Phoenix is a place I visited frequently as a child, as my entire dad’s side of the family lives there. Growing up in the mid-west and New York I fantasized of living in Phoenix one day. I found myself daydreaming of the perpetual sunshine, the captivating dessert views and the beautiful adobe structures.
With nothing else going on in my life at the time, I finally made the jump and decided to move there upon returning from my travels in the fall of 2014.
Hey, why not, right?
With roughly $200 in my bank account, I packed my life into my two-door Honda Civic and hit the road headed for the Grand Canyon State. Not knowing it at the time, this would be home for the next year and a half.
Over that year and a half, I had plenty of time to explore this stunning city. With multiple suburbs surrounding the actual city, I know I certainly didn’t get to see every little nook and cranny but I did find some remarkable spots. Here are my highlights!
Postino Wine Cafe. I have to admit, I probably missed out on some other really remarkable restaurants in Phoenix because I frequented this place so often. While their menu is extensive, definitely try their bruschetta boards. On Monday and Tuesday evenings after 8pm they offer a bottle of wine and a board of bruschetta for a whopping $20.
Cibo. I’ve eaten A LOT of pizza in my time. I’ve even enjoyed pizza in the origination spot itself: Naples, Italy. I have to say, apart from a true Neapolitan pizza, this is the best I’ve had. Exposed brick walls on the inside and an intimate patio on the outside, there’s not much else that could add to your pizza consumption experience. Except maybe being in Italy, that is.
True Food Kitchen. This is a great spot for lunch. True Food has a little something for everyone, including vegetarians, vegans and the gluten free. My favorite: Spicy Panang Curry.
Best Hole in the Wall Joint: Pho Thanh Restaurant
I heard about this place through word of mouth and I’m so glad that I did! If you enjoy Vietnamese and a good deal, you’re in for a real treat. You can order pick up or stop by and sit down. Expect authenticity, lots of spices and enough food for at least two meals.
Best Happy Hour
The Yard (Monday-Friday, 3-6pm). Not only does The Yard offer some killer drink deals, they also have the most mouth-watering cheese and pretzel fondue I’ve ever consumed in my life. For like seven bucks. This place also has an abundance of yard games available at your disposal to keep you busy (as if the cheese pretzels won’t have you plenty occupied).
St. Francis (Monday-Friday, 3-6pm). The best part of this centrally located eatery is probably the rustic ambiance that resonates around every corner. Okay, the $5 sangria and wine by the glass is kind of great, too. Most beers are under $5 as well. Check out this spot on Sunday morning from 10:30am-1:30pm for an yummy brunch with a side of live jazz. It’s worth the wait in line, I promise!
Favorite Coffee Shops
Copperstar. This little shop used to be an old gas station. I think creative repurposing is just the bee’s knees so I found this cute, little place to be so charming! The coffee is good and on Sunday afternoons they have an intimate jazz session with local musicians.
Sip Coffee and Beer House. There are two locations, one in the Arcadia area and one in Scottsdale. Based on ambiance, my favorite is the Scottsdale location. Think old, Victorian allure meets rustic farmhouse. As the name suggests, they offer coffee AND adult libations. What else could one need?
Lux. This little gem is in the heart of central Phoenix and is certainly no secret to coffee lovers from around the city. There is a reason that Lux is almost always packed. The upbeat tunes and cozy atmosphere make for a great spot to meet a friend for coffee or to camp out for the day to get some work done. Make sure to try the house-made, espresso flavored whipped cream.
For a Unique Coffee Experience: A.T. Oasis Coffee & Tea Shop.
The name doesn’t elude to it at all, but this is actually a traditional, Ethiopian coffee shop. They offer regular coffee drinks but if you’re looking for something a little different, try an Ethiopian coffee ceremony complete with classic Ethiopian style coffee and incense.
Squaw Peak (also known as Piestawa Peak). Although Camelback Mountain gets the most attention in Phoenix, I found this hike to be much more enjoyable. There are multiple trails ranging in difficulty and beautiful dessert views around every corner. The Summit Trail measures just over a mile in length and provides not only a superb cardio workout but also a spectacular view of the city at the top. Take note, parking is sparse, especially mid-morning into the afternoon. Try to get there early!
