A funny thing happened in 2013. Both of us -- two curmudgeonly writers who between us have lived in Arizona way closer to 100 years than either would like to admit -- came to a shared conclusion.
We like Phoenix.
That's funny because for years we've loved to hate this place -- even as we wrote dozens of entries for Best of Phoenix, reviewed plays, covered the art scene, and investigated politicians. (True, Amy's always maintained there's nothing more fun than picking the low-hanging fruit at the Arizona Legislature.)
But last year, there was a lot of talk about leaving the Valley, and somewhere in the midst of the conversation, we each decided that we actually don't dislike Phoenix anymore. The city has grown up; or we have. Or both.
That's why we both jumped at the chance to write up our bucket list for Phoenix -- 100 things to do in this metropolis before you die. Most we've actually done ourselves. A few are still on the "to do" list.
Turns out, we had no trouble getting to 100. The challenge was cutting it back. Enjoy our list.
Visit James Turrell's Knight Rise at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Internationally acclaimed artist James Turrell has created dozens of his skyspaces since 1975, and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's sculpture garden is home to one of only 14 of them that are open to the public. Knight Rise frames the sky and captures the desert sky's changing light, allowing us to see both sunrise and sunset in a most refined way. It's all about the perception of light and color, according to Turrell, "at the bottom of the ocean of air." It's also cool as heck, and worth a trip to one of the Valley's best museums.
Eat fried chicken at Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe The menu is scrawled in magic marker on the wall of this downtown favorite, known and loved by anyone with great taste in wonderful soul food. And what a menu: juicy chicken-fried steak, Southern fried chicken, smothered pork chops, and catfish, of course, a house specialty since Mrs. White threw open her doors in 1964. All meals are $13 apiece, a smoking deal when you consider that a Mrs. White's lunch will stay with even the heartiest eater well past dinnertime.
See a Nearly Naked Theater performance Your life may not be changed by sitting through a play or musical presented by this quirky community theater, but you'll almost certainly be wildly entertained. Phoenix has been home to several offbeat theater companies over the years, but Nearly Naked, dreamed up by and managed by artistic director Damon Dering, has raised the bar by maintaining high quality and creating distinctive productions. Past huzzahs have included a stunning Equus; a near-perfect Blood Brothers, and a whole slew of plays that other theaters would never be brave enough to bring to their stages.
Tour Cerreta's chocolate factory Located in downtown Glendale, the Cerreta Candy Company is a point of local pride, even among those who don't especially care for chocolate. This fifth-generation family-owned business offers a particularly thrilling free half-hour tour of the various kitchens that create the high-quality chocolates and candies that have wowed the nation. Dig the caramel kitchen, the room where cream centers are inserted into bon-bons, the chilling room, and the candy-wrapping stations. On your way through, check out the big wall murals depicting various aspects of candy-making by real live Cerreta's employees.
See a New Wave band perform at a reservation casino Actually, it sounds kind of pathetic: A bunch of 50-somethings, bouncing up and down while a once-popular, now-long-in-the-tooth New Wave band that hasn't had a hit since 1983 runs through a set of synth-driven oldies. But for people of a certain age, Arizona's casinos are a gold rush of post-punk bands and solo performers whose signature songs (and obscure album tracks!) bring back fond memories of frat houses and water bongs. You haven't lived until you've seen the B-52s doing "Rock Lobster" on a double bill with the Go-Go's, who can still rock "We've Got the Beat" like it was the summer of '83.
Attend the farmers market at Downtown Phoenix Public Market on a Saturday Can't make it to France this summer? Stop by this, the largest open-air market in Phoenix on any Saturday morning (or Wednesday night) for fresh-baked bread, pastry, pickles, home-roasted coffee beans, fresh vegetables and seasonal fruits, and many other homemade and hand-grown comestibles. You'll also meet vendors of locally made jewelry, clothing, and crafts and an ever-changing group of popular food trucks selling pizza, tacos, and other southwestern faves.
Drive through the I-10 tunnel at night There are more and more things, every day, that make Phoenix finally seem like a "real" big city. There's the light rail, the proliferation of better downtown restaurants, the ever-growing list of farmers markets. But one of the oldest (since 1990!) citified sites is the Papago Freeway Tunnel, better known to locals as Deck Park Tunnel, and our very own underground underpass. And, okay, so it only stretches from North Third Avenue to North Third Street, and ranks as the 42nd-longest vehicular tunnel in the United States. It's ours. Like so many things in Phoenix, our tunnel remains unfinished; its middle section, designed as an express terminal for city buses, has been gated off for more than 20 years. Still, we feel very uptown (and downtown, at the same time!) whenever we head into and out of this cool, big-city tunnel.
Go fishing on the canal on Stanford Drive So what if you'll only catch carp, if you catch anything at all. Fishing on the canal on Stanford Drive isn't about bringing home dinner so much as it is about relaxing in one of the prettiest parts of the desert-in-the-city that is this stretch of Paradise Valley. Drive by (but slowly, please -- Stanford's got a very strictly enforced 25-mile-an-hour policy between 32nd and 44th Streets) and you'll see young and old alike, kicking back with poles and tackle, quietly taking in flora and fauna (roadrunners! coyote!) and hauling in the occasional seafood.
Bone up on local history in the Arizona Room at Burton Barr Library Leave your Uniballs at home. The second floor of Burton Barr Central Library (designed by renowned local architect Will Bruder) is home to the Arizona Room, where only pencils are allowed. That's to protect the priceless collection of clippings and artifacts, which never leaves this second floor archive, from the evils of ballpoint ink. You'll find a research collection about the heritage, lifestyle and geography of the desert Southwest that documents every era of our town, from prehistoric times to the present, and including Arizona city directories dating back to 1923, microfilmed Arizona Census reports from 1870 forward, and an impressive stash of Phoenix high school yearbooks, to boot. It's all neatly curated and preserved by librarians who can steer you toward the most obscure facts about our local history.
Have a cocktail in the Hyatt's Compass Room Oh, sure. They have a reverse happy hour. But who cares if the Hyatt Regency's Compass Arizona Grill even serves drinks? You'll go there for the same reason that we all have for more than 30 years: to slowly spin in a circle and enjoy a 360-degree view of the Valley in our town's one and only revolving roof top restaurant. You can eat dinner here -- that's what the "Grill" in the Compass room's name is about -- but no matter how good your lamb chop or garlic mash happens to be, you'll remember having stared down the skyline of our town, and maybe witnessing one of those splendid sunsets we keep having.
Step inside Tovrea Castle If you are anything like me, you spent your childhood -- and beyond -- staring at that castle, particularly once the 202 offered such a perfect pass-by view. I dreamed of getting married at Tovrea Castle, marveled at the romantic cake-topper of a building. Good thing I didn't wait to get married inside, because I'd already celebrate my 14th anniversary by the time the city opened the grounds to tours after decades of off-limits. But it was worth the wait. The 1929 building (hardly a castle, you'll realize, when you get close) has been perfectly restored, and you can tour the first floor and basement, and watch a video presentation. Dreamy. Details at tovreacastletours.com.
