In Egyptian mythology, the phoenix consumed itself in fire and rose from the ashes. Newcomers to Phoenix, Arizona may well believe that their goose is cooked. Let there be no mistake, Phoenix is a city in the sun, and no luxurious trappings are going to keep you from breaking a sweat.
Although it's the largest city in the southwest, Phoenix's greatest attraction is the land that surrounds it: a vast expanse of untamed desert. As the state capital, Phoenix is as modern as any American metropolis, with an active arts scene and a brisk economy.
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What To Do
The parks within the mountains ringing the valley offer lots of hiking and cycling opportunities. North of town, Squaw Peak Recreation Area has numerous trails including a popular route to the summit of Squaw Peak. If you want to get wet'n'wild, you can go tubing down the Salt River in Mesa.
What To See
Desert Botanical Garden
This inspirational garden is a refreshing place to reconnect with nature and it offers a great introduction to desert plant life. Looping trails lead past an astonishing variety of desert denizens, arranged by theme (including a desert wildflower loop and a Sonoran Desert nature loop). It's pretty dazzling year-round, but the flowering season of March to May is the busiest and most colorful time to visit. Another highlight is December's nighttime luminarias, when plants are draped in miles of twinkling lights.
Phoenix Museum of History
For an in-depth grounding in regional history - Pima Indians to the present - head over to the Phoenix Museum of History. If the artifact-filled display cases don't capture your imagination, the city's first jail and quirky 'Beer Bottle' sidewalk might just do the trick.
Phoenix Art Museum
The Phoenix Art Museum is Arizona's premier repository of fine art. Galleries include works by Claude Monet, Diego Rivera and Georgia O'Keeffe. The striking landscapes in the Western American gallery will get you in the mind-set for adventure.
Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park
The juxtaposition of the ancient and modern makes this former Hohokam village memorable. Excavations at the site, which is tucked between Phoenix and Tempe, have yielded many clues about the daily lives of an ancient people famous for building such a well-engineered 1000-mile network of irrigation canals that some modern canals follow their paths. Study this fascinating culture at the small museum then stroll past the park's excavations, which include a ball court, a ceremonial platform and a section of the original canals.
This extraordinary museum is a magical mystery tour through the history, life, arts and culture of Native American tribes in the Southwest. It emphasizes quality over quantity and is one of the best museums of its kind in America. There are rooms of ethnographic displays, art galleries, a get-creative kids exhibit and an unrivaled Hopi kachina gallery (many of the pieces were a gift from Barry Goldwater).
While the period from October to May is dotted with community events in Phoenix, the city comes to a cultural standstill during the searing summer. One of the region's biggest parades kicks off the Fiesta Bowl college football game on New Year's Day at the ASU Sun Devil Stadium. Late January and early February catch residents of Scottsdale dusting off their chaps and Stetsons for a string of rodeos, hoedowns, Pony Express reenactments and an All-Arabian Horse Show. The Heard Museum hosts the Guild Indian Fair and Market during the first weekend in March, where you can eat Native American food and peruse top-quality arts and crafts. In mid-March, the Phoenix Rodeo of Rodeos is held at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The costumed Yaqui Indian Easter Ceremonies are held Friday afternoons during Lent in the main plaza of the village of Guadalupe, just south of Tempe. The Arizona State Fair takes place in the last two weeks of October.
Food and Drink
Matt's Big Breakfast
First, a warning: even on weekdays lines are often out the door. There are no reservations, so sign your name on the clipboard and expect a 20-minute wait (and bring quarters for the meter). The upside? Best. Breakfast. Ever. A true Phoenix institution.
Native American cuisine soars to new heights at Kai, enhanced and transformed by traditional crops grown along the Gila River. Dinners are like fine tapestries – with such dishes as pecan-crusted Colorado lamb with native seeds mole or caramelized red mullet with cereal of chia seeds – striking just the right balance between adventure and comfort. Service is unobtrusive yet flawless, the wine list handpicked and the room decorated with Native American art. Dress nicely (no shorts or hats). It's at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa on the Gila River Indian Reservation.