Mix a sprawling metropolitan city that happens to be the sixth largest in the United States with year-round warm weather and an abundance of mountain and park trails, and you’ll arrive in Phoenix, Arizona. Encompassing neighboring cities, the collective is known as Greater Phoenix, which allows the region to become a melting pot for culture and entertainment. Visitors can experience the burgeoning Latin-inspired culinary scene, artist community, organic farms with sustainable practices, spas and picturesque foothills for outdoor adventures thousands of feet above ground. While many other cities, particularly in the Midwest and east coast, experience snowstorms during the winter, this west coast region serves sunshine with temperatures hitting the high 60s during the coldest of months. Whether a weekend or a week, a visit to Greater Phoenix is a scenic break for you, two or a group of friends.
1. Farm Kitchen at The Farm at South Mountain
Located on a working farm, Farm Kitchen’s food—a variety of cheeses, artisan breads, garden salads, organic chicken wraps and pastas—is truly farm-to-table since many of the items are harvested or prepared on-site. For large groups, an outdoor picnic party can be arranged with communal-style meals served under big umbrellas and one long table. While visiting, guests should keep two things in mind: when strolling about the property, don’t feed the chickens in the coop since they have their own food and refrain from plucking and noshing on spinach leaves when passing by. The latter is quite tempting for herbivores because the leaves look really lush.
2. Wind Cave Trail
Officially located in Mesa, part of Greater Arizona and the Valley’s east side, this park reaches over 2,800 feet of elevation. It’s a moderate trail littered with boulders, jagged rocks plus a few peaks of smooth paths, so be sure to wear appropriate footwear; flip flops will not suffice, even though the weather begs for them. For a heart-pumping climb and workout, head to the top where city views are breathtaking. There’s an unspoken rule that this is a place of tranquility, so people will quietly greet each other and keep conversations close. If hiking halfway is a better fit, no need to worry; the views are still stunning. Visitors can take the trek solo or commission a hiking and meditation specialist. Best time to go? Sunrise.
3. Joyride Taco House
Photo courtesy of Visa Mesa
With a menu inspired by daily life and cuisine in Mexico, Joyride Taco House specializes in tacos with slow-roasted meats tucked into housemade tortillas. For something a little sweet and flavorful, opt for grilled corn topped with lime aioli, cotija cheese and paprika paired with one of their margaritas or spiked aguas frescas. Since authentic ambiance is also important at this laidback restaurant, festive colors abound in custom made concrete tiles imported from Mexico, which create a colorful prism.
4. Downtown Gilbert
Photo courtesy of Visa Mesa
Visitors will find wine bars, barbecue joints, taco shops and more in this historical neighborhood. For fun, head to Postino Wine Café (pictured above), which offers bocce ball courts; visit a family-friendly splash pad; or host a picnic underneath the iconic Gilbert Water Tower Plaza.
5. Queen Creek Olive Mill
Take a tour of Queen Creek Olive Mill with complimentary tastings of oils, olives and tapenades. After, eat on-site at the mill’s Tuscan-inspired eatery, which offers paninis, gelato, espresso and farmhouse entrees like Salsiccia mussels, a PEI mussels and sausage medley served with Italian bread. During most seasons, eating in the olive grove is an option. For goods to go, shop in the large gourmet market, which is filled with edible oils and specialty goods like chocolate, sauces and pasta plus natural beauty products (made by the owner’s wife) via Olive Spa Home & Body Shop. Go early to avoid the crowds and ready to eat; the smell of foods pleasantly lingers in the air and tempts palates.
6. Jarrod’s Coffee, Tea & Gallery
Photo courtesy of Visa Mesa
It’s anything but tea time in this multipurpose shop, which sells everything from one-of-a-kind hand-carved tribal blades to murals to jewelry. Want something that’s marked as sold? Inquire within because the manager may be able to contact the artist on your behalf. The beverage selection includes tea; coffee; smoothies; and ice cream-based “espresso-yo-self” drinks such as mocha-my-day, cinnamon bang and vanilla yum. There’s an assortment of baked goods, too, for a nosh while you shop. For people, particularly telecommuters who slip in a little work during their vacation, Jarrod’s is sure to stimulate good creative energy.
7. Desert Botanical Garden
Accredited by the American Association of Museums, this 50-acre desert-garden showcases a variety of international plants via trailside plots, temporary art exhibitions and seasonal events. Two-hour classes for adults and families are also available and include vegetable container gardening, organic gardening and a cocktail class with ingredients participants can grow at home. Additionally, Music in the Garden, a spring concert series featuring local jazz, blues and folk performers, runs now through June 23.
Carolyn is travel/lifestyle writer and essayist who can pack her luggage in 30 minutes. When she isn’t working on her forthcoming book of essays, she likes to look for doughnut shops in any city she visits.