Aloft Tempe
Kyle Lamb

The inclusion of an iPod-ready adapter for an in-room stereo is a hotel convenience not to be underestimated. Taking your iPod to the lobby bar and subjecting guests to your favorite Japanese tracks during Aloft's weekly DJ nights is added value we just can't put a price tag on. That's why we're up for staying at Aloft even though we live a skip away. Owned and crafted by W Hotels, Aloft packs enough swank to make this budget boutique hotel seem more like a Scottsdale club with beds than a motel near ASU. Amenities include a sweet pool, fire pits, and milk and cookies on demand. Have we found Heaven?

Waves were made in July when local artist/designer/anti-establishment thinker Joey Grether pumped out a local currency called Phx Bux. The small metal tokens are worth a dollar each and accepted by more than 20 independent businesses. The idea is to keep the money moving locally and draw the attention of consumers who may be tired of shopping at malls and eating at chain restaurants. The coins themselves are a work of art. Designed by Chadwick Rueling jewelry, the square token features an outstretched palm, signifying the reliance on artists' hands for their creations and the helping hands of our arts community. Trouble is, Phx Bux got so popular so fast that folks started hoarding the coins and making them into jewelry. Within the first month, we were hard-pressed to get more than one at a time from any of the businesses that still had any, making it pretty clear that demand for this currency is high.

Finally, you no longer have to be rich to feel educated and fancy, thanks to a nifty invention, courtesy of the Valley's library systems and museums, called the Culture Pass. If you're a library cardholder, you can walk into one of six Valley libraries and choose one of 13 Valley museums to visit — gratis. You will get a slip, and then you head to your destination before the slip expires. It's as easy as that. Looks like the best things in life really can be free.

Phoenix Art Museum

Now, now. Before you get too excited, we'd like to note that though the Phoenix Art Museum does offer free entry once a week, you are encouraged to make a small donation. So don't be a total freeloader. At least shovel out the change you found under your couch cushions to drop in the box as you take your date (poor girl) to the free night. From 3 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, you'll get way more than what you pay for with the opportunity to see the Valley's largest museum and a lineup worthy of major name-dropping. The museum's permanent collection includes works by Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keeffe, James Turrell, Claude Monet, Diego Rivera, Grandma Moses, and Chuck Close in more than 20,000 square feet, enough room to also include works by artists you haven't even heard of yet. Add the convenience of the light rail and it's a no-brainer, folks.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Get your culture free in downtown Scottsdale. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art offers free entry every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Donations are accepted.) Situated in the Scottsdale Civic Center next to some of the city's hottest spots, including AZ88 and the Mondrian, the museum is one of our favorite stops for contemporary art shows. With just a handful of galleries, the museum is totally doable in an hour or two, and your butt won't hurt from all the standing and walking you do at larger museums. You'll have time and cash for cocktails afterward.

Glendale Community College Performing Arts Center

Every few months, the Glendale Community College Percussion Ensemble holds free concerts in the school's cozy and acoustically awesome auditorium. The programs, which take place a few times each semester, are more experimental in scope (think John Cage and Steve Reich), and sometimes stray away from the classical idiom altogether — one gig featured the music of Mr. Bungle, Frank Zappa, and Billy Joel. But no matter what your ears are accustomed to, the group will certainly satisfy in some way. It is one of the largest and best community college programs for percussion music in the country.

Best Way to Hear Phoenix Symphony Members Play on the Cheap

Downtown Chamber Series

Can't afford a night at Symphony Hall? Don't fret, because you can catch Phoenix Symphony musicians performing in intimate venues for only a 10-spot. Concerts, which take place every few months, are performed at various downtown art spaces. This rules, because there's always an awesome art backdrop for the music. The majority of the compositions — which are programmed by the unflappable Mark Dix, a violist with the Phoenix Symphony — cater toward those who love the classical classics, such as Bartók and Bach. The series does mix in contemporary numbers here and there — including the you-totally-missed-out-if-you-weren't-there interpretation of George Crumb's Black Angels for electric string quartet at the Icehouse, which featured amplified instruments for the first time in the series' 10-year history.

Herberger Theater Center

Times are tough, and nobody knows this as well as your local theater companies. Actors Theatre of Phoenix, one of only a handful of professional troupes in the state, wants not only to stay in business, but wants us to be able to afford to see its often marvelous productions at the Herberger Theater Center as well. Toward that end, it's offering season ticket holders a Flex Pass, good for four admissions to any weeknight or Sunday performance of an Actors Theatre show. For about $150, playgoers can enjoy an entire season of professionally produced plays and musicals. What's more, the passes can be used in any combination, at any time, for any of the company's shows (except for A Christmas Carol, which the company presents each December). This must be why they're called flex passes, right?

Biltmore Fashion Park

One of the reasons we make this place home is the fact that we can be outside at night in November and not freeze our butts off. Not only that — we can watch movies under the stars! Biltmore Fashion Park has a complimentary film series, which runs from October through December. Featuring classic titles and holiday favorites, the series is free and open to the public. All films are screened on Friday evenings at 7:30. Grab a blanket or some lawn chairs, pop some popcorn, and get there early to reserve your spot on the grass. Our favorite part is when audience members collectively recite dialogue from well-loved scenes.

Pollack Tempe Cinemas

We love this little theater for its cheap movies, and even more for the free bonus we get when we walk in the door. Dollar-theater lobbies are often some of the sketchier places you'll find in suburban strip malls, filled with broken arcade games and dirtbag teenagers. Not Pollack Tempe Cinemas. Local real estate tycoon Michael Pollack decided to pull out all the stops when he redesigned the lobby of this little theater, outfitting it with a Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronic band, statues of celebrities, and a wax museum of former presidents (Nixon through Clinton) that'll leave you wondering why anyone pays more than $3 for entry to Madame Tussauds. Hell, there are even chandeliers hanging above the impressive collection of Hollywood memorabilia. The next time you're interested in seeing Paul Blart: Mall Cop for the fifth time, drop by Pollack, and plan to have enough time to get your picture taken with the über-creepy Jimmy Carter statue.

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