Here’s the truth: Arizona is hot. As a native Tucsonan, I learned early on to avoid direct contact with my seatbelt buckle directly upon entering the car between May and September. For most of the state, seasons are relegated to warm, hot, and hottest, and anyone who has spent time there has heard the unofficial—and very true—slogan echoed by locals, our only solace: “It’s a dry heat.”
And it is. According to the National Weather Service, the average July high temperature in the Phoenix area for the past 10 years has hovered around 106 Fahrenheit, and it breaks the 100-degree mark more than 100 days a year, but relative humidity is low, and air-conditioning is ubiquitous.
Although summer might not seem like the best time of year to travel to Arizona, it’s still very much worth it. Here are five reasons why.
Take advantage of deals, deals, deals
Traveling anywhere during its low season is a smart financial move; hotels and tour operators want to entice people to visit with low rates, and Arizona is no different (especially in the central and southern parts of the state, where temps are higher). So that means summer travel will get you even more bang for your buck in an otherwise low-cost destination. (The cost of living in the Grand Canyon State is already about 4 percent below the national average.)
The Phoenix metro area alone is a lodging savings smorgasboard. For example, a peak season stay in an entry-level room at the Four Seasons Scottsdale can run you almost $500 a night, whereas until August 30 you can book the same room for $189. Same goes for the Andaz Scottsdale, which opened last year: $429 peak season, but $139 in summer, making it a savings of more than 50 percent.
Some places are offering swag along with cut rates. Until September 1, industrial chic boutique hotel FOUND:RE has starting rates of $139 and include poolside goodies like $50 of food and beverage credit and floaties. Fairmont Scottsdale Princess’s “Best Summer Ever” package (starting at $179) includes a free session with the resort’s new “Instagram concierge,” who helps you snap the perfect summery pics among the property’s art installations and colorful backdrops. Get wet and wild
Arizona may be landlocked, but there are plenty of places to get your water fix. Lake Powell, for instance, is shared with Utah and is one of the largest man-made lakes in North America. But lesser-known gems abound, like Watson Lake outside of Prescott. Kayak, paddleboard, or lounge at the reservoir, which also has unusual reddish rock formations that jut out from the water–a great photo op at sunset.
Try flowboarding—a sport that combines elements of surfing, snowboarding, and wakeboarding—on the “FlowRider” at Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale. Adrenaline junkies who make it to Lake Pleasant can write home about their trip down H2Whoa, the world’s tallest floating slide. Recently it began offering “Friday Night Flights” between 8 and 10 p.m. so you can spend the day in air-conditioned bliss but still take advantage of the warm evenings. Take in some (air-conditioned) culture
The trick to living in a hot climate—aside from staying hydrated—is to spend the hottest hours inside with plenty of AC. Luckily, you can keep busy indoors at some of the state’s museums. One of the most popular is the Musical Instrument Museum, the largest museum of its kind in the world. More than 6,800 instruments are on display, including ones played by musical legends like Tito Puente and Elvis Presley. Summer is a quieter time to visit, although an array of events and activities for adults and kids alike are held year-round. Concerts to look forward to this summer season include a special performance of Tom Petty’s album Wildflowers, a celebration of island rock by acclaimed Hawaiian musician Henry Kapono, and an appearance by pop singer Lisa Loeb, among many others.
Art aficionados have plenty of possible stops. Rauschenberg and Johns: The Blurring of Art and Life, which displays rarely shown prints by two American greats, opened July 14 at the Phoenix Art Museum. Or head to the Heard Museum, where you can, for the first time, catch a retrospective of Richard Chavez’s handmade jewelry and, until September, see works by conceptual artist Nicholas Galanin. And photography buffs should go to the Center for Creative Photography, which houses the largest repository of Ansel Adams prints in the world.
To learn more about Arizona’s long history, take a trip to the Arizona State Museum. Founded in 1893, ASM is the oldest anthropological museum in the region and holds more than 3 million artifacts in its collections. Its exhibits teach about the region’s past and about how that past informs the present—recently opened exhibits highlight Hopi agriculture and ancestral Hopi life in the Little Colorado River area. Cool down with local brews and spirits
Arizona is home to a vibrant scene of craft brewers and cocktail creatives, and what better way to pass a warm summer evening than sipping a cold beverage at a local bar? Hit up Mother Road’s new taproom in Flagstaff (opened earlier this year to accompany its Pike location, also in Flagstaff) for great-tasting IPAs and some of the coolest beer can designs in the Southwest.
Head to Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company for Gilbert’s first craft brewery, which was founded five years ago (and is set to open a second location in downtown Phoenix next spring). A pair of bearded brewers leads the team, which is devoted to Arizona and capturing its sense of place in the beer they craft.
Or, indulge in some ironic drinking at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, a bar housed in a building that was once home to Arizona’s former prohibition office. The Downtown Phoenix spot features a 32-page storybook cocktail menu with custom illustrations and drinks so good the bar has been nominated two years running for world’s best cocktail menu by the industry-savvy Tales of the Cocktail crowd. Mixology nerds and imbibers who just want to beat the heat will appreciate their dedication to ice craft, too.
Further south, get a double dose of spirits at Owls Club in Tucson. The moody, whiskey-centric bar (whose cocktails all run at $9) took over a former funeral home chapel and opened at the end of 2016. For lighter atmosphere, try Borderlands Brewing Co. downtown: live music, an outdoor patio, and walking distance to the plethora of other downtown watering holes makes it a local mainstay. Try the Beer Without Borders Brown Ale, a “collabrew” between Borderlands and Buqui Bichi Brewing in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Those summer nights
Temperatures cool down in the evenings, which makes for great time to take advantage of the desert landscape. Pack a picnic or find a place to catch one of Arizona’s signature sunsets at Saguaro National Park. Then head to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which stays open until 10 p.m. through September 1st, to watch as the nocturnal animals wake up.
Night owls can shoot for a moonlight hike. Many trails are open past sunset (just be sure to check hours, if it’s located within a gated park). If you’re worried about dealing with unfamiliar critters emerging from the brush, you can opt for a guided one led by county parks and recreation departments (like Maricopa’s) or at an Arizona State Park. >>Next: The Unexpected Road Trip You Need to Take Now