Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
We've really taken to the desert lifestyle, soaking up plenty of sun, reveling in the gorgeous Sonoran scenery, and (of course) making the most of our glorious, spring-like winters. But sometimes we still long for some green, leafy trees and the sound of flowing water, the kinds of calming natural elements that are all too rare in this sprawling desert. Luckily, there's a peaceful, plant-filled oasis right in the middle of downtown: The Japanese Friendship Garden. Also known as Ro Ho En, the garden's name combines the character for "heron" (the symbolic bird of Himeji, Phoenix's sister city) with the character for "phoenix," our city's mythical namesake. Discreetly located on Third Avenue, fenced off from the south end of Hance Park, the garden is three and a half acres of traditional Japanese landscape design, with shrubs, flowers, and sculpturally shaped trees, a flowing stream filled with handpicked rocks from all over Arizona, a rustic teahouse surrounded by a lush tea garden, and a tranquil pond filled with colorful koi. It's the perfect place to recharge and relax amid the hubbub of the city and it sure beats the long flight to Japan.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.