Love Your Downtown

August 26, 2020
Share This
St. Mary’s Basilica; Photo by Danny Upshaw; model: Ryan Evans
St. Mary’s Basilica; Photo by Danny Upshaw; model: Ryan Evans

By Jessica Dunham, Leah LeMoine, M.V. Moorhead, Craig Outhier & Madison Rutherford

Photography by Angelina Aragon, Mirelle Inglefield, Kevin Kaminski, Craig Outhier & Danny Upshaw

From Glendale to Gilbert, downtown neighborhoods across the Valley have flourished over the past decade, sprouting high with local restaurants, boutiques, theaters and that all-important “cultural density.” Now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, they need our love more than ever.


Leading off our celebration of Valley downtowns is the Southwest’s signature metropolis – that precisely gridded, one-time hay-shipping hub north of the historical Salt River.

What is Downtown?

City officials are fond of using the term “between the 7s” to describe the Downtown core – everything between Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, with the Warehouse and Roosevelt Row districts as its south and north boundaries, respectively.

90 City Blocks in All 

Population Boom

Fueled by 14 mid- and high-rise builds in 2018-2019, the number of people living “between the 7s” nearly doubled in three years.

According to city planners, Downtown currently boasts 33 active or in-development mid- and high-rise builds – structures five stories and up.

Other Central Phoenix ’Hoods

Though often clumped together with Downtown, these nearby districts have their own unique identities.
Midtown: The neck of CenPho stretching north on Central Avenue from McDowell Road. Includes the Phoenix Art Museum, the Clarendon Hotel and the revitalized Park Central.
Uptown: Everything north of Indian School, roughly to Bethany Home. Includes Clever Koi, Uptown Plaza and the new ARRIVE Phoenix hotel.
Grand Avenue: Technically northwest of Downtown, the diagonal drive has assumed the mantle of “Downtown arts district” following the gentrification of Roosevelt Row.
South Phoenix: With a light rail route coming soon, this long-neglected borough south of Downtown has its own renaissance in the works.

Photo courtesy Phoenix Art Museum
Photo courtesy Phoenix Art Museum
3 Questions with Devney Preuss

As the president & CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc., the advocacy org that runs the city’s popular street ambassador program, among other things, Preuss lives and breathes Downtown.

You work in CityScape (pg. 73).What makes it unique among the Downtown neighborhoods?

Well, it brought amenities to Downtown that didn’t exist before – Lucky Strike Bowling, the Hotel Palomar and now the grocery store. It’s really been a catalyst for all Downtown.

What is Downtown Phoenix’s best-kept secret?

Thanks for the softball! Margaret T. Hance Park is 32 acres of open green space in Downtown, and it’s wonderful, part of our growing urban lifestyle. We’re working to raise money for a master plan for the park, to improve it, which will be a $42 million effort and lift up all the nonprofits and amenities around there, like Japanese Friendshp Garden and McDowell Mountain Music Festival.

Downtowns everywhere were doing so well before the pandemic. Do you see them coming back?

Absolutely. The concept of live-work-play still holds a lot of appeal for people, maybe more than ever. And I was reading recently [about] why dense urban living is so important, post-pandemic: You need to walk more, connect more, and the community is really your living room. That’s what Downtown offers.

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield

Downtown Spotlight #1: 

Warehouse District

Perfect for: Tech startups, edgy wedding planners, launch party maestros

Past & Present

Not long ago, the only reason one would venture below Jackson Street was to get a replacement passport. No longer. Formerly the nerve center of the Valley’s produce-shipping yesteryear, and home to Phoenix’s Chinatown until the 1950s, the Warehouse District has been revived by a wave of creative-class investment, resulting in a fleet of cool event spaces (The Icehouse, The Croft Downtown) and tech and design firms (Web PT, R&R Partners). Our point of demarcation between the west and east sections of the district: The Duce, that irresistible boxing gym/bar mutant event space on Central Avenue and Lincoln Street.

A Day in the Warehouse District

First:  Rent a GR:D bike at one of the many bike share depots scattered around Downtown. This is a big district and you’ll need the wheels.
Next: Fuel up with your refreshment of choice at The Duce, which boasts 20,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor chill space, plus cool gift and boutique options.
Then: Go on a peddling tour of vintage warehouse signage and murals, including the iconic Feed & Seed Warehouse (pictured) on Second Street south of the tracks.
Finally: Finish up with Korean fried chicken and cocktails at The Larry (, one of the district’s adaptive-reuse gems, set in a 1920s-era warehouse. If it’s post-pandemic, catch a show at Last Exit Live ( the district’s resident indie music venue.

