Exploring the Sonoran Desert
Phoenix’s stunning Sonoran Desert scenery sets it apart from every major city in the United States.
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Nestled in the lush Sonoran Desert, Greater Phoenix is home to beautiful landscapes and breathtaking sunsets, with endless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors just beyond the attractions of the city. Take a one-mile hike up "A" Mountain in the liveliness of bustling Tempe or visit Pinnacle Peak Park and Tom’s Thumb in the North Scottsdale area. The McDowell Gateway Trailhead is fully barrier-free and has all the amenities an outdoor recreation enthusiast could want. This trailhead is the access point to many unique Scottsdale trails.
Venture further east and Lost Dutchman State Park, named after the fabled lost gold mine, adds an air of mystery to the serene desert. While many Phoenix’s trails are located within city limits, South Mountain Park and Preserve is located just 6 miles south of downtown. As one of the largest municipal parks in the country, it offers 51 miles of trails winding across its 16,000-acres landscape. Hike the Holbert Trail (3.8 miles out and back) or drive up to Dobbins Lookout for exquisite views of the city’s skyline.
Exploring the natural beauty goes well beyond the famous hiking trails. Phoenix has many options for off-the-beaten path experiences as well. Cloth & Flame offers a unique, fine-dining experience where guests are invited to mingle and enjoy a multicourse meal outdoors, set against an iconic Southwestern backdrop. Looking for an elevated point of view? Take to the sky with Hot Air Expeditions or Rainbow Ryders and soar high above the Sonoran Desert in the basket of a hot air balloon.
The food culture of Greater Phoenix is full of diversity in flavors and cultures. With an emphasis on locally grown produce, many restaurants have taken initiatives to keep their restaurants focused on the unique community and travelers they serve. This recipe for excellence has earned many different styles of restaurants and chefs James Beard Foundation recognition over the years. Recipient of many accolades, Chef Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco won 2022 Outstanding Restaurateur. Phoenix’s renowned chef Silvana Salcido Esparza has been an Outstanding Chef nominee for several years. Silvana has flexed her Best Chef: Southwest prowess at Barrio Café since 2002 and her flagship project, Barrio Café, has received national recognition for its authentic Mexican cuisine, which is served with a side of local art and social justice. For 2023 Best Chef: Southwest, Rene Andrade and Roberto Centeno from Bacanora, Fernando Hernández from Testal and Yotaka and Alex Martin from Lom Wong were all semifinalists. In addition to food, Glai Baan was a semifinalist for the Outstanding Wine and Other Beverage Program, JL Patisserie for Outstanding Bakery and Crystal Kass for Outstanding Pastry Chef/Baker.
Additionally, restaurants across the Greater Phoenix area are earning top honors from AAA, Forbes and others. Kai at the Sheraton Grand Wild Horse Pass, Arizona’s Five Diamond Award-winning restaurant, is widely acclaimed for incorporating the essence of local Native American history and culture into the menu. The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort, is home to AAA Four Diamond Award-recipient J&G Steakhouse, which offers a sophisticated and locally sourced fine-dining experience in the foothills of Camelback Mountain. Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn is also AAA Four Diamond certified and is Arizona’s only remaining authentic hacienda serving up classic organic ingredients prepared in deliciously trendy new ways.
Greater Phoenix is home to both natural and historic landmarks that serve as modern-day must-sees, while offering a glimpse into the region’s past. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is an incredible story of architecture that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Camelback Mountain is a Phoenix staple. Seasoned hikers can choose from two challenging trails that ascend 1,420 feet to the summit, which offers 360-degree views of the surrounding city. Sunset is the perfect time for the Instagram-worthy desert shots.
Another landmark is Hole-in-the-Rock Trail at Papago Park, which climbs 200 feet in 1/10 of a mile to an intriguing formation that is thought to have been used by the ancient Hohokam civilization to track the position of the sun through a hole in the "ceiling." And the park’s 2.3-mile Double Butte Loop for those who want a deeper exploration of the desert. Experienced hikers can also venture on the Holbert Trail at South Mountain Park and Preserve for petroglyph sightings and to connect to Dobbins Lookout, a popular spot for panoramic views of the city.
Piestewa Peak is another popular area where Phoenix locals and visitors alike can escape to nature. Located in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, Piestewa Peak has the second highest peak in Phoenix. The Summit Trail is rated ‘extremely difficult’ but is also extremely rewarding with a 360-degree view of Phoenix waiting for hikers at the top. The mountain was named after the first known Native American woman to die in combat in the U.S. Military, Army Spc. Lori Ann Piestewa.
