There has to be something weird in Phoenix, right?
July 30, 2010 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Geekcation in Phoenix/Scottsdale. What do two dorks do in desert country?

We're two SF geeks spending our anniversary weekend in Scottsdale (at a hipster-riffic hotel called the Valley Ho that has a Trader Vic's).

I've seen the previous AskMes, but we're not into hiking or nature, really, and I'm trying to eat healthier so just going to lots of swank restaurants aren't our thing. We're more into retro kitsch, cult movies, used record stores, tiki bars, arcades, hot dog stands, classic movie houses, movie theaters that serve beer.

I wish there were some plug-in for Yelp! that was "If you liked X, Y and Z in this city, here's what you'll like in Phoenix", but in lieu of that...

Things we've loved on other various vacations:
LA - Museum of Jurassic Technology, The Magic Castle, seeing THE ROOM at midnight on the Sunset Strip, Clifton's Cafeteria

Chicago area - "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind"/Neofuturists, House on the Rock

Las Vegas - Penn and Teller, the Pinball Museum

SF area - Pinball Museum/Lucky Juju, Tonga Room, Jejune Institute, Amoeba Records, 826 Valencia

Philadelphia area - Mutter Museum, "Adult Swim" night at the Dive Bar, an old-fashioned drive-in movie theater over the New Jersey border

Portland - Ground Kontrol, Voodoo Doughnuts, Powell's, all the comic book stores within 2 blocks of Powell's

We're there for a long weekend in early September. Help me from wandering a Border's, eating at a Cheesecake Factory and wishing we were back home.
posted by Gucky to Travel & Transportation around Phoenix, AZ (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's a lot to do in the Downtown Tempe/Mill Ave district. The Valley Art movie theater shows independent films. Zia Records is around the corner, on University. There's usually live music - lots of good people watching, too.
posted by kbar1 at 9:22 PM on July 30, 2010


Take one of the evening tours at Taliesin West.

Enjoy one of the best Pizzas on (well, near) the West Coast at Pizzaria Bianco.
posted by dws at 9:32 PM on July 30, 2010


Early September, the high temp will be around 100, the low in the 70s. Plan on spending lots of time indoors during the day.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:51 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


There were some suggestions that it looks like you would like on this recent thread.
posted by scrambles at 9:59 PM on July 30, 2010


You can always check Atlas Obscura.
posted by wintersweet at 10:12 PM on July 30, 2010


There are some answers in this past thread, though many focus on ABQ, but a couple are in your area, if you were up for a road trip.

For example, you could head down and see the Titan II Missile Museum and then the San Xavier Del Bac Mission for a mix of science and art/architecture. You could even go a bit further south and check out the guard posts, fences, and flags of the border if you wanted a little militaristic geopolitical scenery; the border is quite the spectacle these days.

Also, check out the archives. Some "where to go in the southwest" questions really do skew towards Joe's Dive Bar and Jan's Poolhall and Pete's Burrito Cart. It's not all Grand Canyon! Ski Snowbowl! Chaco Canyon! like you might expect. That said, I saw Chaco Canyon the day after I saw the Very Large Array, and together, they blew my mind with how miniscule we really are in the true expanse of time of space.
posted by salvia at 10:17 PM on July 30, 2010


The closest thing to Powell's that exists in the Phoenix area is Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. If you do end up in Tempe you should also visit Ash Avenue Comics by ASU's main campus. Zia Records and Eastside Records are just around the corner and are also worth checking out. Cornish Pasty Company is in the same general area, and it's definitely my favorite restaurant to take out-of-town guests to.

The Melrose District on 7th Avenue between Indian School Rd. and Camelback Rd. is where you should look for retro kitschy stuff. It's home to several antique/vintage stores, an excellent coffee shop, and the legendary Fry Bread House.
posted by arianell at 10:24 PM on July 30, 2010


Madcap Theatres in Tempe should be right down your alley.
posted by mattholomew at 3:22 AM on July 31, 2010


Madcap is definitely in your wheelhouse, but if you have the rental, Titan II is the single best thing we got going in the way of completely unique and crazy museums. You get to go INTO A MISSILE SILO! Plus, the road signs switch to metric for reasons passing understanding.

