weekend in Phoenix!
February 22, 2009 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm visiting a friend in Phoenix next weekend - what are some fun things to see and do?

A dear friend of mine moved from the midwest to Phoenix two years ago and is gradually getting acquainted with the area. I finally have a chance to spend a long weekend visiting her (yippee!!) We are looking for ideas of what to see and do during my visit. We'd prefer not to spend more than a couple hours driving anywhere and our budget is modest.

Things on our list so far:
the botanical gardens
the Heard Museum
some easy/moderate hiking not too far from town

Things I am wondering about:
The Science Center - is it worth a visit?
looking for a couple great local restaurants (in the less-than-$20-a-meal range)
maybe a good low-key place to grab a beer and hear some music

Things I'm not particulary interested in:
driving to the Grand Canyon (too far!)
Taliesin West (I hear it's really expensive to tour?)

What else should we check out?? Her apartment is on the northern end of Scottsdale, I think, so things to do and see in that area would be especially welcome.
posted by beandip to Travel & Transportation around Phoenix, AZ (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on how far you want to go, the Titan Missile Museum (where they used to house inter-continental nuclear missiles during the Cold War) is 2 hrs from Phoenix.

That's where I'm going when I have a weekend in Phoenix, at any rate!
posted by almostwitty at 4:20 PM on February 22, 2009

Eat at Oregano's
Eat at In-N-Out Burger
posted by geekyguy at 4:30 PM on February 22, 2009

Best answer: Tasty, relatively affordable mini burgers in Scottsdale at Stax.

Fantastic, $15-$30/meal, relatively intimate, wonderful outdoor dining in Tempe at House of Tricks.

What some same is the best pizza in the US at Pizzeria Bianco in Downtown Phoenix, near the Science Center. (Typically has a 3-hour wait; Bar Bianco is in a historical house next door for friendly waiting, and you can mill around a bit.)

Don't bother with Oregano's. It's far overrated, mediocre Italian that forces a long wait for very little payoff. In-N-Out is a good, cheap burger, west coast style.

The Botanical Gardens have a Chihuly Glass exhibit; those are my pics from it. Definitely best to go about an hour before sunset, so you can watch it transition to darkness.

The Heard Museum is... well... kind of boring, as I remember it. Woo, Native American headdresses and lots of turquoise. Not really my thing, in any event.

The Science Center has a Star Trek exhibit going on which I've heard is good. The rest is standard elementary school kid fare.

Depending on how long your weekend is, Monti's on Mill is doing live jazz every Monday, from 5:30-8pm, with a $5-$8 cover charge, and steaks and stuff optional, and booze. (I did just manage to have a pretty over-done steak there last night, though, for what it's worth. The jazz, however, is great.) It's on Mill Avenue, which is our little street of college town fun times, and good eats and drinkery.

Four Peaks is a favorite local brewery and watering hole, amongst college kids and young professionals. And everyone else, really. (I think the last MeFi Meetup was there.)

If you have a thing for amazing fried chicken and soul food, Lolo's Chicken and Waffles is a sight to behold. It is... amazing fried chicken. And cheap, though it's in South Phoenix, not in the best of places. (Never had any problems at all, and the chicken is worth it.)
posted by disillusioned at 4:58 PM on February 22, 2009

Best answer: As someone born and raised in the Phoenix area I will 2nd all of the things already listed. Although Phoenix is a huge, huge city with so, so much to do. It'd be good if you could give us some ideas of what you'd like to do or what your personality is.
The science center is great fun (although I haven't been there since I was in middle school). Down town Scottsdale as well as Mill avenue are filled with more clubs than you could visit in a month (trust me).
One of my favorite places is a Wine bar in down town Tempe. It has no name, and no street signage. Inside is many small 4-6 top tables and a 'stage' where people come and play music and such. Nothing is ever scheduled, it's just what people want to do. My [ex]girlfriend and I would go there quite a bit.
I moved to FL about a year and half ago, and I heard from a buddy that the place closed. But he could never find it anyway, so it might still be open. Sadly I've lost the address but I do remember it was right near Margarita Rocks night club. Maybe if you ask around.
I also spent many a-night at Tilted Kilt on the southwest corner of Scottsdale and Bell, as it was right near the Scottsdale airport where I went to flight school. Although I'm not sure if the Kilt is some place you'd like.
If you'd like to take a real jump on the wild side you could head down to Eloy to Sky Dive Arizona the worlds largest sky diving resort. I've made two jumps there and it's a killer blast.
Like I said there is an amazing amount of things to do in Phoenix. There are just some that flew out of my fingers when I hit reply.
posted by blackout at 5:06 PM on February 22, 2009

You can go peer at Biosphere 2.
posted by yohko at 5:12 PM on February 22, 2009

2nding Four Peaks, HOWEVER--since you're staying in North Scottsdale, I have to warn you that the Scottsdale location is a very weak imitation of the original Tempe location.