Future PWD

Light rail expansion: Valley Metro’s new South Phoenix line, due for completion in 2024, will dive directly  through the Warehouse District to Baseline Road, connecting the neighborhood to the rest of Downtown.
• San Francisco-based JMA Ventures is in the midst of building a new 278-unit apartment complex called The Battery, located just west of Chase Field. It will include an adaptive reuse of the red brick 1928 Gerardo’s building.

Photo by Danny Upshaw; model: Justin Lee
Photo by Danny Upshaw; model: Justin Lee

Get Your Bearings
Spanning the entire width of Downtown south of Jackson Street, the Warehouse District can be visualized as East Warehouse and West Warehouse.

3 Questions with Riette Bartlett

As the event concierge at Warehouse 215 @ Bentley Projects, the tourism pro is tasked with luring party-planners Downtown.

What kind of events do people typically throw downtown?

I would say 80 percent of our business are private parties like weddings and proms. Then we get launch parties, photo shoots and things like that. Warehouse 215 has a lot of different looks and spaces, and is great for distancing.

How has the Warehouse district changed in the 10 years you’ve worked here?

When I started, people were like “I can’t go Downtown. It’s scary!” I hear a lot less of that now, as more people have come down here and understand what it’s all about. And I have to say, I’ve never felt unsafe once here in the entire 10 years.

How would you like to see The warehouse district evolve over the next 10 years?

Well, we’ve come a long way. The tech businesses, the design companies, it’s all great. And it’s really encouraging to see all those ASU students moving Downtown, which definitely helps us. But if there was one thing the Warehouse District is lacking, it’s a thriving residential neighborhood. That would put us over the top.

Photo by Lea Bremicker Photography
Photo by Lea Bremicker Photography

Downtown Spotlight #2:


Perfect for: Live music junkies, boutique hotel habitués, subterranean bar goers

Past & Present

When Phoenix was a mere 320-acre townsite, the Downtown area around Central Avenue and Monroe Street represented the northern extremity of human Downtown habitation. According to historians, the earliest structures along Monroe were adobe row houses used to board prostitutes from nearby saloons. Builders began to stretch out from the Jackson Street area in the late 1920s into “northern” Phoenix with a series of ambitious skyscraper builds, including the Professional Building on Central and Monroe. Today, the resurgent micro-hood is part theater district, part burgeoning hospitality hub.

A Day in Monrovia

First: Nosh on the Valley’s tastiest gyro salad at Crazy Jim’s Downtown. The only thing crazy about it are the portions.
Next: Peruse the fine fermented goods at Hidden Track Bottle Shop, Downtown’s leading indie beer and wine purveyor, located in the lobby of the high-rise on 111 W. Monroe Street.
Finally: When the time is right, hit Charlie Levy’s Downtown-defining trio of indie music venues: The Van Buren, Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar ( If nothing on the musical bill suits your taste, go anyway: Crescent and Valley Bar have great food-and-bev programs.

Photo by Danny Upshaw
Photo by Danny Upshaw

Fun Fact!
Gracie’s Tax Bar owner Grace Perry was the lead singer of influential Valley death-metal band Landmine Marathon. The bar remains closed pending state coronavirus policy.

Get Your Bearings
Monrovia glides westward along Monroe Street from Central, with Van Buren and Washington as its north-south boundaries.

Parking Tips
If a parking garage isn’t in your future, try the metered spaces north of Van Buren Street.

Future Monrovia
Phoenix Forge: Gateway Community College is bringing a first-to-market makerspace to a historic warehouse building at Sixth Avenue and Van Buren Street.
• A surface parking lot at Second Avenue and Adams will soon be home to a new Hyatt Place hotel. Currently under construction by Mortenson Development, the eight-story hotel will feature 240 rooms.
• Downtown Phoenix Inc.’s Urban Ale Trail will be virtual this year, taking place the first week of October and include chances for free merch, beer specials and more.

4 Questions with Craig Dziadowicz

“The rent was really inexpensive, to be honest with you,” says the Hidden Track Bottle Shop owner of his daring decision to open in Monrovia in 2015. Downtowners are glad he did.

