Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2006

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Best Of :: Shopping & Services

BEST MALL EXPERIENCE WITH THE KIDS
Chandler Fashion Center

The key to a pleasurable mall trip with the kids? Baby steps. Don't try to tackle the whole place. Save that for a day you've got a sitter, or give up entirely and shop online in the middle of the night, like we do. If the A/C and bright colors of the mall beckon, head to Chandler Fashion Center and follow our simple instructions for a great time: Enter through the Barnes & Noble. Immediately stop at the Starbucks inside. Fortified, you can find yourself waylaid for quite a while in the children's section, and if you work it right, you can grab yourself a book or magazine from the adult aisles. Or let Junior hand you something fun to read. The children's section here even features a small wooden stage perfect for cuddling up to read or clearing off to perform. From B&N, you'll be led directly to the small playground, limited to toddlers and open enough to guarantee you can watch your kid the whole time (other local malls' indoor playgrounds include closed slides; you'll drive yourself nuts making sure Junior's okay). Do be careful there are no escapes into the elevator the playground's one design flaw. The best part? You can go to Build a Bear or the candy store if you choose, but neither is visible from the playground itself, ensuring that the parent gets to make that call. We're pretty certain the mall planners didn't do that on purpose, but we're grateful nonetheless.

3111 W. Chandler Blvd., Chandler, 85226
MAP
480-812-8488
BEST PLACE TO RENT A SIX-FOOT PYTHON

When we wanted to rent an Australian Jungle Carpet python, we knew where to go. Rich Ihle has been collecting, studying and breeding reptiles for more than 30 years, and he's happy to lend some of them out, for a fee and with supervision, for which we're thankful. We're not sure we want a python all our own (who knew they peed!), so we'll stick to the rental option, thanks to Reptile Adventures.

BEST PLACE TO MAKE YOUR GARDEN GREEN

To be honest, we thought hydroponics was just a method to grow better dope plants inside your closet. That was before we stepped foot in Tempe's Sea of Green. Turns out it's actually a real science, dude. Who knew? Contrary to popular belief, hydroponics isn't about growing a plant in water. Heck, we all did that as kids with pineapples and potatoes, so who would need fancy supplies for that? Most hydroponic gardens are cultivated in a stiff substrate, like floral foam or Perlite, soaked with water and placed under a UV light. Sea of Green offers everything you need to set up an indoor hydroponics garden. There are seeds, pots, herbs and full kit systems with catchy names like Ebb & Flow. The bulk of the place's business is mail order, but hey, there are probably just a lot of model citizens out there growing organic plants. Yeah, that's it. Big, leafy, green, er, vegetables.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A DESERT PLANT

You'd think it would be easy to find good desert plants in the actual desert. Think again. We scoured nurseries (limited selection), souvenir stops (tacky) and gardens (pricey) before stumbling upon this little gem of a shop hidden in Old Town Scottsdale. Cactus Hut proprietor Jeffrey Shaw has been quietly importing and grooming desert plants for 30 years. His tiny storefront has a stellar variety of unusual succulents and cacti, from the spiny echinocactus, also called a barrel cactus, to the more welcoming hildiwinteria with its fuzzy yellow coat. Popular gifts include magnets with miniature live specimens and prepackaged cactus kits ranging from $7.95 to $26.95. Shipping service is available on most items. It's hard to kill a cactus, but don't get too cocky. Occasionally, a customer will come back after a few days with a dead aloe, says Shaw, wondering how that could have happened when it was watered faithfully twice a day.

BEST USE OF A PRICKLY PEAR

We're cheating a little, because the truth is that High Spirits Prickly Pear Flavored Vodka is actually brewed in Flagstaff, at the Mogollon Brewing Company. Yeah, we know, Valley sprawl being what it is, Flag is practically north Phoenix . . . Maybe by next year. In any case, we feel justified in giving this vodka a Best of Phoenix not only because it's so good, but because when we finally did locate it, it was in a Bashas' in Ahwatukee, not at the brewery in Flagstaff. (You can't buy it at the Mogollon Brewery. We know that because we drove all the way to Flagstaff, walked into the brewery with a toddler in tow and asked to buy it. They can't sell it by the bottle, the kind bartender explained, because it's brewed on site. Whatever. We were annoyed, but glad no one commented on the child.) In any case, you can find High Spirits Prickly Pear Flavored Vodka at your local Bashas' here in the Valley, if it's not sold out, and it might well be because although it costs almost $30 a bottle, this stuff is gooood! We sipped it straight (warm, even, we were that eager to try it), but we prefer it over ice, or, as a friend suggested, it might go well over ice cream. We can't think of a better use for a prickly pear.

BEST USE OF A PRICKLY PEAR NOT INVOLVING ALCOHOL

All year long, we keep a folder full of ideas for Best of Phoenix awards menus, newspaper clippings, notes scribbled on cocktail napkins. This year, that folder also contains a bar of soap. Yes, it makes the folder a little bulky, but we've found it's not enough to keep a bar of Wild Women Soaps prickly pear on the bathroom counter we like to keep it by the computer, and sniff it often. It smells that good. If you want your own bar to keep by the computer (and maybe one for the sink, too), you can buy it at the gift shop at the Desert Botanical Garden, or shop online.

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BEST MALL EXPERIENCE WITH THE KIDS: Chandler Fashion Center

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