Ultimate Phoenix Travel Guide
May 4, 2021
Introducing the Phoenix travel guide! After several trips to this gorgeous area in the southwest, I’ve compiled everything I know about Phoenix, Scottsdale, and the surrounding area in Arizona for you!
Famous for receiving around 300 days of sunshine per year, this vibrant desert city is something of an adventure playground. The Valley of the Sun has it all: warm desert breezes, swaying palms, southwestern cuisine, endless shopping. Good news, getting to Phoenix is EASY! The Sky Harbor Airport (a major hub for American Airlines) is one of the more affordable and accessible airports in the country. Chances are, you can find a direct flight! There were a ton of very affordable tickets from Charleston to Phoenix. If you’re considering your first trip to the Valley of the Sun, including Phoenix and Scottsdale, here’s a Phoneix travel guide to tell you everything you should know:
Phoenix, Arizona Travel Guide
I’ve had the incredible privilege to take several trips to Phoenix and the Greater Phoenix Area, exploring Scottsdale and beyond with all its incredible resorts, spas, restaurants, and shops. From my experiences with Phoenix, I created this Phoenix travel guide to share all the best places to stay, my favorite restaurants, and what to do to take full advantage of the gorgeous Sonoran Desert and the Phoenix culture!
Best Times to Visit
Depending on what kind of weather and adventure you’re looking for, there’s pretty much no bad time to visit Phoenix! The desert landscape is full of sun, but if you’d like to avoid the hotter parts of the year, consider visiting in the winter. In the springtime, look for blooming cacti and wildflowers. November – April is definitely the busy season for Phoenix, as tourists from all over take advantage of the comparatively warm winter weather. Even in the summer though, the dry heat is more tolerable than the humidity we’re used to in the southeast! There are events and festivals year round in the Phoenix area, including sporting events like Arizona Diamondbacks baseball games.
Where To Stay In Phoenix and Scottsdale
I’ve stayed in several different hotels and resorts in the Phoenix area, especially in Scottsdale. Scottsdale, Arizona is a town to the northwest of Phoenix, in the Greater Phoenix Area, and is known for its excellent golf courses and spa resorts, which you’ll definitely see in these Phoenix hotel recommendations!
The Phoenician, Luxury Collection Resort
Arizona’s premier AAA Five Diamond resort, The Phoenician is the ultimate in luxury accommodations in the Phoenix area. Located at the base of Camelback Mountain, the resort’s surroundings provide gorgeous natural landscapes of the desert valley. Overall, the resort has a fresh, contemporary look, with beautiful decor and intentional design that complements the area’s surroundings. There are several different room styles to choose from, including palatial suites, guestrooms and casitas, all of which include a luxurious bathroom with a bathtub, robes, toiletries, Frette Italian linens, 55-inch flat-screen TVs, and more. Throughout the resort, you’ll have access to a range of activities and amenities. There are 8 different dining and drinking options on the resort property, ranging from fine dining to a grab-and-go café.
The three-story Phoenician Spa was added in 2018 and is the perfect place to relax and pamper yourself, complete with a rooftop pool, nail lounge, and dry bar. The building is also home to The Phoenician Athletic Club, featuring tennis, pickleball, basketball, and a comprehensive fitness center. You can also swing a few holes during your stay at The Phoenician. The 18-hole golf course allows you to play golf among the beautiful Sonoran Desert.
Address: 6000 E Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Further outside of Phoenix in the town of Paradise Valley is Mountain Shadows. First opened in 1959, the luxury hotel was completely rebuilt in 2017 and remains a benchmark for absolutely stunning design, both interior and exterior. With sweeping views of Camelback Mountain, contemporary design and large windows evoke the 1950s style of the original resort while allowing tons of natural light and dreamy views. The guestrooms and luxury lofts offer a unique resort stay experience in Scottsdale, with plenty of things to do around the resort as well. The on-resort restaurant, Hearth ’61, offers modern American cuisine and an extensive wine and cocktails list. Mountain Shadows’ two pools are joined by a unique waterfall feature, and there are even cabanas available to rent.
