Mesa's Main Street has established quite the art walk in the past several months. In addition to such older businesses as History By George, Book Gallery, Mystic Paper, and the Mesa Arts Center, a newer crop of merchants has moved in on the street, including the Evermore Nevermore gallery, the Adorn Style Lounge, Twisted Sisters' Designs, and the Underground and Nile music venues. Having more than a dozen restaurants and shops on a single, straight walk has done wonders for downtown Mesa, which hosts an art walk every second Friday of the month. Each art walk has a theme, and previous motifs have included "Sweethearts" (for February) and "IMP Fest" (independent music). There are usually live bands or musicians on every corner, along with information booths and, most importantly, lots of people with whom to mingle.
Scottsdale is often known as the hub of glitz and glamour in the Valley, so it's easy to forget its humble roots as "The West's Most Western Town." Annie of Arizona Food Tours is just the person to remind us of Scottsdale's history, using the backdrop of Old Town Scottsdale and its many historic restaurants (as well as a few new ones) as a culinary history guide. She takes guests on a three-hour walking tour through the winding streets of Old Town, pointing out museums and landmarks while stopping at fun eateries along the way (from the Rusty Spur to the Sugar Bowl). A Scottsdale native, Annie knows a wide variety of interesting informational tidbits, and as for the edible kind, each restaurant welcomes the tour with open arms and a set table of nibbles, ranging from mini-burgers to sopaipillas to wine to fudge sundaes. This is a great tour for locals seeking a fun outdoor culinary adventure or tourists looking for some local culture, reasonably priced at $42 per person.
Phoenix Art Museum
Foodies claim they go to culinary festivals to see chefs in action or to learn more about wine varietals, but we know the truth — it's an excuse to pig out and get tipsy on free wine. Our favorite on the festival circuit this year was the Devoured Culinary Classic, a new event at the Phoenix Art Museum that replaced the oddly named West of Western Culinary Festival. The event is run by Local First Arizona, a nonprofit organization that promotes local businesses. Devoured. Makes you want to strip naked and cover yourself in sushi, à la Samantha in the first Sex and the City flick, doesn't it? Well, maybe not. But there was certainly sushi to be found at the inaugural Devoured, along with plenty of accessible comfort foods like corn dogs and meatloaf. Chef Payton Curry's pig-butchering demo and a discussion with former Wall Street Journal restaurant critic Raymond Sokolov were highlights of the two-day event's lecture series. Devoured also boasted more desserts than any other foodie festival this year, from FnB's homemade butterscotch pudding to Fossil Creek Creamery's decadent goat's milk fudge.
If Arizona Strong Beer Festival 2010 had had to compete against Arizona Strong Beer Festival 2009 in this category, it surely would have lost. Though the move from Mesa Amphitheatre to a downtown Phoenix park within walking distance of the light rail was a win with some local beer fans, the smaller selection of brewers and a ridiculous vending situation (one truck selling sandwiches and tacos to thousands of tasters) at the 2010 fest didn't impress us. Luckily, however, the Strong Beer fest doesn't have to compete against previous incarnations of itself. It's still, by far, the best beer fest in the state. It's not just the fact that almost everything poured at the event is special — though the requirement that everything be 8 percent alcohol or above almost totally assures that — it's the fact that the strong suds forge lasting bonds among Phoenix's beer snobs. Year after year, you can count on seeing the same pretzel necklace-wearing diehards testing their mettle at this festival, hugging us and everyone else they sorta remember from years past. It's the only beer festival we'd recommend training for — you should drink at least three beers a night for a week leading up to the event if you hope to stumble out without memory loss — and the only annual Arizona beer festival you absolutely cannot miss.
