9 Must-Visit Destinations in Phoenix, Arizona
Head to the desert for a brew pub full of birds, installation art among the saguaros, beyond-the-margarita cocktails and more.
Photo By: John Mulloy
Photo By: Courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden
Photo By: Casa Corazon
Photo By: Jackson Burrows
Photo By: Musical Instrument Museum
Photo By: HULA’S Modern Tiki
Photo By: Kyle Dehn
©Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Photo By: The Churchill
If you still associate the Grand Canyon State’s largest city with tumbleweeds and tract homes, it’s high time for another look. Phoenix is much more than a wintertime retreat for snowbirds escaping chilly climes; its balmy winter temperatures are enviable and there are plenty of spas and golf courses, if those are your thing. But the desert is blooming with hip eateries and entertainment aplenty. Better yet, it’s no longer a ghost town when the sun goes down, thank you very much. Keep these oases in mind the next time you’re in Phoenix.
Desert Botanical Garden
Founded more than 80 years ago by locals with a passion for the Sonoran Desert’s spectacular flora, Desert Botanical Garden boasts some of the world’s most extensive living collections (featuring both indigenous plants and rare and endangered specimens from around the world). It’s an Instagram star all year long, but seasonal events like its Día de los Muertos festival (pictured above) and Las Noches de Las Luminarias — an annual winter celebration when the garden’s trails are lined with more than 8,000 flickering beacons — will take your breath away. Its newest exhibition, Wild Rising by Cracking Art, comes to Phoenix from Milan, and includes more than 1,000 brightly-colored animals (like a flock of penguins and a pack of wolves) sculpted in recyclable plastic and posed among the cacti.
Phoenix has a well-deserved reputation for old-school, Sonoran-style Mexican food. Think flour tortillas, an abundance of beef-based dishes, and only-in-Arizona appetizers like cheese crisps. But chefs with eclectic takes on south-of-the-border-inspired cuisine are now taking seats at the table. At Casa Corazon, an airy, art-adorned space that opened its doors in central Phoenix last year and has already picked up two annual awards for its salsa bar, the house’s signature sauce is a vegetarian-friendly roasted-beet enchilada sauce. (Omnivores, there are standouts for you, too: Gourmands rave about Casa Corazon’s flat-iron steak served with nopales and onions.) The new kid in town is making friends fast.
The Perch Brewery
With 30 brewed-on-the-premises offerings like Autumn Migration Lager, Basics of Flight and Bird Bath IPA on tap, The Perch Brewery draws a steady stream of beer lovers from Phoenix to the suburb of Chandler. Note, however, that birds like Bubba (a 10-year-old Hyacinth Macaw who loves dancing to Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” pictured above) got there first. “We work with Arizona Exotic Bird Rescue to help house over 150 exotic birds in our sanctuary courtyard,” bartender and apprentice brewer Jake Hredzak explains. “We built the restaurant and, in turn, the brewery around the sanctuary.” Sipping suds in the outdoor dining area and squawking along with Bubba and crew in their one-of-a-kind brewery aviary is an experience you’ll never forget.
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
The former Arizona Prohibition Headquarters in downtown Phoenix has taken a tasty U-turn in recent years: the Luhr Building now houses Bitter & Twisted, an award-winning cocktail bar and eatery that drives trends across the city and around the world. Walk-ins are welcome, but there’s no need to queue around the block for a taste of innovative drinks like the Three Ring Circus (with Banks rum, blue curaçao, grapefruit-cinnamon syrup, lime and Peychaud bitters). Add yourself to the Yelp-based waitlist and you’ll get a text when your table is ready.
Musical Instrument Museum
The Martin D-28 guitar Elvis used for his last concert performance, two of Carlos Santana’s custom guitars and the drum set Doug “Cosmo” Clifford played with Creedence Clearwater Revival at Woodstock are all at the Musical Instrument Museum — and they’re the tip of the iceberg when it comes to MIM’s collection, which includes more than 13,400 items from more than 200 countries and territories. Guests can make music with instruments from around the globe in the museum’s Experience Gallery (above), and children of all ages can participate in ticketed MIMkids programs ranging from early childhood music and movement courses to Junior Museum Guide training sessions.
Hula's Modern Tiki
Cocktail aficionados know that tiki is all about a state of mind rather than a physical waterfront, and landlocked Phoenix has a splashy destination of its own. Head uptown to Hula’s Modern Tiki to share a scorpion bowl in a pitch-perfect midcentury-modern space complete with an outdoor fire pit and a nautical-themed Captain’s Cabin lounge featuring “Uka Nui” cocktails (hidden behind a porthole door and inspired by old-school Tahitian bars where ships’ captains would gather to swap stories). Don’t miss happy hour (weekdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.), when classics like mai tais and painkillers ring in at just $6.
When Charlie Levy set out to create a concert venue in a 90-year-old downtown garage, he instructed his team to go easy on the gritty space: “Make it nice, but not too nice,” as he told Phoenix New Times. "I want it to still be rock 'n' roll." Mission accomplished. Crescent Ballroom hosts live music every night of the week and features alt-rock royalty like the New Pornographers, Built To Spill and Meat Puppets. It’s also gained acclaim for Cocina 10, an eatery with a menu inspired by stops on Interstate 10 (which runs through the city, of course) and a free-to-all lounge (above) where visitors can listen in on live shows.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter camp at the base of Scottsdale’s McDowell Mountains is known as one of his most personal creations. “Arizona character seems to cry out for a space-loving architecture of its own,” he noted, and from 1937 until his death in 1959, he and his apprentices dedicated themselves to coaxing the foothills into permanent bloom. Now a National Historic Landmark, Taliesin West is a marvel at all hours — and an exquisite date-night destination on Fridays, when Night Lights Tour participants sip cocktails and watch it come alive under the stars. (The bronze dragon pictured here was originally intended to be a fountain, but Wright’s widow would have none of that: “No respectable dragon is going to spout water when it can breathe fire!”)
Built out of 19 upcycled shipping containers at the corner of 1st Street and Garfield in the historic Evans-Churchill neighborhood, The Churchill is 10 destinations in one, and it’s greater than the sum of its parts. Its locally-owned restaurants, bars and boutiques are committed both to promoting one another and participating in community development projects. The 9,000-square-foot central courtyard — which, fear not, is air-conditioned when necessary — is a gathering space for everything from speakers and pop-up galleries to art and fitness classes.