Shop at SAS Fabrics by the Pound You don't sew? So what! SAS is still worth a peek. Some may argue that the west side or Tempe locations are better, but trust me, the Central Phoenix spot is it. A few years ago, a fire forced the staff to clean out this notoriously disorganized warehouse of everything from appliques to zippers. You can spend hours in here, wandering from ribbons to fake fur; I've found boxes of Mexican oilcloth remnants. Find the goods for a wedding dress or a Halloween costume or just people watch. Despite the name, most fabrics are not sold by the pound, but the prices are still extremely reasonable. Warning: The staff's a little rough around the edges, but that's part of the joy of SAS. I have friends who fly into town just to go here. (I won't name names, Laurie Notaro.)
Visit the monkeys at the Phoenix Zoo Ruby the painting elephant was more famous, but my all-time favorite animal at the Phoenix Zoo was Hazel, a lowland gorilla who died in 1991 but remains a beloved part of the zoo's history. For me, it's all about the monkeys. (And I'm not talking about the lit-up monkeys at ZooLights. I think it's great that the zoo has found a way to make money, but depressing that it happens in the dark, while most of the animals sleep -- or try to, anyway.) The orangutan habitat is one of my favorites, the chimps are awesome, and a more recent addition to the zoo, Monkey Village, is a must-see. Here you literally walk among the small residents of the habitat, squirrel monkeys. But watch it -- the staff doesn't appreciate monkey business.
Take Grand Avenue from Seventh Avenue All the Way to Wickenburg Phoenix is built on a grid. Till you get to Grand. If you learned how to drive in Phoenix, chances are good that this street strikes terror in your heart -- it skewers the west side of town in all kinds of confusing and inconvenient ways. But if you make the effort to start where it starts -- at Seventh Avenue -- you can take that sucker all the way to Wickenburg. True, some of the best stuff on Grand will happen in the first several blocks, as Phoenix's lesser-known arts district (Roosevelt Row's more popular -- and more gentrified) whizzes by. Slow down and stock up on provisions at Treehouse Bakery or Bragg's Pie Factory, maybe check an art show or grab a drink at Bikini Lounge. Then sit back and enjoy the ride. Mostly, the scenery will be urban industrial; keep an eye out for several thrift stores, including a giant Goodwill at 85th Avenue and Grand. Keep driving till you get to the cute Western 'burb of Wickenburg. Then turn around and come home; the other side of the street's worth checking out, too.
Watch Fife Symington Make Creme Brulee No, really. I've seen it with my own eyes. Best remembered as the Arizona governor who left office in finance-related disgrace but escaped prison after an 11th-hour pardon from then-President Bill Clinton. (Symington had saved Clinton from drowning when the two were teens. Really. You can't make this stuff up.) J. Fife Symington emerged unscathed and as a principal in the Arizona Culinary Institute, a cooking school in North Scottsdale. Who knew the guv had a penchant for pastry? Symington's name last emerged in connection with the restaurant scene when Franco's Italian Caffe opened in Scottsdale in 2012, promising the governor's chocolate cake. Jokes about files in cakes aside, if you ever get the chance to watch Fife whip up a creme brulee -- take it. He's pretty handy with the blowtorch.
Eat Hot Food and Drink Cold Margaritas at Los Dos Molinos Once again, it's important that you go to the right outpost of this local mini-chain. The South Phoenix location of Los Dos Molinos is the only one to hit -- housed in an original adobe building, nestled at the foot of South Mountain. The décor is colorful and cluttered and you'll instantly feel at home. Buckle up with a margarita or a beer because things are about to heat up, in the form of the New Mexican-style chiles served with most of the dishes. Even the salsa will have smoke pouring out of your nostrils -- in a good way.
Go to the Deer Dance in Guadalupe The tiny Yaqui community of Guadalupe is just a strip of a town, a street connecting Arizona Mills Mall to the big box stores on Elliot in Tempe. But it's so much more -- for one thing, it's been a giant target of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's; he conducted some of his earliest immigration raids there. And it's a hotbed of history, or at least a celebration of history, religion and culture that's seldom seen live. The best time to observe that is around Easter, when the Yaqui hold the Deer Dance, a celebration I've never seen -- not even in pictures -- because any sort of documentation of religious events in Guadalupe is prohibited, as you'll notice from the street signs saying so. It's on my to-do list because I've heard it's spectacular -- you can read more about it in the 2011 Best of Phoenix award we gave it.
Go to a Phoenix Suns game Phoenix isn't a city known for the vigor of its pro sports teams -- and I won't pretend I know much about the subject -- but even I enjoy a Phoenix Suns game. Gorillas aside, the team has a storied past you can't help but celebrate, even though I miss the days the team played on the well-worn floor at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
See a show at Crescent Ballroom Charlie Levy's seen fire and rain in his time as a music promoter in Arizona. But what he hadn't seen was the perfect spot to house a downtown Phoenix music venue -- till he spotted the old building that became Crescent Ballroom in 2011. If you haven't been there to see a show, go. Grab a burrito in the bar (be sure to try the Honey Badger cocktail) and relax on the patio or inside. Fuel up, because whatever you've come to see will be good -- bands that used to pass on Phoenix are coming here, because they love Charlie Levy and because they love Crescent. You will, too.
Spend a day at the spa at the Camelback Inn The spa at the Camelback Inn is one of the finest in the world and definitely the best in town. It may not be the fanciest, and you might find crazier spa treatments elsewhere, but you're going to have trouble finding a local who frequents spas who doesn't include Camelback on the rotation. Book a hot rock massage; you can't go wrong with any of the facials. And if they are offering the signature wrap, book that, too, and leave plenty of time for the steam room, the Jacuzzi and the cold plunge. Visit on a pretty winter day when the temperature's over 70, and (for no extra charge) spend the day by the private spa pool before or after (or both!) your treatment(s). Order the gazpacho. Stare at the mountain. Smell the air. You're welcome.
Camp out at the annual VNSA book sale You're a word nerd if you camp out overnight outside the Volunteer Non-Profit Services Association annual book sale. And, if you've never attended this 58-year-old tradition, you're something far worse. (Full disclosure: Pela's a member of the board in charge of the sale.) The VNSA sale is the largest two-day used book sale in the southwest, and draws collectors from as far away as Manila. Savvy book dealers, collectors, and just plain old readers line the parking lot outside the State fairgrounds hangar where VNSA peddles more than a half-million books over two days, some of them early the night before the sale opens, trading stories about rare book finds or comparing notes on Anne Tyler and Scott Turow. Before you shuffle off this Earth, you should join them, just once.
