I’m a relatively rare person in Phoenix: someone who was born and raised here, and hasn’t run off to somewhere less dry and scorching hot. I spent a few years in Tucson, but other than that, I have spent my entire life in Phoenix, and I have never lived any where outside of Arizona. That being said, I have had an interesting relationship with my home, and there have been times when I have found Phoenix to be a boring, shallow city… especially considering that it has a population that warrants some big city excitement. Lately, I have been rediscovering some of the wonderful things that this city has to offer, and that’s what I am going to focus on here.
One my favorite things about Phoenix are the mountain preserves, and there are efforts within the city government as well as groups such as the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy to use these large areas of preserved desert for a more sustainable city. As it stands now, the Phoenix-area sports some of the largest urban preserves in the country. They serve as habitat islands for desert species, and wonderful places to hike and experience the desert. I will devote individual blog entries to different sections of the preserve, so those can be referenced for details on these areas, but here is a link to the Phoenix Park Department’s Mountain Preserve website: Phoenix Mountain Preserves
Phoenix is also home to a wonderful zoo and botanical garden which I have enjoyed almost yearly since I was young. These are two separate parks, but they are located a mere two minute drive from one another, and they are both nestled in the beautiful and unique landscape of Papago Park. The Desert Botanical Gardens is home to lovely, informative desert plant exhibits, and seasonally they also host a butterfly garden. What is fairly distinct about this particular park, and is something that I have really enjoyed over the years, is the Garden’s “Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail.” This section of the garden showcases several of Arizona’s native cultures and has some interactive areas for kids to explore and learn more about the historical lives of the desert people. The Phoenix Zoo is an equally fun spot to visit, and perhaps more kid oriented than the gardens. In its entirety, the zoo is well kept, the exhibits are nice, and the atmosphere is well done. There are also some distinct exhibits that make the park special- including a monkey village (the easiest way to imagine this if you haven’t been to something similar is a monkey aviary), and AZ animals exhibit which is also set up like an aviary, and houses one of my all time favorite animals, burrowing owls! There are plenty of other reasons to visit either of these parks, but I don’t have the space here to mention them all.
The Desert Botanical Gardens
The Phoenix Zoo
In terms of general areas to check out while in the area, Old Town Scottsdale, Mill Avenue in Tempe, and downtown Phoenix all have their own charm. Phoenix’s downtown will be disappointing if you expect it to be anything like the downtown areas of other large cities. There isn’t a ton of shopping to be done, and even good food isn’t readily apparent without some searching. However, downtown is home to a couple big sports arenas, theaters, and museums (including the Sciene Museum, which is great for kids). It is also the site of events such as the annual Matsuri festival, and the Phoenix Comicon. The Phoenix light rail (which I highly suggest for travelers, although it’s pretty small compared to many other urban rail systems) runs right through downtown, and also connects to Mill Ave on Tempe. Mill is close to Phoenix’s university, Arizona State, and it is great spot for bar crawling. Mill also has some pretty good places to eat, and connects to the Tempe Town Lake which has a nice shoreline park, as well as boats for rent. This is as close as you’ll come to finding a “college town” in the Phoenix-area. In contrast, Old Town Scottsdale is in one of the city’s richer areas, and it shows. The shopping here is similar to that of Sedona as it focuses on pricey art and southwestern souvenirs. A high end mall (Fashion Square) is also in this part of town. I mostly like Old Town Scottsdale for its food, and it makes for a nice stroll on spring or fall days, and there is even a pretty nice public garden there.
Old Town Scottsdale
Now, one of the things that has always bothered me about Phoenix is it’s apparent lack of interesting restaurants, so I wanted to take some time to list a few of my favorite places:
– Cherryblossom (Japanese/Italian)
– Curry Corner (Pakastani)
–The Dubliner (Irish)
– Green (Vegetarian)
– Indian Garden (Indian)
– Khyber Halal (Afghani)
– La Grande Orange Grocery (American)
– Sala Thai (Thai)
– Stax Burger Bistro (American)
– Sushi Station (Japanese)
– Uncle Sams (American)
In terms of living and visiting Phoenix, the weather is a big concern. Winters are traditionally mild, but recent years have seen them getting colder. A couple years ago, in fact, it got so cold in Tucson that pipes were bursting all over the city- including at University of Arizona’s massive new chemistry building. If you compare it to states that see real winter, it’s nothing, but it may be a bit colder than expected. Summers in Phoenix are what really get people, and it can be pretty brutal. A high of 120 degrees isn’t uncommon, and while it is very dry, the heat is still dangerous. For a person that loves the outdoors, summer can be something of a problem in Phoenix, since it keeps most sane people indoors for most of the day, and those of us that want to hike in the city have to be out on the trail by 430a. Best option for summer hiking is to travel up to Sedona or Flagstaff for the day. Due to its weather, Phoenix is a seasonal home for lots of “snow birds,” and that can also change some of the dynamics of the city, especially on the roads. Due to the weather, winter is the typical time to visit, but for people considering a trip to Phoenix, the summer is actually a pretty great time to come. Yes, it is hot out and you won’t want to spend the day at the zoo in the blistering heat, but hotel prices tend to be pretty low in the summer, and chilling at a nice resort surrounded by beautiful desert is never a bad thing.