Every year, families across the nation plan vacations dreaming of great weather, spectacular sightseeing, and exciting unique experiences. Many families have discovered this combination of climate, culture, natural beauty, and attractions in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.
The area surrounding Greater Phoenix is often called the Valley of the Sun. Known as one of the golf capitals of the world, it is also home to more five-star/diamond resorts than any other location. In fact, Phoenix/Scottsdale was rated as the top hotel destination in the country by the 1997 Zagat Survey.
In Arizona's capital city, families can relax in one of nearly 30 world-class resorts and take in some of America's most beautiful sites, while enjoying an average annual daily temperature of 72 degrees with an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. The Valley of the Sun in located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, yielding beautiful vistas and plenty of dry weather.
As the sixth-largest city in the United States with 1.2 million residents, Phoenix offers a wide array of cultural and recreational activities. Blending the rugged Old West with the new, the city gives families the opportunity to enjoy outstanding museums, sports and outdoor activities, gold panning expeditions, the performing arts, Western cookouts, cowboy shoot-outs, and a wide variety of dining experiences.
With some of the country's most striking natural wonders, it's no surprise that sightseeing is a favorite activity of families vacationing in the area. Notable archaeological attractions like Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot National Park, Pueblo Grande and the Casa Grande ruins, are close to Phoenix. Attractions that are slightly farther away include 186-mile-long Lake Powell (5-hour drive), the spectacular Grand Canyon (4-hour drive), the Petrified Forest (3 ˝ hour drive), the Painted Desert (3 ˝ hour drive) and the red rocks of Sedona (2-hour drive).
For more information on Greater Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun, visit the Convention and Visitor's Bureau's website www.phoenixcvb.com or call them at Phone: (877) CALLPHX, or (602) 254-6500. Fax: (602) 253-4415, Email: email@example.com.
Frank Lloyd Wright helped to design this historic, elegant resort in a prime Phoenix location near the base of Squaw Peak. The resort offers excellent service and accommodations, two golf courses, a children's activities center, and a full-service health spa. The "resort rooms" are particularly comfortable for families. Kids love the swimming pools, especially the one with the water slide. If you're really in a mood to indulge, rent one of the cabanas around the pool. $$$$
This palm-laden property is certainly beautiful, and has one of the most amazing waterparks we've ever seen. The 2 ˝ acre waterpark is the centerpiece of the resort, and contains 10 swimming pools, a huge waterslide, waterfalls, a sand beach, a water-volleyball pool, and a whirlpool spa. Don't miss the gondola rides, too! Sports lovers will enjoy the 27 championship holes of golf, 8 tennis courts, health spa, and jogging and cycling trails. Families love the Kamp Hyatt Kachina children's program here, which offers a number of innovative activities emphasizing Southwestern culture. The casual Squash Blossom Restaurant is a great place for family meals. $$$$
This beautiful, slightly more formal resort is consistently ranked as one of the top resorts in the country in major travel polls. Here, you'll find beautiful grounds, lots of marble and glass, elaborate (and large!) guest rooms, and fantastic service. The pool complex is beautiful, and has a great 165-ft. water slide for kids. With nine heated pools, including one lined with opalescent tiles, you're sure to find one to catch your fancy. There are also 27-holes of championship golf, 12 tennis courts, a whirlpool, rental bikes, jogging trails, and a variety of restaurants. The Center for Well Being is an excellent full-service spa providing a full array of treatments and services. Kids will enjoy the Funicians Club, a children's program for ages 5 to 12. $$$$
While this resort is nice, the principal draw for families here is the pool. Here you'll find a two-story waterfall surrounded by artificial boulders, a swim-through cave, and a pool area that covers half an acre. If you like sports activities, tennis, racquetball, and volleyball courts are also available. The guest rooms at this resort are nicely sized for famiies. $$$
