Why Phoenix—Yes, Phoenix—Is an Epic Summer Spot
A summer getaway in Phoenix? Absolutely—especially for bargain-hunters. You can stay at the area’s stellar resorts for about half the price of high-season visits and enjoy lazy days by the pool, or explore the area's natural wonders, top-notch museums and award-winning restaurants. In fact, no matter what type of traveler you are, Phoenician fun beckons this summer. Five cases in point:
The family traveler
If you're early risers, head straight to the Phoenix Zoo. It opens at 7 a.m. in summer so you can catch the 3,000 or so inhabitants when they're most active—though that's a relative term in the case of Fernando, the resident two-toed sloth and minor celebrity. Almost as famous: the Arabian oryxes, whom you shouldn't miss either. You may also be able to catch a Prowl & Play night (picture a zoo full of wizards, fairies and fantastical beasts) or one of the summer's other special events.
For more animal encounters—both real and fantasy—head to OdySea in the Desert. This multi-venue family travel mecca includes Pangaea: Land of the Dinosaurs (home to more than 50 animatronic dinosaurs); Butterfly Wonderland (where the vast indoor conservatory feels like a living, fluttering kaleidoscope); and OdySea Aquarium (don't miss the recently launched Voyager, a virtual submarine ride emceed by a researcher).
The discoveries continue at the Arizona Science Center, where you shouldn't miss the Evans Family SkyCycle (a hands-on aerial act and physics lesson in one). And if you happen to be in town on June 14, join the 10th birthday bash at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, when there will be dancing, party games, birthday treats and glitter tattoos to round out the usual fun (treks through the Noodle Forest, for example).
And when the kids inevitably remind you that not all fun has to be educational, there's the succession of soaking ops: Golfland Sunsplash, Big Surf, and Wet ‘n’ Wild (go Friday nights in July to float while watching movies on a big screen). Of course, if you’re staying at Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort, Arizona Grand Resort, Westin Kierland Resort and Spa or another property tricked out with lazy rivers, water slides and pools for days, you may never leave the grounds.
The relaxation seeker
Get your Zen on with spa deals that make treatments extra tempting.
At the legendary Phoenician Spa—now housed in a new building with a rooftop pool and DIY aromatherapy bar—book one treatment (try the Desert Serenity Scrub, Wrap and Massage) and you'll get 50% off a second service May 29 - Aug. 31. Or take advantage of spa discounts that are part of larger packages: At the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, with eight pools and 39 acres of gardens, summer packages that include meals and a 20% spa discount start at $254.
Of course, you need not stay on property to get amazing spa discounts in Phoenix this time of year. Take the day spa approach with hot deals such as this one from the Fairmont Scottsdale, where $119 buys you a day at the Well & Being Spa, where you’ll get—among other things—an hour-long massage or facial, a glass of wine and access to the adults-only rooftop pool, grotto waterfall, steam room, eucalyptus inhalation room and whirlpool hot tub.
The nature lover
Early morning and evening are the magic hours for summertime nature exploration, as you'll discover at the Desert Botanical Garden, where Wednesday mornings bring expert-led birding walks, and Saturday evenings bring flashlight-illuminated searches for night-blooming plants and nocturnal animals (May 26 - Sept. 1).
Walkers and hikers should head out early in the morning (5 a.m. isn't uncommon) or evening and observe all outdoor safety precautions. At South Mountain Park and Preserve, consider the 2.5-mile Holbert Trail to Dobbins Lookout (full disclosure: you can also drive here for the iconic city and mountain vistas). Alternatively, the one-mile Merkle Trail loop provides an easy intro to the 29 miles of trails at Usery Mountain Regional Park. And certain Maricopa County parks offer guided hikes and nature-themed activities (think “All About Desert Edibles” and “Scorpion Hunts”); check the county events calendar.
If you're a kayaker, paddler or tuber, head to the Salt River, where 360 Adventures and Arizona Outback Adventures offer guided kayaking and paddle boarding trips, while Salt River Tubing will send you on your way with a shuttle bus ride and an inner tube.
Another idea to float: Cruise the cactus-fringed Saguaro Lake on the Desert Belle, air-conditioned on the lower level and shaded on the top. Ninety-minute narrated cruises depart at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Phoenix's most fabled restaurants become infinitely more accessible—and sometimes even more interesting—in summer, when they go all out to lure diners (chefs' tables, special dinners and some amazing pricing).
The Chef’s Garden Secret Dinner Series at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa is serving up a series of themed meals (the Bourbon Celebration on June 28 and the Tribute to Julia Child on August 15 look particularly promising), while Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn offers a Taste of Summer menu that focuses on ingredients that thrive in the Arizona summer heat, such as heirloom tomatoes and sweet corn.
Summer also makes it easier to nab a table at restaurants that have been anointed by the foodie gods at the James Beard Foundation, whether FnB, home to a locally-sourced, globally-inspired menu by chef Charleen Badman or Pizzeria Bianco, legendary for Chris Bianco’s charred, puffy wood-fired pizza.
Then there are the hot newcomers: Roland’s Cafe Market Bar, the regional cuisine outpost co-created by the aforementioned Chris Bianco with Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez of the popular Tacos Chiwas; Deli Tavern, which gives new twists (several involving cocktail shakers) to the original 1969 Downtown Deli in Phoenix; and Chico Malo, a tasting tour of Latin America.
The arts and culture aficionado
Every corner of the local arts scene heats up in summer. A good starting point is the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), home to more than 6,800 instruments from around the world and a seasonal concert series that includes an Experience Arizona Music weekend, July 14-15.
Then there's the illustrious Phoenix Art Museum, where you'll find the “In the Company of Women: Women Artists from the Collection” (July 7 - Aug. 12). At the world-renowned Heard Museum, you'll find “Dear Listener: Works by Nicholas Galanin,” the museum’s largest contemporary show in a decade (though you'll want to allocate at least as much time to the 40,000 or so other pieces in the vast collection of American Indian art).
Time your visit to a First or Third Fridays art walk, and you can binge-browse the famed galleries of Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue Arts District, Central Arts District and the Phoenix Warehouse District.
And if architecture's your thing, don't miss Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s striking winter home. Take a Friday Night Lights tour, not only to escape the daytime heat—but also to fully appreciate the estate's fire-breathing dragon.