Best Walkable Downtown 2008 | Old Town Scottsdale | People & Places | Phoenix

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.

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!

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.

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.

Too many times in Arizona, we hear about wonderful old historic sites only when they're facing the wrecking ball (see: the Sun Mercantile building, the former Beth Hebree Temple, Mary Rose Wilcox's now-bulldozed 105-year-old home). Even when they end up being spared demolition, we rarely see these sites being preserved in any meaningful way. So this spring, when we heard that the Paradise Valley adobe built by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had been slated for demolition, then was saved, then was being moved to a lovely new site in Tempe and (hopefully) transformed into a "Center for Public Discourse," we were stunned. Since when does anything nice get solved so efficiently? The O'Connor House Project, of course, still has plenty of money to raise to make the dream of public discourse a reality. But we can say this, with finality: This is one old building that is being saved. And the new location is gorgeous.

For years, The Standard hotel in Los Angeles has been famous for its rooftop and even more famous for the pool parties hosted there. The Oasis, atop the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, isn't as notorious — but, we dare say, it's better, if for no other reason than the people who hang out here aren't re-enacting their favorite episode of Entourage. The pool opened this year with underwater speakers — which pipe in nature sounds such as birds chirping and the sound of running creeks — and scalp-massaging jets for those of you pretty enough to risk being seen in public makeup-less and with wet hair. The jacuzzi holds 50 people at a time, but if it gets too crowded, there are plenty of cabanas and Italian sun beds to relax upon while you surf the Internet on the hotel's free Wi-Fi.

The stars that light up on the bottom of the pool at night, combined with the view of Phoenix's skyline at sunset, make this place a must-visit and a great place to play tourist for the day — even if you've lived here all your life.

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