As the capital of the Grand Canyon State, Phoenix knows how to make a lasting impression on travelers, and it’s an ideal launching point for exploring Arizona. The city fully earns its reputation for oppressive heat and urban sprawl. But it suffers unfairly for being a mega city that happens to be surrounded on all sides by natural splendor: Nature-loving author Edward Abbey once described it as an “oasis of ugliness in the midst of a beautiful wasteland.” The landscape of sun-glinted rock, big blue sky and cartoonlike cactuses is a revelation—especially for those from colder climes. And the friendliness of Phoenix's residents—the Phoenicians, of course—belies its status as America’s fifth-largest city. Like the best American metropolises, Phoenix is a city where it’s easy to migrate between high culture and low. You can cocoon yourself within the grounds of a palm-canopied resort by day, then seek out cheap cerveza and Mexican grub and by night; conversely, you can check into a budget...See More motel (or even a mountain-shrouded campground), then sally forth to sip cocktails with the buff and busty crowd. Hundreds of miles of public trails share desert terrain with luxury golf courses and spas. Native American museums display sacred art and artifacts, and Native American casinos showcase slot machines and card games. The city may suffer from a multiple-personality disorder, but it’s an agreeable one: Phoenix is less pretentious than L.A., more charismatic than Las Vegas. See Less
1 Horse or buggy? Take a horseback ride through Camp Creek Canyon (guided by Windwalker Expeditions) or see the desert from the driver’s seat of an Israeli assault vehicle (guided by Desert Wolf Tours). The latter tour includes instruction in shooting a semi-automatic firearm.
2 Have lunch at Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue, a restaurant birthed when a resort chef decided to open a pulled-pork joint in the middle of nowhere.