Travel Guide to Phoenix, AZ
Here's an ideal itinerary for spending a few days in the capital of the Grand Canyon State!
Abundant sunshine. A foodie's paradise. Phoenix doesn't get enough love, and I'm here to tell you why you need to put it on top of your travel list!
As we continue to navigate through a pandemic, I'm left to realize that I think it's still a while before I feel comfortable to travel internationally. Originally, I had planned a (returned) trip to Iceland, but as the pandemic is constantly evolving and changing, I didn't feel safe traveling overseas with the risk of a shutdown looming overhead. Instead, I've decided to turn back to the states and mark off some of the West Coast. Prior to this trip, the furthest west I had been was Nashville, Tennessee!
As an Upstate New Yorker, I was already sick of the snow (only two days into it), so I wanted somewhere with plenty of sunshine. While doing some research, Arizona kept popping up as a suggested place to travel in the winter months, since the days aren't as harsh and it's still cool at night. I'll admit that even I got a little chilled at night! Even though I was sick with a nasty upper respiratory infection/bronchitis for most of my stay, Phoenix quickly stole a piece of my heart.
In this Travel Guide, I'll break down the following key points:
BONUS: The Grand Canyon
The Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is located just three miles outside of Phoenix, and serves as the busiest and biggest airport in Arizona state. It's also a hub for American Airlines. It's a relatively simple airport to navigate, and with the upcoming renovations and the installation of the Sky Train, it will be even easier. There's plenty of food and shopping options if you have a layover.
We flew in from JFK in New York City, and our flights were comparatively low when purchased. We bought separate one-way tickets to Phoenix via Delta and back home to JFK through JetBlue, but still ended up spending roughly $230 per person when all was said and done. (Keep in mind: these did NOT include checked bags - so fares might differ based on your needs).
Phoenix is completely spread out, so driving will be your best option for navigating the city. We rented a vehicle right at the airport through Budget, but there are plenty of other renting options like Enterprise and Avis. To me, when I think desert, I immediately think off-roading, which equivocates to Jeep
so that's why I opted for the Jeep Wrangler and I'm really glad I did. It was a fun vehicle to drive and it even had me daydreaming of the next vehicle I want.... It might have been a little excessive, but that's the point of vacations!
The city itself is pretty straight forward to figure out in terms of direction, but if you're not used to "big city" driving, it can be a little overwhelming! On the main drags, like Indian School Road and Camelback Road, traffic isn't that much of an issue, as it's three lanes of driving but the highways, like the 101, are six lanes of stop-and-go traffic. If you're not comfortable with driving, ride shares, such as Uber and Lyft are also available and seemed decently priced. Public transportation, like the Valley Metro and buses are an option here, but truthfully it didn't seem sensible to utilize these services for what we had planned.
Phoenix and Scottsdale are known for their lavish resorts and spas, which are ideal for the ultimate relaxation kind of vacation. We traveled in the offseason (December), and prices were relatively low for both options of hotels (roughly $140 a night) and Airbnbs (options were under $100 a night for an entire place!).
If I'm staying somewhere for more than a night or two, I opt for Airbnbs. Airbnbs are a great option to really immerse yourself into a city, and live like a local. Plus, on extended trips, I like the comforts of a home away from home that a hotel simply cannot provide.
We stayed in the Biltmore Area, which was a good in-between spot from Phoenix and Scottsdale. There was plenty of food and shopping options, as it was right off of Indian School Road, but the neighborhood was quiet. Our Airbnb hosts, Marissa & Jake, were lovely and the property was perfect for our needs. If you're interested in staying at Marissa & Jake's property, check out their page here.
There's a little something for everybody in Phoenix, which makes it a great place to check out. Whether you like art, history or sports, you certainly won't be bored! Whenever doing research for traveling, I always hit up Pinterest to find some inspiration and there were plenty of resources (like here and here). The main purpose of this trip was to unwind and soak up some much-needed sunshine, so we didn't have a full itinerary mapped out, but here was our itinerary:
Day 1 - Getting acquainted & Zoolights @ Phoenix Zoo
We took an early flight from JFK and landed in Phoenix at 11 a.m. and spent the late morning getting familiar with the city. Our first order of business was to hit up In-N-Out, since I've never had it before. If I'm going to be honest, it was a little underwhelming.
After a quick nap, we headed to the Phoenix Zoo for their Zoolights, where they have holiday lights on display on the zoo grounds. I found us a deal on GetYourGuide and saved us a few bucks off of admission, and I suggest checking out that website for any other things you consider to do in Phoenix. It was fun to walk through, and we even got to see a few animals after hours.
If you're going to eat anywhere in Phoenix, make Beckett's Table an absolute must-stop! There's a lot of vegetarian/gluten-free options and their drink menu is very impressive. Order the charred brussels sprouts, the mac 'n' cheese and the short ribs and top everything off with the chocolate dipped bacon s'mores.
Day 2 - Phoenix & Glendale
We spent our morning hanging out at the Airbnb because we each had some work to get done. The only thing we had set out to do while in Phoenix was catch a game at the Gila River Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes. Amanda and I are big NHL fans, and I've always had a goal of hitting up every NHL Arena. We took the drive to Glendale and headed to the complex, grabbing a quick bite and a few cocktails at the Whiskey Rose. (Get the Torpedos, they're brisket stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon!) Depending on the time of year, Phoenix would be a great trip to make for the sports fans in your life, since the Arizona Cardinals play right down the road.
We left the game a little early because it was already becoming a blow-out.. and because we had reservations at UnderTow, a craft cocktail bar that is unlike anywhere I've ever been! It's like Pirates of the Caribbean meets a speakeasy. It's definitely tight quarters, but a fun experience for the foodie. You have to make reservations, and I suggest taking a peek at the menu before going: The menu is very intricate and I'll admit I was a little overwhelmed when trying to select a cocktail!
Day 3 - Scottsdale
Scottsdale is known for its spas and resorts, but we took a different approach to relaxation during our time in Scottsdale. I've always wanted to try a sensory deprivation tank and True Rest fulfilled all of my hopes and dreams: The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful and the oxygen bar in the recovery area was really neat.
There's plenty of food options in Scottsdale, but we grabbed lunch at Diego Pops, a Mexican restaurant with a funky vibe. I highly recommend getting the street corn queso, as it was lick the bowl good. Our night was pretty low-key, since we were anticipating for a busy day heading north, and our colds were starting to really kick our tails.
Day 4 - The Grand Canyon
Since we had a late flight out of Phoenix, we decided to cross another bucket list item off: visit the Grand Canyon! We hit the road before sunrise and drove the 3.5 hours up and decided to just drive the rim of the park, since we weren't prepared to do a lot of hiking with our sicknesses.
Admittedly, I wasn't sure what to expect heading into the park, but you could realistically spend DAYS there, especially if you're into camping and hiking. To look out into the vastness of the canyons was awe-inspiring and it was really cool to be able to FaceTime my dad, who's always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. It definitely inspired me to want to get my booty in gear to be able to hike it someday.