Welcome to Where Chicago Goes, a series offering itineraries for cities frequently visited by Chicagoans. These are not far away destinations. These are places many of us used to call home, cities where our parents have retired, and where we fly often for work and play. For our second installation, we headed to Phoenix, Arizona, one of the top snowbird/retiree destinations of the Midwest.
Chances are you or someone you know has abandoned the record-breaking winters of Chicago for the blistering heat of Arizona – going from one extreme to the other. The way I see it, folks here love a challenge. We want to feel as if we’ve conquered something, against all odds, each and every day of our lives. It’s the reason why the Bears expect to win with Jay Cutler, why our river runs in the wrong direction, and why the Great Chicago Fire Festival was ever a thing. It is for this reason that we will pack up our lives and leave all of our friends because the cold in this city is “too extreme”, only to settle down in a place where cold water comes out steaming and running hot water will make your entire house burst into flames. It’s hot in Arizona.
Like many of you, my own parents have fled the Midwest in favor of the heat. I guess they were sick of shoveling snow and falling on ice only to return home from my apartment to shovel their own snow and fall on their own ice. So selfish.
If you find yourself in the Phoenix area often, here are my picks of things to do, where to eat, and where to relax when the folks are driving you nuts – or vice versa. Remember, your parents moved here to escape the weather and probably you a little bit. So, don’t overstay your welcome. I’m talking to myself.
24 Amazing Hours in Phoenix
To avoid crowds and intense heat, wake up before the sun for a hike up Piestewa Peak Summit Trail. This is a great route for any level of hiker and is the perfect place to climb due to its convenient location and ample parking. Set aside at least 2 hours total to ascend and descend if you’re a beginner, like me. Once at the top, enjoy a 360 view of the Phoenix skyline and beautiful surrounding landscape.
Piestewa Peak Summit Trail, 2701 E. Squaw Peak Dr., Phoenix, AZ 85016
When it comes to food, it’s hard to compete with Chicago but Matt’s Big Breakfast didn’t disappoint even our arrogant foodie expectations. The diner’s motto is ‘Scratch cooking, honest ingredients’ and its reputation as one of the best eateries in Phoenix forced a move from an old itty bitty spot to the more roomy space down the block where it now resides. Still, expect to wait. If the bar is available and your party is under three, pick a stool. Once inside, I recommend ordering The Chop and Chick, two eggs and a skillet seared pork chop. Oh, and don’t forget to try a pancake. They’re famously delicious!
Matt’s Big Breakfast, 825 N. 1st St., Phoenix, AZ 85004
Things to do
This is where our itinerary becomes a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure story. You can either relax at one of the top spas in Arizona, linger by the pool, end your night at the city’s swankiest rooftop, or you can travel three and a half hours north to Grand Canyon National Park where you’ll probably want to bring camping gear. Let’s begin with the latter option.
No, it’s not just a big hole in the ground. The Grand Canyon is an immensely awe-inspiring natural landmark, home to a wide variety of wildlife, and it’s marked up with many gorgeous trails. If you skipped the morning hike or still have some energy left, park your car and take a free shuttle to one of the canyon’s rim trails. For overnight camping below the rim, a permit is required. Even if you choose not to stay inside of the canyon, there are plenty of camping and accommodation options surrounding the area. Weather here will be much colder than in Phoenix (think possible snow in May). Pack properly.
If you do make it to the Grand Canyon, I also recommend Bearizona. A drive-thru, safari like park housing, you guessed it, bears. Well, bears and wolves, baby goats, and bison.
If the sweltering desert heat has induced enough sweating for your liking, pass on hiking and instead relax at Alvadora Spa inside of Royal Palms Hotel. Alvadora is arguably the best spa in Phoenix and it is here that this spa junkie experienced one of the most luxurious treatments of my life – the Citrus Ritual.
First, a few things to note about Royal Palms Hotel and Alvadora Spa:
- You do not have to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy the spa and amenities.
