Go back 20 years and you'd find only two reasons to visit downtown Phoenix: courtside seats and courthouse appearances. But now, thanks to an influx of academic organizations, arts and culture events, and local business, this urban forget-me-not is in full bloom. Hence the gentrification of historic Central Phoenix neighborhoods like Woodland, Roosevelt, and Coronado.

For homeowners who want to stay ahead of the real estate curve, there's no better buy than a house in the Garfield Historic District. This collection of early-20th-century cottages, bungalows, and period revival homes features houses being sold for as little as $60,000. Will it need a little TLC? Sure. But within walking distance to downtown hubs like Welcome Diner, Space 55 Theatre, Alwun House, and Roosevelt Row, these modest manors make for good investments.

Don't be fooled by the child-friendly nature of this fun-filled art installation at Scottsdale Public Library: Camp Dreamtree was not just for kids. Created by husband-and-wife artists Roy Wasson Valle and Koryn Woodward Wassoon, Camp Dreamtree was an interactive piece that allowed visitors to earn achievements by completing special tasks in each of the exhibition's four dreamhouses. The dreamhouses themselves were impressive, life-size wooden tent structures surrounded by plush trees that looked like they came straight from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. With a colorful mural encompassing the space, Valle and Wasson created a universe apart. This fantastical world offered all of the excitement of summer camp without the mosquito bites.

It's not every day we give a Best of Phoenix award to the Arizona Republic, but it's not every day the Republic does something as out-of-the-box as Arizona Storytellers, a program that has been in place for several years and has reached scores of people who otherwise may not ever have gotten familiar with the art of storytelling. With South Mountain Community College's Liz Warren acting as a coach, the Republic's Megan Finnerty has created a traveling event that allows real people to tell real stories, and in doing so has touched a lot of hearts. A new collaboration with Phoenix's local NPR affiliate, KJZZ, will reach even more people. This is a story worth telling, an award worth giving.

FilmBar

For FilmBar, it's all in the name. You've got your movies. You've got a bar. But the specific selections are what keep us coming back to the indie theater — with craft beers and a slate of films programmed by Valley cinema mainstay Andrea Beesley. This year, the indie theater got in on the World Cup action, continued to spotlight Arizona filmmakers with a monthly showcase of local, original flicks, and movie screening series with themes like teen flick and summertime superhero. And all that's in addition to supplying downtown with nightlife action by way of local DJs spinning on the weekly.

Pollack Tempe Cinemas

If you don't mind missing opening night, take pride in being a cheapskate, and can appreciate (a lot of) movie kitsch, Pollack Tempe Cinemas is for you. It's owned by real estate mogul Michael Pollack, whom you'll spot in pictures hanging throughout the lobby, alongside life-size statues of movie stars. Also of note: The theater now accepts credit cards and recently updated its chairs and AV setup with digital projectors and sound systems. Purists needn't worry that the East Valley moviehouse has lost its charm, though. You'll still get plenty of weird along with that Good & Plenty.

AMC Esplanade 14

Dinner and a movie? More like dinner in the movie. For those who'd rather save time, not chat with their movie companion, or need to see it to believe it, AMC Esplanade 14 is the place. Reserve your seats online. Settle into your leather recliner. And press a button to order whatever eats you like. Of course, bottomless popcorn, candy, and soda are available. But when you can order a margarita and a plate of roasted veggie quesadillas, what on earth is stopping you? Certainly not the direct delivery of said margarita to you.

Pollack Tempe Cinemas

Blockbusters are boring. Rom-coms are cliche. And don't even get us started on what stands for comedy nowadays. Fortunately, the finer films of yesteryear are staying alive and well on Tempe Pollack's big screen, thanks to Zia Record Exchange metro Phoenix movie buffs Cult Classics. Operated by Victor Moreno, Alison Brandt, and Saul Moreno, with the help of Adam Lazlo and Ann J. Braton, Cult Classics delivers monthly showings of some of cinema's finest and most far-out films including Ghostbuster, Gremlins, The Shining, Edward Scissorhands, Blade Runner, and The Princess Bride. Taking your nightly Netflix viewing to new heights, Cult Classics offers compelling reasons to get off the couch and into the audience with interactive games and movie-based swag such as commemorative art prints and T-shirts. Don't you think it's time to step outside the Redbox and experience the real deal with real fans?

Members of the Village Gainey Health Club and Spa in Scottsdale are accustomed to doing double takes while they do double time on the elliptical machine. That's because the high-end, high-class gym gets its fair share of A-list members. At this recreation center for the rich, it's not unusual to see professional athletes, both current and former, playing a pick-up game of basketball either offseason or out of rehab. Or perhaps aspiring models, actresses, and adult porn stars practicing pilates with their personal trainer is more your thing. Regardless, you'll find them all— the real deal and their plastic doppelgangers — at the place where Scottsdale socialites go to see and be seen breaking into a strategically staged sweat.

Arizona State Fairgrounds

When the Ferris wheel starts turning and the food starts frying, Phoenix fair-goers find themselves abuzz with talk of the most ridiculous rides, the craziest confection concoctions, and the lineup of slightly less than A-list musical acts. But truth be told, our favorite attraction at the Arizona State Fair just so happens to be the cheapest: admission. One ticket into the fairgrounds guarantees hours of top-notch people-watching. From teardrop-tattooed gangsters holding giant stuffed teddy bears and tethered adolescents being toted along by their parents to grim carnival workers blowing bubbles and scantily clad ladies chowing down on cotton candy, there is no event more eclectic than the annual Arizona State Fair.

Az 88
Natalie Miranda

Attention, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between. It's high time we came out of the water closet. The world is not black and white, and a lot more happens in a restaurant bathroom than just number one or number two. Perhaps no one knew this better than the late Scottsdale designer Janis Leonard, who designed the He/She bathroom at AZ88. Take a step inside this transgender commode and you'll find yourself surrounded by mirrored panels, strange music, and a montage of miniature movie screens depicting everything from sound hygiene procedures to softcore pornography. It's discotheque meets toilet and totally worth a trip (or two) away from the table.

Best Of Phoenix®

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