Living in Arizona – Hot and Cold in the Desert

Living in Arizona has its pros and cons, as does any place. When I moved away from Arizona after college, I swore I’d never move back. Thirteen years of life in the desert was enough for me. I wanted cooler weather and a new adventure. But nearly two decades after I departed, I moved back. Are you wondering if a move to Arizona is right for you? I hope sharing my family’s struggles and joys of adjusting to life in Arizona will help you decide.

Prickly pear cactus blossoms in Arizona
Prickly pear cactus blossoms in Arizona (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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My Family’s Move to Arizona

After years of clinging to a California dream, my husband and I finally decided that maybe something better awaited us elsewhere. That’s when we took the plunge and made the move to Arizona with our two kids. 

When we lived in San Diego, I equated our family’s happiness with our big house, fun-loving neighbors, the neighborhood grassy park, and the temperate weather of our beloved adopted hometown.

In our dream home, I’d had the ceilings in our kids’ rooms painted with blue skies and puffy white clouds. I even consulted with four different mural artists to select the very best painter for the project.

I paid thousands of dollars for custom-sewn curtains for the master bedroom and bath, selected with the help of an expensive interior decorator.

Now our walls and ceilings are white. The costly curtains are in a box in the garage. Are they missed? Not much.

My kids jumping into our backyard pool in Scottsdale, Arizona (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)
My kids jumping into our backyard pool in Scottsdale, Arizona (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Growing Up in Arizona

I miss my San Diego friends, of course. But we have forged a new life for ourselves in Arizona. Sometimes you need to go away to see what you are missing. And sometimes everything has to change while you’re gone, too.

When I grew up in what was then the northern edge of Scottsdale, there wasn’t a whole lot of here, here. My parents’ house was 30 minutes from the nearest grocery store. They still live in the same home but now they have a choice of several grocery options within a few minutes’ drive, along with a multitude of restaurants and a wide variety of shops.

As a kid, there were barely any museums or family-friendly attractions of any sort in the Phoenix area. For fun, my mom used to drop me off at the drugstore, where for hours I’d consider the merits of silver nail polish versus pink.

My family of origin moved to Scottsdale from Minnesota a couple of months before my fourth-grade year. During that first summer, my big brother and I would take our bikes out for a ride every afternoon looking for other kids. All Arizona children, however, were smartly swimming in backyard pools or sitting inside watching TV in the cool air conditioning.

Big excitement came the following year when a car wash opened a few miles from our house. My brother and I rode our banana-seated bicycles to this new wondrous establishment. There we discovered a vending machine stocked with candies and salty snacks.

We rode home to plunder spare change from our mom’s coin stash before returning to the car wash. We bought chocolate bars and munched on them while staring at cars being doused with suds and jostled by whirling giant scrub brushes.

Scottsdale Civic Center Mall
My daughter at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Rediscovering Arizona

Re-experiencing old favorites here in Scottsdale brings back happy Arizona childhood memories. I get to eat the best-ever chicken taco salad at Ajo Al’s Mexican Café, order mint chocolate chip hot fudge sundaes at the Sugar Bowl, and enjoy other favorite restaurants.

Plus, it’s a joy to bring our kids to MacDonald’s Ranch, where I first discovered my enduring love of horses, and the Scottsdale Civic Center, which I loved to visit as a teen.

Our family has uncovered new treasures like Butterfly Wonderland, filled with hundreds of fluttering beauties. Then there’s the Musical Instrument Museum and its noisy, playful Experience Gallery. Sweetest of all is the Sweet Republic ice cream shop with its astonishingly good frozen treats like brownie ice cream topped with a freshly toasted handmade marshmallow. (Yes, I really like ice cream!)

The Experience Gallery at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)
The Experience Gallery at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Sibling Challenges

I was surprised by how much I fell in love with Arizona after my move back. Our kids, however, struggled with the change.

It started even before we arrived in Scottsdale. A week prior to our departure, with our lives scattered among boxes, our 6-year-old asked his big sister to play “puppies.” Uptight about the move, our then 9-year-old refused and stormed off to her room.

I said I’d love to play with him instead. Pretending to be a dog as best I could, I panted, wagged my tail, and barked. But, as a grown person, a few minutes of this play seemed like enough.

I tried to encourage my puppy friend to come get his teeth brushed. My son exhaled a deep, sad sigh and got up from all fours. He said, “I just need to go outside and think a bit.”

