Aerial view of buildings with lights at night in one of the best cities in Arizona

7 Best Cities in Arizona in 2023 (According to a Local)

I’m an Arizona local here to tell you about the 7 best cities in Arizona!

The Grand Canyon State is so much more than a vision of the old west. Arizona is home to bustling cities full of entertainment, music, scenic beauty, and historic culture. It’s also a world-renowned foodie destination. 

I cover all of this in my guide, and provide tons of resources to help you choose the best Arizona cities for you. Oh, and if you’d prefer a smaller community to explore, check out my companion list of the best towns in Arizona.

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7 Best Arizona Cities


The Old Pueblo is full of art, history, incredible food, and plenty of fun things to do. It’s also surrounded by mountains and the Sonoran Desert!

The Old Main from the outside in University of Arizona
Old Main on the University of Arizona campus

🏠 Population: 543,242 | 📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Tucson on Booking

There’s just something about Tucson. From local families to first-time visitors, anyone you ask will say the same thing. There’s just something about it. 

This beautiful desert city is home to the University of Arizona, which breathes life into the area with exciting sporting events and student-led entertainment. It’s also one of the largest cities in the state.

Downtown displays vibrant murals, public art, and Hispanic culture. It offers some of the best things to do in Tucson. Bars and nightclubs abound. 

As one of two UNESCO-recognized cities of gastronomy, you know you’ll get to try some life-changing restaurants in Tucson. You’ll dream about Mexican food until the end of time.

There are five gorgeous mountain ranges to explore around the city. The Tucson and Rincon Mountains are home to Saguaro National Park. Here you can hike through thousands of majestic saguaro cacti, the staple figure of the Sonoran Desert.

Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains offers the best mountain climbing and mountain biking in Southern Arizona. If you visit any time besides the blistering summer months, outdoor adventures abound. And if you venture a little further outside of the Old Pueblo, there are tons of incredible can’t-miss day trips from Tucson to discover.


A quaint mountain city with ideal outdoor recreation and a lively downtown scene. And it’s close to the Grand Canyon!

Overlooking view of the San Francisco Peaks from Flagstaff
The San Francisco Peaks over Flagstaff

🏠 Population: 76,989 | 📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Flagstaff on Booking

Flagstaff is not one of the largest cities in Arizona. But its history, location, and character place it near the top of our list of the best cities in the state. 

With the San Francisco Peaks looming in the background of the twinkling downtown, this northern Arizona city oozes charm. It’s also close to two of the state’s most popular destinations. Pack your bags for the Grand Canyon, or explore the many things to do in Sedona!

If you’re an outdoorsy person, there’s no better city for you than Flagstaff. Enjoy some of the best hiking, camping, and mountain biking among the pines during the summer. And when the snow settles on the town in the winter, spend a weekend shredding at Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort. 

When visiting Flagstaff, check out Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered) with the whole family. Last summer, it topped our list of the best things to do in the USA!

Don’t miss out on the cozy breweries, bars, and restaurants downtown. My favorite places to drink are Hops on Birch, Deep Sky Brewing Co, and Mother Road Brewing Co. The best restaurants are The Toasted Owl Cafe, Fat Olives, and Swaddee Thai Cuisine.

Northern Arizona University brings thousands of students to Flagstaff. This makes it a great place for young people to meet like-minded crowds with similar lifestyles. There are also lots of retirees who live here during the summer to escape the heat down south. No matter where you are in life, Flagstaff is a wonderful place to live in Arizona and to visit.

📚 Related Reading: 19 Best Places to Go Camping in Arizona


The best place to treat yourself to an indulgent vacation in a glamorous setting.

Colorful lights in Scottsdale at night
The streets come alive with music and color every night of the week in Scottsdale (photo: kenelamb photographics / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 242,753 | 📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Scottsdale on Booking

Scottsdale is one of the most exciting cities in Arizona. This glamorous area features nightclubs, renowned restaurants, championship golf courses, and posh resorts. There are also some great outdoor activities to partake in nearby. You’ll never run out of things to do in this city. 

If you enjoy famous architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is located in North Scottsdale. This impressive structure attracts artists and architects from around the country. 

You can also enjoy challenging hikes on Camelback Mountain and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve north of the city. Some of the best lakes in Arizona are within an hour of this happening area.

Scottsdale is a hotspot for bachelor and bachelorette parties, birthdays, and other major celebrations. Though it can be pricey, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune when you visit this famous city. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re an explorer of historic sites or an outgoing clubber with a thirst for DJs and luxury shopping. There’s something for everyone in the Beverly Hills of the state.

📚 Related Reading: 8 Best Phoenix Neighborhoods


A historically-rich area next to the stunning Superstition Mountains.