And 2nding the un-recommendation of Oregano's, which sucks.

North Scottsdale is pretty, but it can seem remote and all the usual recommendations for that part of town tend to be fancy restraurants (the steaks at Mastro's OMG). But I think there are some cowboy-type bars up there--something like Greasewood Flats?

It's a bit of a drive from N. Scottsdale, but I always recommend that people go check out Phoenix Ranch Market on E. Roosevelt. It's a big Mexican grocery store with a great food court. Good, cheap authentic Mexican food ready to eat and a great atmosphere. Be sure to check out the aquas frescas stand, just off the food court area near the bakery and also the fish tacos sold at the fish counter. There's also a sit down restaurant attached to the grocery store called Tradiciones, which I used to love but kinda disappointed me during my last visit over Christmas.

Since you'll be up in the northern part of the Valley, you might also want to check out places in Cave Creek, which can be really interesting. Binkley's is one of the best restaurants in town (again, pricey). Cave Creek can seem a lot of like N. Scottsdale (rich baby boomers), but should also have some cowboy culture and a biker community (Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger is supposedly a member of the Cave Creek Chapter).
posted by mullacc at 5:47 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Although Phoenix is a huge, huge city with so, so much to do. It'd be good if you could give us some ideas of what you'd like to do or what your personality is.

Sorry, I should have given more detail. My friend and I are both female engineers in our mid-twenties - we are all about the science and technology stuff. (she has already seen the Star Trek exhibit). Also I am coming from Minnesota where it's cold and snowy; I'm really looking forward to spending time outdoors in the sunshine and warm weather.

The Missile Museum and the Biosphere tours look awesome! Also the glass exhibit at the Botanical Gardens looks too pretty to miss.

Thanks for the suggestions so far!
posted by beandip at 5:53 PM on February 22, 2009

The Biosphere is gonna be a better bet between the Tucson sites listed; it's much closer (north of Tucson), opposed to the south side and then some, where the Titan Missile Museum is located. If you do decide on the Biosphere, don't take 1-10. Take the 60 East to the 79, then at Oracle Junction take the 77 north (might still be called Oracle Rd. up that way). Follow the signs from there. It's the small-road 'scenic' route, and at the same time more direct. Depending on your expectations, Biosphere can be either super amazing rad fun, or a real let-down. Keep in mind it's changed owners a number of times, and is generally regarded as a failure.
posted by carsonb at 6:25 PM on February 22, 2009

First, get out of Scottsdale and head downtown Phoenix!


Some places that have become my favorites since moving here:

For Breakfast:

Pallate -- Lovely French bistro that's got wonderful outdoor seating and a fantastic, friendly staff.

For drinks:
The Lost Leaf -- An art gallery/bar with great brews/wines. Fantastic, comfortable atmosphere.

For live music:
The Rhythm Room -- Nice spot for live blues/rock music. A local favorite, though I actually prefer Char's Has the Blues. The crowd at Char's is much more lively ... and uh, interesting.

Other local eateries:
If you come down this way, be sure to take a look at some of the local historic neighborhoods: The Roosevelt, F.Q. Story, The Coronado (which has a lovely new restaurant called Tuck Shop.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 6:48 PM on February 22, 2009

The Pheonix Coyotes hockey team are playing the St-Louis Blues on Saturday night. This is a chance to see coach Wayne Gretzky with a good chance of Phoenix winning. Also, you can get really good seats for not much!
posted by furtive at 7:46 PM on February 22, 2009

The Grand Canyon is too far away for you... But what about Montezuma's Castle? It's pretty cool, and it really isn't that far a drive.

Also, one of my absolute most favorite restaurants is The Blue Nile. It's Ethiopian food (along with some vegetarian/vegan Middle Eastern stuff), and it's pretty cheap. Oh, and DELICIOUS.
posted by Ms. Saint at 7:52 PM on February 22, 2009

Excellent restaurants, including some already mentioned:

Monti's (Tempe) or Texaz (Phoenix), for steak; Grilled Expedition (Tempe and also Scottsdale, I think), the ribs are excellent, the Kobe beef burger isn't nearly as fancy or expensive (or as Kobe) as it sounds; Lalibela (Tempe) very good Ethiopian food, often voted best vegetarian food in town, but they have plenty good meat dishes; Byblos (Tempe) Lebanese food; Chino Bandito (Chandler), more for the novelty of Chinese/Mexican fastish food, but not bad), NYPD (Scottsdale and Chandler, I think), for pizza... If there's some kind of food you're looking for, it might be easier to come up with more focused suggestions.

