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TRAVEL Arizona: Hot and cool


“Arizonans are like lizards.”

I heard this sentence while recently visiting the neighboring cities of Phoenix and Tempe—and it certainly wasn’t meant to slam residents. Rather, it was a comment on the habits of people who live in the The Grand Canyon State, as they battle the heat the only sane way possible: avoiding it—at least during the peak of the day.

However, no matter what time of the year you visit these spots, you’re able to find attractions and activities ( indoors and outside ) to help you pleasantly pass the time.

Phoenix

This part of the trip started with checking bags at Hampton Inn & Suites Phoenix Downtown ( 77 E. Polk St.; hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/arizona/hampton-inn-and-suites-phoenix-downtown-PHXCTHX/index.html )—a site so new my rideshare app didn’t have it listed. And may I be among those saying that this chain has progressed a lot in the past few years; not only was the staff very courteous, but everything seemed quite contemporary ( with a spacious gym incorporating the latest technology ).

And being downtown certainly has its advantages. For one, being at this hotel puts one only steps away from the Phoenix campus of Arizona State University ( with its Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as well as the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, among other things ).

Also in the area is Phoenix Public Market Cafe ( 14 E. Pierce St.; cafe.phxpublicmarket.com/ ), which offers items ranging from biscuits and gravy to a quinoa bowl to sandwiches/burgers to the Forbidden Rice Bowl ( which is made with black jasmine rice ). Linked next to it is the open-air market—open Saturdays at 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and featuring artisan and food vendors all year.

The area we were in also includes the extremely popular spot Matt’s Big Breakfast ( 825 N. 1st St.; mattsbigbreakfast.com/ ). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to check out, but several people have recommended it—and The Chop & The Chick sounds like a really appealing dish.

And just across the street from Matt’s is The Churchill ( 901 N. 1st St.; thechurchillphx.com/ )—home to a variety of small businesses that basically engage in mutualism with each other. Some of the members include State Forty Eight ( which has some really cool T-shirts ), Sauvage Bottle Shop ( which only vends “honest” wines ), Cosas ( which works with with artisans out of Guadalajara, Mexico ) and Freak Brothers Pizza.

As the cafe hinted, Phoenix’s culinary scene is extremely vibrant—and diverse. Beckett’s Table ( 3717 E. Indian School Rd.; beckettstable.com/ ) offers cast-iron hoe cake; mac ‘n cheese ( with optional pancetta ); pineapple bourbon glazed and grilled organic Scottish salmon; Shrimp, Sausage & Super Creamy Local Grits ( the spot’s name for this dish—but it’s accurate ); and chocolate-dipped bacon S’mores. Enough said ( or written )….

The Clever Koi ( 4236 N. Central Ave.; www.thecleverkoi.com/ ) has some tantalizing offerings, such as Brussels sprouts with Chinese sausage; black-bean pancakes; calamari fries; steamed buns in varieties such as pork belly, kimchi cauliflower and chicken ‘n waffle; crispy pineapple duck rice; and noodle dishes like lemon-pepper chicken ramen.

But before hitting the Koi, step into Across the Pond—which is basically across the hall from the restaurant. The amiable bartenders engage in conversation while whipping up cocktails like the Alpaca season and the Ms. Paka—and these drinks have to be seen to be believed.

However, our travel group also engaged in a different type of culinary activity: concocting vegan dishes with the outgoing nutrition expert Melanie Albert at The Farm at South Mountain ( 6106 S. 32nd St.; www.thefarmatsouthmountain.com/ )—which combines Morning Glory Cafe, The Farm Kitchen and Quiessence. However, before becoming chefs, we were given a tour of the impressive crops courtesy of urban farmer Billy Anthony—an informed, engaging guy who resembles Mark Wahlberg, and who gave us the lowdown on items like glacier lettucee, Armenian cucumber and even butterscotch melon. Albert ( expnutrition.wordpress.com/ ) is a walking compendium of nutrition, and I think she could almost convert me to veganism.

To truly understand the history of the art and cultures of this area, head to The Heard Museum ( 2301 N. Central Ave.; heard.org/ ). There are exhibits such as “Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles”—but it will be even more personal ones like “Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories” that prove to be the most moving, as it’s shown how Native Americans had their identities removed by placing them into “civilized” society via government-operated boarding schools.


