Staying in Phoenix but playing in Glendale, Scottsdale or Tempe? This handy guide will ensure you get a proper lay of the land.

By Brooke Stevenson

Does your ideal vacation involve trendy boutiques and gourmet lattés? More of an outdoor enthusiast or a foodie in search of the perfect dish? Good thing Greater Phoenix comprises many communities, each with its own personality and offerings. When taken as a whole, these enclaves make up our distinct metropolis.

Phoenix

Downtown Phoenix anchors the metro area with such renowned cultural centers as the Heard Museum and Phoenix Art Museum, along with live-music venues, funky art walks and independently owned boutiques. This doesn’t even touch on the crop of foodie-friendly restaurants—including Pizzeria Bianco, which serves what The New York Times deemed “the best pizza in America.” Surrounding this urban heart are natural splendors and sweeping mountain views in nearly every direction. Take a scenic drive north to admire the desert flora and fauna of Phoenix Mountains Preserve. Or, put the car in park to explore the Sonoran Desert at the Desert Botanical Garden. Have your camera ready for Camelback Mountain and Papago Park.

Tempe

This college town pulses with energy. METRO Light Rail zips you from downtown Phoenix or Mesa into the spirited Mill Avenue District. Here, you can fill your itinerary with everything from Arizona State University sports to a Broadway show at Gammage Auditorium. Ply the smooth waters of Tempe Town Lake on a paddleboat, then return for a concert or festival at the water’s edge.

Tip: Stay caffeinated for ASU football, paddleboating and bustling nightlife at Cartel Coffee Lab.

Scottsdale

Meet the New West in Old Town, a multiblock area buzzing with art galleries, posh restaurants and see-and-be-seen nightclubs. Grand resorts and lush golf courses—including TPC Scottsdale, site of the Waste Management Phoenix Open—add to the city’s luxe offerings, as does the shopping. Browse the likes of Gucci and Jimmy Choo at Scottsdale Fashion Square, one of many fashion-forward retail centers within a 10-mile radius.

Tip: Be sure to bring golf clubs and your little black dress.

Mesa

Arizona’s third-largest city maintains a peaceful charm, welcoming visitors with picturesque orange groves and America’s favorite pastime. Family-friendly Main Street and darling shops filled with collectibles transport you to a simpler time. The cool breezes drifting over the bleachers of a Cubs Spring Training game exemplify why spring in Greater Phoenix is the envy of the nation.

Tip: Mesa is the gateway to Cubs Spring Training and quaint Americana.

Glendale

As home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals (who play at University of Phoenix Stadium) and the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes (who hit the ice at Jobing.com Arena), it’s safe to say Glendale’s got game. Kick back with a pre-event cocktail at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, or catch national music acts at concert venues ranging from rock-out stadiums to outdoor amphitheaters.
Tip: Glendale is perfect for sports fans, concert-goers and parrot heads.

Chandler

This city’s legacy of architecture and agriculture stretches back decades. Chandler’s downtown area features eight buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Drawing on the city’s rural roots, the Ostrich Festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and celebrates local history with music, crafts, food and family fun.
Tip: Have your camera ready for Historic Downtown Chandler and the annual Ostrich Festival.

Cave Creek/Carefree

Farmers markets and Southwest-style art fairs line the streets of Cave Creek and Carefree, where time seems to move just a bit more slowly. Belly up to the bar at Harold’s Cave Creek Corral or the Buffalo Chip Saloon to indulge in a locally brewed beer, or sink into a cozy sofa at a sidewalk café for fresh roasted coffee and an acoustic music set.
Who you’ll meet: Cowboys, artists and friendly folk.

Queen Creek

For a feast made from scratch, visit Queen Creek—a town known for its agritourism. Schnepf Farms offers seasonal festivals, you-pick produce and dinners under the Arizona sky. You’ll find fresh-pressed olive oil made from olives grown on-site at Queen Creek Olive Mill (the state’s only working olive mill), along with a mouthwatering menu at the mill’s award-winning restaurant, Del Piero.
Queen Creek is for those who crave scenic vistas, farm-to-table fare and olive groves.

This article first appeared in the Phoenix Official Travel Guide, copyright 2012, Madden Media.