Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2009


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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best South Phoenix Hike

There are two things you need to know about this hike, and they're both supercool: 1) the Alta Trail is situated on the front range at South Mountain Park, and we're betting that many of you didn't even know there was a front range; 2) the "Alt" section of this trail is not maintained and does not appear on any of the park's maps. Translation: It's not choked with other hikers and it's completely badass.

If you want to hike the "official" Alta Trail, drive about two miles down the San Juan Road and park in a gravel lot at mile marker 2.5 and the Bajada Trailhead, where you connect with a well-maintained trail to the top. That's fine, but you'll miss most of the eastern section of the range and a helluva lot of stellar trekking if you choose that route. Better to do it our way.

After you pass through the headquarters section on the park's main road, turn right at the sign that says Big Ramada and Little Ramada picnic areas. Drive as far as the road will take you and then park. Aim for the nearest rise to the west, and follow the dirt tracks that lead inexorably to the summit of the range. After a brief but leg-frying up, you'll find yourself atop a panorama-saturated, dragon-back ridge that follows the crest of the range all the way to its terminus at San Juan Lookout, about four miles away.

When you get to San Juan, turn around and do it in reverse.

You'll regret it — but you won't.

10919 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85042
Best Bike Gang

If you've never seen the PhoenixPhreaks in action before, just wait until the next First Friday rolls around. This roving gang of cycling psychos (who serve as the local chapter of the national Freakbike Militia) can typically be found cruising down Roosevelt Street or in the vicinity of Bikini Lounge or the Firehouse. They're as much a part of the monthly art walk as the paintings and free cheese and crackers. Speaking of masterpieces, the modified two-wheelers being piloted are works of art in their own right. Most are ordinary bikes that have been elongated and rebuilt to resemble Harley-Davidson choppers straight outta Easy Rider (if Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were pedaling their way across the Southwest, that is). Others have been pimped up and polished in classic cherry lowrider style. Then there are the bizarre and beautiful customizations, like Allan Greenblazer's "Green Fuzzy Chopper," which (as the name implies) is covered in emerald-colored shag carpeting. We were feeling pretty green ourselves, albeit with envy, after seeing it roll past.

Best Place to See Lowriders

The annual Cruise on Central has been happening in the Valley since the 1960s, and it embraces a proud tradition of hot rods, custom cars, and pimped-out lowriders. Generally held the first Saturday in April, Cruise on Central features a variety of vintage rides, from '70s model Chevy Impalas to '67 Chevy trucks to '41 Pro Street rods. Participants meet at Park Central Mall, just south of Osborn, and proceed south on Central Avenue in a parade of classic and American muscle cars. The event is so hugely popular that it's created problems, with hundreds of people lining up across several blocks of Central Avenue and creating traffic and crowd control concerns. Luckily, the Cruise on Central is adaptable — it'll switch dates at the last minute (as it did this year, when the April 11 cruise was rained out and rescheduled for April 18), or even switch locations (this year's cruise actually happened on Jackson Street).

Best Day of the Dead Merchandise Year-Round
Purple Lizard

We've looked high and low, and Purple Lizard — a dear little boutique in west Phoenix packed with cute linen clothes, cuter bags, and spicy-sweet candles — is the only place in town we could find that is currently selling the supplies you need for Dia de los Muertos, a.k.a. Day of the Dead. Here we can stock up the supplies to make sugar skulls (molds, decorations, and the meringue power essential to getting the sugar to stick together), marigolds (the holiday's traditional flower, conveniently made here out of paper) and all manner of skeletons. Not real ones, of course, but the papier-mâché traditionally made to celebrate the dead. At Purple Lizard, you can find a larger-than-life-size lady or a classic diorama with tiny figures, as well as books, tissue paper cutouts, paintings and other items making up the most unique collection of Day of the Dead offerings we've seen anywhere.

2827 N. 15th Ave., Phoenix, 85007
Best Go-Kart Racing
Speed Street Indoor Racetrack

Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a good old-fashioned auto race. For those of us who don't own a muscle car or have the cash to try the big leagues at Bondurant, there's Speed Street Indoor Racetrack, where you can traverse a third-mile track in a bright yellow speedster with a nine-horsepower, four-stroke engine. Okay, their go-karts aren't exactly NASCAR-worthy, but if you crank one up to top speed — about 50 miles per hour — it's still pretty freaking awesome. Each kart has racing slicks for advanced traction and ROC timing to clock your speed as you make a lap, and the indoor arena is temperature-controlled to reduce those nervous sweats. We're a little wary of the happy-hour special, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Fridays, but Speed Street's waiver assures us there won't be any DUIs out on the track.

6542 W. Bell Rd., Glendale, 85308
Best Indoor Rock Climbing
The Phoenix Rock Gym

Want to reach new heights but you're afraid of coming face-to-face with a rattler, scorpion, or hive of Africanized bees? Get inside. The Phoenix Rock Gym offers routes for any level climber. The Beginner's Canyon has straight vertical walls, and those without gear can rent everything they need and climb all day for under $20. More experienced? Ape up the walls of the two more technical areas of the gym, Hueco Canyon or Exit Canyon, or boulder 'til your fingers bleed. The gym offers monthly and quarterly passes, which are both reasonably priced. (For a cool $1 million, The Phoenix Rock Gym also offers a lifetime pass.)

1353 E. University Dr., Tempe, 85281

Best South Phoenix Hike: Alta "Alt" Trail


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