Whether you're looking for killer sushi, an eyeful of traditional artwork and ikebana floral arrangements, or a cold pint of Kirin, Matsuri has you covered.

Matsuri is Japanese for "festival" and universal for a showcase of Japan's cultural traditions and foods. The annual two-day downtown festival in late February celebrates everything Japanese from morning to night and draws thousands of attendees who, once they find a parking spot, are encouraged to soak in the live music, participate in traditional crafts, and, yes, even sing a few tunes in the name of Japan's national sport — karaoke.

The fall of 2011 saw an explosion of Latino festivals, dances, dramas, comedies, and improv performances in Phoenix. And at a time when funding for the arts is declining and support for the local Latino community is hardly widespread, hundreds of artists came together to celebrate — and to fight.

The result of performances by Teatro Bravo and Israel Jimenez, Ernesto Moncada, Andrés Alcalá, New Carpa, James E. Garcia, Alberto Rios, Michele Ceballos, and Zarco Guerrero (to name a few), Phoenix-based Celebración Artística de las Américas (or CALA Alliance) may wind up a six-week biannual festival of Latino-focused arts programming. If so, it will be a loud celebration of Latino culture and a new branding for a community injured by Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Despite the legislation, the Valley's performing artists aren't going anywhere. And we're all the stronger for it.

Each year during the past five years, more than 100 local artists line Sunnyslope's Central Avenue between Dunlap and the canal during a weekend in October and April for a change-of-pace art festival.

Here, you're not going to find a collection of "artisan" lawn decorations or tchotchkes made in foreign countries. Instead, the town that's home to the Sunnyslope Rock Garden and historic home tours encourages its own artists and members of surrounding creative communities to set up a booth, showcase their work, and engage with the neighborhood to the tune of live music, local food, and plenty of people watching to soak up an afternoon.
Medlock Plaza

More than 45 local crafters let their hands rest and machines cool down long enough to set up booths, talk shop, and sell their goods during the annual Crafeteria. The event, hosted by Frances, plays by one rule: Everything must be 100 percent handmade.

Crafeteria's an annual gathering for arts and crafty types and one of our favorite places to do some serious holiday shopping. Last December's lineup included paper goods, apparel, accessories, artwork, buttons, and everything else we have a soft spot for. Artists Keri Mosier, Annemarie Miskovic, Cyndi Coon, Maria Mueller, Megan Hull, Kelly Roach, Kathy Cano-Murillo, and more proved once again that it's never too late to start saving for Crafeteria, and it's never too early to call dibs on a parking spot.

In October 2011, Maker Bench Tempe, Roosevelt Row, Make Magazine, and Craft magazine brought science, art, and engineering together on Roosevelt Row. Throughout the day, local and national crafters showcased their creations, demonstrated their skills, and celebrated all things DIY.

The event, which started in San Mateo, California, in 2006, is "the family-friendly Burning Man festival," with more than 100 exhibitors, including laser pumpkin carving, epic marshmallow launching, giant flaming robots, tiny finger puppets, and a maker market for attendees to try their hand at a few nerdy crafts to take home.Yes, it's a festival of geeks. And it's just the kind of celebration we could use a lot more of.

Cindy and Gary Iverson aren't afraid of a little fresh ink. Cindy's an artist who specializes in mixed media and paper arts. Gary's a chemical engineer. And together, they've owned and operated The Paper Studio, where they've made paper and printed stationery for online sales.

This year, the two traded up for a big space in Chandler where, for the first time, they have room to store, display, and operate a number of handpresses and full-size machines. Letterpress Central was born. Cindy and Gary, along with letterpress pro Mike O'Connor, now host workshops and classes, parties, and open houses where anyone can learn the basics of letterpress, experiment with their countless cast-types and images, drool-worthy selection of paper, and, of course, a good amount of ink.

Yaple Park is one of the smallest historic neighborhoods in Phoenix, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm. One of our favorite things about the area, which is bordered by Third and Seventh avenues to the east and west, and Minneoza and Turney avenues to the north and south, is its proximity to the shopping and restaurants in the Melrose on Seventh neighborhood.

Not only that, but homes in this area are still affordable, unlike many of the other historic neighborhoods in downtown Phoenix. Homes in Yaple Park range anywhere from $50,000, for a three bedroom/one bath, to about $200,000. The fact that the Grand Canal may literally be in your back yard is also a plus, at least for bike enthusiasts. The light rail is within easy walking distance, with its stop at Campbell Avenue and Central.

Alison King knows a thing or three (okay, probably more like hundreds — if not thousands — of facts) about the Valley's status as a Midcentury Modern mecca. Apart from compiling binders of info about architects such as Ralph Haver and Al Beadle, whose buildings and influence can be seen all over town, and blogging to serve local mod obsessives like herself, King leads an annual spring tour that takes enthusiasts to explore neighborhoods rife with architectural eye candy. Arcadia, Sunnyslope, and Marion Estates all have been featured neighborhoods in the past incarnations of the tour, which sells out well in advance year after year.

Icehouse

There's a big reason why a "for sale" sign isn't planted in front of The Icehouse right now — and that reason is Peter Conley. The 50-year-old tirelessly has attempted over the past year to swat away the dark clouds that formed over the iconic downtown Phoenix arts venue, which was in danger of closing because of unpaid property taxes owed to Maricopa County. Conley, the director of the nonprofit organization overseeing the Icehouse, began teaming with such local creatives as painter Hugo Medina to stage fundraisers to help alleviate the financial burden. A few artsy endeavors also have sprung up at the property in recent months, including the new Quiet Mind Tea & No Frills Coffee Bar and secondhand store/junk shop Urbane Recycler. The historic arts complex, which originally opened in 1910 as Constable Ice Storage, also has hosted film screenings by Steve Weiss' No Festival Required, after-hours parties promoted by Quincy Ross, and epic group shows featuring the works of dozens of locals. Needless to say, Conley and his cohorts are continuing to keep the Icehouse cool, and — more importantly — open for business.

Phoenix Financial Center

Two identical rotundas share a grassy midtown lot with W.A. Sarmiento's 19-story, Googie-style Phoenix Financial Center. Should you ever be offered the chance to peek into either, we have two words for you: Take it.

Inside the buildings, which were Mad Men-esque banking offices in their heyday, light floods through floor-to-ceiling windows, and surfboard-shaped stairs lead to a second-floor loft. Cast your glance up and you'll find that the space-age dome ceilings are adorned with carved-out stars filled with colored glass. Should you access the southern rotunda (last we checked, it's still sitting empty), its loft has access to a closed-off loggia built as a connecting walkway to the second floor of the Financial Center. While you're there, perhaps you'll have some luck finding the rumored time capsule buried on the site — building managers have hunted for it, but it's never been found.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of