BY Andrew Collins
March 04 2009 1:00 AM ET
The fifth-largest city in the united states, Phoenix sprawls across the bone-dry Sonoran Desert, surrounded on all sides by sizable communities: Scottsdale, Tempe, Glendale. But beyond the tangles of freeways and strip malls strung together like sausage links, the Valley of the Sun provides its denizens with stunning, easily accessed opportunities for outdoor fun, artsy exploration, and chic pampering. Of late, Phoenix has brought its once-undistinguished downtown triumphantly into the 21st century, with rapidly gentrifying Roosevelt Row and Willo neighborhoods, and a shiny new light-rail system.
Extended Stay If work takes you into the city's booming downtown, check into the brand-spanking-new Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel (340 N. 3rd St.; 602-262-2500), which rises 31 stories above such nearby landmarks as the bustling Arizona Center complex, Chase Field (go Diamondbacks!), and Symphony Hall. With 1,000 rooms, the Sheraton won't be mistaken for a cozy hideout, but the understatedly elegant furnishings lend a homey vibe.
You'll find the valley's more alluring lodging options in neighboring Scottsdale. Go the hip-contemporary route by staying at the FireSky Resort and Spa (4925 N. Scottsdale Rd.; 800-528-7867), part of the gay-friendly Kimpton Hotels group; rooms open around a gorgeously landscaped courtyard and pool. Or take the retro-'50s nostalgic approach and book a room at the Rat Pack-inspired Hotel Valley Ho (6850 E. Main St.; 866-882-4484), an artful study in mid-century modern architecture with such offbeat features as Trader Vic's, a Polynesian-themed dining homage to pupu platters and foofy cocktails, and the see-and-be-seen Oh Pool Bar, with private cabanas for rent. If hours holed up in boardrooms enduring mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations get you down, stay at the glamorous InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa (4949 E. Lincoln Dr.; 480-627-3200), which opened in November at the base of the red sandstone Camelback Mountain. The Andalusian decor and bathrooms with huge sunken soaking tubs can calm even the most harried souls; if not, try the resort's serene Joya Spa.