You can read my full review of Mountain Shadows Resort here!
Address: 5445 E Lincoln Dr., Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
On my last trip to Scottsdale, I stayed at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. It was magical. The resort is located in the heart of “new” Scottsdale and is the perfect base camp to explore Phoenix! The AAA Four Diamond Resort features accommodations that will sooth and stimulate from a full-service spa and world-class golf to award-winning dining and upscale shopping. One of the resort’s biggest attractions is the Adventure Water Park which offers a lazy river ride and a 110-foot-long waterslide. Guests can rent a poolside cabana to relax in shaded luxury or soak in one of the two hot tubs. There is an adults-only pool which we thoroughly enjoyed (since we were kiddo-free on this trip). Whether you are visiting to see your favorite artist in concert or an exhibition at the Heard Museum, taking the family to the Grand Canyon or exploring the desert wilderness on ATV or horseback, the staff at The Westin Kierland will help you plan your adventures and make your stay a ton of fun! Check out my entire post about The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa HERE!
Address: 6902 E Greenway Pkwy., Scottsdale, AZ 85254
The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch
Last October we went on another girl’s trip to Phoenix and we stayed at The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch. This resort is a destination all on its own. Set amidst flowering cactus and framed against the majestic McDowell Mountains, this 27-acre Scottsdale hotel resort is home to the world-renown Spa Avania, a 2.5-acre water playground, championship golf, four casual and fine dining destinations, and nightly entertainment. Spacious guestrooms and suites offer private balconies or patios, perfect for entertaining with friends or families, or simply for watching the stars rise over the desert. There are eight total dining options on the property with a 24 hour market for picking up quick meals and Starbucks coffee. While we were there we enjoyed the “Wine Me Dine Me” at SWP and it was fabulous. Chef Juan and his culinary staff take you deep into the heart of fresh, authentic Southwestern flavors. He custom prepares a four-course menu for you complete with tequila and wine pairings. I have had some not-so-great experiences with tequila in the past (college days) but this tequila was so smooth and I really enjoyed it.
Address: 7500 E Doubletree Ranch Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85258
Where to Eat in Phoenix, Arizona
Prep and Pastry
Prep and Pastry is a breakfast and brunch restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. With both outdoor and indoor seating that feels fresh, light, and airy, it’s the perfect place to go for brunch with the girls! Prep and Pastry serves up delicious brunch dishes made from all locally sourced ingredients, so you can feel good about your food that tastes incredible too! I got the Monte Cristo with honey-roasted ham, swiss cheese, & pineapple-jalapeno mascarpone on brioche french toast. The restaurant also has an extensive list of drinks, including coffee concoctions and mesmerizing mimosas!
Breakfast at Hash Kitchen is the freaking best! They’re the home of the original build-your-own Bloody Mary bar and call themselves the creative a.m. eatery, for good reason! Bold wall art and blue booths make the restaurant a fun experience for any diner. Add in their wide menu of delicious dishes and beverages, and you’ve got a brunch experience to remember! In addition to having the largest Bloody Mary bar in Arizona, other beverage options at Hash Kitchen include slushies made with spiced rum that arrive in disco balls topped with hand-spun cotton candy; flights of “cereal shooters” made with spirits, coconut milk and flavors such as Fruity Pebbles and Captain Crunch; and coffee cocktails including cappuccino and coffee liqueur served in an ice cream cone. Did someone say boozy brunch?
Jalapeño Bucks gives some of our Charleston barbecue restaurants a run for their money, but they wouldn’t necessarily want to be compared to them. Ranked as the best BBQ in Arizona by Food & Wine Magazine in 2020, Jalapeño Bucks proudly declares that they’re not serving Carolina, Memphis, Kansas, or any other kind of barbecue. It’s Arizona-style barbecue through and through, and it’s delicious! This walk-up joint is a local favorite, offering both burritos and barbecue in a casual, outdoor setting.
