The Valley of the Sun (or just “the Valley”) encompasses Phoenix and a metropolitan area of more than 20 cities. Phoenix has some 1.6 million residents (more than Philadelphia, fewer than Houston); the whole metropolitan area has a population of 4.6 million. Besides Tempe and Scottsdale, there are now genuine downtown “scenes” in cities like Gilbert. Still, much of the Valley will come across as undifferentiated suburb to those from just about anywhere other than the Sun Belt. You have to remember that great restaurants or shops are often found in an unprepossessing strip mall.

Downtown Phoenix -- While residents of the outer city and the suburbs often use this term to refer to central Phoenix generally, the actual Downtown, with its high-rise office towers, is clustered around Central Avenue and Washington Street and stretches from 7th Street to 7th Avenue. (The state government complex is a mile west.) Here you’ll find Arizona State University’s ever-expanding downtown Phoenix campus, as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and the Phoenix Suns’ Talking Stick Resort Arena. Several major performing arts venues and museums are located close by, and there’s a big convention center.

Heading north on Central, the area around the intersection of Indian School Rd. is called Midtown. The intersection of Central Avenue and Camelback Road a mile north is Uptown, which has several good restaurants and even—heavens!—actual pedestrians. From there, Central Avenue continues north through miles of expensive homes.

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Biltmore District -- “The Biltmore,” as it’s called, 3 miles east of Uptown on the Camelback Corridor, centers on Camelback Road between 24th and 40th streets. You’ll find upscale shopping, a few residential and office towers, and local landmarks like the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, the Wrigley Mansion, and the chi-chi Biltmore Fashion Park shopping mall, at 24th Street and Camelback Road.

Arcadia -- Just east of the Biltmore, Arcadia includes the intersection of Camelback and 44th Street, a cluster of upscale stores and restaurants, and some very expensive homes stretching east toward Scottsdale and creeping up the sides of Camelback Mountain. Indian School Road, a mile south of Camelback, has become a strip of lively restaurants as well.

Scottsdale -- Scottsdale, a narrow city of 250,000, forms the east border of Phoenix. It extends from Tempe in the south up past Carefree in the north, a distance of some 30 miles. Downtown Scottsdale includes Old Town (Western-themed galleries and shops), the Waterfront (upscale shopping and restaurants next to a canal), the swanky Scottsdale Fashion Square mall, and a raucous nightlife quarter. North Scottsdale has miles and miles of shopping and restaurants along Scottsdale and Hayden roads.

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Tempe -- Tempe is the home of Arizona State University and has lots of nightclubs and bars as well as all the other trappings of a university town. Mill Avenue, which has dozens of interesting shops along a stretch of about 6 blocks, is the center of activity both day and night. This is one of the few areas in the Valley where locals actually walk the streets and hang out at sidewalk cafes. (Old Town Scottsdale always has people on its streets, but few are locals.)

Paradise Valley -- This 15-square-mile residential enclave, surrounded by Phoenix and Scottsdale, is largely nestled between Camelback and Mummy mountains north of the Biltmore. Multi-acre desert lots with expensive homes are ringed by gazillion-dollar mountainside manses. The town is spotted with topline resorts as well.

Mesa -- This fast-growing eastern suburb, home to some tech activity and an extravagant Mormon Temple, is marked by large shopping malls, numerous chain motels, and the beautiful Mesa Arts Center.

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Gilbert -- A welcome respite from the somewhat bland East Valley, charming downtown Gilbert is a few blocks of two-story buildings fronting N. Gilbert Road a few miles south of route 60. It has several restaurants and an old-fashioned water tower that stands over a fun splash pad for kids.

Chandler -- Lying to the south of Tempe, this city has been booming over the past decade. New restaurants have opened, and the old downtown has had a bit of a face-lift. This area is of interest primarily to east Valley residents, but there is an attractive older resort right in downtown Chandler.

Glendale -- The Valley’s major northwest suburb has a semi-historic downtown, with dozens of antiques shops. A few miles west of that is an enormous sports, entertainment, and shopping complex, which includes the University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Arizona Cardinals play football, and the Gila River Arena, home of the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team. A casino is under construction just to the north.

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Carefree & Cave Creek -- About 20 miles north of Old Scottsdale, these two communities represent the Old West and the New West. Carefree is a planned community and home to the prestigious Boulders Resort and el Pedregal shopping center. Neighboring Cave Creek, on the other hand, plays up its Western heritage with contemporary cow-town architecture and a preponderance of saloons, steakhouses, and shops selling Western crafts and other gifts.

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.