Phoenix Bucket List - 100 Things to Do Before You Die: Castles, Crescent, and Really Hot Mexican Food
A vintage sign offers tours of Tovrea Castle.
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, Amy Silverman presents the next 10 items on the list.
The dancing girl above the mantle at Tovrea Castle was a gift from the Orpheum Theatre.
Step inside Tovrea Castle If you are anything like me, you spent your childhood -- and beyond -- staring at that castle, particularly once the 202 offered such a perfect pass-by view. I dreamed of getting married at Tovrea Castle, marveled at the romantic cake-topper of a building. Good thing I didn't wait to get married inside, because I'd already celebrate my 14th anniversary by the time the city opened the grounds to tours after decades of off-limits. But it was worth the wait. The 1929 building (hardly a castle, you'll realize, when you get close) has been perfectly restored, and you can tour the first floor and basement, and watch a video presentation. Dreamy. Details at tovreacastletours.com.
Shop at SAS Fabrics by the Pound You don't sew? So what! SAS is still worth a peek. Some may argue that the west side or Tempe locations are better, but trust me, the Central Phoenix spot is it. A few years ago, a fire forced the staff to clean out this notoriously disorganized warehouse of everything from appliques to zippers. You can spend hours in here, wandering from ribbons to fake fur; I've found boxes of Mexican oilcloth remnants. Find the goods for a wedding dress or a Halloween costume or just people watch. Despite the name, most fabrics are not sold by the pound, but the prices are still extremely reasonable. Warning: The staff's a little rough around the edges, but that's part of the joy of SAS. I have friends who fly into town just to go here. (I won't name names, Laurie Notaro.)
Joseph Becker, Phoenix Zoo
Visit the monkeys at the Phoenix Zoo Ruby the painting elephant was more famous, but my all-time favorite animal at the Phoenix Zoo was Hazel, a lowland gorilla who died in 1991 but remains a beloved part of the zoo's history. For me, it's all about the monkeys. (And I'm not talking about the lit-up monkeys at ZooLights. I think it's great that the zoo has found a way to make money, but depressing that it happens in the dark, while most of the animals sleep -- or try to, anyway.) The orangutan habitat is one of my favorites, the chimps are awesome, and a more recent addition to the zoo, Monkey Village, is a must-see. Here you literally walk among the small residents of the habitat, squirrel monkeys. But watch it -- the staff doesn't appreciate monkey business.
Take Grand Avenue from Seventh Avenue All the Way to Wickenburg Phoenix is built on a grid. Till you get to Grand. If you learned how to drive in Phoenix, chances are good that this street strikes terror in your heart -- it skewers the west side of town in all kinds of confusing and inconvenient ways. But if you make the effort to start where it starts -- at Seventh Avenue -- you can take that sucker all the way to Wickenburg. True, some of the best stuff on Grand will happen in the first several blocks, as Phoenix's lesser-known arts district (Roosevelt Row's more popular -- and more gentrified) whizzes by. Slow down and stock up on provisions at Treehouse Bakery or Bragg's Pie Factory, maybe check an art show or grab a drink at Bikini Lounge. Then sit back and enjoy the ride. Mostly, the scenery will be urban industrial; keep an eye out for several thrift stores, including a giant Goodwill at 85th Avenue and Grand. Keep driving till you get to the cute Western 'burb of Wickenburg. Then turn around and come home; the other side of the street's worth checking out, too.
Watch Fife Symington Make Creme Brulee No, really. I've seen it with my own eyes. Best remembered as the Arizona governor who left office in finance-related disgrace but escaped prison after an 11th-hour pardon from then-President Bill Clinton. (Symington had saved Clinton from drowning when the two were teens. Really. You can't make this stuff up.) J. Fife Symington emerged unscathed and as a principal in the Arizona Culinary Institute, a cooking school in North Scottsdale. Who knew the guv had a penchant for pastry? Symington's name last emerged in connection with the restaurant scene when Franco's Italian Caffe opened in Scottsdale in 2012, promising the governor's chocolate cake. Jokes about files in cakes aside, if you ever get the chance to watch Fife whip up a creme brulee -- take it. He's pretty handy with the blowtorch.
Hot plate! Put Los Dos Molinos on your bucket list.
Eat Hot Food and Drink Cold Margaritas at Los Dos Molinos Once again, it's important that you go to the right outpost of this local mini-chain. The South Phoenix location of Los Dos Molinos is the only one to hit -- housed in an original adobe building, nestled at the foot of South Mountain. The décor is colorful and cluttered and you'll instantly feel at home. Buckle up with a margarita or a beer because things are about to heat up, in the form of the New Mexican-style chiles served with most of the dishes. Even the salsa will have smoke pouring out of your nostrils -- in a good way.
Go to the Deer Dance in Guadalupe The tiny Yaqui community of Guadalupe is just a strip of a town, a street connecting Arizona Mills Mall to the big box stores on Elliot in Tempe. But it's so much more -- for one thing, it's been a giant target of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's; he conducted some of his earliest immigration raids there. And it's a hotbed of history, or at least a celebration of history, religion and culture that's seldom seen live. The best time to observe that is around Easter, when the Yaqui hold the Deer Dance, a celebration I've never seen -- not even in pictures -- because any sort of documentation of religious events in Guadalupe is prohibited, as you'll notice from the street signs saying so. It's on my to-do list because I've heard it's spectacular -- you can read more about it in the 2011 Best of Phoenix award we gave it.
Go to a Phoenix Suns game Phoenix isn't a city known for the vigor of its pro sports teams -- and I won't pretend I know much about the subject -- but even I enjoy a Phoenix Suns game. Gorillas aside, the team has a storied past you can't help but celebrate, even though I miss the days the team played on the well-worn floor at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
X took the stage at Crescent Ballroom last November.
See a show at Crescent Ballroom Charlie Levy's seen fire and rain in his time as a music promoter in Arizona. But what he hadn't seen was the perfect spot to house a downtown Phoenix music venue -- till he spotted the old building that became Crescent Ballroom in 2011. If you haven't been there to see a show, go. Grab a burrito in the bar (be sure to try the Honey Badger cocktail) and relax on the patio or inside. Fuel up, because whatever you've come to see will be good -- bands that used to pass on Phoenix are coming here, because they love Charlie Levy and because they love Crescent. You will, too.
Spend a day at the spa at the Camelback Inn The spa at the Camelback Inn is one of the finest in the world and definitely the best in town. It may not be the fanciest, and you might find crazier spa treatments elsewhere, but you're going to have trouble finding a local who frequents spas who doesn't include Camelback on the rotation. Book a hot rock massage; you can't go wrong with any of the facials. And if they are offering the signature wrap, book that, too, and leave plenty of time for the steam room, the Jacuzzi and the cold plunge. Visit on a pretty winter day when the temperature's over 70, and (for no extra charge) spend the day by the private spa pool before or after (or both!) your treatment(s). Order the gazpacho. Stare at the mountain. Smell the air. You're welcome.
Previous Bucket Lists: Phoenix Bucket List - 100 Things to Do in Phoenix Before You Die: The Introduction
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