Arizona is hot! And I’m not stating the obvious about the summertime temperatures. Gone are the notions of the state being a retirement mecca. Arizona is vibrant, affordable, creative, cutting edge and beautiful. A recent visit proved that Arizona is an exciting, vibrant place for sunbirds to fly to, right now!
The Farm-to-Table Food Scene
With a long growing season, in recent years, Arizona has embraced and developed its local foodie scene. In downtown Phoenix there’s a year-round, open air market with fresh produce, meats, baked goods and more in a parking lot. Next door, the Phoenix Public Market Café benefits from all of those items to create delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a café and full bar. Don’t miss their blue corn pancakes, a tasty homage to the southwest region. Also downtown is DeSoto Central Market in a renovated DeSoto car dealership. Not only does the large, open space host fun events like Speakeasy Night but a variety of restaurants get their start in the business incubator format.
Mesa takes agritourism to a new level with the Fresh Foodie Trail, a series of farms and food producers that offer tours, sell their products and have restaurants, connecting visitors to the source of their food. Queen Creek Olive Mill and Agritopia are two stops on the Trail. At Queen Creek, you not only get a tour and explanation of how olive oil is made (fascinating) but then, under their high-ceilinged, wide-open marketplace, you can buy the company’s oil and vinegar, olive-oil-based beauty products, freshly baked bread, fresh pasta, gelato, coffee and grab a hearty bite of farm-fresh food.
Agritopia is far more than just a farm and restaurant. It’s a master-planned community that is centered on preserving urban agriculture. Next to the community gardens and farm fields is Joe’s Farm Grill serving comfort foods packed with healthy vegetables like the veggie pizza or burger with lots of lettuce and tomato or sweet potato pie. In the winter of 2016, a craftsman community of artisans will be setting up shop inside a WWII Quonset hut on the property.
See timeless architecture & design
Talieson, Cosanti and Arcosanti are all proof that Arizona has long been seen as a mecca for the creative soul. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright built Talieson West to be his winter home (summering in Wisconsin) and the site of his architecture school which is still in existence. With a thriving tour business, on any given day, you may be part of one of several tour groups, moving around the compound in a well-choreographed manner, getting the inside scoop on the architect, his life, quirks and philosophies not only about architecture but about the land and life. A natural extension of a visit to Talieson is a trip to Cosanti a working artist studio and creative oasis in the middle of suburban Phoenix. Enjoy the sounds of, and perhaps purchase, one of the Cosanti bells which help fund Arcosanti, artist Paolo Soleri’s massive desert colony.
Experience the arts
Arizona loves its museums and offers quite a variety. The Phoenix Art Museum has a fine permanent collection in a spacious set up that covers a lot of time periods and styles but still feels like something you can take in and enjoy within a few hours. Large exhibit halls house ever-changing travelling shows.
The Musical Instrument Museum is a music fan’s dream. But it’s also a giant geography lesson, set to music. An entire area is devoted to the music and musical instruments of different countries. It’s fascinating to see the various sizes, shapes and intricate designs of instruments we’ve never heard of. The museum also shows you the importance and impact of music in our lives – everybody makes music in one way or another. Allow a full day to make your way through this museum, not because it’s so large but because it is so interactive. Take a break at their café to refuel for hands-on engagement.
Technically not a museum, I’m throwing the Desert Botanical Gardens into the mix of museums because it is a well-organized, thought out display of cacti and succulents. Especially if you are new to Arizona, seeing that there are plants that crawl along the ground looking like snakes as well as cacti as tall as a building is pretty amazing. Although almost completely outside, Arizona’s landscape is on display. There are also stunning sculptures by Dale Chihuly to greet you.
Great Places to Rest Your Head
Located on the east side of the city, the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, doesn’t get as much attention as its flashier counterparts on the other side of town and that’s a real shame – but it’s also to the advantage of guests who can score great deals. The place is gorgeous, spanning 440 acres, with 331 casita-style guest rooms including 72 suites, all with adobe architecture. There are four swimming pools, nature trails, 54 holes of championship golf and a 26,000 square foot Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. The historic, AAA Four-Diamond property recently underwent a $20 million, multi-phase renovation just in time to celebrate its 87th birthday in November, 2016. Check out fun, historic photos on your way to enjoying live music on the lawn or to have an elegant and delicious dinner at Litchfield’s restaurant. The place is as ideal for families as it is a quiet getaway.
In Tempe, Arizona, you can spend the night with tongue firmly planted in cheek at The Graduate Hotel. Part of a new brand of hotels located in the heart of college towns across the country, the destination lets you relive the glory days of college. Lots of kitsch, color and creativity fill this hotel from the lobby to the rooms. The guestrooms are cozy but have all the basics you need from a big, comfy bed to a Composition Notebook giving details of the property, a Number 2 pencil, room keys that are old school ID’s (whose did you get?) and pennants that serve as “do not disturb” door hangers. There are two on-site eateries, an all-American diner and an urban tequila bar. Located across the street from the Arizona State University campus, it doesn’t take much to remember those college days.
Fly, fly away, sunbirds! Avoid the chill down deep into your bones this winter with some time soaking up the warmth, whimsy, flavors and creativity of Arizona.
Courtney Drake-McDonough is a Denver-based food and travel writer and editor. She has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers and is the editor of InGoodTasteDenver.com, a news and reviews website.
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