I'm not crazy about Oregano's either. Four Peaks has done me well before as well, but I've also had some not-very-good-at-all steak there. I have a soft spot for In-N-Out as well, but it's really just good fast food (though it's the only fast food joint that puts enough cheese on their cheeseburger and enough syrup in the soda machines). I also have a soft spot for YC's Mongolian Barbecue (Tempe), but I don't really know how different/better it is than other Mongolian barbecues.

If you're the sort of people who enjoy video games, I've had a lot of fun at Jillian's in Scottsdale which is an adult-targeted arcade/bowling-alley/bar (adult as in "not kids" and not as in "pornographic").
posted by ErWenn at 8:09 PM on February 22, 2009

I don't remember Taliesen West being hugely expensive and one person's opinion, YMMV and all that, but my mother--who would make Bill Gates look like a pauper if there was money in complaining and being in a pissy mood--and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We took the shorter of the two tours and at the end of it, we both wished we had signed up for the longer one.
posted by ambient2 at 10:12 PM on February 22, 2009

Tricks is great.

Havana Cafe(Cuban) is also great, I'd suggest trying to get to the one on Camelback, but the one way up North is good.
posted by Gorgik at 10:35 PM on February 22, 2009

Not in Scottsdale, close in to downtown Phoenix. But cool, IMO. The art museum has a sweet collection, not overwhelming, not so large that it's overkill but sweet and varied. Two blocks south is the public library, and it's really cool, maybe six or eight stories tall built around a huge atrium, it's airy and modern looking and fun. Maybe you don't like libraries -- I do, especially if they are of an interesting architecture and this one surely is. Maybe you don't like art museums, either; pass onto the next comment.

Though there is one other thing that's sortof cool, a small museum that has maybe the largest rock collection I've ever seen and displayed beautifully, it's sortof a quasi-state run museum and I've never seen more than six people in it but that's cool, gives you more room to wander. It's down in the capital complex.

And for me, that's all I like about PHX, one of the single shittiest towns in America in my experience, about the deadest, absolutely no pulse in the night life aside from meat market bars. You want big-box stores, Walmart and/or Best Buy, you want sports teams -- you're covered, no problem. But if you're interested in creativity or art, you're in the wrong town...

Maybe I just never found it, probably that's the case, but I've spent lots of time there and I've surely looked and pffffffffft... It's flat. Hell, San Antone has more heart, and San Antone is a yawner, for sure.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:06 AM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! The purpose of my visit isn't to sample the local night life or whatever, it's to spend time with my best and oldest friend. Getting out to see some cool stuff is just a bonus.

dancestoblue, do you remember the name of that rock museum? was it the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum? because it sounds pretty cool and i would like to check it out if time permits. and i DO like libraries, very much so.
posted by beandip at 5:24 AM on February 23, 2009

Also, from a technology perspective, the Tempe Town lake is pretty interesting (from a water-use perspective it's atrocious, though). And the north side has a really cool tile mural done by students in the area.
posted by Gorgik at 5:32 AM on February 23, 2009

You guys will dig the Titan Missile Museum, I bet. It's super cool.

... and if you're wandering around in Old Town Scottsdale and you need an unpretentious place to eat, check out The Orange Table.
posted by ph00dz at 5:59 AM on February 23, 2009

And for me, that's all I like about PHX, one of the single shittiest towns in America in my experience, about the deadest, absolutely no pulse in the night life aside from meat market bars

I've been here for two years and while the town has its issues, I think dancestoblue needs to get out more. If you venture outside of Tempe and Scottsdale, there is actually a slowly emerging pulse to the rest of the town. It's tough to find and I initially had a hard time myself but get together with people who aren't beer-swilling frat kids from ASU and there is life to be had here.

Also, to the OP, you should pick up a Phoenix New Times. The listings aren't exhaustive but it'll give you a good idea of what's going on for the weekend.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 9:51 AM on February 23, 2009

I've lived in Phoenix since 2004. Prior to that, a year in Washington state, and the entirety of my life prior to that in Sydney, Australia.

Phoenix is one of the most boring places you could hope to visit. I thought the cactii and sunshine and "cleanliness" of the place was awesome at first, but after a while I was totally done with it. I spent two years getting into a car and driving to different places before I gave up and decided to do something more interesting like become a dad. You need to drive out of the city limits to get to anything interesting, and you're in luck because you haven't "exhausted" everything yet.