This resort is very family friendly, and offers a fantastic waterpark for guests to enjoy. The Hole-in-the-Wall River Ranch features a tubing river, large lagoon pool, sports pool, waterfall, and an excellent waterslide. In addition to this waterpark, there are also four other swimming pools on the property. The resort is styled with Spanish/Southwestern influences, and the majority of accommodations are suites perfect for families. There is an 18-hole golf course located four-miles from the property, as well as 4 tennis courts, the full-service Tocasierra Spa, rental bikes, and jogging trails. Kids love the miniature golf course and video game room. A children's program is offered, and the family-oriented Hilton Vacation Station program is available during the summer months. $$$$
If you're idea of a great family vacation is heading to an exotic Moorish palace in the desert, the Scottsdale Princess may be the perfect place for you. Situated on 450 acres about 20-minutes north of downtown Scottsdale, the Princess features over 650 rooms and suites, two championship 18-hole golf courses, seven tennis courts, three heated pools, a 10,000 square-foot spa and fitness center, sand and water volleyball, bicycling, and a fishing pond. Guest rooms are spacious, with private balconies and refrigerators. Babysitting is available. The resort offers supervised children's activities during some major holidays and selected summer weeks. $$$$
Located in Phoenix's northern end, the Pointe Hilton features lush grounds on a steep, cliff-side setting. There's a great pool at this Pointe Hilton as well (see the review of the Pointe Hilton at Squaw Peak). Here, guests will find two lagoon-type pools connected by a large, 138-foot waterslide. There are lots of cascading waterfalls and fake boulders, too, for those who like special effects. Rooms are large suites, perfect for vacationing families, and are decorated in a Southwestern motif. Families will also appreciate the hotel's participation in Hilton's Vacation Station program during the summer months, as well as the availability of babysitting. Hiking is excellent here. Guests can also enjoy golf, a small spa, 11 tennis courts, 6 additional swimming pools, a fitness center, rental bikes, and a game room. $$$$
The Boulders Resort is a mecca for golf enthusiasts from all over the world. Located 45 minutes north of Scottsdale, the resort is set amid giant rocks and boulders (hence the name) in the the Sonoran Desert. The Boulders offers families championship golf, tennis, pools, restaurants, rental bikes, and a full-service spa. What sets the resort apart, however, is its setting, unobtrusive design, and its commitment to eco-tourism. The adobe casitas blend into the desert setting, allowing guests to enjoy the views and environment rather than the buildings. Although beautifully furnished, some of the rooms can be a bit small. Try to request one of the larger second-floor rooms for the best views. For families, the resort offers both babysitting and children's programs. $$$$
When it was originally built, the Wigwam was located in the midst of the desert. Now, 20 minutes west of downtown Phoenix and over 40 minutes from Scottsdale, it's in the midst of housing developments. Guests come for the excellent service and renowned golf courses - don't expect a lot of spectacular Southwestern scenery here. The resort features three championship golf courses, nine tennis courts, two pools, bike rentals, and other features. Kids love the small pool slide and the numerous orange trees on the property. Most of the spacious rooms are located in casita-style buildings situated around the resort. During the holidays and summer months, the resort offers a children's program. $$$$
This resort pleases families with its two-room suites, complimentary full breakfasts and manager's reception daily, and convenient Scottsdale location. Guests can walk to shopping, and make use of the swimming pool, tennis, and galley kitchens, and exercise facilities. Kids under 18 years stay free in the same suite with their parents. $$-$$$
This central reservation service can help you find the accommodations you're seeking in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. The company monitors both availability and rates, and covers both moderate motels and upper-end hotels and resorts. $$-$$$
Ed Debevic's Short Orders Deluxe
2102 East Highland Avenue
This classic '50 diner is a hit with families. Kids love the little jukeboxes in the booths and the great shakes. Specialties of the house are hamburgers and homemade chili. This place delivers good food in a fun atmosphere. $
Pinnacle Peak Patio Steakhouse
10426 East Jomax Road
If you have a favorite necktie - this is not the place to wear it! Walk through the doors of this Western steakhouse with a tie around your neck and plan on having it cut off. More than one million ties hang from the rafters here. Located about 20-25 minutes north of Scottsdale and about 45 minutes from Phoenix, this huge steakhouse features excellent mesquite-grilled steaks. Kids love all the western entertainment, including gunfights, cowboy bands and cookouts. Reservations are recommended on weekends and holidays. $$-$$$
Rawhide Western Town & Steakhouse
23023 North Scottsdale Road
