Best All-Day Ride 2008 | Valley Metro buses | People & Places | Phoenix

Gas prices keep going up, and that's got you down. Listen to Spike Lee and get on the bus! In fall 2007, Valley Metro introduced an all-day pass that can be purchased on any bus for $2.50. Supplanting the flimsy transfers of the past, it surely is cheaper than the gallon of gas you're burning in your daily commute. Hit Valley Metro's Web site to conjure up your plan of action, leave your road rage behind, and pop in your earbuds. For the truly adventurous, strike up a conversation with an endless cast of strap-hangers, including the self-proclaimed chatterbox and the dude freestyling and shilling his demo CD-R.

December, right?

Judas Priest's Rob Halford has lived in Phoenix since 1985. The British vocalist first discovered the city on Judas Priest's first-ever North American tour in 1978 and immediately felt a kinship with the arid desert climate. "I stepped off the bus at 4 a.m., and the heat just struck me, like it always does, and I said, 'Are we in Hell?' How fitting for a band called Judas Priest to be somewhere that feels like purgatory," Halford says. "And coming from Birmingham, to be in such a beautiful location, it just blew me away."

Halford's home sits high on a mountain in Paradise Valley, and he relishes the monsoon season. "It's very special when I'm in my house in Phoenix, overlooking the Valley, and the thunder and lightning rolls through."

And then comes our favorite comment: "It's very heavy metal weather."

Matt's Big Breakfast

The weather outside is frightful. The thought of leaving your hermetically sealed cocoon? Not the least bit delightful.

So don't. Play indoors at these two oh-so-PHX landmarks.

Some self-proclaimed geniuses will tell you to lay off the heavy stuff — the dairy, the coffee — when it's hot, but those eggheads are full of bunk. When facing the prospect of the 21st consecutive day of temps above 110 — and it's still only July — we Phoenicians want some damn comfort food, dammit.

Matt's is where we go for culinary consolation. Though the funky downtown hang has a limited menu, everything on it is lip-smackingly good. Our faves are the Chop & Chick (eggs and a skillet-seared Iowa pork chop) for breakfast and a well-executed Reuben for lunch. (Despite the diner's name, Matt's is all over the sandwich-and-soda-pop trade, too.) Even if the grub weren't so solid, we'd still give proprietors Matt and Erenia Pool props for their social awareness. Their Web site ticks off their strong beliefs about the following commendable practices: 1) cage-free eggs, 2) humanely raised chickens, 3) grain-fed natural Iowa pork and Angus beef, and 4) the use of local organic produce "where appropriate and possible."

After you've crammed your tummy full of the yummy stuff, head uptown and stuff your head. PAM is the best place for lazy, overfed people to go on a lazy Sunday afternoon, 'cause very little expenditure of energy is required; you just glide effortlessly from one attraction to the next, and there's no particular hurry. You can check out the new touring exhibit, see what's up in the Asian gallery, attend a lecture, catch a flick, take a drawing workshop, and fondle the delightful baubles in the Museum Store.

But, perhaps, the most important aspect about PAM as a summer destination is its kickass air-conditioning system. We've found none better in the state of Arizona. Believe us, we've looked.

The weather outside's delightful, and it really would be frightful to bounce around your apartment on such a lovely day. So don't. Get the hell out and discover what life here is really about at these signature destinations.

Our positively ponderous municipal preserve — the nation's largest, at 16,000 acres — features mile after mile of hiking, biking, climbing, and horseback trails, plus picnic and recreation areas and the South Mountain Environmental Education Center. The park's one of those enchanted places where newcomers, skeptical of all the gab about what a desirable place the PHX is, look around and say, "Ohhhhh, okay. Now I get it."

After you've worked yourself into a lather on one of the basin-to-range trails — or just driven to the top and sucked in the 360 views — you'd be wise to treat yourself to an appropriately named Kick-@ss Margarita or three at nearby Los Dos, a mellow watering hole/restaurant located in the charming former home of singing cowboy Tom Mix. We recommend the trifecta — if you don't need to be anywhere for a while. Unlike the pansy-ass varietals you'll find in snootier parts of town, the Los Dos maggies are as big as a boxer's fist and pack a similar punch. They numb you to the effects — delightful yet brutal — of the cafe's flaming New Mexican cuisine, which is so good that the Los Dos folks opened a successful offshoot in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan. Manhattan!

The truly brave — say, those who've just conquered the mighty, 20-plus-mile National Trail that runs the length of the South Mountain crest — might try Los Dos' green chile enchiladas, hot. Afterward, you'll love us, you'll hate us, but we're pretty sure you'll say, "Ohhhhh, okay. Now I get it."

We feel so guilty.

Look, we know we're supposed to celebrate Mill Avenue, given its status as the closest thing this metropolis has to an urban shopping district. But, um, there's a new marketplace in town, and we can't resist the pull.

NoPho folks have had Desert Ridge for a while, and there are all sorts of grand shopping options popping up along the other edges of metro Phoenix, but the center of town was limping along without a mega-mall, 'til Tempe Marketplace opened late last year.

