Arizona is one of the US’s most stunning states. Though the summers are sweltering, the winters are cool and dry—and the sky is clear year-round. The desert climate is home to the Grand Canyon, along with rock formations from Horseshoe Bend to Mogollon Rim.
But some of the state’s best offerings aren’t found in nature. In fact, almost 90% of the entire state lives in urban centers like Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Scottsdale. While they don’t include the same unforgettable views as the outdoors, travelers who aren’t big on nature will have plenty to do that’s off the beaten path.
Keep reading for some of the state’s most unexpected destinations—inside city limits.
Scottsdale, as an extension of Phoenix, has the highest concentration of dance floors in the area—but that doesn’t mean Phoenix doesn’t do nightlife better. The Crescent Ballroom, for example, doesn’t just offer a great drink and live music. It’s also a gourmet kitchen and actual ballroom, which plays host to some of the city’s most austere events.
Meanwhile, the Mini Ultra Lounge and GypsyBar are both great for visitors looking to dance the night away. Both offer modern design and plenty of space to groove. Livewire, on the other hand, focuses on live music and plenty of bright lights. The club includes a 25-foot HD wall that plays unique graphics all night.
Just outside Phoenix, casinos like Gila River Resorts and Casino Arizona at Talking Stick Resort are also popular for travelers and locals. Today, avid gamers tend to stick to online sites that come with casino bonuses, both for convenience and deals. However, travelers looking for a reason to dress up and try something new will find either brick-and-mortar establishment a solid stopover.
Flagstaff: Preserving Culture
Situated alongside Arizona’s tallest peak, the urge to get outdoors might be on the forefront for most Flagstaff visitors. However, culture is better observed indoors in some parts of Flagstaff. Even the city’s downtown area acts as a historic center, which includes vintage hotels and protected architecture from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The Museum of Northern Arizona is another must-see stopover. The museum is curated by local Native American communities, which highlight the group’s cultural traditions. However, the museum doesn’t relegate groups to the past. It includes modern galleries, such as Star Wars art exhibits.
Another urban stopover includes the Lowell Observatory. Though no longer a major base for NASA’s missions, the observatory played home to major discoveries, including the first observations of Pluto. The observatory now provides tours year-round.
Tucson is home to some of the southwest’s best-kept secrets: art galleries. Aside from exceptional museums and a long history involving Hollywood, Tucson is an art-lovers haven. The DeGrazia Gallery is one of the city’s biggest locations, which includes an intuitive layout in addition to stunning paintings.
The range of galleries and shows is extensive, which includes modern and historic focuses across a range of mediums. The Tucson Desert Art Museum highlights local and national art created nearby, while the modern Etherton Gallery plays home to collections traveling nationwide.
There’s also the Philabaum Glass Gallery for fans of glass-blown wonders, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery for fans of cultural works, and Mat Bevel’s Museum of Kinetic Work for fans of experimental design and sculpture.
Not many will think of architecture when they head to Scottsdale—and for good reason. The area is also home to stunning golf courses and the Sonoran Reserve, along with plenty of all-night clubs that cater to local students. But it’s also home to the former winter residence of Frank Lloyd Wright, called Taliesin West.
The location remains home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation but also welcomes guests. It’s a monument to desert living, from desert design to building materials. But it’s not just the unique early-modern architecture that will stun visitors. Instead, the museum is also a preservation of Wright’s most famous works, which were designed at Taliesin West.
While staying at the location during winter, Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Grady Gammage Auditorium for Arizona State University. In 2019, Taliesin West and seven other properties designed by Lloyd Wright were added to the World Heritage List, which is maintained by UNESCO.