How do we love the East Valley? Let us show you the ways.
We’ve compiled a massive list of places and things that make us feel plugged into our little corner of the Phoenix metro area — the spots we can’t wait to take out of town friends and the things we like knowing are here even if we don’t personally feel the need to smoke a hand-rolled stogie or sail through the air on a trapeze.
It’s by no means comprehensive, thanks to limited space and differing tastes, but it’s a start — our cheat sheet of local treasures it’s taken us years to discover. We’ll share more of our picks in a special online report.
Sign up for a library card in Chandler, Mesa or Tempe, and you can check out a Culture Pass good for free admission for two to four people at more than a dozen big-name attractions all over the Valley, including Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo. Libraries have a limited number of passes, and they’re available on a first-come, first-served basis. Info: theculturepass.com.
4991 S. Alma School Road, Suite 101, Chandler
This modern, not-too-uppity restaurant specializing in New American cuisine has a 25-foot floor-to-ceiling wine wall with more than 400 selections good enough to land Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” in 2009 and 2010. A la carte Sunday brunch features complimentary bottomless mimosas and bellinis. Info: (480) 883-3773 or corkrestaurant.net.
127 W. Main St, Mesa
Undoubtedly the most eccentric offering in sleepy downtown Mesa, this shop carries comic books, pop culture art and collectibles, locally designed clothing, custom costumes, jewelry and zombie survival gear. It also hosts events, from monster-making workshops and sci-fi fashion shows to a steampunk street fair. Info: (480) 964-4624 or evermorenevermore.com.
The Coffee Shop at Agritopia
3000 E. Ray Road, Gilbert
The homemade cupcakes at this shop, baked by sisters Jessica Cuff and Jenna Flowers, were good enough to win over “Ace of Cakes” star and guest judge Duff Goldman on a June 29, 2010, episode of “Cupcake Wars” on Food Network. Try flavors like horchata, s’mores, and coffee and cigarettes while you explore the shop’s neighborhood, a residential community built around an urban farm. Info: (480) 279-3144 or thecoffeeshopatagritopia.com.
Sun Devil Liquors
235 N. Country Club Drive, Mesa
From the outside, it looks like the kind of place where a stalled car engine could lead to your own personal “Judgment Night.” Or, at the very least, an offer of “party favors” from a dude in a trenchcoat who calls himself “your Candy Man.” But descend to this mom-and-pop liquor store’s basement, and you’ll find the Cellar & Pub, a cozy lounge that hosts live musicians, local artists’ work, and $5 wine and beer tastings. Info: (480) 834-5050 or sundevilcellar.com.
7215 S. Power Road, Queen Creek
Owner Kevin Dettler is one of fewer than 120 people in the world who’ve bagged the Safari Club International’s “North American 29” — all the big-game species on the continent. All 29 of his “trophies” — taxidermied creatures from polar bear to musk ox — are on lifelike display in the restaurant’s 3,000-square-foot dining room. You can order classic steakhouse fare as well as wild game dishes such as elk and buffalo meatloaf or antelope smoked sausage. Info: (480) 840-3981 or trophyssteakhouse.com.
Mesa’s permanent sculpture collection
The 30-plus sculptures keeping silent watch over Mesa’s walkable downtown square mile comprise abstract modern art, wildlife, whimsical characters such as Humpty Dumpty and an array of human likenesses inspired by real people, many of whom lived and worked in the city. Find the story behind each sculpture and print out a map for a self-guided statue tour at downtownmesa.com.
Urban Tea Loft
11 W. Boston St., Suite 2, Chandler
Chances are, you’ve never had tea like this before. With dark concrete floors, minimalist furniture, flat screen TVs and earthy hues of olive and persimmon on the walls, this tea joint is a far cry from the stuffy Victorian parlors that the words “tea service” usually bring to mind. The hip but homey lounge offers more than 100 teas and hosts regular happy hours and tea tastings, where alcohol-infused “teatinis” are popular choices. Info: (480) 786-9600 or www.urbantealoft.com.