It's also a good 140 miles due south of your hotel, which may be seriously problematic, as the I-10 is an ugly stretch of road down to Tucson.

Back up in Tempe, there's also Cartel Coffee which is tucked away in a strip mall right behind Ash Avenue Comics, near Zia.

Cornish Pasty is fantastic and a must-do.

On Friday & Saturday night, one of my favorite restaurants, Petite Maison does what they call Staff Meal from 10p-midnight where they have two $8-$12 meals that they announce the day of on their Twitter. It's done up decent, but they're down-to-earth, awesome, not-stuffy-in-the-slightest, jeans-and-t-shirt people in a tiny bar with great drinks and fantastic people. You can consider that a fantastic night-grub place those days, and it's right on Camelback & Scottsdale, or less than 2 miles from your hotel.

The Arizona Science Center is good nerd fun for kids and adults alike and is in downtown Phoenix. There's the Mineral & Mining Museum which is all the Geology Rocks you can possibly imagine for exactly $2, and well air-conditioned, in downtown Phoenix.

If you'll be there on the first Friday of the month, you'll be in town for First Friday which has a pretty amazing art-walk that encompasses this massive artsy area around downtown Phoenix that seems kind of out of nowhere but is pretty awesome.

You'll want to hit up Lolo's Chicken & Waffles, about two miles from your hotel. Does what it says on the tin, and pretty damn cheap. (Also, some of the best chicken, ever.) This runs directly counter to trying to eat healthier but it is insane.

You can definitely burn a half day walking around Mill Ave, but if it's still hot out (and it will be, welcome to our hell), you might want to avoid it. There are some cool pubs, including Rula Bula which serves amazing lunch fare (but gets pretty "crunked" at night with college crowds), the Valley Art & Madcap are less than a block away from each other; Valley Art has nightly showings of whatever the hell they play on their one screen, Madcap is more of a weird throw-back/cult theater, with the Rocky Horror bit, Reefer Madness, and that kind of stuff. A good chunk of the stores in the immediate vicinity around there are dead though, which is all kinds of sad considering I work there.

There's also another comic shop tucked away on Forest &... 6th or 7th, right off Mill Ave.

If you're in Tempe, hit up Ted's Hot Dogs on Rural & Broadway as they are charbroiled, delicious, and cheap. In Scottsdale, there's Stax Burger Bistro, which I'm a bit love/hate on, but which has sliders as their bill of fare.

Musical Instrument Museum is about 20 minutes north of you and just opened. Cool architecture, brand new building, and some great exhibits.

And that's about all I got for right now. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter for more specific details as you get closer (in my profile).
posted by disillusioned at 5:15 AM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nthing Taliesin. Wright was interested in many things besides architecture. They do gloss over some of his personal life, heh.

I know you don't want to just eat at restaurants, but cafe lalibela is a local Ethiopian restaurant, which has great food and reviews.
posted by annsunny at 8:54 AM on July 31, 2010


OMG. Tommy Wiseau is going to be at Madcap introducing THE ROOM when we're there. Good call. This trip will be far better than expected.

Thanks, all.
posted by Gucky at 11:55 AM on July 31, 2010


As I recall from a trip to the region for some reason, there's a Gameworks in Tempe. Beyond the average arcade collection, their two main draws are a giant 2 story game device and alchohol. Apparently arcades aren't a strong enough draw for adults, so they appear to also be marketing to people for whom "the next big game" means March Madness etc.
posted by pwnguin at 1:57 PM on July 31, 2010


Late to the party because I typed this last night right before the site went down for a bit!

The Phoenix Newtimes has never steered me wrong. Check the "Best Of" for the kinds of activities you like.

If you are here on the first Friday of the month, you should check out the AZ Science Center's Adult Night. (The September theme is "The Aztecs, the Maya, and the End of the World"!!)

The Tempe Marketplace on Rio Salado and McClintock is an outdoor mall that is nonetheless cool and pleasant, and I highly recommend a night of Dave and Buster's arcade, followed by absolutely fantastic iced tea at Tea Infusion.

