When it comes to summer vacations you usually look for someplace to beat the heat – like Alaska, the Rockies or maybe even San Francisco – but don’t overlook the path least traveled. In this case, I’m talking about Phoenix, the state capital of Arizona. Yes, you can keep cool in Phoenix, Arizona, and it’s definitely a place you should visit.
No matter the season, there’s such a huge array of indoor activities, lots of pools and a dry desert heat, even when the temperature soars, you won’t feel that suffocating humidity in this city.
Whether you are looking for adventure, history or romance, Phoenix is filled with things to do for every traveler!
As you may have guessed, I recently visited Phoenix and here are some of my favorite spots to cool off during the hot summer sun.
Where to Stay in Phoenix
I traveled with a small group and we split our trip between two hotels – The first night was at the Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown Phoenix. This comfortable hotel has large rooms, a sparkling pool and is in a prime location. It’s just a short walk to the Phoenix Convention Center, Chase Field, Talking Stick Resort Arena, and the Phoenix Light Rail which will take you to downtown restaurants, shops and out to the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
It was a great place to rest and recharge and included the use of a fitness center. They also provide a free breakfast so you can fuel up for a busy day of exploring “The Valley of the Sun”.
Tip: Phoenix is a great destination to visit all year but note that in the summer resorts offer discounted rates.
The second part of my stay was at the luxurious Scott Resort and Spa in downtown Scottsdale. This historic resort is a one-of-a-kind property influenced by old Havana. It’s actually an oasis in the desert, filled with amenities like a sparkling sand bottom pool, cabanas and a full-service spa. We even took part in Tiny Umbrellas, a fun event at the resort where we tasted cocktails and enjoyed island sounds. This resort is all about modern amenities, and old-world charm, as seen in the plush, comfortable beds that greeted us after a busy day in Mesa.
Read more about my stay at The Scott Resort and Spa.
What to Do in Phoenix
Our first stop in Phoenix was at the famous Heard Museum. Founded in 1929, the Heard has gained the reputation of presenting quality art and crafts, from pre-Columbian times to the present day. It also shows the American Indian way of life through exhibitions, artist demonstrations, educational programs and festivals.
There we learned about the art and culture of American Indians in the Southwest; one of the finest Native American collections in the country. We casually strolled around the 11 galleries filled with unique art and beautiful outdoor courtyards, where both contemporary and traditional America Indian art is on display all telling the stories of these unique people. There was one exhibit that I found unsettling, that of Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories.
Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride
While most people like to sleep in on vacation, I can assure you that waking up for the 5 a.m (sunrise) hot air balloon ride with Hot Air Expeditions was well worth the early rise. I watched as the giant balloons filled with air, then we all loaded in for a magical adventure. Floating 5,000 feet above the Sonoran Desert, we were able to see some of the wildlife like Burras and of course the main reason for the journey – the epic sunrise. After our hour-long ride, we landed in an open stretch of desert where wild burros roamed.
A champagne toast and breakfast from Vincent’s on Camelback Mountain welcomed everyone before heading back to town. We were given a commemorative flight certificate to take home along with the memories of a once in a lifetime experience.
Night Time Pedal Cab Tour
After an amazing dinner at Rustlers Roost, we took a night tour on an Arizona Pedal Cab. Our tour guide Billy, the Pedal Cab Company owner, gave us a street-level tour, taking us to places that normally would only be seen on foot. He told us stories about the architecture and murals that line some of the streets of downtown Phoenix.
Night Lights Tour at Taliesin West Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture is a staple in American history. One of the eight works of his that have become part of UNESCO is Taliesin West, the winter home of Wright and a beautiful reminder of Wright’s ability to have his designs blend into nature. This gem is nestled in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains. It’s also home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin.
Stargazing in Phoenix
Perhaps it’s the clean, clear desert air, but stars just seem to shine brighter here. One of the most beautiful night skies in the country, where stargazing takes on a new meaning through Gemland. We had an amazing time staring at the planets and night sky without leaving the comfort of our resort – the Scott Resort.
Kayaking at Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch (Mesa)
For the Mesa portion of our visit, we stopped by the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch, a hidden Arizona treasure. It features a main ranch house and cabins that are technology-free! While there you can go horseback riding or just enjoy the serene beauty and breathtaking views of Bulldog Cliffs.
Kayaking on the Salt River is one of the incredible experiences offered by the ranch. As you meander down the river breathtaking views of mountain peaks line the voyage, along with the plant and fauna. Occasional river rapids add a bit of navigational excitement to your paddling.
