Phoenix

Overview

If you're seeking sun, then this chunk of the Sonoran Desert is a little piece of heaven, where the sun shines (pretty much) every day. Here, you can enjoy outdoor activities or just relax in the city of Phoenix, neighbouring Scottsdale and the surrounding towns in Maricopa County.

According to the 2010 U.S. census, Phoenix is the sixth-largest city in the U.S. You wouldn't necessarily think that based on the city's downtown core, which has the laid-back attitude of much smaller place.

With the city investing in a new Metro rail system to drive downtown development, you'll notice restaurants and bars, boutiques and galleries are all starting to take up residence in the historic mid-century buildings and bungalows. They bring an energy that suggests this city is ready for a renaissance, a cultural rebirth.

Bumping up against Phoenix's eastern edge, Scottsdale is the affluent neighbour, often described as Arizona's version of Beverly Hills. The designation is certainly fair if you include the adjacent town of Paradise Valley, nestled up to Scottsdale to the north.

The Scottsdale-Paradise Valley area's primary economic engine is the high-end tourism industry. It has developed into a destination known for five-star resorts, destination spas and golf courses. There's also an impressive restaurant and gallery scene built around a central pedestrian-friendly walkway.

Even at its most hectic, this is a place that seems to know how to relax, kick back by the pool, enjoy great restaurant meals, swing a golf club and enjoy a ballgame. The stressful urban lifestyle seen in other cities doesn't seem to exist in this corner of the Sonoran Desert. It must be all that sunshine.

Phoenix is a fantastic destination for:

  • golf
  • spa and wellness
  • shopping and dining

Airport served by: PHX, AZA

Destination basics

The climate in this desert city can be summed up in two words – hot and dry. When it rains, it doesn't rain for very long. (Scientifically speaking, a desert is any region that receives less than 25 centimetres of rain per year.)

During the coldest winter months, it's still warm enough to play golf – a big part of what attracts second-home owners from cooler climes to the region.

Spring is an absolutely delightful season to be in the area. The desert is in bloom and the days are summery, but not overwhelmingly hot. There's a pretty big difference in the day-to-night temperatures, but it's usually nothing a light jacket or simple shawl-style wrap can't handle.

Summers, on the other hand, are another story. During June, July and August the region experiences a dry heat that drives average temperatures above 30 C.

The midsummer months constitute the tourism industry's off-season, with many resorts and hotels offering heavily discounted room rates. To beat the heat, resorts have installed air-conditioning, misting devices and aeration systems to keep outdoor pools from warming up to bathtub-like temperatures.

Any time of year, don't leave home without your sun essentials, including sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Phoenix, AZ

There's still a bit of the Wild West out here in Maricopa County. Scottsdale, in particular, has deliberately played up that aspect of its history in its Old Town quarter, where souvenir shops are labelled "trading posts" and the streetlights are adorned with spurs bearing the town's name – although you're unlikely to see any real-life ranch folk moseying around town.

The Wild West attitude is celebrated each February at the annual Parada del Sol, a free, family-friendly street festival with crowd-pleasing activities like trick-riding demonstrations and Old West gunfight performances. Many festival attendees get into the spirit as well, dressing up in hats and boots and other cowboy finery.

The modern Wild West exists a short drive north in the town of Cave Creek, a hub for motorbike enthusiasts and rodeo folk alike, with a central strip lined with rowdy roadhouses and saloons, such as the famous Buffalo Chip Saloon, which hosts live bull-riding events on the premises.

The hub of visual arts activity in the area is the Phoenix Art Museum, an 18,860-square-metre facility opened in 1959. In addition to the gallery displays, the museum is a cultural centre for film, musical performances and educational programming.

Native American culture and heritage also has a strong presence in Maricopa County, influencing everything from spa treatments to restaurant menus. Native artworks and jewelry designs are a major part of the fine art scene. To learn more about Native culture and history, check out the impressive Heard Museum in metropolitan Phoenix, a sprawling facility dedicated entirely to re-telling the ancient and modern stories of the southwestern Indian tribes.

The Phoenix-Scottsdale area is also culturally significant for its contributions to mid-century modern architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright built his visionary Taliesin West compound at the foot of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale. Wright protege Paolo Soleri continues to work from his Cosanti studio-gallery and residence site in Paradise Valley.

In 2010, Scottsdale erected a footbridge of Soleri's design as a public art initiative in the Waterfront district bordering the Arizona Canal.

Following an US$80-million renovation in December 2005, downtown Scottsdale's mid-century modern landmark Hotel Valley Ho, designed by architect Edward L. Varney, is the focus of all things hip these days. It has regained its cool from the days when it drew a celebrity clientele that included Bing Crosby, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.

