Photo Courtesy of Sven van der Pluijm
With everything from alpine forests to deserts dotted with saguaro cacti, the landscape in Arizona is mesmerizing. The state’s natural landmarks are most readily apparent, but thousands of years of human habitation have also made their mark on the terrain—many of the canals that irrigate Phoenix fol…low the contours of ditches dug by the ancient Hohokam people. The unwaveringly sunny weather makes an outdoor lifestyle possible year-round, and a growing food scene means you’ll be well fed during your visit. In Arizona, the Grand Canyon is really just the beginning.
What to know before you go to Arizona
Visit October through early May to avoid the stifling heat. Places like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, which are exceedingly popular in the summer, will also be quieter in late spring or early fall. If your trip does coincide with the warmer months, the Mogollon Rim highlands offer cool relief. Meanwhile, Flagstaff is the perfect winter playground. Just remember that snowy road closures are common at higher elevations. No matter when you visit, be prepared for cool nights everywhere in the state.
Arizona’s two major airports are in Phoenix and Tucson. By car, I-10 and I-40 are the main east–west routes across the state. El Paso to Tucson is about a four-hour drive, and from Los Angeles to Phoenix is about five and a half hours.
A car—with air-conditioning, and ideally tinted windows—is an absolute must to get around the state. Always carry extra water.
Arizona has a burgeoning local food scene that goes far beyond Mexican and cowboy fare. Vineyards and orchards blanket higher elevations across the state, while citrus fruits and pecans thrive in the heat. Though desert covers much of the state, the sea is only a few hours away, so ceviche and sushi are as popular as chimichangas and steaks. If you want to try Southwest fusion or international cuisine, head to Tucson and Phoenix—these diverse cities do the food of many regions well. Just save room for a prickly pear margarita, and remember that guacamole and salsa are as Arizonan as red rocks and cacti.
A historic blend of American Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures makes Arizona a much more eclectic destination than many realize. Pre-Columbian ruins sit alongside modern cattle ranches, while the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a masterpiece of baroque desert architecture near Tucson, was founded by the Spanish in the 1690s and still serves as the parish church for the local Tohono O’odham nation. Arizona also has some excellent museums, such as the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Arizona State Museum in Tucson.
In Arizona, there are even festivals for every taste and season. Winter brings the Renaissance Festival, Tucson Rodeo, Tucson International Gem and Mineral Show, Tucson Festival of Books, and the Fiesta Bowl, while the spring sees the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, Tucson International Mariachi Conference, and Country Thunder. Summer is the time for the Annual Festival of Navajo Arts & Culture, Prescott Frontier Days, and the Sedona Hummingbird Festival. And in the fall, enjoy grape-stomping at various wineries, the Arizona State Fair, and El Tour de Tucson cycling events.
Summer is jaw-droppingly hot, but you can still enjoy the outdoors—just start at dawn so you can finish well before mid-morning. If you get caught in a sandstorm while driving, pull off the road and turn your lights off. Finally, when in Arizona, burritos are called burros.
read before you go
more about Arizona
Joseph Cyr is a language teacher certified in French and Spanish. After living in Germany, Georgia, Seattle, France, and Nicaragua, he now calls Tucson home. Discovering new places and their flavors is a constant quest, and his current language-learning project is Korean. His writing and photography have appeared in Seattle and Tucson newspapers, as well as in mobile photography exhibits. Occasional musings and snapshots can be found at Allophile.com.