Explore Phoenix-Scottsdale

49 Perfect Reasons for a Summer Vacation in Arizona

Summer is the ideal time to sample the high life in the Valley of the Sun and throughout Arizona—without the crowds.

Summer is the ideal time to sample the high life in the Valley of the Sun and throughout Arizona—without the crowds that descend when it’s a mild 70 or 80 degrees. If you can take the heat, you’re in for a treat. 

Visit the Plushest Resorts

The Scottsdale area is so flush with eye-popping resort hotels, it’d almost be a shame to limit yourself to just one. There are many justifiable reasons to visit a hotel other than the one you booked: a seafood boil every other Friday at the Four Seasons, poolside cabana rentals at Hotel Valley Ho, live music in the humongous sunken lobby at The Hyatt at Gainey Ranch, burlesque performers Thursdays at The W, a bloody Mary Sunday brunch at the Westin Kierland, an evolved spa and fitness facility at the Scottsdale Princess, and mountainside cocktails at the Sanctuary. Bottom line, do not be deterred by guard gates and valet circles.

Jade Bar at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain (©Jade Bar)

Ride the Rails

The simplicity and history of trains give sightseeing by rail a distinct appeal. Train-ride attractions to try in the Phoenix area and beyond:

• A train car used by U.S. presidents, lots of models, and rides throughout McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale

• One-mile history tours aboard a narrow-gauge railroad through Goldfield Ghost Town in Apache Junction

• Relaxing wilderness sightseeing aboard Verde Canyon Railroad, departing from Clarkdale

• Dramatic train rides from Williams on Grand Canyon Railway—usually boarded by “bandits” along the way

A ride to the Grand Canyon encounters “trouble.” (©Grand Canyon Railway/Xanterra)

Cool Treats

In this land of perennial summer, cooling treats are vital and varied. Food snobs gravitate to raspberry mascarpone or salted caramel ice cream at Udder Delights, a Gilbert ice cream shop related to Superstition Farm in Mesa. Vegans go for soy-based soft-serve with cereal mix-ins at Nami in Phoenix. Traditionalists pull up a pink chair at the Sugar Bowl in Scottsdale for a dusty road or tin roof sundae. Frozen yogurt abounds: Twirl in Phoenix and Golden Spoon in Scottsdale are popular non-chains. Gelato is big too: Cool Gelato Italiano on Scottsdale Civic Center Mall and Gelato Spot’s three Valley of the Sun locations do brisk business.

Chillin’ on Central Avenue in Phoenix (©Twirl)

Take a Day Trip

Several years back, a tour guide at Arcosanti claimed that Paolo Soleri’s architectural development sat at the geographic center of the state. He might not have been far off, and given Arcosanti’s location one hour north of Phoenix, both areas are pretty convenient starting places for road trips throughout the state. Prescott feels like a small Midwestern town and hosts many summer festivals. Jerome and Bisbee are charming, crumbling old mining towns loaded with antiques and oddballs. Sedona is known for new agers, crystal gazers and hippies with money. Flagstaff is a college town and a mountain town—thus cool in two ways. Tucson is a college town too: home of University of Arizona, rival of Tempe’s Arizona State University. Individual sights throughout the state that are worth the drive: Out of Africa, Biosphere 2, and of course the Grand Canyon.

The leafy plaza outside Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott is a site of frequent summertime festivals, and a lovely, quiet middle-of-town park at most other times. (©Ken Lund/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Head Underground

Select an obscure beer from the inventory of Sun Devil Liquors in Mesa and enjoy it immediately in the below-store bar. Go upscale while heading downstairs to a chef’s table dinner in the wine cellar of LON’s at the Hermosa in Paradise Valley. Enjoy seafood below street level at Scottsdale’s Salt Cellar or steaks and pastas in the basement hideaway of Rokerij in Phoenix. Explore art exhibits in the subterranean galleries of Mesa Contemporary Arts or Tempe’s ASU Art Museum. And don’t forget one of the state’s best “accidental” underground attractions: Kartchner Caverns in Benson, which was discovered by spelunkers in 1974 and protected as a state park in 1988.

The 57-degree wine cellar at LON’s is only open for public dining (with reservations 72 hours in advance) through September.

Seek Water

Indulge in the delightful irony of a lake cruise or water ride in the middle of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Options include: 

• Gondola rides with singing guides at the Hyatt Scottsdale

• The splash log ride at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park in Litchfield Park

• Kayak and pontoon boat rentals on Tempe Town Lake

• Pedal boats on the Enchanted Island pond in Encanto Park

• Floating with Salt River Tubing in the Tonto National Forest

• A Dolly Steamboat cruise on Canyon Lake

• A Desert Belle cruise on Saguaro Lake

• Themed cruises on Lake Pleasant

Sailing the secret seas of the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale (©Hyatt)

Take Amazing Photos

Extend your selfie stick or bring a camera-toting buddy to document yourself perched inside Hole in the Rock in Phoenix’s Papago Park, standing below the glowing light-rail bridge over Tempe Town Lake, or genuflecting in front of your hometown baseball team’s Cactus League stadium. Nail this year’s holiday family photo by peeking through the letters of the “LOVE” sculpture on Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. Epic Arizona sights like Red Rock Crossing in Sedona, Horseshoe Bend in Page and John Ford’s Point in Monument Valley are also photo-ready—they just take a few hours of driving to reach.

John Wayne director John Ford used this Monument Valley view in many movies. (©Jim Trodel/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Map: 49 Perfect Reasons for a Summer Vacation in Arizona