48 S. Robson St., Suite 101, Mesa
Watch master cigar roller Timothy Torres, a fifth-generation “tabaquero,” or tobacco blender, from Cuba, create custom cigars in a cedar-walled humidor inside this homey cigar lounge with up to four dozen types of Torres’ own “coronitas,” “robustos,” “cuavas” and “maduros” to choose from. Info: (480) 833-0087 or habanostorres.com.
260 S. Arizona Ave., Chandler
Just say no to offices and cubicles, and yes to arcade games, board games, electric guitars and chit-chat in the workplace. Now you can at this nonprofit that offers free space workspace for laptop-toting freelancers. It also hosts brown-bag seminars by local entrepreneurs, film fests and a Lego league, among other events. Info: gangplankhq.com.
Local First Arizona
This online directory of independent, Arizona-only merchants is the go-to place for big-box store alternatives and a shortcut to discovering that the Valley really is chock full of character, despite what corner after corner of stucco strip malls would lead you to believe. Info: localfirstaz.com.
48 W. Main St., Mesa
This gallery and workshop space offers ever-changing paintings, sculptures, jewelry and other works by Arizona artists at surprisingly attainable rates. It’s also got an Art Outlet in its historic brick-tunnel basement, where — despite occasionally thinking “What?! I could do that! Heck, my 8-year-old could do that!” — you can find good deals on one-of-a-kind pieces. Info: (480) 464-6077 or sundustgallery.com.
San Tan Flat Saloon & Grill
6185 W. Hunt Highway, Queen Creek
This rough-hewn eatery at the base of the San Tan Mountains is big on Old West atmosphere, thanks to an open-air bar with saddles for barstools, live country music and a huge dirt courtyard where you can roast marshmallows around a crackling fire. Info: (480) 882-2995 or santanflat.com.
City of Chandler Environmental Education Center and Veterans Oasis Park
4050 E. Chandler Heights Road
Locals are still discovering this 2-year-old facility with 113 acres of lush wetland and arid wildlife habitats. Outside, there are 4.5 miles of trails, a 5-acre urban fishing lake stocked with catfish, trout, sunfish and bass, wildlife viewing areas, ramadas and picnic areas, a butterfly and hummingbird habitat, an amphitheatre and a playground. Inside, a staff of naturalists and expert volunteers offers a well-rounded menu of nature-oriented activities, classes and workshops for children and adults. Info: (480) 782-2890 or chandleraz.gov/veterans-oasis.
I Heart Mesa
This folksy blog by longtime Mesa pals and young moms Kathryn and Marily provides a steady, albeit wholesome and family-centric, stream of things to do around town. Info: iheartmesa.blogspot.com.
The Pork Shop
3359 E. Combs Road, Queen Creek
Open since 1979 on the homestead his grandfather farmed in the 1940s, The Pork Shop operated by third generation farmer Greg Combs specializes in all-natural cornfed pork from the Midwest. Ham, bacon, sausage, lunchmeat, hot dogs, ribs, chops, roasts — you name it, they’ve got it. Info: (480) 987-0101 or theporkshopaz.com.
Saguaro Lake Ranch
13020 Bush Highway, Mesa
This rustic guest ranch sits on a pretty bend of the lower Salt River and offers horseback riding, kayaking and tubing. You don’t have to stay overnight to partake, and you can use your own vehicles for shuttling runs, making it a peaceful, private alternative to the buses run by the river’s more well-known outfitter, Salt River Tubing. Info: (480) 984-2194 or saguarolakeranch.com.
Blackbird Music & Art Center
18911 E. San Tan Blvd., Suite 121, Queen Creek
This free-spirited, family owned music and art playland houses seven colorful music studios and art classrooms where kids and adults can dabble in a variety of creative pursuits. It’s also got a performance stage, coffee bar and dedicated following of students and pro musicians, making it a fun spot for open mic night the first Friday of every month. Info: (480) 677-4159 or www.blackbirdcenter.com.
