Cruising Down Central Avenue

You’re cruising Central, headed south. Because you’ve lived in Phoenix longer than you care to remember, you’re seeing not just the buildings on either side of this wide expanse of road, but what used to stand in their places as well. You’ve been here so long, you remember when driving up and down this street, looking to hook up, was a weekend activity of every baby boomer in town.

Here on your right is Park Central Mall. Its recent facelift gives Phoenix’s first outdoor shopping mall a Midcentury Modern feel, but you’re not fooled. You recall when there were actual department stores there, where today there’s a collection of business offices, a handful of chain restaurants, and — huzzah! — a Starbucks. One thing they got right was returning the Walter Emory Sun Worshipper statue, a long-ago Park Central mainstay, to the property. Even if it is on the wrong side of the mall.

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Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix/Ro Ho En

Lovely green spaces are rare in our desert metropolis, and even though we love our cactuses and our sand, sometimes we just want to take a moment and enjoy some grass and trees. Ro-Ho-En, more commonly known as the Japanese Friendship Garden, is where we head when we want to commune with verdant nature. Tucked away just off Roosevelt Row, the garden was a joint project between the city of Phoenix and its sister city Himeji, Japan, that was completed in 1996. It's a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city; the tree cover and water features drown out the sounds of urban life, leaving visitors with a quiet place to stroll. We're still sad that the gift shop doesn't sell pellets to feed the koi that live in the pond anymore (the food was attracting other animals), but even without that added attraction, the Japanese Friendship Garden is still one of our favorite corners of town.

It's easy to live in Phoenix and become blind to all the parking lots. There are just so many in this car-centric, perpetually mobile city. The grandest one of all may be the sprawling lot around North Phoenix Baptist Church. Taking up some major real estate near Bethany Home Road and Missouri Avenue, and Central Avenue and Third Street, this lot is an essential part of life in the neighborhood. It's hosted a slew of farmers' markets and other community events. It's where folks have learned to drive and even attended school. And, of course, it's an essential place of worship for this part of town. Put all of that together, and you don't just have a parking lot but a cornerstone of the community, a place with ample history and civic value. There are plenty of such places Valley-wide, but this lot stands tall as an example of the city turning asphalt into the fabric of shared experiences.

Bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic on Interstate 10 or Loop 202 got you down? Easily fixed. Bypass a good portion of the gridlock along either freeway during your morning or late-afternoon drive times by taking this thoroughfare through Sky Harbor Airport. Traffic is relatively light, even during peak pickup or drop-off times, and the route links up with various freeways on either end. You can cruise along, shave 20 to 30 minutes off your travel time, and save yourself some grief. Resist the urge to floor it, though (35 mph is the limit most of the way); Phoenix Police patrol the area on the regular, and a pricey speeding ticket will make your already dreadful commute even worse.

Phoenix is a town that requires reliable transportation. Whether that's a car, the bus, and/or light rail, there's no way to live here without traveling some ways for work, school, fun, etc. It's not all bad, as a stretch of road like Roosevelt Street (especially between Central Avenue and Seventh Street) offers a collection of gorgeous murals that's easily enjoyed while cruising at 20 miles per hour. These pieces are a snapshot of the larger Phoenix culture, with an emphasis on Latin culture especially, as well as a chance to further celebrate the city's talented artists. Over the years, there have been some standouts, like Antoinette Cauley's portrait of author and activist James Baldwin on the Ten-O-One office building on Central Avenue, or the utterly gorgeous collaborative cityscape by Lalo Cota and other artists at 128 East Roosevelt Street. Each one emphasizes something unique, but collectively they speak to our city's interest in great art as well as the role that plays in shaping our shared identity as a bright and brilliant city. Next time you're driving down Roosevelt, take the time to stop and enjoy the art — it's your city smiling back at you amid the traffic jams and congested air.

Freeway drivers of metro Phoenix, we know your struggle. Traffic congestion, poor road conditions, and idiot drivers are vexations that frequently make you want to take the nearest exit and stick with surface streets. Not so with the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway. The 22-mile-long portion of the Valley beltway from 59th Avenue on the west side all the way to Ahwatukee, which opened in late 2019, is flat-out fun to drive. There are zero bumps or blemishes in the young asphalt, so you just glide along. It rolls through a part of the Valley unspoiled by development, allowing unobstructed epic views of craggy mountains on either side or a chance to partake in the sweet smell of fresh-cut alfalfa coming from the farms of Laveen. Another benefit: Fewer people living nearby means there's less traffic to deal with during your trip. Feel free to open it up a little, cue up a rock anthem, roll down your windows, and enjoy the ride.

Quaint, quirky, and kitschy roadside attractions can be found in various corners of the Valley, but only the best ones are unique enough to seek out. The 25-foot-tall, 1,200-pound fiberglass Hobo Joe statue in downtown Buckeye qualifies, as it's one of the largest local roadside oddities and has an interesting and mysterious backstory. Old-school Arizonans will recognize the jaunty vagabond as being identical to the namesake mascot of the defunct Hobo Joe's Coffee Shop chain, which ties into the statue's origins. Built in the 1980s by now-deceased fiberglass pool manufacturer Marvin Ransdell, it may have been created for one of the restaurants, depending on the source. (Ransdell's relatives say that's the case and he was never paid for his work, but the widow of Hobo Joe's late co-founder Herb Applegate disputes the claims.) The statue was given to the late Ramon Gillum, a local meatpacker and friend of Ransdell's, and stood outside of his Buckeye slaughterhouse for decades before being removed in 2016 to be restored and repainted. It's now mounted in the parking lot behind a liquor store, where it's popular with tourists and visitors. Way to go, Joe.

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