Phoenix Bucket List - 100 Things to Do in Phoenix Before You Die: The Introduction

Knight Rise by James Turrell
Knight Rise by James Turrell
Amy Silverman

A funny thing happened in 2013. Both of us -- two curmudgeonly writers who between us have lived in Arizona way closer to 100 years than either would like to admit -- came to a shared conclusion.

We like Phoenix.

That's funny because for years we've loved to hate this place -- even as we wrote dozens of entries for Best of Phoenix, reviewed plays, covered the art scene, and investigated politicians. (True, Amy's always maintained there's nothing more fun than picking the low-hanging fruit at the Arizona Legislature.) But last year, there was a lot of talk about leaving the Valley, and somewhere in the midst of the conversation we each decided that we actually don't dislike Phoenix anymore. The city has grown up; or we have. Or both.

That's why we both jumped at the chance to write up our bucket list for Phoenix -- 100 things to do in this metropolis before you die. Most we've actually done ourselves. A few are still on the "to do" list.

Funny, we had no trouble getting to 100. The challenge was cutting it back. Enjoy our list. This week we start things off with Robrt Pela's first 10 items. Check back next week (and the week after that, and so on) till we get to 100 in March. And please, share the items on your own bucket list in the comments section. We're not going anywhere -- we need some more stuff to do around here.

Visit James Turrell's Knight Rise at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Internationally acclaimed artist James Turrell has created dozens of his skyspaces since 1975, and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's sculpture garden is home to one of only 14 of them that are open to the public. Knight Rise frames the sky and captures the desert sky's changing light, allowing us to see both sunrise and sunset in a most refined way. It's all about the perception of light and color, according to Turrell, "at the bottom of the ocean of air." It's also cool as heck, and worth a trip to one of the Valley's best museums.

See also: 10 Years Later, Phoenix is Still Hot. But is It Finally Cool?

Mrs. White gets a kiss from her grandson, Larry, whose Lo-Lo's serves some pretty great chicken and waffles, too.
Mrs. White gets a kiss from her grandson, Larry, whose Lo-Lo's serves some pretty great chicken and waffles, too.
Chow Bella

Eat fried chicken at Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe The menu is scrawled in magic marker on the wall of this downtown favorite, known and loved by anyone with great taste in wonderful soul food. And what a menu: juicy chicken-fried steak, Southern fried chicken, smothered pork chops, and catfish, of course, a house specialty since Mrs. White threw open her doors in 1964. All meals are $13 apiece, a smoking deal when you consider that a Mrs. White's lunch will stay with even the heartiest eater well past dinnertime.

See a Nearly Naked Theater performance Your life may not be changed by sitting through a play or musical presented by this quirky community theater, but you'll almost certainly be wildly entertained. Phoenix has been home to several offbeat theater companies over the years, but Nearly Naked, dreamed up by and managed by artistic director Damon Dering, has raised the bar by maintaining high quality and creating distinctive productions. Past huzzahs have included a stunning Equus; a near-perfect Blood Brothers, and a whole slew of plays that other theaters would never be brave enough to bring to their stages.

Tour Cerreta's chocolate factory Located in downtown Glendale, the Cerreta Candy Company is a point of local pride, even among those who don't especially care for chocolate. This fifth-generation family-owned business offers a particularly thrilling free half-hour tour of the various kitchens that create the high-quality chocolates and candies that have wowed the nation. Dig the caramel kitchen, the room where cream centers are inserted into bon-bons, the chilling room, and the candy-wrapping stations. On your way through, check out the big wall murals depicting various aspects of candy-making by real live Cerreta's employees.

See a New Wave band perform at a reservation casino Actually, it sounds kind of pathetic: A bunch of 50-somethings, bouncing up and down while a once-popular, now-long-in-the-tooth New Wave band that hasn't had a hit since 1983 runs through a set of synth-driven oldies. But for people of a certain age, Arizona's casinos are a gold rush of post-punk bands and solo performers whose signature songs (and obscure album tracks!) bring back fond memories of frat houses and water bongs. You haven't lived until you've seen the B-52s doing "Rock Lobster" on a double bill with the Go-Go's, who can still rock "We've Got the Beat" like it was the summer of '83.  

