Everything about the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa (5350 E. Marriott Dr., 480/293-3939, www.jwdesertridgeresort.com , $525–700 d) is enormous, from the soaring lobby and 950 rooms to its 10 restaurants and Revive Spa. Even the poolside margaritas are big (25 ounces). It boasts the title of Arizona’s largest resort, but it carries its size well, with clean, modern lines that give a nod to the Southwest’s indigenous architecture. There are also subtle Western details, like leather couches, light-colored stone, and delicate ironwork. The massive meeting space frequently hosts multiple conferences and trade shows at once, but you’re just as likely to see leisure travelers and families at the four pools or on the golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.
It can be hard to get a sense of Arizona’s native culture when you spend your days poolside or on the golf course. Fortunately, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa (5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., 602/225-0100, www.wildhorsepassresort.com , $275–350 d) incorporates much of the Sonoran Desert’s indigenous culture and wildlife into its design, while still providing a AAA Four Diamond spa and Five Diamond restaurant. Built on the Gila River Indian Community, the resort reflects the architecture, art, and history of the Pima and Maricopa tribes. It’s named after the wild horses that still roam the community’s land south of Phoenix. Though it’s a 10-minute drive from Chandler and 25 minutes from downtown Phoenix, you’ll find plenty to do, like play golf, ride horses, or visit the neighboring casino. The boat rides and indoor boulder formation can feel a little Disney-like at times, but the setting is gorgeous.
Arizona Grand Resort (8000 S. Arizona Grand Pkwy., 602/438-9000, www.arizonagrandresort.com , $375–500 d) just completed a $52 million remodel, and the 740-suite property has never looked better. The family-friendly Arizona Grand has all the amenities found at most resorts—a championship golf course, spa, fitness classes—but it’s the Oasis Water Park that has kids and adults buzzing. Many spend days at a time, braving the ocean-like wave pool, tubing the lazy river, or plunging down the three eight-story water slides. At the end of the day, the large suites provide plenty of room for the whole gang—although Mom and Dad may want to grab a drink in the new lobby, which overlooks the golf course’s rolling hills.
Tucked into an upscale residential neighborhood, the 1929 Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa (2400 E. Missouri Ave., 602/955-6600, www.arizonabiltmore.com , $205–675 d) is a Phoenix  landmark. The Art Deco gem elegantly blends geometric forms and Southwest touches, a credit to its architect, Albert Chase McArthur, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Biltmore has attracted presidents, old Hollywood movie stars, and former guests of the Wrigley family, whose winter home still sits atop a hill neighboring the property. Even composer Irving Berlin was an occasional guest, penning “White Christmas” while sitting poolside. For those who are not content to lounge by one of the resort’s eight pools or hit the links at the two adjacent PGA golf courses, the Biltmore offers a full docket of activities that range from wine-tasting and cigar rolling to family-friendly marshmallow roasts and pottery-painting classes.
Unlike Scottsdale ’s large, sprawling resorts, the romantic Royal Palms Resort and Spa (5200 E. Camelback Rd., 800/672-6011, www.royalpalmshotel.com , $400–600 d) is understated, elegant, and intimate. The Mediterranean–style hideaway features stone courtyards with potted flowers and tiled fountains, and its casitas and villas are decorated with Spanish Colonial furniture, rich colors, and Old World accents. It’s the ultimate couple’s getaway spot. You won’t find better ambiance in the city, nor is it easy to top its Alvadora Spa and T. Cook’s restaurant. Best of all, the former private estate sits at the base of Camelback Mountain , an easy 10-minute drive on Camelback Road to the Biltmore neighborhood or Old Town Scottsdale .
Not all of the Valley’s amenity-laden resorts are expensive. The mountainside Pointe Hilton at Squaw Peak (7677 N. 16th St., 602/997-2626, www.pointehilton.com , $160–200 d) is a perfect vacation destination for families, especially in the summer when the property becomes an aquatic oasis. Kids will revel in the Hole-in-the-Wall River Ranch’s multiple pools, waterfall-fed lagoon, half-mile lazy river for tubing, 130-foot slide, and “dive-in” movies. There’s also an 18-hole miniature putting course and hands-on Coyote Camp. The spa and tennis courts aren’t bad, either. And thanks to a $24 million dollar renovation, the all-suite hotel has a host of layouts that can accommodate big parties or large broods.
The Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort (11111 N. 7th St., 602/866-7500, www.pointehilton.com , $160–190 d) is also a great budget option. A $25 million renovation has given a bit of polish to the north-central Phoenix  property. The large, mountainside resort feels cocooned from the city, offering a host of outdoor activities, like hiking at the adjacent North Mountain Park and golfing at Lookout Mountain course. Its Falls Water Village features multiple pools, streams, waterfalls, private cabanas, and a 138-foot slide. Not to be outdone, the restaurants are just as pleasurable, especially the sleek Different Pointe of View, which wows diners with a “mile-high view” of Phoenix.
Perched on a desert hilltop, The Buttes (2000 Westcourt Way, 602/225-9000, www.marriott.com/phxtm , $225–275 d) burrows into its rugged locale, incorporating rock formations right into lobby walls and its two pools. It’s hard to forget that you’re in the middle of the desert and a big city here, as the small resort offers spectacular views of the Valley, especially from its beautifully designed Top of the Rock restaurant. The I-10 freeway runs along the base of the mountain, which can detract from the skyline at rush hour, but thanks to its elevated height, you won’t hear a thing.
An East Valley landmark, the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort (1 N. San Marcos Pl., 480/812-0900, www.sanmarcosresort.com , $140–170 d) has been welcoming guests since Dr. A.J. Chandler opened the hotel in his namesake town in 1913. Chandler’s friend, Frank Lloyd Wright, helped oversee the construction of the California Mission-style resort, and he was just one of a succession of celebrities to spend time at the San Carlos, including President Herbert Hoover, Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, and Bing Crosby. Today, the resort has a lost a bit of its luster, but its beautiful lobby and large rooms are a good value. Plus, you can still enjoy the historic golf course, which was the first in the state with grass greens.
Gold Canyon Golf Resort (6100 S. Kings Ranch Rd., 480/982-9090, www.gcgr.com , $125–150 d) isn’t for everyone, but diehard golfers and travelers hoping to retreat into the desert will love this secluded property in the East Valley community of Gold Canyon, which is about 50 minutes from the airport. Surrounded by the rugged Superstition Mountains, the resort’s white adobe-style buildings gleam in the Sonoran Desert setting, and the expansive views of the cacti and palo verde trees that dot the landscape would cost three times as much in North Scottsdale . The real highlight is Gold Canyon’s two championship desert courses, which Sports Illustrated named among the 10 most underrated in the country.
For a taste of old Arizona, try the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa (300 Wigwam Blvd., 623/935-3811, www.wigwamresort.com , $280–350 d) in the West Valley community of Litchfield Park. The Wigwam began as a winter guest ranch in 1929 for Goodyear tire executives and their families. Today, it’s a AAA Four Diamond resort with three 18-hole championship golf courses, nine tennis courts, three swimming pools, and an Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. The elegant Southwestern property—lushly landscape with green lawns and slender palm trees—features casita-style rooms decorated with wood furnishings, Mexican ceramic tile, slate floors, and copper and leather fixtures.