- Located at the foot of Camelback Mt., this Mediterranean villa was once a privately owned mansion. This explains the personal, amorous ambiance of the resort today. Each path is lined with fragrant orange trees, warming outdoor fireplaces, captivating flowers, and the sounds of sweet birdsong. Honestly, it’s the spa equivalent to true love.
- The staff is unpretentious and helpful. The massage therapists are experts and more than willing to adjust pressure based on preference.
- Once your treatment has finished, lounge by the pool and enjoy a cocktail or two from the bar. Don’t rush the experience.
Alvadora’s signature treatment, the Citrus Ritual, is made for lovers – so, I was happy the hubby could join me. It all begins in the Acqua Dolce room, an indoor/outdoor space that includes two heated stone tables below relaxing Vichy showers, and a spacious private garden that holds an outdoor raindrop shower, a private fireplace, and a soothing hot tub. Our massage therapists began with a body exfoliation scrub that filled the room with a pleasant citrus aroma. Simultaneously, Vichy showers gently flowed from above while our tension was alleviated atop heated tables. We were then provided with two glasses of champagne and left alone to enjoy the private garden. By this point, it already felt like a complete treatment although we were only half way into the ritual. We relaxed by our fireplace until it was time for our massage and gentle orange blossom lotion application. Then, we headed to the pool and bar.
I cannot say enough about this place. It is perfect, not just for honeymoons and anniversaries, but for anyone that wants to feel like they’ve been swept away to a villa in Spain, even if only for a few hours.
Alvadora Spa inside of Royal Palms Hotel, 5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85018
If you’ve chosen to stay within the city limits today, take a break at Lux Central. It’s a smart little coffee-house/wine bar/Wi-Fi oasis in downtown Phoenix. Everything is served here with a conscience and they’re very serious about what they do. Still, the place feels homey and it’s a great spot to break and solidify your plans for the evening.
Lux Central, 4402 N. Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012
Chicago is spoiled with a plethora of chic rooftop bars and lounges. Phoenix? Not so much. That’s why I’m so surprised by Lustre Rooftop Garden which understands the concept better than most of our hometown haunts. More of a terrace than rooftop space, Lustre overlooks Chase field and is a great place to watch fireworks from the baseball games. This is the desert, so it’s also got a pool for your cooling pleasure that is lit from within during the night. Feel free to enjoy a swim. The best way to enjoy Lustre, though, is with a group of friends under one of their many cabanas, small bites and potent cocktails under a starry sky.
Lustre Rooftop Garden, 2 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix, AZ 85004
More to do and see …
Sedona is an obvious must see but doesn’t really belong on a single day itinerary. A one and a half hour drive north from Phoenix, the area is known for its beautiful red rock. Take a day or more to enjoy the scenery. (More information on Sedona)
Almost a five hour drive north of Phoenix, Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon you must experience if you have the time. Just look at these photos. Breathtaking!
If you’re enjoying a few bites at Lustre Rooftop Garden, you may just as well mosey on down to Bitter & Twisted, one of the best craft cocktail bars in #DTPHX. Come to think of it, the food’s pretty good here too. (1 W Jefferson St., 85003)
A great place to come for a mani/pedi with the girls, Nails Spa at Lincoln View is only a short drive or walk from Piestewa Peak Summit Trail. The staff is friendly and the service is good. (3119 E. Lincoln Dr. AZ, 85016)
Although I’ve never tried them for myself, the menus at Virtu and Pizzeria Bianco are a favorite amongst food critics and foodies alike. (Virtu, 3701 N Marshall Way, 85251) (Pizzeria Bianco, 623 E Adams St. 85004 (this is the downtown Phoenix location. For a location near you, visit their website.))
Best museums …
Musical Instrument Museum (4725 E. Mayo Blvd., 85050)
Heard Museum (2301 N. Central Ave., 85004)
All photos are taken by Kari Herrera of Chicagoings.com unless otherwise noted. Be sure to contact each company before your visit for current information and prices. A big thanks to Alvadora Spa and Lustre Rooftop Garden for facilitating spa services and meals. All opinions expressed here are those of Kari Herrera and are not indicative of those held by Alvadora, Lustre Rootop Garden or any other entity.