At the end of our 2-hour paddle adventure, we were rewarded with views of wild horses. We watched them for a while as they drank and navigated the river.
Where to Eat in Phoenix and Mesa
This warehouse turned bar is where we stopped for lunch. The Duce is eclectic, to say the least. You can snack or enjoy one of their vintage cocktails while you sit in an old-school gym, complete with bleachers. If you want to pass the time, there are hula-hoops, ping pong, shuffleboard and foosball to keep you entertained.
Sharing is a big thing at The Duce, where you can try meat sliders, pulled pork, beef brisket, beer can chicken, or mac n cheese muffins. They also have great dips; baked artichoke, asparagus & goat cheese and a baked 3-cheese dish, all served with toasted baguettes and organic raw veggies.
Save room for dessert!
No trip to Phoenix is complete without dinner at Rustler’s Rooste. This mountaintop restaurant not only offers unparalleled views of the city lights but some of the best steak and ribs in the Southwest. The atmosphere is cowboy-themed with live Arizona long-horn greeting you at the entrance. Try a smorgasbord of appetizers like the giant Tater Skins and giant onion rings; a huge bowl of salad is served with every meal. If you’re feeling particularly brave, try the rattlesnake appetizer.
If you’re into a lighter fare there are a few fish options like delicious grilled salmon served with seasonal vegetables and several chicken dishes but don’t leave without trying one of their signature Margaritas, they’re made with hand-selected Herradura Double Barrel Reposado.
Jalapeno Bucks (Mesa)
Arizona is all about BBQ and salsa, two of this area’s specialties. At Jalapeno Bucks we had both. Situated between citrus groves in Mesa, this restaurant is bursting with flavors and charm all of which can be enjoyed on their covered patio.
This is New Wave Mexican soul food and it’s mouth-watering, from quesadillas and tacos to beef brisket and burritos. One interesting item to try is the brisket sandwich with peanut butter and jelly, yep, it’s on the menu. Wash it all down with a sweet tea.
Hash Kitchen is a culinary destination in Phoenix where brunch is king! This eatery, popular with locals has a killer make your own Bloody Mary bar, in fact, the largest in Arizona. Not up to drinking a monster Bloody Mary then try the flight of flavoured Prosecco’s – blueberry, orange or traditional. Dessert lovers will enjoy both the Cannoli donuts and Hash Monkey & That Funky Monkey skillet sweet bread.
At Hash Kitchen Brunch offerings are so vast that its hard to make a choice between the custom-made egg scramblers, waffles, frittatas, eggs benedict, sandwiches, and burgers. The list is endless. A massive Brunch Lasagna is on offer as well, which could feed a small family.
On the weekends the place has a party atmosphere with line ups out the door and a live DJ playing tunes.
The Sicilian Butcher
This build your own meal experience is a fun way to enjoy an Italian dinner of meatballs or Italian-cured meats. There are 15 craft meatballs to choose from in many flavors from dry-aged steak, spicy sausage to lump crab. The Sicilian Butcher offers freshly made pasta (gnocchi, spaghetti, linguine) and seafood, as well as a lentil and eggplant parmigiana for any vegetarians in the crowd.
Must order on the menu is the charcuterie board, especially if your dining in a group. The 5-foot board could feed an army of diners, it’s ladened with cheeses, meats, arancini, bread, and honey as well as dried fruit and nuts, meatballs and polenta, bruschetta, polenta fries, and Sicilian apps like Cazzilli. Our group thoroughly enjoyed the charcuterie which we pared with a big jug of sangria.
Postino East Wine Café (Gilbert)
At Postino, guests can expect thirty-six unique, approachable wines. All their food is simple and delicious, prepared with local ingredients such as the bruschetta they’re famous for and paninis, salads and soups, all served with a warm, friendly culture that brings people together. This bustling spot is great for a bite before heading down Main Street to take in the neon lights.
Matt’s Big Breakfast
Matt’s is one of the best spots for breakfast (or brunch) in Phoenix. They use cage-free eggs from humanely raised chickens, grain-fed natural Iowa pork and all-natural beef as well as local organic produce where possible. They do get busy, sometimes the line ups are out the door, but the wait isn’t long and the service is fast without feeling rushed. Any breakfast diner that serves really good thick-cut bacon, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and delicious pancakes is OK with me.
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As you can see, between kayaking adventures to world-class museums and eateries – you can easily beat the heat in the desert. Next time you’re planning your summer vacation, or any vacation, make sure that Phoenix and Mesa make the list.