Teach me about Phoenix.
July 24, 2009 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to college in Phoenix, AZ. Tell me anything and everything good or bad about the Valley of the Sun!

I'll be going to ASU this fall for my second year of college, and I figured I'd ask the trusty hivemind what's what in Phoenix (or Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, etc.).

What are the best restaurants / shopping / things to do?
Good / bad areas of town?
What sort of weather to expect?
Where's good for biking? Where's not?
Places where traffic gets bad? (Any backroads unknown to out-of-towners?)
Anything else useful to know?

I realize this is fairly open-ended, but it's the sort of question I think AskMeFi is ideal for. Thanks so much!
posted by reductiondesign to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You're going to ASU in Phoenix or the main campus in Tempe. When I was a Sun Devil back in the day I never went into Phoenix. No need as everything was in Tempe. I walked/bike/had a scooter to get around. I lived close to campus and all of my favorite bars (Dash, Franks Friendly Tavern, the Vine might even be gone by now) are pretty much gone now. We'd go up to Scottsdale to some of the bars/restaurants up there for variety. Most of the people that I hung out with lived right near campus in Tempe or a short drive in Mesa or the southern part of Scottsdale.

If you're asking about the greater Phoenix area you're going to need to narrow it down. It is a pretty spread out place. Traffic got bad on the major arterials and 17/10 and the 360 at rush hour. It isn't Atlanta bad, but it can come close. Again, I preferred staying close to campus so I did deal with it.

I liked mountain biking on South Mountain. It isn't technical or anything but it was close to my apartment.

It is fucking hot in the summer. But I prefer it to the humidity I endure now. The key is to stay in a pool or inside when it is super hot. I grew up in Arizona so it wasn't a shock to me. The point is, people in Minnesota don't go outside during a blizzard. Arizona people stay inside when it is 120f. A weekend in San Diego is a nice way to cool off. You can do lots of outdoor activities but you have to get up early to do them in the summertime. AZ doesn't observe daylight saving time so you can get 6am tee times. They payoff is it doesn't get too cold in the winter time. Snow and mountains in the winter are a short drive to the north or east.

If you're going to ASU Tempe you'll also need to know it is a huge school in terms of people. The lower division classes can be in huge lecture halls. Some people don't adjust to that well. It is a party school and there's something going on every night of the week. You have to have discipline to get to class and study when those around you are going out or partying by the pool all the time.

It doesn't rain a lot but during the summer "monsoon" it will cloud up in the afternoon and sometimes rain like hell for a few minutes. It is great since the temperature drops. The storm blows away and the sun/heat comes back. My windshield wipers were broken for two years and it wasn't a problem because it rarely rained. I didn't own an umbrella. You'd notice that bastion of knowledge ASU would have a lot of students skip school when it was raining.
posted by birdherder at 8:57 AM on July 24, 2009

You're going to be very close to a damned fine secondhand bookstore.
posted by hermitosis at 8:59 AM on July 24, 2009

To clarify, I will indeed be at the Tempe campus.
posted by reductiondesign at 9:17 AM on July 24, 2009

Have you checked out this old question about Phoenix?

That question is over 3 years old, but I think it still holds up pretty well.

I went to ASU and graduated in '07. Like any school, it's what you make of it. I didn't find it much of a party school, but then again, I didn't live in the dorms. I was actually kind of disappointed, since I'm a shy person, and I thought it would be an easy way to meet people. Since it is such a large school, a fair amount of people live off campus. There's lots of cheap student apartments in Tempe, but you could easily live in Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler or Ahwatukee and have a 15 minute drive to campus. Parking, however, is a bitch. Expensive, mostly exposed to the elements and hard to come-by. ASU offers free semester bus passes. Definitely get one. There's light rail connecting ASU and downtown. If you don't have a car, it'll be a much easier way to get to any sporting events, the symphony, science museum and restaurants downtown.

Right by campus, I enjoy Four Peaks and Casey Moore's during a fall afternoon. My friends really liked hitting the bars/clubs on Mill Ave, especially Big Bang, the piano bar. The new Tempe Marketplace recently brought in a lot of large retail, for better or for worse.

