In the middle of the Sonoran Desert lies an urban oasis that has attracted transplants from across the country with its diverse and eclectic food, nightlife, attractions, and more... not to mention its consistently sunny weather. If you haven't been to Phoenix, AZ yet, then take a trip out west to find out why it's one of America's fastest growing cities!
Short Leash Hot Dogs started off as a food truck, and it proved to be so popular that it quickly became a brick-and-mortar eatery serving up the same signature hot dogs on naan-style bread instead of buns. With a variety of dogs (from veggie and all-beef to hot and brat) and mouthwatering topping combos, as well as tons of crafts beers, sides, and entrees, Short Leash is a casual but delicious lunch spot.
Arizona has a strong Native American presence, and there's no better place to appreciate and learn about it than at the Heard Museum. Nearly 4,000 pieces, including collections of "Hopi katsina dolls, Navajo and Zuni jewelry, Navajo textiles, Southwestern ceramics from prehistory to the present and baskets from the Southwest, California, the Great Basin and the Northwest". Don't miss out on the intricate displays of beadwork, or the gift shop loaded with guaranteed-authentic works of art, pieces of jewelry, and tons more.
Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden is the best place to go to learn that this arid landscape is actually filled with life. With around 21,000 plants, including a huge variety of cacti and succulents that are both native to the Sonoran Desert and to other desert regions, it's an incredibly impressive sight to see. Various trails highlight different kinds of plants, from the herb garden to the desert wildflower garden, and everything is well-labeled.
Pro tip: You can visit at night and take a flashlight tour of the gardens, when its less hot out!
You'll find tons of golf courses across Phoenix, so head to the Continental Golf Course in Scottsdale to play a few holes or work on your swing at the driving range. It's known for being one of the less expensive, but still higher-end options in the area, so don't be afraid to reserve a tee time even if you don't know what your handicap is.
Walking around in the sun all day can make you pretty hungry (and thirsty, for that matter), so finding a dinner place to really fill up, like Pig & Pickle, can be a lifesaver. The modern gastropub specializes in meat (pork and bacon, to be specific, if the restaurant's name didn't tip your off) but they also have salads, sandwiches, and more for the less-carnivorous. They make great cocktails, too!
Belly up to the bar at Cowboy Ciao, a Southwestern-inspired eatery, to enjoy one of their craft cocktails, made with fresh-squeezed citrus, housemade syrups, and hand-stuffed olives. Plus, in addition to an excellent selection of beer and wine, they also have a wide variety of bottled sodas from across the country-- these often go into the drinks as well!
If microbreweries are cooler than breweries, then nanobreweries are the coolest, right? O.H.S.O Eatery + nanoBrewery's brewing operation isn't huge, but it makes so really interesting stuff (O.H.S.O stands for "Outrageous Homebrewers' Social Outpost, after all.) Plus, they have loads of other microbreweries, including tons from across Arizona, on tap, a beautiful patio, a cool, industrial-looking space inside, and tasty bites in case you need to soak up the booze.
End your night out at the Coach House, a longtime Phoenix institution. Its been serving cold beer to patrons on the large patio since the 1950's, and its still got that old-school, no frills atmosphere. Luckily, the crowd is super friendly, and there are TVs inside if you're watching a game.
Pro tip: this place is famous for their over-the-top Christmas lights display around the holidays!
Breakfasts at The Herb Box are always a deceptively simple and fresh affair. Even their oatmeal is delicious... and don't even get me started on the massive weekend brunch menu. If you're feeling healthy, try their sweet potato muffin; but the bourbon-ginger-peach brioche French toast and chilaquiles verde are pretty tempting, too.
Phoenix was basically built on top of an ancient city... and you can see the proof at the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park. Here you can see the actual remains of a settlement from the Hohokam tribe 1,500 years ago. There's a 2/3 mile trail that lets you see the remains being excavated, and replicas of what the buildings likely once looked like, as well as a museum with galleries featuring items from the site, as well as exhibits on the Southwest and archaeology!
