Given that it finally feels like fall here in Pennsylvania, and the chance of a heat wave is long gone, I was reminded of the first time I visited Phoenix, Arizona, during a heatwave in July.

July in Pennsylvania is hot. Every year, as we pass the longest day of the year and people begin assimilating to the break in the norm that is school vacations, shore houses, and summer Fridays in the office, the 4th of July arrives. I’m usually seated on a blanket in the town park with my husband and our friends, colorful fireworks exploding above our heads. I’ve got a cold drink in my hand, no work in the morning, and plans to run tomorrow afternoon. Life is pretty great in this moment, except for one thing. It’s incredibly hot and humid. All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, I feel like I’m sweating all of the time. Even now, when the sun has set, my clothes are sticking to me, and the air is heavy and dense, stifling like a horrible smell you can’t escape from.

After a few days, there is a break from the heat for another few days, and the heat returns with a vengeance.

The meteorologists call these heat waves. The temperatures reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit at midday, and don’t fall much below 80 degrees at dusk. In Pennsylvania, the humidity in the summer is already high, so there’s a dangerous risk of heat exhaustion. Public safety officials warn people to stay indoors or out of direct sunlight during peak hours.

At a time when most people are looking for a way to escape, I did, but it was to Arizona.

I traded the heat and humidity for Phoenix, where dry heat envelopes the city in temperatures of 115 degrees in July. It’s not a heat wave, it’s just Arizona in July. Consistent, scorching heat.

My husband is a schoolteacher and has summer breaks. He has a sister who lives just outside of Phoenix with her husband. I had never visited them, and they were more than happy to host us. Although the weather wasn’t ideal, the timing was perfect.

Even with the intense heat, this first-time trip to Phoenix was a relaxing getaway, with delicious food, beautiful scenery, and many opportunities for hiking, running, and exploring. I’ve visited Phoenix again since that first trip, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Here are 4 reasons to visit the Valley of the Sun:

  1. The Best Tamales (and Tex-Mex!)

Our first stop on this trip was for tamales for lunch, at a Tex-Mex spot in North Phoenix called Carolina’s. The no-frills restaurant is decorated in yellow and red, with a big menu that sits high above the long counter. You order your food from the counter, receive a number, and then wait until your number is called. There are enough tables to grab a seat even when it’s crowded. We ordered both the red beef and green chicken tamales and ate them out of Styrofoam containers with refried beans and yellow rice. The tamales were excellent. I also tried a chimichanga with green chili (see photo!), which I couldn’t finish eating, but was also excellent.

Tamales from Carolina’s
  1. A Refreshing Walk Along the Scottsdale Waterfront

Full of shopping and dining destinations, Scottsdale is a can’t miss stop during a trip to Phoenix. There is river that runs alongside it, the Arizona Canal, with a few very picturesque pedestrian bridges crossing over it. One, the Soleri Bridge, which connects downtown Scottsdale with the Waterfront District, is famous both for its architectural design and its designer, Paolo Saleri. Shiny and green, with modern public art, outdoor restaurants, and miles of paved pedestrian walkways, everything looks new in Scottsdale, and this bridge of tubular metal just adds to it. Much of Scottsdale actually is new, but there’s also Old Town Scottsdale, which has more of a small, old Western town feel, with boutiques and rugged Saloon-style restaurants. On this first trip to Phoenix, we visited Scottsdale Quarter, a shopping plaza near the Waterfront District, lined with palm trees wrapped in white lights. The Canal isn’t too far away, and we took a short walk there for a refreshing evening walk.

Scottsdale Quarter
Scottsdale Quarter at night
  1. A Morning Hike

My favorite part of the entire first trip to Phoenix was a 6 am hike we took up Shadow Mountain, a smaller mountain in North Phoenix that is part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. We had to leave early, because after 9 am, the sun would be too intense, and you didn’t want to be halfway up the mountain, or worse, at the top of the mountain, in that sun.

We lathered on the sunscreen, packed a backpack of water and snacks, and headed out.

Phoenix at 6 am was quiet, and much cooler. Without the heat of the sun, I could really enjoy this rare experience of no humidity.

We reached the base of the mountain, a chalky path in front of us. The trail to the top of the mountain was only 2.6 miles, but it was hilly and there wasn’t much shade. We started out. The trail was littered with cacti, rocks, leafless bushes, and other little bushes that looked like mini evergreen trees. My sister-in-law’s husband, who was leading the hike, pointed out cacti along the way, like the Hedgehog cactus, and the Barrel cactus. He also pointed out the Jumping Cholla, which has a defensive mechanism of dispersing its needles when touched. There weren’t many animals or insects, although I kept my eye out for scorpions, which are common in Arizona. To this day, in my three trips to Arizona, I have never seen one.

By the time we reached the top of Shadow Mountain, the sun was strong, but the view, an expanse of flat suburbia with grey-blue mountains in the distance, was worth it.

Shadow Mountain Hike_north Phoenix
Shadow Mountain hike
  1. Prickly Pear Margaritas

In Phoenix, Prickly Pear is a staple. The juice of the prickly pear cactus is extracted and used in many different things. There are prickly pear desserts, prickly pear candies, prickly pear jams and jellies, and even prickly pear margaritas. One day during this first trip to Phoenix, after a visit to the Premium Outlets and a tour of Old Town Scottsdale, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant to try a prickly pear margarita. It was sweet, but not overpowering, and so usual that it was worth the try!

Prickly Pear margaritas

Have you visited Phoenix? Comment below with some of your top reasons to visit!