There's lots of family-style entertainment at Rawhide, including country-music bands, stagecoach rides, cowboy gunfights, over 20 specialty stores, burro and camel rides, a petting zoo, and more. Kids enjoy walking down the big wide main street, visiting the "old gold mine" and seeing the Old West-style town. At the huge steakhouse, you can take your pick from mesquite-grilled steaks, buffalo, elk, and barbecued meats. A children's menu is available. The food is good, but you're primarily paying for the atmosphere and entertainment here. A country music band plays on most evenings for entertainment. Western cookouts are also offered on selected nights. Reservations are accepted for groups of 9 or more. Located about 40 minutes from downtown Phoenix and 20-25 minutes from Scottsdale, this attraction is a popular place for convention groups and tourists. $$- $$$
Pointe Hilton on South Mountain
7777 South Pointe Highway
Looking for some fun - or just don't feel up to a walk? Then slide on down from bar to the main restaurant at Rustler's Rooste. This Western-style restaurant has a great view of Greater Phoenix from its perch on South Mountain. You can choose from a variety of main courses, such as steak, barbecue, or beer-battered shrimp ,or try the rattlesnake appetizer. Kids love listening to the country bands play. $$-$$$
Trenino's Scottsdale Station
6910 East Shea Boulevard
This is a neat restaurant for kids and anyone who's a pizza or railroad fan. Eat at Trenino's and you'll be surrounded by classic railroad memorabilia and a large, working G-gauge train layout. The restaurant is well-known for its Chicago-style pizza, sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, and railroad station atmosphere. $-$$
Hard Rock Cafe
2621 East Camelback Road
"Can we go to the Hard Rock Cafe?" is usually a popular question with kids and teens, and Phoenix delivers a great member of the chain. The centerpiece of this restaurant is a huge purple Cadillac, complete with fins, but Bob Dylan's guitar and Madonna's velvet bell bottoms are also displayed for your viewing pleasure. Hard Rock offers the same menu throughout the chain - great burgers, ribs, chicken and sandwiches. As always, the portions are huge and the food is good. $-$$
2402 East Camelback Road
Located in the Biltmore Fashion Park, this chain restaurant is a family favorite - especially for those who have kids collecting the t-shirts and other logo wear. Here you'll find the usual burgers, salads, and a variety of sandwiches. There are also some great California-inspired entrees, including pastas, smoked and grilled meats, seafood, and vegetarian items. $$-$$$
7000 East Shea Boulevard
8501 North 27th Avenue
This popular restaurant is one of the most kid-friendly restaurants we've seen in all our travels. It's a big hit with local families as well, so make sure to make reservations. When we were at the Scottsdale location, the kids were having their faces painted while they were waiting in the lobby, a balloon man came around to each table to make goofy hats, crowns, and flowers for both kids and adults, and the staff broke into songs constantly. You'll be served by waiters and waitresses a variety of costumes (such as Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Tinkerbell, GI Joe, and the Blues Brothers), and they do a great job of staying in character. The menu is varied, and features prime ribs, steaks, seafood, pasta, sandwiches, and salads. The large salad bar is superb, and comes with most entrees. A children's menu is available. $-$$$
5th & Diner
5220 North 16th Street
This restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - perfect for East Coast families whose kids get up at 4 a.m. on their first day in Phoenix and want breakfast right away! This classic '50's style silver diner serves up good food --in huge portions - for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Kids love the little jukeboxes on the tables (bring plenty of quarters!) and the huge menu. The pecan pancakes and homemade biscuits are excellent. 5th & Diner was a "Best of Phoenix" winner for 6 years in a row, and it's very popular with tourists and locals alike. Expect a bit of a wait at "standard" meal times. There's also a Scottsdale location at 9069 East Indian Bend Road (602-949-1957), but you won't find that 24/7 service there. $-$$
If you have a teenager in the family - or just love to shop - this is a great place to visit while in the Greater Phoenix area. Arizona Mills is located about 10 minutes from Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport. This outlet mall contains over 175 retailers, restaurants, and entertainment options. There's a bebe Outlet, the Mikasa Home Store, a Gap Outlet, Off Fifth - Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet. You'll also found Rainforest Café, an IMAX theater, and Harkins Luxury 24 Cinemas. For a complete list of stores, call the number provided for more information.
