Frances

As holiday stress looms and people start wondering whether they're too busy for December First Friday, Frances Vintage gives them a reason to venture out, where they discover that it's better to undertake holiday tasks together in a space filled with merriment and creativity. Dozens of artisans converge on the Frances parking lot each year to sell their wares in a casual, friendly setting that transforms shopping obligations into opportunities to support local businesses, makers, and entrepreneurs. Everything at this holiday arts and crafts festival is handmade and local, so shoppers know they're supporting creatives in their own community, and don't have to worry that they're choosing gifts that anyone could buy with just the click of a computer key. By creating a sense of community, Crafeteria reminds participants of the everyday gifts that never get wrapped, but still warm the cockles of our heart.

Among the mainstays in our Phoenix Public Library chain, Yucca Branch manages to maintain its old-timey charm and combine it with state-of-the-art features that make checking out a book or researching a term paper a real pleasure. Friendly and helpful staff are on hand to cheerfully renew your library card, help you find the best popcorn movie, or recommend nice new fiction based on what you like best to read. Lots of comfortable seating and a fast auto-checkout are among Yucca's newest features — two more reasons why, when it comes to multimedia borrowing, this place is the best.

As kids, we used to dream about secret passageways that connected the far-flung corners of our surroundings, allowing us to travel from one place to another at astonishing speeds. As adults, our dream comes true every time we drive the 143 from the east Valley to central Phoenix. Dubbed the Hohokam Expressway, this 3.93-mile freeway might just be the best-kept secret in Valley commutes. Originally designed in 1957 as a collector road for traffic from the east side of town, the current freeway also serves to connect Interstate 10 in the southeast Valley to Sky Harbor International Airport and the Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway — both of which can be accessed without having to get too close to the dreaded mini-stack or Durango curve thanks to this small-but-significant route. Traffic? What traffic?

There are historic downtown neighborhoods, and there's Palmcroft, one of the oldest and grandest collections of midcentury homes in the city. That's because Palmcroft, roughly bounded by Seventh and 15th avenues between Thomas and McDowell roads, is something other than a mass-planned subdivision. Both Palmcroft and its nearest historic neighbor, the Encanto neighborhood, are examples of the Garden City design principle, a comprehensive approach to suburban planning that includes a unification of architecture, community planning, and landscape design. It's an approach that has its roots in 19th-century suburban planning, which typically included innovative street plans, superior landscaping, and ornamental light fixtures — all combined in this single square mile to absolute perfection.

This gorgeous Al Beadle condominium high-rise was already a midtown standout before its owners ponied up for an exterior renovation. Now, Executive Towers looks as good as (if not better than) it did when it threw open its shiny glass doors in 1964. Newly repainted stairwells sparkle in stunning turquoise, offset by balconies of palest lemon yellow. Neatly redesigned landscaping and a rejuvenated concrete lagoon surrounding Beadle's "floating" structural design add to the appeal of this popular landmark, which recently earned both national and local historic designations. Interior tweaks include grey-and-turquoise walls and carpeting on each floor. Anyone jonesing to live in a gorgeous and period-correct midcentury building might line up for one of Executive Towers' sought-after condos.

It's a downtown dream, and what's more, a stroll through Phoenix's Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood is totally free. One of our best-known (and higher-priced) historic neighborhoods, this one is no old-timey tract. Made up entirely of custom homes dating back to the late 1920s, this collection of Tudors, Craftsman bungalows, and transitional ranches wraps itself around 222-acre Encanto Park, and is chockablock with rose gardens, tidy lawns, and some of the best examples of long-ago architecture styles. Winding streets are well-tended by the city and locals alike, and are jammed every two years by the Encanto-Palmcroft Historic Home Tour and Street Fair, which allows lucky ticketholders the chance to peek inside some of this historic neighborhood's better examples. The next one will be held March 24, 2019, and tickets are already on sale.

Brought to us by the nice folks at the Midtown Neighborhood Association, this latest entry in the "Let's go look at old houses!" thing is among the most interesting. A self-guided tour that draws folks from all over the Valley, this one shows off apartment and condo homes in some of midtown's finest buildings. Because these are all closed communities (many of them high-rises like Phoenix Towers and the Regency), the Midtown Urban Living tour offers a rare opportunity to ogle neat interiors from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Thoughtful organizers have taken the load off visitors determined to see all half-dozen or so homes with a handy shuttle service that beetles ticketholders from one locale to another, and all tour spots are situated a short walk from light rail stops. Mark your calendar: This year's tour happens on Saturday, November 3.

Tovrea Castle and Carraro Cactus Garden

You can't miss Tovrea Castle as you're driving on the 202 Red Mountain Freeway between Phoenix and Tempe: It's the only wedding cake-looking building surrounded by a sea of cactuses in town. Completed around 1930, the structure was originally intended to be a hotel and ended up a private residence. The city of Phoenix bought the castle and the land in 1993, and today, you can take a tour of the property — if you play your cards right. See, there are only a few tours each week, and not many people are allowed on each tour. Right now, there's not a single ticket available through the middle of 2019. We recommend getting on the mailing list to get notified when tickets for late 2019 become available — they go quickly, and it's worth the reasonable admission fee to check out this unique piece of local history up close and personal.

Arizona has a rich history of strange Fortean phenomena: the Phoenix Lights, Travis Walton's abduction in Snowflake, the Mogollon Monsters, native Skinwalkers, Thunderbirds — weird shit happens in our neck of the woods. So the fact that one of the nation's largest annual UFO conventions is based in Arizona should come as no surprise. Every February, the International UFO Congress brings together a packed roster of guest speakers, documentarians, and eyewitnesses to talk about all things UFO. Despite the sensationalistic subject matter, they take a sober approach to the material, inviting scholars and scientists to weigh in. They even have therapeutic support groups where abductees and people who've been through paranormal experiences can talk about what happened to them in a safe and supporting environment. If you're interested in finding out whether the truth is out there, there's no better place to start than spending a few days at the UFO Congress.

It's safe to say that there are a lot of people in America who would like to punch Harvey Weinstein in the face. After he was outed as a serial sexual predator who used his money and influence to keep victims from speaking out, the disgraced Hollywood producer claimed that he was suffering from "sex addiction" and fled to a rehab center in Arizona, where, presumably, he hoped he wouldn't be recognized. That didn't work out so well: A guy known only as Steve spotted Weinstein eating dinner at the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort in January and took the opportunity to give him two hard whacks to the face. "You're such a piece of shit for what you did to those women," our hero reportedly said. Since Weinstein declined to call the police, Steve never faced charges, and we never got to learn about this crusader. Like any true superhero, his identity remains a mystery.

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