Lay of the Land
Phoenix / Scottsdale
The Greater Phoenix Area is great indeed. Centered around the city of Phoenix, where flights arrive at Sky International Airport, it’s a suburban sprawl and home to more than two thirds of Arizona’s population. Even “downtown Phoenix” feels like a charming suburb, as does Scottsdale, one of the area’s most coveted cities. Most of the best resorts and restaurants are grouped between Phoenix and Scottsdale along Camelback Road, which serves as the main thoroughfare spanning from east to west. The top zip code here is Paradise Valley or PV, which is home to such hotels as the Sanctuary on Camelback and the Hermosa Inn. Old Scottsdale, the so-called “desert version of Miami’s South Beach” (according to the New York Times) is pretty touristy, though there are some good restaurants and the lovely Museum of Contemporary Art.
A two hour drive north from the desert plains of Phoenix, Sedona is most famous for red rock canyons (closely followed by its large concentration of tarot card–wielding psychics). The area’s natural beauty definitely deserves more attention than a quick drive through en route to the Grand Canyon, which lies another two hours north. The most scenic drive is the last stretch along Route 179, framed by crimson cliffs and valleys of such ethereal beauty as to render even the biggest skeptics speechless.
The Grand Canyon is a quintessential American destination and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Located in northwestern Arizona, the canyon extends for nearly 2,000 square miles (but is entirely located within the state of Arizona and doesn’t spill into Utah or Nevada as some believe). Its two main entrances, the South Rim and the North Rim, are both easily accessible by car. The more popular South Rim is a four-hour drive from Phoenix and a 1h30min drive from Flagstaff.
The more remote North Rim gets just 10 percent of the visitors as the South Rim. At a much higher elevation, it’s most easily accessed from Las Vegas (4h45min) or by driving from Utah’s Amangiri (3 hours). The drive from the South Rim to the North Rim takes a little over four hours.
The accommodations in Grand Canyon National Parks are always booked, often up to one year in advance. El Tovar Hotel is the most upscale, followed by the cabins of Bright Angel Lodge, but depending on the season you’re traveling, you may not have much of a choice. These are not five-star accommodations but the point is waking up near the rim of one of the world’s Seven Wonders.
Unless you plan on only lying by the hotel pool, you will need a car to explore the greater Phoenix area. Thanks to the fact that the airport is practically located in the center of the city, you can be dining at a great restaurant or exploring sites like the Desert Botanic Garden within an hour of arriving.