Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2007

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

BEST MALE PRO ATHLETE

What can we say about Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, except that he's the greatest?

Here's a guy who runs about 40 miles a night on the basketball court as he enters his mid-30s, all the while shucking and jiving with the ball, passing to this teammate and that. Making the art of basketball assists look like child's play. Never has anybody who looked so un-athletic been so, well, athletic! Experts say boxers are the greatest athletes, but the way Steve Nash handles the basketball, the way he cuts through defenders is truly phenomenal.

The Suns didn't win the championship last year, but it wasn't because of Nash. He did everything in his power to push his team ahead, even getting pushed gang-style by the Spurs' Robert Horry into the scorer's table in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. That turned out to be the cheap shot heard around the world. Two Suns, Amaré Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, were suspended for the next game — which would have been a momentum contest under normal circumstances — and the Suns ended up losing the series. See, Stat and Three-D made a move toward the melee, which warrants an automatic one-game suspension under NBA rules. But we digress. Little Stevie jumped up from the floor after Horry's cowardly push and tried to go after the 6-foot-11 thug.

Thing is, Nash's so athletic that we'd like to see him in the boxing ring someday, and we're pretty sure that if the referee hadn't gotten in the way, and Stoudemire and Diaw hadn't made their advances, our hero would've leapt into the air and landed one on Big Shot Rob's sneering kisser. With his foot! Did we mention that Nash's even better at soccer than hoops?

BEST PLACE TO REVEL IN THE DESERT
Tovrea Castle Carraro Cactus Garden

The City of Phoenix's ongoing renovation of Tovrea Castle, one of the Valley's premier oddball landmarks, has given us hope that Phoenix has finally learned to spell "p-r-e-s-e-r-v-a-t-i-o-n." The estate — which looks like a royal wedding cake defended by a swarm of palace-guard saguaros — was built by Italian entrepreneur Alessio Carraro and named after meat-packing magnate Edward Tovrea, who bought the baronial digs for his wife, Della, in 1931. The sentinel saguaros are part of the Castle's spectacular Carraro Cactus Garden, which was designed and planted by Alessio and his sons in 1928. Until recently, it was a secret garden, opened to the public only once, in 1984, for one lousy weekend. But the city introduced regular public tours in early '07, and guided walks through our arid little Eden — which is packed to the gills with both common and exotic samples of high- and low-Sonoran Desert flora — are now scheduled each January through May.

5041 E. Van Buren, Phoenix, 85008
MAP
602-256-3220
BEST PLACE TO REVEL IN THE DESSERT
Amazing Jake's Food and Fun

Why do kids (and the parents who pay for them) love Amazing Jake's Food and Fun, the indoor amusement extravaganza in Mesa?

Ask Anna, age 9: "They have brownies, which are so good. And chocolate chip cookies, and ice cream — vanilla, chocolate and swirl. They have all different choices of desserts, too. Last time I went there, it was lemon meringue squares. I think they had oatmeal cookies. I didn't have any of those. I had the brownies and the chocolate chip cookies and the ice cream. And they're all really good. Some cookies are really hard and crunchy. I hate those kind. But these, like, they have crisp outsides, not crunchy, but just crisp and the inside is really soft and the chocolate chips are kind of melted, and the brownies are, like, so soft that if you tear it apart, some of it will stick together. They have an old-fashioned carousel, which you don't really see very often. They have a train ride where you can sit in the front and ring the bell. I like the Hopper because you go up up up up up and then down and up and down and up and down and as many of those as you want to. And such cool prizes. They have bicycles. It's all-you-can-eat and the pizza is delicious — like, I am not a girl who likes the curly macaroni, but I have got to say I have never had this good of pasta. It's just right. It has the perfect sauce, it has olives, and they have vegetarian stuff like salads, corn, which my friend Rocky says is disgusting — don't put that — because she was trying to see if she could have all healthy and she took one bite and I don't know how you write this, but she went like this [makes a face like the guy from Munch's The Scream] after too many rides on the Hopper. The only way to explain Amazing Jake's is that it's amazing. No, that's an exclamation mark."

