This is a big season for travelers to visit Phoenix, with baseball spring training in full swing and—this year—as the host of basketball’s Final Four. Great events for sports enthusiasts and reason enough to visit, but if you’re looking for something in addition to baseball and basketball, then we have you covered. It’s easy to find something unique to occupy your time in Phoenix: downtown is thriving, plus there’s an amazing local art vibe, hip non-touristy hangouts, a phenomenal dining scene, outdoor adventure and so much more. Whether you prefer walking, biking, hiking or hopping on the light rail, you will never be at a loss for things to do here.
Phoenix Art Museum
The largest art museum in the southwestern United States, the Phoenix Art Museum, has permanent collections of more than 18,000 works: American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western America, modern, contemporary and fashion design. The museum presents festivals, film programs, live performances and educational programs for visitors of all ages. Don’t miss Yayoi Kusama’s You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies installation, which is a dark room lined with mirrors on every surface and strands of looping LED lighting suspended from the ceiling. The room, though small, feels as if it’s a vast, infinite galaxy of lights, reminiscent of fireflies.
Kelly Ellman’s incredible fashion collection features 600-plus historically significant pieces, including Karl Lagerfield for Chanel and a collection of more than 100 self-published photobooks for guests to view that include subjects such as romantic, family relationships, wildlife and amateur snapshots. (602) 257-1222; phxart.org
This unique museum displays more than 6,500 instruments collected from around 200 of the world’s countries. Guests will enjoy the state-of-the-art studio and video technology that allows guests to observe and hear the instruments being played. Be sure to check out the instruments played by John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Carlos Santana and more. (480) 478-6000; mim.org
Hot Air Expeditions
If you haven’t heard of hot air balloon rides over the Senoran Desert, now you have—and they are every bit as amazing as you might imagine. Soar high for a bird’s-eye view of the Phoenix landscape at sunrise or sunset and take in breathtaking views of mountain ranges and desert terrain. (800) 831-7610; hotairexpeditions.com
The Biltmore Studio was founded on the belief that yoga is truly for everyone. The studio offers two locations—Scottsdale and Camelback. It was envisioned and created by owner and director Laura Sliman, who found yoga in 2007 when her life had reached a crisis state. Laura believes that yoga is about a lifestyle change and a shift in perspective. The studio’s philosophy is to change the way you think about yoga and life. Laura and her employees love what they do and are deeply committed to sharing their yoga passion by helping students grow in all aspects of their practice. At The Blitmore Studio, you’ll find Biltmore Hot (a mix of Bikram and Vinyasa flow), Vinyasa flow, hot barre and yen. (602) 374-3055; thebiltmorestudio.com
Kayaking and Canoeing
Book with Arizona Outback Adventures on the Lower Salt River, and spend the morning paddling along lush green riverbanks and towering red cliffs. Stay alert for wild horse and bald eagle sightings. It’s an experience you won’t forget. (866) 455-1601; aoa-adventures.com
Hiking on Camelback Mountain
The panoramic view from the “hump” of this iconic landmark, named for its resemblance to a kneeling camel, is worth scaling its two tricky trails, Echo Canyon and Cholla. You will gain 1,200 feet in elevation to the summit, which looks out over the city and Phoenix Mountains Preserve.
Downtown Phoenix Dining
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are winning at MATCH Cuisine & Cocktails, which offers a creative menu of social plates focusing on electric, globally inspired street food using locally sourced ingredients and served in a vibrant atmosphere. For breakfast, the Local Start is the perfect way to begin the day with two eggs any style, bacon or sausage, potato, toast and the amazing tomato & avocado salad. For lunch, try the Match Salad with petit greens, pichuberry and peppercorn feta with a pecan maple-lime vinaigrette; celery root hummus; or any of the wood-fired pizzas and house-cut frittes. You can’t go wrong with anything on the dinner menu, but guests should enjoy the best lobster bisque ever.
Barrio Café Reserva, which opened in June 2016, offers Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza’s amazing traditional Mexican fare with her signature European-inspired cooking style. The restaurant, located at 1301 West Grand Avenue, only seats about two dozen diners, so make reservations ahead. (602) 252-2777; barriocafe.com
For brunch, lunch or dinner, Wink 24 is a causal, family-owned newcomer located in the Biltmore Fashion Park. This delicious find serves four different bellini flavors (mango, berry, limoncello and coconut), zuccine frittes, wood-fired pizza, the best lasagna this side of Italy, salads and amazing desserts (make sure to try the churros, tiramisu and affogato). Hurry before everyone else discovers this fabulous gem with the loveliest owners around. (602) 954-5278; wink24.net
Mora Italian, recently opened in February, blends a stylish aesthetic and relaxed vibe with Chef Scott Conant’s contemporary Italian cooking. Don’t miss the ricotta fritters and heirloom tomato salad for starters, the pasta pomodoro, Brussels sprouts with double smoked bacon, pickled chili tossed in a lemon vinaigrette—and the biggest slice of coconut cake you’ve ever seen (for only $8). (602) 795-9943; moraitalian.com
You’ll find cocktails available on tap at The Gladly with a set of 18-foot-tall liquor racks, along with Chef Bernie Kantak’s eclectic cuisine of new American dishes sourced locally with global accents. Raw bar selections are amazing, but the star of The Gladly is their original chopped salad made with dried corn, Israeli couscous, smoked salmon, asiago, pepitas, tomatoes, arugula and currants. It’s served with all the items lined up neatly on the plate and topped with the perfect amount of buttermilk pesto dressing. (602) 759-8132; thegladly.com
Head to Valley Bar, located in a notable downtown building constructed in 1949 on Central Avenue. Head straight to the Rose Room that’s named after former Arizona Governor Rose Mofford. Featured cocktails are named after Phoenix politicians.
Where to Stay in Downtown Phoenix:
Opened in October 2016, the 105-room hotel with industrial decor is a one-of-a-kind experience with a mixture of local contemporary art, culture, fashion and musical art visible all over the hotel. Guests may purchase any piece displayed and may possibly even meet the artists. The hotel’s cultural curator, Michael Oleskow, has sourced more than 25 artists’ works of various mediums. The hotel’s gallery studio and spaces feature rotating shows and pop-ups. Each piece is sourced by Arizona artists, supporting local artisans and the commitment to downtown Phoenix’s vibrant culinary scene.
In December 2015, The Camby, part of Mariott’s Autograph Collection, made its debut as a new independent lifestyle hotel in the heart of the city’s humming business and entertainment district. Designed by Stonehill & Taylor, the hotel’s theme draws on Arizona’s Five Cs—cotton, copper, cattle and citrus—and incorporates the elegance of a luxury hotel with sleek contemporary design elements throughout the property. The extra-large and roomy fitness center, named “JIM,” offers the latest technology and features TechnoGym (the Porsche of fitness equipment). De-stress at the Zest, the spa at The Camby. Treat yourself to a 50- or 80-minute massage or a twenty-five treat dedicated to focusing on stress in the neck and shoulders. (602) 478-0700; thecamby.com
Unique Downtown Tours
Downtown Phoenix History & Culture Trolley Tour: Enjoy a journey through downtown Phoenix’s past and present culture and community
Downtown Phoenix Art & Mural Bike Tour: Hear the stories behind the murals and learn about the local artists. It features works from downtown Phoenix and will take you through historic districts along the way (about 5 miles).
Downtown Phoenix Coffee Crawl: Highlights local and independently owned coffee shops and gives guests a taste of the places, spaces and faces that make the city unique (about 1.2 miles).
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