AOL PICK from our Editors
Phoenix is a resort destination, and its best accommodations are lushly landscaped resorts secluded from (or hidden within) the bustle of the city. If you expect to find stately hotels or historic bed and breakfasts in Phoenix, you’re barking up the wrong cactus. What you can expect are phantasmagorically beautiful compounds replete with swimming pools, spas, golf courses and tony restaurants. What’s important to remember about Phoenix’s resort culture is that it’s more accessible than you might think—especially during the summer months when $400-600 rooms go for $100-200. During spring and fall, though, don’t expect to find a hotel room for less than $100 anyplace besides a budget chain. About 500 hotels and 57,000 rooms are scattered across the metro area, so finding a place to stay isn’t difficult; the key to a pleasant visit is finding accommodations that minimize your time on the interstate. Unless you’re cool with paying $70-80 for a ubiquitous room near a freeway exit, stay away from the fringes of the valley. Most resorts are situated in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley; convention hotels occupy downtown Phoenix; and airport hotels are clustered in Tempe. If your budget necessitates sub-$100 chain accommodations, the Hyatt Place hotels in North Phoenix and Tempe are both new and include the must-have conveniences of the day: high-def TVs, high-speed WiFi and free cereal in the morning.
Neighborhood: Scottsdale Price Range: Expensive
While several resorts in Phoenix succeed in re-creating exotic environments from places like Italy, Spain and Morocco, the Four Seasons simply goes with the natural desert flow. It’s a smart move, especially considering its remote location. Native cactuses, spiny ocotillos and avocado-hued palo verde trees line paths leading to the Four Season’s 210 adobe casitas. The casitas circle three simple yet elegant pools, and there might not be a better place in all of Phoenix to escape the summer heat than the Four Season’s poolside cabanas, where you can enjoy complimentary fruit, prickly-pear lemonade and chilled towels. Looming over it all is picturesque Pinnacle Peak. The much-ballyhooed desert golf courses of Troon North lie just up the road, along with the hiking and biking trails of McDowell Mountain Regional Park.
Neighborhood: Paradise Valley Price Range: Expensive
Completed in 2008, the Montelucia is the city’s newest resort. It draws inspiration for its Old World architecture and attitude from the Andalusia region of southern Spain. (Think chunky wood and babbling fountains.) This resort is a good choice if you want to partake in Old Town Scottsdale's nightlife but prefer quieter accommodations than are available at Old Town's trendy hotels. Here, views of Camelback Mountain abound—from guest-room balconies, pool decks, and the patio of Prado restaurant. And take it from us, you'll never see prettier people attempting to play bocce ball than those on the Montelucia’s inner lawn.
Neighborhood: Uptown Price Range: Expensive
The Biltmore has been around since 1929. These days, visitors come expecting a hint of bygone glamour. And with good reason. Marilyn Monroe was a frequent guest. Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” while sitting next to the pool. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli once gave an impromptu concert in the lobby. The Biltmore was designed by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, and its gray-block construction and gold-leafed ceilings give the 740-room resort a sense of permanence none of its Phoenix peers possesses. Recent updates include the addition of the casual restaurant Frank & Albert’s and a “hotel within a hotel” wing called Ocatilla. The spa doesn’t measure up to those at Phoenix’s newer resorts and the swimming pools are sometimes crowded with conventioneers and families, but the Biltmore is still the most famous place to stay in Arizona.
Neighborhood: Arcadia Price Range: Expensive
With 119 rooms, the Royal Palms is one of the smallest, most romantic resorts in Phoenix. Nestled at the foot of Camelback Mountain and enshrouded by a dense canopy of palm trees, the Royal Palms' designers modeled it after a Mediterranean villa. If all the rough-hewn stone, rustic wood and wrought iron don’t put you in the mood, you can always ask the resort’s Director of Romance to help you plan a memorable evening. Decadent touches to the grounds include a cigar room with a leather floor and a spa grotto with a waterfall shower. If you’re gonna do the Royal Palms, do it big: Book a casita with hand-carved furniture and a mountain-view terrace.
Neighborhood: CenPho Price Range: Moderate
The Clarendon is really Central Phoenix’s only boutique hotel, and its quirky style isn’t for everybody. But if you dig bold colors, contemporary art and furnishings that seem to have been purchased in some parallel-universe Ikea, you’ll fit right in. The three best things about The Clarendon are its swimming pool, its rooftop lounge and its in-house restaurant. The pool area features a glass water wall, arcing fountains, funky lights, underwater speakers and tanning beds; the rooftop lounge affords views of midtown Phoenix amid free WiFi; and the lobby restaurant, Gallo Blanco, serves killer breakfasts and Mexican street food at reasonable prices. The Clarendon is a favorite of urban hipsters and gay travelers. On a practical note, its CenPho location makes it a perfect launching pad for trips to downtown museums and Roosevelt Row.