We love your neighborhood-branded wines: Coronado, F.Q. Story, roosevelt. What’s next?

Encanto! It’s Cab Franc and a touch of Merlot, and sourced from Willcox. [Artist Brad Towsley] just finished the label. Hopefully it will be available in [early August].

Are you doing curbside and delivery?

Yes, and socially distanced in-store. No in-house or in-person tastings yet, unfortunately. We converted to a virtual tasting with Zoom, hosted with a guided interview with influencers. People can pick up different bottles at the shop that we’ll be drinking that night.

Has the pandemic hit you hard?

Oh, definitely. We typically had 400 people a day come through the lobby of this office building. Now, it’s 20 if we’re lucky.

Downtown was doing so well before the pandemic. Do you see it coming back?

I’d love to hope that would be the case. My gut feeling is it might not go that way. People [are] getting out of San Francisco, LA and a bunch of different areas. But maybe Phoenix is different. It’s not like you can escape COVID.

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield

Downtown Spotlight #3:

Roosevelt Row

4 Questions with Garrett Mitchell

After graduating from ASU, the Arizona Republic social media producer scored a flat on the west side of RoRo that dates to 1912. So what does he think of being a resident?

First off: The name “roro.” obnoxious or OK?

I personally do not use that. The only acronym I ever used was “RoPo,” during college, for Roosevelt Point where I lived.

Is Roro a true arts district anymore?

Well, there are art galleries still. But I’ve lived here since 2012, and it’s not quite the same as it once was, in terms of affordable spaces to live, and galleries. The artists have moved toward Grand [Avenue]. There’s not even a record store anymore. I do deeply miss Revolver Records.

What are the pros?

I like that I can walk anywhere–Cibo, Gracie’s, Fez – and meet new people and old friends and have variety. There’s more of a selection of places to go with the food, drinking and nightlife. Though I’m certain that the DeSoto Building is cursed.

What is Roosevelt still missing?

There are great enclaves in the area, art house film at Film Bar, etc. But the more I hear what Downtown used to be like, the more I think about gay nightlife. Everything has been relegated to Melrose…  so we’re missing a true queer space.

Photo courtesy Garrett Mitchell
Photo courtesy Garrett Mitchell

Perfect for: Student apartment-dwellers, craft beer consumers and kinda-sorta art fans

Past & Present

A “vital mixed-use area from the earliest days of the establishment of Phoenix,” according to Roosevelt Row advocates (, this ascendant arts district is now ground zero for the the Valley’s only true gentrification debate: to “improve,” or not to “improve”? A wave of apartment, condo and hotel development has erased many of RoRo’s galleries and classic buildings. The upside: a groundswell of independent restaurants, breweries and shops.

A Day in RoRo

First:  So much to do! Start with some liquid fuel at The Grand, a florid, gothic structure that once housed legendary LGBTQ bar Amsterdam.
Next: Go on a mural hunt. Roosevelt boasts the Valley’s most lavish collection of street art, including a temporary Black Lives Matter mural by six local artists.
Then: Moisturize your parched palate at Greenwood Brewing, RoRo’s newest brewpub, which boasts two breezy patio areas for safe imbibing.
Finally: Make your RoRo excursion an overnighter. Book a room at one of the nifty boutique hotels serving the district: FOUND:RE (temporarily closed during the pandemic,, Cambria Hotel ( or the grungy and fun Coronado Hotel.

Photo by Craig Outhier; Jackalope Gastropub in RoRo
Photo by Craig Outhier; Jackalope Gastropub in RoRo
Bet you didn’t know

Roosevelt has become an oasis for distaff business owners (The Farish House, Elevate Yoga, Made Art Boutique, GenuWine Arizona) and black-owned businesses (the Larder + the Delta, Trapp House BBQ, Bilbo Sportswear).

Parking Tips
RoRo parking is still relatively easy, with plenty of meters south of Roosevelt Street.

Future RoRo
Punch Bowl Social: The Denver-based entertainment and restaurant concept  will soon open in a renovated building on the southeast corner of Second and Garfield streets.
• Biotech giant TGen will open a 225,000-square-foot satellite location near Roosevelt in 2021.
• The final phase of Portrait on the Park will bring 209 residential units to the north end of Hance Park.
Fiesta Bowl Play at Hance Park: The 20,000-square-foot sports playground will open this December in conjunction with the Fiesta Bowl’s 50th anniversary season in December 2020.