Eat penuche nut ice cream at Mary Coyle's If Mondays suck in Phoenix, it's only because Mary Coyle's is closed on that day. There's nowhere to go, between Sunday and Tuesday, for maple walnut ice cream. Or for amaretto sorbet. Not to mention a double-dip penuche nut cone, a Mary classic. The rest of the week, you can visit this 63-year-old ice creamery, where you might order a Hula Bowl (vanilla, burgundy cherry, and maple walnut ice cream served with pineapple, walnuts, fresh bananas, and coconut topping) and enjoy the framed photos of people eating dessert in old-time Phoenix.
Ogle a Vietnamese Catholic Church For the first several years after founding their church in 2004, parishioners of the Vietnamese Martyrs rented a hall at a nearby cathedral. Today, their big, gold-encrusted place of worship is a sight to behold, both inside and out. Built in honor of the more than 100,000 missionary-trained Catholics persecuted and murdered in the 18th-century, the building is a gilded stunner. Facing Northern Avenue and flanked by giant gilded dragons, the three-story church's massive arch is framed by smaller arches and peaked with swooping points that shelter octagonal windows and towering pillars. The gargantuan silver cross crowning the peak of the roof is a stunner, and tips us off that this is, in fact, a place of worship.
Hear a diva sing outdoors at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Judy Collins swallowed a moth there, once. She was singing "Famous Blue Raincoat," and it just flew into her mouth. Otherwise, nothing bad has ever happened at the outdoor band shell at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, where Rosanne Cash performed a Valentine's Day concert two years ago that people are still talking about. Our town may never recover from Betty Buckley's one-woman show, which the Broadway diva presented in 2003. Women singing to us in the dark, while we lounge on the grass outside Scottsdale's best museum, drinking wine and staring at the stars -- who could ask for more?
Take the Winnie Ruth Judd tour Rumor has it that the house at 2943 North Second Street, where Winnie Ruth Judd killed her two roommates in 1932 (and where she may have had something to do with chopping one of them into bits and shoving her body into a steamer trunk), is about to be bulldozed. If so, hurry and go look at this bungalow, utterly unchanged in more than 80 years. Or traipse past Jack Halloran's home at 514 West Lynwood Street, where Winnie began an early 1930s affair with Halloran, the married man who some say is the real culprit in this lurid tale. Pop into the Grunow Memorial Clinic at 926 East McDowell Road, where Winnie worked with Anne LeRoi, one of her victims. Or, if ogling old buildings isn't your idea of a good time, snag a tour of the Arizona State Hospital at 24th Street and Van Buren, from which Winnie repeatedly escaped during her decades-long incarceration there.
Watch the bats take off at 40th Street and Camelback From May to October, right at nightfall, they come swooping out of the flood control channel (and its adjacent canal tunnel) at 40th Street and Camelback: Mexican Freetail bats, thousands of which live and breed in the dark confines of this cool structure. Swooping and diving, the bats forage in the nearby trees and hunt aquatic insects in the canal, and locals gather to watch their graceful flight, perhaps thinking of Transylvania or of local author Stephanie Meyer.
Hang out in the lobby at the Arizona Biltmore Squint a little at the view of green lawn surrounded by palm trees, framing stately mountains, and it could be 1929, the year that the Biltmore opened its doors. No matter where you look, or what year you're pretending it is, the lobby of this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building is the best spot in town for real-life luxury. Plunk down at one of the little tables that are flanked by not one but two bars; order a cocktail, and listen to the house pianist play. Class.
Drive through the Encanto/Palmcroft neighborhood In the '60s and '70s, Phoenix exploded with slump-block suburbs, most of which survive, blighting our architectural landscape with bona fide blah. Head downtown and drive through this best-kept neighborhood, and you'll be witness to what Phoenix looked like before Del Webb took over. Stunning 1920s California Craftsman bungalows and Mock Tudors stand side by side on wide lots framed by 100-year-old trees and well-tended box hedges; stately Victorians and stunning saltboxes stare each other down on streets right out of the Good Old Days, when Encanto/Palmcroft wasn't history, it was just a better street in Phoenix.
People-watch at Metrocenter Some locals remember when this was the "It" mall, glammed up with sparkly, glitter-encrusted walls and high-end department stores and super-cute boutiques (Lotions and Potions! 5-7-9!) one saw in no other local mall. Others who've moved to Phoenix more recently recall Metrocenter's ghetto era, when it was full of cut-rate shops and empty storefronts. Today, it's somewhere in between, but one thing that Metrocenter, which opened for business in late 1973, has always offered is some wicked people-watching. Suburbanites shopping for school clothes and gang members out for a rumble comingle here, particularly on weekend mornings. Metro's pretty indoor water fountains have all been replaced with seating areas where one can position oneself for an hour or two of first-class freak show viewing like no other place in town.
Catch a wave at Big Surf Sure, there are faster slides at bigger water parks in town, and there are others with wave pools -- but you can only wax (your surfboard) nostalgic at Big Surf, the first fake ocean in the country and a Valley institution. I have (not so) fond memories of wave pool face plants as a child; be careful. Ah, memories.
See also: Calle 16: A Mural Project
Eat mole at Barrio Cafe and tour the Calle 16 murals Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza serves up an amazing mole at her Barrio Cafe, a restaurant lauded by everyone from James Beard (well, the foundation) to Guy Fieri (he stopped by last year). She's not just committed to good cooking, Chef Silvana is also hell bent on celebrating local culture and fighting anti-immigration policies and sentiments. So several years ago, she began encouraging local artists to put murals up along 16th Street, where her restaurant is located. The result -- by many talented folks including Lalo Cato, Nomas, and Breeze -- is stunning and not to be missed.
See a show at Gammage Auditorium The acoustics at Frank Lloyd Wright's wedding cake-esque auditorium are terrible. The line for the ladies room is always crazy-long and I don't recommend the balcony if you have any doubts regarding your balance -- or a fear of heights. And yet there's nothing better than a good seat at a good touring show (and they book great stuff) at Gammage. It's a quintessential Phoenix experience.
See a Spring Training game Even if you're not a baseball fan, who can resist a cold beer, a hot dog, and a gorgeous afternoon? My favorite is Scottsdale Stadium, but you might want to try more than one ballpark, with new ones popping up all the time. Details here for the Cactus League.
Harvest prickly pear fruit You've certainly picked citrus -- if stealing a grapefruit off the neighbor's tree counts -- but have you harvested prickly pear? It's a popular flavor in everything from margaritas to marinade and if you have a pair of good gloves (they don't call it prickly for nothing) and some extra time on your hands, you can harvest your own prickly pear and make all kinds of things with the sweet, magenta fruit. It's an item undone on my list, but there's a lot of prickly pear outside the New Times building, so it might happen soon. The folks at Tonto Bar & Grill gave us some tips a while back.
