Phoenix Airport Museum
So, you've got an hour or three to kill at the damn airport and you're sick of people-watching and drinking yet another cup of coffee. You've hit all the stores in Terminal 4, but you're not quite ready to go toe-to-toe with the TSA. We've got the solution, and it's art. The folks at Sky Harbor really have it going on culturally, especially in sprawling Terminal 4, where the 24/7 galleries always have something for the most discriminating and the simply bored to enjoy. In the past year, we checked out a photographic exhibit of our state's magnificent saguaros, as well as atmospheric landscapes by Ellen Wagener and a trippy exhibit of outstanding artists who work with fiber in various ways. But our recent favorite was a multi-media tribute to baseball's spring training in the Valley. The black-and-white photos of the San Francisco Giants (with the Hall of Fame Willies — Mays and McCovey) working out in Casa Grande in the early 1960s were priceless and helped us lose ourselves for a few moments without reaching for our wallets. Art for the masses, indeed.
Scottsdale Civic Center Mall

Who doesn't have a picture of themselves in front of the Love sculpture on the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall? Visitors to Scottsdale flock to the sculpture because it is one of only a handful of them in the country. It is large and, unlike most pieces of art, you can touch it and climb on it. This makes for a perfect picture-taking opportunity. We can't wait to see your Valentines.

Lola Coffee
Evie Carpenter
Joerael Elliott's well known in the Phoenix area for his incredible large-scale murals on the sides of Way Cool Hair Salon and The Caravan, but his latest (very) small-scale work has us hooked on lattes and cappuccinos at Lola Coffee. Between mural gigs and canvas projects, the local artist has a part-time barista gig on weekday afternoons, when you can catch him doodling on coffee bags with sharpies. But the real magic happens on foam — backgrounds and intricate faces emerge as Elliott chats about the local art scene while drawing with his milk thermometer. We've never been so inspired or over-caffeinated.
Desert at Lux
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux
We don't mind the notoriously long lines at Lux Coffee Bar — they give us more time to check out what's up on the walls. The shop's monthly rotating shows have included Hipstamatic photography by Jason Hill, a documentation of train graffiti by Christopher Marks, and a photo essay of Haiti by The Parlor owner Aric Mei. Lux owner Jeff Fischer promises to continue the rotating art now that the shop has expanded into the building next door, which means more walls, more art, and even more open seats so we can sit down to enjoy the view.
Scottsdale Fashion Square
We are not sure why outdoor malls are so trendy these days, because having grown up in the Valley, we find nothing more comforting than the blast of freezing cold, good-smelling air that greets you when you open the door at Scottsdale Fashion Square. We've been around so long that we remember when SFS was an outdoor mall — when you had to hoof it in the heat from Guggy's to Goldwater's, or get in your car to drive to Sakowitz. Now Goldwater's is (several generations later) Barney's, and we're thinking the old Guggy's was about where Anthropologie is now. Sakowitz is Neiman Marcus. Not a bad trade, and the whole thing's enclosed, so you won't get wet from some misguided misters. Love. All our favorite shops are here at Fashion Square — they've even got Pita Jungle in the food court and Modern Steak for fancier feasts. And did we mention Barney's?
DC Ranch Desert Camp Community Center
Manhattan has the Hearst Tower, the first truly green skyscraper in the country. In Los Angeles, it's the Audubon Center at Debs Park, with more than half its materials locally manufactured and the first building in the United States to receive a platinum rating under the renowned Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. Here in the Valley, though, we're greener than green, thanks to the forward-thinking, desert-loving developers who built DC Ranch, Scottsdale's preeminent golf course community. The developers approached the McDowell Mountains as an asset by integrating walking roads and bike paths into a landscape that embraces the desert, rather than trying to obscure it with bearing walls as so many desert-centric developments do. We say, if you're going to live in the desert, live in the desert — which means being able to look out your window and see cactus and sand, not brick walls and pavement.
Optima Camelview Village
It's not often that a building turns out looking exactly like the architectural drawing that inspired it. But somehow, Optima's location just north of Scottsdale Fashion Square materialized into a modern version of the famed hanging gardens of Babylon, chock-full of lush climbing plants and beautiful flowering bushes with blossoms the muted orange and purple colors of an Arizona sunset. The multi-tiered complex — which houses condos, restaurants, shops, and an art gallery — boasts a massive central courtyard, with gorgeous fountains and plush sitting areas dotted with colorful couches. The bottom floor of the open expanse offers an amazing view of the whole building, and it always makes us feel as though we're vacationing in a tropical paradise, without ever leaving the desert.
We don't mind a little history lesson with our home tour, so long as it's fun — and Modern Phoenix always provides a nice mix of both education and entertainment to fans of mid-century architecture from all over the Valley. Last April, Modern Phoenix's Alison King and her many dedicated midcentury cronies threw open the doors on a dozen rehabilitated midcentury homes in Sunnyslope (including a few contemporary models, among them houses by architects Ralph Haver, Paul Christian Yauger, and James Trahan. Several of the houses even had vintage cars parked out in front. But King and company didn't stop there, offering a full day of free slide shows and hands-on workshops — with themes like "How to Research Your Midcentury Modern Home" and "Modern Scottsdale" — in collaboration with the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. In addition, a Modern Marketplace Expo offered a day full of midcentury design, architecture, landscape, and furnishings aimed at '50s fans everywhere. No wonder this wildly popular tour sells out every year!

