Marriage equality has now prevailed in the Grand Canyon state, and Arizona’s capital city is enjoying an influx of LGBT travelers who crave sun, fun, adventure, and good Tex-Mex. Phoenix isn’t all unsuppressed desert and handsome cowboys—thought we promise there are quite a few of those—as the country’s sixth most populous city, it’s a culturally diverse metropolis, sprawled out in the Sonoran Desert. You’ll find a huge gay community, thriving LGBT-owned businesses, a very progressive mayor, and more than enough to keep you occupied anytime of year (the sunny winter is always a good time). Here are 10 reasons Phoenix should be next on your vacation destination checklist.
1. Ridiculously sexy locals The sun’s not the only thing that’s making things hot and steamy in the desert.
2. A plethora of gay bars More than a dozen bars and nightclubs catering to gays and lesbians are spread across the city. Last call is 2 a.m. like many cities in the U.S., but depending on the night, you may find yourself two-stepping until 4. Stacy’s at Melrose and Charlie’s are two local favorites, the latter having just celebrated a big blowout for its 30th anniversary.
3. Surroundings you’ll only find in the American Southwest Desert Botanical Gardens preserves 140 acres of desert with more than 50,000 species of flora and fauna that are unique to the Southwest. Folks make the trek from around the globe to visit these gardens and revel in the majestic landscape. We’re not afraid to admit stereotypes abound here; you might feel like you stepped into the midst of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
4. It’s a hub for LGBT events and outdoor festivals Locals love to be outdoors November through April. During those months you can find outdoor festivals happening all over the city almost any weekend, including bustling First Fridays art walk every month. Phoenix pulls out the stops for LGBT celebrations too, like Phoenix Pride in April, Rainbows Festival in October, and the annual Road Runner Regional Rodeo takes place in February 2015 shortly after Super Bowl XLIX.
5. Sunrise hikes and a long list of outdoor activities Not far from downtown you’ll find yourself in a desert that stretches as far as the eye can see — and with that comes a surplus of outdoor adventures. From rafting and kayaking to biking and off-roading, Arizona Outback Adventures offers a little something for every type of adventure-seeker. One of the best activity options is a sunrise hike in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Start the hike up the mountain early and watch the sun’s rays stretch across the valley floor.
6. Gawk at mile-high views The city launches the most hot air balloons in the country over the greater Phoenix Valley, so don’t be surprised if you look up and see the colorful giants floating overhead. Hot Air Expeditions takes passengers up, up, and away for sunrise and sunset hot air balloon tours. Either is perfect for an adrenaline rush or once-in-a-lifetime special occasion.
7. Fabulous accommodations There’s no better spot to stay than right downtown at the Hotel Palomar, a chic, gay-friendly (and pet-friendly) Kimpton property located right in the heart of Phoenix’s busy cityscape. Relax during happy hour at the hotel’s rooftop pool and Lustre bar, while peering into the city’s skyline. The second floor is home to one of the trendiest restaurants in the city, the newly revamped “gastro-lounge” Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails.
8. Light rail makes it easy to get around downtown The city’s new Metro light rail is remaking Phoenix into a more urban center. Connect to museums, nightlife, restaurants, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and nearby cities of Tempe and Mesa, all without relying on a rental car.
9. The only LGBT resource center in Arizona It’s no secret the difference a LGBT center can make in a large city. But when it’s the only one in the state? Phoenix Pride LGBT Center recently relocated to Downtown Phoenix and is steadily growing to provide even more vital resources to the city’s LGBTs, including homeless youth and visitors.
10. Some of the best food in the West We’re talking more-than-generous-sized portions too. You can find everything from groovy brunch with $4 make-your-own Bloody Marys at the cozy residence of The Vig, comfort food and cocktails at The Gladly to trendy local favorite Fez (the sweet potato fries are devilishly delicious). Phoenix is also on top of the farm-to-table scene with Phoenix Public Market Café (pictured above) serving up locally sourced seasonal menu items that are freshly prepared right before they’re delivered to your table. Three times a week, the café’s parking lot doubles as an open-air farmers market and regularly plays host to food trucks. For an extra twist on Phoenix’s original cuisine, look for the unique men’s department store-turned-upscale restaurant and bar Hanny’s, with tequila tasting, Arizona-made wine, and creative desserts. Lots and lots of desserts.