It's been sort of a rough year for area music festivals. For example, Tempe Music Festival was cance — er, "postponed" — until next year, and McDowell Mountain Music Festival downsized from the lush polo field at WestWorld to a parking lot. So, with that backdrop, we can't help being impressed by what the Warped Tour has been able to do so consistently well for 15 years now. Sure, the Phoenix date was only part of a national tour, but we salute the organizers for consistently giving us a product worth braving triple-digit temperatures at Cricket Wireless Pavilion. Also, although it's national, Vans has certainly shown plenty of love to Phoenix bands, giving Anarbor, Eyes Set to Kill, and The Summer Set nice play on dozens of dates. Hell, even former New Times cover boys Hollywood Heartthrob got a break with a handful of dates on the tour. That, plus some skateboarding, is a win to us.
What does Phoenix have to do with Japan? Perhaps more than you know. Phoenix is a sister city to Himeji, Japan. It has a Japanese Friendship Garden. It's also home to a fantastic Japanese festival. Called Matsuri (conveniently, the Japanese word for "festival"), the annual festival features plenty of fun from the Land of the Rising Sun, whether you're an anime otaku or just a fan of yakitori. Check out performances from local taiko drummers or learn about pruning bonsai trees while sipping Ramune and munching curry pan. We're partial to kendo (Japanese sword fighting) demonstrations and rockin' out to local J-rock band Toybox.
Medlock Plaza
Here's an uncomfortable truth, Handmade Nation fans: All indie craft festivals are not created equal. You'd think, given the name, that this would be a real specialty niche and that you could pretty much expect to find super-cool handmade and vintage awesomeness at every table at such events. Not so. Frankly, we've seen so much junk out there that we think most craft festivals should be called crap festivals. Some of this stuff isn't fit for Regretsy. Ah, but we digress. Because, really, we're here to give you the hint about the one local craft festival you should visit: Frances and Smeeks' Indie Crafeteria. Snuggled into the parking lot at Medlock Plaza — typically on the first Friday of December — this gathering isn't large, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style. Last year, we found tote bags sewn from vintage Muppets bedsheets, crystal and leather jewelry from local artisan Lucky Designs, and, in a rare appearance north of McDowell Road, we saw Beatrice Moore hawking her bump chenille wreaths and other Kooky Krafts. When you're done at the tables, you can shop at one of our favorite collections of local shops — Frances, Stinkweeds, Red Hot Robot, and Smeeks (Practical Art is just around the corner). By early December, you should be able to say you've completed your holiday shopping. Pretty crafty!
Long before every town was setting up tents and hawking ceramic Kleenex holders several times a year, Scottsdale was making a name for itself nationwide with its annual arts festival. Now, this is the way it should be done: great art, great food, great setting. Music, performance, crafts for the kids. The prices aren't cheap, but neither is the artwork for sale. Even if you're just looking, it's worth the price of admission to wander booth to booth on what's typically a perfectly springy March day, checking out enormous metal sculptures and pretty little oil paintings. We find it inspiring.
Kara Roschi and Ernesto Moncada came up with the idea to offer insider tours of First Friday spots last spring, when street closures turned off a lot of folks to the popular art walk. Even though the Phoestival was discontinued (at least for a while), the pair went ahead with a bilingual tour of the Roosevelt District for September's First Friday, with plans for future tours of Grand Avenue and Central Phoenix. We love this idea. Roschi, a performance artist, dons a fancy red dress for the occasion, hence the name. The tours are free, and all are welcome. Check out The Red Dress Tours Facebook page for more details, or call 480-225-9735.
Westwind Studios
Take a run-down and vacant motel, do some renovations, stick a bunch of artists in each room, and see what happens. That's what the folks behind Westwind Studios, a living and working community for artists, did for this year's Art Detour Weekend. We wandered through a headache-inducing suite with red and blue balloons, streamers, and drawings, as we donned some old-school 3-D glasses. Another space featured an audio and video-projection installation that buzzed and whizzed as we moved through the space. But the shining star of the experience was our last stop, into one of the motel rooms turned studios, in which ASU professor Adriene Jenik was kneeling on the floor. She was making tick marks on the wall in charcoal — one for every Iraqi death. The performance piece lasted all weekend. The powerful performance, combined with the other stimulating mini-exhibitions, made for the best stop of Art Detour.

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