About the 12-Hour Travel Challenge
The goal of the 12-Hour Challenge is to explore new places throughout the Phoenix-Metro area. Specifically, our first challenge forced us to discover new things to do in Phoenix in the Summer. For each one, we define a distinct area within which we have to limit our explorations, based on the different boundaries between cities. We also avoid hiking during the challenge, in Phoenix at least, because we are working on in-depth guides to the trails in the area.
For our debut challenge, we limited ourselves to activities in Central Phoenix. Mapped below with the help of Google.
The Search for Breakfast
The day began with a search for some of the best restaurants in Central Phoenix. We planned to have our morning start with a hearty breakfast at the Original Breakfast House, but unfortunately, our 9 a.m. start time ruled that option out. Despite its unassuming location, the OBH is VERY popular in the area, and waiting visitors were filling the patio by the time we arrived. With no time to spare, we decided to try an alternative option. (Tip: If you do visit OBH, they are a cash-only establishment.)
4326 E Cactus Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032
Oink Cafe is one of R. and my favorite places to get breakfast in Central Phoenix. This little place is located in a strip mall next to a Target and REI. They specialize in bacon (surprise, surprise), and giving one of their bacon flights a try is real fun. The flavors aren’t crazy, just really savory and delicious. Any of them are available for pairing with a regular breakfast meal as well, and you can even enjoy a bacon donut from the bar. I usually enjoy one of their waffles.
With its slight cinnamon/vanilla flavor, these sweet breakfast treats are some of the best in the city. This time, however, I opted for the Oink French Toast, which turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected.
Amazing Options at Our Favorite Spot
With 8 slices of cereal encrusted toast, this meal would be best shared. It was really sweet and had a great texture; especially with a little crunch on the edges of the toast. I also ordered my plate with all of the sweet toppings listed on the menu, which ended up meaning that the massive plate came out topped with compote, slices of fruit, and whipped cream.
Oink also has breakfast diner classics like biscuits and gravy, as well as healthier options. In short, for breakfast lovers, this is a great little spot where you can avoid horrendous crowds but still support a great small-business with a dedication to delicious food. It really is one of the best restaurants in Central Phoenix.
The Surprising Delights of Paradise Valley Mall
4568 E Cactus Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032
Paradise Valley (PV) Mall happens to be the childhood mall of the whole Nightborn Team, and this made our journey there a bit of an emotional one. Unfortunately, PV Mall is what many would consider a “dying” mall (or zombie mall as Retail Archaeology puts it- he has a great video on the current state of PV Mall), and for us, many of the now-empty shops are a painful reminder that many vestiges of our past are slowly succumbing to changing shopping and recreation cultures. But when thinking about things to do in Phoenix in the summer, indoor malls offer a nice respite from the heat.
Trying VR For The First Time
Even so, the Mall turned out to be a wonderful source of entertainment and we spent more than two hours enjoying some of the small businesses in the interior. In particular, we were searching for VR Phoenix, but parked on the opposite side of the mall on accident. So, on our walk we enjoyed some of the unique shops that you won’t find in more vibrant shopping centers. This included a shop full of beautiful souvenirs from around the world, where I snagged a new notebook for work.
VR Phoenix is what I would liken to a modern arcade, and it’s a perfect addition to anyone’s “things to do in Phoenix in the summer” lists- for adults and children. The small shop has several bays where visitors can purchase time to play different virtual reality games. They market themselves as having VR opportunities for meditation, travel, and games. We all ended up wanting to spend our time with games. R. gave driving a try, and got to sit in a full set up with a steering wheel and pedals.
Katie gave Beat Saber a try, a VR game that reminds me of an immersive mix of guitar hero and Star Wars. (Katie also tried a flight simulator flying over Mt. Everest which was cool, but was so realistic movement-wise that it made her a lil’ motion sick.) Meanwhile, I was exploring space ships and haunted houses in a few different games that I wanted to test out in VR- first person shooters and horror, respectively. We all had a blast, and I found the employees to be extremely helpful as I had never played any VR games before. It’s about $30 an hour to play, and for anyone interested in trying this technology without investing in the components, it’s great fun.
Escaping the Heat at Indoor Mini-Golf
After that, we went down the hall to Lunar Golf. At $9 a person, I’d say that this is a great activity for young kids or people not particularly skilled at mini golfing (such as myself). The course is set up in what was once a Charlotte Russe, and while they are simply constructed, they are just challenging enough for a fun time. We also really enjoyed the adorable decorations in the space, all of which were set off by their glowing paint.
Lunch in the Melrose District
For lunch, we headed on over to the Melrose District which is home to many of the best restaurants in Central Phoenix. This part of Phoenix is chock-full of amazing, and often chic places to grab a bite – the perfect addition to any list of things to do in Phoenix in the summer. For visitors and locals alike, you are bound to find somewhere interesting and delicious just by driving down the road and stopping somewhere that strikes your fancy.
Short Leash Dogs
221 N 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013
We went to Short Leash Dogs, which is known for its naan-wrapped hot dogs and donuts. This is the kind of restaurant where you order at the counter and then sit down with a number, so while the interior is really adorable, it is a nice, casual place for lunch on a long and busy day. The first thing that you will notice when you look at Short Leash Dog’s menu is that many of flavor combinations sound kind of questionable. This is a great place to be a little risky, however, because the chefs are amazing and all the options are great.