Just because The Stand serves up casual burgers and tacos doesn't mean they're fast-food quality: their 100% beef patties are fresh-ground in-house daily, and everything is locally sourced when possible. Plus, the burgers are grilled to melty perfection, and the short rib tacos are definitely something to write home about.
Pro tip: their specialty shakes are awesome-- try the Salted Dulce De Leche or the Banana Stand if you're feeling sweet, or the Chocolate Chile if you're feeling spicy.
Head to the Arizona Historical Society Museum at Papago Park for a look at Arizona's more recent history: from pioneers and the state's mining history to the post-war rise of desert cities and AZ in pop culture, this museum provides a hands-on, informative and entertaining look at the state's role in history. Bonus: it's located in Papago Park, which features majestic and rare saguaro cacti, interesting red rock formations, hiking trails, and several other museums and attractions to explore!
The story behind Phoenix's Mystery Castle definitely makes it worth visit. If you're feeling sentimental, grab tissues before reading on!
It all started when Mary Lou Gully was a child, living in Seattle with her father, Boyce Luther Gully. He would often take her to the beach and her favorite thing to do was build sandcastles with her dad. She was always sad when they would wash away, though-- she wanted a real castle. Then, one day, Boyce learned he had tuberculosis. The realization that he was dying, just when he thought he was in the prime of his life, became too much for Boyce to bear, so he left his family in Seattle and moved to Phoenix. He didn't see it as running away from his problems-- he saw it as using the end of his life to do some soul-searching and to create something meaningful. Something physical that would last for years to come.
And so he decided to build a castle-- one in the desert, where there were no waves to wash it away. He began construction on the Mystery Castle in the 1930's. He gave it 18 rooms, 13 fireplaces, parapets, a chapel, even a dungeon, just like any fairytale castle might gave. Boyce used mostly native stone to build it, but added in all kinds of found objects: adobe, concrete, car parts, old telephone poles, pieces of rail track and more can be found incorporated into the design. Sadly, even though Boyce mostly finished his Mystery Castle, he died before he could send for his wife and daughter.
He did manage to write a will before he died, though, and Mary Lou was informed by an attorney that she had inherited the Phoenix castle in 1945. She and her mother moved in shortly after, and began to offer tours of the Mystery Castle-- you can still visit it today. A Life magazine article called "Life Visits a Mystery Castle: A Young Girl Rules Over the Strange Secrets of a Fairy Tale Dream House in the Arizona Desert" is what coined the name "Mystery Castle", and the phrase stuck. Maybe it's because the folk art aesthetic of the castle gives off a mysterious vibe... or maybe it's because we'll never truly know what Boyce was thinking when he decided to build it.
Postino Arcadia is a wine bar and restaurant built in a 1950's-era post office. The restaurant proved to be so popular several other locations have opened up across Phoenix, each sort of taking on inspiration from the neighborhoods where they reside, but Arcadia's is the original.
The menu is simple: soups, salads, paninis, and charcuterie, but it's easy to spend a whole evening here snacking on plates and ordering drinks from their well-curated wine and beer menus.
If you decided not to fill up at Postino (or you just drank too much wine) head to Crudo for some light Italian fare that's just as fresh as it is delicious. Maybe you'll have had enough to drink that you're thinking that something from their raw seafood menu sounds tempting, or perhaps you just need a big bowl of pasta. Either way, you'll find it here! Bonus: their mixologist has a menu of outstanding drinks, so if you don't eat, at least stop for one of their adventurous and delicious cocktails!
Describing exactly what The Duce is can be challenging. It was an old gym... but today, it contains an authentic 1920's bar mixing up classic drinks, a vintage trailer serving comfort food, a retro soda fountain, a shop selling old-school-inspired gym apparel, and ping pong, corn hole, foosball, a boxing ring, a dance floor and tons more, all at once. It's the kind of place you need to just experience for yourself!
Fall, winter and spring are popular times to visit, as snowbirds flee the cold for the relative warmth of this desert city. Temperatures on a summer day can top out at well over 100 degrees, but if you can handle the heat (and at the very least, it's a dry heat with little humidity), prices are much cheaper.