Phoenix, Arizona, is well deserving of its place in the Valley of the Sun, a valley which also includes Scottsdale, the Sonoran Desert and a number of suburbs and districts. Transportation is a must-have in this sprawling city.

In this fresh, artsy community packed with galleries, shops, restaurants and cultural centers, a bargain can mimic a shadow. We at are here to help you get your money's worth.

  1. Finding Cheap Flights

    Depending on where you live, finding cheap flights to Phoenix can be a breeze or a brick wall.

    We shopped with 1-day flexibility before and after our Wednesday round-trip dates, booking about 6 weeks in advance.

    Our first find was a nonstop $81 Spirit Airlines flight out of Denver with 10:30 a.m. and noon departures; that fare usually runs a little over $200, and a date shift saved us another $9.

    From Los Angeles' LAX, we could hop a 1½-hour American flight for $77; having to use an American Eagle flight added $100 to nearly $400 versus just buying the more expensive "choice plus" option on the original ticket for $237!

    From St. Louis, the best we could do was $411 on American; at least it was a nonstop flight and $160 cheaper than the normal $571.

    Chicago's O'Hare International, $137 on American nonstop was more to our liking; when we checked, only 1 seat was left, so our options were $244 flights or a step up to a $300 seat.

    From New Orleans, a 5-hour 1-stop fare on United was $362; traveling nonstop wasn't an option, and the same tickets could have cost us $588, $696 or more.

    Flying from Tampa, date flexibility offered $50 in savings, but the $315 flight involved a 7-hour layover in Atlanta, plane changes, different airlines, more than 12 hours' travel time going and 7½ returning.

    To keep travel time from Tampa under 7 hours, avoid plane-switching layovers, and use just 2 airports, nonstop fares started at $421 on American early-evening flights; end up on the flight via a Washington, DC, stop, and the cost was $680.

    From Washington, DC, Delta had flights out of Baltimore's BWI for $214, with a 1-hour stop in Minneapolis-St. Paul to switch planes; date flexibility saved us $92. Nonstop flights started at $357 for 5-hour American flights from BWI, a bargain versus Delta's usual $373 or $479 for the 1-stop flight.

    From New York, nonstop flights were $269 on American or United out of Newark and the same on Delta and JetBlue out of JFK. The same flight could easily have cost $358; choose a refundable ticket, and prices jump to $416 or $518.

  2. Finding Cheap Hotels

    Image courtesy of Marriott

    We wanted locations offering at least free Wi-Fi and breakfast.

    Residence Inn by Marriott near the airport, zoo and Arizona State University had a studio apartment with a queen and sofa bed, fireplace and kitchen for $119 a night – $937 a week with tax.

    Nearby, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton had a king suite with sofa bed for $105 a night – $822 total for the week. Howard Johnson had 1 queen bed for $70 a night – $556 for the week.

    Downtown, budget hotels like Super 8 started at $84 for 1 king bed and free Wi-Fi. We did find 1 king bed at 3-star Wyndham Garden in Midtown averaging $98 a night – $774 for the week.

    If you're on a tight budget, Extended Stay America has locations throughout the area for $50 to a little over $70 a night versus the more typical $250 and up.

    By South Mountain Park, you could book 1 king or 2 queen beds for just $103 a night ($815 a week) at 3-star Drury Inn & Suites, guest-rated 9.4 out of 10 and possessing all the necessary perks. We found an identical Drury deal by the Sonoran Desert Preserve, this time for $96 a night.

    On Airbnb, looking for Wi-Fi and room for a family of 4, we found that Scottsdale condos in Old Town ran about $100 a night. Several well-reviewed 2-bedrooms cost less than $700 a week, including fees.

    The Sonoran Desert Preserve is a pricey area, but a light, well-furnished, brand-new 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo in a gated community was $106 a night, $860 total for the week, with laundry, Wi-Fi, pool, hot tub and garage.

    Check out our guide to finding cheap hotels for more ideas.

  3. Finding Cheap Food

    Image courtesy of MATT'S BIG BREAKFAST

    Matt's Big Breakfast (North 1st Street and East Camelback Road) serves all-natural all-day breakfast and lunch favorites made "just so" for well under $10.

    Over Easy is another noted, affordable breakfast fave in Scottsdale, Arcadia, Gilbert and Mesa for waffle dogs, pumpkin French toast or spicy breakfast burritos.

    Reasonably priced, Pita Jungle on North 3rd Avenue receives raves for healthy Greek cuisine like spanakopita, portabello burgers, loaded pizza or chicken tikka masala.

    For soul-food platters of "the best" fried chicken or pork chops, family-owned Mrs. White's Golden Rule Café on East Jefferson Street remains genuinely, traditionally Southern.

    In Old Town Scottsdale, the Alo Café features "Eurostyle breakfast" or lunch for $10-11 and coffee and tea creations around $3.