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield

Fun Fact!
Veteran artist Tato Caraveo (pictured)painted this mural, and is the arts and entertainment curator at Best of the Valley Editor’s Pick The Lost Leaf.

Get Your Bearings
Sprawling RoRo effectively begins south of the I-10 deck-park tunnel, stretching south to around McKinley Street.

Hot in the City!
Clockwise from upper left: Striking a pose at the Hotel San Carlos in Monrovia; biking in RoRo; glowing neon at Valley Bar; skating responsibly at Melinda’s Alley in the theater district

Downtown Spotlight #4:

Theater District

Perfect for: Song-and-dance people, adolescent science hounds, fans of tall buildings

Past & Present

Encompassing historical Heritage Square and nearby streets, Downtown’s present-day theater district was, quite bluntly, the rich part of town during its early years, with Victorian homes, art deco highrises and, arguably, the Valley’s premier piece of Judeo-Christian eye candy: St. Mary’s Basilica.

A Day in The Theater District

First: Sadly, during the pandemic, there is no theater. But you can still take a pleasant stroll or ride past Herberger Theater Center and ogle its fine menagerie of life-size bronze statues.
Next: Cold step to the art deco Hilton Garden Inn and sweet-talk the concierge into letting you visit the 1930s building’s 13th floor patio deck. It affords absolutely the coolest view of the Downtown highrise core anywhere.
Finally: Grab a people-pleasing nosh at Cornish Pasty Co., set in a cavernous high-rise storefront that does as good an impersonation of a bona fide British pub as we’ve found in the Valley.

Get Your Bearings
The Theater District is everything from Central east to 7th Street, and south of Van Buren to Washington.

Photo Op!
Grab a selfie with the erudite robot on Monroe and Third streets.

Photo by Craig Outhier
Photo by Craig Outhier

Downtown Spotlight #5:


Perfect for: Bowling enthusiasts, craft cocktail addicts, apartment-dwelling retirees

Past & Present

Before RED Development unveiled Phase 1 of this $900 million mixed-use behemoth in 2010, the area comprised a few parking structures, a bit of Patriot Square Park and a whole lot of nothin’. Historically a housing district supporting the train yards of old Phoenix, CityScape is today, arguably, Downtown’s only true self-contained neighborhood, as it boasts the area’s lone supermarket – a Fry’s that opened to much fanfare in 2019.

A Day in CityScape

First:  Pick up some java at Serafina Coffee Roasters, located in the magisterial Luhrs Building just a quick jaywalk away from CityScape across Jefferson Street.
Next: Check into your room at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar, Downtown’s first purpose-built boutique hotel. Grab a swim at the Lustre rooftop pool and bar.
Then: Feeling peckish? Find the Valley’s preeminent Nashville-style fried chicken at Monroe’s Hot Chicken, from Lo-Lo’s comfort-meister Larry White.
Finally: Need a laugh? Book a ha-ha at Stand Up Live at CityScape (, Downtown’s lone comedy club. Socially distanced September shows include Jesus Sepulveda and Gary Owen. Then grab a nightcap at nationally renowned Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour (

Get Your Bearings
Though CityScape proper occupies just the two blocks straddling Central Avenue, its brand includes the immediate surrounding vicinity

Parking Tip
It used to be a cinch scoring a metered space south of CityScape on First Avenue or Madison Street. Now you’re better off just beelining to the CityScape parking structure.


Perfect for: Artsy types, introverts and thinkers with an eye on the future

Past & Present

Like other East Valley cities developed along the Salt River, Mesa’s origins owe much to the Roosevelt Dam, constructed from 1906 to 1911. The dam helped control the river, which watered these cities’ farms but also created devastating seasonal floods. Once managed, the river morphed into a source of prosperity for Mesa, and its downtown thrived into the 1920s. The city experienced the hardships of the Depression, but bounced back after World War II. The ubiquitous malls of the 1960s and 1970s subsequently sucked much of the life from Mesa’s Main Street, but it’s enjoying a renaissance, recharged by a new generation of restaurateurs, artists and developmental visionaries.

