Area Codes—The area code in Phoenix is 602; in Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, and the east valley, it’s 480; in Glendale and the west valley, it’s 623. The area code for Tucson and southeastern Arizona is 520. The rest of the state is area code 928.
ATMs—In Arizona, you’ll find ATMs (cashpoints) just about everywhere. Fees tend to be higher at gas-station minimarts and most hotels and motels. To avoid fees, use your debit card in grocery stores and ask for cash back with your purchase.
Disabled Travelers—Thanks to provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act, most public places—hotels, restaurants, museums, public transit—are required to comply with accessibility regulations, although landmarked buildings are often exempt.
Arizona Raft Adventures (www.azraft.com; tel. 800/786-7238) offers Grand Canyon rafting trips for people with disabilities. In the northwest corner of the state, Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch (www.stagecoachtrailsranch.com; tel. 866/444-4471 or 928/727-8270) is a guest ranch designed to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. All the ranch buildings are accessible, and there are horseback-riding programs for persons with disabilities.
The America the Beautiful Access Pass gives travelers with visual impairments or those with permanent disabilities (regardless of age) free lifetime entrance to federal recreation sites administered by the National Park Service. You can apply for the Access Pass at any National Park Service facility that charges an entrance fee, or through the mail, with an application available online. You need to show proof of a medically determined disability. For more info, go to www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm.
Drinking Laws—The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Arizona is 21; proof of age is required, so it’s a good idea to bring ID when you go out. In Arizona, liquor is sold at supermarkets and convenience stores. Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn’t zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot. The state aggressively prosecutes drunk drivers; don’t even think about driving while intoxicated.
Electricity—Like Canada, the United States uses 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Emergencies—Call [tel] 911 to report a fire, call the police, or get an ambulance anywhere in the U.S. This is a toll-free call from public telephones. Be aware, however, that you may not always have cell phone service in remote locales, in mountainous areas, and sometimes even on highways.
Family Travel—If you're planning to take in the sights in northern Arizona, keep in mind that distances are great out here. Don’t expect to find someplace to eat whenever the kids are hungry; rest areas are few and far between. Pack food before heading out on a long drive. Also bring plenty to entertain the kids as you drive for hours through the same desert scenery.
Virtually all of the top resorts in Phoenix and Tucson offer children's programs, often elaborate ones.
Legal Aid—While driving, if you are pulled over for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. You'll be given a ticket for which you can mail in a fine in lieu of appearing in court. If you are accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. In the U.S., the burden is on the state to prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested, a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice. The international visitor should call his or her embassy or consulate.
LGBT Travelers—Phoenix and Tucson have lively LGBT communities, focused in the downtown areas. See chapters 4 and 9 for local guides for gay doings. The rest of the state remains somewhat backward—most of the state's elected officials, for example, fought gay marriage until the bitter end. Tourist areas will be fine, but in out-of-the-way towns, overt same-sex couples might find themselves the object of comment or worse.
Mail—At press time, domestic postage rates were 35[ce] for a postcard, 50[ce] for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter or postcard of up to 1 ounce costs $1.15. For more info go to www.usps.com.
Marijuana—Medical cannabis is legal, and there are dispensaries in even the state's smaller cities. You need a doctor's prescription and a state-issued ID to buy; these are not available to tourists. A provision in the state's law gives some cover to visitors with medical-marijuana certification from another state. That said, a vote for full legalization lost in 2016; possession of any non-prescription marijuana is a felony in Arizona. Phoenix, Tucson, Scottsdale, and Tempe don't engage in undue prosecutions, but I wouldn't take my chances in other jurisdictions. Travelers from states where cannabis is legal should not bring cannabis into Arizona if they don’t have medical cards.
Money & Costs—What will a vacation in Arizona cost? That depends on your comfort needs. If you drive an RV or carry a tent, you can get by very inexpensively and find a place to stay almost anywhere in the state. If you don’t mind staying in motels that date from the 1940s, you can stay for less money in Arizona than almost anyplace else in the U.S., paying under $40 a night for a double in some off-the-beaten-track places; in southern Arizona in summer, even tony resorts may offer rooms for not much more. On the other hand, you can easily spend many hundreds of dollars a day on a room at a world-class resort in high season. Rooms in Sedona and at the Grand Canyon are at a premium; plan on spending between $150 and $200 for a midlevel room. In most places, clean, modern motels at interstate highway off-ramps charge $45 to $65 a night for a double room (a little bit more in Phoenix and Tucson).
Newspapers & Magazines—The Arizona Republic (azcentral.com), published out of Phoenix, is Arizona’s largest daily paper; the Tucson paper is the Arizona Daily Star, www.tucson.com. Arizona Highways is a beautiful and informative monthly magazine published by the Arizona Department of Transportation. The alternative paper in Phoenix is New Times, www.phoenixnewtimes.com. Tucson’s Tucson Sentinel is a lively local news website, at www.tucsonsentinel.com.
