Where to Stay in Phoenix
Greater Phoenix is a vast, sprawling metropolitan area encompassing over 20 different cities, almost 5 million people, and large tracts of the Sonoran Desert. Known as the “Valley of the Sun” (or just “the Valley”), it’s not a major tourist destination in terms of sights – instead, cities like Scottsdale have become home to luxurious resorts with dedicated golf courses, huge pool complexes, gourmet restaurants, and spas which take advantage of Arizona’s year-round sunny weather.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to see in Phoenix: the Phoenix Art Museum and Heard Museum are world-class repositories of art, especially from the Southwest and Native American artists, and the city boasts numerous areas known for high-end shopping, nightlife, and restaurants. If the aim is to explore the city in full and get a flavor of life here, it makes sense to be based in Downtown Phoenix or one of the adjacent “Cepho” neighborhoods, or even in Old Town Scottsdale. Paradise Valley and northern Scottsdale are where the major resorts are located – staying here isn’t so convenient for exploring the city, but visitors are likely to be focused primarily on enjoying the resort in any case. Other places to stay include Biltmore in northern Phoenix and lively Tempe, home of Arizona State University.
In terms of accommodation choices, Phoenix is jam-packed with hotels ranging from very cheap mom-and-pop motels to luxury resorts – there won’t be any problems in finding a room. Room rates rise dramatically in winter, when snowbirds from all over the USA and Canada flood the area (Scottsdale in particular). Rates are much cheaper in the summer, for obvious reasons – the searing heat makes touring at that time very uncomfortable.
Phoenix does have a good public transport system, but it tends to be of limited use for tourists. The Valley Metro Rail is convenient for zipping between Uptown, Midtown, Downtown, Tempe and West Mesa – if exploring only these areas, then a car is probably not required, though taxis are. Otherwise, using city buses can be extremely time-consuming.
• Sky Harbor International Airport is just 3 miles southeast of downtown. The free PHX Sky Train connects the terminals with the 44th Street PHX Sky Train Station which has onward connections to Downtown, Cepho, and Tempe on Valley Metro Rail. Else, the best option is a taxi or car rental.
• To explore Greater Phoenix efficiently, we recommend renting a car. It’s so big that traveling by public transport takes too much time – though even driving can take hours to get across the city, especially at rush hour.
• Phoenix is situated in the desert, with an extremely arid climate. Winters are mild, warm, and dry, but remember that summers are scorching hot; the average high temperature in July is 103°F (39°C).
We’ve covered our favorite neighborhoods to visit and stay in more detail below, but with more time these districts are also worth checking out:
• Desert Ridge: Around 20 miles north of Downtown Phoenix, this small suburban district features its own upscale shopping areas: High Street and the open-air Desert Ridge Marketplace. The main reason for a visit is the absorbing Musical Instrument Museum, home to a mind-blowing collection of instruments from around the world, exhibits dedicated to every musical genre, and a roster of live shows. However, staying here means long drives to the rest of the city. Our favorite hotels in the area are JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, Marriott’s Canyon Villas, and Cambria North Scottsdale.
• Glendale: Just 9 miles northwest from Downtown Phoenix, sports fans may want to visit Glendale; it’s best known for State Farm Stadium (home of NFL’s Arizona Cardinals) and the Gila River Arena (home of NHL’s Arizona Coyotes). Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox also shared the Camelback Ranch-Glendale stadium for spring training games. The only other sight is the Manistee Ranch, a historic house built in 1897. Nightlife is anchored by the Westgate Entertainment District. Our favorite hotels here are the Holiday Inn Glendale – Stadium & Ent Dist, Home2 Suites by Hilton Glendale-Westgate, Tru Glendale Westgate, SpringHill Suites Glendale, and Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa.
• South Mountain Village: This sprawling neighborhood lies six miles or so south of Downtown Phoenix, though its really the South Mountain Park and Preserve on its southern edge that warrants a visit. Drive up to Dobbins Lookout for the best view of the Valley, wander the hiking trails, or visit whimsical Mystery Castle, built by Seattle businessman Boyce Luther Gulley for his daughter in the 1930s. Recommended hotels on the edge of the neighborhood include Legacy Golf Resort, WorldMark Phoenix-South Mountain Preserve, and Arizona Grand Resort.
• Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport: There are 2 main clusters of chain hotels, one south of the Salt River off I-10 and Hwy-143 and another on the north side along East Van Buren Street and N 44th Street. With a car, staying here is convenient in terms of road links, but there’s not much to do or eat at night. Good choices include Aloft Airport, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Airport North, Home2 Suites Airport North, Homewood Suites Airport South, and Drury Inn & Suites Airport.
