I can’t believe it’s been a year, and I can’t believe the year it’s been. I never in a lifetime would have pictured myself moving to Phoenix—leaving Brooklyn behind, putting 2,500 miles between myself and the person I normally do life with, not to mention signing up for living in transition and all the uncertainty that comes with that. As this year closes in on itself, though, I can say as one who’s done it: Phoenix is a really, really cool place to live. It’s full of foodies and makers and lovers of the outdoors. Every other person you meet seems to be a Midwestern transplant; in my mind, they’ve made their pilgrimages, in overstuffed station wagons, from Chicago and Madison and Minneapolis in search of mild winters and endless sunshine. And they found it.
If I were to do it again, I’d get a place in Arcadia or downtown and I’d set up a lovely life like the one I’ve been living this year. If you ever find yourself in this sprawling desert city, for a year or a week or a decade, here are some things you should do. This isn’t a definitive list—I need at least five more years to sample every good restaurant in this city—but before I embarked on this journey last September I searched high and low for a list like this and couldn’t find one, so it’s a start. If you know this place, speak up and let me know what I’ve missed.
Citizen Public House (Scottsdale)
Start here. CPH, as I call it fondly, is my favorite restaurant in Scottsdale by far. The food is amazing, and the cocktails are even better. I recommend starting with the Original Chopped Salad (so famous it has its own Facebook page), then getting the scallops, with a Persian or a Moe’scow Mule to accompany it. Bonus: these guys just opened a second restaurant in Phoenix called The Gladly.
Federal Pizza (Phoenix)
Best pizza around, but the thing I really love about Federal is the atmosphere. Cute, fun… not too fancy, but not too casual. They make their own homemade wine coolers, which are delicious. Perfect date spot, especially since there’s an ice cream place right across the street.
North Italian Farmhouse (Phoenix)
North also has amazing pizza, but I like their salads even better. They’re hearty and full of veggies and grains. The space is big and open with really cute “farmhouse” touches, and the outdoor seating is superb.
Another great date spot! This place is known for its wine and bruschetta specials. It gets crowded, but they have a few different locations. Try the Arcadia location on a weeknight for some of the best wine in Phoenix in a low-key, casual setting.
La Grande Orange (Phoenix)
I once made the mistake of going to LGO for brunch and ordering a salad. Do not go for brunch unless you are going to order some serious food. Better yet, just go for dinner. The food is great, and the grocery section has some fun gifts.
Brat Haus (Scottsdale)
This is my go-to. If I could go to Citizen Public House every week, I would, but then I would be broke, and much too full. So I go to Brat Haus instead! Great brats, fun finger food, and a super chill environment. The servers are amazing, and the beer list is good, if a little hop-heavy for my taste. Plus, they have life-size Jenga, and they screen B-movies on Sunday nights.
The Herb Box Market (Scottsdale)
The Herb Box restaurant is okay, but what I really like is the market. It’s healthy, upscale takeout—things like salmon, grain salads, and roasted veggies. Super convenient for picking up dinner on the go on a weeknight, especially since they have a entree-and-two-sides combo deal. And the people who work there are really nice.
The Mission (Scottsdale)
Surprisingly, I never eat Mexican food in Arizona. That said, I have eaten Mexican food at The Mission, and it is good. It’s fancy Mexican, and not the most authentic, but they have quirky cocktails (like an avocado margarita, which tastes better than it sounds).
Good salads, fresh veggies, and excellent cocktails. This is another place with really cozy outdoor seating. And there’s ice cream next door.
Best ice cream place in Phoenix. They even have retro candy. I always hit up Churn after dinner at Windsor or Federal. The line can get long, but it’s worth it.
The first time I went to FnB, I had hot pink deviled eggs. This place is fun and experimental, with a focus on farm-fresh ingredients. They change up the menu pretty often, and the servers are really knowledgeable.
Chop Shop (Scottsdale)
Chop Shop! Where did I lunch in Scottsdale before you opened? This place has the most delicious salads, smoothies, and juices, and they have little mini chocolate bars so you can have lunch desert. (Lunch desert is the second of the three deserts of the day, in case you were curious.) I recommend the beet salad, and I add avocado. Freshest greens in town, hands down.
Cartel Coffee Lab (Scottsdale)
Whenever I’m missing hipster Brooklyn, I head to Cartel for pour-over coffee served by artsy men in mustaches and suspenders. You can relax at the reclaimed wood tables and peruse the paintings from local artists. Hint: the wifi password is espresso.
Hanny’s serves food, but I recommend sitting at the bar and choosing a drink from their list of 1947-inspired cocktails. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable, and the atmosphere is kind of magical; this building was a department store in its first, mid-century incarnation, and sitting at the bar, with the beautiful mezzanine overhead, feels like a total time warp.
Mabel’s on Main (Scottsdale)
Another step back in time, Mabel’s has a sort of flapper feel. Dim lighting, plush seating, and swinging music lend to the jazzy atmosphere. They have an excellent (and very well-priced) happy hour menu. This is a great jumping off point for a night out in Old Town.
