One of the largest cities in the United States, the sprawling metropolis in the Valley of the Sun is a major destination for business and conventions in the Southwest. Its warm winter climate has drawn snowbirds from all over -- to enjoy the low humidity, warm weather, and the beauty of the desert. Here are some suggestions of things you should check out on your visit.
It may be small, but Matt’s Big Breakfast is legendary in size. The tiny eatery north of downtown has made its own spot on the map with large and delicious breakfast offerings and low prices. More than that, Matt’s is dedicated to preparing food that’s all organic, free-range, and from within a short distance of Phoenix. The waffles and pancakes are made from scratch, the ham is legendary, and you shouldn’t pass a chance to sample an omelet. Oh, and you can have an RC Cola with your repast. Breakfast and lunch only.
Matt’s Big Breakfast * 801 North 1st Street * (602) 254-1074 * mattsbigbreakfast.com
UPDATE: Moved a block up the street to 825 North 1st!
While around here, tacos come in soft or hard tortillas, at the Fry Bread House you get your taco in a soft dough wrapper. Fry bread is a traditional Native American dish, and here it’s yummy. A wide selection of tacos consisting of red or green chili cooked beef, beans, lettuce, cheese and more graces the lunch menu.
Don’t get away without having a fry bread with honey -- better than any sopapilla you have ever tasted. And the prices are great --
lunch with a drink, a taco, and a dessert comes well under $10.
Fry Bread House * 4140 North Seventh Avenue * (602) 351-2345
Update Won the James Beard Award (1st Native American restaurant to do so) in 2012... moved to 4140 N. Seventh in 2013.
You’ll never look at pizza the same way again. At Cibo (pronounced chee-bow), the wine café and pizzaria, a wide selection of delectable delights are wood-fired and baked -- including pizza, sandwiches, and a lovely variety of crepes.
The out of the way restaurant in an old house carries all of the traditional pizzas like Rustica and Margherita, and exotic like Salmone (mozarella, smoked salmon and fresh basil) and Salcissia con Patate (mozarella, sausage, and roasted potatoes). You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t finish dinner with a crepe, like the fabulous flambé Crepes Suzette. Lunch and dinner every day except Sunday.
Cibo * 603 N, 5th Avenue * (602) 441-2697 * cibophoenix.com
It may sound cheesy, but Cheuvront Restaurant and Wine Bar could satisfy the mouse in you. The selection of fine wines is impressive, but it’s the more than 40 varieties of house cheese that separates this Central Avenue attraction from the rest. From fine sheep and goat cheeses to the cow cheeses we’re all used to, from sharp blues to mild Fontinas, there’s a cheese for everyone. For a great introduction to fine cheesery, consult with one of the extremely knowledgeable wait staff to select three distinct and different cheeses for a cheese and fruit plate -- a feast for the eyes as well as the tongue. Lunch weekdays, dinner everyday.
Cheuvront Restaurant and Wine Bar * 1326 North Central Avenue * (602) 307-0022 * cheuvronts.com
Places you must see
The beauty and splendor of the Southwest’s deserts is captured in full at the Desert Botanical Gardens. This fine facility near Sky Harbor International Airport boasts 63 years worth of valuable collections of rare and beautiful specimens, 139 varieties of rare cactus, succulents, and wildflowers.
Five trails have been set out for observation of this quiet, tranquil environment; the Desert Discovery Trail, the oldest trail with the oldest plantings; the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail, which shows how desert dwellers utilize plants to create food, tools, and construction materials; the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Trail, which shows how fauna like bees and butterflies relate to desert plants; the Sonoran Desert Nature Trail, which showcases desert plants and their environments; and the Center for Desert
Living Trail, which
covers desert landscaping and conservation.
Free guided tours are available, and there are a couple of stops where you can purchase cold beverages for your walk. There’s also a small café. Be sure to bring a hat and wear your sunscreen -- even during the cooler morning and evening hours, you can still wind up with a sunburn. And of course, bring your camera for some of the most incredible and breathtaking pictures you’ll ever take. Open every day except July 4 and December 25.