Hold on to your Mesa store receipts, because you can use them toward buy-one-get-one tickets to select shows at Mesa Arts Center and admission at Mesa Contemporary Arts, Arizona Museum of Natural History and Arizona Museum for Youth. MAC’s box office will match sales tax totaling $3 or more with vouchers called Mesa Bucks, up to $200 at a time. Info: (480) 644-6500 or mesaartscenter.com.
1149 E. Southern Ave., Mesa
This beloved eatery features jaunty live musical entertainment from the world’s largest theater organ, a 1927 Wurlitzer with nearly 6,000 pipes. Housed in a cavernous 700-seat dining room with 43-foot ceilings, it features see-through panels, so you can watch instruments like cymbals and xylophones at work, and a quartet of slightly decrepit dancing cat puppets. Arrive early, as it’s very popular and the best seats — upstairs — go fast. Info: (480) 813-5700 or organstoppizza.com.
Dinners Down the Orchard at Schnepf Farms
24810 S. Rittenhouse Road, Queen Creek
Fine dining meets farm style at these elegant suppers, where food is picked fresh, prepared on site by a local chef and served beneath twinkly lights in the middle of a peach orchard. Dinners happen only a few times a year, and they’re by reservation only. (Tip: If you can’t get in, occasional Chef du Moo locavore dinners at Mesa’s Superstition Farm offer a similar experience but with a backdrop of a working dairy farm.) Info: (480) 987-3100 or schnepffarms.com.
1833 W. Southern Ave.
If you think you have to drive to downtown Phoenix, pay for parking, pay an admission fee and pay an additional charge to see a planetarium show, think again. This 53-seat dome hosts free “Astronomy Nights,” where you can catch multiple screenings of astronomy films inside and peer at the night sky through telescopes set up outside. Info: (480) 461-7027 or mesacc.edu/dept/d43/ast/planetarium/astronomynights.html.
Four Peaks Brewing Company
1340 E. Eighth St., Tempe
This treasured brew pub named after the mountains on the Valley’s northeastern horizon is in the heart of college town. Thankfully, it’s popular enough with patrons of all ages that being over 30 won’t make you feel like a has-been or a creep. Housed in a brick creamery building dating back to 1892, it serves up good food, a line of tasty beers and the E.V.’s best summertime dessert for grown-ups: a beer milkshake made with the pub’s own velvety-black Oatmeal Stout. Parking is atrocious and newcomers often find the bar hard to spot, so give yourself extra time. Info: (480) 303-9967 or fourpeaks.com.
Wind Cave Trail
Usery Mountain Regional Park, 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa
This winding, uphill trail ends after 1.5 miles in a nice payoff: a hollow scooped out of Pass Mountain (a.k.a. Scarface, to the locals), where you can rest or picnic in the shade, watching chipmunks, bees whirling about a colony that’s been clinging to the rocks at least 30 years, and a sublime view of the Valley, especially at sunset. Info: (480) 984-0032 or maricopa.gov/parks/usery.
Sweet Cakes Cafe
19 W. Main St., Mesa
It could be the young guys and gals behind the counter or the yogurt bar stocked with candy, cookie crumbles and coffee drinks. Or maybe it’s
performances like the Hot Body Boys’ recent acoustic bluegrass rendition of “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga. Whatever the reason, this darling cafe’s all-ages open mic night makes a wholesome yet alluring hangout for teens, and its cookies and cinnamon rolls were made famous in May 2010 on TLC’s “Best Food Ever” TV show. Info: (480) 461-9529 or sweetcakescafe.com.
Mesa Typewriter Exchange
30 S. MacDonald
The typewriter is trendy again at this no-frills shop where proprieter Bill Wahl, whose grandfather started the business in 1949, keeps the authentic, vintage machines clackety-clack-clacking in tip-top shape. He sells a lot of them to young creative types and does repairs, but whether you’re in the market for one or not, popping in makes a fun trip back in time. Info: (480) 964-3603.