Best Places to Stay in Phoenix Area
- Best Luxury Hotels in Phoenix
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess • Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale • JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn • Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale • The Phoenician • Westin Kierland Resort & Spa • Westin Downtown Phoenix
- Best Boutique Hotels in Phoenix
Bespoke Inn Scottsdale • Found Re • Hermosa Inn • Kimpton Palomar • Rise Uptown
- Best Cheap & Midrange Hotels in Phoenix
Best Western Downtown Phoenix • Cambria Downtown • Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown • Hampton Inn Biltmore
Best Neighborhoods in Phoenix for…
- Best Neighborhood to Stay for First Timers/Sightseeing: Downtown Phoenix or Cenpho (Midtown/Uptown)
Visitors aiming to see the main Phoenix sights should stay in the city center, home to some of the biggest attractions, good transport links, and several nightlife and restaurant strips. Downtown itself has the biggest choice of accommodations, with Roosevelt Row offering plenty of food and drink options. There’s also Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks), Arizona Science Center and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix which appeal to families, and the Arizona Capitol Museum offering a dose of history. Midtown is home to major showstoppers like the Phoenix Art Museum and Heard Museum, with further clusters of restaurants, bars, and shops in the Melrose District. Note however, that parts of Downtown can empty out at night and on weekends.
- Most Romantic Neighborhood: Old Town Scottsdale
The old downtown area of Scottsdale is encompassed by relaxed open-air malls and the Scottsdale Waterfront, with trails along the cooling banks of the Arizona Canal. The district is peppered with lively bars and restaurants and quirky boutiques. Scottsdale Civic Center features Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Center For The Performing Arts, while the romantic trails of the Desert Botanical Garden are a short drive away. Bespoke Inn Scottsdale is perfect for a couples’ getaway, with the onsite Virtù restaurant ideal for romantic dinners.
- Best Neighborhoods for Nightlife: Downtown Phoenix and Tempe
Staying in Downtown Phoenix means being close to the action on Roosevelt Row, with highlights including the cocktails at Sazerac and craft beers at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co and Angels Trumpet Ale House. Also in Downtown are live venues like Crescent Ballroom and The Van Buren, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, and the 2-block CityScape mall, which contains Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails. There are also live shows at Arizona Federal Theatre, Orpheum Theatre Phoenix, and the Nash Jazz Club, as well as a host of smaller theaters offering plays and classical concerts.
Tempe is home to Mill Avenue, where a student crowd comes to party at Mill Cue Club pool hall, Pedal Haus Brewery, and at nearby Culinary Dropout, Four Peaks Brewing Company, and Taste of Tops, just to name a few.
Also worth checking out, Cepho’s Melrose District, a one-mile stretch of bars and restaurants along 7th Avenue (between Indian School and Camelback roads). It’s also known as “The Curve” for its kink halfway along the strip, and as the city’s LGBTQ neighborhood thanks to a proliferation of gay bars and businesses. There are no hotels here, but the Clarendon Hotel and Spa isn’t far away.
Finally, if staying in Old Town Scottsdale, there are plenty of excellent nightlife options within walking distance, including Cottontail Lounge, Scapegoat Beer and Wine, Wasted Grain, and Beverly on Main.
- Best Neighborhood for Food and Restaurants: Midtown 24th Street Corridor
Good restaurants are scattered all over Phoenix like everything else, but foodies should check out the burgeoning scene over on 24th Street, mainly between McDowell and Osborn roads (3.5 to 5 miles from Downtown). Highlights include Kevin Binkley’s fine-dining flagship Binkley’s Restaurant, local Thai favorite Glai Baan, Mexican gourmet specialist Asi Es La Vida, the wood-burning oven at Italian-Peruvian hyrid Pa’La, tasty craft beers at Wren House Brewing Company, and the excellent coffee at PIP Coffee + Clay. The closest hotels to the strip are the reasonable Embassy Suites Phoenix Airport and excellent Staybridge Suites Biltmore Area.
- Best Neighborhood for Shopping: Scottsdale
For high fashion and boutiques as well as more mainstream brands, it’s hard to beat Scottsdale Fashion Square, featuring the likes of Burberry, Carolina Herrera, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Tory Burch, as well as Forever 21, Nordstrom, and H&M. Nearby lie the art galleries and souvenir stores of Old Town Scottsdale Shoppes. To the north along Scottsdale Road there’s upscale Kierland Commons and family-friendly Scottsdale Quarter, which also has a kids’ splash fountain and movie theater.