Papago Park Hole in the Rock. There isn’t a whole lot going on at this giant hole, but it does offer a magnificent spot to watch the sun set and take in the fresh Phoenix air.
Roosevelt Row Art District. This up-and-coming area in downtown Phoenix is a great spot for a leisurely stroll. Fascinating murals line the streets that are filled with unique restaurants and a lively night life. If you’re not afraid of people (like, a lot of people), check out the First Friday Art Walk on the first Friday evening of each month. Artists open their galleries, food trucks abound and street dancers are out to entertain.
Vintage Shopping. Phoenix has some of the best thrifty shopping I’ve ever experienced. The Melrose neighborhood is lined with antique shops and second hand stores. For some really great treasures, make sure to check out Sweet Salvage, which only opens a couple times per month. Also, keep an eye open for when Junk in the Trunk Vintage Market comes to town. This is a thrift store junkie’s dream that you will not want to miss!
Changing Hands Bookstore. Book worms unite! This cute, little bookstore in central Phoenix has new and used books. Attached is First Draft Book Bar which makes browsing that much more enjoyable. A portion of proceeds go to support local and national charities.
Nordstrom Last Chance. Nordstrom is way out of my league. I occasionally drop by Nordstrom Rack. But Nordstrom Last Chance…well let’s just say I spent WAY too much of my time (and my paycheck) here. Simply put, Last Chance is a compilation of everything that didn’t sell or was returned to Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack. If you’re up for a challenge, check this place out for deeply discounted clothes, shoes, accessories and home goods.
Best Day Trip: Sedona
Quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, Sedona is breathtaking to say the very least. A quick, two hour drive from Phoenix is all it takes to experience the grandeur found in the red rocks of Sedona. For the most picturesque view, hike to Devil’s Bridge. Two other great hikes are Bell Rock trail and Oak Creek Canyon. Before leaving Phoenix make sure to check the weather. It’s usually quite cooler in Sedona, which makes it a perfect getaway during those hot, summer months!
Best Weekend Trip: Flagstaff & Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is roughly five hours away from Phoenix, which I why I suggest stopping in Flagstaff on the way. While I didn’t find Flagstaff to be anything exceptionally great, it is so vastly different from Phoenix that it makes for a nice getaway. Antelope Canyon on the other hand, is beyond exceptional. Arizona is known for the Grand Canyon and for good reason, but places like Antelope Canyon go unheard of due to the popularity of the Grand Canyon. Antelope canyon consists of two parts: upper and lower. They are both located on Native American land so you will have to pay a tour guide to show you through the canyons. We booked Lower Antelope Canyon through Ken’s Tours for about $25/person and it was worth every penny!
Suggestion: Unfortunately, I never made it to Zion National Park in Utah but if you have the time, Antelope Canyon is only about a two hour drive from Antelope Canyon.
Other Fun Stuff
Ice Cream – My ice cream addiction seems to be worsening with age and I certainly did not hold back when I lived in Phoenix! Although it’s somewhat pricey, my favorite ice cream joint is Churn. This centrally located shop features all-natural ice cream and other treats in a fun atmosphere. If your sweet tooth is on the prowl try the Kitchen Sink!
Church- If you’re looking for a great church, check out New City on Central Avenue. The doctrine is sound and the young, inviting atmosphere is like a breath of fresh air.
Running – It’s hot in Phoenix, if you didn’t know. But if you are a runner and hate treadmills like I do, there are some great, safe places to run around the city. My favorite is Bridle Path, which runs along Central Avenue. It’s busy almost all times through out the day so remain cautious when crossing streets.
Another scenic place to run is along side the Arizona Canal. There are multiple places to get on the trail, but I usually parked at Renovation Church on 24th Street and hopped on the trail there. It’s a nice, quiet change of pace but make sure to watch out for cyclists (they will actually run you over).
Whether you’re new to the city or just visiting for the weekend, Phoenix is bound to keep you occupied. I hope this guide starts your journey out on the right foot!