Phoenix, Arizona: The Valley of the Sun. 🌵

Routinely ranked as the hottest city in the United States – during the summertime – Phoenix, Arizona definitely lives up to its claim to fame. It’s the state’s capital and largest city, with approximately 4.85 million people calling the Valley of the Sun home. Aside from Phoenix, there are numerous surrounding suburb cities, including Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Buckeye, Apache Junction, Glendale, and Surprise. It’s the 5th most populated city within the United States, and the most populated state capital of any state in the nation. It’s the only state capital in the country with a population over 1 million and the traffic certainly reflects that (yay, us!).

Located within the Sonoran Desert, which is considered to be one of the wettest and greenest deserts in the world (believe it or not), temperatures routinely hit 100+ for a solid 4 months, every year. In fact, many days reach or exceed 110 degrees or more during the months of June through September. In 2020 and 2021, the highest recorded temperature was 118°, in 2022, it was 115°, and in 2023, it was 118° again. In July, 2023, Phoenix set the record with the most consecutive days (31) of highs at or above 110°. The previous record was set in 1974. However, the other 8 months are quite lovely!

A well-known Mecca for monsoons and (less often) dust storms, during an active season, monsoons can occur weekly, almost nightly in some areas. Beginning in June and running to the end of September, monsoons can be very dangerous, as they can happen quickly and produce heavy rain, leading to flash flooding. They are also known for producing large hail. Drivers and people on foot alike can easily get caught in one if they are not careful. While they tend to pass quickly, they also tend to leave massive amounts of water in the their wake. However, one beautiful byproduct of monsoon season is the heat lightning 😍 (please see below).

The beginning of a monsoon.
A monsoon a few miles away, producing some of the most beautiful lightening.
How they safely and effectively transport cactus.

If you can ignore the blistering heat and monsoons, or can visit during the fall and winter, Phoenix does have a lot to offer. It has outdoor recreation with endless hiking trails and a bustling urban city with countless activities. One could easily go hiking in The Superstitions: The Most Haunted Mountain Range in America. or Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. 🔥 during the day, then go bar hopping and dancing in downtown Tempe or Old Town Scottsdale that night. The city is surrounded 360 degrees by desert mountains, offering countless outdoor activities, but there are also many city-bound activities for those who rather not hike.

Downtown Phoenix.
The calm after the monsoon storm.
Downtown Phoenix as seen from Dobbins Lookout.

Some of the things to do here include visiting the very cool Arizona Boardwalk in Scottsdale; hiking at places like Exploring Phoenix: Dobbins Lookout. and Tom’s Thumb Trail at the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.; going to the Phoenix Art Museum; visiting the Children’s Museum of Phoenix; hitting up downtown Tempe and Tempe Town Lake; checking out the Desert Botanical Garden; exploring Old Town Scottsdale; spending an afternoon at the Japanese Friendship Garden; taking a day trip to the Phoenix Zoo; hitting up a Suns game during basketball season at the Footprint Center; and so much more. Phoenix is also a well-known hotspot for hot air balloons, with many sunrise and sunset rides available.

To break some down – there’s the OdySea Aquarium, which is open daily from 9am to 7pm (with last entry 60 minutes before closing). Admission is a bit steep, at $37.95 per adult (14+) and $27.95 for children ages 2 to 13. There are multiple exhibits to explore, including OdySea Voyager, Rivers of the World, Kids’ Cove, Touch Pools, and Penguin Point.

These are all fish tanks with live fish inside.
At Tempe Town Lake with some old coworkers!

You can head down to Tempe and check out downtown (the only other city in the Valley with a downtown with skyscrapers) and Tempe Town Lake, a 2 miles (3.2km) long, 1,200ft (370m) wide man-made lake built in 1999. Swimming is prohibited. However, you can do paddle boards and kayaks, stand-up paddle board yoga, biking, running path, electric scooters, fishing, basketball hoops, and public art. Scootering around Tempe Town Lake was a ton of fun and the sunset is amazing!

Tempe Lake.

Then zip on over to Phoenix to check out the Phoenix Zoo, open daily from 9am to 4pm. Opened in 1962, it’s the largest privately owned, non-profit zoo within the United States. With over 1,400 animals on display, the zoo is home to countless species of birds, elephants, leopards, crocodiles, zebras, monkeys, and giraffes. Designated a Phoenix Point of Pride, it’s well worth a visit!

After a day of exploring, hit up the Footprint Center and catch a Phoenix Suns game at night. Playing during the months of May and April, the Footprint Center is located in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Ticket cost varies depending on where you’d like to sit, with the average ticket costing around $72. Some cost as low as $10 per ticket, but that will be the “nose bleed” section. Courtside typically costs between $650 and $4,700 – yikes.

“The Doors”, a massive kaleidoscope sculpture created by artist Donald Lipski. It’s comprised of three 28ft tall doors made from Brazilian wood, and inside is reflective steel all around, causing a kaleidoscope effect. Its free to check out and located right in front of the P.F. Chang’s.

I highly suggest heading over to Scottsdale to visit Old Town. Considered to be the “Heart of Scottsdale”, it’s a vibrant area with nice restaurants, posh stores and souvenir shops, and public art installations. Split into nine different zones, these include the Scottsdale Fashion Square, the Entertainment District, the Arts District, and the Historic Old Town section. Please be advised, most stores in Old Town tend to close early, some even closing at 3pm on weekdays (ahhh, to live the high life).

Old Town Scottsdale in the Historic Old Town.
Near The Mission restaurant in Old Town.

Next, take a drive to Apache Junction and visit historic Goldfield Ghost Town: Gold & The Supes., located approximately 40 minutes from downtown Phoenix and about 30 from Mesa or Tempe. Open daily from 10am to 5pm, Goldfield is a great day-trip and a wonderful educational tool to learn about how the early gold miners lived. Located right next to the base of the infamous Superstition Mountains, it’s easy to do both in one day-trip.

Goldfield with the Superstition Mountains in the back.

There’s also the The Murals of Phoenix. – more than 72 unique, colorful, vibrant, and beautiful murals sprinkled throughout downtown Phoenix and neighboring areas. You can find most of the Murals on this “Phoenix Map”, available online at The Murals of Phoenix map was developed by two life-long Phoenix residents named Julian Sodari and Sam Gomez in order to help people locate and appreciate them.

As mentioned, Phoenix is well known for its hot air balloon rides, with multiple companies to choose from, including the Rainbow Riders Hot Air Balloon Co., Hot Air Expeditions, and APEX Hot Air Balloon Rides. Be advised – the rides can be a tad pricey, ranging from $200 to $250 per person. Best to do some research on which company works best for you!

Video of a hot air balloon “crashing”. They are typically not this low and (volume up!) you typically cannot hear the fire like this. Turns out, this particular balloon had a rip in the side and was, indeed, going down. The operator remained in control and landed it safely in a field not too far away.

Overall, what was mentioned in this blog is truly a drop in the Phoenix bucket, with much more left to explore and see. If you ever get to visit the interesting, and sometimes hot, city of Phoenix, Arizona, I suggest doing so! While not the most fun city to visit between the months of June and September, the other months are quite lovely and a wonderful time to explore the area. Come and check out the Valley of the Sun for yourself! 🌞

During dry, monsoon-less summers, the poor saguaros can’t make it.

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