Other neighborhoods to check out include Downtown’s Roosevelt Row for local gifts and fashions (see Phoenix General, Bunky Boutique, Eye Lounge, and MADE Art Boutique); Downtown Glendale for antiques; and the Melrose District in Cepho, known for vintage and antique stores such as Modern Manor and Retro Ranch.
- Best Neighborhoods for Families: Downtown and West Mesa
Though Downtown Phoenix offers hands-on, interactive experiences at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix and Arizona Science Center, the museums along Mesa’s Main Street are also very family-friendly, with West Mesa a lot more easy-going than Downtown Phoenix. The main attractions include the Arizona Museum of Natural History, with its dinosaur displays and huge Native American collection, and the nearby i.d.e.a. Museum, which lays on all sorts of art and science-based activities for under 12s. There are also live performances at the Mesa Arts Center and Sloan Park, home to the spring training baseball games of the Chicago Cubs. Adjacent Riverview Park features a massive rope climbing frame and splash pads. More watery fun is on offer at Golfland-Sunsplash, while quirky Organ Stop Pizza features live entertainment from a 1920s Wurlitzer theatre organ.
The biggest ensemble of cheap motels in Greater Phoenix lines Main Street in Mesa, but you get what you pay for – cheap but adequate chain motels also line the US-60 corridor. Otherwise, the best hotels here are Home2 Suites Mesa Longbow, Hyatt Place Mesa, Hampton Inn & Suites Gilbert, and Sheraton Mesa at Wrigleyville West.
- Unsafe Areas of Phoenix
Most of the areas of Phoenix listed here are generally quite safe, though the usual precautions need to be taken at night. In general, southern Phoenix tends to post higher crime rates, hence care should be taken anywhere in Downtown and South Mountain at night. Avoid the area just south of Downtown known as Central City as well as Alhambra, Maryvale, and Encanto in northwest Phoenix.
The 6 Best Neighborhoods in Phoenix for Tourists
1. Downtown Phoenix
Downtown Phoenix is the commercial hub of the region as well as the political center and the art-filled home of Arizona State University’s expanding downtown Phoenix campus and the Phoenix Convention Center. With its smattering of high-rise offices and tiny parks, it’s not an especially attractive place to stay, but there’s a wide range of accommodations and excellent restaurants and bars here, especially around Roosevelt Row at the north end of the neighborhood. The main attractions are the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, Footprint Center, home to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, and a couple of kid-friendly institutions, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix and the Arizona Science Center. Get of taste of Arizona pioneer history at the Rosson House Museum at Heritage Square, a 1895 Queen Anne-style home, and at the copper-domed Arizona State Capitol, 2 miles west, which houses an informative museum. The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center is dedicated to chronicling the African-American experience in Phoenix, while the Irish Cultural Center and McClelland Library does the same for Irish-Americans. The Irish center overlooks the tranquil Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, completed in 1996 with the guidance of Phoenix sister city Himeji, Japan.
- There’s plenty of accommodation here, though much of it is targeted at business travelers.
- One exception is Phoenix Hostel, the only real backpacker hostel in the city.
- Best Hotels: Westin Downtown Phoenix • Courtyard by Marriott • Found Re • Hilton Garden Inn Downtown • Hyatt Place Downtown • Kimpton Palomar • Renaissance Downtown • Residence Inn Downtown • Sheraton Downtown
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels: Best Western Downtown Phoenix • Cambria Downtown • Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown
- Best Hostel: Phoenix Hostel
2. Cenpho – Midtown and Uptown
Central Phoenix, or “CenPho”, lies just to the north of Downtown, a string of neighborhoods anchored by North Central Avenue and the Valley Metro Rail. Midtown is the home of the Phoenix Art Museum, the largest art museum in the Southwest, and the Heard Museum, justly celebrated for its vast collection of Native American and Southwestern art – for art lovers, these 2 attractions will be the city’s biggest draws. Another mile north are laid-back Uptown and the Melrose District, a strip of 7th Avenue lined with antique shops, art galleries, restaurants, and bars, most of them LGBTQ-friendly. Kids will enjoy the Enchanted Island Amusement Park in shady Encanto Park.
- There’s less choice here when it comes to accommodation than Downtown, but the quality tends to be good and it’s a little quieter/less busy.