Farm and Craft
Farm and Craft is the cutest little bistro focused on providing healthy and delicious food in a community-style atmosphere. Located in Old Town Scottsdale, Farm and Craft has an outdoor patio perfect for sipping on some of their delicious frosé. The restaurant has a bunch of great healthy options that are gluten-free and made with organic and hormone-free ingredients for any health-conscious travelers. In between the fried chicken and cheeses that make up most of the rest of the recommendations in this Phoenix travel guide, Farm and Craft is a refreshing option for lunch!
Y’all The Churchill is such a cool concept! Each of The Churchill’s 10 businesses is housed in a repurposed shipping container. At the heart of The Churchill is a 9,000 square foot courtyard intended for dining, drinking, socializing, and learning. It is made up entirely of local businesses, both established and new places to shop and eat. These include restaurants, bars, and even retail shops. The concepts currently in The Churchill include:
- Provecho: A Mexican eatery focusing on the flavors from central Mexico.
- Foxy Fruit: A healthy-eating spot featuring açai bowls and smoothies.
- Freak Brothers Pizza: The popular food truck’s first brick-and-mortar location.
- Sauvage Bottle Shop: A wine store offering a rotating selection of 200+ wines at reasonable prices.
- State Forty Eight: A local apparel shop offering casual gear for sports fans and proud Arizonans.
- The Brill Line: A bar with 24 local and craft beers on tap, plus cans and cocktails!
- Commander Hamburger: A superhero-themed restaurant serving up hamburgers, fried chicken sandwiches, and a few other classic menu staples.
- Cosas: An artisan collective bringing a range of handmade goods from Mexico to represent the vibrant colors and culture of the country to Phoenix.
- Gather: Gather is a for-benefit retail and lifestyle shop inspired by community and good intentions.
- So Far, So Good: An approachable, neighborhood cocktail bar led by The Churchill’s Beverage Director and offering fresh, straightforward cocktails.
The Sicilian Butcher
Alright, so this one might not be a strictly dinner recommendation for Phoenix, but The Sicilian Butcher has a 5-foot-long charcuterie board that you absolutely must try! This Italian-inspired eatery’s specialties are craft meatballs and charcuterie, the ultimate elevated grazing board experience. The Sicilian Butcher has a robust menu though, with pizza, pasta, bruschetta boards and more rounding out the Italian fare. The stated 5-foot-long charcuterie board includes panelle fritters, potato croquettes, arancini, craft meatballs with creamy polenta, artisanal meats & cheeses, pickled condiments & jams, and traditional bruschetta. At $15 per person, it’s honestly a deal!
While staying at the Westin Kierland we decided to try their on-site restaurant, Deseo. Bold, bright colors, unique menu choices, and an attractive open kitchen made this one of my favorite meals from the whole trip! With influences spanning the Caribbean and South America, we enjoyed a savory selection of ceviche, creative seafood entrées and marinated meats.
If you go, I highly recommend ordering:
- Ceviche (try the chutoro tiradito and the wild sea bass).
- Pan de bono (this bread is served with garlic butter and it was insanely good).
- Wagyu Hanger Steak “churrasco” style (the chimichurri was on point).
- Make sure you try dessert! They were all decadent and delicious.
Postino Wine Cafe
Postino is the Valley’s original neighborhood WineCafe. We went there for dinner one evening and it was awesome! It combines unique and approachable wines with simple, delicious, and locally grown fare. The wine selection was deep and the menu options can accommodate all eating preferences (including vegans). We enjoyed an incredible array of bruschetta boards, cheese boards, and a veggie board. I highly recommend the roasted cauliflower. I am not usually a cauliflower fan but this stuff was delicious. Bruschetta + Paninis + Wine = Perfect Combo!
Gertrude’s offers a fresh food experience at the Desert Botanical Garden, focusing on ingredients directly from the farm and pasture to the plate. The menu showcases local ingredients from artisans and farmers around Arizona and the Southwest. We decided to give it a try after the Electric Desert event at the Desert Botanical Garden. We were so impressed! We sat outside around a garden area with an umbrella overhead and started off with the Crab Dip. It was a perfect mix of claw meat, Old Bay, mozzarella, cream cheese, kale and served with Crostinis. It was delicious! Then I had the Braised Beef. It reminded me of a very savory pot roast. I loved it! It was served with Fingerling Potatoes and Electric Radish Confetti. It was on the heavy side but I highly recommend!
