Phoenix, known as the "Valley of the Sun" for its 300 plus days of sunshine each year, is a fragmented city sprawling into many other towns and suburbs which surround it. Visitors first notice the sprawling low profile of the valley ensconced cozily within several mountain ranges on its border.
The downtown area has changed dramatically since its tired days of the 70's and 80's. With the construction of the US Airways Center for Phoenix Suns basketball and Chase Field for the MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks, these two teams have brought life to downtown. If you are attending the symphony or seek something a little more upscale, you can visit the nearby Arizona Center or CityScape , both located in the neighborhood known as Copper Square . The square has several coffeehouses, restaurants and bars that bring people downtown for a drink or a bite before the show.
Phoenix is also trying to revitalize the urban center with more residential living and amenities which serve the people who live here. Two great restaurants that serve them are Pizzeria Bianco by locally adopted son, Chris Bianco or Durant's down Central Ave. for those who seek more tradition.
Incorporating the themes of Phoenix's early history with culture and local events, Copper Square is a full square-mile hotspot for activities and action. Downtown attractions include the park at Patriots Square , the Arizona Science Center , the Phoenix Museum of History and the Phoenix Art Museum .
The bedroom communities of Glendale and Peoria include moderately priced homes largely developed in the 1970s and they primarily remain residential areas. Most people find their entertainment and shopping needs at the Westgate City Center . This entertainment complex hosts the arena where the Arizona Cardinals play football alongside the ice-rink where the Phoenix Coyotes play hockey. For concerts and fairs, the Cricket Pavilion offers an open-air amphitheater all year, even in the summer!
The growing west side continues to spread outward into other communities such as Buckeye and Surprise, however the town with the most charm would be Glendale. Most visitors go to Historic Downtown Glendale and its neighborhood Catlin Court for first-rate antique shopping opportunities. The newer Arrowhead Towne Center Mall offers newer wares and different dining choices.
Largely comprised of low-cost housing and shared lots with the farming industry, the area of South Phoenix has somewhat of a reputation for violence and poverty. However, the upscale community of Ahwatukee is a notable exception. Ahwatukee residents are mostly older adults and urban professionals who shuffle around the city for work, and as such there is not a tremendous amount of attractions here.
This area is mostly residential, with upscale apartments that coexist with middle class housing. For some of the best views of Phoenix, be sure to take the South Mountain Park Scenic Drive while you are here. Fabulous sunsets are the pride of Arizona and best enjoyed from a desert wilderness vantage point. If the traveler prefers more shopping, it can be found at the Arizona Mills Mall near the outlaw little township of Guadalupe.
North & Northwest Phoenix
Further north, visitors can find the tranquil towns of Cave Creek and Anthem. And further northwest, you will find Peoria and the communities of Sun City, Sun City West and Surprise. Most of these towns are filled with golf courses and retirees. However, for other recreation, hikers will enjoy the White Tank Mountain Regional Park.
Bordering Phoenix to the east is the neighborhood of Paradise Valley, which draws middle to upper class residents because of its beautiful desert location in the foothills of Camelback Mountain . Shopping is available at the upscale Paradise Valley Mall and Scottsdale Fashion Square. On the border of PV (as residents call it), lies Scottsdale, Arizona's most luxurious and coveted area. Highly sought after for its real estate and vacations, this area provides top-notch restaurants and entertaiment with renowned restaurants like El Chorro Lodge or Tarbell's . For some of the best pizza in the city, visit Pomo Pizzeria, a genuine pizzaiolo made in the old tradition of Napoli. You can find it in the interestingly constructed Borgata of Scottsdale .
Located south of Scottsdale, Tempe is primarily a college town and the home of Arizona State University . There is plenty to see and do in Tempe, from sports to recreation. For water activity, visit the Tempe Town Lake or climb Hayden Butte, and for entertainment, this suburb is the spot for local festivals such as Fall Festival of the Arts . The University is located in the center, ringed in by family and student housing.
Continuing east we find Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert. All bedroom communities that are primarily filled with families and strip-malls. Most of the area aside from Mesa remained largely agricultural communities until a growth spurt of housing which began in the 1980s and continues to this day.
The Valley of the Sun has always been considered more of a wasteland in regards to culinary innovation rather than a food paradise. However, over the years many new and exciting restaurants have opened their doors with a focus on local food and sustainability here in the desert. Outside of the popular and classic restaurants El Chorro Lodge and T. Cooks, most dining options for Phoenicians over the years were either in strip malls or at an upscale resort.
