72 Hours in Phoenix

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Last fall, I received a travel award to present my research at a conference in Phoenix.  Since I hadn't been to AZ since I was supperr young, I had the bf meet me there after the conference and make a trip out of it. It was such an interesting city, the people were so nice, and it was a great balance of activities and indulgences!

Hopefully this post can give you some recs on where to go / what to do during your next stay. I would love to hear about your trip and any suggestions you may have!


TOP fours:

places / Adventures:

  • Superstition Mountains (35 min outside of Phoenix)
  • Tempe for bar scene, Oktoberfest, & Arizona State game day
  • Piestewa Peak (15 minute drive from Downtown Phoenix)
  • Scottsdale Waterfront 

    drinks/Bars: 

    • Four Peaks Brewery 
    • Goldwater Brewery 
    • The Yard // Culinary Dropout 
    • Gertrude's 

    eats/Restuarants: 

    • Crujuente Tacos 
    • La Piazza PHX 
    • La Bocca
    • Baked Bear

    Our Budget stay: Tempe Airbnb

     Our Airbnb location in Tempe.. was really easy to get to Scottsdale and Tempe, and was only $50/night!

    Our Airbnb location in Tempe.. was really easy to get to Scottsdale and Tempe, and was only $50/night!

    Since I knew I was going to stay downtown during the conference, we decided to stay out in Tempe for our vacation. This turned out to be a great call, because the downtown was more dead than I had expected (the Diamondbacks had justtt ended their season right before we came). We were located right in between downtown Tempe and Scottsdale, which made it really easy to get to either place, and I definitely recommend staying in any of these areas over downtown. 

    The interesting thing about Phoenix is that it is super spread out .. so it had a lot of different districts but we had to drive / uber in between them.  Once you got to one of the districts though, you could see, do, and try a lot by walking.  In general, we're not big itinerary people, but we try to plan out our general days and always look into food / drink options before we go.


    Day 1: Camelback Mountain // Downtown Explorations // Afternoon in Tempe

     View from the top of Camelback. Doesn't really look it, but that's wayy far down

    View from the top of Camelback. Doesn't really look it, but that's wayy far down

    On the last day of the conference, I roped a couple fellow attendees into an early hike up Camelback Mountain. I consider myself to be in good shape.. I'm a marathoner and working out is part of my daily routine.. so trust me when I say this: it's not like a "hands off" NBD stroll.. it's 100% a hike. And going on a Saturday morning, even starting at 6:45AM.. it was crowded! So if you're there for multiple days, avoid taking this hike on the weekend, if you don't like the idea of a lot of people trying to get through small spaces.. 

    We went up the Echo Canyon Trail (said to be harder) and down the Cholla Trail (said to be easier), because as any hiker knows: going down is way worse.  It was such a fun way to start the day (took about 2 and a half hours), and I absolutely recommend going before you leave.  Read: properly rated. 

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    Kaleidoscope Juice 

    This place was one of my favorite places to eat in downtown Phoenix. Had a bunch of fresh ingredients (vegan, vegetarian, paleo options!) 

    The picture at the top of the post was taken at Piestewa Peak. Honestly, it was just as good of a hike if not better than Camelback! I absolutely recommend doing the hike at sunset.. the result was one of the most beautiful views. The recent name change of the mountain is a little controversial (used to be called Squaw), so I'd give the Lyft/Uber driver the address to the trail head, and wait until you get closer to there to say the name.. unless you want to have a long conversation about heritage.. etc. Remember: I said the people were nice and chatty here. 

    After hiking Camelback, I checked out of the conference hotel and met up with the boyfriend. We did a little downtown exploring, including stopping in at the Phoenix Public Open Air Market, before heading off to Tempe to check in to our Airbnb. 

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    A Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives stop, this pizza place was the perfect post-hike dinner. I love pizza with a ton of topping options and a really good crust, so this place was perfect for me. 

    We ended up in town the same weekend as the Four Peaks Brewery Oktoberfest in Tempe Beach park. The set up was so cool, with live music and a ton of vendors, but it was unfortunately over 100˚F and nothing sounded less appealing than a heavy bratwurst.  We spent a lot of our time trying to find decent shade to hang out in.. definitely was a much 'cooler' scene at night though!  

    On our way to Tempe, we wound up in a "self-driving" uber ! Given the excitement of just getting there and the newness of the system, we thought it was the coolest thing.  The car still required 2 engineers to monitor it, but for about half of the ride, they let the car drive itself! The system is beta testing now in Phoenix and Pittsburgh (maybe has since expanded). The orange and blue globs in the picture to the left is like a realtime report of the car scanning its environment and registering the speeds of other cars / objects. Definitely a futuristic experience.  

    We spent our afternoon bar-hopping, watching college football, and enjoying the sun.  We're not ones to have set plans, so we basically just stopped in wherever we thought the crowd/place looked interesting. Some of the places we stopped in: La Patron, Handlebar, and Z terra for a quick dinner. Overall La Patron was my favorite, though given where we were, I was craving Mexican... I mean does it really get much better than a refreshing marg and free chips?? 

    At night we hung out at this bar called the Yard (Culinary Dropout), which was right up our alley. We're big activities people, and don't necessarily like just standing around and drinking when going out (with some exceptions, always). The set up was really neat in a big open space, and they had a couple back-yard games, like bags, shuffle board, ping pong, etc.