166 W. Main St., Mesa
Tired of seeing the same pillows, lamps and posters in your home turn up in the houses of neighbors and friends? At this shop full of reclaimed treasures (picked up by the shopowners on cross-country road trips), what’s old is in — not mass produced housewares from Target, Ikea or Crate & Barrel. It’s the newest project of Kristin and Dan Alber, the couple behind Domestic Bliss, a favorite boutique of local domestic divas. Info: (480) 733-6863 or found.myreclaimed.com.
The Rose Garden at Mesa Community College
1833 W. Southern Ave.
America’s flower is on glorious display at this 3-acre site with 7,000 rose bushes. The largest public rose garden in the Southwest, it’s free to visit. Info: (480) 461-7000 or mc.maricopa.edu/rosegarden.
14407 E. Pecos Road, Gilbert
When Red Bull fails to give you wings, try this institution of “higher learning,” where kids as young as 4 can strap in, hold on and experience first hand soaring through the air on a flying trapeze. Info: (888) 872-7101 or trapezeu.com.
All that cactus, rock and scrub brush is deceiving: Farming is more than possible in the Valley—it’s abundant. Community supported agriculture programs allow you to get your produce fresh from your local farmer, rather than the grocery store, usually for about $20 a week.
• Bobbi’s B.Y.O.G.: Bobbi’s veggies are grown in a half-acre backyard organic garden in Gilbert. Info: (480) 580-4132 or bobbisbyog.com.
• Desert Roots Farm: This 33-acre Queen Creek farm offers pesticide- and synthetic fertilizer-free produce, plus a meat, egg and dairy co-op. Info: (602) 751-0655 or desertrootsfarm.com.
• Love Grows Farms: This Lehi-area farm specializes in heirloom tomatoes, and it includes eggs in each basket of produce. Info: (480) 297-9829 or lovegrowsfarms.com.
• PolyHarvest CSA: A partnership between Crooked Sky Farms and the Arizona State University Nutrition Department means you can pick up the Phoenix farm’s bounty at ASU’s Polytechnic campus in southeast Mesa. Info: (480) 727-1821 or polycsa.org.
• Superstition Farm: Rather than veggies, this dairy packages homemade ice cream, butter, cheese, milk and a surprise item made by a local chef, artisan or farmer. Info: (602) 432-6865 or superstitionfarmtours.com.
18914 E. San Tan Blvd., Suite 116, Queen Creek
This restaurant is more than family owned — it’s family run, with Chef Blake Mastyk’s wife (a sommelier), father, mother and brother all pitching in to help roast the eatery’s own meats and make from scratch its own mozzarella, mayo, dressing, ice cream and just about everything else on the menu. Its lounge, Poppy’s Place, is featured in the October 2010 issue of “Sunset” magazine. Info: (480) 279-3546 or thedeliqc.com.
4810 E. McKellips Road, Mesa
The pub flanked by rusty metal friars features a giant party patio with sand volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and grills, where you cook burgers and other meat ordered off the menu. There are also darts, billiards, board games, fooseball and live music acts. Info: (480) 474-4477 or realfunbar.com.
Caffe Boa Bistro
2837 N. Power Road, No. 102, Mesa
Mesa’s most contemporary spot for drinks and simply prepared farm-to-table fare is hip but comfortable, warmed up with a wood-burning oven in the dining room, hardwood floors and a tall community table. Headed by notable Valley chef Payton Curry, it’s also got a glass-enclosed wine room and a patio veiled with airy white cloth panels. Info: (480) 981-2000 or boabistro.com.
Every couple of months, a crowd gathers at a top-tier Valley venue (think arts centers and museums) to watch 18 total strangers give 5-minute presentations on the most random topics under the sun. The hip, creative events feature a bar, and there’s an after party. They’re insanely popular, and tickets sell out fast. Info: ignitephoenix.com.
Phoenix Permaculture Guild
This non-profit teaches suburban dwellers handy skills like composting, growing veggies, harvesting rainwater and harnessing solar power, whether you have a big backyard or a postage stamp-sized apartment balcony. A highlight of the robust schedule of low-cost activities is December’s Tour de Coops, a self-guided tour of backyard chicken coops. Info: phoenixpermaculture.org.