Hearth ’61 is located inside of the Mountain Shadows resort and offers an elevated American dining experience, with lush decor and hearty but elegant dishes. If you’re looking for a classic steakhouse dinner, I’d highly recommend the Niman Ranch Tenderloin of Beef with red wine demi, bleu cheese fondue, and truffled mash. Named in honor of the town of Paradise Valley’s incorporation in 1961, Hearth ’61 reflects its community spirit with ingredient-driven cuisine, local brews, and gorgeous mountain views from the restaurant itself.
Mowry and Cotton
Dinner at Mowry and Cotton at The Phoenician is a must. An extensive menu of modern American fare reflects the expansive seating options in this restaurant. Enjoy the wood tones of the luxuriously decorated interior or gaze out on the Sonoran desert on the covered patio while you eat any (or all) of your meals at Mowry and Cotton. While the restaurant is open for all meals, I’d definitely recommend a dinner here. Order the buttermilk buns with citrus sea-salt butter and seasonal duck fat butter. Absolutely unreal!
The Larder and The Delta
The Larder + The Delta is an innovative dining experience where a community of chefs share inspiration and create dishes on a changing menu to highlight creative displays of culinary skills and local Arizonan ingredients. While all that is certainly true, I love The Larder for their Ethiopian fried chicken. The best fried chicken I’ve ever had was the Ethiopian fried chicken at The Larder + The Delta. I’ll go get this fried chicken on every trip I make to Phoenix!
Things To Do In Phoenix
Enjoy the Spa
One of the city’s standouts is its world-class spas, making people flock to the desert oasis for some much-needed pampering sessions. Arizona has long been an oasis for those seeking the healing properties of the desert. All of the area’s top resorts have impressive full-service spas that cater to guests’ ever-increasing requests for massages, body wraps, mud masks, and salt glows. I went to two different spas in Scottsdale and they were both fabulous!
The Agave Spa
This spa offers a desert-inspired retreat designed to rejuvenate and renew the mind, body, and spirit with a refined collection of treatments. Situated along a citrus-tree-lined pathway within its own courtyard at The Westin Kierland, my trip to The Agave Spa was perfection. It has 20 treatment rooms, a movement studio, a fitness studio, men’s and ladies’ locker rooms, a juice bar, and a full-service salon. Plus, guests can enjoy the spa’s relaxing courtyard garden and quiet lap pool. Check out their list of services HERE.
Spa Avania is at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa in Scottsdale makes frequent appearances on lists of the best spas in the country. The spa facilities are absolutely stunning. We booked a massage in one of the garden treatment rooms, then spent the day by the French-Celtic mineral pool and lotus pond. It was fabulous. I also spent 30 minutes in the Himalayan Salt Room and it was fabulous. It is a method of inhaling pure, dry, micronized salt air particles. These particles reach deep into the lungs absorbing bacteria and pollutants, providing an anti-inflammatory property. Additional benefits encourage clear skin, enhanced breathing, superior endurance, deeper, more restful sleep, and overall wellness. I highly recommend this spa!
The Phoenician Spa
The Phoenician Spa, located in The Phoenician Resort, is the ultimate in luxury spa experiences. With absolutely gorgeous surroundings, you’ll feel totally at peace as you choose from an extensive spa menu of restorative, nurturing, and contemporary treatments. I enjoyed the 80 minute CBD Relief Massage, which combines the spa’s signature massage with the benefits of CBD oil and CBD blam to deliver soothing relief for the entire body. The balm provides targeted attention to sore backs, joints, hands, and feet with gently warming and tingling cayenne and arnica.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
If you ever get a chance to take a hot air balloon ride, you absolutely have to try it! I’ve soared over the Sonoran Desert and Phoenix’s gorgeous landscape a few times now, and it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
My most recent experience was a morning hot air balloon ride with Hot Air Expeditions, so you know it had to make it onto this Phoenix travel guide! You get to experience the whole magical process, from inflation to riding up to 3,000 feet in the air in the spacious basket. After your ride, you’ll be treated to a celebratory breakfast with gourmet cuisine from Vincent’s on Camelback, including chilled champagne, sparkling cider and orange juice, southwestern style vegetable quiche, warm croissants, and soft cheese! The champagne toast and breakfast in the desert make it my favorite. It’s truly such a unique experience and the perfect way to get 360-views of the gorgeous Phoenix area.
