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Vacation Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona

Tourist Guide

Down in the Valley
A New Spirit in the Old West

The Phoenix skyline at dusk
Phoenix Skyline


Today, discover downtown Phoenix and its deep Southwestern roots, still alive and well within its southern city trenches. Begin with a hearty breakfast at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles in south Phoenix, about half an hour from Scottsdale. Ignore the tough industrial neighborhood — this place has the classiest Southern fried chicken in all of Arizona. Order the "KK's" combo — one quarter of a juicy chicken, two fluffy waffles, grits and two eggs done your way. Matt's Big Breakfast, a 1950s style diner with great Belgian waffles, premium bacon and sausage from the artisan Pork Shop in Queen Creek and free-range eggs, is another good choice for a morning pick-me-up.

The Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art celebrates Native American culture and history
Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art

Now that you're satiated, head over to the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art, just a few miles from Matt's on Central Avenue. The gorgeous center is recognized internationally for its fascinating collections celebrating Indian life and Arizona as it was hundreds of years ago. After a few hours admiring the handicrafts and history, it's time for a five-minute drive to fast-forward to the future with a visit to the Arizona Science Center. This big, gray concrete building is filled with interactive exhibits that teach as well as entertain (be sure to check out the planetarium). You'll also want to stroll through the adjacent Historic Heritage Square to witness a striking example of Phoenix's Victorian past, most notably the circa-1800s Rosson House and the Phoenix Museum of History.

For lunch, what could be more fitting than a fine Mexican feast at one of Arizona's oldest and most celebrated restaurants, Los Dos Molinos? It's mere minutes away by car, back towards south Phoenix, in an old adobe home with stunning views of South Mountain. The Sonoran dishes, like the adovada ribs made incendiary with Hatch red chiles and sided with flame-throwing beans, rice and salsa, are a taste of true desert heat. A margarita is a must, both for its excellent recipe and to help extinguish the fire in your mouth.

You'll be safely full enough now to explore another Southwestern treasure located just a ten minute drive away, the Phoenix Ranch Market. This enormous Mexican grocery store and deli is a mouthwatering adventure of homemade cheeses, pickled peppers, chorizo, fresh tortillas, sweetbreads, salsas, three-foot-tall cakes, tropical fruit agua frescas and exotic selections from the 80-foot-long fresh meat/seafood case. Listen to thumping mariachi music and summon your willpower to avoid ordering a second lunch from the well-stocked takeout counters brimming with green chile pork burros, taquitos, tamales, quesadillas, soft tacos and much more.

Los Dos Molinos in Phoenix is one of Arizona's oldest restaurants
Los Dos Molinos

There's still more desert magic to explore. Continue south by car about 20 miles to the Gila River Indian Community for an authentic Arizona experience at Rawhide, an 1880s-themed Western town with a great steakhouse, old time saloon and curio shops. Boasting mechanical bull rides, a desert train, stagecoach rides, rock climbing, a shooting gallery, gold panning and theatrical street fights and stunts from cowboy characters, it's as much fun for adults as it is for kids.

After all the rough and tumble of Rawhide, you'll want a civilized dinner, which you'll find at the elegant Kai, the flagship restaurant of The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, also located within the Gila Community. Kai (which means "seed" in the Pima language) appropriately features foods indigenous to Native American culture, but prepared in an upscale fashion. Many ingredients are locally farmed by Native Americans and are crafted into exquisite dishes by award-winning consulting chef Janos Wilder. Breathtaking creations include butter-basted braised lobster tail with lobster coral, avocado mousse and teardrop tomato salsa heaped on fry bread, skillet-seared prairie squab breast with oxtail and Merquez sausage, or the espanole frittata with purslane, smoked paprika, cuitlacoche mojo, pequillo peppers and charred tomatillo crema.

Bar Bianco in Phoenix features great boutique wines and a speakeasy atmosphere
Bar Bianco

If you're in the mood for something a bit more casual, drive about 30 minutes north to Quiessence and the Farm at South Mountain. Supporting local, seasonal and sustainable practices, many of the ingredients are grown right there on the farm. The menu touts California-American delights like seafood cream and roasted garlic soup and Arizona Young Farm chicken with roasted squash, baby Roma tomatoes and basil.

As you head back toward central Phoenix, make a quick detour off the freeway for a nightcap at Bar Bianco. You'll need to brave the crowds, however, in order to grab a seat at the cozy speakeasy bar for a great glass of boutique wine. By the way, if you're a pizza fanatic, you'll be tempted to sleep under the bushes out front so you can be first in line when the adjacent Pizzeria Bianco opens next door. Chef Chris Bianco cranks out critically-acclaimed artisan pizzas, and with a no reservations policy, the lines start forming long before the doors open.

Continue to Day 3


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Related Content

Arizona Travel Guide

More Phoenix Restaurants

Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau official website

Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau official website

* Images courtesy of Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau and of their respective properties.

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