So: Desert Botanical Gardens are okay but you'd only ever do it once. Heard Museum was literally the most boring thing I've ever been to in my entire life apart from a seminar explaining the COBOL-based Gemini system used by Lumbermens stores which I literally fell asleep in - avoid like the plague. If you're into hiking you're in luck - there are plenty of hike trails within the city limits (you can find a list here)

If she's in Northern Scottsdale she isn't too far away from El Pedregal - it's a very nice, smallish and expensive shopping mall with an outdoor stage and settings for music etc. Eat at the Spotted Donkey cantina - some great food there.

In Scottsdale, there are many nice restaurants - if you want to eat you can't go wrong. I'd check out yelp.com for restaurant reviews. One of my favourites is the Sugar Bowl, which is an old-style ice cream parlour made quasi-famous by the cartoon strip "Family Circus" by Bil Keane. And they don't let you forget it *8-)

I'd blow your 2-hour-drive way and head up to Sedona (about 90 mins north of the I-17 and 101). Book a Pink Jeep tour. They take you into Sedona's backcountry on a jeep and it's bumpy as hell so eat light or you'll chuck. Expensive (I know your budget is modest) but hugely fun - the Broken Arrow tour is good. In fact you could make it a day in Sedona, what with that and taking some hikes around the mountains, photos, and shopping. Tlaquepaque is a neat shopping place. You could kill a couple of birds with one stone there.

That's about all I can think of. I'd tell you more but it would involve going outside your 2 hour drive. If none of the above appeals, Scottsdale will probably entertain you for a weekend I guess. Also check zvents.com to see what's on.
posted by tra at 11:54 AM on February 23, 2009

While I disagree with tra on many topics, the Sugar Bowl is not one of them. Very tasty. (Neither is Sedona, but it's better if you can go camping for the night). And it's right next to The Pop Shop, which you absolutely must visit if you're a fan of unusual bottled carbonated beverages.
posted by ErWenn at 6:11 PM on February 23, 2009

since you're in scottsdale, here are things I recommend in that area so you don't spend your whole weekend driving around. in order of distance:

north scottsdale (I don't like this area and it's not representative of the valley as a whole, but I'll try):
- kierland commons: shops and restaurants.
- taliesen west: actually worthwhile. But I'm a designer, so YMMV.
- AZ on the Rocks: rock gym. if you're from the midwest, it might be a fun thing for you to try.

downtown/old town scottsdale:
- Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA): closer than the phoenix art museum, and located in the walkable old town district (phoenix art museum is kind of an island unto itself)
- AZ 88: best chicken sandwich in the universe. also great cocktails.
- orange table: best hidden restaurant for lunch, coffee, whatever.
- Valley Ho Hotel: great restored mid-century resort with pool and bar and Trader Vic's.
- sugar bowl: definitely fun. If you prefer gelato, there's the G Spot close by.
- plenty of art galleries in this area, ranging from cheesy to really cheesy to kinda cool.

north tempe/papago:
- the park itself has plenty of room for hiking, but it's not the same as a real desert hike. If you have time for a day trip, I'd get out of town.
- the botanical gardens is here and I think it's worthwhile. Especially if you can't get out of town to see the real desert, go here to get a sense of it.
- the zoo is decent but not amazing.
- mill ave has the college scene (rula bula and the big bang piano bar are good)
- ASU puts on a good variety of events
- Four Peaks (the original, not the crappy n. scottsdale version) is awesome. plus tempe's rock gym is right there ;)
- thai basil is delicious. z tejas and macayo's are good mexican food.

downtown phoenix:
- the lost leaf and the roosevelt are good bars.
- LoLo's chicken and waffles is really pretty amazing.
- The science center is fun but I wouldn't go out of my way to see it.
- phoenix art is cool and recently renovated and close by is thai hut. yum.
- the library by bruder and burnette is awesome.

parking is going to kinda suck most places that you will want to go... but everyone has to drive and so everyone puts up with it. Avoid buses, but if you get a chance to park and take the brand-new light rail somewhere, I'd recommend it.

2nding check out the New Times for current events.
posted by Chris4d at 5:09 PM on February 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I had a delightful and relaxing long weekend. Some highlights of the trip were the Desert Botanical Gardens, buying oranges at the farmer's market in Old Town Scottsdale, In-N-Out Burger, the Tilted Kilt, and margaritas and flan at Carlos O'Brien's. We didn't do as much sightseeing as we could have, but I was perfectly happy to just soak up the sunshine and spend some time playing Rummikub by the pool. Plus I have a lot to look forward to next time I visit.
posted by beandip at 7:02 AM on March 4, 2009

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