Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Best Yoga Studio
Joyful Yoga Studio
Drop-in classes at this 3,000-square-foot fitness complex are a wallet-friendly $10, with options ranging from soothing Yin-Yang Flow and Restorative Yoga to heart-pumping Zumba. The studio also stretches your dollar with birthday freebies and complimentary classes for military vets. Joyful's bumper-to-bumper schedule runs year-round, giving locals an air-conditioned place to work off those sedentary summer pounds. 3900 W. Ray Rd., Chandler, 480-726-6399,
Best Place to Spot Lululemon-clad Yoga Mamas
s.e.e.d. Cafe at The Madison Improvement Club
Sandwiched between the historic oak-floored yoga room and the state-of-the-art spin room is a sliver of a cafe featuring antioxidant-packed smoothies, salads and sandwiches. Built in 1917, the Madison Improvement Club was a meeting place for women who wanted to improve the lives of others. Now it's a place to self-improve through exercise and healthy eating. 3802 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-626-7307,
Best Zen-preneurs
Spiritual Gangster
Yoga instructors Ian Lopatin and Vanessa Lee have turned their shared love of the ancient practice into a thoroughly modern clothing company, Spiritual Gangster. Stars from Britney Spears to Amar'e Stoudemire have worn the Scottsdale-based line's soft tees and breezy tanks, each bearing an upbeat epigram - i.e. "Raise Your Vibration" - that embodies the brand's positive vibe. In the Valley, get the gear at Life Time Fitness. 480-307-6200,
Best Place for Yoga and a Beer
Huss Brewing
Huss Brewing lets you experience beer in a whole new way with its "downward drafts," a donation-based hot yoga class on Sunday mornings. Practice your Warrior Pose among steaming beer kettles at Tempe's newest brewery with yogis and beer lovers alike, and enjoy $1 off drafts in the taproom afterwards. 1620 W. Mineral Rd., Tempe, 480-264-7611,
Best Free Workout
Yoga at the Biltmore
It's a lot easier to relax and commune with the universe when you're not distracted by how much it's costing you. At the free yoga classes hosted every Sunday by athletic apparel store Lululemon's Biltmore location, downward dog comes dollar-sign-free. Namaste masters and novices alike, of all ages and fitness levels, stretch and bend on the grass at the Biltmore in the morning sun, surrounded by shoppers milling about the park. 2502 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-956-1402,
Best Sexy Date Night
Soule Dance
The tired cliche "dance like no one's watching" takes on a titillating new meaning at Glendale's hybrid country/pole dance studio. For $25 per 15-minute session, students of Soule Dance's Pole-ah-Tease program can give their man a little one-on-one demonstration of sensual skills using the facility's equipment. Occasional room checks prevent private dances from drifting into Full Monty territory. Even so, watching your sweetie climbing and grinding to the beat could easily be a prelude to a little post-date workout. 9971 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 623-240-2307,
Best High-Speed Chase
Slot Car Racing at Cactus Hobbies
Long before Grand Theft Auto, there were slot cars. Cactus Hobbies revives the low-tech magic with its mini 8-lane road, 6-track oval and scale 1/4-mile drag strip. Racers can rent a 1/32 scale dragster ($12 for 1 hour) or BYOR for Sunday's drags. Just be sure to hug the curves, or you'll risk spending more time chasing cars than driving ëem. 12450 N. 35th Ave., Phoenix, 602-THE-RACE,
Best British Invasion
Real London Bus Company
British transplant Jonathan Pring has been shuttling Phoenicians around the desert since 2009, when he first got the idea to import a shiny red reminder of his homeland and run a bar pickup service. Real London Bus Company now rents four of the 14-foot-high, 32-foot-long double-deckers for private parties. The buses also host sellout pub crawls and treasure hunts, including a recently added nighttime scavenger hunt that calls to mind fictional Brit Harry Potter and his Knight Bus adventures.
Best Exotic Dance Class
Bollywood Babes at Express MiE Dance Fitness Studio
Express MiE's take on Indian dance is about fun and fitness, not Bollywood-quality choreography, so it's OK if you trip over a toe-heel step or forget a shoulder shake. Instructors teach one simple dance per class and repeat steps ad nauseum until everyone can boogie to the bhangra beat. You may not come out shimmying like Sridevi, but after a few of Express MiE's 45-minute sessions, you'll have mastered enough basic dance steps to fake it at an Indian wedding. 6448 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe, 480-626-5973, 

