posted on March 9th, 2017

Desert delights

Sun-soaked and aesthetically appealing in that particular way of the desert, Phoenix is alive with colorful cactuses, Southwestern history, and seemingly endless options for a good time. Studded with speakeasy bars, Native American art, and even a Japanese tea garden, you’ll find no lack of activities to keep you busy between samples of the bustling cuisine scene (because we all know local food is the truest way to understand a city).

Spring training with the Cactus League is unmissable this time of year. A more intimate baseball experience, it’s quintessentially Phoenix, and a bucket list item for baseball fans. Even if you’re not a superfan, you can’t beat the atmosphere of a spring training field — get closer to the players, kick back with a brew, and feel how tantalizingly close summer is. The month of March is jam-packed with games, so check out the schedule to find your team.

Tasty treats abound in the desert. The Yard (5640 N 7th St) is a classic — quality food and craft beer coming with cornhole and ping pong for an easygoing good time that characterizes the city. For on-point pizza, you can’t go wrong with Oregano’s (1008 E Camelback Rd) or Pizzeria Bianco (623 E Adams St) for Chicago and Neapolitan style, respectively. Desoto Central Market (915 N Central Ave) is a modern marketplace of delectable eateries, so you can find whatever suits your current mood. If a whimsical, breezy date night under the stars is more your scene, stop into Quiessence at the Farm (6106 S 32nd St) — it won’t come cheap, but the tasting menu makes every bite worth it. If it’s the end of the night and drunchies are consuming your thoughts, detour to Scottsdale for the late night menu at Pig & Pickle (2922 N Hayden Rd) — udon noodles with sweet chili, chimichanga, and tot of the day, yes please!

In a specialized subset of Phoenix nightlife, speakeasy bars let you step out of the city and into days gone by in the best way. Hidden under the Renaissance Hotel lies Melinda’s Alley (50 E Adams St), a weekends-only bar with no outside signage. Drop in for a creative cocktail surrounded by vintage Victorian decor. Also unmarked, The Ostrich (10 N San Marcos Pl) can be found under Crust in basement tunnels that once served as an ostrich feather storage facility (really). When you want to emerge from the underground, head over to Second Story Liquor Bar (4166 N Scottsdale Rd #102) for a top-floor (and top-notch) speakeasy experience, serving both dinner and original cocktails.

It’s no surprise that the desert yields some stunning displays around dawn and dusk. To take full advantage, plan a hike to Camelback Mountain for sunrise. Called the “Everest of the Valley”, summiting this mountain is no easy feat, but watching the sky light up from the top makes every step worth it. Close out your day with sunset views from Dobbins Point on South Mountain (10919 S Central Ave). If your legs are still aching from Camelback, you’re in luck — you can drive up to this lookout to soak in sundown over the city.

The desert isn’t all dust. The Japanese Friendship Garden (1125 N 3rd Ave) spreads across 3.5 acres of carefully cultivated greenery and 50-plus plant varieties — plus a koi pond featuring over 300 friendly fishies. For a cultural experience, Haru in the Garden is a special springtime celebration in March with bamboo flute playing, sake, Korean barbecue, and much more, including the Tea Garden being transformed into a “dreamland of whimsy.” We’re in. The Desert Botanical Garden (1201 N Galvin Pkwy) gives a different take on the great outdoors. You’ll find explosions of color and contorting cactuses year-round, with special events like Music in the Garden (a recurring concert series) and Agave on the Rocks (get it?) offering tequila sampling and local cuisine at the end of March.

The Roosevelt Row (E Roosevelt St) arts district, or RoRo, runs through the heart of urban Phoenix and features all things cultural, from art galleries to live music to the best boutiques. First Fridays are always a safe bet for a good time — the event is one of the nation’s largest self-guided art walks and is facilitated by free shuttles. If you find yourself there on another Friday, you’ll still find plenty to do. Third Fridays feature exhibition openings, and any other Fridays in the month are typically booked with performances and artist spotlights.

Red sandstone buttes feature Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park (625 N Galvin Pkwy), which is exactly what it sounds like: a gaping hole in the rock through which to take in the vista spread below. Once you’ve conquered this easy climb, head over to Tom’s Thumb (23015 N 128th St), a trail leading to a protruding rock that looks like a giant’s thumb — think of it as kudos to you for conquering the hike. Pinnacle Peak (26802 N 102nd Way) is another worthwhile venture for a moderate hike; or, if you’re feeling adventurous, explore one of the three designated rock climbing areas.

American Indian history is central to this area’s backstory. One of the best places to honor this history is the Heard Museum (2301 N Central Ave), a jaw dropping showcase of American Indian art. In the beginning of March, the acclaimed Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market takes over with one-of-a-kind art for display and sale by some of the nation’s best indigenous artists. Later in the month, student artists from across the nation flock to Heard to sell their up and coming pieces.

Phoenix is nothing if not down for a good time, and nowhere is this more evident than in the local breweries. O.H.S.O. Brewery (4900 E Indian School Rd) serves up beers brewed on-site from the 89Ale with notes of toffee and caramel to the Popcycle Blonde, an ode to the classic frozen summertime treat. SanTan Brewing Company (8 S San Marcos Pl) specializes in Southwestern style ales — their current seasonal brew is a crisp Grapefruit Shandy. Finish off at Four Peaks Brewing Company (1340 E 8th St #104), an Arizona classic whose flagship beer is a Scottish-style ale entitled the Kilt Lifter. Enough said.

Though perhaps not most well-known for its opulence, Phoenix hosts a fair collection of grandiose buildings. Wrigley Mansion (2501 E Telawa Trail) is an elegant, Mediterranean-style mansion given as a 50th anniversary gift from chewing gum personality William Wrigley, Jr. to his wife — and now a fine dining hot spot, as well. Mystery Castle (800 E Mineral Rd), meanwhile, is an ode to imagination, a sprawling structure built by Boyce Gully for his daughter in a style all its own. Honorable mentions: Tovrea Castle (5025 E Van Buren St) is perched high in the Sonoran Desert like a decadent wedding cake amid acres of cactuses, and Rosson House (113 N 6th St) is a restored Victorian home hearkening back to Arizona’s territorial days.

Virginia is equally enamored with words and globetrotting. Whenever possible, she likes to combine the two through travel writing to help other wanderers discover and fall in love with the world.