Abandon your expectations of Phoenix. The desert metropolis, once dismissed as an ever-sprawling suburb, is transforming into a cultural hub, building a host of new, architecturally significant museums, developing arts districts, and weaving together communities with a new light-rail network.
To visitors, the Valley of the Sun is a recreational nirvana, where warm days by the pool or on the links melt into a blazing sea of color at sunset. This heady mix of sun and fun has tempted many to make a permanent move.
But Phoenicians, like most city dwellers, aren’t content to simply waste away in a dreamy haze of margaritas. The pioneering spirit is alive and well in the country’s fifth-largest city, and Phoenicians are determined to create a vibrant, culturally relevant city on par with its Sun Belt sisters in Miami, Austin , and Los Angeles . They want their ice cream cake, and they’ll eat it, too.
The dramatic landscape and Western spirit have conspired to create a unique destination. Sure, you’ll find prickly cacti, lots of sunshine, and all the things you think you already know about Phoenix, but you’ll also discover a unique sensibility. Get to know the city and its residents by having brunch at the Farm at South Mountain  or simply lounge by the pool to savor that favorite Phoenician punch line—“the dry heat.”
Phoenix shouldn’t be explored as a succession of tourist sites à la New York or Washington, D.C. Instead, think of the city as a collection of experiences: the scent of orange blossoms in the spring or the sound of gravel beneath your feet as you climb Piestewa Peak . Sample authentic corn tortillas and carne asada at the small taquerias that dot the city, or discover the ancient culture of the region’s Native American people at the Heard Museum . These subtle—often hidden—pleasures will linger long after a suntan begins to fade.