Best Staycation
Bespoke Inn
A hidden gem tucked away in Old Town Scottsdale, this bicycle-themed, custom-designed B&B - ergo, the "bespoke" double entendre - transports staycationers from the bustling city to the refined comfort of a private European villa. Sip a craft cocktail from award-winning downstairs restaurant Virt˙ on the 40-foot infinity edge pool perched over the courtyard, then retire to one of four spacious rooms, waking to a gourmet breakfast served at a walnut table handmade by the owners. The inn also offers use of its fleet of dashing British cruiser bikes. 3701 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale, 480-664-0730,


Best Metamorphosis
Butterfly Wonderland
In 2013, the country's largest butterfly atrium rose like Jack's magical beanstalk from a barren swatch of Salt River Reservation. The rainforest environment features a tropical garden pulsating with thousands of fluttering wings, as well as Amazon River fish tanks, beehives and a working ant colony. Butterfly Wonderland makes the best of the regal insects' short life cycles, changing out fall's autumn-colored critters for a snowy all-white display just in time for the holidays. 9500 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale, 480-800-3000,


Second Best Metamorphosis
Carlos Amorales' Black Cloud at Phoenix Art Museum
Beauty is fleeting, especially when you're a butterfly. Artist Carlos Amorales metaphorically extended the insect's meager lifespan when he created Black Cloud, a breathtaking display of more than 30,000 black paper moths and butterflies. It took the artist, his assistant and several student interns hours to attach the undulating river of wings onto the white walls and ceiling of the museum's entryway. While the site-specific swarm has since migrated, these butterflies will continue to evolve as Amorales' piece traverses the globe. 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-257-1222,


Best Cheap Seats
Phoenix Mercury Games
Despite eight playoff runs and two WNBA Championships (2007, 2009) - making them, incidentally, the winningest professional sports team in Arizona - the Phoenix Mercury remain a sports fan's bargain bonanza. Home game tickets start at $16.95, and recurring promo packs include a lower-level ticket, a hot dog and a 16-ounce Coors Light beer, all for $35, which will buy you about one-tenth of a comparable seat at a Suns game. Visit for season schedules.


Best Public Art
IN FLUX transforms empty-building eyesores into artistic eye candy. "When the economy tanked, we saw other countries adapting vacant spaces for exhibits," says Scottsdale Public Art project manager Kirstin Van Cleef. "We wanted to do the same." Van Cleef and other public art reps put out an open call, then selected artist-crafted site-specific installations, including a mirrored building and leaping deer cutouts. Three Valleywide locations.


Best Karaoke
Rockaroke at the Sail Inn
Thursday nights at the Sail Inn in Tempe, you get the chance to live the rock star existence that might have been, had your old band learned more than the intro to "Paranoid" and booked an actual gig. Even if you start singing the chorus to "Sweet Emotion" sixteen beats early, live karaoke band The Zen Lunatics will keep up. And, yes, ladies - they know that 4 Non Blondes song. 26 S. Farmer Ave., Tempe, 480-966-9565,


Best Place to Be a Weekend Cowboy
Buffalo Chip Saloon
Not a full-time cowboy? Look more like Jon Voight than John Wayne when wearing a neck scarf and spurs? No problem. This spacious multi-bar saloon is the place to mount a real live bull and give your cowgirl those visions she can't unsee. Nestled in picturesque Cave Creek, the "Chip" is a must stop for all ramblers seeking a "YeeeeHaaaw!" kind of good time. 6811 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, 480-488-9118,