I also second the Valley Art recommendation, but I raise it a Camelview 5 which also shows independent films. I see someone else suggested Madcap, and I'm glad that y'all will be there for something that you're into.

If you like used books, skip Old Town Books on Mill Ave and go to Bookman's in Mesa instead. Old Town will just break your heart.

Best cheap restaurant ever: Scratch Pastries on Miller and Indian School. You will not be disappointed.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 3:41 PM on July 31, 2010


Phoenix has a really cool library just barely south of downtown on Central, it's like six stories tall with an atrium in it, kind of makes me think of the library in Wings of Desire for some reason, I guess just that it's modern and cool to look at. IMO. They've almost always got interesting things going on there. And I get a kick out of libraries in any case, if/when they're done well (you should see the one on Michigan Avenue at Randolph Street in Chicago, completed 1897, it's spectacular) and this one in Phoenix is done well.

Following is an excerpt from their description of the buidinig:

Building Highlights
Inspired by Monument Valley, the building's shape resembles a curving copper mesa split by a stainless steel canyon. Focusing on light and illusion, the design features shade sails on north windows fashioned by sail makers in Maine, an entrance tunnel with one back-lit wall and another of blue Venetian plaster with splashes of brightly colored Venetian plaster throughout the building.

The Crystal Canyon, a five-story atrium, has nine skylights at the top to track the sun. The glass-enclosed elevators and grand staircase are surrounded by a black bottom pool which mirrors their images and that of the Crystal Canyon.

A 32-foot high "Floating Ceiling" is suspended by cables over the Great Reading Room of 43,000 square feet on the fifth floor. Six-inch-wide skylights run the entire 300 foot length of the east and west walls. Round skylights covered by lenses create an illusion of flames at noon on the summer solstice, June 21st.

The Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum, which I sortof thought would be a drag, and which I went to because my sister wanted to go there, is a building full of rocks, right, and it's gonna suck and be real boring. Except that it isn't, or it wasn't to me anyways -- beautiful stones, exhibited pretty well, some of them stunning under light. They describe it better than I can here at 12:20am, excerpted as follows:

Over 3,000 minerals, rocks, fossils and mining artifacts are on exhibit. Highlighting the collection are the colorful minerals from Arizona's copper mines. Among the spectacular individual specimens on display are an eight-foot specimen of native copper, a large quartz geode - each half weighing 240 pounds, rocks from the first Moon landing, and a fragment of Meteor Crater's meteorite weighing 206 pounds. Exhibits of special interest encompass cases devoted to the lapidary arts featuring cabochons made of minerals from throughout Arizona, faceted gemstones, carved semi-precious bowls and spheres, well-known Arizona specimen localities, displays on mineral crystal systems, habits, causes of color, fulgarites, and fluorescent minerals.

The museum also exhibits the mineral collection of the Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum Foundation and the Mofford Gallery consisting of about 1000 items acquired by former Secretary of State and Governor Rose Mofford during her 51 years of government service.

Last. Phoenix also has a really sweet art museum but it doesn't appear that's among your interests; it's literally like two or three blocks from the library, in fact I discovered the library one afternoon after leaving the art museum. There's an exhibition that I wouldn't miss if I were to be going to town anytime soon; it may get me to go visit Mom sooner than I'd expected -- don't tell her it's (partly) about that show, ok? Cézanne and American Modernism, sixteen paintings by Cézanne, 84 paintings by 31 American painters, showing the influence Cézanne has had upon modern American art.


Some of the things listed above by others from here have opened my eyes, and my next visit there will be different, and better -- thanx Mefites!
posted by dancestoblue at 10:34 PM on July 31, 2010


There is another "sweet" art museum about 2 blocks from your hotel: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

For your Tiki fix there is Hulu or Bikini Lounge.

And if you want to see more hipster architecture there is lots of information on Modern Phoenix and you can put together your own driving tour.
posted by TishSnave at 10:08 AM on August 2, 2010


Thanks everyone. It was a great trip. The highlight was certainly the Titan II museum. Enjoyed the Musical Instrument Museum, Valley Ho Hotel, Madcap Theaters and the lovely Trader Vic's. Thanks everyone.
posted by Gucky at 9:36 AM on September 7, 2010


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