A weekend in the nation's fifth-largest city is ample time to discover fantastic dining, a wealth of history and an exciting local culture.
Where to Stay
Hotel San Carlos
This Italian Renaissance-style hotel has been a Phoenix landmark since 1928. In the heart of downtown Phoenix, the Hotel San Carlos started as a 1-room schoolhouse that was later transformed into exclusive getaway for golden-era Hollywood names like Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant. The hotel's 2-room suites are named after these famous guests. Today guests of the Hotel San Carlos enjoy excellent service at a hotel that has stood the test of time.
The Clarendon Hotel
The Clarendon is a beautiful boutique hotel with well-appointed, modern rooms. However, most guests of this luxurious hotel spend their time poolside; Italian sun beds and cabanas surround a stunning swimming pool equipped with underwater speakers, scalp- and shoulder-massaging jets, and bubbling fountains. In the evening, the rooftop terrace offers views of the Phoenix skyline as well as delicious pre-dinner cocktails.
Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain
For a truly restful and rejuvenating retreat, take a pass on the high-rise hotels and book at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain. The former tennis ranch features an infinity pool, serene spa and rooms complete with wood-burning fireplaces and canopy beds. Designed by Hiram Hudson Benedict, a prot��g�� of Frank Lloyd Wright, it features unobstructed views of the surrounding Pleasant Valley.
Where to Eat
Breakfast and Brunch
Matt's Big Breakfast on N. First St. is a popular diner that serves heaping plates of Chop and Chick (pork chops and eggs). A local favorite, the small dining room fills up fast causing a line of early birds to pour out onto the street. Another option is the Welcome Diner, a no-frills breakfast stop whose fried egg sandwiches can't be beat.
Garcia's Las Avenidas
With the Mexican border just a 3-hour ride away, finding Mexican food in Phoenix is a breeze. For some of the city's best, head to Garcia's Las Avenidas, a family-run restaurant known for its traditional menu and mariachi band. Home-style favorites like tacos and enchiladas are offered in generous proportions that won't break the bank.
Serving contemporary American cuisine with a French influence, Binkley's is another local favorite. Located 35 miles north of downtown Phoenix, the casual atmosphere combined with sophisticated food is well worth the drive. Chef Kevin Binkley was among the top 20 contenders for the 2008 James Beard Award. Sample the menu in the comfortable main dining room, the more intimate wine room, at the bar or al fresco on the patio.
What to See & Do
This might be the most unique architectural structure in Phoenix. Designed in the 1930s by Boyce Luther Galley for his daughter, Mary Lou, the castle was constructed largely of found objects. Mary Lou still occasionally helps out on tours of her father's masterpiece. The house is adorned with all matter of objects, including tree branch chairs, crooked windows and Indian artifacts.
Central Phoenix is home to a cluster of galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Vintage clothing can be found in many of the small boutiques along Roosevelt St. Made Art Boutique stocks old magazines, ceramics and jewelry and Conspire on N. Fifth St. serves espresso amongst its racks of local designs. For more well-known designers, check out the recently remodeled Biltmore Fashion Park, a mostly open-air mall, home to names like Cartier, Ralph Lauren and Cole Haan.
The Heard Museum
There are several active American Indian tribes in the Phoenix area, and almost all of them have contributed displays or materials to the Heard Museum. One of Heard's highly regarded exhibits chronicles the American Indian boarding schools and the assimilating experience many American Indian children faced as they were removed from reservations and integrated into white, Christian communities.
Desert Botanical Garden
Take a break from the surrounding desert with a trip to these beautiful botanical gardens. Covering 50 acres in Papago Park, visitors can stop and smell the towering cacti and flowers native to the Arizona heat.
Sky Lounge on E. Washington St. is a Latin club with a frenzied dance floor and music video vibe. If rock is more your scene, visit Alice Cooperstown, named after the resident Phoenix rocker, Alice Cooper. Food, drinks and serious rock n' roll attitude accompany the live bands at this venue.
Kazimierz World Wine Bar provides a more subdued evening out. Choose from some 2,900 wines from more than 40 nations and people-watch the hip clientele. Live jazz begins after 9, but arrive a bit earlier to secure seating.
Travel Channel Insider's Tip:
The summer months in Phoenix can be very hot, making traveling and sightseeing difficult, especially for those with children or older companions. Plan around the summer heat to make the most of your trip.