We're in love. We know the whole thing is beyond super-sized — down (rather, up) to the enormous "pots" outside the equally huge Harkins movie theater. But we just can't help ourselves. Despite the overwhelming number of teeny-bopper chains, there's something irresistible and, amazingly, community-oriented about this place.

One smart reason: free concerts by national acts, smack-dab in the center of the mall. Sponsored by 103.9 The Edge, a different band rocks the stage each third Thursday in front of Cadillac Bar and Grill, to the delight of Old Navy and Barnes & Noble shoppers.

Since the event started, we've caught smaller acts like The Hypo Twins and The Summer Set and veteran rockers including The Presidents of the United States of America and MGMT.

And then there's the Night Gallery (for details, call 480-965-6536), a smart, odd-duck approach to showing fine art. Night Gallery is open in the evenings (6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday — hence the name), and shows the work of ASU faculty, alumni, and grad students. The spot opened at the end of June and survives on donations, the largest of which comes from the company behind the mall (they kick in the use of the building and cover the A/C bill). Organizers say that a surprising number of people stumble across Night Gallery every day — as many as 1,000 in two to three hours. If you're looking for, say, a 9-foot bronze "vessel" by Mary Neubauer or one of Christopher Coluille's digital prints of a car graveyard in Iceland, this is the place.

The finer things in life (art, music, community) aside, we love to hang out at Tempe Marketplace because even in the summer, someone's figured out a way to make the misters so cold, they can build a roaring fire and it only seems slightly odd. Plus, we're slaves to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Sorry, indie gods.

There's no place like Rome or Paris or London for a good romantic stroll. But if you're in the mood for some feet-finding culture, there is a close second here in our metropolis. Drive into Scottsdale, and head for the intersection of Camelback and Scottsdale roads. Just off the beaten path, you'll find a walkable collection of eclectic storefronts, non-chain restaurants, bicycle cabbies, and clean urban density.

You won't find the Arc de Triomphe or the London Eye, but you will find pedestrians milling around a network of art shops, coffee shops, and boutiques. The half-square mile south of Camelback offers more than 90 restaurants, bars, and clubs as well as about 320 retailers selling everything from antiques and high-end art to tourist trinkets and specialty teas.

You can also pick from four museums and five theaters. If the weather's warm, get ice cream at the storied (and pink) Sugar Bowl on Scottsdale Road. There's no Sugar Bowl in Paris — we can guarantee that.

Live in Phoenix any amount of time, and you'll learn to love the strip mall. Otherwise, you'll be doing a lot of online shopping, baby, or hoofing it to the mall (which, let's be honest, is really just a loop of a strip mall, indoors). We love the combinations that pop up near one another: the funky bike store next to the vegan cafe; the DIY dog wash next to the congressional candidate's headquarters; the funky garden shop next to the Persian restaurant next to the art supply store.

Our favorite strip mall is the one we'll always think of as the Stinkweeds strip mall, even though, sadly, the record shop's Tempe location packed its boxes years ago. But many classics remain: This spot houses a bartending academy and a Planned Parenthood, as well as Tasty Kabob and the original Pita Jungle, two of the city's tastiest Mediterranean options.

Chill, a cleverly appointed dessert destination selling gelato and frozen yogurt, is our latest reason to head to Apache, which will soon be all the more accessible, thanks to light rail, which runs right past it.

Now if we could just afford to set up shop in one of the empty storefronts in that strip mall, we'd be quite at home. We hope something good comes in soon. Chances are, it will.

Once just another downtrodden spot on Central, this plucky little parcel of retail potential just might be the little strip mall that could. Lacking a properly punchy name, the spot was once given the snooze-worthy title of The Camelback Towers Plaza. Best to ditch the name quick, because recent additions, and the whispers of more to come, are making us dream of Chic in the City. The pioneers from Unique on Central were fortified by the über-movie mavens of Movies on Central — the cinephile movie rental mecca for those in the know who joined them in this then-lonely strip mall many years back.

These retail pathfinders have bravely endured light rail construction. Now, with the addition of Brad, Lou and Gregory, the high-profile creators of Haus Modern Living, who left Biltmore Fashion Park — of all places — to call this spot home, 4700 North Central has all the cachet of a certified secret sassy success. Rumors abound of new inhabitants willing to relocate from Chandler, Arcadia, and even Old Town Scottsdale, bringing fierce fashion and fresh foodie fantasies where once there was nearly nothing at all.

We've heard of the "den of iniquity," but the "strip mall of iniquity"? We've found that the plaza across the street from Glendale Community College, on 59th Avenue and Olive, strikes an interesting chord. Trails is known for its, ahem, tobacco pipes and accouterments, while Cheba Hut sports a ganja-themed menu. Sharing a parking lot seems like a funky kind of serendipity. There's another smoke shop, a tattoo parlor, a great hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, and a 7-Eleven to round out any other vices you naughty Glendalites might be jonesing for.

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