Valley of the Sun: A Beginner’s Phoenix Guide

By: Katarina Kovacevic

December 16, 2013

Mountain bikers from Arizona Outback Adventures biking at Lost Dog Wash Trail

Phoenix, otherwise known as the Valley of the Sun, is both Arizona’s capital, and the sixth largest city in the United States. Famous for receiving around 300 days of sunshine per year, this sprawling desert city is something of an adventure playground for sun-seekers. Take a look at our Phoenix guide for the top things to do in town.

Phoenix is a young city even by United States standards, and was officially incorporated in 1868. But don’t call it fledgling. Long before the first cowboy dropped his spurs in the Wild West, a forward-thinking Native American tribe called the Hohokam (600 to 1450 A.D.) brought water to the Arizona desert with a series of master-planned canals. It was this enterprising system that helped give rise to Phoenix agriculture, an industry that spurred the city’s development.

Yes, it’s true. Things grow in the desert. Citrus, cotton, corn – it’s all played a vital role in shaping the community. Even today, family-run farms like Maya, Agritopia, Duncan and Singh are shelling out fresh and local produce.

Valley of the Sun | Phoenix Guide | Quiessence

The cosy backgarden at Quiessence, complete with fire pits © Greater Phoenix CVB

You could visit these farms to taste their earthly goods straight from the ground, or you can make a date at some of the Valley’s top restaurants – Quiessence, FnB and Cork are just some of the places where you’ll find locally sourced ingredients on the menu. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a quality restaurant in Phoenix that doesn’t support local vendors and farmers in some way.

Valley of the Sun | Phoenix Guide

The Phoenix skyline © Greater Phoenix CVB

That probably has a lot to do with the bold, independent Western spirit. Phoenicians love to support local in every sense of the word. That rings true in many facets of Phoenix lifestyle, even shopping.

In Scottsdale, the SouthBridge district is dedicated entirely to one-of-a-kind boutiques. One of the city’s largest retail centers, Biltmore Fashion Park, carved out a chunk of its development to create UNION, a co-op of stores unique to Arizona.

Valley of the Sun | Phoenix Guide | Heard Museum

The Heard Museum showcases Phoenix’s distinct spirit © Greater Phoenix CVB

Museums like the Heard Museum and Desert Botanical Garden also highlight the region’s distinct spirit, but you can go global, too. American, Asian and European masterpieces are on display at the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Musical Instrument Museum celebrates the world’s melodies with a collection of instruments from 200 countries.

Valley of the Sun | Phoenix Guide | First Friday

Roosevelt Row during First Friday Art Walk © Greater Phoenix CVB

If you’re into alternative and contemporary art, First Friday Art Walk in downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row is worth a visit. The festival of street performers, bands and merchants brings tens of thousands of people to the area each month.

Valley of the Sun | Phoenix Guide | Camelback Mountain

The distinctive shape of Camelback Mountain © Greater Phoenix CVB

But for something that really makes Phoenix special, just step outside and discover the Sonoran Desert. Covering large parts of the American Southwest, it’s one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Hike Camelback Mountain. Bike the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Take to the Superstitions by horseback. You won’t know Phoenix until you’ve really explored.

Written by Katarina Kovacevic

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Katarina Kovacevic

Katarina Kovacevic is a freelance travel writer, author of The Food Lovers’ Guide To Phoenix & Scottsdale, and founder/editor of Style Jaunt, a blog about fashionable travel. Her work has appeared in publications like American Spa, The New York Post, Travel + Leisure online, and more. Follow her travels on Twitter @Little_K and Instagram @Little_K_Kata.

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