This Popular Southwestern City Is One Of Best Places For Budget Travelers In America

Phoenix rose from the dusty desert to become not only one of America's largest cities but also one of its top vacation destinations. The city's gleaming skyline is richly lit by the southwestern sun in the daytime and a festival of lights by night, set against a backdrop of cactus-studded mountains. Phoenix boasts a number of five-star resorts, including the renowned Arizona Biltmore, which features seven pools, two golf courses, and a spa and has hosted dignitaries from every recent generation. The city is also home to 41,000 acres of desert parks and mountain preserves, a dazzling array of bars and restaurants, and a thriving arts scene. 

But do travelers need deep pockets to afford all this plushiness? The answer is a definite no. It's possible to enjoy a wonderful trip in the Valley of the Sun without breaking the bank. In fact, Phoenix is one of the best cities in the U.S. for budget travelers; you just need to know a few tips and tricks.

Arriving, staying, and getting around

Getting to Phoenix can be cheap, thanks to budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier, which offer direct round-trip flights between many U.S. cities and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for around $100 to $200. Note that airline tickets to Phoenix tend to spike during spring break from February through April and are often cheapest during the summer, fall, and early winter months, particularly in January. During this off-season, it's not unusual to find round-trip flights to Phoenix for under $100.

Phoenix Sky Harbor's central location close to the adjoining cities of Tempe and Scottsdale means that transportation from the airport to most accommodations is convenient and affordable. Light rail is available from Sky Harbor to Phoenix and Tempe for those wanting to avoid the expense of a private vehicle rental. To minimize transportation costs, consider staying in areas that have access to light rail and/or are walkable to bars, restaurants, museums, and other local attractions. A highly rated budget option close to light rail and the downtown Phoenix action is Rise Uptown, a design-driven boutique hotel with a pool and rooftop bar. They even give you free popsicles at check-in. Rooms at Rise Uptown are $100 to $230 in low season and $230 to $300 during high season, but discounts of up to 30% are offered for longer stays.

What to do in Phoenix

Phoenix is overflowing with affordable activities. Go for a free stroll in South Mountain Park and Preserve, one of the largest municipal parks in the nation. For a more strenuous hike, head to the Piestewa Peak Freedom Trail which leads to the peak's craggy summit. From the top of the peak, you'll have sweeping views of the valley and a sense of euphoria that will last you the rest of the day. 

Those who appreciate Native American and Southwestern art should hop on the light rail and head to the internationally acclaimed Heard Museum, where the admission price of $25 is reduced to $22.50 if you purchase tickets online.  For free art viewing, attend the Phoenix First Friday Art Walk, one of the largest events of its kind in the U.S. This monthly artfest takes place from 6 to 10 pm on the first Friday of every month and showcases the city's vibrant arts community, with more than 70 participating galleries and venues. 

Finally, Phoenix has no shortage of cheap and good food, especially authentic Mexican. Near downtown Phoenix, Casa Corazon specializes in dishes from southern Mexico and has an extended happy hour along with one of the best salsa bars in town. Another delicious and affordable Mexican option is Presidio Cocina Mexicana, which serves Michoacán-style family dishes. Another inexpensive and popular Phoenix restaurant is Pita Jungle, which serves healthy Greek food, including tasty vegan options. To top off your Phoenix whirlwind, spend an evening at Lacuna Kava Bar, a unique and affordable alcohol-free bar that serves plant-based wellness beverages.