I also have taken a sunrise hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders! Scottsdale’s much-hyped desert terrain is even more breathtaking from above. It is the kind of worthwhile splurge that you’ll be talking about long after you’re back on solid ground. Bring your family and friends, and don’t forget your camera. The post-flight celebration includes a Sonoran Sunrise Gourmet Breakfast with Prickly Pear Mimosas and local Arizona treats. You’ll also receive a commemorative flight certificate. Price varies depending on the date but it is usually $179-$209. You can purchase your ticket HERE.
Desert Botanical Garden
Visiting the Desert Botanical Garden should definitely be on your list of things to see while in Scottsdale. There’s a good chance that you’ve never seen a cactus before, so instead of driving to the nearest Saguaro, head to the garden and take a tour of all the different plant life that lives in Arizona. This gorgeous place showcases the stark beauty of Sonoran flora. It has been a Phoenix institution since 1939 and supports research and conservation. The DBG hosts rotating exhibitions as well as classes and workshops. Daily tours are led by seriously passionate and knowledgeable guides. It is 1 of only 24 botanical gardens accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and has over 50,000 plant displays showcased in beautiful outdoor exhibits.
What to bring:
- Hat & Sunglasses
- Comfortable Shoes
- This Trail Guide
Roosevelt Row Arts District with Arizona Pedal Cab Tour
Roosevelt Row is the walkable arts district in downtown Phoenix, home of impressive murals, award-winning galleries with rotating exhibitions from renowned artists, incredible local restaurants, boutiques, and more. While you walk around, make sure to check the sides of buildings and wander the alleys, that’s where you’ll see the awesome murals that originally turned this area into a destination. If you’re looking for a new backdrop for the ‘Gram or happen to visit Phoenix on a cooler day, it’ll be hard to go far on Roosevelt without seeing a colorful piece of art that you won’t want to snap. If it is going to be toasty outside, I recommend going REALLY early in the morning or at sunset.
Grab a Beer at Greenwood Brewing
While you’re in the Roosevelt Row Arts District, pay a visit to Greenwood Brewing, a woman-owned brewery in downtown Phoenix. The striking new space has an adorably modern-vintage aesthetic with white wood and brass accents, a different experience from many more masculinely styled breweries. Greenwood Brewing’s goal is to make the craft brewing scene approachable for all women and create a space to enjoy those brews as a community. Safe to say they’ve done that, with a great selection of beer and a gorgeous atmosphere.
Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix Art Museum has provided access to visual arts and educational programs in Arizona for nearly 60 years and is the largest art museum in the Southwestern United States. Its permanent collection galleries are drawn from more than 19,000 works of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design. Visitors also enjoy photography exhibitions through the Museum’s landmark partnership with the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. Plus, the restaurant, Palette, showcases local farmers and producers for a fresh meal, so it’s really a day of local art and cuisine. General admission tickets are $14 for kids ages 6-7. $18 for students. $20 for seniors. $23 for adults. You can purchase your tickets HERE.
Old Town Scottsdale
While Scottsdale has not yet achieved the party reputation of Vegas or L.A., it’s fair to say the city lays claim over one of the most vibrant and busy nightlife scenes in the West. If you’re looking for a hub of upscale nightclubs and bars, it’s safe to say that Old Town Scottsdale’s Entertainment District is where you want to be. It was like a high-end, classy, miniature Las Vegas! Whether you come to dance, drink, or both, Scottsdale offers enough late-night distractions to keep you going until dawn. Our TOP 5 clubs were: Maya Day and Nightclub, Bottled Blonde, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, The District and The Mint. The area is packed with all different types of venues, from country bars to day clubs with pools and cabanas, and is often the nightlife destination of choice for bachelor and bachelorette parties!
