I might just be a snowbird to this city in the sun but it is my beloved surrogate city. It has been my home away from home, my shelter from emotional storms, my warm blanket from the bitter Canadian winters and overall just the coolest place in the USA, in mu humble opinion. Maybe I'm biased towards this place but Phoenix is so often overlooked for those exploring travel to the US and I wanted to make this list to show off all the amazing things that this city has to offer for locals and visitors alike!
1. Camelback Mountain Hike
Camelback Mountain, early in the morning before or just after the sunrise is one of the most incredible places to visit in Phoenix. And as a bonus, is a great place to come to get a sense of the layout of the city. You have this incredible 360° view across the Valley. Camelback Mountain is just 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix and although the trail is more difficult to climb than various other trails in the city, this one is well worth the effort. I am far from being fit and aside from the last portion of the hike, this one is definitely something almost anyone can at least climb a portion of. Give yourself plenty of time and water and don't be afraid to sit down and rest. While catching your breath or taking a break, enjoy the awe inspiring views across the desert valley.
Frank Lyold Wright is one of the most prolific American architects but very few people know that he called Arizona his winter residence for many years and even started up an architecture school here in the McDowell Mountains just outside Scottsdale. The school is still in sessions to this very day and is one of the most sought after programs for aspiring architects. You can tour the entire residence, view some of the new students at works, and be entertained and educated by the incredible guides which will lead you around this stunning, desert inspired property. The flora which is so integral to the design is also such an important part of the landscape of the city. This tour is a great place to learn about desert plants and their contribution to the ecosystem. The views across the valley are stupendous from atop the mountains, so try to book a visit which will end around sunset to really amp up the tour.
3. Visit CIBO for Fantastic Italian Home Cooking
CIBO is my absolute favourite restaurant in the city! It is right downtown and steps away from awesome music venues and hip bars. CIBO is located inside a restored 1913 bungalow, and the interior is awash with incredible stained-glass windows, exposed brick and a mood-setting fireplace. But the outside is where you want to be! At night, the patio is lit with hundreds of fairy lights hanging off ancient trees and on cool weekends, musicians perform around the outdoor fire pit. The food at CIBO is absolutely phenomenal. They serve house-made pasta along with wood-fired pizza and the best antipasto platter you'll have in Arizona!
Food Truck Fridays are one of those community events which will make you feel like a local. Every Friday from October to April between 5 – 9 pm in the Civic Space Park between Central and First Avenue, dozens of the best food trucks the city has to offer gather to feed the masses. The event used to take place at the Phoenix Public Market but it soon outgrew it's original home and now has even more space to welcome even more food trucks. These food trucks mean you're able to sample all different kinds of foods which are so important to Phoenicians. If you've never had a fry bread taco this is your chance! Short Leash Hot Dogs are another Phoenix staple which you have to try. The Po Boys from Taste Rite are also unmissable. During the event, there are usually other activations like a bounce house for the kids and local musicians, so it's really a fun place to come and get a chance to see locals at play.
The Desert Botanical Gardens might not seem like a very exciting place to visit, especially if you're crunched for time in the city, but trust me, this place is more than it seems. The gardens are spread over 140-acres outside Papago Park. It was founded by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society in 1937 to preserve, document and educate. There are over 21,000 local plants and 139 species which are rare, threatened or endangered living inside the garden. If you've never been to a desert before you might have an image of it being without any greenery or plant-life but this couldn't be further from the truth. The gardens really comes alive during the various events thrown throughout the year. Their annual 'Day of the Dead' celebration is one of the most memorable events I've ever been to in Phoenix. They are constantly finding ways to make the gardens new and exciting for both visitors and their long-term members. This year, the "ELECTRIC DESERT" is your chance to see the gardens come alive with lights and sounds which when combined, create a mesmerizing display; like a living canvas painting against the sky.