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However, please take time to take in Phoenix’s incredible outdoor scene—and you needn’t look any farther than the Desert Botanical Garden ( 1201 N. Galvin Pkwy.; www.dbg.org/ ). It’s a huge, alluring site—but don’t be surprised if you get closer to nature than you imagine. ( A heron flew down and downed a lizard right in front of us. ) Flashlight tours take place throughout the summer, and a July 27 course which teach photographers how to best capture a sunset.

Tempe

Yes, Tempe is a college town ( with Arizona State University having more than 70,000 students, as of 2016 ), but there’s substantially more to do in Tempe than attend college football games and buy ASU memorabilia.

Being a science major in undergrad, one of the options that immediately appealed to me on this trip was visiting ASU’s ISTB 4 Gallery of Scientific Exploration ( 781 E. Terrace Rd.; sese.asu.edu/node/457 ). With studies about satellites, meteorites and much more, this is a prime spot to visit—and don’t forget about the planetarium show.

Mill Avenue is the main thoroughfare in downtown Tempe—with dozens of shops, restaurants and other inviting spots/events, like the Fourth of July celebration. There are brand-name spots like Urban Outfitters, but there are also spots like Lotions & Potions, Hackett House Gift Shop and Nowadays Creative Lab. ( There is also the Phoenix Premium Outlets, with stores such as Calvin Klein, Elie Tahari and Michael Kors. )

Snakes & Lattes ( 20 W. 6th St.; www.snakesandlattes.com/location/tempe/ ) is a really cool spot to visit. Not only are there great bites to grab ( including various pizzas and poutines ) as well as enough beer options to drive an indecisive person nuts, but there’s a large game library—with everything from Monopoly to trivia games to role-playing pasttimes.

Art is an extremely prominent part of Tempe—from the statues that dot the city to the murals honoring women that line Mill Avenue. ( She Tempe is a public art project that was installed in September 2017; eight local female artists were invited to create custom works of art. )

Also, there’s the impressive Tempe Center for the Arts ( 700 W. Rio Salado; www.tempecenterforthearts.com/ ) for those who’d like to witness something more cultured. ( Upcoming events include a run of the controversial production Dutchman, the 80th-anniversary celebration of Blue Note Records and the immersive theater installation “Flight”—although I might have to return next March to catch “Legends of Freestyle, featuring Coolio and Rob Base.” )

And the center is right by the Tempe Town Lake, a two-mile-long, man-made body of water where one can go paddleboating ( or paddleboarding )—and which provided one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. In addition, do not miss the entrancing Valley Metro bridge that flashes rainbow colors whenever a train passes.

Like Phoenix, Tempe has its share of impressive restaurants. Local chain Culinary Dropout ( 149 S. Farmer; www.culinarydropout.com/locations/tempe-az/ ) has some fine contemporary American fare—as well as staffers who all seem to resemble models. However, my favorite restaurant had to be House of Tricks ( 114 E. 7th St.; www.houseoftricks.com/ )—and it’s not just because of the name. The spot is on break until July 25, but when it reopens there will be dishes such as grilled salmon with chive risotto cake and toasted green chili cornbread BLT served at this stately spot.

And I certainly had fun at Four Peaks Brewing Co. ( 1340 E. 8th St.; www.fourpeaks.com ), which has several delicious, gut-busting dishes ( like Get in My Belly, which comes with Peach Ale-braised pork belly )—but a tour of the facilities that includes samples, factoids about processing the drinks, and even ghost stories ( told by the amiable Cole ). As for the products, there’s something for almost everyone, from Oatmeal Stout to Lima ( spiked Limeade ) to the ever-popular Kilt Lifter ( a Scottish ale ).

And last, but certainly not least, is the hotel where we resided: The Graduate Tempe ( 225 E. Apache Blvd.; www.graduatehotels.com/ ), which is worth the price of admission alone, as they say. With a retro Southwest decor that is immensely appealing ( complete with student-ID keycards ), the Graduate is unlike any other hotel in which you’ll probably ever stay. And don’t forget to hit the exercise room ( which has weights and a peloton bike, among other things ) and The Normal restaurant, which has every comfort food imaginable, it seems—including a wonderful butterscotch cheesecake.

Many thanks go to Visit Phoenix and Tempe Tourism for arranging this incredible trip. Yes, there’s some heat in Arizona—but this state is pretty cool in a lot of ways.