Desert Botanical Gardens * 1201 N. Galvin Parkway * (480) 941-1225 * dbg.org
One of the largest, non-profit zoos in North America is just a hop away from the Gardens. The Phoenix Zoo is located on 125 acres adjacent to the Gardens. It opened in 1962 as the Maytag Zoo, named for Robert Maytag of the famed appliance maker family.
The zoo is a major player in the preservation of some endangered species. It’s credited with saving the Arabian oryx and bringing back that population from just seven adults to hundreds -- and today those oryx are seen at zoos all across the country.
Ruby, the famed painting elephant, lived here until her death in 1998. A facility, Ruby’s House, has been opened specifically for classes held in a lush jungle setting for children who visit the facility.
Phoenix Zoo * 455 North Galvin Parkway * (602) 273-1341 *phoenixzoo.org
With more than 35,000 Native American artifacts on display, the Heard Museum is certainly one of the best opportunities to experience Native American art in the world. The museum was created in 1929 by Dwight and Maie Heard. It still continues to operate its 10 exhibition galleries and is
The museum covers every facet of Native American life and history -- from ancient times to America’s westward push to today. There are complex displays of handwork like carved items, baskets, jewelry, and fabrics.
Each exhibit is accompanied by the words of Native Americans who experienced the history of the Southwest.
You’ll find plenty of Native American crafts and souvenirs inside the museum’s gift shop -- one of the best places in Phoenix to pick up something for someone back home.
And don’t miss the artistic (and delicious) offerings at the Arcadia Farms café.
Heard Museum * 2301 North Central Avenue * (602) 252-8848 * heard.org
One of the most complete art museums in the Southwest, the Phoenix Art Museum carries more than 17,000 individual paintings, sculpture, and drawings in its own personal collection. The sprawling museum complex showcases both the old masters and modern art. Several touring exhibits are on display at any particular time; the current exhibition schedule features “Masterpiece Replayed: Monet, Matisse, and More” -- which features several different versions of famous works by renown artists.
The museum is also the central hub for numerous other community activities, actively participating in cultural days and promoting a “movie night” where art films are featured.
The museum is also a popular place to catch live chamber music on some days.
Phoenix Museum of Art * 1625 North Central Avenue * (602) 257-1222 * phxart.org
Phoenix is just realizing its tourism potential, and it’s embracing a lot of change. Several new projects are underway, including a light rail system downtown that’s scheduled to open at the end of this year. For now, city buses serve the metropolitan area, but soon you’ll be able to hop the light rail system and enjoy quick service to many of the areas outside of downtown.
The growth isn’t just limited to the light rail system. A new $600 million expansion will triple the size of the current Phoenix Convention Center, allowing it to host several large conventions at a time.
To get around the downtown area, hop on the Copper Square DASH. These buses run on a circuit through the area, and they’re free -- just wait at one of the DASH signs.
The Sports Mecca
Like sports? Downtown Phoenix is for you. Two of the most popular sports venues in the United States sit side by side near the Convention Center.
U.S. Airways Center is home to the legendary Phoenix Suns, as well as the Phoenix Mercury of the
WNBA, the Arizona Rattlers AFL team, and the Phoenix RoadRunners hockey team. The imposing edifice on East Jefferson is also known as the Purple Palace, but during Rattlers season it’s also known as the Snake Pit.
In 2009, U.S. Airways Center will host the NBA
All-Star Game. It also hosted this year’s
NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.
If you like the Suns, you must check out the Fan Shop -- wall-to-wall orange and purple, with just about every bit of Suns merchandise you can imagine.
U.S. Airways Center * 201 East Jefferson * (602) 379-7800 * usairwayscenter.com
Just down the street, there’s Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The natural grass stadium with its retractable roof is also called The BOB, from its previous name as Bank One Ballpark.
An unusual feature of the park is a right field
swimming pool, which can be rented by patrons for $6500 a game (includes $750 food allowance, 35 game tickets, and a hat and beach towel for each attendee).
