When many outsiders think of Phoenix, Arizona, there are visions of year-round sunshine and golf—lots of golf. The southwestern jewel is that and so much more. While there’s no doubt that a place known as the Valley of the Sun is going to offer the perfect weather for all kinds of outdoor activities—including golf, but there are also plenty of cosmopolitan pursuits like art museums, spas and a great restaurant, nightlife and music scene.
If shopping is your thing, there is also the largest mall in the Southwest. And of course, there is the surrounding desert and all it has to offer—giant saguaro cactus, mountains, lakes, and unbelievable landscapes.
Phoenix boasts that it has more land designated for parks and preserves than any other major city in the nation. It’s in the center of the state, and the largest city, surrounded closely by Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, and Glendale, and many use it also as a launching point to the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, which is about a three-hour drive north.
Today 22 sovereign American Indian communities reside in Arizona and as the ancestral home to Puebloans, Hohokam, Mogollon, and Patayan people, American Indian culture and traditions are infused within everyday life in this city.
In mythology, a phoenix is a sun-loving bird that is continually born again. It’s a fitting moniker for this lovely city that is continually evolving and blending the new in with its past. Among our must-see stops:
Desert Botanical Garden
Centrally located in Papago Park, this 140 acre garden of over 50,000 plants, many of whom are endangered or rare. There are over 4,000 agave plants alone. Desert plants are particularly fragile and the garden was founded in the 1930s when Swedish botanist Gustaf Starck posted a sign that said, “Save the desert,” with an arrow pointing to his home. Eventually, a woman named Gertrude Webster joined what had become known as the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society (ACNFS). Her connections and financial support helped to develop the vital preservation project that continues to exist until today
There are several trails to explore including the fantastic Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail that’s an explosion of desert wildflowers and blooming cactus and the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail which includes an easy hike offering fantastic views of the city.
Mid-century modern fans and dedicated shoppers converge at this center still thriving after opening in the 1950s. Located in north-central Phoenix on Camelback Road its a popular spot for tourists and locals to eat at the many restaurants, shop and people watch.
The Valley Metro Light Rail also buzzes by with commuters going to and from work every day. Be sure to make a stop at Huss Brewing and try one of their fantastic craft beers. Scottsdale Blonde is a local favorite.
Roosevelt Row Arts District
Phoenix has a thriving art community. Roosevelt Row on Roosevelt Street is the city’s arts district with dozens of galleries along its walking paths. There are also restaurants, bars, and shops to pop in and out of along this lovely path that features lots and lots and lots of street art worth checking out.
Every month there is the First Fridays Art Walk (a self-guided tour of over 70 galleries that includes free hop-on/hop-off shuttles), in addition to lots of special events like the Chile Pepper Festival.
Ever since it opened in 1929, the Heard Museum has been devoted to preserving and displaying American Indian art.
The directors work with American Indian artists and tribal communities and have created one of the foremost collections of Native American art in the world.
Exhibits are regularly changing, but one ongoing show is the large bronzes that comprise the American Indian Veterans National Memorial.
After a recent move, this Phoenix icon can now be found at 929 East Pierce. The red and white decor that fans know and love still remains and features the usual diner fare mixed with Southern flair. Fried green tomato sandwich anyone? Pork fries and poutine are also popular with locals.
Former food truck owners Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson have maintained quality even though their new setting holds 80 seats—almost 10 times more than its previous location. Don’t miss the fried chicken sandwich.
The stark beauty of the Southwestern desert and mountains have often inspired contemporary artists. The Bentley Gallery has become synonymous with painting and sculpture of that genre, but there is also reverence to the past. Chinese bi and cong from the Neolithic period coexist with the geometric paintings of an artist like Chul Hyun Ahn.
Bentley Calverley originally founded the first Bentley Gallery in 1984 in Scottsdale to promote a small group of local artists. In 2004 she opened a much larger industrial space to hold more extensive work in Phoenix. Jim Dine’s massive Venus de Milos, and Sir Anthony Caro’s steel sculptures were made to be seen in the grand spaces of the Bentley.
Burton Barr Library
This impressive library on North Central Avenue is named after businessman, war hero and former Speaker of the House who died in 1997. He was also a tireless fundraiser for many civic causes in and around the city.
In recognition for his support of making information services available to all, Burton Barr Central Library was named in his honor in 1997.
The impressive structure was designed by the renowned Will Bruder Architects firm, which has won multiple design awards throughout the west coast.
There are many programs for adults and children but the five-story, 280,000 square feet library is worth a visit if only to check out the five-level grand staircase known as the “crystal canyon.”
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlor
Everyone who appreciates a little irony will get a chuckle to know that this lounge is located in the former Arizona Prohibition Headquarters. Prohibition ended in 1933 after 13 years, but the historic Luhrs Building in downtown Phoenix remains.
Known for its innovative cocktails that are as pretty to look at as they are yummy to taste. One is even served in a china teacup. There also some great food to be had here too.
Regularly hailed as one of the best bars in America, it’s a popular place and space is sometimes limited. If you want to be sure to get a table, visit their website and make a reservation before you go.
Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
Who doesn’t conjure up visions of cowboys when you think about the Old West? This 43,000 square-foot museum takes a step back in time to illustrate the art, culture, and history of 19 states that make up the American West.
A Smithsonian Affiliate destination, there is an impressive display of all kinds of artifacts from Hopi pottery, paintings, sculpture to spurs, saddles and even sheriff’s badges.
Perhaps the world’s best-known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright created Taliesin West as a winter home, and he lived there until his death at the age of 91 in 1959. (Taliesin is the home, studio, and school in Wisconsin). Today it is a historic landmark and the main campus of The School of Architecture at Taliesin.
“Taliesin West is a look over the rim of the world,” Wright was quoted as saying. A love of the landscape and blending of his one of a kind style with the environment make this a great day trip.
Tours of the home and the studio where Wright and his students worked are available at the Scottsdale property. Making a reservation in advance is definitely a good idea.
About 70 miles north of Phoenix, Arcosanti is an experimental town created by Italian-American architect, Paolo Soleri. Soleri coined the phrase arcology—a concept to provide space for a variety of residential, commercial, and agricultural facilities while minimizing damage to the environment.
Soleri died in 2013, but his work continues today with regular workshops that attract students around the world to learn about the concept and to continue to build and develop the community.
There are daily scheduled tours and you can also book an overnight stay. For a perfect gift, bring home one of the famous Solieri bells for yourself or a friend.
For opening hours and directions follow the links below:
• Desert Botanical Garden
• Uptown Plaza
• Roosevelt Row Arts District
• Heard Museum
• Welcome Diner
• Bentley Gallery
• Burton Barr Library
• Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlor
• Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
• Taliesin West
Photography: Daniela Stallinger
Planning a visit to Phoenix? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.