Best Holiday Tradition 2020 | Glendale Glitters | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

We're not sure: Is it that the trees in downtown Glendale are strung with 1.6 million twinkly Christmas lights? Or is it the fact that we can shop late surrounded by bustling holiday crowds? Is it the carolers? The rows and rows of outdoor yuletide vendors? The guy selling hot chestnuts? Oh, probably, it's all of the above that makes our annual trek to Glendale Glitters such a special part of our holiday season. We like it so much that we sometimes make a second trip — easy to do, given that Glendale Glitters commences the day after Thanksgiving and doesn't close up shop until after the New Year.

Brothers Kyle and Sammy Pratt dream big, and their annual holiday display is as enormous as their aspirations. As lifelong fans of the Walt Disney Company, the pair hope to someday land jobs doing something creative for the House of Mouse. In the meantime, they've poured their imaginations into Christmas Forever over the past five years; it's a stepping stone toward making their dreams a reality, they say. It's also one of the best yuletide displays in metro Phoenix, and it's only gotten bigger as the brothers keep upping its size and spectacle. Each holiday season, their residence becomes a gigantic gingerbread house adorned with bedazzled wooden candy cutouts, a mock-up of the iconic clock face from Disneyland's It's a Small World, and thousands of lights. Every half-hour, a choreographed multimedia extravaganza of glittering bulbs, video projections, a raucous soundtrack, and show-stopping pyrotechnics takes place, lighting up the night and wowing crowds of onlookers. Christmas Forever may cost a pretty penny and hundreds of man-hours for the Pratts to produce, but it's a small price to pay if it lands them their dream jobs someday.

Before Alison King and her husband, Matthew, co-founded the neighborhood network known as Modern Phoenix, many of us were naive to the midcentury architectural wonders to be found in our city. But since 2004, the Kings and their colleagues have enlightened us with their annual self-guided home tour, fostering citywide appreciation of Phoenix architecture with a week's worth of seminars and events. Unlike most historic home tours, Modern Phoenix's provides post-tour articles, research, and other resources for students and fans of Phoenix's architectural record. Plus, you get to tour gorgeous old homes. Being in the know is seldom this much fun.

Phoenix is fortunate to have several historic neighborhoods where homeowners devote a lot of love and elbow grease to keeping architectural elements in place even as new development swirls around them. This year, F.Q. Story took center stage as it celebrated its 100th anniversary. The neighborhood bounded by McDowell Road and Roosevelt Street between Seventh and Grand avenues boasts just over 600 homes built primarily between the 1920s and the 1940s. It's a popular home tour destination, where people can observe styles like Craftsman bungalows, Spanish revival homes, English Tudor homes, and more while walking along tree-lined sidewalks. There's a new reason to get out and see the neighborhood, too: a pair of murals painted by Lucretia Torva, whose work explores life in F.Q. Story both past and present. You'll find one at Latham Street and 11th Avenue, and another at Moreland Street and Ninth Avenue.

There are some gorgeous, fancy neighborhoods in metro Phoenix. None of us live in one (we work for a print alt-weekly), but so far, at least, nobody has told us we can't take leisurely strolls through these scenic parts of town. The Biltmore Loop is a 2-mile paved path mostly abutting the Adobe Golf Course and the Biltmore Estates. Along this walk, you'll see stunning luxury homes with beautifully manicured yards and architectural styles ranging from Tudor to Craftsman and Grand European. If you park at Biltmore Fashion Park, you can get extra steps by walking on 24th Street about two blocks to the main entrance. To arrive at the loop, you enter by the first golf course or keep walking past the Adobe Restaurant and start closer to the Arizona Biltmore. Another option is to enter on 32nd Street and Marshall Avenue. Whatever way you choose, we recommend a leisurely stroll at dusk to see how the other half lives.