Spend the morning at Lux Central Sure, you've got an office, but there's no coffee or fresh-baked pastries, and the people watching is terrible. Hang out with half of Phoenix at Lux Central -- for more than a decade it's been the coffeehouse away from home not just for hipsters but also elected officials, chefs and accompanied toddlers. A couple of years ago, the owners expanded -- a lot -- and now you can get a cocktail or some scrambled eggs in an industrial setting with concrete floors, vintage typewriters, and local art. See you there.
Spend the night at Arcosanti Paolo Soleri passed away last year, but Arcosanti lives on. Soleri may not have realized his utopian dream, but for $100 you can sleep on a platform under the stars in his futuristic structure in Cordes Junction. Don't forget to buy a wind chime as a souvenir.
Hike Camelback Mountain How do we love Camelback Mountain? Let New Times staff writer Ray Stern count the ways in his recent cover story. Whether you hike scramble-y, challenging Echo Canyon or the somewhat mellower Cholla Trail, you'll still have bragging rights -- and a great view of the city.
Eat Chris Bianco's Mom's Flourless Chocolate Cake Yes, Chris Bianco makes one of the best pizzas in the world, and by all means you should have one if you haven't -- or two, since I have trouble choosing between the Wise Guy and the Rosa. But the Bianco family is a tour de force in Phoenix, and if all you've had is the pizza, you're missing out. Marco Bianco takes charge of the bread, and you can often find him at Pane Bianco, a sandwich shop that recently expanded its menu to include more classic Italian fare. And Francesca, the family matriarch, comes in to the Town and Country Pizzeria Bianco location from time to time to make desserts. You can see her recipes on display there, and try her handiwork. The flourless chocolate cake is sweet, rich and dense in all the right ways.
Shop at Last Chance There's Nordstrom and there's Nordstrom Rack -- and then there's Last Chance, where the merch that doesn't sell or gets returned lands at bargain basement prices. There's only one location in the whole country and it's right here in Central Phoenix, located in the basement (of course) at the Colonade Shopping Mall. And it's not for the faint of heart. Hard core shoppers gather before opening every day for a chance at bottom-of-the-barrel discounts on shoes, clothes and just about everything Nordstrom sells. The stuff that doesn't sell at Nordstrom or the Rack makes its way here, reduced to a fraction of its original cost. The prices aren't as epically good as they were 15 years ago, when you could get a Kate Spade bag for a few dollars or a name brand designer ball gown for $30. But it's still worth it, if you're willing to brave a sometimes ugly crime. A good find from Last Chance is a Phoenix badge of honor.
Give yourself a walking tour of the Orpheum Maybe you're one of those people who like to pretend it's a long time ago, when things were "better." Or maybe you love yourself some Spanish Revival architecture. Whatever. Take yourself to this gorgeous Baroque building, with its intricate murals and moldings, where all the big names played live in the '20s and '30s. The Orpheum became The Paramount movie house in the '40s and a circuit playhouse in the '60s before falling into disrepair. A 12-year-long renovation has restored it to its former glory, and it's been waiting, ever since its reopening in 1997, for you to come ogle it.
See something arty at FilmBar We've finally got a downtown revival house that shows honest-to-gosh art films, cool old movies, and stuff that you're just plain not going to see at any of the local chains. And this one offers not just popcorn and soda pop, but a cool beer-and-wine bar besides. Just three years old, FilmBar is a great neighborhood bar and a worthy cinema that hosts independent and foreign films as well as new stuff from local up-and-comers.
Ride the light rail Valley Metro is working on a pair of $300 million extensions to its light rail that will link downtown to the east valley and northwest Phoenix. In the meantime, our newest reason to be hopeful about Phoenix offers spotless trains and modern-art-rich stations that scream "Big City!" More practically, light rail is an eco-friendly way to get from A to B while catching up on your email -- or taking a nap!
Ride the rides at Encanto Kiddieland Okay. So it hasn't been called that in a really long time. But for those of us of a certain age, the Enchanted Island Amusement Park at downtown's sprawling Encanto Park will always be Encanto Kiddieland. Launched in 1948, this smallish amusement park is geared for kids under 10, its rides and attractions designed for tykes 42 inches tall and shorter. You don't have to be "this tall to ride this ride" anywhere on the Enchanted Island, where teacups and Whirligigs rule. There's a shaded arcade where you can -- just as in days of yore! -- play coin-operated games, and a snack bar where people of any age can dig some cotton candy.
Talk to Beatrice Moore She's the maven of the Phoenix downtown art scene, and boy, does she have stories! Having co-founded ArtLink in the late '80s, run various galleries and art spaces here, and met or worked with every notable local artist you can think of, Beatrice Moore is a fascinating storyteller. Determined that downtown will have an arts district, she went on to buy up (with her partner, artist Tony Zahn) a pile of Grand Avenue real estate that's now home to various galleries, artist studios, and cafes. Drop in at Moore's Kooky Krafts boutique, where you can score doll heads and bump chenille and a ton of beguiling stories about downtown's arty past and present.
Ice skate at Cityscape Yeah, it's no secret: A lot of the fun stuff to do in Phoenix involves pretending you're somewhere else. Like the 120-foot long, 40-foot wide downtown ice skating rink that pops up every year in December. Essentially a big frozen bathtub, CityScape's faux winter wonderland requires a giant industrial hockey-league chiller to freeze enough water on which desert dwellers (particularly those who have been recently transplanted from places that actually have winter) can make like Sonia Henie. "CitySkate" (ouch) typically draws more than 100,000 people each year and is worth a spin, even if you're only sitting on a man-made snowdrift, watching.
Drive out to Boyce Thompson Arboretum and look for Ladmo's tree It's a pistachio tree, and it's kind of hard to find. It was planted in the memory of Ladimir Kwiatkowski, known to legions of local fans as Ladmo, our very own boyhood hero and co-host of The Wallace and Ladmo Show, which for 35 years entertained Phoenix kiddies with cartoons and comic sketches that taught local little ones the joys of sarcasm and political satire. Ladmo died in 1994, and the arboretum honored him with this now-20-year-old desert planting. And if you spend an hour wandering around, looking for Ladmo's tree (it's unmarked and off-trail, about 10 yards west of the herb garden), you'll do so in a gorgeous setting. This, the largest botanical garden in the state, is tucked just off Highway 60 and is always blooming with desert plants from around the world alongside native Sonoran Desert vegetation. Check out the cactus garden and take one of the staff-organized guided nature walks through one of the coolest (literally!) and most lush spots in the desert.
