The most surefire way for me to stop griping about Phoenix is to spend more time in our wonderful museums, because they're improving by leaps and bounds with each exhibit. By now, even passersby must have noticed the Phoenix Art Museum's (1625 North Central Avenue) $60 million facelift, and it's been all over the news about how the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (7374 East Second Street, Scottsdale) has been showing some stellar work. And there's the small fact that Phoenix boasts the West Coast's largest monthly gallery event, First Fridays, which draws upwards of 15,000 people and continues to grow.
Before heading back to First Friday, I plan to drop in on the Heard Museum (2301 North Central Avenue), with its beautiful gardens and Southwest-centric events like the Hoop Dancing Show and the Basket Festival. This home to Native American arts and artists is the largest of its kind, and has grown so rapidly that it now boasts two satellite locations (Heard Museum North, at The Summit at Scottsdale, 32633 North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale; and Heard Museum West, 16126 North Civic Center Plaza in Surprise).
Over in the East Valley, I plan to drop in on Mesa Contemporary Arts (1 East Main Street, Mesa), a great addition to the local art scene with its sprawling campus, sculpture gardens, and famous "Sound in the Ground" concerts. Also on my list is the Pueblo Grande Museum (4619 East Washington Street), where those Hohokam ruins found during a recent highway construction project are now on view, and Glendale's Bead Museum (5754 West Glenn Drive), to rub elbows with jewelry fans and bling aficionados and to check out the 100,000 different kinds of beads on show there.
While I'm waiting for the light rail to be completed, I've resolved to learn about our local railroad history at both the Arizona Railway Museum (330 East Ryan Road, Chandler), and Phoenix's Arizona Street Railway Museum (1218 North Central Avenue), where Arizona's illustrious impact on the Great Iron Horse is well documented in entertaining filmstrips and archival samples.
Also on my resolution list is the Phoenix Museum of History at Heritage Square (105 North Fifth Avenue), where one can learn about how our fair city evolved from cowpoke town to metropolis; and the Hall of Flame Fire Museum (6101 East Van Buren Street), whose collection of firefighting equipment dates back to the 18th century.
Now that I've listed all the things I've resolved to love about Phoenix, I'm beginning to wonder what I've been griping about all these years. I'm sure I'll remember when summer returns and it gets toasty out. In the meantime, I'll stick to my resolution and try to remember there's a whole lot to see and do here that just plain isn't available anywhere else but Phoenix.
THE VALLEY TOP 10 More must-see spots for tourists and locals alike
Desert Botanical Garden From the 6,000 luminarias that light the succulent paths during the holidays to the Garden's year-round live-concert series, there's no better way to experience the beauty of the desert. You'll be amazed at what was meant to grow here. 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, 480-941-1225. www.dbg.org
West of Western Food Festival Just when you thought the best you could hope for in regional fare was drive-through taco stands with names ending in "-berto's," this world-class food festival brings more than 60 of the best local chefs together for two days of food and wine in an homage to local culinary traditions and native cuisine. Check out www.westofwestern.com for information on this year's dates, locations, and menus.
Arcosanti Built as an experiment by Italian architect Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti is an exciting, ever-expanding building concept. There's a theater for events and concerts, and the artisans there turn out some great ceramic-and-copper bells as well as some really yummy bread. Highway 74 in Mayer; call 520-632-7135 for directions. www.arcosanti.org
Heritage Square This cute historic spot, smack dab in the middle of downtown Phoenix, is home to a revolving schedule of fun festivals and educational events. From the Thai Culture Days to the Japanese Matsuri Festival, you'll explore the whole world one event at a time. Keep Heritage Square's event calendar (available on its Web site) handy, and you'll never want for things to do. Best of all, most events are free! 115 N. 6th St. www.phoenix.gov/parks/heritage.html
Japanese Friendship Garden Designed by Japanese architects from Phoenix's sister city, Himeji, Japan, this gorgeous garden sports a giant koi pond, lush landscaping, and an authentic tea house. Call for tour info and tea ceremony reservations. 1125 N. 3rd Ave.; 602-256-3204.
Phoenix Improv Festival Think it's funny to live in the desert? So do these folks, who've launched an annual festival to prove it. Last year, teams came from places as far away as the Czech Republic to wing it for hours on end. Call 480-251-3697 for information on where this year's festival will be held. www.phoeniximprovfestival.com
Boyce Thompson Arboretum This botanical wonderland also provides gorgeous hiking trails and is home to some pretty fantastic bird-watching, besides. 37615 U.S. Highway 60, in Superior; 520-689-2811.
Red Hot Robot
This newish Central Phoenix store is an homage to all things robot. Toys, cards, shirts — it's all about mechanical men, all the time. 14 W. Camelback Rd., 602-264-8560.