To prevent this from being another meandering post, I will summerize with what I think is the best of Phoenix/things I miss since I no longer live there.
1. VNSA book sale. Giant used book sale once a year at the fairgrounds.
2. Restaurants: I miss Sushi Ken, Pizzeria Bianco, Cyclo, Palatte, Matt's Big Breakfast, Arlecchino and a whole mess of others. I generally trust The Phoenix New Time's reviews.
3. Going to Lee Lee's asian market then getting a sandwich across the street at Lee's sandwiches.

Let me know if you have any more questions!
posted by lizjohn at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2009

It is hot as all hell. Low humidity, but in the summer it can get so hot that your shoes will sink into asphalt. Do not get a black car with black upholstery. You will have to have a car or be an exceptional mooch, because you will not be walking anywhere except on campus. If you live in Tempe proper you might be able to get by with just a bike, but that's pretty rare.

The best bar in Tempe is Casey Moore's, by a long shot.

Good bookstores: Bookman's, as hermitosis mentioned, and Changing Hands.

Coffee shops: Mill's End on Mill used to be great until some idiot bought and subsequently ruined it. Both Gold Bar and Xtreme Bean (I know, I know) are excellent.

If it gets so hot that you are losing your mind, day trips to Flagstaff or Prescott are pretty fun.

Phoenix is a very easy, low-stress place to live, if you have a car and AC. As noted, though, it is fucking hot and you better be ready for it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:57 AM on July 24, 2009

Also, Harlow's on University is the best breakfast place.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:59 AM on July 24, 2009

Phoenix is huge and sprawled out. And it's also mercilessly hot. Sometimes the temps will not drop below 100 degrees until well after midnight. People will tell you it's a dry heat, but so is sticking your head in an oven. Your profile says Atlanta, so you may find the dry heat to be better than a humid summer, but, like I said, the heat in Phoenix simply does. not. let. up.

The Phoenix metro area has been building freeways at a very steady clip for the last couple of decades. In Tempe you'll be well positioned to take advantage of this system, as much of the freeway system leads to the south and east parts of the area. With the exception of I-17 on the north side of town, which you will likely not end up on unless you head for Flagstaff, I have not been in a traffic jam on the freeways there in a long, long time. Public transportation is also finally improving there, and there is a light rail link from Tempe to downtown Phoenix.

If you're a day tripper, you'll be in an excellent spot. You're two hours from a ton of stuff. Flagstaff, Sedona, Payson, the White Mountains, etc. Also, in February and March, the Renaissance Festival is a 20-30 minute drive down the Superstition Freeway. You can easily blow a day or more there. I highly recommend taking the scenic route to Flagstaff sometime, where you would drive AZ 87 to Payson, and then stay on it to Lake Mary Road and turn left to Flagstaff. About an hour longer, and you're in tall pines from Payson all the way to Flagstaff. Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona is fantastically gorgeous - and fantastically crowded - in the fall. Or you can take a 3 hour drive and do the old west thing in Tombstone (tourist trap) and Bisbee (funky and cool.)

Are you a soda aficionado? Just east of McDowell and Scottsdale Roads there's a place named Pop The Soda Shop. You'll be able to find an endless variety of sodas from all over the country and world there. Sometimes they have Coke from Holland (which is the way it should taste) or Dublin Dr. Pepper. And much much more.

If you like sports, the Phoenix area has it all. Just be prepared for a surprisingly disinterested fan base, due to the amount of transplants in the area. When certain teams come to town, it's not unusual to see more fans of the opposing team than the home team. Heck, the Dallas Cowboys damn near have an extra home game in Phoenix. Cubs fans often outnumber D'Back fans at Chase Field. As far as the college sports go - Go Wildcats!

A local chain I would recommend is Streets of New York. They serve Italian food, but the nice thing is that you can grab a sub to go if you don't want the whole sit down thing. It's a casual place with some pretty darn good food. I stop for a chicken parmesan when I have time. You can also get In-N-Out Burger there, which is a very good thing.
posted by azpenguin at 10:31 AM on July 24, 2009

