South Mountain Park and Preserve

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 [email protected] 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."

Tempe Marketplace

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.

W Hotel Scottsdale

We know the last thing Scottsdale needs is another hotel, particularly in this economy, but, selfishly, we just couldn't wait for the W, specifically the lobby. Usually hotel lobbies are pretty ho-hum, no matter what anyone does to spice the space up, but the W Scottsdale's got a glass-bottomed view of, well, the bottoms (and the rest of the parts) of swimmers overhead, as the lobby's ceiling is the bottom of the swimming pool.

Now, that's a view!

Children's Museum of Phoenix

Bravo to the Children's Museum of Phoenix, which has made its new home in downtown's historic Monroe School. Rather than plow down this imposing old Classic Revival-style, three-story brick building — which was designed by Los Angeles architect Norman Marsh and built in 1913 at Seventh Street and Van Buren — smart-thinkers re-purposed it in a way that will serve kids, just as it originally did decades earlier.

Although the interior of the museum has been modified to accommodate numerous kid-friendly exhibits, many of its most handsome original elements remain. The gorgeous oak floors are the same ones laid down in 1913, and they're in great shape, thanks to a restoration funded by a State Heritage grant. The giant north and south stairwells feature their original banisters, and the wooden beams in every room have been walnut-shell-blasted back to their original finish. And the building's skeleton of exposed brick, stacked high nearly a hundred years ago, also remains, giving its interior a warm, old-timey feel that makes us want to go back just to look around — at this cool old building, as well as all the fun, educational exhibits.

Deer Valley Rock Art Center

Will Bruder is an architectural wunderkind, the type who inspires legions of fans willing to loop the globe in order to see his groundbreaking work, up close and personal. We're lucky to have him — and so much of his work — in the Valley and nearby. From the Burton Barr Library to the Nevada Museum of Art, his use of concrete and steel is iconic, groundbreaking and beautiful. But you may not know about a '90s-era Bruder in, yes, Deer Valley.

For some reason, this masterpiece of rock construction has flown under the radar of nearly every globetrotting boffo building buff. We wonder why — this structure is beautiful: Black rock, cement, and steel construction mimics the landscape dotted by ancient petroglyphs. It's iconic, it's classic Bruder, and almost as awe-inspiring as the epic glyphs that surround it. Get there, and peep the poetry that is Will Bruder. That is, before the secret gets out, and the place is flooded with Architectural Digest-waving hipsters.

We were sad when we heard that the former Miss Preston's School for Girls at 90 West Virginia had been locked up and was for sale. Located behind a towering wall of oleanders, the Spanish Mission-style main house and its several outbuildings had recently been a bed and breakfast called the Yum Yum Tree, but now the fate of this oddity in the heart of the residential Willo Historic District was anyone's guess. That's why we're grateful that the folks who bought it have restored the guesthouse, pool shack, and main house, all designed with covered verandas around a marshy courtyard. They're taking special care with the Mexican-style fountain and the tile-roofed portico with palm trees growing straight through it. The new owners (who are replacing the long row of original transom windows, torn out decades ago) plan to make the Yum Yum a private residence, and raise their family there, and we can't thank them enough for saving this lovely landmark.

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