- Best Hotels: Embassy Suites Downtown North • Fairfield Inn & Suites Midtown • Hampton Inn Midtown-Downtown Area • Rise Uptown
- Best B&B: Don’s Eleganté Bed & Breakfast
Just to the east of Phoenix, the separate city of Scottsdale is primarily known for its luxury resorts and golf courses, but it actually covers a vast area with several key attractions worth checking out. Old Town Scottsdale anchors the downtown area and it’s not a bad place to be based, with plenty of hotel choices and walkable streets lined with shops and restaurants. There are also the pleasant towpath along Arizona Canal (aka the Waterfront) and several malls, notably Fashion Square. The excellent Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West are also downtown, and the ArtWalk is held every Thursday evening.
Northern Scottsdale boasts several other showstoppers, including Taliesin West, the summer home of iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Cosanti Gallery, which displays the work of one of his students, Paolo Soleri. There’s also family-friendly Butterfly Wonderland. To the south of Scottsdale proper lies the fascinating Desert Botanical Garden, filled with an astonishing range of cactuses and desert flora from around the world.
- Scottsdale is big, with hotels scattered all over the city, so location is important. The big resorts tend to sit in the hills to the north (we’ve also included Cave Creek, north of Scottsdale proper, here), and are not especially convenient for touring the area – Old Town Scottsdale is more central.
- The free Old Town Trolley loops through the downtown Scottsdale area every 15 minutes (daily 10am–9.25pm), taking in all the main stops.
- Best Hotels: Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale • Bespoke Inn Scottsdale • Canopy Scottsdale Old Town • Fairmont Scottsdale Princess • Hyatt House North Scottsdale • Rancho Mañana Resort • The Phoenician • Westin Kierland Resort & Spa • W Scottsdale • Hampton Inn & Suites Scottsdale/Riverwalk
Tempe, some 9 miles east of Downtown Phoenix and just south of the Salt River from Scottsdale, is home to the huge and attractive Arizona State University campus. For visitors, the biggest draws on site are the ASU Art Museum, with an innovative program of changing exhibits and the short but steep hike up “A” Mountain (aka Hayden Butte Preserve), considered sacred to the indigenous Onk Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Xalychidom Piipaash (Maricopa) peoples. The summit features a 60-foot “A” (for Arizona State) and spectacular views of the city.
The focus of friendly downtown Tempe is the walkable Mill Avenue District, crammed with shops, restaurants, and bars, and there’s also the waterfront Tempe Beach Park on the stretch of river known here as Tempe Town Lake. On the north side of the river is Big Surf Waterpark, locally celebrated for its massive Waikiki Beach Wave Pool. Other family-friendly attractions can be found at the Arizona Mills complex, which houses a huge IMAX theater, Rainforest Café, LEGOLAND Discovery Center and the SEA LIFE Aquarium.
- Best Hotels: Tempe Mission Palms • Canopy Tempe Downtown • Drury Inn & Suites • Fairfield Inn & Suites • Residence Inn Tempe Downtown/University • AC Hotel Downtown • Holiday Inn Express & Suites
5. Paradise Valley
The “Beverly Hills of the Southwest”, just west of Scottsdale, is best known for its stock of posh homes, mansions, golf courses, and sumptuous luxury resorts – the latter is the main reason to consider staying here. Reasons for day trips include McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, with its Paradise & Pacific Railroad train rides and a 1950s vintage carousel (the park officially lies in Scottsdale), or the challenging trails up Camelback Mountain (2,704ft and for experienced hikers only).
- Like its neighbor northern Scottsdale, Paradise Valley is mainly of interest because of its posh hotels and resorts.
- The area is very spread out – a car is definitely needed here.
- Best Hotels: Embassy Suites Scottsdale • Hermosa Inn • JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn • Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale • Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia • Sanctuary Camelback Mountain
6. Biltmore District
“The Biltmore” lies 3 miles east of Uptown on the Camelback Road corridor and 7 miles northeast from Downtown Phoenix. It’s a self-contained neighborhood with its own character and spread of upscale shops and top hotels, notably the Arizona Biltmore hotel itself. It’s actually a good place to stay, assuming you have a car. The hotels are mostly new and top notch, there’s a smattering of decent restaurants, and it’s very central for exploring the whole Greater Phoenix area. There’s not a lot to see in terms of sights here, though the Wrigley Mansion, built by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. in 1932, is worth a visit (take tours or eat at the restaurant). Biltmore Fashion Park shopping mall anchors the “downtown” area.
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