Arizona

8 Coolest Hotels in Phoenix: An Urban Oasis of Food and Fun

Phoenix hotels come in all shapes and styles. Local writer Robert Isenberg takes you through 10 of the coolest options in the city.

The pool was packed. Bronzed swimmers smacked beach balls over the turquoise water. They swam to the edges and sipped cocktails. An international cast of young partiers cavorted at each table, wearing flipflops and wrapped in towels, but also gnoshing on skewered meats and fish tacos.

It looked like Spring Break, but it was the Fourth of July. We weren’t by the beach; we were standing on a rooftop in the middle of the desert. Beyond the railings, the sun was slipping behind the violet ridges of South Mountain. All around us rose the hotels and office towers of downtown Phoenix. And in a couple of hours, fireworks would explode right next to us, lighting up the cloudless sky.

The truth is, Phoenix is fun. Yes, there’s sprawl. Yes, the heat can be withering. And yes, most tourists head to the Grand Canyon the second their plane hits the tarmac. But Phoenix is an unlikely yet literal oasis of food, nightlife, and entertainment options.

Whether you drive or take the light rail, downtown Phoenix is a straight shot from Sky Harbor International. The weather is sublime six months out of the year, and even at the height of summer, you’ll find ubiquitous misters, air-conditioners, and swimming pools to tame those 100-plus-degree temperatures. The biggest shocker for newbies: downtown Phoenix has wide sidewalks and fresh pavement, which goes against the city’s car-first reputation and makes for a surprisingly walkable urban core. You can even hop a Grid Bike and pedal around all day.

Phoenix also knows how to treat a guest. Hotels are comfy, easy to find, and reasonably priced. Hotels are such a local institution that the bars and restaurants attract lots of locals as well, and lots of Phoenicians will buy day passes to swim in hotel pools or visit onsite spas. So if you’re jonesing for some pure blue Southwestern sky, it may be time to give Phoenix a chance – and try an overnight in one of the city’s coolest hotels.

A Sleek Monolith Of Glass

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From the outside, the Kimpton Hotel Palomar is a sleek monolith of glass, which rises out of the CityScape commercial hub and reflects the downtown skyline in its cascade of windows. The Palomar often describes itself as a “boutique hotel,” but with its prime location and sky-scraping architecture, it’s a bit of false modesty.

The interior is smoothly designed with polished stone and desert-toned modernist rooms. The onsite Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails, an upscale restaurant that earns its Anglophilic name, follows a similar motif. The Palomar is also located across the street from the Talking Stick Resort Arena and three blocks from Chase Field, making the hotel popular with sports fans and Spring Training enthusiasts.

But the real draw of the Palomar, and the feature that makes this hotel so locally famous, is its rooftop pool. Lustre Bar is a sprawling patio with all the plush seating and deck umbrellas of a beachside resort. Like most of its rooms, Lustre overlooks both the city and the scenic ridges of South Mountain. Visitors can splash around in the pool, sip a cocktail, and devour pub food beneath a salmon-colored evening sky. With a backdrop this spectacular – and a progressive “#LoveIsLove” policy – it’s no wonder that couples routinely host their wedding receptions at the Palomar.

Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix

Top rated
Phoenix, 1.4 miles to Arizona Capitol Museum
9.1 Excellent (2889 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.5 / 10
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"The Grandaddy of Phoenix Hospitality"

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The granddaddy of Phoenix hospitality is the Hotel San Carlos, a stately brick building with a retro, vertical sign running down one of its corners. Phoenicians are quick to demolish any building older than a classic Camaro, so it’s almost a miracle that the San Carlos continues to stand on such valuable property.

The building would look perfectly comfortable in midtown Manhattan, yet here it is, a Phoenix hotel in continuous operation since 1928. Like most old hotels, the San Carlos has smallish rooms and the scent of an attic, but it’s rare to find a place in the Valley of the Sun with such well-earned charm, and history buffs will rejoice at so many antique fixtures. Fun fact: The San Carlos was one of the first buildings in the entire state to install air conditioning; before that, vacationers spent summer nights sprawled out on hotel roofs or yards.

