Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips
For my first time to Arizona, I had quite the expert hook-up. As a guest of Visit Phoenix, I was able to tap their expert advice on how best to enjoy the desert landscape, and moreover, Phoenix’s blossoming downtown dining scene. Below are a few tips from my recent visit that I’d love to share and promote. For more information or help planning a trip of your
EATING & DRINKING
As anyone will tell you, I don’t shy from cocktails, particularly when they include tequila at their base. So, you can imagine how excited I was to arrive at our first of 2 hotel stays, the brand new FoundRe and be immediately invited to indulge in Happy Hour fare at their in-house MATCH Cuisine & Cocktails restaurant.
It took me all of 3 seconds to spy the refreshing Mercie‘lago cocktail on the menu. With tequila, lime and guava soda, it was practically good for me, not to mention the ideal tonic from my 5-hour flight. From there, I added an order of Jamaican Patties and their signature Match Salad (delicious) and felt pretty darn good as I sat on the terrace soaking in that Arizona sunshine.
From my initial dining experience to those that followed, it was a veritable flavor-party upon feast. One night of the tour, we even had two dinners! Phoenix dining is on the rise with loads of new eateries opening up downtown and cocktail menus becoming all the rage. Of the three restaurants we visited, our meal and drinks at The Gladly was a particular highlight. The whisky list and inventive cocktails are long but so is the creativity expressed in the shared plates. There’s nothing more convivial than sharing food, in my opinion, and this restaurant does it so well. Not only is the food good, but the atmosphere is that ideal blend of casual and yet pronounced, so that you feel great being part of it’s buzz.
HIKING, BIKING & BALLOONING
To compensate for all this culinary indulgence, I vowed to do some hiking. After all, isn’t that what one does in Arizona? So, that next morning, I got up early and Uber-ed myself over to the bullseye of the city; Camelback Mountain. With two routes to choose from, I went for the one that made my cab driver’s voice deepen with presumed reverence (Echo Canyon route.) The best advice I received was to hike early in the morning. Not just due to rising air temps (the weather was bizarrely cool while I was there, never going above 62 degrees) but mainly due to rising crowds, which swell after 9:30am. I can attest it was far less crowded on my way up at 7:45am than when I came back down around 9am, and for that I was grateful. The hike itself was not without challenge, mostly at the end where you are required to “scramble” or free-climb up the boulder-laden landscape. The scenery, however was all the reward needed.
The following day I hiked another peak, whose summit didn’t seem to elicit the same reverence from local Phoneix-ers, perhaps due to its proximity to downtown, but for me was way more of a challenge. Piestewa Peak (or Squaw Peak is it was once known) is a mere 10-minute drive from my hotel, Camby, in the Biltmore area of the city but that is a misnomer when it comes to difficulty. The hike up was far more of a trodden path than Camelback, but the last 100 yards or so are so darn narrow and straight vertical up to the very craggy peak that well, my fear of heights got the better of me. I was grateful, however that the final plateau still offered some pretty awesome views and conjured up enough of a sweat for me to feel accomplished. I do, however, vow to return and complete it but next time with a buddy.
Another must-do while in town is get up in a hot air balloon. With multiple companies out there to choose from, be sure to check the size / capacity of the basket. For a better, more personal ride, go with the smaller baskets and expect to be in the air for at least 45 minutes. The flight is not only exhilarating, particularly take-off and landing, but there’s no better perspective on an evolving urban landscape with crazy typography such as Phoenix, than from above.
CULTURE TIP: MUSIC INSTRUMENT MUSEUM (MIM)
I like museums. I don’t love museums. I appreciate music, but its not my core passion. So, I was a bit wary of having 3 hours of our itinerary devoted to the Music Instrument Museum. Oh, how very wrong I was. MIM, as its known, is hands down one of the most interesting museums I have ever visited. Housed in a contemporary structure, surrounded by desert, 15-minutes outside of the city, the museum is definitely a destination, but as I said before, a worthy one. Plus, the cafeteria food is quite good and all locally sourced. With multiple instruments showcased from every country in the world, the collection is easily one of the more impressive collections of say, anything, in the world. But, what makes the hotel so special is that its audio tour is frankly, the museum audio tour to end all audio tours. Sure, it has THE subject matter for audio, but it also uses the technology of location recognition so you simply walk up and the audio recognizes the country. I can’t tell you how much I learned about various music styles, the instruments that define them and even various obscure cultures. Truly fascinating.
Splitting my 4 nights between two new-ish hotels, theFoundRe and the Camby, I was able to better appreciate the diversity within downtown Phoenix. Located in different areas, the two properties are vastly different in personality and style, though both have been recently refurbished from former hospitality properties. With the FoundRe, everything in the guest rooms was new, brand new bathrooms and furnishings, whereas the Camby was more of a soft renovation with basic stylings, paint color and linen changes in the rooms. The lobbies and dining spaces however, were both gleaming in their newness. The FoundRe decor is considerably more industrial and quirky, while the Camby has a more contemporary, West Coast feel with aqua accents, plush furnishings and a separate bar, the Bees Knees, modeled after a speakeasy. Fortunately both scored excellent on one of the most important things to me: bed comfort. Given they both have such strong personas, I would urge clients to choose based on location and style preferences.