Neighborhood: Paradise Valley Price Range: Moderate
Hermosa Inn is the former studio and guest ranch of cowboy artist Alonzo “Lon” Megargee, a poker-playing ladies man and gadfly who settled in the desert north of Phoenix in the 1890s. If you’ve ever turned over an old Stetson and seen the painting of a cowboy watering his horse from the bowl of his upturned hat, then you’ve seen Megargee’s work. The artist’s old hacienda was lovingly converted into a 34-room boutique hideaway in the 1990s, and in November 2009 it emerged from a $2 million renovation that updated its bathrooms, furnishings and landscaping. This is one of Phoenix’s simplest and loveliest hotels. The inn keeps with the character of the desert, affords views of nearby Camelback Mountain, and is located equidistant between downtown Phoenix and Old Town Scottsdale. Hermosa Inn is also home to Lon’s, one of the city’s best Southwestern restaurants.
Neighborhood: Scottsdale Price Range: Moderate
Hotel Valley Ho calls itself a resort, but it’s better described as a boutique hotel. It was built in 1956 and for years served as a popular escape for Hollywood celebrities. In 2004, a major renovation restored the hotel’s mid-century motif and transformed it into one of Scottsdale’s hippest hangouts. The Valley Ho tends to attract a less superficial crowd than the nearby W Scottsdale and Hotel Theodore (formerly the Mondrian), but the cool factor is still lofty. Guest rooms are airy and modern, and some have bathtubs in the middle of the floor plan. We love the swimming pool shaped like a martini glass. Hotel Valley Ho is within cheap cab fare of Scottsdale’s best clubs and restaurants, and rooms can be booked for less than $250 most of the year (and for $99 in the summer).
Neighborhood: East Valley Price Range: Moderate
Few hotels meld native culture and luxurious lodging as well as this resort on the Gila River Indian Community reservation. Sheraton manages the resort, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find that brand’s signature “S” anywhere on the grounds. What you will find are signs, murals and sculptures celebrating the native Pima and Maricopa tribes. Wild Horse Pass even employs a cultural concierge who teaches curious guests about tribal history and culture. Despite the 500-room resort’s relative affordability—sub-$200 rates are available year-round, and summer brings $99 specials—Wild Horse Pass is home to Arizona’s most decorated restaurant: Kai. The Gila River reservation also has a casino, two golf courses and a replica of a Wild West town. “Wild Horse Pass” isn’t just a catchy name, either: Actual wild horses roam the reservation; book a tour with the on-site equestrian center, so you can see them up close.
Neighborhood: CenPho Price Range: Budget
Adventurous souls, backpackers and travelers on a shoestring budget can crash at this hostel in downtown Phoenix for $20-23. It’s located in an old house with an overgrown yard and cluttered common area that connects separate dorm rooms for male and female travelers. Perks include a big kitchen, free WiFi and good air conditioning. Drawbacks are creaky beds, water-stained bathrooms and a lack of lockers. The hostel is not located in the safest of neighborhoods, but it’s walking distance from Roosevelt Row and light rail. Metcalf House is closed in July and August.
Neighborhood: CenPho Price Range: Budget
There aren’t many clean, safe hotels in downtown Phoenix in the budget category, but America’s Best Value Inn fits the description. It’s an old motor lodge that’s been spiffed up with fresh paint and new bathroom fixtures. The manager and his family live on-site, and they seem to take pride in the property’s tidiness. Each room has a refrigerator and microwave, and a modest continental breakfast is served in the small lobby every morning. Parking is free, as are WiFi and HBO. The best thing about America’s Best Value Inn is its location—it's near the historic Orpheum Theatre, restaurants, bars, sports venues and light rail. You can stay at much nicer hotels in CenPho—the Sheraton, Hyatt, Wyndham and Holiday Inn Express—but not for anywhere close to 50 bucks.
ZenYard Guest House
Neighborhood: Uptown Phoenix Price Range: Budget
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In a big city short on inexpensive lodging with independent character, this nondescript but tastefully appointed guesthouse near Phoenix Mountains Park is a refreshing alternative to low-budget chain hotels. It has four rooms (two with private baths and kitchens), a salt-water pool, two hot tubs and a flower garden with a koi pond. Nightly rates range from $50 to $95. The ZenYard is operated by a friendly gay couple who prepare a poolside complimentary breakfast each morning for guests. If you’re comfortable lodging with liberal-minded people in a quasi-New Age environment (and you’re not traveling with children), the ZenYard is a steal.