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ESSENTIALS: Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix, once known as little more than a tanning salon for traveling retirees, has become the Arizona desert's vacation oasis for all ages. Boasting some of the best Southwestern and Mexican food you’ll find anywhere, Phoenix and the surrounding area offers 300 days of sunshine a year, plush resorts, outstanding museums, 250 plus golf courses, and culture (from art galleries to symphony concerts). Exploring the Valley of the Sun from fall-to-spring delivers an exceptional vacation experience.

Touch scarlet cactus fruit and watch butterflies touch down on wildflowers and giant saguaro cacti at the Desert Botanical Garden (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy.), where you'll find plenty of Sonoran Desert wonders to admire.

Visit the Heard Museum – a museum of native cultures and art. Among the exhibits in its 12 galleries are contemporary, ethnological and historical materials of Southwestern Native Americans; Native American basketry, jewelry and pottery; and Kachina dolls.

Pamper yourself in one of the spa capitals of the world. Walking through the tranquil lobby of the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort (2400 E. Missouri Ave.)—with architecture inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright—is a great way to begin your luxurious experience. At the spa, delight in a massage with warm basalt stones.

Go power shopping in Scottsdale, (about a 30-minute drive north of Phoenix). In the Scottsdale Arts District (along Main Street between 69th Street and Brown Avenue and Marshall Way from 5th Avenue to 1st Street) you can browse art galleries galore. Nearby in Old Town Scottsdale (bordered by N. Scottsdale and E. Indian School roads, E. 2nd Street and N. Drinkwater Boulevard)—with its Wild West-themed wooden storefronts—you'll find touristy trinket emporiums and dealers of authentic Native American crafts. Funky clothing boutiques and one-of-a-kind shops line 5th Avenue.

Be a cowpoke for a day and ride a horse through Sonoran Desert country. In the foothills of South Mountain Park (main entrance at 109019 S. Central Ave.) you can trot and canter along more than 40 miles of trails. Hire horses and guides through Ponderosa Stables (10215 S. Central Ave.), or contact the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Tour the grounds and building complex at Taliesin West, the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright. Splurge on the 90-minute Insights Tour, which visits Wright's personal living quarters; the basic 1-hour Panorama Tour does not.

And, if pro sports are your thing, there are plenty of opportunities to partake in Phoenix: the NBA Suns play at Talking Stick Resort Arena. In Glendale, the NHL Coyotes duke it out with the competition at Gila River Arena. Or take yourself out to the ballgame and root for the MLB Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

Indulge in a pampering resort stay at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale. And don’t forget, just visit your AAA Travel Agent or call 800-444-8691 and will help plan your trip to the jewel of the southwest desert.

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