random list coming.
- if you don't have a car, ASU is one of the few places in phoenix where you can make that work (they still don't have a decent grocery store in walking distance, though). Pretty much everything below requires driving to get to. If you're coming from atlanta, you know sprawl, and Phoenix is more of the same. However, the new light rail has made a much bigger area accessible to pedestrians/bikers. Even if you're coming to campus with a car, try to use public transit when it makes sense. You're doing all of us a favor.
- you can google all of the names I'm listing to get directions, sorry for not linking.
- don't speed (if that's your thing) until you have a feel for the traffic cameras. they're all around ASU and on highways throughout the city.
- I think camelback is easier to get to than south mountain for a quick hike, but it is more crowded and it's just a summit hike -- no biking or anything. the echo canyon side is most popular, but there's a back route off invergordon. lots of people I know like biking in papago park, and you can ride there quickly from ASU.
- if you like climbing, phoenix rock gym is really close to ASU, and climbmax is just a short drive to the south.
- pop the soda shop (aka the pop shop) is great. check their hours before you go, though.
- casey moore's and 4peaks are the best hang-out bars, and 4peaks has great food and good microbrew beer. The scene on Mill is not thriving quite like it used to, but the cue club (crowded pool hall/bar) and rula bula (irish pub, live music) both have their charms. the big bang piano bar is fun every once in a while too.
- jewish deli/restaurant: chompie's.
- italian deli/restaurant:
- breakfast: depending on your style, harlow's, matt's big breakfast, US egg, or the breakfast club.
- hot dogs: dave's dog house, ted's hot dogs.
- phoenix has great and diverse options for mexican food. don't be afraid to try the 24-hour shops, but avoid chains (Filli B's should not be your introduction to local mexican food). There's nothing technically wrong with places like macayo's, but recognize that they're not exactly authentic. Lots of good torta shops seem to be springing up these days. The one chain that I unabashedly love is chipotle, and I don't care if it's authentic or not.
- more asian food than you know what to do with: YC's mongolian grill. There's a korean BBQ just south of campus too.
- coffee: Lux (and panne bianco next door for lunch!), altho it's not close to ASU. Mill's End isn't terrible, and coffee plantation is ok I guess.
- malls: tempe marketplace is closest, and it's fine I guess. I go there for movies or chipotle, never for shopping, but I don't shop at malls much anyway. There's a similar center like a mile west of tempe marketplace where they have the new toby keith restaurant (puke), if that's your thing. AZ Mills is blah unless they have something you want to buy cheap at one of the outlets; scottsdale fashion square has one of the highest $ sales per square foot of any mall in the country, so if you want classy mall stuff (and sexed-up underage scottsdale high schoolers) that's the place to go. Chandler fashion center is a drive, but the nicest all-around mall IMO.
- other downtowns: old town scottsdale has some good bars and restaurants (good luck finding kasimierz, ha!) and the hotel valley ho has a nice bar and pool. Downtown phoenix has capital-C culture at the art museum, science center and library, but little else except on the first friday of every month. Try the roosevelt and lost leaf taverns, and pizzeria bianco if you're prepared to wait 3 hours for the best pizza ever. Glendale glitters around xmas time is worth seeing once, I guess, and glendale has a second downtown of sorts at the cardinals/coyotes stadiums and westgate; the other cities' downtowns aren't much to speak of.
- do the zoo and (especially) the botanical gardens at least once, but not during the summer.
- I wouldn't feel unsafe anywhere in the valley really, but there are parts of south and central phoenix that I would be alert (and not walk around alone at night).
- quick impressions of the cities/neighborhoods:
- glendale: "rich but quiet about it" suburb.
- peoria: "nothing exciting ever happens here" suburb. middle/ lower-middle class.
- paradise valley: "so rich we don't want anything here but rich peoples' houses" suburb.
- north scottsdale: "rich and proud of it" suburb.
- central/south scottsdale: a good mix, like tempe. mostly middle-class.
- tempe: a good mix of ages, income levels etc. more culture than average.
- mesa: "mormons and the people who love them" suburb (not a bad thing). middle class.
- chandler: slightly more upper-class than average probably, with some agricultural roots. a long drive from anything.
- gilbert: sorta like chandler, plus more agricultural roots, and even further from everything.
- goodyear, surprise, avondale, el mirage, apache junction, queen creek, maricopa: "so far out in BFE I hope you never have to go there" suburbs.

I'm sure I forgot some, but that'll get you started.
posted by Chris4d at 11:45 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

(PS - sorry for offensive broad generalizations...)

had to mention harvey's wineburger, which is a total dive but lots of fun. Nicer stuff in that area (this is all the biltmore area of phx) includes tarbell's ($$$), delux, and the gelatto spot. Oh and my fav restaurant in scottsdale is AZ88 for their martinis and their chicken sandwich. Close second is the orange table, and the museum next door (SMoCA) is worth seeing.

