Desert character. It can’t be conjured, landscaped or kindled with twinkling bulbs. John Ford knew that. So did Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis L’Amour. Spend a few days in Greater Phoenix and you’ll understand, too. America’s fifth-largest city still has cowboys and red-rock buttes and the kind of cactus most people see only in cartoons. It is the heart of the Sonoran Desert and the gateway to the Grand Canyon, and its history is a testament to the spirit of Puebloans, ranchers, miners and visionaries.
This timeless Southwestern backdrop is the perfect setting for family vacations, weekend adventures or romantic getaways. Each year, 16 million leisure visitors travel to Greater Phoenix. They enjoy resorts and spas infused with Native American tradition, golf courses that stay emerald green all year, mountain parks crisscrossed with trails, and sports venues that host the biggest events in the nation.
The best way to learn about America’s sunniest metropolis, of course, is to experience it firsthand. The following information will give you a snapshot of what to expect before your visit and provide sound reference material after you leave.
Greater Phoenix encompasses 2,000 square miles and more than 20 incorporated cities, including Glendale, Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa. Maricopa County, in which Phoenix is located, covers more than 9,000 square miles. Phoenix’s elevation is 1,117 feet, and the city’s horizon is defined by three distinct mountains: South Mountain, Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak.
The Hohokam people inhabited what is now Greater Phoenix until about 1450 A.D. They created the first major urban civilization in the Salt River Valley and developed a canal system that is still in use today. In 1865, the U.S. government established Fort McDowell here, and settlers such as Jack Swilling began farming the land. The city of Phoenix was established in 1868; two years later, the first survey and census of the city noted it was about a mile long and a half-mile wide, with 74 dwellings and a population of 250.
One of the fastest-growing regions in the nation, Greater Phoenix has a population of nearly 4.49 million. Greater Phoenix’s population increased by 39 percent from 1997 to 2005 (compared to the national rate of 12 percent). In 1950, Phoenix proper had a population of about 100,000; today its population is more than 1.6 million, making it the sixth-largest city in the U.S. The average age of Greater Phoenix residents is 34, making it the fifth-youngest metro region in the country.
According to data compiled by the National Climatic Data Center, Phoenix basks in sunshine more often than any other major metropolitan area in the U.S. The sun shines on Phoenix during 85 percent of its daylight hours (more than 300 days per year). Phoenix has an average annual rainfall of 7.66 inches, an average annual temperature of 72.6 degrees (Fahrenheit) and an average annual high temperature of 85 degrees. Phoenix’s low humidity makes summer heat more comfortable than in other hot climates. The average high temperature in winter is 67 degrees, and travelers should bring light sweaters and jackets November through March.
Dependable sunshine and warm temperatures make outdoor activities a way of life in Phoenix. Golf, tennis, hiking, cycling, mountain biking and rock climbing are popular Phoenix activities. Horseback riding is a great way to see the Sonoran Desert, as is a rugged Jeep or Hummer ride. Thrill seekers can soar above the desert plateau in a glider, sailplane or hot-air balloon, or satisfy their need for speed at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. Visitors also can choose from water skiing, sailing, fishing and tubing in the region’s lakes and rivers.
Greater Phoenix’s top attractions (in terms of yearly attendance) are South Mountain Park and Preserve, Tempe Town Lake, Camelback Mountain and First Friday Art Walks in downtown Phoenix. Other noteworthy attractions include the Heard Museum, Desert Botanical Garden, Heritage and Science Park, the Musical Instrument Museum, and Phoenix Zoo. Phoenix, of course, is also the gateway to the Grand Canyon; the drive to America’s greatest natural wonder takes 3½ hours.
Greater Phoenix annually plays host to the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open (at the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale), NASCAR’s March and November events (at ISM Raceway), the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon, and college football’s Fiesta Bowl and Cactus Bowl, Phoenix has played host to the of Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 and 2008 (University of Phoenix Stadium), the College Football Playoff National Championship Game of the Bowl Championship Series (formerly BCS) in 2016, and the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four (University of Phoenix Stadium). Phoenix is one of 13 U.S. cities with franchises in all four major professional sports leagues: Phoenix Suns (NBA), Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB), Arizona Cardinals (NFL) and Arizona Coyotes (NHL).
Greater Phoenix is home to more than 450 hotels with more than 64,000 guest rooms. That total includes more than 40 luxury resorts. Notable resorts in Greater Phoenix include the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa, the Arizona Biltmore, Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, The Phoenician, Royal Palms, Pointe Hiltons (Tapatio Cliffs and Squaw Peak Resorts), Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia, Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, The Camby, The Wigwam and the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is located four miles from downtown and 20-30 minutes from most resorts. It is served by more than 20 carriers. Thoughtful touches at Sky Harbor include free wireless Internet access, a shaded dog park for four-legged fliers, and an audio-visual paging system that allows travelers to call for assistance with the push of a button. The airport offers more than 30 local restaurant options that satisfy any craving. Sky Harbor serves about 40 million passengers a year, ranking it among the 10 busiest airports in the nation.