Summer is coming. And it’s bringing triple-digit temperatures with it. And your car is air-conditioned. So it only stands to reason that you’d want to get out of town for a spell by letting the rubber hit the road, and visiting a few of the more standout spots within driving distance of the Grand Canyon State. So pack some snacks, fill up the tank, and grab your passport because we’re going to Mexico (and some other places, too).
1. Sedona, AZ
Distance from Phoenix: 115 miles north; two-hour drive
Why it made our list: Sedona offers more things to do than just Jeep tours, hiking spots, and an escape from the searing Phoenix temps. It’s a spiritual mecca. Thousands of people — from healers to artists — flock to the city for a spiritual awakening. After you leave Sedona, you’ll believe that vortex energies are real. And you might just unlock your third eye against the backdrop of sculpted red rock, canyons, pine forests, and deserts.
Pro tip: Tourists take over the area during the spring and summer months. If you can, check out Sedona in the fall season. There will be less tour buses crowding the streets and you won’t have to wait in line at the very few local restaurants Sedona offers.
2. Las Vegas, NV
Distance from Phoenix: 296 miles north; 4.5-hour drive
Why it made our list: Um, duh. Some people never have the chance to experience Vegas in all of its glory. That’s no excuse for Phoenicians. It’s such a short drive time up there’s no reason not to go. Still need convincing? Let’s list them: Omnia, Palms Pool & Dayclub, TAO, XS, and Hakkasan. Not to mention the dozens of acclaimed bars, sushi joints, buffets, and restos along the strip. And Vegas has some pretty epic hangover breakfast spots for a quick and speedy recovery, so that you can get back out and do it all over again.
Pro tip: Sin City can get expensive, and you will not win back your walking around money at the tables. Bottle service, strip clubs, pool party cover, etc. If you’re not a high roller, or hey, even if you are, check out some of the free things to do in Vegas. Also, ask for comps!
3. Flagstaff, AZ
Distance from Phoenix: 144 miles north; two-hour drive
Why it made our list: Flagstaff is home to Humphreys Peak, the highest point in AZ and one of the few places to ski or snowboard in the state. Yes, it snows in Arizona. The High Country gets about 110-inches of the white stuff each year. The hippie-boho culture of Flagstaff brings in wanderers and travelers from all corners of the country. From hiking the national rorest to touring the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail, which includes Flag faves like Beaver Street Brewery and Lumberyard Brewing Company, there’s something for everyone and every interest here, even if you’re not the outdoorsy type.
Pro tip: Flagstaff is less than 100 miles away from the GC. You can hit up both areas if you give yourself some extra time to visit the national park
4. San Diego, CA
Distance from Phoenix: 356 miles west; five-hour drive
Why it made our list: The California coast is the closest (American) beach within driving distance of Phoenix, which makes SD a must-visit for Zonies without a passport. It’s hard to get good seafood in Phoenix, after all, the state is landlocked. Restos like Pacific Beach Fish Shop and Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill are top spots to grab fish tacos.
Pro tip: Don’t try to park Downtown if there’s an event happening. It’s a nightmare. And, remember to pay your meter. Other cities aren’t as parking-friendly as Phoenix
5. Tucson, AZ
Distance from Phoenix: 116 miles south; two-hour drive
Why it made our list: Move over Tour de France, this bike-friendly Southwest city’s got Tour de Tucson, a 104-mile bike ride through the Sonoran Desert. Other notable sporting events include the Conquistadores Classic, which brings in dozens of PGA greats each year, the Tucson Rodeo, and Major League Soccer warms up in the desert every January for the regular season at MLS Preseason Training Camp.
Pro tip: You can experience Tucson in a weekend. Make time to stop by Tucson Tamale Company or top-rated bakery Beyond Bread.
6. Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point), Sonora, Mexico
Distance from Phoenix: 212 miles south; 3.5-hour drive
Why it made our list: Rocky Point is located in the Mexican State of Sonora. The coastal town has some of the top snorkeling, diving, kayaking, sailing tours, and fishing charters in the Gulf of California. While you’re here, haggle with the merchants at Old Port, check out the Biosphere Reserve, or spend your entire vacation day drinking on the playa (we won’t judge you). Everything is cheap in Rocky Point, from liquor to eats to things to do and lodging.
Pro tip: We don’t want you to end up in a Mexican jail. There’s a few things you need to know, before you cross the border. You have to drive a car that’s registered in your name and you need to have Mexican insurance. Bring a passport.
7. Lake Havasu City, AZ
Distance from Phoenix: 192 miles west; three-hour drive
Why it made our list: In its prime, Havasu was a place where spring breakers made bad decisions, really bad decisions (anyone remember MTV’s Spring Break ‘95?), and it’s fair to say that the city still attracts a fair share of rowdy gents and barely dressed college-aged women, but there’s more to this city than boozing and boating. Lake Havasu is an outdoor lover’s playground. There’s a ton of untapped territory to uncover outside of the city by foot, bike, or by ATV.
Pro tip: Head to Havasu any time of the year other than March-April.
8. Los Angeles, CA
Distance from Phoenix: 372 miles west; 5.5-hour drive
Why it made our list: There’s a lot to see and do here. So much that you might have to plan a second trip to explore the sprawling city. For starters, indulge in the food scene. LA is a foodie’s paradise. With old icons like Pink’s Hot Dogs and newcomers like Maude, there’s no shortage of places to grab eats or dine. Want to take a break from the city? Check out LA’s urban park Runyon Canyon. It takes about two hours to get to the top that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and San Fernando Valley. Although it feels like you’re miles away from the urban jungle, the trail is located just two blocks away from Hollywood Blvd.
Pro tip: Plan the trip with a friend who knows their way around LA. There’s no way you’re navigating the roads alone. The traffic is already bad enough.
9. The Grand Canyon, AZ
Distance from Phoenix: 223 miles north; 3.5-hour drive
Why it made our list: What other state has one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in its own backyard? That’s right, none! Suck it, California. The 277-mile-long canyon is a mile deep and 18 miles across at its widest point. If you’re just passing by you can see the Grand Canyon in all of its glory from the road, or if you have more time to spare, take a multi-day hike to the bottom. For the more adventurous types, go whitewater rafting on the Colorado River.
Pro tip: If you’re planning on booking any activities like rafting or a guided hike in the spring, summer, or fall, set it up in advance. Like six months in advance. Same goes for hotels and campsites. Keep in mind that the South Rim is open year-round (it’s more popular and more crowded), but the North Rim, which operates on a shorter season, doesn’t attract as many tourists.
10. Albuquerque, NM
Distance from Phoenix: 421 miles east; 6.5-hour drive
Why it made our list: Situated in Central New Mexico and straddling the Rio Grande stands Albuquerque, a city that epitomizes Southwestern culture (maybe even more so than Phoenix, yep, we said it). The historic Old Town District, which has been around since 1706, is lined with brick pathways, historic Pueblo-Spanish-style adobes, artisan shops, and eateries that serve up New Mexican-style dishes like Church Street Cafe and Duran Central Pharmacy.
Pro tip: You don’t have to make a trip all the way to NM to get a slice of the pie that was made famous by Walter White when he hurled that giant pizza onto the roof during a scene of Breaking Bad. There are five, count ‘em, five, Venezia’s Pizzeria locations in Phoenix. But nobody is stopping you from making the 6.5-hour trip to ABQ to get some NY-style pizza at the Rio Rancho original.