As one of the highest peaks in Phoenix, Camelback Mountain is among the most scenic hiking spots in the city. Soaring more than 2,700 feet in elevation, Camelback’s summit offers spectacular views of Phoenix and Scottsdale and can be reached from the 1.2-mile (incredibly steep) Echo Canyon Trail. But getting to the summit of the camel’s hump and the extraordinary 360-degree views of surrounding cities of Scottsdale, Phoenix, and Paradise Valley is no leisurely stroll in the park! There are two hiking trails: Echo Canyon and Cholla. Both trails are difficult, while Echo Canyon is steeper and Cholla is longer. Parking for both trails is only allowed from sunrise to sunset so plan accordingly. You can also schedule a guided hike HERE!
Olive Oil Tour at Queen Creek Olive Mill
Queen Creek Olive Mill is an olive farm, market, and restaurant located outside of Phoenix in Queen Creek, Arizona. They produce and sell amazing olive oils as well as fresh food in their on-site restaurant and a line of beauty and wellness products called Olivespa. Queen Creek Olive Mill is definitely worth adding to the Phoenix Travel Guide, if not just to visit, then definitely to take advantage of their Olive Oil Educational Tours! Take a 45-minute tour of the farm and learn all about how Queen Creek Olive Mill makes their extra virgin olive oil, how to use it in the kitchen, and why it’s so good for you! You’ll also learn the right way to taste olive oil and get to shop the gourmet market after the tour.
If you’re a history buff make sure you take advantage of the spectacular exhibits (and air conditioning) housed in the Heard Museum. The Heard Museum introduces visitors to the Native American and Hispanic cultures that have influenced and continue to shape Central Arizona and the Southwestern United States. Founded in 1929 by Dwight and Maie Heard, it is one of the top Phoenix tourist attractions and aims to educate and promote a greater understanding of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, particularly American Indian tribes and other cultures of the Southwest. The Heard Museum is located just north of downtown Phoenix and is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission costs $18 for adults and $7.50 for kids 6 to 17. Guided tours are included with admission and are offered daily at noon, 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. On-site facilities include a gift shop, a cafe, and outdoor sculpture gardens.
Guided Kayaking Tour of the Salt River with REI Co-op Adventure Center
REI’s Arizona Adventure Center offers a bunch of different rental and guide options for anyone looking to add a bit of adventure to their Phoenix travels. On my most recent trip to the area, we took a guided kayaking tour of the Salt River and it was absolutely fantastic! Cool off from the Arizona desert heat with a relaxing and rejuvenating kayak tour. Scheduled specifically to avoid the overcrowded parts of the river, you can experience a totally different view of the desert landscape. Keep an eye out for sightings of wildlife like wild horses and bald eagles as you paddle – so magical! Book your tour HERE!
Google will tell you that Agritopia is a neighborhood in Gilbert, Arizona, but it’s so much more than that. Agritopia is a planned community built around 11-acres of urban farmland. The whole community has a village feel that encourages connectivity, local relationships, and a simple, walkable life. Seriously, you have to visit this place. It’s such a unique experience that really shows the power of community. Browse the local makers at Barone or stop by Joe’s Farm Grill, a restaurant set in the former home of the founders of Agritopia. The restaurant retains the ’60s aesthetic of the community’s original inception and serves a wide range of delicious dishes using ingredients from Agritopia’s own farm.
I hope this Phoenix travel guide helps you plan your next trip to Phoenix and Scottsdale. It’s truly such a great area to explore, whether with your partner, your girlfriends, or your family! There’s plenty to see and do, and if you’re looking for more information, check out Visit Phoenix for great information and guides!
Photos by: Aneliia Miller Photography and Alyssa Peet Photography
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