Then in the 80's, many restaurants including the creative Vincent Guerithault on Camelback , opened and started a paradigm shift in how chefs approached food in the greater Phoenix area. Now, local chefs in Phoenix and Arizona in general have started to gather many awards, from the unique fusion of Mediterranean and desert flavors at Medizona , or to try something especially unique to Phoenix, the Native American flavors at Kai, located in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort have transformed the city into a bizarre, yet serendipitous setting for nouveau-cuisine.
The Arizona Center located on Van Buren St. offers everything from fast-food to swanky clubs and bars within the borders of downtown's main nightlife district Copper Square . While you are downtown, most of the activities center on the sports arenas for basketball and baseball. If you are here for such an activity, you can pop into Phoenix's Irish pub, Seamus McCaffrey's , in the Hotel San Carlos . Phoenix Suns fans, and sometimes players, often frequent Majerle's Sports Grill , opened by former Suns star Dan Majerle.
In the mid-section of Central Phoenix, you'll find a super selection of comfortable neighborhood spots. Mexican food is ubiquitous in Arizona and some are obviously better than others, one that is more salient is Barrio Cafe where they have created their own niche in the city's dining scene. Two other popular spots in this area are Tutti Santi for great Italian and Durant's for classic mobster steakhouse.
Scattered among the galleries in the downtown arts district are restaurants that feature both traditional and modern kitchens. For traditional comfort, Don & Charlie's and the Pink Pony have been dining fixtures in the neighborhood for years. Some of the hottest clubs are also located here, including the glitzy, high energy Axis/Radius , the cosmopolitan Madison's and the rowdy Martini Ranch . A local music scene thrives here with many bars that provide the sound, if it is Big-Band era music you dig, then go to the Famous Door or catch some blues at the Cajun House.
AAlong the main drag of Scottsdale Road you'll find that it is truly a parkway for the palate and Scottsdale Fashion Square offers tons of restaurants including the popular P.F. Chang's . Since the valley is so hot, there are tons of resorts here that provide pool parties, one of the most popular is the Hotel Valley Ho. At the Borgata shopping plaza, designed by an acolyte of Frank Lloyd Wright, is the award-winning pizzaiolo Pomo Pizzeria. This restaurant is one of the best places in Arizona to have a pizza created in the Neopolitan style, and they have the certification to prove it (look for the placard of the little clown holding a pizza). Right across the street is the ultimate upscale steakhouse, Fleming's Prime . Another award winner is La Locanda , touted as one of the best Italian restaurants in the entire Southwest; it is known for its ever-changing menu and super selection of wines.
Further north along the corridor of Bell and Scottsdale roads, visitors will find the popular Sonoran-style Mexican restaurant, Carlos O'Brien's . Also with the same motif, albeit another kitchen, is the Coyote Grill , a southwestern cafe with an amazing menu. For adventurous eaters, try the rattlesnake at the Golden Belle Steakhouse & Saloon and for upscale in Paradise Valley, go to Tarbell's or the classic El Chorro Lodge. Other new and exciting eating establishments include Restaurant Oceana, which offers fresh fish to eager desert dwellers and Michael Monti's specializes in top quality steaks. For seafood, the Cantina del Pedregal offers dramatic views and a lively atmosphere or the Salt Cellar takes you underground for some of the freshest lobster in the city.
You can always count on a college town to have an active party scene and Tempe is no exception. Mill Avenue and University Drive are ground zero for the East Valley's nightlife. The subterranean Beeloe's is a combination cafe, gallery and concert venue with live music. Right across the street you will find the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company , popular for its people-watching just as it is for the microbrews. True to its name, The Bash on Ash is a warehouse-sized "animal house", that serves cheap drinks and cheap thrills. Despite the glut of dive bars and fast-food establishments, nutrition and environmentally conscious people will find a variety of different eateries, including macrobiotic munchies at N Counter Cafe or Ethiopian food eaten with your fingers at Cafe Lalibela .
Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert form the "bedroom communities" of the East Valley, but in terms of dining they are by no means sleepy. A whole world of ethnic cuisine awaits visitors, including the vaunted Native American kitchen at Kai Restaurant in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Casino, German food at Zur Kate and innovative Italian at Postino's. For fine dining, Mahogany Run in Gilbert has quickly become an acclaimed destination.
Centered at 24th Street and Camelback, the Biltmore Fashion Park is home to the renowned Bamboo Club and Che Bella. As you head east, several standout steakhouses— Ruth's Chris , Omaha Steakhouse and Harris' all of which allow you to gorge on red meat until your heart's content. A little lighter fare is made in the kitchens of Marco Polo and Havana Cafe , however they do not lack in taste or ambience.