The hotel is surrounded by great dining and nightlife options, including the traditional Seamus McCaffrey Irish pub, the wildly popular Cornish Pasty, and the super-hip Valley Bar. The hotel also places you about a block from Civic Space Park and the downtown campus of Arizona State University, which makes the San Carlos a natural crash-pad for prospective students and their families.

Hotel San Carlos

Phoenix, 1.4 miles to Arizona Capitol Museum
6.9 Default (2208 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.5 / 10
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"Everything You Can Expect"

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This hotel has everything you can expect from the Sheraton brand: comfortable rooms, white-brick shower stalls, and views that overlook all of downtown Phoenix. The outdoor Breeze Bar isn’t nearly as well-known as Palomar’s Lustre, but it offers a very similar experience, with its cocktails, rooftop garden, and lap pool.

The Sheraton Grand is also as centrally located as you can be, so whether you’re visiting Phoenix for a trade show, a wedding, or a Diamondbacks game, you’re within walking distance of most of downtown’s major attractions. Cross the street and you’ll find yourself in Arizona Center, an easygoing outdoor mall replete with shopping, dining, and water features. If you’re already accustomed to Sheraton’s high level of service or are a Marriott member, this is a natural destination.

But the Sheraton’s most impressive feature is its restaurant. District American Kitchen and Wine Bar is one of the most respected restaurants in the city, largely thanks to Executive Sous Chef Josh Johnson. Not only are the dishes a work of art, but they’re shockingly affordable; the “Nothing Over $9” lunch menu is a major draw, whether guests are staying in the hotel or not. Meanwhile, District turns into an energetic cocktail lounge at night, punctuated by a rotating roster of DJs.

Sheraton Phoenix Downtown

Top rated
Phoenix, 1.6 miles to Arizona Capitol Museum
8.8 Excellent (2718 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.2 / 10
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The Reigning Champion of "Cool"

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Based on sheer “cool,” FOUND:RE Phoenix is the reigning champion, just as its founders intended. FOUND:RE is a boutique hotel located on Roosevelt Row, which is universally regarded as Phoenix’s arts district. FOUND:RE has capitalized on that bohemian image with an avant-garde design, cheeky decor, and a full-on art gallery in the lobby, showcasing rotating installations.

FOUND:RE is almost painfully fashionable, and every object in the building demands to be put on Instagram. (Where else would you find a shower stall that has the words “Not So Sexy” embossed in the glass?) The rooms are loft-style, making guests feel like they’ve entered a rock star’s penthouse in L.A., and the reclaimed wood and Edison bulbs employ the latest design trends.

At the same time, the staff is down-to-earth, and the in-house restaurant, Match, is fun and accessible. Locals routinely stop in for a craft cocktail or steak sandwich, and the hotel has integrated surprisingly well with the grittier neighborhood nightlife. FOUND:RE also offers easy access to Roosevelt Row, which attracts thousands of visitors for First Friday and is generally vibrant with fine art, novelty shops, and outstanding restaurant options.

Foundre Phoenix

Phoenix, 1.6 miles to Arizona Capitol Museum
9.0 Excellent (1056 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.4 / 10
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The Jewel of Midtown

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Located far from the high rises of downtown Phoenix, the Clarendon Hotel and Spa is the jewel of midtown, a place to relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy the slower pace of Midtown. The Clarendon is full of surprises, such as the rooms’ funky decor and the charging station for electric cars. Considering its many amenities, the Clarendon is surprisingly affordable.

In theory, you could treat the Clarendon as a regular hotel, spending the night and maybe visiting one of midtown’s many exceptional restaurants. But guests would be crazy to pass up the in-house spa. Here you can ask for anything from a saguaro vera facial to a prenatal massage, and the aromatherapy and waxing sessions only get more exciting from there. Spa treatments are extremely common in Arizona, and health and wellness have been a major draw to the region since the territorial days. But most spas are clustered in Scottsdale; Clarendon is an oasis in the city.