Fresh flowers for sale at the downtown Phoenix farmers market.
Fresh flowers for sale at the downtown Phoenix farmers market.
Shelby Moore

Attend the farmers market at Downtown Phoenix Public Market on a Saturday Can't make it to France this summer? Stop by this, the largest open-air market in Phoenix on any Saturday morning (or Wednesday night) for fresh-baked bread, pastry, pickles, home-roasted coffee beans, fresh vegetables and seasonal fruits, and many other homemade and hand-grown comestibles. You'll also meet vendors of locally made jewelry, clothing, and crafts and an ever-changing group of popular food trucks selling pizza, tacos, and other southwestern faves.

Drive through the I-10 tunnel at night There are more and more things, every day, that make Phoenix finally seem like a "real" big city. There's the light rail, the proliferation of better downtown restaurants, the ever-growing list of farmers markets. But one of the oldest (since 1990!) citified sites is the Papago Freeway Tunnel, better known to locals as Deck Park Tunnel, and our very own underground underpass. And, okay, so it only stretches from North Third Avenue to North Third Street, and ranks as the 42nd-longest vehicular tunnel in the United States. It's ours. Like so many things in Phoenix, our tunnel remains unfinished; its middle section, designed as an express terminal for city buses, has been gated off for more than 20 years. Still, we feel very uptown (and downtown, at the same time!) whenever we head into and out of this cool, big-city tunnel.

Go fishing on the canal on Stanford Drive So what if you'll only catch carp, if you catch anything at all. Fishing on the canal on Stanford Drive isn't about bringing home dinner so much as it is about relaxing in one of the prettiest parts of the desert-in-the-city that is this stretch of Paradise Valley. Drive by (but slowly, please -- Stanford's got a very strictly enforced 25-mile-an-hour policy between 32nd and 44th Streets) and you'll see young and old alike, kicking back with poles and tackle, quietly taking in flora and fauna (roadrunners! coyote!) and hauling in the occasional seafood.  

Burton Barr Library, designed by Will Bruder, is a joy both inside and out.
Burton Barr Library, designed by Will Bruder, is a joy both inside and out.

Bone up on local history in the Arizona Room at Burton Barr Library Leave your Uniballs at home. The second floor of Burton Barr Central Library (designed by renowned local architect Will Bruder) is home to the Arizona Room, where only pencils are allowed. That's to protect the priceless collection of clippings and artifacts, which never leaves this second floor archive, from the evils of ballpoint ink. You'll find a research collection about the heritage, lifestyle and geography of the desert Southwest that documents every era of our town, from prehistoric times to the present, and including Arizona city directories dating back to 1923, microfilmed Arizona Census reports from 1870 forward, and an impressive stash of Phoenix high school yearbooks, to boot. It's all neatly curated and preserved by librarians who can steer you toward the most obscure facts about our local history.

Have a cocktail in the Hyatt's Compass Room Oh, sure. They have a reverse happy hour. But who cares if the Hyatt Regency's Compass Arizona Grill even serves drinks? You'll go there for the same reason that we all have for more than 30 years: to slowly spin in a circle and enjoy a 360-degree view of the Valley in our town's one and only revolving roof top restaurant. You can eat dinner here -- that's what the "Grill" in the Compass room's name is about -- but no matter how good your lamb chop or garlic mash happens to be, you'll remember having stared down the skyline of our town, and maybe witnessing one of those splendid sunsets we keep having.

Use Current Location

Related Locations

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

7374 E. Second St.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251


Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe

808 E. Jefferson St.
Phoenix, AZ 85034


Nearly Naked Theatre

100 E. McDowell Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85004


Downtown Phoenix Public Market

721 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85004


Burton Barr Central Library

1221 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85004


Hyatt Regency Phoenix

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