From the moment you deplane at Sky Harbor International until you pour your desert-sated self aboard your flight home, your constant companion during your exploration of Phoenix, Arizona’s convivial capital, shall be warmth.
Neither sizzling scorch nor smothering sauna, but instead, a (mostly) pleasant, dry comfortableness that has managed to convince 1.5 million fellow humans to call this scenic high desert home.
First-timers spend their initial visit marveling at it; snowbirds can’t wait to return to it. It’s the kind of climate you dreamed of as a kid, and probably in vain.
There’s a wheel-like logic to the layout of the Valley of the Sun that makes getting your bearings a breeze. Sky Harbor and downtown form the hub, facing north toward I-10, with UFO-attracting South Mountain at their back. They separate two vast suburbs: the Tempe-Mesa-Gilbert-Chandler wing to the southeast; Glendale and Peoria to the northwest.
That leaves the valley’s most popular attractions due north and northwest, in the upscale environs of Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, and Camelback Mountain, where tony golf resorts lie waiting to ruin a perfectly good stroll.
These top 10 Phoenix attractions should slake your thirst for fun:
Papago Park: This accessible, in-town hiking loop is best known for its Hole-In-The-Wall geological formation and the incongruous white pyramid tomb of former Gov. George Hunt (1859-1934). Make a day of it and explore Papago’s two other attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, while keeping an eye peeled for bighorn sheep on the hills.
Taliesin West: Architect Frank Lloyd Wright built his winter home and architecture school from local rubblestone and redwood in the foothills north of Scottsdale after a student lured him west to help design the valley’s iconic Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa. Both celebrate his architectural genius.
The Farm at South Mountain: This 10-acre riverbed retreat celebrates farm-to-market from the ground up, with an expansive, community-supported organic garden, farmer’s market, three farm-to-table restaurants, crafts, classes, succulents, massage and special events, served fresh daily.
Cosanti/Arcosanti: Respectively the Paradise Valley home of trailblazing eco-architect Paulo Solari and the Zen arts community he founded at Cordes Junction, both serve as windows into Solari’s unique vision of combining ecology and architecture to live in harmony with nature.
Scottsdale Fashion Square: This stylish home of high-end valley retail therapy features more than 50 upscale clothiers, with sufficient barrista support to stave off decaffeinization.
Sedona Vortex Tour: Since ancient times, the mountain community of Sedona, 100 miles north of Phoenix, has attracted spiritual pilgrims to its five renowned vortices, or sites of unusually strong spiritual and metaphysical energy emanating from the earth. Whether you feel the vortex or not, Sedona scenery is second only to that of the Grand Canyon just two hours up the road.
The Horny Toad: You’ll feel like you’re in a Western movie (several were filmed here) while dining al fresco at the oldest and funkiest bar and restaurant in these parts. Regulars insist the Toad’s fried chicken qualifies this place as a vortex all its own.
Lake Pleasant: Just a half-hour drive from downtown, this picturesque regional park provides a boatload of water fun, from kayaks and sail craft to jet skis and powerboats. Or simply rent a houseboat, fire up the grill and enjoy the wild burros, bobcats and bald eagles that call this home.
Aji Spa & Salon: Aji, or “sanctuary” in the native Pima language, brings Native American healing into the spa experience with indigenous treatments and activities practiced by Pima and Maricopa cultural caretakers. Part of the spa’s proceeds benefit the children of the Gila River Indian Community.
Musical Instrument Museum: The world’s only global musical instrument museum features more than 6,000 instruments from 200 countries and regions to see and hear in mind-blowing video performances. The Experience Gallery invites visitors to play some exotic instruments, while the Artist Gallery displays instruments from such iconic musicians as Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Carlos Santana and Taylor Swift.
Photo credits: Palm and buildings, iStock; Shutterstock.