1830 E. Baseline Rd., Mesa, 85204
MAP
480-926-7499
BEST PLACE TO ROLL AROUND IN THE DESSERT

It only makes sense that things might get a little wild in Phoenix. After all, we're living in a land settled by outcasts, criminals, and whores. That restlessness still exists in the desert air and has certainly been huffed by Phoenix's very own Dirty Darlins of Debauchery, the first and only female pudding-wrestling league in Arizona. These hot mamas, clad in fishnets, tattoos, piercings, and rainbow-colored hair, love to fulfill many a man's fantasy by viciously body-slamming each other in a kiddy pool full of pudding. It gets pretty brutal — they put on a show that has the kinkiness of Larry Flynt, the moves of WWE, and a marketing ploy for pudding that rivals Bill Cosby. The slippery sex kittens compete frequently at clubs around the Valley that don't mind being a little sticky. Careful with these gorgeous girls, however, because they are tough broads whom we wouldn't want to cross. Their MySpace quote says, "Fear our Snack Pack Skillz." And we certainly do.

BEST RESORT POOL
Sanctuary Resort & Spa

It's not the biggest pool in town, and it's not even the flashiest (you won't find any fountains or water slides at this serene spot), but there are still three good reasons why the pool at Sanctuary on Camelback is our favorite place for a swim: location, location, location. Nestled amidst an oasis of lush palm trees and palo verdes that lazily wave in the breeze, it looks like a placid turquoise lagoon under the big, blue Arizona sky, with a sweet view of Camelback Mountain and the Praying Monk rock formation practically hovering over us. Sanctuary also claims its pool has the biggest infinity edge in the state — we love to swim right up to it, listening to the soothing sound of water splashing over glossy mosaic tiles. After we've turned into prunes, the surrounding flagstone patio is the perfect place to chill on a sleek white lounge chair and sip a cold piña colada from a curvy lime-green cup (which happens to be the same exact shade as the beach towels here). People come from all over the country to stay at this stylish Paradise Valley enclave, but we're thrilled that we can go there anytime we want — when we can scrounge up the cash, that is.

5700 E. McDonald Dr., Paradise Valley, 85253
MAP
480-607-2339
BEST SPA
Spa at Camelback Inn

We hate to sound like a broken record, but once again, this year's honor for Best Spa must go to our all-time favorite, the Spa at Camelback Inn. As a friend recently waxed (heh heh, get it?), "You feel so close to the desert, it's like you can actually reach up and touch the cactus." And it's true — snuggled in your thick white robe, stretched out on an impossibly comfortable chaise next to a clear blue swimming pool, beneath Mummy Mountain, you do feel as if you could reach up and grab a prickly handful.

Instead, head indoors for a Sonoran Rose facial, Native Hot Stone massage, Desert Rain loofah or Desert Nectar honey wrap. Or what the heck — get all four. You only live once, and what better place to blow your spending money than this lovely spa, featuring a sauna, hot tub and private spaces for all-out sunbathing, if you know what we mean. Rent a cabana, take some exercise classes and grab a mani-pedi. We're relaxed just writing about it.

5402 E. Lincoln Dr., Paradise Valley, 85253
MAP
480-948-1700
BEST WAY TO GET PAMPERED FOR A GOOD CAUSE

We remember when $20 was all it took for a fun night on the town. Dinner, movies, drinks — heck, even dancing — were all within reach. These days, $20 won't cover our weekly designer coffee habit. That all changed with the Summer Spaaah Series. This is one beauty of a benefit, raising money for the Jewell McFarland Lewis-Fresh Start Women's Resource Center. Each summer, six local luxury spas join in for a full Sunday of pampering, for a mere 20 bucks a person. From mini-manis at the Boulders to partial pedis at the Biltmore or even mini-facials at Aji, attendees can select one scaled-down (read: shorter) treatment from a menu of spa services. There's no scrimping on the eats, which include a chocolate buffet complete with chocolate fountain, and other lunchables. There's even a parting gift: a goodie bag stuffed full of beauty products.

And all for a good cause. Spa-tacular! Sign us up for next year.

