Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix/Ro Ho En
We've really taken to the desert lifestyle, soaking up plenty of sun, reveling in the gorgeous Sonoran scenery, and (of course) making the most of our glorious, spring-like winters. But sometimes we still long for some green, leafy trees and the sound of flowing water, the kinds of calming natural elements that are all too rare in this sprawling desert. Luckily, there's a peaceful, plant-filled oasis right in the middle of downtown: The Japanese Friendship Garden. Also known as Ro Ho En, the garden's name combines the character for "heron" (the symbolic bird of Himeji, Phoenix's sister city) with the character for "phoenix," our city's mythical namesake. Discreetly located on Third Avenue, fenced off from the south end of Hance Park, the garden is three and a half acres of traditional Japanese landscape design, with shrubs, flowers, and sculpturally shaped trees, a flowing stream filled with handpicked rocks from all over Arizona, a rustic teahouse surrounded by a lush tea garden, and a tranquil pond filled with colorful koi. It's the perfect place to recharge and relax amid the hubbub of the city — and it sure beats the long flight to Japan.
North Mountain Park
North Mountain Park has all the usual trappings of a mountain park in the Valley — hiking trails, a playground, a visitors center — but the view of the city from the mountain is sweeping in scope and dazzling in its diversity, especially when seen at night.

The peak of the mountain (yes, the one with the big "S" on it) is only 2,104 feet, but what makes this view so great is that you don't have to do a bunch of climbing or hiking to see it. You can just drive your car up the paved road into the park, and voilà! There's your scenic view. Visitors can sit on stone benches and soak in a sunset while marveling at our city's sprawl (on a clear day, you can't see forever, but you can see downtown) and relaxing amidst the park's major plant species (which include bursage, palo verde trees, and more than 10 varieties of cacti).

The only drawback is that it's safer to visit this area during daylight; while the city lights are superbly striking from the mountaintop, the park does get its share of shady nighttime squatters and accompanying problems. This is a great place to bring a date for a picnic on an overcast day, but you should probably go elsewhere for a late-night make-out session.

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