Eight Things You Didn’t Know About Phoenix

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The Valley of the Sun is a large place: 20 smaller cities make up the sprawling region anchored by metropolitan Phoenix. There’s lots to do, although many people stick to the traditional vacation fare of shopping, hitting the links and relaxing in a spa. We have a few lesser-known suggestions

By Josephine Matyas & Craig Jones  

Eight Things You’ll Miss in Phoenix if All You Do is Shop, Spa and Golf

1. Try an olive tasting at the Queen Creek Olive Mill in Mesa where they shepherd the process “from blossom to bottle.” All their cold pressed, extra virgin, olive oils come from 16 varieties of trees – Italian, Spanish, Greek – made into oils, tapenades, pasta sauces and yummy stuffed olives.

2. Walk or bird your way through one of the area’s fantastic urban parks. Gilbert Riparian Preserve is the place for birding in the Phoenix area with more than 200 species on the regular checklist. You’ll share the trail with dog walkers, runners and desert cottontail bunnies. In Chandler, the small lakes at Veterans Oasis Park are a way of returning reclaimed grey water into the ground for later use. There are miles of trails for walking through wetlands, riparian and desert settings, and lakes for fishing.

3. The jaw-dropping collection of Western and American Indian art at the Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery began as a hobby and morphed into a passion. More than one hundred different artists are represented in 3,500 contemporary works including painting, sculpture, carving, katsina dolls and basketware. It’s a colourful, stunning collection displayed in a state-of-the-art gallery at the grocery chain’s headquarters on the outskirts of Chandler. Who knew grocery shopping and art could share a common thread?

4. Wandering the world class Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix is one of the best ways to learn about the cultural artifacts and history of the American Indians of the Southwest. Permanent exhibits include the history of the Ancestral Puebloans, hundreds of katsina dolls hand carved from cottonwood roots, pottery and intricate silversmith works. An exhibit on the Indian boarding school experience talks about the sad history and what it has done to the culture of the American Indian.

5. As well as being a shopping mecca, Scottsdale is known for its vibrant foodie scene. Ingest and then walk off calories on a walking tour. The Taste of Old Town Scottsdale makes six stops ranging from the Rusty Spur, Scottsdale’s oldest cowboy bar known for its green chile-topped burgers, to The Mission where Chef Matt Carter has created a menu focusing on Latin cuisine modernized with classic French styles. The housemade chips and salsa and pork tacos are worth the steps needed to get there.

6. It’s possible to make music by the hitting, blowing, bowing, plucking of vessels of every shape, size and material. It’s happening all around the world in different ways and they’ve been collected, studied and are on display at the relatively new, expansive Musical Instrument Museum. Audio headsets and video displays take you into the music and sound of the instruments in their cultural setting. The museum is organized by continent and within each there are smaller displays on genres of music (jazz, blues, folk, rock ’n’ roll) and special topics such as instruments for a “recycled orchestra” crafted from discarded items.

7. A visit to the Desert Botanical Garden can be a sweet stroll through the blooming plants of the Sonoran Desert. The winding paths, dense greenery and themed gardens (like the butterfly garden) have made it one of the valley’s most popular stops. It’s the perfect place for those who want to be in the desert without actually going far into the desert.

8. Drive the Apache Trail into the mesquite and saguaro-studded northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert and follow the narrow, historic roadway through the Superstition Mountains. Experiences along the way careen from the outdoorsy (hikes at Lost Dutchman State Park) to the surreal (the White Elvis Presley Chapel at the Superstition Mountain Museum).




  • Puréed kale may sound questionable but they know how to turn it into a delicious smoothie at the Chopshop in Chandler. Every protein shake (a.k.a. smoothie) boasts a healthy pedigree.
  • Just when you think you may never see water again . . . along comes a boat rental on the Tempe Town Lake.
  • The Pink Pony is the oldest standing bar in downtown Scottsdale. In the 1950s and 60s it was known as a favourite hangout for major league ball players.
  • Be prepared for heat and drink lots of water, stay in the shade and use sunscreen.


Who’s writing

Our journey continues. Travel and exploration have become a lifestyle. Taking her expertise (travel writing) and his experience (as a professional musician, teacher and freelance writer), stirring it together and seeing what happens. Add a camper van (a 20-foot Leisure Travel Class B, for those who need the specs), an easy going Border Collie (Eleanor Rigby) and a chance to escape the never-ending winter of 2013/14. We’ve got a file full of maps and a GPS nicknamed “Hal” that sometimes toys with us (we prefer the maps).