The Superstition Mountains during sunset in Mesa
The Superstition Mountains create a beautiful backdrop for this central city

🏠 Population: 509,475 | 📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Mesa on Booking

Mesa is one of my favorite places to visit in Arizona. It’s home to Mesa Grande Cultural Park. This park boasts centuries-old Hohokam artifacts along with an ancient ceremonial mound. This city offers unique historic sites which make for great family activities. 

Don’t miss out on the Arizona Museum of Natural History, which exhibits dinosaur remains and other discoveries. History buffs will absolutely want to check this Arizona gem off their bucket lists.

Bring your hiking boots if you intend to visit the Lost Dutchman State Park, just 30 minutes away. The picturesque peaks of the Superstition Mountains deliver the prettiest views in the area. You can also go camping here if you enjoy outdoor activities in the Sonoran Desert.

🍻 Local Recommendations: Chupacabra Taproom and Cider Corps serve up the best beer and cider in the greater Phoenix area!

Lake Havasu City

A remote, lakeside getaway full of waterfront attractions and entertainment.

View of boats at the Lake Havasu City
Brightly colored boats add vibrance to the blue waters (photo: Pamela Au / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 58,284 | 📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Lake Havasu City on Booking

Lake Havasu is one of the most popular vacation spots in Arizona. It’s in a fantastic location alongside the Colorado River. A vast set of entertainment options and a beautiful landscape make Lake Havasu City a unique gem on our list of Arizona cities.

Relocated from England, a portion of the original London Bridge links downtown to marinas and “the Island.” This is a popular area to dine, take a peaceful stroll, and enjoy festivities on the beach. 

If you’re a history buff, visit the Lake Havasu Museum of History to learn all about Native American influence in this area of western Arizona. Lake Havasu State Park boasts pristine beaches with scenic views, wildlife, picnic areas, and mountain trails.

👉 Pro Tip: Avoid visiting during spring break or other major school breaks if you want to enjoy a peaceful visit. Otherwise, party on with the Arizona students!


Home of the Arizona State University Sun Devils, this historic college town is full of fun energy.

Different kinds of cactus in Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden is one of the top attractions in Tempe

🏠 Population: 184,118 | 📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Tempe on Booking

This is my favorite city in the greater Phoenix area to go out on the town. Go to an ASU basketball or football game, sip beers on leafy patios, and watch the sunset over Tempe Town Lake all in one day. 

This happening city is close to awesome family-friendly activities like the zoo and Desert Botanical Garden. It’s also an ideal place to get rowdy if you enjoy a night of degeneracy (safely, of course). You’ll have plenty of unique options to go bar hopping all night long on Mill Avenue.

Ride the bull at Rodeo Ranch and enjoy live dueling pianos at Low Key Piano Bar. For local brews and giant pretzels, swing by Pedal Haus Brewery, one of the best Phoenix restaurants. These are some of my favorites, but you can easily explore many other spots in this lively area.

👉 Pro Tip: Keep track of when class is in session at ASU if you want to avoid the major student crowds during the school year.


This bustling metropolis boasts non-stop entertainment and year-round sunny weather.

Colorful sky over Downtown Phoenix in Arizona
The vast city of Phoenix beneath a purple sunset

🏠 Population: 1.625 million | 📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Phoenix on Booking

Welcome to the largest city in Arizona! The possibilities are endless in this massive urban sprawl of over 1 million people. There’s just so much to do. From the zoo to the Suns basketball games to Salt River tubing, you’ll never run out of things to do in Phoenix.

If entertainment is what you seek, the best performers and artists hit the stage in Phoenix. Get tickets for an up-and-coming act at the Van Buren downtown. Or see a major star at the Talking Stick Resort Showroom. The music never quiets in Phoenix! 

Award-winning restaurants, bars, and nightclubs abound. And if you crave a wholesome day in nature, take a day trip from Phoenix to escape the hubbub of the city in less than two hours.

In addition to an endless list of things to do, this city offers great weather year-round. And since it’s located in the center of the state, you’ll be within driving distance of the best Sonoran Desert scenes. No matter when or why you visit Phoenix, you’ll be sure to enjoy your time in the state capital. 

FAQs About Arizona Cities

What is the capital city of Arizona?

Phoenix is the capital city of Arizona.

What are the 5 major cities in Arizona?

The 5 major cities in Arizona are Phoenix, Tucson, Mesa, Chandler, and Gilbert. 


All of these cities in Arizona offer something unique, exciting, and beautiful. Whether you seek an outdoor escape or urban staples, I hope this list gave you insight into the best cities in the Grand Canyon State.

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