Phoenix, AZ may be known for its great weather, luxury resorts, fantastic golf, relaxing spas, and Spring Training camps for many of the Major League Baseball clubs and their fans, but there is much more here than meets the eye.
Situated in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix—nicknamed “The Valley of the Sun”—attracts well over 12 million visitors each year from all walks of life from all over the world.
The earliest inhabitants known are the Hohokam Indians who lived here from the 300’s BC until the 1400’s, followed by the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache tribes. All three tribes still have reservations in the area, their citizens numbering close to 300,000. As a result, Arizona is said to be second only to Oklahoma with the highest Native American population.
What is now Arizona became a Spanish province in 1821, the land eventually coming under the control of the American government. In 1881, some 31 years before Arizona became a state, Phoenix—named after a prediction by one of the town's founders that “a great city would rise like the mythical phoenix from the ashes of the ancient Hohokam Indian settlement”—was officially incorporated.
Arguably one of the biggest draws to Phoenix is the climate. Both residents and visitors alike relish in the 300-plus sun-drenched days and average temperatures ranging from the mid-60’s to the mid-80’s from April through October. But make no mistake about it, Phoenix is HOT in the summer with low humidity, virtually no rainfall to speak of (generally less than 8 inches a year) and temps well past the 100-degree mark. As a result, early morning and late evening outdoor activities are the norm, saving the pool and indoor activities for mid-day.
Once known as a winter playground for the nation’s wealthy, Phoenix is now the 5th largest city in the country and over the years has evolved into a playground for all, including its well-earned reputation as one of the world's top golf destinations with more than 200 golf courses.
Sports fans love Phoenix! Just a stone’s throw away from some of the city’s major attractions are venues for most of the professional sports franchises in town – the NFL Arizona Cardinals, MLB Arizona Diamondbacks, WNBA Phoenix Mercury, NBA Phoenix Suns, and NHL Phoenix Coyotes.
Baseball, however, is by far the biggest draw here, the area transformed into a Spring Training mega-town with 15 Major League Baseball teams converging here each year prior to the opening of the season (they call it the Cactus League. How appropriate!).
To grasp some of the early history of the city and state, be sure to visit the Arizona Capitol Museum. Located inside of the state capitol building, the museum encompasses four floors, each offering an array of unique and fascinating historical and temporary exhibits, artifacts and memorabilia. You can also step inside the House and Senate Chambers for an up-close-and-personal view of our current state of democracy at work.
Outdoors, the capitol property also encompasses the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza with an astounding 31 memorials, each paying homage to a significant period, people or organization that made left an indelible mark on the history of the city, region, state and/or country. These include for each of the major military conflicts (the Civil War, WWI, WWI, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Desert Storm), the Navajo Code Takers, U.S.S. Arizona, the Armenian Holocaust, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Arizona Pioneer Women, Law Enforcement, 9/11, the Bill of Rights, and several commemorative statues, just to name a few.
Two of the most well-known museums in town are the Heard Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum of Art.
The Heard Museum highlights the many traditional and contemporary artistic contributions of American Indian artists and tribal communities, in particular those from the Southwest, on the American cultural landscape. Permanent and temporary exhibits, first-person perspective interactive galleries, and special festivals are all part of the experience here.
As the largest art museum in the Southwestern U.S. and recognized as the Southwest’s premier destination for world-class visual arts, the Phoenix Art Museum has been a Phoenix area landmark for nearly 60 years. Featuring over 19,000 works of art, their area of focus covers American, Western American, Latin American, European, Asian and contemporary and modern art, as well as photography and fashion.
Whether you think you have a green thumb or not, a not-to-be-missed attraction in town is the Desert Botanical Garden. This expansive property encompasses a wealth of Sonoran Desert nature paths and hiking trails peppered with a wide array of desert plants and flowers, wildlife, birds, and features such as ecological sustainability, exhibits demonstrating the traditional living environments of the Western Apache, Tohono O’odham, and other Native American and Hispanic communities. Here, visitors learn how these cultures have used and integrated the desert plants into their building materials, holistic health practices and food for centuries.
Guests can wander the property on their own with one of the entities detailed maps or embark upon a docent-led tour providing an up-close-and-personal view and historical information about each aspect of the Garden. A series of special events and featured exhibits are also held here throughout the year, drawing thousands of people from around metro Phoenix, the greater Arizona area and further afield.
There is also a Garden Shop and dining options: the Patio Café for a quick, casual bite, and Gertrude’s Restaurant, the latter serving “ingredients directly from the farm and pasture to the plate … from artisans and farmers around Arizona and the Southwest.” in a high-end culinary ambiance for brunch, lunch, dinner, and cocktails.
A relatively new community concept in Phoenix is The Churchill. Situated in a 9,000 square foot indoor/outdoor courtyard downtown on North First St. and Garfield, The Churchill features a unique a collection of established proprietors and start-up entrepreneurs offering artwork and collectibles, clothing, home goods, culinary adventures and more.
Inside you’ll find State Forty Eight, a homegrown (if you didn’t catch it, Arizona was the 48th state) clothing brand collection of t-shirts, sportswear, and other items, and Sauvage Bottle Shop, featuring over 40+ daily rotating wine selections made with emphasis on organic ingredients and natural winemaking like it used to be centuries ago before mass wine commercialization (and additives) became the norm.
At Gather you’ll find an intimate, for-benefit retail and lifestyle shop selling candles, handbags, ceramics, essential oils, and more, while at Cosas, owner Julie and her family lived in Guadalajara for four years (including her husband, Ryan, the proprietor of eatery Provecho), her shop aptly representing that region by selling a wide array of carefully hand selected textiles, totes, pillows, jewelry, trinkets and artwork made by Guadalajaran artisans. Walking in her store truly feels like stepping right into the heart of México and it’s evident the love and passion she has for her former hometown.
The Churchill community feel is even evident in how they refer to their entities as “Members” who don’t just have their businesses here but are also required to complete at least four hours of community service each month, as well as encouraged to become actively involved in The Churchill’s many non-profit fundraisers.
This true neighborhood gathering spot also has a wall of board and card games, further creating an ambiance of fun, sharing and community. Future plans include featuring regular fitness classes, curated speakers, pop-up artist galleries, art classes, sports viewing and other activities.
For the tastier side of what Phoenix has to offer, check out “Get your Eat on in Phoenix.”