      The Yard  // Culinary Dropout in Tempe. Pictured: view from shuffle board table, bags court to the right, ping pong tables to the left, full bar ahead

    The Yard // Culinary Dropout in Tempe. Pictured: view from shuffle board table, bags court to the right, ping pong tables to the left, full bar ahead

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    DAY 2: BOTANICAL GARDENS // BRUNCH // SCOTTSDALE

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    Sunday morning we got up early and headed to the Desert Botanical Gardens. The entry fee was $20, and since we figured we'd see more cactuses around, we'd rather spend that money on some fun drinks / apps. So we posted up in the Garden's restaurant Gertude's for a brunch cocktail and appetizer. Honestly it was the best decision.  The staff there was the friendliest we encountered by far, the setting was pretty and floral, and the drinks were super unique.  I got this cactus spritzer, and he got this whiskey truffle mushroom drink (which we're still unsure how we felt about). Also, the ricotta donuts were bomb.  

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    GertruDE's

    After pre-brunch, we headed to Scottsdale for real brunch (apparently we are like hobbits) and a day of exploring. We went to Daily Dose in Scottsdale and got their mimosa deal ($20 for a bottle of champagne and a carafe of your choice juice).  Their food was a little on the greasy side for me (even though they did have a healthy section!), but it has a contemporary vibe and was perfect for catching the 12PM NFL game. We ended up walking around afterwards, checking out a variety of different places:  Scottsdale waterfront, the fashion square, and a lot of different 5th Avenue boutiques and shops.  

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    Goldwater Brewing 

    After spending the day wandering around aimlessly, we headed back to Tempe for a sit down dinner at La Bocca, which was probably our favorite meal of the trip!  They do half off bottles of wine on Sunday nights, so that was a no brainer.  The pizza was again big in toppings with an awesome crust, and we got a fall harvest goat cheese salad to split on the side. We had officially eaten and drank our way north to south and called it quits for the night. 

    Any new place we go, we love to check out (and rate) the local breweries (find us on Untappd!) We got flights at Goldwater Brewing Co. . I loved the Scotchee Ale and Erlich Bochmon brews. Because AZ, they even had a cactus beer called desert rose.. which honestly tasted to me like a pink-colored sour beer (far left beer pictured).  

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    La Bocca 


    Day 3: HIking Superstition ridge // flat iron // arcadia

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    On the third day, we rented a car from the airport and drove out about 35 minutes to the Superstition Mountains. We took the Siphon Ridge Trail up to Flatiron peak.. and I'm not going to lie, it was tough! It was a total 5.5 miles out and back with a 2800 elevation gain. The whole thing ended up taking us about 6 hours. 

    It wasn't at all crowded like some sites said. We were actually lucky to have a couple people there to help guide us because the trail was not well marked.  For the first 1.5 miles, the trail starts out slow and easy with a low incline, before getting to the tough part.  You have to use your hands at parts, and pull yourself up a couple of times. It's not for the inexperienced or anyone not wanting a workout on their vacation. If you do this hike, you will need: 

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    • more than enough water. I honestly suggest a camelback.. 2 liters was not enough for us in the Arizona heat 
    • hiking boots.. The rocks are loose and the boulders are very slippery at parts, so it was actually pretty miserable going down in our sneakers. 
    • long pants and/or high socks. There are some prickly bushes and you'll want to protect your legs
    • snacks / lunch! We brought Rx bars and fruit, which worked out great 
    • a keen eye.  The trails are marked with white dots that are kind of small. We got lost for a bit on our way up, but eventually made it. 

    The view at the top is absolutely worth it though.  The nice part is that the top is so big, there's a ton of room to camp out and not worry about being in the way of other people. 

    On the way down go SUPER slow. I scooted down on my butt a couple of times... no shame. It takes a long time to get down, so make sure to save yourself more than enough water. Overall, if you're properly prepared it's an awesome hike and so much fun

    For dinner, we needed tacos. We hadn't been out to Arcadia yet, and since we had the car still, we decided to drive a little bit to Crujuente Tacos. Overall, it had decently cheap drinks, amazing tacos, and very relatable bathroom wall decor. We capped off the night with huge ice cream sandwiches from the Baked Bear in Tempe.. think about 2 scoops of ice cream smushed between 2 freshly baked cookies. I mean, with that hike, we earned it right?? 


    DAY 4: Brunch // FOUR PEAKS BREWERY // departure

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    On our last day, we only really had time to hit brunch at Snooze and the Four Peaks brewery before our flight back to STL. Snooze has a ton of options for breakfast, so while it's not "local," it was still really good.  We hit the one in the Tempe location before heading to the brewery. After the hike the day before, we were pretty exhausted, so just hanging out at the bar enjoying a flight was really all we wanted to do.  The brewery was recently bought by Anheuser-Busch, so to any craft-beer aficionado, they may have become a little too "main-stream".  I loved the beers though and gave all of them 3.5/5 ratings or above on Untappd. If you go in the fall, their Double Pumpkin Porter is a must try! 

     


    Overall: Phoenix was a great balance of activities and indulgences.. let me know about your experience! I'd love to hear 

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    72 hours in Phoenix Arizona - microtomacro