In New York, it is customary for Daniel and me to empty a few beers into a Nalgene and tote it to the movie theater. Movies are just so much better with [a bit of] beer. At Filmbar, you can drink in the theater, no sneaking around required. It’s a little tiki bar-esque, which isn’t normally my style, but they play indie movies and have a great selection on tap.
Angel’s Trumpet Ale House (Phoenix)
The very best beer selection around probably belongs to Angel’s Trumpet Ale House. Frequently rotating taps with some unusual picks, great bartenders, and they serve their flights in a muffin tin. I’ve never eaten there, but the food looks amazing, too.
I’m proud to say that I climbed Camelback twice this year. Not an easy hike for a super-novice hiker like me, but the views at the top are gorgeous and worth it. Don’t be intimidated by the ultramarathoners running up the mountain in ruffled Lululemon skirts. You don’t have to be like them. You can get to the top on your own time. Just bring water and hike early. (As in, 6am if you want to get parking at the Echo Canyon trail head.)
The Greenbelt (Scottsdale)
Green space galore! The Greenbelt is something like twenty miles of running and biking trails, dog parks, and golf courses. It stretches from Tempe up through Scottsdale and is a perfect place to enjoy the sunshine. Skip it the day after a rainstorm though, as it turns into a swamp.
Papago Park (Phoenix)
I can’t believe it took me so long to get over to the Hole in the Rock in Papago Park. It’s not really a hike, per se. You park at the bottom and walk up some rocks at a very slight incline. For these seven minutes of minimal exertion, you’ll be rewarded with a super cool view through this hole in the rock. I hear this place gets busy when it’s cool out, but choose a hot day and you’ll have a super peaceful, breathtaking view all to yourself.
Page Springs Cellars (Cornville)
I’m not sure why it surprised me, but Arizona has some pretty good wines. Page Springs is about two (scenic) hours north of Phoenix. Their tasting room is comfy and casual, and there is a deck out back that overlooks a peaceful creek. The wines are delicious and really reasonably priced, too.
The Inn at 410 (Flagstaff)
Daniel and I went to Flagstaff in December and had a blast, thanks in part to the Inn at 410. The innkeeper, Gordon, is so hospitable; we booked last minute and arrived very late on a freezing, snowy evening, and there was hot tea and bourbon waiting for us, which we enjoyed by the fireplace. I recommend this place as homebase for anyone exploring the Flagstaff area.
The Madison Improvement Club (Phoenix)
I spotted the Madison while driving around in a rental car on my very first day in Phoenix. I didn’t have a home yet. We didn’t have an office yet. But I saw the serene white building, with its stylized orange OM logo, and I said, “I think there is yoga there.” I visited with my coworkers the next day, and we were pleased to find not only yoga, but spinning and a full smoothie bar. And—get this—it was the Madison’s opening weekend.
Since then, this place has been part of my AZ weekly ritual. Alex’s class is always a good time and his style is funky. I can count on Brian’s Saturday morning class to kick my weekend off to a positive start. And Sydney at the s.e.e.d. cafe will hook you up with the most wonderful post-yoga treats. I’m a big fan of the Scooter Monkey smoothie (banana and peanut butter), with added blueberries to make a PB & J.
Arizona Training Lab (Phoenix)
I am obsessed with this place. I only wish I had discovered it sooner! I started going to AZ Training Lab three times a week in July, and now I can’t imagine my week without it. The workouts are short but challenging, and Dave and Ben are literally the most encouraging, least intimidating coaches I have worked with. I’ve seen a measurable difference in my strength since I started going to their metabolic blast classes, too. When I first started these classes, I couldn’t do ten burpees; this morning, I did at least thirty.
Lululemon Scottsdale Quarter (Scottsdale)
Free yoga on Sunday mornings! Can’t beat that. I love that Lulu’s community yoga classes can be held outside most of the year in Arizona. There are also community classes at Lululemon Biltmore in Phoenix.
Sole Sports (Scottsdale)
This is my favorite running store in Phoenix. The staff members know their stuff, and the store is really invested in the local running community. They have free group runs along the canal multiple times a week—simply show up ready to run and you’ll have a whole slew of friendly running buddies. Sole Sports also holds pretty frequent workshops and hosts guests speakers, and they have a couple other locations too.
Mountainside Fitness (Scottsdale)
I had a hard time finding a gym when I first moved here, and I ultimately went with a mix of yoga classes at the Madison, running group at Sole Sports, and strength training at AZ Training Lab. I was a member of Mountainside Fitness during the hottest months of the summer, though, and it’s a quality gym. Nice, new machines, very clean space, and a good class selection. I highly recommend the Tabata class with Amanda.
The Union at Biltmore (Phoenix)
I love wandering around the Union, which is a collection of independent, design-y shops within the larger Biltmore mall. (Side note: apparently in Arizona, a mall is called a “fashion park.” I am from Illinois, where a mall is a mall is a mall.) I like grabbing an iced coffee then hitting up Frances for jewelry and gifts and For the People to gaze with appreciation at things I love but don’t need.
