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Spotlight on:
Valley of the Sun

Endless activities await visitors to this desert oasis

In the heart of Arizona lies a cluster of communities that seem to have risen like mirages from the desert sands. The Valley of the sun attracts hikers, golfers, art lovers, students and more to its eclectic assortment of attractions.

A great place to start is the heart of the valley—Phoenix, Arizona, with the perfect winter climate, major league sports teams and recreation galore has seen considerable growth over the last few decades, making it the sixth largest city in America. For visitors, this means is that you'll never run out of things to do.

Phoenix is located in Maricopa County, which is roughly the size of New Hampshire. Four other cites make up the Phoenix metropolitan area—Scottsdale, Glendale, Tempe and Mesa. Each area has a unique flare and plenty to offer visitors, whether you're just passing through or plan to stay for the winter.

The Phoenix area is truly a snowbird paradise. The average winter temperature is 67 degrees, and 85 percent of all daytime hours are sunny. You can't deny that your friends in the snowbelt would be jealous as they shovel their driveways Each of the communities in the Phoenix metro have lavish RV resorts that rent by the night, week or month.

Since you're coming to a place that has nonstop sunshine, you might as well bring your clubs. Phoenix has over 200 golf courses awaiting your arrival. From beginner to expert, you'll be able to find a course that suits your skill level. Depending on how long you want to stay, you could spend every hour of your vacation on the links. A few of the dozens of RV resorts even have 18-hole golf courses on site.

As Phoenix has expanded, so has its sports scene. The city is home to the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks, the NBA's Phoenix Suns and the National Hockey League's Phoenix Coyotes. Nearby Tempe is home to the annual Tostito Bowl for college football and, most recently, the MLB Cactus League, played throughout the region, has become a popular attraction for baseball fans to catch the Boys of Summer in spring training.

Hot Air Balloons
Phoenix also has the prefect climate for another sport—hot air ballooning. The lack of humidity, warm thermals and limited wind make balloon pilots positively giddy. There are about a dozen companies that offer balloon rides year round. You can leave the sounds of the city on the ground and see the magnificence of the desert from your private basket. The beauty of riding in a hot-air balloon is the pace of the trip. Everything slows down and you just float above the landscape. You will literally see what a bird sees so make sure you take your camera because these will be pictures your grandkids will show to their grandkids.

Because this is the perfect place to launch a balloon, there are a number of hot-air balloon festivals throughout the year, but most happen in the early winter months of January and February. You'll have to get up early because most festivals launch just before dawn. The beauty of the brightly colored balloons, glowing from the burners that make them lift, is unlike many other events you'll ever attend. You'll see hundreds of balloons lifting into the sky making a kaleidoscope of color against the horizon.

Phoenix has an eclectic selection of museums that's bound to intrigue visitors. For instance, you can make a stop at the Hall of Flame Museum in Phoenix to learn about America's unsung heroes: firefighters. The museum has fire apparatus dating back to 1725, and although most of the equipment is American, some pieces have come from as far away as England, France and Germany. Stunning exhibits celebrate firefighters who face challenges from burning forests to blazing skyscrapers.

Another interesting attraction is the Musical Instrument Museum. The name explains the museum, but it doesn't say it all. Here, you'll find Elvis Presley's guitar, get the opportunity to bang a gong from the Congo or experience jazz as performed by Ella Fitzgerald. Of course, there are instruments from all over the world. This is a must-see for every musician, and even the folks who aren't as musically inclined will find this place inspiring.

Chances are you've heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect from the first half of the 20th century. Did you know that Wright left a large footprint in Arizona? Wright used architecture as an art form, styling his buildings to fit the landscape and using indigenous building materials to make them harmonize. Wright built his winter home, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, and the structure stands as a tribute to the artist. He used it as his home adn his studio and, today, it serves as a school of architecture that teaches Wright's philosophy and techniques. Tours are given daily of Taliesin West, but visitors can also see Wright's work throughout the Phoenix area. There are 11 Wright buildings in Phoenix, including the Biltmore Hotel, the Grady Gammage Auditorium and the First Christian Church.

Botanical Gardens
Still looking for something to do? Check out the Desert Botanical Gardens located between Tempe and Scottsdale. The botanical gardens have over 140 different desert plant species – nearly 20,000 plants total on 50 acres. Of course, you'd expect to see cactus in an Arizona garden and you won't be disappointed because there are over 10,000 cactus plants surrounded by flowers, some of which bloom at night. Come check out the Sonoran Desert in its most pristine setting.

Surrounding Cities
Here are a few tips to enjoy the cities that make up the Valley of the Sun. Scottsdale is home to Taliesin West, once Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home. Take the guided tour of this renowned architect's desert masterpiece, now the main campus for the school of architecture. Next, venture to Scottsdale's newest entertainment destination, the Scottsdale Waterfront, located on the newly developed Arizona Canal in "Old Town."

South Bridge, the Waterfront's newest area for shopping and dining, features independent retailers and restaurants that offer eclectic wares and fares. Enjoy lunch at METRO—which is known for its lighter fare, so you can easily grab and go and not miss a shopping beat. In the evening, dine at Upstairs at Estate House with its outdoor patio and sweeping views of spectacular Camelback Mountain.

Go to the middle of it all in Tempe. In the morning, take a tour of Gammage Auditorium (call for reservations). This structure, built by Frank Lloyd Wright, resembles a tiered birthday cake and was originally intended to be the royal opera house in Baghdad. The Arizona State University campus is the proud home of this beautiful venue, which hosts world-class concerts, modern theater productions and Broadway musicals.

While on campus, make time to visit the ASU Art Museum, considered to be one of the Southwest's most significant contemporary art institutions—and it's free. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden, a beautiful respite in the middle of the city that houses one of the world's finest collections of desert flora. In the evening, get to Mill Avenue—the hub of Tempe's dining and nightlife—to dance, take in the arts or just people watch.

Experience Chandler's past—from ostrich farms to a classic golf resort. Spend the day in Chandler, where ostrich ranching was once a prominent part of life. The city still celebrates its history at the annual Ostrich Festival in March, a must-see event. Along the way, visit the Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery of Western American and Native American Art. Next go for a walking tour of historic downtown chandler (self-guided) where you will discover a variety of museums, galleries and historical sites.

Lunch at one of the many award-winning, locally owned restaurants. Try El Zocalo Mexican Grille, where you will enjoy the lush and secluded patio oasis. In the evening catch a drama or concert performance at the Chandler Center for the Arts. Then, dine at Sushi Eye in Motion. Stay overnight at Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort, an Arizona landmark since 1912 and the first golf resort in Arizona.

Head to the Superstition Mountains, then explore Mesa. Get a taste of Arizona's colorful mining history at Goldfield Ghost Town at the Superstition Mountains. Have lunch at the Mammoth Saloon, pan for gold, take a narrow gauge train ride and witness an old west gun fight. Enjoy a walk down Main Street in downtown Mesa, where you can go antiquing, eat dinner at a sidewalk café or enjoy shopping at local boutiques.

Your day will be complete when you visit the Arizona Museum of Natural History. Here, you will learn about the Indian culture and natural history of the valley from the old west to the space age and from the dinosaurs to the conquistadors.

For More Information:
Greater Phoenix Convention and
Visitors Bureau

Arizona Office of Tourism