This is the place where you'll find simple, satisfying food at bargain prices generally within strip-malls. As most of the West Valley is residential, most food is focused on families. However, there are some standouts like the Greek restaurant Golden Greek ; this is the spot to go for the best gyro in the city. Another that deserves some merit is Dillon's , it is one of the Valley's younger restaurants, but it has already garnered a huge following which comes for their serving of fine Iowa corn-fed pork.
For country music and country cooking, kick up your heels and "Electric Slide" on over to Mr. Lucky's, one of the Valley's authentic cowboy dance clubs. Mr. Lucky's even has live bull riding in an outdoor rodeo arena for those who dare.
Arizona's has beauty that extends from desert landscapes and majestic canyons to major metropolitan areas and urban sophistication. Phoenix is a city of contrasts, where you can visit architectural masterpieces like Taliesin West (among many other works) designed by the famous Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as see the natural wonder all around you within the arid desert topography.
Downtown at 7th and Van Buren, you will find Heritage Square , the spot where you can catch a glimpse of historic Phoenix (albeit restored) by visiting the ornate Rosson House . Across the square, stop in at Pizzeria Bianco for a snack and/or visit the sister Bar Bianco for a beer or something to drink on the tranquil terrace. History lovers can become acquainted with how this unfathomable city arose from the desert at the Phoenix Museum of History . A little further up Monroe Street, enter the oldest Catholic building in Phoenix, St. Mary's Basilica . You can end this little walk with dinner or a drink at the Arizona Center , a hub of shopping, dining and entertainment. Other excursions can be taken throughout the entire Copper Square area, which is the 90-block core that encompasses the entire downtown area.
Science & Sound
The Arizona Science Center is generally focused on children, however the center contains many educational and interactive exhibits, such as the Dorrance Planetarium that is fun for adults too. If it is more sophistication and sound that you are looking for, then take in a show at the Orpheum Theater for both contemporary and traditional acts, or the Herberger Theater Center for theater and Symphony Hall for maestro's conducting opera. After dinner theater options include Hanny's for classic fare or the acclaimed Nobuo at Teeter House for Japanese tea served elegantly in an old Victorian rowhouse.
Phoenix is known as a paradise for those who enjoy the Great Outdoors. And despite the debilitating summer heat, both visitors and denizens still golf, skydive, rock climb, bike and run, although it is usually done in the early hours and always with plenty of water.
The entire city is ensconced within mountain ranges in all directions. South Mountain to the south, the Superstition Range in the east and even major mountains within city limits. Camelback Mountain is one of these popular parks within reach of city dwellers. Another popular site for hiking is Papago Park , these sandstone rocks appear as if they are from another planet and offer incredible vistas of the desert city. Also within city limits, visitors can find the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park , this hands-on museum is actually a remnant of the Hohokam Indians who once inhabited the area. Further north, visit the Deer Valley Rock Art Center for more archaeological treasures. To see the desert in action, visit the Desert Botanical Gardens , and if you have the kids the Phoenix Zoo is always a safe choice. The botanical gardens have more than 4,000 species of cacti, trees and flowers and very experienced guides to lead you through the trails.
In the nearby "bedroom community" of Tempe, one of major attractions of this town is the Tempe Town Lake . This is a man-made lake created by controlling the flow of the Salt River which provides a welcome respite from the heat. Here you can take a paddleboat, fish, swim and get a tan. As Tempe is known as a college town, visitors can take a tour of Arizona State University , which has the remarkable ASU Art Museum on its grounds. After water sports and ogling art, grab a bite to eat at the nearby Casey Moore's Oyster House , this quaint little cottage is allegedly haunted, however, every saloon over a certain age always is. One of the highlights here on campus is the Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium , an opulent music center designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It would also be his last.
While downtown, visitors can hop on the Metro Light Rail and head down Central Ave to the Phoenix Art Museum . Here, most of the work is dedicated to contemporary artists and exhibitions, and the cool, sleek building itself merits attention. Right nearby, you'll find the Heard Museum , which is dedicated to keeping the spirit of Native American history alive. Also within these confines, is the Irish Cultural Center and the Japanese Friendship Garden. If museum fatigue sets in, try some kitschy Italian at the Old Spaghetti Factory or for real mob-style ambiance, you must try Durant's , a Phoenix classic in the steakhouse scene. Don't forget to enter through the kitchen to avoid appearing as a tourist!
Another highlight of the downtown area is all of the quaint little neighborhoods that surround the center. If you have a car, drive through the Willo and Coronado districts, or visit the Margaret T. Hance Park , or Encanto Park to enjoy the Enchanted Island amusement park on its grounds.
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