A Locals Guide to getting around Phoenix Az

Phoenix is an amazing city of shopping, museums, performing arts, sporting events, and outdoor activities, but to take in all it has to offer, there will be some driving involved. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of finding your way around a metropolitan city. The city is surrounded and crossed by a system of freeways that can get you anywhere in the city in a relatively short time. Just avoid rush hour traffic when even the carpool lanes get sluggish.

Phoenix is a city that grew around its freeway system, and then built more freeways to fill in the gaps. As a result, public transportation is not their forte. Not yet anyway. A light rail system currently under construction and scheduled to go live December, 2008 will supplement the current bus routes. In the future, public transportation will be a better option but until then, your best bet is to rent a car.

Known as the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. Once you understand the layout, you will be amazed at how easy it is for a visitor to navigate. Central Avenue is the North/South divider separating the city into two sections, the east valley and west valley. You can easily spot Central Avenue from afar by the strip of high-rises. As you head east away from Central Avenue, the north/south running streets are numbered, beginning with 1st Street, then 2nd Street, then keep counting up as you head east. This system will take you all the way to Scottsdale where you will have streets numbered as high as 136th Street and more. Popular east valley cities are Chandler, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tempe.

In the west valley, it’s the same numbering system as you head west, only now you start with 1st Avenue, then 2nd Avenue. When you are in the “Avenues” you will visit the cities of Glendale, Peoria, Carefree, and Avondale.

As long as you are traveling east or west, you will always know where you are and which way gets you back to Central. If the streets are getting higher, you are heading away from Central Avenue; if they are getting smaller, you are heading toward Central. Genius! Just remember, Avenues equal west valley, Streets equal east valley. If you want to stay within a reasonable proximity to your lodging, try not to mix the two. 40th Street is a long way from 40th Avenue.

Don’t let that frighten you out of visits to the other side of the valley. If you happen to be staying in the east valley, say, in Tempe to watch your hometown team take on the Arizona State Sun Devil’s, you can easily drive to the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale in the west valley to catch a Cardinals game, thanks to the system of freeways that intersect and connect the valley.

Interstate 10 is the granddaddy of the Phoenix freeway system, cutting straight through the middle, well, maybe not straight. A series of curves will often leave you wondering how it is that the east bound I-10 is heading south to Tucson. As it winds through the center of Phoenix, I-10 connects to the state highways. The 51, also known as the Piestewa freeway, connects the north valley to central Phoenix. The 202 connects the east valley to central Phoenix. Loop 101 circles the valley connecting the 202 and the 60 as well as the 51. They cross and connect to each other in various spots, so your best bet is to buy a map. Just know that you have many options to travel around the valley.

The Valley of the Sun, though it is the fifth largest city in the nation, is surprisingly compact. A visitor can easily visit the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, southeast of the valley in the morning and make it to Lake Pleasant in the far northwest valley for a Hummer tour of the desert that same evening.

The interesting thing about Phoenix is that most of the people living here are originally from somewhere else, so if you get lost, just ask. Most of us were new here not so long ago and love to help you find your way as you explore our beautiful Valley of the Sun.