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Nestled close to the city, South Mountain Park is easy to access from multiple trailheads and a great place to watch the day begin. At about 5 a.m. during summer months (and maybe an hour later the rest of the year), the sun will come creeping over the skyline, exploding into reds and yellows that brighten the whole Valley. Stay long enough, and you'll see that beautiful daytime-colored blue we all know and love so much. Stick around for a hike while you're up there — though not, of course, if it's too hot to climb a mountain.
Papago Park isn't exactly a hidden gem, but we don't often hear it mentioned as a great place to watch the sun go down. And it is. The small enclave of Sonoran Desert landscape offers a respite from the urban sprawl that is metro Phoenix, and the red-rock buttes are the perfect vantage place to watch a Technicolor sunset over the Phoenix cityscape. You can head to Hole in the Rock, of course, but that's typically swamped with visitors. We recommend posting up on some of the rocky outcroppings just north or south of it. Go for a walk or do some mountain biking in the area just after a monsoon downpour as the sun is setting. It's stellar.
You can't say you love your vehicle if you haven't taken its picture at Tempe Town Lake. Also, if you've never been, you're missing out on a party. The lake's several parking areas often transform into Barrett-Jackson Jr. on weekends, with kids in their late teens and early 20s pulling in with their souped-up Hondas, Subarus, and SUVs. The parking lot near the Marquee Theatre and the narrow lots near the north-side marina are favorites. Drivers come here to see and be seen, and what could be better than a picturesque lakeside spot with lots of parking? Search Reddit or other social media for the sporadic dates and times of these meetups. But respect The Man when he comes to break it up, which happens frequently. There's no glory to be found at the Tempe PD impound yard.
Valley car culture often presents as 10-foot trucks or sports cars pushing 100 miles per hour. But there's a place where cars are celebrated in a more stationary way: the Martin Auto Museum. Located on the I-17 frontage road near Bell Road, this "car-seum" opened its doors in 2005. Owner Mel Martin has filled the space with all kinds of rides, from hot rods and imports to classic cars and even a few oddballs. It's more than a warehouse for shiny cars; the whole place feels like a down-home, Phoenix-centric celebration of what cars really mean. It's a physical embodiment of the West Coast's relationship to the car (as both an everyday tool and something nearing an object of worship). And it's a place for all ages, where cars are the focal point for everyone to explore culture and history and daily life in our wonderful desert. MAM's intention is to educate just as much as it is to present eye candy, and in that regard, it's just as vital as any art gallery, educational center, or history museum.
The Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park is the answer to the question, "What if you designed a facility for those obsessed with speed?" It's not just that the park has been running for nearly 40 years and is a genuine institution for racing in the state. Or that it played host to racing legends like Ayrton Senna and Mario Andretti. The park caters to every kind of conceivable racing format, from an NHRA-sanctioned drag strip and 10-turn road course to a 2.4-mile oval lake. The park is a mecca for speed freaks, a site of cultural significance for a kind of art that feels especially vital and prolific across the Southwest. It's where the past meets the present and blazes a trail into tomorrow at 200 miles per hour. Add in some great desert vibes from the surrounding landscape, and the whole experience is a heady blend of technology and nature. Plus, where else can you enjoy popcorn and a fuel-soaked adrenaline rush?