Take a floating picnic on the Salt River with Salt River Tubing and Recreation. Trips of 1 ˝, 2 ˝ or 4 hours in length are available from May through September. Children must be at least 8 years old to go tubing. The fee is $9 per day per person for tube rental and shuttle bus service. Tennis shoes or other footwear are needed to protect your feet from the river's rocky bottom.
22 East Monte Vista Road
This is one of the best museums in the country dealing with Native American culture and artifacts. The museum has a superb collection of Native American fine art and traditional items such as kachina dolls, pottery baskets and textiles. The "Native Peoples of the Southwest" and "Old Ways, New Ways" exhibits are particularly excellent for families. On many weekends, there are performances by Native American singers and dancers. Call the above number for more information on hours, current admission prices, and special events.
Desert Botanical Garden
1201 North Galvin Parkway
This Botanical Garden has the largest display of desert plants in the world, with over 20,000 specimens on display. Here, you can learn how the peoples of the Sonoran Desert used plants in their everyday life, practice grinding corn, or learn how to make a brush from yucca fibers. The spring is a particularly beautiful time to visit and see the cacti in bloom. Sunday brunches here are very popular. Call the number given above for more information on hours, admissions charges, and special events.
455 North Galvin Parkway, Papago Park
The Phoenix Zoo is a popular place for families to visit, with its 4-acre African veldt exhibit, baboon colony, Southwestern animal exhibits, and rainforest exhibits. The Zoo is home to over 1,300 animals housed in natural settings. Be sure not to miss the Galapagos tortoises! If you have small children and the walking gets too tiring, you can take a narrated tram tour of the grounds for an additional charge. There's also an 11-acre children's zoo, where kids can pet animals and see some of the babies. Call the above number for information on hours of operation, admissions charges, and upcoming special events.
Hall of Flame Firefighting Museum
6101 East Van Buren Street
If one of your family members has always wanted to be a firefighter - or is one - make sure to visit this extraordinary museum. It houses the world's largest collection of vintage fire trucks and fire fighting apparatus. There are over 100 fire trucks on display.
Arizona Science Center
600 East Washington Street
This is a great museum for families, as many of the hands-on exhibits are designed to appeal to children. Visitors can explore over 350 exhibits, visit outer space in a state-of-the-art planetarium, marvel at the huge ant farm, go crazy in the soap bubble play area, and play a virtual reality game that puts you right into the video game. There is also a giant screen theater, available for an extra charge. Admission prices and hours vary, so call for further details.
Visit a Ghost Town
Goldfield Ghost Town & Mine Tours
4650 North Mammoth Mine Road
Goldfield, AZ 85219
If your idea of the perfect Phoenix vacation involves ghost towns, legends, desert scenery, and more than a hint of the Old West, you may want to visit the Goldfield Ghost Town, a reconstructed 1890's gold mining town. You can head out there in your own car, or call Apache Trail Tours (602-982-7661). The Goldfield Ghost Town offers guided tours of the mine beneath the town. You can also visit the Superstition Mountain/Lost Dutchman Museum, which contains many interesting exhibits about the area's history. Of particular note is the exhibit on the Lost Dutchman gold mine, a famous mine supposedly filled with gold. The location of this mine was lost, and has still not been found to this day.
Take an Air Tour
If you'd like to visit the Grand Canyon or Sedona - and don't want to make the drive from Phoenix - there are plenty of helicopter and air tour operators who'd be happy to take you. Airline companies offering tours of the Grand Canyon include Grand Canyon Airlines (800-528-2413), Scenic Airlines Scottsdale (602-991-8252), Temple Air Service (800-933-7590) and Westwind Aviation (888-869-0866). Helicopter trips are also available from the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. For more information, call AirStar Helicopters and Airlines (800-962-3869), Arizona Helicopter Adventures (800-282-5141) and Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters (800-528-2418 or www.papillon.com. Equipment may vary between tour operators, so make sure to ask about windows, sound systems, videotaping systems, and climate control in the cabins. Also make sure to clearly understand the information on the length of your flight and what you will be seeing.