Known for its collection of luxurious resorts and spas, Greater Phoenix has an experience to fit any style of pampering and relaxation. While each location offers the classic options, it’s the unique treatments that set these spas apart. Visit Aji Spa at the Sheraton Grand Wild Horse Pass to explore the traditions of two Native cultures — the Pima and Maricopa tribes — with treatments that utilize such local ingredients as red clay from the Gila River and the Cholla cactus bud to help purify and rejuvenate the body. For a transformative day of self-care, visit the Joya Spa at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia, where guests are invited to participate in an entrance ceremony and place their hands on the spa’s 55-pound quartz crystal to purify and open the mind and body ahead of their treatment. The Phoenician Spa specializes in the nurturing of guests’ individual spirits by indulging in services that provide nourishment and overall well-being. This isn’t like any spa treatment as guests will further engage with their inner nature, channeling peace, purity and strength beyond anything they’ve experienced before. The Phoenician Spa was renovated from the ground up in 2018 and transformed into a three-story facility with a rooftop pool that overlooks the city’s skyline. For physical and spiritual relaxation with Sonoran Desert-inspired treatments and experiences, visit Tierra Luna Spa at the Arizona Biltmore. Renovated in 2021, the spa and Sol Garden provide guests a serene environment including an outdoor hot tub and cold plunge, steam room and indoor and outdoor treatment rooms while surrounded by the iconic architecture of the resort.
Though it was the last territory in the continental U.S. to gain its statehood, Arizona is home to many national treasures. The long history from before statehood can best be captured at Heard Museum, an internationally recognized collection dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art in all forms, including dance, pottery and paintings. The Heard Museum also features an exhibit called “Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories,” which captures the often-untold stories of the American Indians and their experiences during the assimilation period, beginning in the 1870s.
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is home to more than 50,000 species of cactuses, trees and flowers from throughout the region and deserts around the world, all on display throughout its 140 acres (55 of which are cultivated).
For lovers of live music, instrument aficionados and ethnography buffs of all ages and levels of interest, the Musical Instrument Museum in north Phoenix is a bucket list-worthy stop. With more than 7,000 instruments on display (and some that visitors can play themselves), it’s easy to while a day away here — the only museum of its kind in the world.
The USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River is a newer addition to the Greater Phoenix area. The memorial honors the brave individuals that served aboard the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in history with self-guided tours through the gardens, which feature columns representing those were aboard the ship during the attack. in a formation that represents the ships actual size. The memorial also offers narrated tours for those seeking a more in-depth and enriching experience.
The newly named Footprint Center that is home to the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury recently underwent an over $230 million renovation. The sparkling arena is now complete with nearly 70,000 square feet of new amenity space, Arizona’s largest sports bar and more features that are fan focused. The arena’s new long-term partnership with Footprint is also an effort to work toward a carbon-neutral, plastic free arena switching all single-use plastics to Footprint’s biodegradable, compostable and recyclable solutions.
In April 2022, the immensely popular Phoenix Coqui food truck expanded into a brick-and-mortar store. Arizona’s first Puerto Rican food truck has been serving locals in the Greater Phoenix area since 2017 but recently has grown so popular that the mobile kitchen would no longer suffice. Classic Puerto Rican favorites such as empanadillas, mofongo and papas locas can now be tasted at the 15th Avenue location in Phoenix. Phoenix Coqui diners can also taste authentic Puerto Rican desserts as well as try imported juices and drinks to “get a taste of la isla.”
A snazzy jazz lounge in downtown Phoenix named after local Phoenix music legend Lewis Nash, The Nash opened in 2012 as an educational center. This location on Roosevelt Row has transformed into a jazz lounge with live instrumental performances by some of the city’s most talented black artists as well as well-known jazz musicians from around the country.
One of the artists who’s deeply rooted in the Roosevelt Row Arts District is Ashley Macias. She’s has left her mark all over town, including a recently created mural at the rooftop bar of one of the city’s newest hotel builds — the Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix Convention Center. Relive Phoenix’s past with Marshall Shore, Arizona’s Hip Historian, on a tour of downtown Phoenix haunts or over a cocktail in the Melrose District.