I followed our son and found him with his head buried in crossed arms, leaning on the stucco of our balcony. I rubbed his back and said, “What’s going on, bubba, what are you thinking about?”

He said, “I was just thinking about when Sissy and I used to be best friends.”

That marked the end of it. The end of these two kids being the best advocates, friends, and playmates.

Our first year following our move involved more sass, more backtalk, more arguing, and more tears than we’d ever experienced. And there were a lot more arguments between two children who used to love to play puppies and build forts from sofa cushions.

Friends told me, “It’s a lot of change. It takes time. It’s just a phase.”

Both children have adjusted and now feel at home in Arizona. But honestly, their relationship has never been the same. Maybe it was inevitable they would grow apart as they aged. Maybe not.

Scottsdale, Arizona sunset
Appreciating the sunset in Scottsdale, Arizona (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

New Schools

Anyone who has ever switched schools knows what a challenge this can be. For our daughter, the first few months in Arizona were particularly tough. She did not pay attention in class and seemed depressed to her teacher.

Thankfully, she pulled out of her funk when she made friends with a few other classmates who were also new to Scottsdale. Getting involved in school choir and a community theater program also helped quite a bit.

As for our son, he was so little that it seemed easier for him to make friends and adjust to first grade in a new school. Then a boy in his class began bullying him. Our normally enthusiastic kid who regularly claimed every day was the “best day of his life” became sullen.

It helped when I began regularly volunteering in his classroom. Plus, a big boon in his self-confidence came when he joined Little League baseball, with his dad as coach and grandpa as assistant coach. It’s so important for kids to feel they have somewhere they belong, especially when they don’t feel accepted at school.

My kids enjoy riding their bicycles to school in Arizona (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)
My son riding his bicycle to school in Arizona (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Living in Arizona

Several years have passed and we still live in Arizona. We have all settled in and everyone is happy with our decision to make the move. Honestly, our son doesn’t really remember ever living anywhere else.

Despite Southern California’s near-perfect weather, we actually feel more connected to nature in Arizona. That’s due in large part to the state’s abundance of hiking trails and biking paths. I run or hike on these almost daily, finding a desert beauty to which I was immune growing up here.

When the weather in Scottsdale is hot, the whole family loves to splash in our backyard pool. This is a luxury nearly every house and apartment complex shares in the Phoenix area. Plus, we can always escape to Flagstaff in northern Arizona for a dose of green trees and cooler temperatures.

My son and one of his classmates on Lost Dog Wash Trail outdoors in Scottsdale
My son and one of his friends hiking in Scottsdale (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Thankfully, our family no longer feels overwhelmed by the high cost of California living. We enjoy freedom from constant worry about too-high electricity bills and a mortgage we could no longer afford.

In fact, we’ve purchased a house in Scottsdale that we love even more than our former dream home. It’s similar in size and neighborhood to our San Diego house and we bought it for half the price.

Our kids have lots of friends here, and my husband and I have made a few, too. But for us, living near family has been the biggest benefit of life in Arizona. We didn’t realize how lonely it was raising children without the support of our extended family until we made the move.

We’re closer in proximity and relationship with my Arizona-dwelling parents and brother than ever. My brother and I had grown apart after years of living in different states and we rarely spoke. But now, we live just around the corner from him and his wife, and they’ve become our best friends. In fact, my husband was my brother’s best man at their wedding a few years ago.

The benefits of life in Arizona far outweigh any cons for our family. We only wish we would have made the move a few years earlier!

Collecting pumpkins with Grandma Ellen at Old MacDonald's Ranch (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)
Collecting pumpkins with my mom and kids at MacDonald’s Ranch (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

Learn More About Arizona

If you’re considering visiting or living in Arizona, then take a look at the best kid-friendly activities in Scottsdale and Phoenix!

Concerned about Arizona’s summer heat? Soothe your worries with this list of things to do in Scottsdale in summer.

For cooler weather and small-town vibes, take a look at this array of things to do in Prescott.

Those seeking a quirky desert destination should check out this guide to Jerome, Arizona’s biggest ghost town.