There's a distinct sense of classic Americana here as well that lingers in the old-school ice cream parlours, the love for the game of baseball and the vibrant community of vintage car collectors and aficionados.

As with all American destinations, it is recommended to use U.S. dollars for general expenses. For entertainment and shopping, your credit card will give you the exchange rate at the time of purchase. There are also numerous ATMs inside banks and public spaces where you can withdraw funds at your convenience. Just be aware that transaction fees vary by ATM.

Phoenix is located in central Arizona, in Maricopa County, and is the sixth-biggest city in the U.S., with a population of approximately 1.4 million. With few geographical barriers to hem in the city's borders, it's also one of the biggest cities, area-wise, with a low population density compared to other cities of a similar size.

The perimeters of Greater Phoenix are outlined by mountains and Native American lands. The McDowell Mountains lie to the northeast and the Superstition Mountains further east. The iconic Camelback Mountain, a popular hiking locale, marks the point of intersection between Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.

Aside from the mountains, the most striking feature of the landscape in this area is the native saguaro cactus (pronounced sah-WAHR-o), which grows wild everywhere.

The tree-sized cacti (the largest in the U.S.) are older than most of the residents and even buildings in the area. Most grow for at least 75 years before even sprouting just one of the arms that give them their iconic shape. They can live to be as much as 200 years old and can reach a height of up to 18 metres.

Home to some of the sunniest golf courses and most beautiful stretches of urban desert, getting around Phoenix is always a pleasure. When vacationing here, it's usually best to rent a car. Just remember to book in advance as car rental dealerships book up quickly during the warmer months.

Downtown, you'll be able to quickly and easily get around on foot. But you'll definitely want a car to travel between the scenic surrounding communities at the edges of town. Just keep an eye out for changing lane directions near downtown during rush hour. The city switches high-traffic roads to one-ways during rush hour to help control traffic flow.

If you're looking to visit other regions of Arizona, check out the Amtrak train schedule. You can also check out the new Valley Metro light rail system that travels from Phoenix to Mesa. These trains stop at many tourist destinations, including the museums downtown and Arizona State University. Not to mention, local light rail and bus fare is just US$2.50 per day.

If you're simply looking to explore downtown, Phoenix offers a convenient FREE Downtown Area Shuttle (known as DASH).

Unlike many large metropolises, taxi fares in Phoenix are unregulated – with the exception of set rates to and from the airport. Due to expensive rates (about US$1.50 per mile), travel by taxi is not recommended.

Arrival

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is a large airport with a state-of-the-art automated shuttle called the Phoenix Sky Train. The full Sky Train route is not yet complete, but by 2020 it will connect all airport terminals with the rental car center, as well as the Metro public transit lines.

Since you pass through U.S. Customs before your departure from Canada, all you'll need to do when you arrive is pick up your bags. Once you've got all your belongings and exit the airport, you'll see many transportation options take you to your hotel.

SuperShuttle offers blue vans that will accept up to seven passengers at a time. Fares are reasonably priced at US$13 a person to downtown Phoenix or US$20 to the Scottsdale area.

Departure

When departing, a friendly WestJet staff member will be ready to assist you at the WestJet check-in counters, beginning three hours prior to departure. You can also check in and select your seat ahead of time using WestJet's convenient Web check-in service.

With its consistently warm and dry weather, the Greater Phoenix area has attracted a significant community of "Snowbirds." These are the retired and semi-retired folks hailing from frostier regions, especially Western Canada and the U.S. Midwest, who take up residence during the winters to soak up the sun. This flock then returns home during the summer months when the temperatures start to climb.

The Phoenix area is a leisure playground, with good shopping, great restaurants, gorgeous spas, lush golf courses and a wide variety of pro sports teams such as the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks. The NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, another of the area's pro sports clubs, play out of their home arena in Glendale, just northwest of Phoenix.

That's not to say it's all leisure in Phoenix. The area is hugely popular for conventions, drawing companies and corporate groups from all over North America to its many hotels and meeting facilities.

The area is also a draw for artists of all disciplines, which has, in turn, led to an impressive number of galleries. Phoenix's Roosevelt Row Arts District is where the edgier, younger art crowd gathers. Scottsdale's gallery district draws a more conventional crowd to its pedestrian-friendly mall. Both locales host bustling ArtWalk events, which take place Thursday evenings in Scottsdale and on Friday evenings in Phoenix.

Departing from:

ˆTotal price one-way per guest. See terms and conditions. *Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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