BEST WAY TO GET SWEATY FOR A GOOD CAUSE
Al Moro Dance Studio

Imagine your P.E. class back in the '80s, minus the embarrassing, random boxer-short tents you pitched in the locker room. Think tube socks, push-ups and jumping jacks. But this time, replace your high school gym with the Al Moro Dance Studio on Camelback and the sounds of '80s pop and lock thumping out of the speakers. If you're willing to pay for Daniel Wayne's Old School Sunday morning workout, your prize is a free Spanish-style breakfast at Lola restaurant next door, whipped up by his fabulous wife, Felicia. The couple own Lola Tapas and the Al Moro Dance Studio. They wanted a way to give back to the community, while whipping the town into shape, physically and philanthropically. It's sweating for a cause because all the class fees go to a charity picked by the students. You pay what you want to donate. Since the workout started about nine months ago, the group has raised $2,000 for causes including Free Arts of Arizona, the Music Conservatory of Phoenix, and the family of slain Phoenix Police Officer George E. Cortez. Feel good inside and out with a camarón in your mouth and sweat on your brow!

806 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 85014
MAP
602-909-0361
BEST CHEAP THRILL
Phoenix Symphony Target Family Series

Want to raise your kid to like Beethoven and Brahms, not just Beyoncé? In Phoenix, at least, you don't have a financial excuse not to instill a love of classical music early, thanks to the fine people at Target. With their assistance, the Phoenix Symphony is able to offer a series of six kid-friendly concerts. Next season's bill of fare, which starts in October, features everything from Tchaikovsky to Bernstein — with some local favorites, including the Grand Canyon Orchestra, thrown in for good measure. Tickets start at just $10. And for every adult subscription you buy, a child can attend free. Don't have a kid? With a deal this good, you may want to start looking for a long-lost nephew.

75 N. 2nd. St., Phoenix, 85003
MAP
602-495-1999
BEST NOT-SO-CHEAP THRILL
Arizona Opera at Symphony Hall

Tired of evenings out that always seem to feature those Valley standbys: flip-flops and cheap margaritas? There's no better cure than a trip to an Arizona Opera performance. It's the one of few things in town that people really do get dressed up for. And while the good seats aren't cheap — the opera wants a $2,500 donation plus $121 a show just to sit in certain areas — you can be frugal, with back-row tickets starting at $34 on weekdays. Even there, though, you're going to feel like a million dollars. Just leave the plastic sandals at home.

75 N. 2nd. St., Phoenix, 85003
MAP
602-495-1999
BEST DATE IF THE SKY'S THE LIMIT
Turf Soaring School

If you really want to bond with that special someone — and you and your date collectively weigh less than 300 pounds — a glider ride at Lake Pleasant is the adventure for you.Our spies who've tried the experience say it's a great way to get a little bit closer and check out the beauty of mountains, the lake, and clear blue Arizona skies. For $135, you can take the controls. Not quite so confident? There are plenty of options in which you can let the staff do the work and you and your honey can sit back and enjoy the beauty.

8700 W. Carefree Highway, Peoria, 85383
MAP
602-439-3621
BEST CHEAP DATE
Public Art Tour, Scottsdale Civic Center

Instead of the usual dinner, movie, and awkward conversation, we suggest something a little more creative. Get off your butt and get moving. Not quickly; a meandering pace will do. Don't worry, we'll give you something to look at, even if your date's not super-viewable.

Scottsdale is home to some impressive public art, a large deal of it near the Civic Center and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. An early-evening self-guided tour is the perfect way to get to know your date (like whether she's ever been inside a museum).

Start with Knight Rise, one of only three sky spaces by the famed artist James Turrell open to the public in the United States. The space is breathtaking at sunset, when you can sit inside the sky chamber and watch the light change through the skylight at the top. It's quiet and a good place to actually get to know the person you're with.

After that, where you move to depends on your taste. There are more than 20 works of art throughout the Civic Center area to look for. We're partial to Robert Indiana's famous Love sculpture and the Hummingbird Sanctuary Garden a few blocks south.

Scottsdale's public art Web site gives a detailed description of each piece available along the tour so you can choose to plan your route, or just wander around and see what you find.

Afterwards, there are plenty of places nearby to feed your date. We like AZ88 and Orange Table, both located just a short hand-holding walk from the museum.

7375 E. Second St., Scottsdale, 85251
MAP
480-312-2375
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BEST MALE PRO ATHLETE: Steve Nash

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