OK I'm done, really.
posted by Chris4d at 11:49 AM on July 24, 2009

Chris4d: I beg to differ on one point. A Filiberto's carnitas burrito should definitely be reductiondesign's introduction to local Mexican food.

Sure it's REALLY HOT from mid-May to October. But November to April are magically wonderful. It's a long haul, but when it's not hot, Phoenix is beautiful (weather-wise). And you don't have to shovel the heat off your sidewalk and driveway.

The Phoenix area has a rather extensive network of canals that are quite bikable, not as exciting as a nice trail, but more enjoyable that riding on surface streets. Hope you enjoy it here!
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:34 PM on July 24, 2009

The road north from PHX to Flagstaff is open every day of the year. This is the best part about PHX.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 1:40 PM on July 24, 2009

I once spent a morning at Mystery Castle, an architectural curiosity out in South Mountain Park. It's as kitsch as kitsch can be and the owner of the place is a wonderfully eccentric lady who gives a very entertaining tour of the place.
posted by Del Chimney at 2:11 PM on July 25, 2009

Just dropping in to say that yes, Casey Moore's is the best bar ever. :) I might be biased since I only live a couple of blocks away.

Also, Harlows is indeed an awesome place for breakfast. It's typical to see the same people you saw at Casey Moore's the night before. :)

It's insanely hot in the summer. We've had a pretty nasty summer this year, with temps staying above 110 way too long for my taste. Winters are amazing though.

I live across Mill Ave from the ASU Tempe campus, so if you have any specific questions not being answered, feel free to drop me a MeFi Mail. Drop me one anyway if you want when you get to town if you want to grab a beer or something.
posted by BryanPayne at 11:33 AM on July 26, 2009

Welcome to Tempe. It's a really nifty place, with lots of awesome stuff to track down.

Starting with food in Tempe, I'm going to drop recommendations for Filiberto's, Cornish Pasty Company, El Pollo Supremo, Cheba Hut, Rula Bula, Dehli Palace, Phoenicia Cafe, The Chuckbox, Corleone's, and Ted's Hot Dogs. All are inexpensive, and with the exception of Ted's, all are within walking distance of ASU.

I'm not a big bar guy, but I love Friday happy hour at Macayo's Depot Cantina.

For a coffee/hangout spot, I get good vibes off of Cartel Coffee Lab, which is super close to a great comic shop, Ash Avenue Comics.

As far as shopping is concerned, your closest groceries will be Safeway at Broadway and Rural or Fry's at Mill and Southern. For electronics/geeky stuff, make the sojourn to Fry's Electronics (no relation to the grocery store). Otherwise, you can follow the directions above and wander east on Rio Salado a few blocks to Tempe Marketplace, which is a pile of big box stores and chain restaurants mushed down on a former landfill.

While not terribly close to the university proper, Tempe Library has a pretty decent selection of books and other media.

As far as good/bad parts of town, you don't have much to worry about in Tempe. Valleywide, steer clear of Guadalupe and Laveen, those are the two places in the Valley that I'd rather not be found in after dark. That said, there's few reasons to go to either place, so you should be just fine.

The weather is hot with a side of sweltering until Octoberish, when it tapers down to decent. It's not the hot, muggy, humid misery that you get in Georgia, so you should be fine. It's freakin' awesome during the winter. You'll love calling your friends back east and teasing them about wearing shorts and flip-flops in January.

There's lots of bike trails in/around Tempe and the town lake area, see above for more offroadish stuff. Be aware of your surroundings and don't do anything terribly stupid and you should stay safe on the roads.

Traffic gets nutty during the normal times of day you'd expect it to, but nothing terrible. If I had to make recommendations, stay off of Priest, Mill (N-S), and Apache(E-W) during heavy rush hour, the rest of the area will be slow but steady.

I've grown up out here and love Tempe, it just has a great vibe and is close enough to downtown Phoenix (especially with the new rail) that it's easy to get to things happening out there. If you have more questions or want specifics, memail me, I'm happy to answer anything else you'd like to know.
posted by phredgreen at 9:52 PM on August 2, 2009

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