Safety—Arizona's violent crime rate ranks in the middle of U.S. states. Phoenix, like most other big cities, has seen murder rates on average go down from 20 years ago. Violent crime in tourist areas is fairly rare. You can expect to encounter U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints in the southern part of the state. Don’t leave valuables, especially purses, wallets, or cameras, in view in your car when going for a hike or taking pictures at a scenic overlook. Rental cars are particular targets.
When driving long distances, always carry plenty of drinking water and, if you’re heading off onto dirt roads, extra water for your car’s radiator as well. When hiking or walking in the desert, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes; these poisonous snakes are not normally aggressive unless provoked, so give them a wide berth. Kids particularly should be warned about goofing around near cactus; an accidental fall on one can range from the painful (a prickly pear) to the agonizing (the mischievous cholla).
Senior Travel—With its abundant sunshine, Arizona has long been a favorite vacation and retirement destination with seniors. The state goes out of its way to accommodate senior travelers with discounts on accommodations and attractions, discounted "early-bird" dinners at many restaurants, and economical places to park RVs. Seniors should get an America the Beautiful Senior Pass, issued by the U.S. National Park Service, which gives seniors 62 years or older lifetime entrance to all properties administered by the National Park Service for a one-time fee of $80. (A $20 annual pass is also available at any federal park site.) Besides free entry, the America the Beautiful Senior Pass also offers a 50% discount on some fees for camping, swimming, parking, boat launching, and tours. You can apply for the Access Pass at any National Park Service facility that charges an entrance fee, or go online to get an application to mail in. For more info, go to www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm.
Smoking—With the exception of buildings on tribal lands and at tobacco retailers, smoking is prohibited in public indoor spaces throughout Arizona. This regulation applies to restaurants and bars, although they can have outdoor patios where smoking is allowed. In my experience these are rare.
Speeding—Most highway traffic in Arizona moves along at 9 or 10 miles over the posted speed limit, and the chance of being pulled over when you are moving along with normal traffic is nil. But be aware of Arizona's "felony speeding" law: You can be arrested for going more than 20 miles over the speed limit, or exceeding 85mph, which is 10 miles over the top state speed limit of 75mph. This law is selectively enforced, but a fun family vacation can turn into a major bummer if the cop who pulls you over for going 87mph is having a bad day.
Taxes—In Arizona, the state, counties, and communities can all levy a sales tax (officially called a transaction privilege tax). In most places, you’ll pay 9% or more. On car rentals at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, expect to pay 50% or more in taxes and surcharges; at Tucson Airport, you’ll pay around 30%. You can sometimes save 10% or so on surcharges if you rent outside the airports, but sometimes the rental rates are higher outside of the airport, which cancels out the savings. Hotel room taxes range from around 9% to 17%. There is no sales tax at nonprofit gift shops, including those at museums.
Time—The continental United States is divided into four time zones: Eastern Standard Time (EST), Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), and Pacific Standard Time (PST). For example, when it's 5pm in London (GMT), it’s noon in New York City (EST), 11am in Chicago (CST), 10am in Phoenix (MST), and 9am in Los Angeles (PST). Daylight saving time moves clocks ahead one hour at 1am on the second Sunday in March, and moves them back one hour at 1am the first Sunday in November. Here's the problem: Arizona doesn't observe daylight saving time. That means that Arizona is an hour ahead of L.A. in winter months but on the same time zone as the west coast during the summer. If you’re traveling around the Southwest, remember that as you cross state lines in or out of Arizona you may or may not have to change the time on your watches and phones, depending on the season. And just to make things more complicated, in the northeastern corner of the state, you're technically in Navajo country—where daylight saving time is followed! This can trip you up on everything from hotel check-in or check-out times to tour reservations. Make a mental note of this if you’re traveling in summer.
Tipping—Foreign visitors might not realize that the custom of tipping is built into the U.S. service economy; most restaurant and hotel workers are paid low wages with the expectation that they’ll make up for it in tips. Unless you’re unhappy with the service, a tip is expected. In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2–$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the maid staff at least $1–$2 per day (more if you’ve left a big mess to be cleaned up). I personally put cash into the hands of the maid to make sure she gets it. Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets).
Tip a valet-parking attendant $2 every time you get your car.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff 15% to 20% of the check; bartenders $1 for a beer, $2 for a mixed drink; and checkroom attendants $1 or $2 per garment.
Tip cab drivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $2 per bag; and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.
Toilets—You won’t find public toilets or “restrooms” on the streets in most U.S. cities. Instead, use facilities in hotel lobbies, bars and restaurants, department stores, grocery and "big-box" stores, and service stations. Once in a while you'll find a restaurant with a "customers only" sign on the restrooms, but I'd be surprised if any would refuse a polite request. Hotels and fast-food restaurants are the best bet for clean facilities.
Visitor Information—For statewide travel information, contact the Arizona Office of Tourism (www.arizonaguide.com; tel. 866/275-5816). See the individual chapters for details on local tourist offices. For suggested driving tours along Arizona’s scenic roads, check out Arizona Scenic Roads at www.arizonascenicroads.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.