Modern Manor (Phoenix)
Ever seen a small warehouse full of mid-century furniture and trinkets in impeccable condition? I hadn’t, until I stopped by Modern Manor. Its curators have excellent eyes for design. Obviously, Daniel was in heaven.
Hard Goods Co. (Phoenix)
I first visited Hard Goods with Daniel, back when it was located next to Churn. Brandon has since relocated to a space within Modern Manor, where you can admire his amazing concrete creations. I thoroughly enjoy following him on Instagram, where he posts almost daily photos of his Brussels Griffon, Pearl, who has a gnarly beard that matches his.
odds and ends
Phoenix Community Acupuncture (Phoenix)
When people ask me what I will miss most about Phoenix, I say I will miss my acupuncturist most. Mayo is a true healer. The woman is gifted. Just talking to her makes me feel awesome. I’ve been seeing her roughly once a week for the last few months, and I am about to go through some serious Mayo withdrawal. Not only do I feel like I’m in excellent hands when she’s needling me, but she does acupuncture community style, which means you’re in a room full of other people getting needled. I did community acupuncture in New York as well, and it is not as weird as it sounds. Rather, you get to soak in the good energy of a bunch of other like-minded people AND you get your acupuncture for a fraction of the cost of a private session. In fact, the rates at PCA are sliding scale, starting at $15. For me, this means I get to visit more often, which, in the long run, means I’m probably getting greater benefit from the treatment. It also means I get to be around Mayo’s good vibes more often, and that makes me happy. Highly, highly recommend.
The Saguaro (Scottsdale)
If you need a place to stay, definitely hit up the Saguaro. This hotel is loud and colorful, the service is great, and the pool is awesome. There is music playing underwater. (I know!) The hotel has a cute little spa, and the whole place always smells amazing. Plus, they always have cucumber- or fruit-infused water near the front door, which makes my day. Guests can rent beach cruisers, and the hotel is in the middle of Old Town, so you don’t even need to rent a car. Two thumbs up!
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (Scottsdale)
SMoCA is quite digestible, with three or four small exhibitions at any given time, and I have found these exhibitions, along with the museum’s programming, to be very well-curated. Plus, the building is a work of art in itself. Admission is free on Thursday evenings, and the lounge takes over on Friday nights.
Scottsdale Public Library (Scottsdale)
If you’re going to be in Scottsdale for any lengthy period of time, get a library card. This library is spacious and airy with plenty of natural light, and it’s always full of patrons. I love it when a library feels alive. Great place to peruse for books and movies or chill for awhile reading.
I tried out a few different salons before I settled on Indielocks and Erin. I wish I’d found her sooner. Her place is chill and she’s someone you would want to get a beer with after your haircut.
Teres Nail Bar (Scottsdale)
I am NOT the type of person who gets pedicures. I’ve had maybe four in my life, and three of them were forced upon me by others. But one day I was feeling a little blah and I decided to treat myself to an express pedicure at Teres. Fantastic idea. The place is big and clean and well designed, and the staff is friendly. My express pedicure only cost $20 and lasted a full month. And I really like how they have the nail bar set up—you could bring a few friends and all be able to have a conversation, making it a great group spot.
Canine Preferred (Scottsdale)
After taking Barbara four times to another dog groomer who shall not be named, I had to make a switch. She was absolutely terrified of the other place. I don’t know what was going on there, but I have a hunch that they just weren’t treating her with the love and affection she’s come to expect from every single human being she encounters. She’s spoiled. I know. Anyway, I took her to Canine Preferred, where they love her and talk to her in soothing tones and do all the things real dog whisperers do to calm an anxious dog. Now she loves going to the groomer again, which is such a big deal to me that I keep taking her there despite the fact that they do not take credit cards. (This is the sole cash/check only business that I keep in my life, so that is saying a lot.) And her hair always looks absolutely gorgeous when I pick her up!
Groceries! We all need them, and Sprouts has them. This place has a really large selection of organic produce and personal care products. My grocery shopping is split between Sprouts and farmers markets for produce and Trader Joe’s for other basics. Definitely recommend the bulk bins at Sprouts for stocking up on pantry items.
Singh Farms (Scottsdale)
It’s difficult to describe this place. Singh Farms is part desert oasis, part farm market, part magical hippie commune. The Singh family has taken a plot of land that truly shouldn’t be lush and somehow made it so with their powerful compost. The farm itself is a maze of thriving greenery and bright flowers with multiple secluded bowers in which you can sip fresh juices in the shade. They’re only open for a few hours on Saturday mornings, but the produce and the pantry items (honey and jams and bread) are amazing. They also usually have someone preparing some delicious lunch item (like beet burgers or corn on the cob) and sometimes have cooking demos as well.
Harkins Camelview (Scottsdale)
This is my favorite movie theater for seeing movies alone. They play indie movies and documentaries, and it looks like what I imagine people in the fifties imagined UFOs looked like.