Little more than an Arizona desert frontier settlement just a century ago, Phoenix has
grown rapidly into one of the Western USA's most dynamic and exciting getaways. The
city sits low in an arid valley surrounded by mountains and high desert - its
once-rugged terrain having been replaced to a large degree by massive blocks
of residential subdivisions, strip retail and office developments, and
oasis-like golf and tennis resorts. The many slick and trendy dining,
shopping, and gay nightclub options - coupled with the sunny dry climate and
abundance of outdoors diversions - make this an increasingly popular lesbian
and gay travel destination though little known here in the UK.
This sprawling city has an amazingly dry climate - only the Sahara Desert is
less humid than Phoenix's Sonoran Desert. If you're planning a trip here it's
important to consider how the different seasons can affect your stay -
outdoorsy types should avoid the deathly hot summers, although May through
September can be great months to score hotel bargains. And because virtually
every interior cubic inch of Phoenix is cooled by air-conditioning, it's
seldom oppressively unpleasant here but for the humid rainy season in
late July and August. Personality-wise, while the population exceeds 1.3 million
and now ranks the city among the nation's largest, Phoenix retains a
surprisingly easy pace and a laid-back personality. People move here for the
job opportunities - the metro area is the third-largest U.S. high-tech centre
- but also to escape the fast pace and rudeness of other big cities.
GAY COMMUNITY LIFE
Phoenix tends to be deeply conservative. The city has never been especially
sympathetic to the plight of minorities, sexual or racial, though one
historically important Phoenix Republican politician - the late U.S. Senator
Barry Goldwater - espoused a live-and-let-live philosophy. In his later years
a defender of the gay community, Goldwater was unable to sway popular opinion
in favour of gay-rights initiatives. The city has a highly visible gay and lesbian
community regardless of the political climate and a huge number of social organisations.
Though it has a bounty of shops and good restaurants, Phoenix has relatively
few attractions. Cultural highlights include provocative examples of
20th-century architecture, a handful of highly regarded performing-arts
venues, and some excellent museums and galleries. Also, while it's an
enormous and rapidly growing metro area, greater Phoenix hasn't quite paved
over paradise: just a short drive from downtown you can reach hundreds of
hiking areas, from scenic Pima Canyon to craggy Squaw Peak. The region has
prestigious golf courses, plus lavish tennis centers, spas, and athletic
clubs - swanky Scottsdale is particularly rife with such facilities.
Over the past decade Phoenix has revitalized its once barren downtown,
renovating historic buildings and erecting innovative postmodern structures.
The East End, which has become one of the region's few walkable
neighbourhoods, is home to cultural venues like: the restored Spanish Revival
Orpheum Theater, which hosts film festivals and theatre productions; the
multi-use Herberger Theater Center, which presents dance and theater; and
Symphony Hall, home of the Phoenix Symphony and the Arizona Opera.
History and preservation buffs could easily spend a day wandering around
Heritage Square. Among the century-old homes you can tour here is the
Victorian Rosson House. West of the square is the impressive Arizona Science
Center, whose touch-friendly exhibits are a hit with kids and yet
sophisticated enough to amuse even most adults - also check out the center's
state-of-the-art Dorrance Planetarium. North of these museums is the Arizona Center, whose 60
shops, 24-screen multiplex, and restaurants make for a happily mindless break
from all those stimulating museums.
The area just north of the mall on and around Central Avenue has become a
repository of some of the most thought-provoking large-scale contemporary
architecture in the country. You'll see buildings shaped like King Tut's tomb
and in the form of an inverted pyramid (appropriate styles given the city
name's connection to ancient Egypt). Of particular note is the Phoenix Burton
Barr Central Library, a curvaceous copper-sheathed wonder meant to evoke the
region's red-rock terrain. Here the superb Phoenix Art Museum, a green-quartz
structure, houses an impressive number of 19th-century European paintings, a
delightful American West collection (heavy on O'Keeffe, Frederic Remington,
and Albert Bierstadt), and a spacious contemporary wing representing some of
the world's abstract geniuses.
The lovely Art Museum Cafe overlooks the sculpture garden. Two blocks north of the art
museum is the free Heard Museum, a 1928 Spanish Colonial Revival house that
they doubled in size; it contains the nation's top collection of Native American art and
artifacts which reveals the differing cultures of tribes in the region through their exhibits.
In central Phoenix, especially along Camelback Road, you will find plenty of
excuses to spend money. Park Central Mall, less snazzy than some of its newer
competitors, is the gayest shopping center in Phoenix. Some of the city's
gay- and lesbian-owned businesses have been pushing for the past few years to
get this large rectangle area - bounded by 7th Avenue, Indian School Road,
7th Street, and Bethany Home Road - to be known at least conversationally as
the Rainbow Zone.
The scene in Phoenix may be too spread out and eclectic
ever to fully embrace the designation of any one gay district, but within
this area you will find the bulk of the city's gay bars, plus such favourite
Many a diva whiles away her Saturday afternoon at the Biltmore Fashion,
strolling through Cartier, Gucci, and other high-end boutiques - it's also a
source of several outstanding restaurants.
Beyond Phoenix itself, you'll find ample opportunities for further exploring
in some of the neighbouring communities, in particular the border city of
Scottsdale. A cross between Beverly Hills and Santa Fe, this ritzy haven of
socialites, celebrities, and resort-goers has hundreds of high-end arts and
crafts galleries, and specialty shops.
The Scottsdale Fashion Square, with some 240 shops, is an enormous, fancy
mall, and just south of it, 5th Avenue takes you northeast from Indian School
Road up to Scottsdale Road, lined with clothiers, jewelers, and
More touristy but still brimming with great shopping is the Old Town
Scottsdale district, which thrives along Main Street between Brown Avenue and
70th Street. The one non-shopping must-see here is Taliesin West, 1937 winter
home of Frank Lloyd Wright, where the master of architecture and design kept
a studio and his school in the desert. Tours of the grounds are available daily.
For information and advice you can also contact the
Phoenix Pride LGBT Center - which nowadays works mainly online.
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Arizona Center (3rd and Van Buren Streets; T: 602-271-4000; Website)
Arizona Science Center (600 E. Washington Street; T: 602-716-2000; Website)
Biltmore Fashion Park (24th St. and E. Camelback Road; T: 602-955-8401; Website)
Heard Museum (2301 N. Central Avenue; T: 602-252-8840; Website)
Herberger Theater Center (222 E. Monroe Street; T: 602-254-7399; Website)
Heritage Square (Adams and 7th Streets; Website)
Orpheum Theatre (203 W. Adams Street; T: 602-252-9678; Website)
Park Central Mall (Central Avenue and Earll Drive; T: 602-264-5575; Website)
Visit Phoenix's Visitor Center (T: 602-254-6500; Website)
Phoenix Art Museum (1625 N. Central Avenue; T: 602-257-2222; Website)
Phoenix Burton Barr Central Library (1221 N. Central Avenue; T: 602-262-4636)
Rosson House (6th and Monroe Streets; T: 602-262-5029; Website)
Scottsdale Fashion Square (Scottsdale and Camelback Roads, Scottsdale; T: 480-990-7800; Website)
Symphony Hall (75 N 2nd Street; T: 602-495-1999; Website)
Taliesin West (12621 N Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, Scottsdale; T: 480-860-8810; Website)
Andrew Collins authored Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA, the Connecticut
Handbook, and six regional gay guides for Fodor's. He can be reached
Phoenix Gay Nightlife
Revised August 2023