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Because the Phoenix area has long been popular as a winter refuge from cold and snow, it now has one of the greatest concentrations of resorts in the continental United States. However, even with all the hotel rooms here, sunshine and baseball's spring training combine to make it hard to find a room on short notice between February and April. If you plan to visit during these months, make your reservations as far in advance as possible. Also keep in mind that in late winter and early spring, the Phoenix metro area has some of the highest room rates in the country.

Most resorts offer a variety of weekend, golf, and tennis packages, as well as off-season discounts and corporate rates (which you can often get just by asking). I give the official "rack rates," or walk-in rates, but it always pays to ask about special discounts or packages. Sometimes you can get a lower rate just by asking. If a hotel isn't full and isn't expected to be, you should be able to get a lower rate. Also, don't forget your AAA or AARP discounts if you belong to one of these organizations. Remember that business hotels downtown and near the airport often lower their rates on weekends. Also, don't forget to check hotel websites for special deals.

If you're looking to save even more money, consider traveling during the shoulder seasons of late spring and early fall. Temperatures are not at their midsummer highs, and room rates are often only slightly higher than they are during the summer slow season. If you'll be traveling with children, always ask whether your child will be able to stay free in your room, and whether there's a limit on the number of children who can stay free.

I prefer to request a room with a view of the mountains whenever possible. You can overlook a swimming pool anywhere, but some of the main selling points of Phoenix and Scottsdale hotels are the views of Mummy Mountain, Camelback Mountain, and Piestewa Peak.

With the exception of valet-parking services and parking garages at downtown convention hotels, parking is free at most Phoenix hotels. If there is a parking charge, I have noted it. You'll find that all hotels have nonsmoking rooms and all but the cheapest have wheelchair-accessible rooms.

Bed & Breakfasts -- While most people dreaming of a Phoenix vacation have visions of luxury resorts dancing in their heads, there are some bed-and-breakfasts around the Valley. Mi Casa Su Casa (tel. 800/456-0682 or 480/990-0682; www.azres.com) can book you into dozens of different homes in the Valley of the Sun, as can Arizona Trails Travel Services (tel. 888/799-4284 or 480/837-4284; www.arizonatrails.com), which also books tour and hotel reservations.

Scottsdale

With half a dozen or so resorts lined up along Scottsdale Road, the city of Scottsdale is the center of the Valley's resort scene. And because Scottsdale is also the Valley's main shopping and dining district, this is the most convenient place to stay if you're here to eat and shop. However, traffic in Scottsdale is bad, the landscape at most resorts is flat (compared with the hillside settings in north Scottsdale), and you don't get much of a feel for the desert.

Inexpensive -- Despite the high-priced real estate, Scottsdale does have a few relatively inexpensive chain motels, although during the winter season, prices are higher than you might expect. For location alone, your best choice would be the Motel 6-Scottsdale, 6848 E. Camelback Rd. (tel. 480/946-2280), which has doubles for $76 to $79 during the high season.

North Scottsdale, Carefree & Cave Creek

With great golf courses, superb restaurants, rugged desert scenery, and a bit of Western character, this area gets my vote for best place to get away from it all, soak up some sun, and get to know the desert. The one caveat is that the resorts in this area are a 30-minute drive from downtown Scottsdale (longer during rush hour).

Central Phoenix & the Camelback Corridor

This area is the heart of the upscale Phoenix shopping and restaurant scene and is home to the prestigious Arizona Biltmore resort. Old money and new money rub shoulders along the avenues here, and valet parking is de rigueur. Located roughly midway between Old Scottsdale and downtown Phoenix, this area is a good bet for those intending to split their time between the downtown Phoenix cultural and sports district and the world-class shopping and dining in Scottsdale.

North Phoenix

Some of the Valley's best scenery is in north Phoenix, where several small mountains have been protected as parks and preserves; the two Pointe Hilton resorts claim great locations close to these parks. So, if you're looking for quick access to desert trails, the resorts here are good choices. However, the Valley's best shopping and dining, as well as most major attractions, are all at least a 30-minute drive away.

Downtown, South Phoenix & the Airport Area

Unless you're a sports fan or are in town for a convention, there's not much to recommend downtown Phoenix. Primarily a 9-to-5 neighborhood, downtown can feel like a ghost town at night. Even less recommendable, south Phoenix is one of the poorest parts of the city. However, it does have a couple of wealthy enclaves that are home to exceptional resorts, and Phoenix South Mountain Park is one of the best places in the city to experience the desert.

Tempe, Mesa & the East Valley

Tempe, which lies just a few miles east of the airport, is home to Arizona State University and consequently supports a lively nightlife scene. Along Tempe's Mill Avenue, you'll find one of the only neighborhoods in the Valley where locals actually get out of their cars and walk the streets. Tempe is also convenient to Papago Park, which is home to the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, a municipal golf course, and hiking and mountain-biking trails.

Inexpensive -- Apache Boulevard in Tempe becomes Main Street in Mesa, and along this stretch of road there are numerous old motels charging some of the lowest rates in the Valley. However, these motels are very hit-or-miss. If you're used to staying at nonchain motels, you might want to cruise this strip and check out a few places. Otherwise, try the chain motels in the area (which tend to charge $20-$40 more per night than nonchain motels).

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.