It wouldn't be a list from me without including at least one art museum! And visiting the Phoenix Art Museum is such a great opportunity to see the best Southwestern art in the United States. The southwest really has its own style and influences unique to this part of the country. Their Latin American collections are one of my favourites and the influence of this area of the world is so apparent all over Phoenix after you've seen this collection. There are a surprising amount of famous artists on display here and it’s never very busy. I got to see works from famous artist Yayoi Kusama in an almost empty gallery compared to the throngs of crowds the same exhibition garnered in Toronto just a few years later. You might even fall in love with a few emerging artists which are given a lot of presence at the Phoenix Art museum.
7. Shopping along Melrose
The Melrose District in Phoenix, on 7th Avenue between Camelback and Indian School road is one of the coolest areas to explore. Along this strip you'll find some of the best thrift and vintage stores, unique street art, delicious restaurants and hipster coffee shops. The best place to start your journey is at the Melrose Pharmacy. Although this place is actually a real pharmacy, it has preserved various antique pharmaceutical glass jars and powders from the 19th century and displays them up on their walls. It's half museum, half pharmacy. But if you just want to stop and look inside, be sure to grab a cold, glass bottle soda from their sweet vintage cooler. Along the strip, stop in at Retro Ranch, my fave place to score colourful vintage shirts and awesome knick-knacks. Melrose Kitchen is one of the swishest diners along the strip and a great place to grab a delicious breakfast in style. Copper Star Coffee serves up some of the Valley's best brews and across the road you'll find Rollover Doughnuts, the perfect combo with your coffee! Rust & Roses is one of those antique furniture shops which is so much fun to explore, even if you're not looking to buy anything.
8. Shop till you drop at the Brass Armadillo
If you didn't find everything you wanted along Melrose, head over to the Brass Armadillo Antique Mall. This ENORMOUS mall features antique and collectibles from more than 3,500 antique dealers. It's spread out across hundreds of aisles, each one labelled with street signs so you can find your way around. I come here with all my visitors and they have a ball! It's more like a museum of the weird and wonderful than just a shopping mall. You don't even need to buy anything to have an amazing time. Often we'll just wander around trying to see who can find the strangest items in the store. In addition to the hundreds of incredible finds, the Brass Armadillo also hosts seminars, workshops, training events and social gatherings around all the different niches on display.
If you're lucky enough to be visiting Phoenix during Spring Training, from February into March, there are hundreds of games with all your favourite players, spread across the city. There are ten different Spring Training Stadiums to visit, each with their own unique flavour, style, events and of course, teams to watch play baseball before the official season begins. Spring Training baseball is more than just the game, there are themed events, great chances to meet the players and get autographs as well as explore the various food offerings special to each stadium. The tickets are super cheap even for the best seats in the house, so if you're a sport fan it’s a great opportunity. If you miss Spring Training, not to fear, Chase Field where the Arizona Diamondback's play is also a great place to catch games throughout the year. It’s one of the nicer stadiums in the US and in case you’re wondering - yes, it’s air conditioned in the spring and summer!
MacAlpine's is one of those Phoenix institutions that you can't help but adore. Since 1938, this place has been serving up soda fountain pops inside what used to be an old pharmacy. In the 1950s this was the place for greasers and pink ladies to hang out and share gossip over milkshakes and sundaes. Today the original countertop and malt machine stands as a reminder of all that great history. You can still order up classic treats and get served by a waitress in victory rolls and vintage-inspired outfit dresses. Along the walls are an array of antique pieces of ephemera and packaging from as early as the 1930’s, which makes you feel like you're eating inside a museum. The food is delicious, home made and a freezing cold ice cream float really does the trick on a hot day in the desert!
Phoenix is changing day by day, more and more people are moving into the downtown and revitalizing previously uninhabited parts of the city. There is always a new restaurant or local shop opening up to give a try! Let me know what your favourite things to do in Phoenix are and hopefully, the next time you're planning a trip you'll give some thought to exploring this amazing city!