The Lady hot dog is one of my favorites (topped with fried pickles), while the boys in the group were partial to the Bear which has peanut butter, BBQ, gouda, bacon bits, and cracker jacks. (“It’s the best.”) If you want to try more than one flavor, I suggest sharing two hot dogs with a friend, because these guys are big and filling. Sadly, I have yet to try their donuts, but if the hot dogs are any indication, they are good.
(Katie’s note: I got their Moki dog. It’s almost like a deconstructed Sonoran dog – which is why I picked it. I’ve also had their mini-donuts from their Rollover Donuts food truck! They were super tasty!)
Seeing the Sights at the Phoenix Art Museum
1625 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004
One of the top options for things to do in Phoenix in the summer is, of course, visit the fabulous Phoenix Art Museum. No matter how many times I visit, there is one installation in particular that never ceases to delight me- the original immersive art experience. Tucked away in one of the upper corners of the museum, the Firefly room takes you into another universe. Surrounded by mirrors and hanging strings of lights that shift slowly from one color to the next, anyone who is in the room will feel like they are looking out into endless space. It’s beautiful, and even more so when you have the opportunity to experience the room without crowds.
Another very special, permanent installation in the museum is a hallway with miniature dioramas of living rooms from across the ages. Small though they are, there is an innate attention to detail that leaves you staring into a single room for several minutes, picking out stories from the decorations and ambient lighting. Each one is unique and beautiful in its own right.
Throughout the rest of the museum you can appreciate modern, medieval, and Asian works. And there is almost always amazing, rotating exhibitions to explore. From the rediscovery of female artists buried in time, to beautiful shows of Japanese art and cultural pieces, and none of them disappoint. Prices vary depending on what events are going on, but expect to pay around $20-25 dollars for entry. (We have more on the Phoenix Art Museum here.)
Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover at King’s Convenience
2811 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004
After stopping off at a Phoenix-tourism staple, we made our way over to the unassuming King’s Beer and Wine. King’s has two entrances, one into the original convenience store and one into a bar with a surprisingly great ambiance. There are several leather couches in the front part of the bar. While high top tables and bar stools crowd around in front of a small shop and dart board. The dark, wooden ceiling is lined with glowing, Christmas lights which give the interior a friendly, but moody glow.
Of course, no one interested in a good drink is more interested in a bar’s atmosphere than its selection. As a cider and mead lover, King’s leaves nothing to be desired. There is a massive selection, with rotating flavors and crafters. It’s a great place to try new things and enjoy some of your favorites.
While we hung out for a couple hours, we were also lucky enough to be able to grab a couch and a Nintendo. So, we relaxed with amazing drinks and played some Donkey Kong and Ninja Turtles in the perfect lighting. King’s should certainly sit among the best restaurants in Central Phoenix. Relaxing in a cool bar with a drink is certainly a great thing to do in Phoenix in the summer.
A Weird Evening
4700 N 12th St #112, Phoenix, AZ 85014
Important Editors’ Note about The Lavatory: Recently, the owner of the Lavatory, Bill Tonnesen, has been accused of harassment and misconduct by multiple women.
You can find more information about these allegations in the following news articles (content warning for graphic/disturbing descriptions of harassment):
Also, according to The Lavatory website, the museum and experience is temporarily closed until October 4, 2019. From what we can tell, you can use their Contact Us form to email for a refund or to reschedule your visit.
Our last activity for the evening was a night at the Lavatory, a very… Instagram-worthy art “museum,” which we found to be a disappointment. A friend of mine raved about the “Cleansing” ritual. This involves having hundreds of balls dropped into a mirrored room on you, until you find yourself in an adult-sized ball pit. In theory, this sounds like an amazing experience, and her pictures were absolutely enchanting. But when we visited we found this attraction to be less of an enjoyable time in-person. For one, discounted tickets were $30 ($40 being standard), and we didn’t feel like waiting in an hour long line to get into the museum, so we didn’t even see all of the experience.
Instagram Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story
On top of tickets, if you weren’t wearing socks, you were forced to buy a pair (something that I think the website should make clear). When you get ready for the ball drop, you have to take your shoes off, and boy oh boy… the smell of 20+ people packed into a small room without their shoes on is visceral. On top of it, the foggy air seemed to carry with it the taste of feet.
There were also so many people packed into the room that it had me on edge wondering what would happen if there was ever any need to evacuate quickly. When the balls filled the room, it was even harder to move. People disappeared beneath them, either playing or just struggling to get up. I fell at one point and found it sort of terrifying to try to get up without a good sense for where the ground was.
In short, while we were looking forward to a unique experience we ended up leaving uncertain what we would tell you all here. I personally wouldn’t suggest that you pay $30+ for the night we had. But there are many people who really enjoy what the Lavatory has to offer. In particular, if you want some really amazing photos, it’s a great place to go. And there’s nothing else like it among the things to do in Phoenix in the summer.
Also, if you get hungry before or after your Cleansing experience there’s a bar right next door called Original Gravity.
4700 N 12th St #101, Phoenix, AZ 85014
They have daily special on drinks and food, plus an awesome happy hour with deals on tasty appetizers and drinks. (Happy Hour runs from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12-3 p.m. on Saturday and all day on Sunday!) In terms of things to do in Phoenix in the summer, Original Gravity is where it’s at when it comes to legitimately amazing pretzels!
Interested in learning more about Arizona and things to do in Phoenix in the summer?
Our Guide to Arizona has a growing number of posts to inspire you to explore our beautiful state!