Living in Arizona - Adjusting to Life in the Desert

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  1. I absolutely loved reading your column. We are originally from Southern California. Have been living in the PNW for 26 years. 9 months of rain and cloudy sky. People in the NW are not as friendly as you experience in a warmer climate. We too are making our second attempt to moving to Arizona. We have actually purchased a home and my husband and children are all about it. I am getting very cold feet and scarred to death about the rattle snakes and tarantulas. We will be living some what rural on horse property on the north end of Phoenix. I welcome any input. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Lynn –

      I lived in Southern France for a year during college and it wound up being the rainiest, coldest, windiest year on record! (Or so I heard!) Even as a desert girl, I was mighty tired of the nonstop rain after that year! I understand the calling to move somewhere new. In fact, I don’t know if I’ll ever stop hearing that calling. Worrying about things, in my experience, tends to be actually worse than taking action and going for it! So, I’m team MOVE.

      Since you’ll be living on more rural property, your chances of seeing critters like snakes and spiders are higher than in the cities or in neighborhoods with little natural desert. In my experience, you are more likely to see scorpions than tarantulas. Getting a good exterminator should help a great deal. And, you can always wear indoor houseshoes. (Most people who are stung by scorpions, are stung on their feet. I always wear shoes in my house!)

      Meanwhile, rattlesnakes are just as afraid of us as we are of them. They are not very aggressive and prefer to rattle their tail at you so you back away. Typically, you’ll only find them during warmer months because they hibernate during winter. Even then, stick to trails and watch where you are walking. We’ve seen them a few times, but have never been bitten. (I know people who have been stung by scorpions but I don’t know anyone who has been stung by a rattler.) If you’re really squemish, you can stick to paved paths instead for your hikes and walks. There are plenty of those to go around in the Valley of the Sun!

      Every single place you live will have something you don’t like. In the PNW, it’s the gray and rain. In Arizona, it’s the heat and the (rarely spotted) critters. (Psst…people are crankier here in summer than they are the rest of the year!) In California, it was the astronomical cost of living. Hopefully, you’ll love it here! And, if not, you can always move back or to somewhere new!

      Good luck!

  2. Hi
    I was looking for a local blog site for the Scottsdale area and your site came up. What I was hoping for is to find someone local who posts about living in your area, pluses and minuses, best areas to live, and general information on what life is like in the area.

    I live in New Jersey and plan to retire soon. I want to head out of the cold and damp northeast but don’t really know where to go. I have a daughter in Los Angeles, a son in Ohio, neither of interest for retiring to, and not too many other relatives near me any more.

    I have visited Arizona several times (I traveled for work extensively) and there are many things I liked about your state so I wanted to do more research and maybe start planning trips (as things seem to be getting safer) there and in some other places in the country.

    The Scottsdale area and some suburbs to the north (a little cooler in summer) are of particular interest to me. Lots of sunny days, no snow, lower taxes and cost of living (compared to NJ and California at least) are some draws.
    Extreme heat, “creatures” in your yard or house, and lack of water are some concerns.
    I’m hoping your site might be a good source of information on local lifestyle or place to ask questions before I make plans to explore in person.

    1. Hi Dennis – Congrats on your potential move to Arizona! You will likely find answers to some of your questions if you read through the comments on this post and on this story: Also – you can learn about things to do in the Valley of the Sun if you read this story: and get a sense of what to do in summer in Scottsdale in this story: Let me know if you have any additional questions and I’ll do my best to answer for you!

  3. I’m wondering how your kids adjusted and what you and they went through to become happy with your move to AZ. My husband and I are Denver natives and our parents are also here. I have an 8 year old girl and 10.5yo boy who go to an amazing school that is up the street and they are of course very attached to their friends and their lives here. My daughter seems to be ok with the idea of moving but my son really surprised me with how vehemently he is arguing against moving. He says he hates us now and has never said that before. Says we are ruining his life. He also seems to think that if he just wishes hard enough and keeps arguing against us, we will change our minds. We do have a pretty sweet set up here in Denver with our neighborhood. Tons of super close neighbor kids who flow in and out of each other’s homes and a great “it takes a village” mentality. Your sentiment “a mother is only as happy as her kids” rings so true. Although I couldn’t be more thrilled about moving to AZ, I feel like I have to sacrifice my sons sweetness and trust. He is a Virgo and will never forget or forgive. PLEASE tell me about your daughters experience and I’ll take ANY advice on making the move easier on him.

