katsina dolls, Zuni and Navajo jewelry, ceramics, pottery, and woven baskets. Keep an eye out for the impressive 7-meter mural of the Yaqui people and the full-sized Navajo hogan. You can also take a stroll through the outdoor sculpture garden or taste the regularly changing menu at their dainty courtyard café. The museum is also renowned for its events like the Hispanic El Mercado de Las Artes in February and the Indian Fair and Market in early March which draw in thousands of First Nation artists and visitors every year.
Mingle with some furry friends
If you are traveling with kids - or you just really like animals yourself - head to the much-loved Phoenix Zoo in Papago Park. It houses more than 1400 animals, including several endangered species that find themselves at home in Arizona’s hot desert climate. The 125-acre zoo is demarcated into 4 different trails- the Arizona Trail, Africa Trail, Tropics Trail, and Children’s Trail. The Arizona Trail has natives of the Sonoran Desert like coyotes, bobcats, cougars, and turkey vultures. On the African trail, you will come across lions, giraffes, cheetahs, and gazelles. You can discover jaguars, Asian elephants, orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and spider monkeys in the Tropics Trail. And on the Children’s Trail, the little ones will adore interacting with smaller animals like wallabies, ocelots, and golden-mantled tamarins. The zoo also has a 4D theater that runs shows using wind, scents, water, and other effects. This is a great option when outside temperatures become unbearable.
Eating Out in Phoenix
This desert city has a lot to offer in terms of gastronomic variety. Here are some of our top recommendations:
Taste exotic Cambodian fare at Thaily’s, like lok lak which is a peppered beef salad with thinly sliced tomato, eggs, and onion. Arepas - a Pre-Columbian snack dish made with maize and stuffed with meat, beans and cheese - are a highlight at Que Chevere, a Venezuelan food truck. Chantico offers delicious Mexican food; enjoy their tortilla-based specialties like quesadillas and enchiladas. Savor an elote pasta and Anasazi bean dip for dinner and nopales semifreddo for dessert at Valentine. At Kaizen PHX, the octopus tiradito and scallop aguachiles have innovative touches that are likely to keep you entranced long after you’ve left their restaurant. Kabob Grill N Go is a casual eatery serving authentic Armenian platters like kabob koobideh and shirazi salads.
Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport (PHX), located 3 miles east of downtown Phoenix, serves the city and surrounding regions in Arizona. It is the ninth-busiest airport in the United States and the largest and busiest one in Arizona. In 2019, Wall Street Journal ranked it the best overall airport in the US.
Getting Around Phoenix
Getting around in Phoenix is fairly easy. The public transport system consists mainly of buses and a 20-mile light rail system operating under the name, ‘The Valley Metro.’ The Valley Metro Rail runs from Central Phoenix through downtown to Tempe and Mesa in the east. You can also opt for taxis, bike-sharing, and ride-hailing options like Uber, Lyft, and zTrip.
Many visitors traveling through Phoenix prefer to hire a car as it offers increased comfort, flexibility, and convenience. The highway system in the United States makes it a breeze to get from place to place via car and, if you’re traveling in a large group, a 7 seater or a 9 seater van would actually work out to be more cost-effective than taking the train. You can also do a one-way hire, which means that you can pick up your vehicle in one city – say Phoenix – and drop it off in another – like Sedona – before flying out, saving you the hassle of driving it back.