Take a walk down Architecture Row It's enough to make you stop complaining about mid-town Phoenix: The row of gorgeous office buildings along the north side of Camelback Road between Central Avenue and 3rd Street, created in the mid-'50s by several renowned local architects. There's the Ralph Haver-designed Friedman Office building, formerly Butler Homes and now Red Modern Furniture; Harold Ekman's design offices, rehabbed by architect Wendell Burnette and now home to St. Francis restaurant, and Fred Guirey's former office, currently an accounting concern. Wind up your tour at Trails, a head shop that used to be a porno store and which, in all its guises, is beautiful. (Some of the more gorgeous buildings among these now are gone, or sadly transformed: Haver and Nunn's own office building was near Ed Varney's, and is no longer there; a little further along, a genuine Al Beadle building had its facade scraped in 2011.)
See an art exhibit at Phoenix College's Eric Fischl Gallery The well-loved gallery, located in Phoenix College's contemporary Fine Arts building, hosts some of the best downtown exhibits in Phoenix. Last year's exhibits included work by Anthony Pessler and Henry Leo Schoebel, and Chris Jagmin, Mimi Jardine, Saskia Jorda, and Sherrie Zeitlin have also shown there. Its wide-open floor plan and delightful outdoor patio are home to student talent and local artists alike, and events like the annual holiday art sale and the Western Eye Student Photography Competition have helped put both Fischl and gallery director Timothy Hernandez on the map. Get down there!
Go watch giant planes fly overhead One of our best-kept secrets (well, for people who like this sort of thing) is the big dirt lot at I-10 and the Sky Harbor Circle intersection, where you can park and watch as jet airliners pass overhead. These monster machines are so close, it appears you might reach up and touch them as they take off and land. It's a great way to spend an hour with your airplane-enthused kids, and not a bad place for parking-and-necking with that special someone, besides.
Sneak Into a Hotel Pool Now, I'm not going to tell you which pool to sneak into, or just how to make it happen -- but I will say that there's a wide selection here in the Valley of the Sun. It may not make for the most relaxing experience, and the nicer the pool the better the chance you'll get kicked out, but it's the definition of a cheap thrill. Pass the sunscreen.
Drive by Lee & Patricia Sepanek's Holiday Light Display Metro Phoenix is a mecca for holiday displays. Theories abound -- perhaps it's because the temperate weather makes it easier to put up and take down tens of thousands of lights. Maybe it's the fact that we don't have a lot of traditional Christmas cheer dotting the landscape. So let's drape a cactus in lights -- or turn our entire front yard (and sometimes even the interior of the house) into the electric company's idea of paradise. You can drive all over town looking at displays -- people rent limos and make a night of it -- or you can do what I do and satisfy your Christmas cravings in one fell swoop with a drive-by of the home of Lee and Patricia Sepanek. The trees are so tall, the lights so bright on this Arcadia house, you can see it from 44th Street. Be prepared to wait in line. It's worth it, trust me.
Go to a Reading at Changing Hands Bookstore I'll never forget the first time I saw David Sedaris live. It was before he commanded large spaces like Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts or Gammage Auditorium. It was, of course, at Changing Hands. A young woman with dark curly hair stood up to introduce him and brought down the house when she presented Sedaris with an ashtray and an invitation to smoke in the store. Today Cindy Dach is one of the store's co-owners. Real locals still pine for days when CHB was on Mill Avenue, but if you've never been to the location at Guadalupe and McClintock, you need to go. Check out the schedule at changinghands.com -- it includes writing workshops, book discussion groups and live readings. The central Phoenix location of Changing Hands is slated to open this spring, featuring a bar called "First Draft." Best name ever, right? And no, you can't smoke there. Unless you're David Sedaris. (Maybe.)
Stick your Head Inside the Westward Ho You won't get to see the now-closed underground bowling alley that used to be accessible from the Westward Ho -- a hotel turned home for seniors and the disabled in downtown Phoenix. In fact, you probably won't get much farther than the lobby, unless, like Robrt Pela, you get an a call from an unofficial tour guide. But even the lobby is worth it, particularly if the staff is distracted and you can slip past the front desk and cruise the main floor, taking in the tin ceilings and gorgeous floor tiles. After all, you've been staring at the outside of the iconic building for years, right? Slip inside -- and back in time. Just be ready to be escorted out by a security guard.
Get Some Late Night Love at FnB We love Charleen Badman's cooking any time of day, but there's something extra special about the lure of Late Night Love. Most Saturdays (call first to be sure it's going on) the chef prepares a limited menu available from 10 p.m. on. It might be her special shrimp fried rice, or maybe Badman's kale-spiked take on falafel. The dining room's cozy, the wine is flowing and the company's always friendly. This is a Phoenix (well, Scottsdale) food ritual well worth staying up past your bedtime.
Go to the Parada del Sol Parade When my father's family moved to Scottsdale in the 1950s, ranchers herded their sheep down Scottsdale Road. That doesn't happen anymore -- make way for the Mercedes and Sprinkles cupcakes -- but you can still attend the Parada del Sol parade. You'll have to wait till next year, since the 61st annual parade took place Feb. 8 in Scottsdale, but you can still catch some rodeo action this year and you can always outfit yourself head to toe from the shops in Old Town Scottsdale, even though the Wigwam -- where my teal and white, second grade Parada outfit came from -- is sadly long gone. Get more Parada del Sol details here.
Attend a Detour Company Theatre Performance Detour is not like any other theater company in the Valley. Comprised entirely of adults with developmental disabilities, this is a performance experience you won't ever forget. Led by Sam (just Sam -- like Madonna) these actors are accompanied onstage by an incredible group of coaches who work to make sure that each participant feels safe onstage, allowed to perform to the best of his or her abilities. This makes for a touching experience, an entertaining show and, often, an emotional audience. Admission is free but you'll want to make a donation.
Eat a Sonoran Hot Dog at Nogales Hot Dog Phoenix doesn't have an "official" food and neither does the state of Arizona, which has struggled for years to come up with something better than the chimichanga. For an authentic local experience, try a Sonoran hot dog. Wrapped in bacon and available with an assortment of topics (don't skimp on the jalapeños), Nogales Hot Dog serves a delicious, reliable (lots of other hot dog stands in town come and go) version of the decadent dog. Pair it with a Mexican Coke.
Check Out "Windows to the West" by Louise Nevelson in Scottsdale Robert Indiana's Love sculpture is front and center, the one most people will mention when you ask them about Scottsdale's public art collection. But my favorite is the Louise Nevelson. The late sculptor hailed from Russia and Scottsdale's 1972 acquisition marked the first significant Nevelson sculpture in the southwest. Today you can still find it at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. Here's a self-guided tour of Scottsdale's public art.
Drive to the Top of South Mountain and Park South Mountain Park is an amazing city preserve -- filled with bike, horse and hiking trails. There's also a road that leads all the way to the top. Cha-ching! Grab your honey and the car keys and check out the amazing views of the city. Just be sure you head out by 7 p.m., because that's when the gates close.