    1. Hi Chelsea – My daughter (then age 9) really struggled for her first couple of months in Arizona but then she got some friends and settled in. My son (then age 6/1st grade), on the other hand, seemed perfectly fine for the first few months but then really had a hard time for several months — mostly due to a boy at school who was being pretty nasty to him at school. Honestly, that kind of thing can happen anywhere but new kids are probably more susceptible to bullies. Now, at ages almost 16 and almost 13, they are both doing well — or as well as can be expected given the pandemic. They are both doing 100% virtual learning but many families have chosen the in-person learning model. Honestly, I don’t think my kids’ relationship has ever gotten back to where it was before we made the move. That may have been something that would have happened anyway, though. Some siblings become closer due to the stress of a move, like my brother and I did when we moved to Arizona from Minnesota at ages 11 and 8, respectively. Other kids (like my daughter) take their stress out on their families because they don’t know how else to cope. Honestly, I would advise you to do what is best for you and your husband. We parents want to protect our children from the stresses of the world, but these challenges are what make kids stronger and capable to take on difficult things as they get older. Personally, I would say, go for it but, of course, you need to do what’s best for your family!

    2. Also – regarding your question about tips to help kids adjust…I would suggest looking for ways to make finding friends for your kids easier. Little League was a great thing for my son. Meanwhile, my daughter made a lot of her friends through the school choir. If you are a religious, finding a church or synagogue with good youth programs could be helpful, too. Since your kids are still young, you may want to volunteer at their schools to show your support and get an idea of how they’re coping. You don’t need to be there all the time — even volunteering for field trips and/or class parties might be a good idea. Hope that helps!

  4. I am moving to Tempe for a job in January from NJ. Honestly, I am really scared. We will be far away from family and the weather etc seems so different. Between what I have read about the crime, dust storms, monsoons, and numerous poisonous animals, I am unsure whether I should have even considered the job. We are both worried about our dog and cats with the amount of critters in AZ. I hate creepy crawlers and have a pretty bad fear of roaches. Positive notes, I am excited to see the sun all the time and never have to shovel. Any words of advice?

    1. Hi Jess –

      I lived in Tempe for four years when I went to college at Arizona State. A lot of the crime is due to theft. I’d guess that a lot of the other violent crimes are due to bar fights and campus rapes (unfortunately). Overall, Arizona is a safe state and you will feel safe in Tempe during the day. As with any city, you should take precautions, especially if you’re a woman out alone or if exploring at night.

      As far as dust storms and monsoons, we really have less dangerous natural disasters in Arizona than in most states. No blizzards (except in Northern Arizona), no hurricanes, and very, very rare to have tornadoes here. (We never used to have tornadoes ever but with global warming, crazy weather is spreading everywhere!) Dust storms are pretty rare as well. Monsoons are beautiful to behold and the rain is very welcome.

      I would keep cats and small dogs indoors unless supervised if you live in a very remote area where coyotes can be a problem. If you’re living in the city, though, you won’t need to worry much.

      Get yourself a good pesticide service that comes once per month to spray your property to ward off scorpions and other bugs and you should be good to go. Typically they only spray the inside of our house once every four months or so, and the rest of the time, they just spray outside. The closer you live to mountains and open desert, the more bugs and critters you will encounter. The more urban your location, the less likely these will be a problem.

      There are a lot of positives about life in the desert. I have been eating breakfast outside every morning for the past month or so. Meanwhile, my relatives in Minnesota are still dealing with snow! I hope you enjoy Arizona. Please do check back in and let us know how you’re adjusting!

      1. I am planning to move to AZ spring 2023, making it my retirement home. I have lived in CA past 25 years but cost of living and politics make it impossible to retire comfortably in CA. My son and his wife moved to Peoria 2 years ago, love it, would never consider moving back to CA. I like the area south of Cave Creek, along the 51 fwy, east of Scottsdale.
        Any insight, words of wisdom as I begin my explorations and planning?


      2. Best wishes with your move, Michael! My biggest advice is to go ahead and make the move sooner rather than later! I only wish we had moved to Arizona years before we did — we would’ve saved so much money and stressed so much less!

  5. Hi Colleen,
    I’m a French TV reporter, I work for a travel and discovery program for French TV and I’m preparing an upcoming episod about Arizona.
    After a few research, I realised Arizona is a very attractive state in the US, and I consider doing a report about arizona newcomers.
    This is how I found your blog.
    I would like to discuss more on this topic.
    Do you have an email we can communicate through or if you prefer, we can try by whatsapp, you will hear my french accent 🙂