Phoenix Bucket List - 100 Things to Do Before You Die: Books, Bats, and the Biltmore

Behind the scenes at the VNSA sale.
Behind the scenes at the VNSA sale.
Claire Lawton

Welcome to the Phoenix Bucket List. Robrt Pela and Amy Silverman -- two New Times contributors and longtime Phoenicians -- have put together a list of 100 things to do in this city before you die. Each week we're presenting another 10; in March we'll wrap it all up in a cover story in New Times. For now, stay tuned to Valley Fever for more installments and be sure to share your suggestions in the comments section. Today, Robrt Pela presents the next 10 items on the list.

Camp out at the annual VNSA book sale You're a word nerd if you camp out overnight outside the Volunteer Non-Profit Services Association annual book sale. And, if you've never attended this 58-year-old tradition, you're something far worse. (Full disclosure: Pela's a member of the board in charge of the sale.) The VNSA sale is the largest two-day used book sale in the southwest, and draws collectors from as far away as Manila. Savvy book dealers, collectors, and just plain old readers line the parking lot outside the State fairgrounds hangar where VNSA peddles more than a half-million books over two days, some of them early the night before the sale opens, trading stories about rare book finds or comparing notes on Anne Tyler and Scott Turow. Before you shuffle off this Earth, you should join them, just once.

See also: 5 Cool Phoenix Neighborhoods You've Probably Never Heard Of

Phoenix Bucket List - 100 Things to Do Before You Die: Books, Bats, and the Biltmore
Chow Bella

Eat penuche nut ice cream at Mary Coyle's If Mondays suck in Phoenix, it's only because Mary Coyle's is closed on that day. There's nowhere to go, between Sunday and Tuesday, for maple walnut ice cream. Or for amaretto sorbet. Not to mention a double-dip penuche nut cone, a Mary classic. The rest of the week, you can visit this 63-year-old ice creamery, where you might order a Hula Bowl (vanilla, burgundy cherry, and maple walnut ice cream served with pineapple, walnuts, fresh bananas, and coconut topping) and enjoy the framed photos of people eating dessert in old-time Phoenix.

Ogle a Vietnamese Catholic Church For the first several years after founding their church in 2004, parishioners of the Vietnamese Martyrs rented a hall at a nearby cathedral. Today, their big, gold-encrusted place of worship is a sight to behold, both inside and out. Built in honor of the more than 100,000 missionary-trained Catholics persecuted and murdered in the 18th-century, the building is a gilded stunner. Facing Northern Avenue and flanked by giant gilded dragons, the three-story church's massive arch is framed by smaller arches and peaked with swooping points that shelter octagonal windows and towering pillars. The gargantuan silver cross crowning the peak of the roof is a stunner, and tips us off that this is, in fact, a place of worship.

Hear a diva sing outdoors at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Judy Collins swallowed a moth there, once. She was singing "Famous Blue Raincoat," and it just flew into her mouth. Otherwise, nothing bad has ever happened at the outdoor band shell at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, where Rosanne Cash performed a Valentine's Day concert two years ago that people are still talking about. Our town may never recover from Betty Buckley's one-woman show, which the Broadway diva presented in 2003. Women singing to us in the dark, while we lounge on the grass outside Scottsdale's best museum, drinking wine and staring at the stars -- who could ask for more?  

Take the Winnie Ruth Judd tour Rumor has it that the house at 2943 North Second Street, where Winnie Ruth Judd killed her two roommates in 1932 (and where she may have had something to do with chopping one of them into bits and shoving her body into a steamer trunk), is about to be bulldozed. If so, hurry and go look at this bungalow, utterly unchanged in more than 80 years. Or traipse past Jack Halloran's home at 514 West Lynwood Street, where Winnie began an early 1930s affair with Halloran, the married man who some say is the real culprit in this lurid tale. Pop into the Grunow Memorial Clinic at 926 East McDowell Road, where Winnie worked with Anne LeRoi, one of her victims. Or, if ogling old buildings isn't your idea of a good time, snag a tour of the Arizona State Hospital at 24th Street and Van Buren, from which Winnie repeatedly escaped during her decades-long incarceration there.

Watch the bats take off at 40th Street and Camelback From May to October, right at nightfall, they come swooping out of the flood control channel (and its adjacent canal tunnel) at 40th Street and Camelback: Mexican Freetail bats, thousands of which live and breed in the dark confines of this cool structure. Swooping and diving, the bats forage in the nearby trees and hunt aquatic insects in the canal, and locals gather to watch their graceful flight, perhaps thinking of Transylvania or of local author Stephanie Meyer.

Hang out in the lobby at the Arizona Biltmore Squint a little at the view of green lawn surrounded by palm trees, framing stately mountains, and it could be 1929, the year that the Biltmore opened its doors. No matter where you look, or what year you're pretending it is, the lobby of this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building is the best spot in town for real-life luxury. Plunk down at one of the little tables that are flanked by not one but two bars; order a cocktail, and listen to the house pianist play. Class.  

Palmcroft Historic District in Phoenix.
Palmcroft Historic District in Phoenix.
Katie Johnson

Drive through the Encanto/Palmcroft neighborhood In the '60s and '70s, Phoenix exploded with slump-block suburbs, most of which survive, blighting our architectural landscape with bona fide blah. Head downtown and drive through this best-kept neighborhood, and you'll be witness to what Phoenix looked like before Del Webb took over. Stunning 1920s California Craftsman bungalows and Mock Tudors stand side by side on wide lots framed by 100-year-old trees and well-tended box hedges; stately Victorians and stunning saltboxes stare each other down on streets right out of the Good Old Days, when Encanto/Palmcroft wasn't history, it was just a better street in Phoenix.

People-watch at Metrocenter Some locals remember when this was the "It" mall, glammed up with sparkly, glitter-encrusted walls and high-end department stores and super-cute boutiques (Lotions and Potions! 5-7-9!) one saw in no other local mall. Others who've moved to Phoenix more recently recall Metrocenter's ghetto era, when it was full of cut-rate shops and empty storefronts. Today, it's somewhere in between, but one thing that Metrocenter, which opened for business in late 1973, has always offered is some wicked people-watching. Suburbanites shopping for school clothes and gang members out for a rumble comingle here, particularly on weekend mornings. Metro's pretty indoor water fountains have all been replaced with seating areas where one can position oneself for an hour or two of first-class freak show viewing like no other place in town.

Previous Bucket Lists: Phoenix Bucket List - 100 Things to Do in Phoenix Before You Die: The Introduction Phoenix Bucket List - 100 Things to Do Before You Die: Castles, Crescent, and Really Hot Mexican Food

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Related Locations

Arizona State Fairgrounds

1826 W. McDowell Road
Phoenix, AZ 85007


Mary Coyle Ol' Fashion Ice Cream Parlor - Closed

5521 N. Seventh Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85013


Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

7380 E. Second St.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251


Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa

2400 E. Missouri Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85016


Metrocenter Mall

9617 N. Metro Parkway
Phoenix, AZ 85051


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