Go to Bikini Lounge with a Twentysomething It's the ultimate hipster hangout, and manages to pull off being retro and up-to-the-minute trendy at the same time. Corner-tabled in the Bikini's murk, one can easily imagine it's 1966, when Grand Avenue was chockablock with similarly divey bars, and that the festively tiki-themed surroundings are new and all the rage. People "of a certain age" hang here, too, and for the best Bikini blast, a late night on the patio with DJ Shane and a bunch of people who were recently teenagers is a real Grand experience.
Visit the Musical Instrument Museum We're talking 200,000 square feet of bright, wide-open space that's home to a rich visual and aural history of musical instruments throughout the world. MIM's vast and expertly curated collection includes instruments from two hundred different countries, each detailed with both historic and artistic descriptions. Wireless "hot spots" around MIM provide streamed music, and its cozy and acoustically perfect concert hall hosts artists both local and national.
Attend Jeff Kennedy's Holiday Cabaret For a lot of people with really good taste, Dr. Jeff Kennedy's annual holiday cabaret at iTheatre Collaborative has become a merry-making tradition. Set up like an old-school nightclub with an open bar and table seating, the December cabaret features an ever-changing cast of local singers who deck the halls with yuletide tunes both familiar and unknown, accompanied by Kennedy's warm piano accompaniment, expert arrangements, and fun-filled narrative trivia.
Visit L. Ron Hubbard's House Here's a little-known fact to drop into your next Phoenix-bashing session: L. Ron Hubbard launched Scientology here in the 1950s. And he did it in an old house near Camelback Mountain. The unassuming slump-block house on 44th Street north of Stanford Drive was the original home to the Hubbard Association of Scientologist, and the spot where Hubbard wrote his first five books about Dianetics, the controversial mind-cleansing technology he also created. About 15 years ago, the Church of Scientology purchased the house and turned it into a Hubbard museum of sorts, featuring the great man's desk, his motorcycle helmet, and the dictation machine into which he read his many lectures. Sadly, the museum is not open the public (largely because the neighbors, fearing "recruitment center" activity, protested), so you'll have to settle for rubbernecking the late Hubbard's house.
Visit Phoenix Art Museum on Free Wednesdays There's no excuse not to go ogle art. Every Wednesday, from 3 until 9 p.m. and again after 6 p.m. every First Friday, Phoenix Art Museum offers free admission to its many galleries and international exhibitions. More than 17,000 works of modern and contemporary art and fashion design are yours to admire, followed by a tour of the lush sculpture garden and lunch (or dinner!) at Palette, the museum restaurant. Take the kids along for an interactive date with PhxArtKids, a cultured playspace they'll love.
Ride Bike Trail 100 on Tatum Trailhead The Tatum Trailhead's Bike Trail 100 is, for people who dig the outdoors, a Phoenix classic. Its 11 miles are crazy with scenery, and an easy ride that's pretty darn flat. Start at the west end at Mountain View Park on Seventh Avenue, then head east of Dreamy Draw for the best shot at seeing flora and the occasional fauna.
Wander Around Cosanti The late Paolo Soleri -- onetime Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice, longtime Arizona (by way of Italy) architect and artist -- is probably best known for Arcosanti, his futuristic housing development off I-17 north that never quite was. And it's true, you can actually stay at Arcosanti; it's even on the Phoenix Bucket List. But equally awesome is a trip to Cosanti. If you grew up in the Valley, chances are good that your mom dragged you here at least once so your great aunt from Chicago could bell shop. The place is frozen in time, a bell foundry that supported Soleri's efforts (and housed him) and continues to operate. The fact that Paradise Valley mansions surround this hippie haven only makes a visit more fun.
Go Out on a First Friday If you want to see art -- I mean, really stop to contemplate the good stuff -- check out the permanent collection at Phoenix Art Museum or catch a show at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Or head to Roosevelt Row on a Third Friday, when galleries hand out drinks and snacks and you can actually see what's on the walls. But if you want to see a hunk of downtown Phoenix going absolutely nuts -- something many have never witnessed -- head to Roosevelt Row (epicenter: Roosevelt and 3rd streets) on a First Friday, from dusk on. Any First Friday. In July they call it "Naked First Friday" because it's so hot outside (you do the math), and the crowds will have dispersed -- but only slightly. For years, now, thousands of people have descended on Roosevelt every First Friday, not just to walk through several galleries but to partake of food trucks, art sales and bands that literally play from the rooftops. Admission is free (and you might even get a free hug -- there's a woman who stands on the corner, offering them) just be careful not to trip the guy walking by on super high stilts. What began on a couple blocks of Roosevelt has literally branched off to 5th and 6th streets and all kinds of spots around the neighborhood. The biggest challenge: seeing it all before it's time to go home. You might even catch some good art among the good people watching.
See a '70s-Era Band Perform at Celebrity Theatre I've seen everyone from Cake to (Elvis) Costello play onstage at the Celebrity, but the best concert I ever saw there -- one of the best I've seen anywhere -- was KC and the Sunshine Band. It was the early '00s in reality, but inside the theater it was the '70s all the way. There are newer, more comfortable music venues in Phoenix, but Celebrity Theatre, circa 1964, is packed with memories, not to mention this is theater in the round, complete with a rotating stage. You'll have to provide your own go go boots.
Pick Peaches at Schnepf Farms Pack the sunscreen and take your Allegra -- come May, it's peach picking time. It's the perfect Mother's Day gift, smack dab in the middle of Schnepf Farms' multi-week festival. Take Mom with you or spare her the heat, pick peaches yourself and bake her a pie. The farm, on the southeast tip of town, is friendly, dusty and sweet. And you can even buy a pre-made pie.
Shop at Crafeteria The first Friday of each December, Medlock Plaza in central Phoenix turns into my idea of a winter wonderland. Frances owner Georganne Bryant brings the good taste she uses to run her popular independent boutique and spreads the wealth in the form of a curated indie craft fair. Crafeteria has become a holiday must-do alongside "buy a tree" and "attend the Nutcracker" -- and with Short Leash hot dogs, live music and a sense of community, it's not only about the retail opportunity.
Visit the Heard Museum Whether or not you kneeled in the pretty courtyard and pretended to grind corn as a kid on a field trip, you'll want to pay a(-nother) visit to the Heard Museum. This internationally renowned museum has been celebrating Native art and culture since the 1920s, and even today still retains that feeling through architecture and the museum's location in one of Phoenix's prettiest historic neighborhoods. The permanent collection is amazing and as a wonderful complement, curators and museum staff are devoted to continuing to accurately portray -- finding creative ways to do so -- American Indians through art. Also: The gift shop is amazing.
Eat Sticky Buns at El ChorroThere is something very decadent -- and very old school Phoenix -- about sitting on the patio at El Chorro, snarfing down the signature sticky buns. A few years ago the longtime steakhouse/bar/brunch spot was completely remodeled (now it's less falling-apart-cowboy and more matchy-matchy-society-girl) but the view of the north side of Camelback Mountain remains the same -- drop dead gorgeous. Hit El Chorro on a Sunday morning or a weekday happy hour. Cocktail up and order the sticky buns. Enjoy the view -- and the sugar.