Take a Hot-Air Balloon Ride
The beautiful vistas and still desert air make the Valley of the Sun one of the country's best places for a hot-air balloon ride. Even if you're not one of the lucky few to go, try to get up early in the morning just to see all the brightly colored balloons fill the sky. Prices for a balloon ride are in the range of $110-$140+ per person. Sunrise flights are generally offered daily, however, sunset flights are often available from November - March. These rides are generally very popular, so make sure to call ahead for reservations. For more information, call Unicorn Balloon Company (800-468-2478, 602-991-3666 or www.unicornballoon.com ), Adventures Out West (800-755-0935, 602-996-6100, or www.advoutwest.com), A Aerozona Adventure (602-991-4260), The Hot Air Balloon Company (800-843-5987 or 602-461-8689), A Balloon Experience (800-831-7610 or 602-502-6999) or Hot Air Expeditions (800-831-7610, 602-502-6999 or www.upandaway.com).
Go Horseback Riding
There are a number of places to go riding in the Greater Phoenix area. At All Western Stables (602-276-5862), you can ride the beautiful 17,000 acres of trails at South Mountain Park. The stables have horses for beginners to experts. You can also arrange rides in Phoenix with Outdoor Adventures/ Adventures with Horses (602-494-0997) or the Ponderosa Stables (602-268-1261). In Scottsdale, MacDonald's Ranch (602-585-0239) offers guided trail rides for any size group, and serves beginners to experts. Hayrides are also offered.
If you're willing to drive a bit further for some spectacular scenery, you may wish to contact Legends of Sedona Ranch in Sedona (520-282-6826) about their one- and two-hour scenic trail rides. El Rojo Grande Ranch (520-282-1898) also offers horseback riding in the Sedona area.
Visit a Family Fun Park
If the kids are restless - or you're just looking for something fun to do - consider visiting one of Phoenix's family fun parks. Castles 'N Coasters amusement park (602-997-7576) has a 100-foot high roller coaster, a log flume ride, miniature golf, and a Naskart racetrack. The CrackerJax Family Fun & Sports Park in Scottsdale (998-2800) has a fully automated driving range, miniature golf courses, go-karts, bumper boats, and batting cages. Fiddlesticks Family Fun Park, also in Scottsdale, (602-951-6060) has a laser-tag arena, go-karts, bumper boats, batting cages, and a video arcade. Golfland and Sunsplash (602-834-8318) feature 10 giant water slides, a wave pool, 3 miniature golf courses, and more. Smaller children love the Enchanted Island at Encanto Park, an amusement park with train rides, kiddie roller coasters, an old-time carousel, a pirate ship and bumper boats.
McCormick Railroad Park
7301 East Indian Bend Road
If your family includes some train fans, don't miss this Scottsdale park. Here you'll find a 5/12 scale model railroad that carries visitors around the park, two old railway depots, restored cars and railroad engines, and a vintage carousel. Train and carousel rides are $1. There are seasonal concerts in the park and hours of operation vary by season.
Interested in saving money on your upcoming trip to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area? Here are a few suggestions:
* Consider visiting Greater Phoenix from June through September, when resorts and hotels reduce their rates by about 50%. Some luxury resorts that charge $300 per night during peak season drop their rates to as low as $90 during the summer months. It's hot, but humidity in the area is usually well under 20 percent -- much better than Miami in the summer. In addition, most of these same resorts have excellent pools and waterparks to enjoy during the summer months.
* Look for ways to save money on hotels and resorts, meals and attractions. Entertainment Publications puts out a book of money saving coupon for the greater Phoenix area. The book offers savings of up to 50% on hotel & resort stays, dining, attractions, and travel. For more information, call Entertainment Publications at 800-374-4464.
* A number of restaurants in the Greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area, such as Bobby McGee's, offer early dining discounts for dinner. Most discounts seem to be offered between 4-6 p.m. Check with the restaurant of your choice to see if any discounts are offered.
* If you love to play golf and don't mind the heat - golfing at one of Greater Phoenix's 180+ courses during the summer months will save you a bundle. Playing a course designed by Pete Dye, Robert Trent Jones or Jack Nicklaus would be great at any time of the year. However, instead of paying $75 to $100+ for a cart and greens fees in peak season, the finest courses charge only $35 to $50 during the summer months.