Phoenix and the surrounding cities that together make up the Valley of the Sun sprawl across more than 400 square miles, so if you want to make the best use of your time, it's essential to have a car. Outside downtown Phoenix, there's almost always plenty of free parking wherever you go (although finding a parking space can be time-consuming in Old Scottsdale and at some of the more popular malls and shopping plazas). If you want to feel like a local, opt for the ubiquitous valet parking (just be sure to keep plenty of small bills on hand for tipping the parking attendants).
For the past few years Phoenix has had some of the highest car-rental rates in the country, and with taxes and surcharges at Sky Harbor Airport adding up to 50% or more, be prepared for sticker shock when you see what a 1-week car rental is going to run you. Expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $400 per week ($400-$600 with taxes) for a compact car in the high season.
All major rental-car companies have desks at Sky Harbor Airport's Rental Car Center, which is separate from the airport terminals and is served by a free shuttle bus. Be sure to leave time in your schedule to get from the Rental Car Center to the correct terminal for your flight. There are also plenty of other car-rental offices in Phoenix and Scottsdale and you can sometimes save a bit on your rental by picking up your car someplace other than the airport. Rental-car companies at the airport include the following: Advantage (tel. 800/777-5500 or 602/252-2811; www.advantage.com), Alamo (tel. 877/222-9075 or 602/244-0897; www.alamo.com), Avis (tel. 800/331-1212 or 602/261-5900; www.avis.com), Budget (tel. 800/527-0700 or 602/261-5950; www.budget.com), Dollar (tel. 800/800-3665 or 866/434-2226; www.dollar.com), Enterprise (tel. 800/261-7331 or 602/225-0588; www.enterprise.com), Fox (tel. 800/225-4369; www.foxrentacar.com), Hertz (tel. 800/654-3131 or 602/267-8822; www.hertz.com), National (tel. 877/222-9058 or 602/275-4771; www.nationalcar.com), Payless (tel. 800/729-5377 or 602/681-9589; www.paylesscar.com), and Thrifty (tel. 800/847-4389 or 877/283-0898; www.thrifty.com).
For a bit more style while you cruise from resort to golf course to nightclub, Rent-a-Vette, 1215 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale (tel. 888/308-5995 or 480/941-3001; www.exoticcarrentalsphoenix.com), charges $299 per day for a Corvette. It also rents Porsches, Mustangs, Camaros, Hummers, and a variety of Mercedes.
By Public Transportation
Unfortunately, Valley Metro (tel. 602/253-5000; www.valleymetro.org), the Phoenix public bus system, is not very useful to tourists. It's primarily meant to be used by commuters. However, if you decide you want to take the bus, pick up a copy of the Transit Book at one of the tourist information desks in the airport (where it's sometimes available), at Central Station at the corner of Central Avenue and Van Buren Street, or at any Fry's supermarket. Local bus fare is $1.75; express bus fare is $2.75. Also available are 1-, 3-, and 7-day passes, and a monthly pass.
Of slightly more value to visitors is the free Downtown Area Circulator (DASH), which provides bus service within the downtown area Monday through Friday from 6:30am to 6:30pm. These buses serve regular stops every 12 minutes; they're primarily for downtown workers, but attractions along the route include the state capitol and Heritage and Science Park. In Tempe, FLASH buses provide a similar service on a loop around Arizona State University, including Mill Avenue and Sun Devil Stadium, Monday through Friday from 7am to 6pm; another loop operates Monday through Thursday from 7am to 1am and Friday from 7am to 10pm. For information on both DASH and FLASH, call tel. 602/253-5000.
In Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Trolley (tel. 480/421-1004; www.scottsdaletrolley.com) shuttle buses run between Scottsdale Fashion Square, the Fifth Avenue shops, the Main Street Arts district, and the Old Town district. These buses run daily from 11am to 6pm (until 9pm on Thurs), with service every 15 minutes. Between early January and early April, free shuttles serve many of the area's resorts, including, among others, Camelback Inn, Sanctuary on Camelback, and the InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa. These trolleys operate Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 4pm, with hourly service, and will take you to Scottsdale Fashion Square. From there you can take the Scottsdale Trolley to other shopping districts.
The area's most useful public-transit alternative is Valley Metro's METRO light-rail system, which runs along Central Avenue, through downtown Phoenix, and east to Tempe and Mesa. Attractions along or close to the line include the Heard Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Historic Heritage Square, Phoenix Museum of History, Arizona Science Center, Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo, Hall of Flame Firefighting Museum, Tempe's Mill Avenue shopping district, and the Arizona State University Art Museum. There is also a free airport shuttle that connects the 44th Street/Washington Street stop to the airport. For more information, contact Valley Metro (tel. 602/253-5000; www.valleymetro.org).
Because distances in Phoenix are so great, the price of an ordinary taxi ride can be quite high. However, if you don't have your own wheels or had too much to drink and the bus isn't running because it's late at night or the weekend, you won't have any choice but to call a cab. AAA Yellow Cab (tel. 602/252-5252; www.aaayellowaz.com) charges $2.50 for the first mile and $2 per mile thereafter. Discount Cab (tel. 602/200-2000; www.discountcab.com) charges $2.95 for the first mile and $1.95 per mile after that. This latter company has a large fleet of hybrid vehicles, so if you want to go green when you call a cab, contact Discount.
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.