Started by James Beard Award Winning Chef, Chris Bianco in 1988 and recently featured on Netflix’s “Chef’s Table: Pizza,” Pizzeria Bianco is known for their artisanal pizzas made with intentionally selected ingredients from local farmers. For Bianco, the food is a result of his relationships and his intention. Relationships with the farmers, the local producers, his family, customers and staff; the respect and sincere intention he approaches his recipes with; and the many interpersonal relationships that have influenced his philosophy and who he is. The unprecedented approach he has towards ingredients and technique is why food critics deem that the best pizza in the world is in Phoenix at Pizzeria Bianco. Bianco also has two other concepts in the Greater Phoenix area, Pane Bianco and Tratto, that are local favorites.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. works with Singaura Malt on their craft beers and Arizona Grass Raised Beef Co. on sourcing their beef. Singaura Malt supports local farmers and keep rivers and streams flowing, and Arizona Grass Raised Beef Co. specializes in 100% grass-fed and 100% grass-finished beef, thanks to cattle foraging for naturally occurring grasses on free range ranch land right here in Arizona. Additionally, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. has partnered with Arizona State Parks and The Nature Conservancy to showcase the importance of conserving the Arizona State Parks and the Verde River. They have also conceived a pale ale beer named, “This Beer Saves Water,” to help bring awareness to the water conservation efforts in Arizona.
For those who seek the journey, CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa invites guests to the Greater Phoenix Area’s first, and only, sustainable wellness resort. Built upon four founding pillars: movement, spa, nourishment and discovery, this resort promotes their philosophy of wellness through oneness, which advocates wellbeing and eco-consciousness. These efforts and distinction in practice make it one of the first resorts of its kind.
Phoenix is a melting pot of cultures from around the U.S. and beyond. And, when it comes to the craft cocktail and brewing scene, creative ideas from all over converge here to serve up an eclectic blend of flavors to savor in the most unique places. Find out why the new and innovative cocktails at downtown’s Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, or its sister bar, Little Rituals have earned countless accolades and international acclaim. For those looking for a truly one-of-a-kind drink experience, venture just beyond downtown and Century Grand, where diners board a train car that transports back to the roaring '20s, or UnderTow, a speakeasy-style tiki bar that pairs its ever-changing cocktail menus with the nautical explorations of a ship and its crew. Arizona continues to garner attention for its growing craft brewery scene, thanks to such operations as SanTan Brewery & Distillery, which prides itself on its culture of craft beer, spirits and food. SanTan has won numerous awards for its beers and has become a leader in the “craft can revolution.” One of the newer to the Phoenix brewery scene is Greenwood Brewing, a brewing operation and tap room founded by Megan Greenwood, one of Arizona’s first female brewers to launch her own tap room. This craft beer aficionado thrives on making tasty beer, and she’s using her craft as a platform for sharing social experiences and powerful conversations to promote change in the Phoenix community. Several local brewers are bringing social justice to the craft beer conversation in Phoenix. Chip Mulala, Huss Brewing Company’s “minister of craft beer” has created a Black is Beautiful brew — a summer stout that’s dark in color, but light in taste — with the proceeds benefitting Unit Freedom. Akil Zakariya with Wren House Brewing Company has created Black Excellence, an imperial stout with coffee, vanilla and cacao, to raise funds for the NAACP.
On the first Friday of every month, downtown Phoenix's Roosevelt Row comes alive with live painting, music and cultural performances as well as vendors and pop-up art installations. Indulge the senses and get a glimpse of Phoenix's nationally recognized Art Walk. Restaurants and museums also take part in the celebration of art by hosting galleries and offering free admission to experience the exhibits, including the ones inside the Phoenix Art Museum. Any other day of the month, Phoenix still has a vibrant and diverse arts and culture scene that extends far beyond the picturesque murals of Roosevelt Row. Such hotels as FOUND:RE Phoenix and Cambria Downtown Phoenix Convention Center have integrated murals and installations by local artists as a part of their identity.
The city is also home to a wide variety of performing arts groups and venues. The Black Theatre Troupe (BTT) has a mission of educating and entertaining a diverse community, with an emphasis on people of color. The BTT was established amid the racial tensions of the 1970s and today serves to enlighten Phoenix communities with shows that highlight African American experience and culture. The Herberger Theater Center is a leading force in cultivating the growth of the performing arts scene in Phoenix. This performance and arts venue has contributed to the cultural and educational development of the city with vibrant performances, diverse art experiences and the ability to connect others to art.
There are also many places around Phoenix to catch the hottest nationally touring and local artists. In the downtown area there are eccentric smaller venues such as Valley Bar, Crescent Ballroom, and the Van Buren that host musicians, comedians and other various performers. The city also hosts fun and exciting music festivals such as the charitable M3F Festival, featuring a melting pot of genres and performers, and the annual 8123 Fest headlined by the native-Arizona rock band The Maine.