Though car culture dominates the Valley of the Sun, it’s undeniable that walking is one of the best ways to experience America’s sixth largest metropolis — especially during the winter. From hidden murals to public art works, repurposed warehouses, and one-of-a-kind boutiques just off the main drag, here are 10 things to see while walking around in downtown Phoenix.
El Mac’s Phoenix Goddess
Peer through the alleyway just south of McDowell Road between Third and Fifth streets, and you’ll see El Mac’s Phoenix Goddess mural on the east-facing wall of a 1927 apartment complex. Inspired by Elisa de Gamond’s painting of Diana the Huntress, this work is one of the city’s most important and iconic pieces of street art. That’s for a few reasons, not least of which is Mac’s standing as an internationally acclaimed artist. This 2004 work from the L.A.-born and formerly Phoenix-based artist is a reminder that great art happens here — you just have to know where to look.
Civic Space Park
Designed without any designated parking spaces, you’ll have to do a little walking to access this Central Phoenix park, which opened in 2009 and spans two city blocks. Perfect for a lunchtime retreat or a twilight stroll, the space blends greenery with concrete and serves as a community gathering place for occasional festivals, movie screenings, and concerts. It’s also home to Janet Echelman’s 145-foot-tall sculpture Her Secret is Patience, one of Phoenix’s most recognizable pieces of public art.
Charles Pugh House
North of Crescent Ballroom on Second Avenue you’ll find one of Phoenix’s few standing Victorian-era homes. Built in 1897 by its namesake and early Phoenix resident, Charles Pugh. Now boarded up and in visible disrepair, it’s tough to imagine it back in the home’s heyday, when it was part of the picturesque and affluent Norma Place neighborhood instead of surrounded by parking lots. But plenty of Phoenicians’ fingers are crossed that the property, with its pale pink shingles, will one day be restored and repurposed. Until then, it stands as an emblematic reminder of the city’s endangered architectural past.
MADE Art Boutique
A cornerstone of the ever-changing Roosevelt Row Arts District, MADE art boutique has been stocking work from more than 100 local artists and artisans since 2005. The shop is housed in a bungalow typical of the Evans-Churchill Neighborhood on Fifth Street, which is also home to the Lost Leaf art bar and Jobot Coffee. Inside, you’ll find handcrafted robot art, accessories such as clutches and jewelry, and home decor, as well as rotation art exhibitions and occasional artisan markets.
Kenny Barrett and Joshua Hahn’s GROWop Boutique blends vintage wearables and curated, high quality brands in a downtown Phoenix bungalow. Surrounded by picnic tables and a community garden, the repurposed house is covered in a black-and-white mural by artist Carrie Marill that depicts an array tools. Inside shoppers will find his and hers plaid shirts, assorted home goods, and locally crafted jewelry, it’s a lovely representation of Phoenix’s youthful style set.
Louise Bourgeois' Art is a Guaranty of Sanity
If you aren’t a dedicated Phoenix Comicon attendee, you might not know that the Phoenix Convention Center is home to some world-class public art. Among the many sculptures and works you can admire throughout the center is Louise Bourgeois’ Art is a Guaranty of Sanity, which you can find in the 24-acre complex’s west building, accessible at Second and Monroe streets. Pop in and marvel at the gargantuan 90-foot mirror that reflects and distorts its viewer, as well as the piece’s title in glowing capital letters. You’ll leave seeing things a little differently.
Opened in 1929 as part of the Orpheum chain of vaudeville theaters throughout the country, downtown Phoenix’s Orpheum Theatre is unlike any other Valley performance space. Architecturally speaking, it’s rendered in a baroque Spanish revival style, with ornate touches including murals and moldings meant to create the feeling of being outside while seated in the theater. Besides being a gorgeous anomaly and allegedly haunted, it hosts an array of cultural events, including indie concerts and the recent post-Super Bowl episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
ASU Step Gallery & Northlight Gallery
Just beyond the proper bounds of the downtown area is Phoenix’s warehouse district, to which creatives and up-and-coming businesses are flocking. And it’s so worth visiting. On Grant Street, just west of Seventh, is a repurposed warehouse that houses both studio and exhibition spaces for Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute arts students. Step Gallery is where they present their thesis exhibitions, while Northlight hosts photography work from artists ranging from emerging to renowned. Take a look during First and Third Friday receptions or set gallery hours.
Grand Avenue Arts District
Phoenix’s reputation for being decidedly square is turned entirely on its ear in the Grand Avenue Arts District. With galleries, studios, wide bike lanes, and artistic touches on everything from its walls to its trees and the planters that line the streets, this is the gonzo answer to Roosevelt Row. Grand has new galleries opening, shipping container apartments, a coming-soon Spanish language bookstore, and a dedication to keeping things weird. Now’s the time to start walking the diagonal stretch — if you aren’t already a regular.
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