Best Girls' Night Out
Brush Bar
Ready to channel your inner Picasso and experience alcohol-assisted feminine bonding? Head to the Brush Bar for a night out or a "Mimosa morning." A unique hybrid of wine bar and art studio, Brush provides painting materials and personalized instruction as clients try their hand at canvas-work. The average price is $40 and includes one drink ticket. 4165 N. Craftsman Ct., Scottsdale, 480-947-8700,


Best Place to Clear Your Sinuses
Desert Botanical Garden's Chiles and Chocolate
Tantalize your taste buds with a melange of spice and sweetness at the 11th Annual Chiles and Chocolate Festival. With gourmet chocolates and spicy salsas offered by more than 30 local vendors, it's a tastable horticultural tour of the Southwest. Nov. 15-17, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, 480-941-1225,


Best Bar Trivia Night
Wednesdays at the Rose & Crown Pub
Maybe it's the U.K.-centric menu (Scotch egg, anyone?) or the colorful host with his James Earl Jones-ish boom, but something about this uptown British pub makes answering questions about everything from the Kardashians to quantum physics really, really fun. The cash prizes ($35 for 1st place, $25 for 2nd, and $10 for 3rd) are nice, too. 7 p.m. 628 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-256-0223,


Best Family-Friendly Flesh-Eating Festival
Downtown Phoenix Zombie Walk
It's either your worst nightmare or your ultimate apocalyptic fantasy come true when 10,000 zombies take over Downtown for the annual Zombie Walk the last weekend of October. The walk is a free, family-friendly event where kids can visit the Little Zombie zone and all ages can get zombified by makeup artists - all that's required to transform you into the living dead is a donation of food or cash to St. Mary's Food Bank. Heritage and Science Park. 115 N. Sixth St., Phoenix, 602-254-8696,


Best Flamenco Duo
Chris & Lena Jacome
The stunning art of Spanish flamenco can be seen and heard right here in the Valley thanks to internationally renowned guitarist Chris Burton Jacome and his wife, flamenco dancer Lena Jacome. Chris studied flamenco guitar in Seville, Spain, before moving to the United States. Lena, originally a professional ballet dancer, fell in love with the art of flamenco dancing after she and Chris were married. The couple has been performing together in the Valley for 10 years and their breathtaking performances can be seen 7-9 p.m. every Friday night at Province Restaurant downtown. 333 N. Central Ave., Phoenix,


Best Way to Give Back
Want to fit a day, or just an hour, of volunteering into your busy schedule? HandsOn Greater Phoenix helps you search for volunteer opportunities near you and sign up on a one-off basis. Try out cooking at a homeless shelter one Saturday morning, and play bingo at a senior center the next. HandsOn was started 20 years ago to help connect busy working people and students with nonprofits who need volunteers. It now boasts an annual workforce of 24,000 volunteers.


Best Live Music Venue
Crescent Ballroom
Downtown's live music scene was given a massive dose of adrenaline when Crescent Ballroom opened in 2011 at the corner of Second Avenue and Van Buren Street. Taking over what was originally a 1910 auto garage, owner Charlie Levy filled the place with choice indie music and creative cocktails and made it the locale for music lovers to convene. The venue shows its appreciation for affordable arts by keeping tickets for most shows under $20. Upcoming concerts include Meat Puppets (November 30) and Aaron Carter (December 6). Don't forget the food, either. The on-site Cocina 10 offers Mexican eats curated by Gallo Blanco taco meister Doug Robson. 308 N. Second Ave., 602-716-2222,


