I grew up in Phoenix. Also lived in Tucson for 7 years (approx. 2 hours south of Phx).
To answer your Qs about Phx . . .
Is Arizona a nice place to live and raise a family? We have a toddler so I am concerned with schools, safety etc. Like anywhere else, check out the different neighborhoods and school districts. Some areas are rough. Others are very new and safe. I’d check out the crime stats too. It’s a big city and there is crime. Growing up, I didn’t experience any violent crime. Our house was robbed 2x – but it was just teens from the neighborhood going through all the houses in the area (not that it makes it any better – teens vs. career criminals).
The rental prices are way less than up here from what I’ve seen. Fiance could transfer with his work and I’m a Stay-At-Home Mom. Rents were less $$ in AZ than any other place I have lived. Again, just watch the neighborhood. Some are more expensive than others. I can’t comment on which neighborhood to look at anymore. Every time I go back, there are new developments and massive sprawl. Also, realize your air conditioning bill will be high. Growing up, ours was almost as high as our mortgage. Many homes have pools too – so this is another monthly upkeep cost if you go this route.
Are people generally friendly to non Hispanics? Yes. I always recall a mix of cultures. I’m Caucasian. We learned Spanish in school which was nice. Phx. does tend to be very conservative. Tucson is less so (college town) and has a lot of hippies.
I love hot weather and sunshine. You have to love the heat to live there!! 🙂 It’s nice to have so much sunshine year-round, but the summers are HOT and dry. Have you experienced a really hot day? Maybe go down in July or August to see what it feels like – if you haven’t already. Growing up, I never knew anything else. Since moving away, now when I go back, I just can’t handle the heat. I feel like I can’t breathe on those really hot days. A day of 120 something would kill me now. Also, the desert can get cold in the winter (well cold for me anyway :)). There’s not really other weather issues. There are monsoons – big storms, but that’s about it. But, looking back, people just learned to live with the weather – same as people who live in the snow. You don’t go out running the summer afternoon, you always have water with you and in your car, you do things in the morning and evening, etc.
There was good outdoor activities – hiking, etc. There were lots of activities for kids. I recall community centers, parks, and community activities.
It has a large snow-bird population – so increases in population in the winter and then people clear out in the hot summer months.
A lot of people absolutely love Phx. and the surrounding areas. However, it was never a good fit for me, which is why I left Phx right after I graduated high school. I wanted out since I was little. I personally didn’t like the suburban sprawl – house after house that all blended together. Strip mall after strip mall. It’s not a walking city. I don’t know, it just wasn’t what I wanted. I ended up moving to NYC and now to LA. But, that’s what makes cities great – everyone one is different and has something for each individual personality. If you can, I would spend a week or longer there. Just to get a sense of the different areas, the feel, and the weather.