Go to Lisa Sette Gallery, Walk Around Old Town Scottsdale In a metropolis with very few walking districts, Old Town Scottsdale actually predates many of us. Once home to the first local iteration of Trader Vic's (and later the second), the windy shopping and entertainment area is home to souvenir shops, nightclubs and some of the finest dining in town. Best of all: You can walk around down here. Make Lisa Sette your first stop. In recent years, the downtown Scottsdale art scene has flagged; some of the best galleries have closed, but the very nicest one remains: Lisa Sette Gallery. Sette has incredible taste, evident in her flock of artists, who hail from all over the world, including metro Phoenix. A Thursday night opening at Sette is a must; be sure to stop by Art One (featuring student art at a high calibre) as well -- then walk to dinner. A local luxury.
Eat at Kai Kai is the state's only five diamond/five star restaurant, and one of the few to truly celebrate Native American cooking at the highest level, in this case flavors inspired by the Gila River Indian Community. If for nothing else, go for the service -- and find yourself literally surrounded by wait staff who circle the table and place dishes before you with incredible precision. The food's not bad, either.
See the Penguins at the Wildlife World Zoo You might think it'll be a cold day in hell before you see a penguin in Phoenix -- but the truth is that you can see them (literally) any day of the year at the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium in Litchfield Park. The zoo has a collection of African black footed penguins and they are cute as can be. Don't worry about them in the summer; the zoo kindly provides A/C.
Check out the Japanese Friendship Garden The waterfall, surrounded by hand-placed boulders from Congress, Arizona, is a must-see. So is the White Heron Castle monument, depicting a Shachi--a mythical fish with the face of a tiger. Ditto the Japanese tea garden (cha-niwa or roji), rightfully billed as "a place for quiet reflection," and the koi pond, full of brightly colored and beautifully shaped fish. No matter what you see there, downtown's Japanese Friendship Garden is a great place to detach from the hectic everyday world, with a tranquil tea ceremony or just a mindful mosy through the cool greenery there.
Attend Art Detour This annual walking tour of downtown galleries and artist studio spaces is, after 26 years, a Phoenix tradition. Art Detour is great for suburbanites for whom visiting art galleries is a once-a-year event, and for those of us for whom it's a weekly or monthly pastime. In both cases, ArtLink's big weekend offers that rarest of things: access to artists' private studios, where they toil to make pretty things for the rest of us to look at. In addition, Detour galleries are open all weekend--in this year's case, that's March 8 and 9--some with special events and meet-and-greet receptions to boot. Even more fun is the many "pop-up galleries" that breed like rabbits during Art Detour, allowing rarely-seen emerging artists a space to show what they're up to.
Take a Driving Tour of Downtown Phoenix Movie Locations Head through the west-bound I-10 tunnel that appeared in 2005's Transamerica (watch for the 7th Avenue sign!) and onto Monroe Street to try to pick out the storefront facades that appeared in 1953's War of the Worlds (which also used the east valley's Dysart Road for its several "desert" sequences), then further south to Jefferson to ogle the Luhrs Building that appeared in both Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and its 1998 remake. Head north on Central Avenue to see the mile-wide stretch of downtown that was annihilated in the 1978 cheese-fest Fire in the Sky, about a nasty comet that fell to earth and landed (where else?) on our fair city. Hang a left at McDowell Road and check out the various locations (the Los Olivos hotel; that recently shuttered gas station on Second Street; Encanto Park, which doubled as Mexico City) used by Sonny and Cher in 1969's Chastity.
Tour the Rosson House Built in 1894, this Victorian mansion is among the last glimpses of how the wealthy once lived in downtown Phoenix. Located in what's now Heritage Square, the house is named for Dr. Roland Lee Rosson, who commissioned its design from renowned San Francisco architect A.P. Petit. (Some histories claim that Petit, who was sick and dying during the Rosson house construction, actually lifted the design of the house from George Barber, a prominent builder who published his floor plans.) Whoever's behind the Rosson design, they embellished like mad. The house is a hybrid Queen Anne with international elements grafted onto it: Italianate "hooded" windows; a French octagon tower; an Asian moon gate. After years of being a rental and alter a flop house, the house's oddly international details were all but obscured. Purchased by the city in the 80s and fully restored, the Rosson House is now a local history museum that stands as a reminder of how the better half lived in the late 19th century.
Shop on Melrose on 7th If you're a fan of antique shops with a little thrifting thrown in, this one-mile stretch of road is pretty much all you need for a pleasant afternoon of acquisition. Starting at the southernmost Seventh Avenue and Indian School end of this unique retail trek, there's Zinnias, a premium antiques and collectibles mall (don't miss Antique Sugar, a separate store selling vintage clothing, at the front of the Zinnias building). From there it's Flo's on 7th, perhaps the cleanest and best-organized thrift shop in town, then on to Qcumberz and Charlie's House and Retro Ranch (for mid-century stuff) and on up to Antiques on Camelback, stopping at any of another dozen antique and junk shops along the way. Finish off at White Dove, another super-clean thrift store, just north of Camelback, and then collapse into a post-shopping heap.
Visit Taliesin West Located in the Sonoran desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in northeast Scottsdale, Frank Lloyd Wright's former winter home was built in 1937 and now houses the famed architect's southwest's education campus. A trip to Taliesin West, which offers several tour packages lasting anywhere from an hour to a weekend, means gaining insight into Wright's thing for integrating indoor and outdoor spaces (check out the Garden Room, which opens to desert flora on the east and to the horizon on the south) and his game-changing use of site-specific, natural desert materials in his work. You'll see the Wrights' living quarters, where they entertained movies stars and presidents, the family's private Cabaret Theater and music pavilion, and even Wright's private office, where he sketched all those famous stained-glass and textile designs. A couple hours with Taliesin West's terraces, gardens, and walkways is a very Phoenix thing to do.
Attend the Annual Greek Festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Community Center Every October since 1960, this annual festival has rocked an entire weekend. Locals of every persuasion enjoy authentically prepared Greek cuisine, sample imported Greek wine and beer, and watch traditional dancers performing in authentic Greek world costumes at this two-day ethnic party. Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Community Center (1973 E Maryland Ave, Phoenix, (602) 264-7863) is briefly transformed into Little Athens, where local Greeks pile on Hellenic hospitality and enough baba ganoush to choke a mule. (For people not interested in Greek culture or cuisine, there's usually an inflatable slide. And, again, Greek beer.)
Have Afternoon Tea at the Ritz-Carlton Wednesday through Saturday from noon until 3, one can go play Downton Abbey in the cozy lobby lounge of the Ritz. Tea sommelier Jeffrey Hattrick caters to guests as if they're, well, guests, customizing tea and little nibbly things for each Lady Mary and Tom Branson. His selection of seasonal tea blends and tea-infused appetizers and pastries go great with piano virtuoso Nicole Pesci's lively accompaniment. Wear a hat.