Chase Field * 401 East Jefferson * (602) 462-6500 * arizonadiamondbacks.com
Lodging -- The Trendy
Remember roller rinks and pop music of the late 1970s and early 1980s? You’ll recapture that feel when you walk into the Clarendon Hotel. The old hotel has received new life under the gentle guidance and dreams of manager Ben Bethel, and it shows.
A once dilapidated property now sports 50 inch flat screen televisions and comfortable beds in each rooms, brightly painted hallways with modern and post-modern art, and a fantastic pool called The Oasis you have to see to believe.
There is a story behind the hotel. In 1976, Arizona Republic journalist Don Bolles met his untimely end in a car bombing in the hotel’s parking lot. Some hotels might choose to ignore this fact; the Clarendon embraces the past and prominently features Bolles’ image throughout the property.
The restaurant C4 has recently started to serve up Southwestern fusion fare under the careful guidance of chef Daniel Roman.
The Achiote Ribeye is a mammoth offering with fingerling potatoes, baby vegetables, beet greens, and an unusual and
delicious salsa. And you shouldn’t miss out on the Mexican Chocolate Flourless Cake with Chantilly Cream -- it has a kick to it.
The hotel’s crowning glory, though, is the rooftop open air lounge.
Wednesday through Saturday nights, a DJ is on hand and alcohol and nibbles are served to the stream of
interesting people who
show up for relaxation
and a great view of downtown Phoenix.
Clarendon Hotel and Suites * 401 West Clarendon Avenue * (602) 252-7763 * goclarendon.com
Lodging -- The Traditional
A desert oasis in its own right, the Arizona Biltmore Hotel and Spa is one stop shopping for the traveler who wants to ditch the car and relax for a week without ever stepping aboard a cruise ship. Here you will find it all -- a variety of different
lodging choices, outdoor recreation, a full-service spa, several restaurants, and a little peace of mind.
The “Jewel of the Desert” sprawls across 39 acres with lush greenery against the backdrop of gray sculptured concrete
blocks and copper accents. Since its opening in 1929, the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired resort has welcomed the likes of Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire, Michael J. Fox, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, and a slew of American presidents. It’s packed with history,
sure, but it’s also full of beauty and surprises.
Rooms are decorated in the popular Mission style familiar to many parts of the Southwest. Beds are plush, bathrooms large, and the service impeccable.
There are 738 guest accommodations here, ranging from simple hotel rooms to suites to cottages and villas, all conscientiously placed on a verdant lawn amidst more flowers than you can shake an orange tree at (and there are plenty of those, too).
There are several restaurants to choose from, including the Biltmore Grll, the Café, the Cabana Club, and the world-class Wright’s at the Biltmore -- a fantastic place to experience American Lodge Cuisine.
Executive chef Todd Sicolo creates a new menu whenever he comes into contact with a new, fresh option.
If you have the time for a long meal, and the money for it, try the Tasting Inspiration, a four course plus dessert feast that you can also experience with expert wine pairings. Quite honestly the best meal you will find in the Southwest.
The Arizona Biltmore Spa is world class, impeccably clean and well appointed.
Guests who stay at the Biltmore
can take advantage of such amenities as steam rooms, whirlpool tubs, cedar lined saunas and more for free. A full spa menu is available for massages, facials, and wraps. The soaps and shampoos have been specially created for the resort, and you can purchase an ample supply to take home.
The adjacent Arizona Biltmore Country Club sports two courses -- the Links and the Adobe -- and has hosted several national golf events. For the set more interested in relaxing than walking around after a tiny white ball -- there’s miniature golf, yard chess, seven tennis courts, and eight fantastic and different swimming pools.
And in case you needed more incentive to come, this is the birthplace of the Tequila Sunrise.
The resort does cater to individuals, couples, and families -- but it also features events just for men. Man-cation packages are available throughout the year.
Arizona Biltmore Hotel & Spa * 2400 East Missouri Avenue * (800) 950-2575 * arizonabiltmore.com