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Visiting Phoenix in the dead of summer when it regularly breaks 100 degrees may sound crazy, but the sizzling temperatures are just indicative of the city’s ability to turn up. And while most would think hiding out in the air conditioning or plopping down in a pool are the only reprieve from the sweltering desert heat, there’s fun to be had indoors, outdoors and everywhere in between.
As the fifth largest city in the U.S., Phoenix has plenty to offer visitors year-round with summer actually being the secret season to find incredible deals and steals. Hotels have amazing bargains and you can say you lived to tell the tale. There’s Wild West culture, American Indian history, and good old-fashioned nostalgic pastimes. Here are just a few of the things you should do in Phoenix this summer:
Eat Your Way Around Town
Called a “Rising Phoenix” by the Guardian, the Southwest is experiencing a major culinary revolution. Far less big boxy and chain-y than the many strip malls would suggest, there are hundreds of restaurants, local flavors and edible plants to try (prickly pear cactus being one of the most popular), making dishes innovative and “desert to table.” Although somehow Phoenix does manage to get the best of the rest, privy to an In-N-Out, Shake Shack, Giordano’s and Portillo’s…color me jealous.
A handful of James Beard nominees and recipients lead the charge with FnB, Binkley’s, and El Charro some of the culinary mainstays to seek out. Other not-to-miss spots regularly racking up accolades and press include Pizzeria Bianco (yup, it’s neither NYC or Chicago said to have the best pizza in America), Little Miss BBQ (Texas-style ‘cue), and Bitter & Twisted for its crazy cool cocktail program. You also can’t go wrong with any of the Fox Restaurant Concepts (helmed by restauranteur Sam Fox) with Flower Child, Culinary Dropout, and Zinburger all having dishes as tasty as they are photogenic.
Mural Hop and Selfie Spots
Roosevelt Row is downtown Phoenix’s walkable arts district and main creative hub, peppered with galleries and murals everywhere you turn. The First Fridays Art Walk is the place to be when more than 70 galleries and spaces open their doors to the public for free. Visitors are shuttled around on free hop on/hop off buses so grab a drink, snack from the street vendors (DIY food crawl anyone?), and get artsy.
Find a Watering Hole
If you’re in need of a little R&R, Phoenix has a number of amazing resorts with spas, pools and cabanas, many which offer discounts in the summer. For a more adrenaline-filled way to cool off, Big Surf Waterpark has a Waikiki-style wave pool where you can practice hanging 10, while Maya Day & Nightclub is billed as having Vegas-style pool parties complete with fishbowls and bottle service. For a fun day out, miles upon miles of historic canals are lined with waterfront dining, breweries, bats (like in Austin!), and secret waterfalls. Natural hot springs are sprinkled throughout Arizona if you’re up for a day trip and looking to treat yo ‘self.
See the Native Landscape
I go to Phoenix 2-4 times a year and the giant saguaro cacti still amaze me every time. The most iconic panoramic views are from Camelback Mountain or Papago Park, but there are tons of protected outdoor spaces with well-maintained trail networks.
While you may think hiking in Phoenix in the summertime is crazy, it just means you have to wake up a little earlier and pack more water, which is fine with us because the early bird catches the shot (and those epic Southwest sunsets!). Some of our favorite places to explore are McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Superstition Wilderness Area, and South Mountain Park and Preserve. If you’d prefer to stay in town, the Desert Botanical Garden is one of the best in the country with 140-acres of flora and fauna unique to the desert.
Explore by Land or Air
Adrenaline junkies rejoice because the Southwest’s unique terrain is ripe for exploration. Stellar Adventures can take you on hummers through the rugged rocks to views and vistas only seen by getting off-the-beaten-path (literally). But a hot air balloon ride with a company such as Rainbow Ryders will also give you a bird’s eye view of the sprawling landscape.
While most snowbirds head south for the winter, Phoenicians can head north during the daytime and be back in the city by nightfall. There are charming towns like Sedona or Prescott with gorgeous billion-year old colored rock formations where you can kayak and standup paddleboard, take in the Wild West history, toss one back at the saloon, and stay at a converted brothel. You can drive parts of classic Route 66, visit Oatman, Arizona, which is home to more wild burros than people, try to score a coveted Havasupai Falls permit, or take in the views of Grand Canyon National Park. Whichever direction you head, Phoenix is a great base for adventure.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Phoenix
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