Speaking of which, the Oasis Pool and Skydeck are a famous destination in Phoenix, where you can splash around, hang out in the hydro-spa, or lounge in one of six outdoor cabanas. The only way life could get better is a food-forward Southwestern dinner, and it should surprise no one that the hotel restaurant’s name is “Tranquilo.”

The Clarendon Hotel and Spa

Phoenix, 3.2 miles to Arizona Capitol Museum
7.9 Good (4642 reviews)
Excellent Service 8.8 / 10
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Something Different

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On the surface, The Camby is different. The decor is a postmodern blend of sleek and antique, such as lamps shaped like cow skulls and daringly abstract artwork. Look up, and you’ll see copper Mylar ceilings. The Camby is a new addition to Phoenix, replacing an older Ritz-Carlton, and the brand has hit the ground running.

The most surprising aspect of the Camby is its location, equidistant from downtown Phoenix and Old Town Scottsdale, in the upscale Biltmore Fashion Park. The Camby offers a buffet of luxury options, including wellness treatments in the Zest Spa and three solid restaurants, Artizen, The Bees Knees, and Wade Poolside Bar. Artizen is particularly well known in the Phoenix dining scene, both for its opulent entrees and an enticing brunch menu.

The Camby is located across the street from the Biltmore shopping center, a cornucopia of dining and retail options, and it’s located right next to the AMC Dine-In Esplanade, a great restaurant-cinema hybrid. The hotel is also a quick drive away from Camelback Mountain, which offers some of the best hiking in the valley, if you wake up early enough.

The Camby, Autograph Collection

Top rated
Phoenix, 5.8 miles to Arizona Capitol Museum
8.6 Excellent (354 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.1 / 10
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Simple and Pampering

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The Westin Downton Phoenix is another luxury hotel with a great location. The Westin routinely tops online lists of the best hotels in Phoenix, and if you’re looking for something simple and pampering, you can’t find a better situation. Rooms are all comfortable, every window shows off the vertical beauty of downtown Phoenix, and if you really want to splurge, the corner studio suite is one of the most decadent accommodations in Arizona.

Summer visitors rarely want to set foot outside, so the Westin is pretty self-contained. Province Urban Kitchen & Bar is a respected and award-winning restaurant, where you can find such southwestern-flavored delicacies as Chilaquiles and Mesquite Swordfish. There’s also a laps pool and terrace – and naturally, the pool is temperature controlled.

But if you do leave the hotel, the Westin is close to everything: the Convention Center, world-class museums and sports facilities, and scores of international dining options. The Westin is ideal for business visits and special occasions, but it also offers some enticing deals and special weekend discounts.

The Westin Phoenix Downtown

Top rated
Phoenix, 1.4 miles to Arizona Capitol Museum
9.0 Excellent (2061 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.4 / 10
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A Class Urban Arizona Experience

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The Biltmore is your classic urban Arizona experience. This kind of resort boasts glorious rooms, spotless amenities, and Edenic pool areas, and it’s the reason people travel from all over the world to spend time in the Valley of the Sun. First built in 1929, the resort’s design is one-of-a-kind, like an art deco palace – which makes sense, since its architect was none other than Frank Lloyd Wright. Indeed, presidents and celebrities have been staying there for nearly a century, and it’s still as popular as ever.

Even by Arizona standards, Biltmore is a sprawling estate of 39 acres, and guests could easily spend their entire stay on the Waldorf-Astoria grounds. Here you can pick from eight different pools, browse a dizzying spa menu, and practice your swing at the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club, located directly next door.

If you do decide to stray from the Biltmore property, you can easily head to Old Town Scottsdale, Camelback Mountain, or Piestewa Park, all of which are worth spending a whole morning or afternoon, depending on the time of year. Come nightfall, you’ll have to choose from four restaurants, including the ultra-posh Wright’s at Biltmore and poolside Cabana Club.

Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort

Top rated
Phoenix, 6.8 miles to Arizona Capitol Museum
8.6 Excellent (1874 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 8.9 / 10
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Feature photo courtesy of Visit Phoenix, Nick Oza