Best Hunt for Evidence of an Underground Bowling Alley

The Gold Spot

It's our own Bigfoot — or is it?

Oh, sure. Everyone's heard about the Gold Spot Bowling Alley. And over the summer, rumors about the long-shuttered underground space grew even louder. We couldn't help obsessing. Local photographer Dayvid LeMmon created a Facebook page for the abandoned spot, across Central from the Westward Ho, a few weeks ago. He checked in a few times, and since we'd heard a few locals got tours, we were all over him. But LeMmon readily admitted that while he was equally obsessed, he'd been equally unlucky. He hadn't been down to see that darn bowling alley, either.

The Gold Spot closed in about 1950, and the cellar and buildings above were sold to the city, which supposedly blocked off the tunnels from the Westward Ho.

Today, we're told, there isn't much left underground — just a few painted grooves in the floor where the old lanes used to be and a piece of a wall mural of a bowling pin. Above ground, the glass bricks in the sidewalk still illuminate the space where bowlers (and, decades later, late-night partiers, including DJ Ariel) used to hang.

We made a few visits to the Westward Ho, and our requests for a tour or even confirmation of the Gold Spot connection were rejected. On a hot, midday walk around the space, we noticed a gap in the tiles. So we returned with the founder of the location's Facebook page, lowered a camera into the hole, and captured what's left of our local mythology.

Just days before publication, an old friend unearthed an even older treasure: a brochure from the 1940s that mentioned Gold Spot. Mystery solved.

To see a panoramic photo of the underground bowling alley, visit www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bestof2011.

Historic home tours have become a tradition in our town, and we love any opportunity to go play looky-loo in the old-time houses downtown. But, by far, our favorite is the Willo Home Tour, on which we get to see a nice mix of early-20th-century custom homes and handsome housing developments built in the '30s and '40s. Tract homes never looked as good as they do in Willo, where big baseboards and ancient hardwood floors are the order of the day. We love the outdoor shopping and dining concessions, where we always come away with some great Hanukkah gifts and a stomach full of fun food. Still, we'll admit that our favorite part of this nicely organized, warmly staffed wintertime festival is the opportunity to ogle the folks who come out to look at window treatments and finials and, occasionally, to peek into strangers' closets. We love to park ourselves on a Willo street corner and check out the Scottsdale moms who always act as if they've never seen a house built before last year; the west-siders who ooh and ahh over how high the ceilings (and how small the rooms!) are in old houses; and the historic architecture snobs who sneak around looking for updated kitchens to scoff at. Fun!

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of