Each January, we anxiously await the start of the Barrett-Jackson car auction. The cars are cool, but we're really there to check out the crowd, who come from all over the world to ogle these fine autos. And what a diverse crowd it is: You've got your celebrities and other mega-rich collectors, there to buy and sell some of the rarest, most expensive cars in the world; the Scottsdale types looking to see and be seen; the auto aficionados who buy and sell the less-pricey vehicles that make up the bulk of the auction; the dads and their kids; the people who are really interested in high-end motorhomes; the brand loyalists roaming the halls in Ford or Chevy T-shirts; and the vendors selling everything from faux vintage metal signs to boats. It's a diverse, high-energy crush of folks that's just as head-turning as the thousands of cars on display.

In a metropolis of nearly 5 million people, it can sometimes feel like there's no privacy at all. If you're looking for a special place to lay one on your significant other, may we suggest entering the dark, magical confines of You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies at Phoenix Art Museum. The Firefly Room, as it's usually called, is one of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's infinity room installations. Step inside, and you instantly enter some other dimension. The walls are mirrored and the floor is shiny black, allowing the tiny, blinking, color-changing lights hanging from the ceiling to be reflected in all surfaces. Being there feels like being in outer space, and even when other people are in the room with you, the darkness affords you just enough privacy for a shared moment with your sweetheart. And really, who wouldn't want to be kissed among the stars?

You wouldn't think that one of the loveliest landmarks in metro Phoenix would be the entrance to a west Valley housing development. But you won't need much convincing upon visiting the Estrella Star Tower, a little-known local gem. During the day, the spiral-shaped tower — which is surrounded by a man-made multilevel waterfall, walking paths, and benches — is a popular backdrop for graduation or family photo shoots. Climb the spiral staircase to the top of the tower, and you've got an impressive view of Estrella Mountain Regional Park. As day turns to night, it's a prime spot for watching the sunset as the lights set into the tower start to illuminate. The tower's design was conceptualized by local astronomy personality Steven Kates, also known as Dr. Sky; a panel on the tower includes a quote from Kates that reads in part: "At the observation plaza, you can reflect on your place in the universe and observe nature from this sacred ground of our ancestors, where we reach up and out to the skies." We can't think of a better place to do so.

The end of Metrocenter had been a long time coming. Opened in 1973, the west Valley mall began to lose market share in the 1990s, when its parent company opened Arrowhead Towne Center just 10 miles away. While Metro was bleeding popular chain shops and replacing them with lower-end mom-and-pop boutiques, Arrowhead was romancing upscale shoppers with new tenants like Sephora, Coach, and Phoenix's first Apple Store. Crime in the neighborhood didn't help; neither did the rise of online shopping. And then COVID hit. In mid-June, the mall's owner announced Metro would close for good at the end of the month. On Facebook, where a group dedicated to the mall has 17,000 fans, a farewell was planned: one final cruise outside the mall. Thousands of locals turned up over the course of two nights. They drank beer, watched sports cars do donuts in the parking lot, and most of all reminisced about the good old days: Goldwater's, Hot Dog on a Stick, Bill &Ted's Excellent Adventure, the ice-skating rink. Their first car. Their first kiss. Days gone by. "I needed to take a nap to stay up this late," one woman in the crowd told us. Her gray hair hung to her waist. "But it was totally worth it!"

On the surface, it seems like a tale fit for the pulpy pages of War Stories magazine: On a chilly night in December 1944, some 25 German soldiers and sailors absconded from Camp Papago Park, a Valley prisoner-of-war facility during World War II. It was the largest-ever escape by Axis POWs on U.S. soil, an embarrassment for the military, and fodder for dramatic newspaper headlines ("Wily Germans Elude Chase"). Security was lax and life was relatively comfortable at the camp overseen by Army Colonel William Holden, who believed with Colonel Klink-like foolishness that his prisoners could never bust out. Exploiting the situation, the escapees used a 178-foot tunnel they'd dug for months to reach a nearby canal. Their newfound freedom didn't last. Some considered it a prank and surrendered days later. Others hoped to return to the fatherland by way of Mexico, but were done in by the weather and desert terrain. One trio even considered rafting the Gila River to the Gulf of California, only to find a dry riverbed. Within weeks, each was recaptured and the story of their great escape has since slipped into Phoenix lore.

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