Best Walk in the Park
Phoenix Zoo
Take a walk on the wild side with leisurely strolls through the zoo's themed paths and get acquainted with the animals living in each habitat. Take little ones on the Children's Trail and make a pit stop at the petting zoo. Explore the savanna on the African Trail and encounter nature's tallest mammal at the Giraffe Overlook. Marvel at the Galapagos tortoise and Andean bear on the Tropics Trail and see local wildlife on the Arizona Trail. 455 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, 602-273-1341,


Best Afternoon Quickie
Lunchtime Theater at Herberger Theater Center
Dinner and a show is dandy, but lunch and a show is better for breaking free of the office doldrums. For only $6, you can be entertained and support local artists and emerging theater companies, who put on 30- or 45-minute one-act plays on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. BYOL (bring your own lunch) or order one the day before the show ($6-$8). It sure beats fast food. 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix, 602-252-8497,


Best Reason to Miss a Flight
Food and Art at Sky Harbor
Sky Harbor has become a destination in its own right. While other major city airports are content to get people up and out, Sky Harbor has evolved into an innovative microcosm of Valley culture, with more than 600 pieces of local art on display throughout its terminals and a bevy of outposts of beloved local restaurants. Travelers can feast on signature dishes like tacos from Barrio Queen and Cowboy Ciao's legendary chopped salad. Too bad our weather rarely causes extended layovers. 3400 E. Sky Harbor Blvd., Phoenix, 602-273-3300,


Best Way to Give Your Dinner Party Serious Cachet
Invite Vincent Guerithault
Your friends would probably enjoy a dinner party at chez vous even if it was takeout pizza and pre-made salads from the grocery store, but that doesn't mean that you should settle. Raise the culinary bar and splurge on a showstopping dinner party cooked by chef Vincent Guerithault of Vincent on Camelback. He'll educate you and your guests on techniques and flavor pairings and lavish you with decadent ingredients - a wintry truffle feast, anyone? Call Amy Fox: 602-224-0225.


Best Way to Make Cross-Cultural Connections
Phoenix International Hostel & Cultural Center
Experience the storied communal culture of hostels sans the fear of being robbed while you sleep at this historic brick home, replete with meditation gardens, hammocks and a diverse staff offering tips, tours and insider insights into Arizona tourism. Located near the Roosevelt Row arts district, the hostel hosts tourists from around the world, as well as locals seeking an alternative to the resort staycation. It doubles as an event space, so check the schedule for concerts, art openings, poetry slams and community dinners. 1026 N. Ninth St., Phoenix, 602-254-9803,


Best Local Adventure
Seaplane Brunch
Brunch, already the most luxe of meals, gets an adventurous upgrade with this luxurious celebration of Arizona wildlife and food. A nine-passenger Cessna Caravan 208 carries you over a sprawling desert landscape of mountains, trails and Saguaro Lake before landing on the gentle waters of Roosevelt Lake. An oasis of nature and a sumptuous spread from Charleen Badman and Pavle Milic of FnB await you. It's a time for meditation and contemplation, of the epic land around you and the food that it produces. Available the second Saturday of every month. Reservations required; call FnB at 480-425-9463.


Best Park No One Knows About
Barry Goldwater Memorial Park
Blink and you'll miss this gem of a park near the busy intersection of Lincoln Drive and Tatum Boulevard in Paradise Valley. Tucked away on the northeast corner, the xeriscaped park - dedicated to the late Arizona U.S. Senator and presidential candidate - features spectacular views of Camelback and Mummy mountains, a bronze statue of Goldwater sculpted by Arizona artist Joe Beeler, and a pedestrian path with stone benches near a cascading waterfall.


Best Break for Mom
PlayGrounds Fun Zone and Cafe
Calgon may be able to take you away, but what to do with the kids? Why not let them cavort in this 3,500 square-foot indoor playground while Mom gets a much-deserved breather? The adjoining cafe offers coffee drinks, salads and sandwiches, along with healthy snacks to pacify child and fatigued parent alike. Admission costs $10 for the first kiddo, with $2 off for each sibling. 8190 W. Union Hills Dr., Glendale, 602-761-9663,