    Top Marks Café has savory or sweet crepes and breakfast sandwiches for $7-8 – gelato, too. The Gelato Spot has wood-fired pizza, panini, salads and nearly 40 gelato flavors at any time.

    The Thumb, or Tom Thumb Fresh Express, gas station/car wash/gourmet market regularly receives best-of kudos; breakfast classics, sandwiches and "hardwood-smoked BBQ" stay well under $10.

    Hopdoddy Burger Bar serves organic beef and hand-cut fries, won best burger, is affordable, and also pleases veggie and shake lovers.

    The Andreoli Italian Grocer will make a sandwich and salad you won't find elsewhere; from carpaccio to tizio, it's all authentic, averaging $8 or so.

    Using a restaurant credit card to pay for your holiday feasting is a good way to rack up miles or points towards your next escape, or cut expenses with cash back savings.

  4. Package Deals

    If you have kids who insist on hitting all the entertainment venues, Pogo Passes are $99 each and good for 1 year. They entitle the named user to 1 visit to Golfland Sunsplash; 2 visits to the Phoenix Zoo, Idea Museum, Phoenix Rock Gym, Stratum Laser Tag, Makutu's Island and Pump It Up; 3 visits to The Play Factory; and 4 visits to Enchanted Island.

    In addition, you get 3 Arizona Rattlers games, 3 Phoenix Mercury games, 2 Diamondbacks games, 1 visit per month to Tempe Paintball, 2 visits per month to Skateland and 1 game per week at Fat Cats.

    Occasionally, Pogo offers discount codes. Otherwise, nearly every attraction posts coupons online, in brochures or in travel compendiums; check Groupon, too.

  5. Free Things To Do

    Spend the day braving heights and hairpins while driving the 80-mile Apache Drive loop along Superstition Mountain and Tonto National Forest. Start at Apache Junction, driving northeast on Route 88 to Roosevelt then southeast to Globe before heading west on Route 60 back to Apache Junction.

    Fish Creek Hill has the most spectacular views and most nerve-racking precipices. Picnic by Lake Roosevelt, explore the Tonto National Monument cliff dwellings, or hike a trail, but pack plenty of water for the Sonoran Desert.

    Set among the Ma Ha Tauk, Gila and Guadalupe Mountains, South Mountain Park has thousands of Hohokam petroglyphs and more than 50 miles of biking, hiking and horseback-riding trails.

    For cars, Summit Road leads to Dobbins and Gila Lookouts for "valleywide views." The park has covered picnicking areas with grills and restrooms. On Silent, or Fourth, Sundays, "the park's main access roadways are closed to motor vehicles," so use San Juan Road instead.

    From its base, Camelback Mountain reaches about 1,400 feet, its north-facing Hohokam ceremonial cave making it "Sacred Mountain." Bike, hike or trolley to the Echo Canyon or Cholla trailheads, as winter-to-spring peak climbing season brings crowds and parking issues. The trail tops out at 2,704 feet above sea level, with miles of residential development spread below. The desert climb is demanding, so water is your best friend.

    Scottsdale has invested in trolleys to supply free transportation. The Scottsdale Downtown Trolley covers the museums, shops, galleries and restaurants. The 2016 Resort Trolley accesses downtown Scottsdale from Paradise Valley while the Talking Stick Trolley connects that district to downtown. The Neighborhood, Miller Road and Camelback Trolleys cover more resident-oriented destinations like schools and administrative centers.

    Meanwhile, don't forget that Scottsdale has its ArtWalk each Thursday evening from 7 p.m. to 9, and downtown Phoenix has Trolley Artlink First Fridays 6 p.m. to 10.

    The Phoenix Art Museum has "voluntary donation" admission Wednesdays 3 p.m. to 9, First Fridays 6 p.m. to 10 and Second Sundays noon to 5 p.m. The Phoenix Art Museum and The Heard Museum also participate in the Museums on Us® program that gives Bank of America credit and debit cardholders free access on the first full weekend of the month. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is free on Thursdays and 5 p.m. to 9 on Fridays and Saturdays.

    More voluntary-donation sites include the House of Broadcasting, Arizona Capitol Museum and the Schemer Art Center. For model train enthusiasts, the Maricopa Live Steamers' Adobe Railroad Park offers public rides noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays in temperate months.

  6. Money Wasters

    Transportation is an issue, as Phoenix is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. by land mass and wherever you're staying, you'll want to go somewhere else.

    Car rentals can be expensive, and Phoenix is noted for being bicycle unfriendly. Secure deals well in advance, and use trolleys and other public transportation; especially for tours, check Groupon.

    Every area has exclusive resorts offering the latest and best but consider that in the city of sunshine, you might not spend that much time in your room. So you may want to save on lodging to splurge outdoors.

    Hot air balloon rides, jeep tours, Hummer expeditions, ghost towns, horseback-riding rentals and gold mines can quickly empty your pockets with add-ons and extras.

    Decide in advance what to see (and eat) and be sure to enjoy the distinct experiences embodying the Valley of the Sun.