See Blaise Lantana Perform As blues singers, go, Phoenix has a handful of local superstars. Tucson-born Blaise, who's played blues with the big guys, is high on that list because she swings classical piano and sings the blues with a voice like sweet brown butter. Some of you think of her as the music director at NPR affiliate KJZZ, but anyone who's heard her sing thinks of her as that cool crooner with the nighttime radio gig. She's smooth.
Drive a Surface Road until the City Stops and the Desert Begins If you take Central Avenue all the way south, you'll eventually run out of city and straight into South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the United States and one of the largest urban parks in the world. If you start far enough north, say at Camelback Road, you can watch suburban Phoenix turn into downtown's business district and then morph into what our town used to look like: sand and Saguaro and the endless desert.
Eat Fry Bread When in Rome, eat spaghetti. When in Phoenix -- fry bread. There's debate over just how authentic (or appropriate) a dish Native American fry bread is, but few will argue that it's totally delicious. Most equate it with fair food, but here in the Valley you can get it in a variety of places year-round -- from shacks on reservation land, to the James Beard Award-winning Fry Bread House in Central Phoenix, newly expanded for all your deep-fried, honey-coated, sugar-sprinkled needs. Savory versions served, as well.
See Ballet Arizona's Topia at the Desert Botanical Garden It ran two seasons in a row and there's no word as to whether Ballet Arizona will reprise Topia at the Desert Botanical Garden. But promise me that if Ib Andersen does bring it back, you will buy a ticket and go. Yes, it's held in a parking lot. And yes, it will be the most breathtaking setting in which you've ever seen ballet performed -- the sun will set behind the Papago Buttes, turning them red, as the dancers take the stage and make you forget that you never really liked hoity toity stuff like ballet. This is ballet as it is meant to be -- lyrical, intense, dare I say almost a spiritual experience performed on a stage double the typical length. It's gorgeous. The DBG, which has been rehabbed, manicured and trimmed more than a Housewife of (Fill in the Blank) is a lovely place to stroll with a cocktail in hand, and if Ballet Arizona would only re-launch Topia again while the Chihuly exhibit is still up, it would be a two-fer for any self-respecting bucket list, anywhere.
Party on the Roof of Phoenix Towers Mostly known as "the pink high-rise on Central," the 14-story Phoenix Towers is beyond swank, from its minimalist lobby to a roof with gorgeous city views. Built in 1957 by Del Webb's company, the entire thing is designed like a giant X, with giant, shaded balconies. The location is prime, fronting Central Avenue and nestling up against the Heard Museum. Get yourself a rooftop party invite and be sure to poke around a couple of the condos while you're at it.
Hike "A" Mountain in Tempe What's better than a paved mountain? Don't answer that. "A" Mountain is a perfect pre-brunch (or pre-beer) hike, steep enough to get you winded but only a scramble at the very end. Views are good all the way up, and this cross between a-mountain-and-a-molehill is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Tempe. Check out the namesake "A" when you get to the top.
Drink a Martini and Eat a Steak at Durant's If we were to toss words like iconic around at Phoenix New Times, that's what we'd call Durant's. Flocked red velvet wallpaper? Check. Smoke-voiced waitresses? Got 'em. Leather booths, the original Formica-countered bathroom (last time I checked), and a menu that would give Dr. Atkins the meat sweats? Yep, yep, yep. This Phoenix, old school, and if you haven't been to Durant's, you really haven't been here. If you're a vegetarian, order the iceberg wedge. And if you're a vegan, get a martini. Make sure you get one of those either way, of course, and whatever you do, be sure to walk in through the kitchen, like the regulars do.
See also: Vintage Phoenix -- Durant's slideshow
Line Dance at Cash Inn Country Pull on your boots and head to the Cash on Thursday nights for a night of line dancing that would have the old-timers choking on their chew. Oh, you do need to know that Cash Inn is a lesbian bar -- New Times has given it countless Best of Phoenix awards, as has just about every other award-giving outfit in town. Hang on the patio with a beer or get in on the swing of things -- word is that they offer free lessons.
See a Movie at the West Wind Glendale 9 Drive-In Even for much of the summer, Phoenix has perfect drive-in weather. Spread a blanket on the ground (or wrap one around your shoulders if it's winter), let the kids run and break out the cooler. What could be better? And yet there's a nationwide epidemic of deaths among drive-ins. West Wind is the last man standing in metro Phoenix, so get there quick. Pass the popcorn.
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Eat at Chrysa Robertson's Rancho Pinot Chrysa Robertson is a pistol -- if you don't believe me, friend her on Facebook. The woman takes no prisoners. She's also a hell of a chef. You may not have heard of it, but Rancho Pinot was here long before food became the new music in this city -- and I bet it'll be here long after most of the pork-bellied posers have closed shop and moved on. From her limoncello to her apple pie, Robertson incorporates fresh, simple ingredients (often grown in her own garden; she also keeps chickens) and inspired (when she feels like it) by the southwest. The homey, Mexican-inspired decor of her restaurant is worth a stop in and of itself.
Take a Walk on a Canal I know some cactus huggers who will throw rotten fish at me for saying this, but let's give a round of applause for flood irrigation! It's one of the best things about living in parts of the Valley -- it lowers the temperature of the neighborhood, it soaks the earth and supports the trees, and it conjures childhood memories. Counting the "lateral" ditches, there are hundreds of miles of canals across town that carry that water, and if you are a real nerd you can read about them on the Salt River Project's web site, srpnet.com, but what I really recommend is that you take a walk on a canal instead. As long as the breeze blows in the right direction, you can avoid the smell of (almost) still water and the flat, dirt surface provides wonderful urban "trails" for miles at a stretch, ideal for runners and walkers. Just remember to stay away from the water; it looks still but the current can be pretty mighty. You don't want to get sucked into a grate.
Buy Yourself a Pair of Vintage Cowboy Boots You're here. Dress the part. Don't make your first pair of cowboy boots brand-new, purchased at Kenneth Cole on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. That's not the memory you want. Instead, head to Antique Trove in Scottsdale and find yourself a nice old pair of Frye's. Put them on, kick some ass.
Take It All Off at the Shangri-La Ranch When we began the Phoenix Bucket List, Robrt and I acknowledged that we might be including items that were still on our own personal bucket lists. In other words, roads less traveled. In fact, there are a few on this last installment I have yet to check off. Shangri La Ranch -- a nudist colony (excuse me, naturist community) in New River is one of them. But I've always been curious. Turns out, you can print a guest pass from Shangri La's web site. So before you commit to an RV hook-up or to renting a cabin, check Shangri La out for yourself. The ranch is clothing option, but don't bother bringing your bathing suit. They don't allow them in the pool.