One Day in Mesa

First: Cultural action. Don’t visit Mesa without setting foot in one of its impressive museums. See “3 Things to Do” for our suggestions.
Next: Lunch at Worth Takeaway (right). Quite possibly the Valley’s best artisan sandwich shop, and a perennial Best of the Valley pick.
Then: Cider and beer sipping. Downtown Mesa lays claim to the state’s first cidery, Cider Corps ( Sample the excellently made ciders, then cross Main Street to Chupacabra Taproom ( for a curated lineup of beers from around the country.
Finally: Live music at The Nile. If we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, The Nile (pictured below) will be closed – head back to Chupacabra to conclude your night. But if the Nile is open, GO. This historic venue from the 1920s is worn and weathered in all the right places.

Photo by Danny Upshaw
Photo by Danny Upshaw
3 Things to Do

1. Arizona Museum of Natural History: Wander exhibits that span a range of natural history topics like dinosaurs, the cosmos, native cultures and more.
2. I.D.E.A. Museum: This kid-friendly museum inspires creative play and imaginative thinking.
3. Mesa Arts Center: One of the premier arts and cultural hubs of the Southwest, this center features an art museum and a robust calendar of live performances from national and international acts.

Bet You Didn’t Know

Rumor has it spirits roam downtown Mesa. Stop by My Darling Dragon ( to chat with owner Meela Meadows, the town psychic who’s been known to sight an apparition or two.

Parking Tips
The light rail conveniently runs through downtown, should you choose to ditch the car. Public garages are free every day after 5 p.m. and all day on weekends. Free lot parking is widely available; download a parking map from

Future Mesa
Arizona State University plans to open its new East Valley campus in downtown Mesa in fall 2021, bringing with it the hallmarks of a college town – new restaurants, more nightlife, beefed-up public transportation and a younger demographic. The campus will house the ASU Creative Futures Laboratory for degree programs related to gaming, media arts, film, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.   

2020 Population: 552,000
2050 Population: 680,000 (est.)
source: MAG

Get Your Bearings
Downtown Mesa informally encompasses a four- sqaure -block area extending south from University Drive and east from Country Club.

3 Questions with Vic Linoff

The president of the nonprofit advocacy group Mesa Preservation Foundation ( shares what he thinks Mesa does better than other cities and the one thing a visitor to downtown should do.

How do you see your role in the community?

It’s up to those of us who have been here for some period of time to help people see that there is a precious history worth saving. It was an enormous challenge to settle this area, and yet people found a way to survive. Out of respect to them, it’s important to preserve what they built.

What does downtown Mesa do best?

Mesa seems to be more deliberate than other cities and is slower to act. That creates a challenge, but also by being one of the last to develop its city center, we can take lessons from the experiences that other cities have had.

What should every visitor to Mesa do?

Go to the Mesa Arts Center. It represents the true heart of downtown and the heart of a great city.

Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Danny Upshaw; models: Giuliana Pica and Nicholas Polando
Photo by Danny Upshaw; models: Giuliana Pica and Nicholas Polando

Fun Fact!
Chandler man Nicholas Polando co-founded State Forty Eight clothing line in 2013.


Perfect For: Locavores, families and visitors looking for a refreshing fusion of classic and contemporary

Past & Present

Founded by Dr. A.J. Chandler in 1912, downtown Chandler maintains a hint of its historical charm, even as it modernizes for a new generation of residents. The iconic San Marcos Hotel – the oldest resort in Arizona – was built in 1913 and put up such prominent figures as Clark Gable and Frank Lloyd Wright before transitioning into a popular eating and drinking hub. Even the city’s modern downtown storefronts pay homage to the past, designed in the style of the three wooden shacks – a townsite office, dining hall and grocer – that marked the original turn-of-the-century township.

One Day in Downtown Chandler

First: Start the day with a specialty drink from locally owned Peixoto Coffee, which sources its coffee from the Peixoto family farm in Brazil. The java joint’s toasted coconut matcha alone is worth the drive to downtown Chandler.
Next: Stroll through Dr. A.J. Chandler Park West every Saturday from 7-10:30 a.m. for the Downtown Chandler Farmers Market. Stock up on fresh produce from Phoenix farms as well as homegrown sweets, sauces and spices from various local vendors.
Then: Embellished with whimsical renderings of Arizona flora and fauna, the Commonwealth Mural delights. Chandler artist Ariana Enriquez transformed the southern exterior wall of the Crowne Plaza Phoenix Chandler Golf Resort into a vibrant piece of public art.
Finally: Sip one of SanTan Brewing Company’s six signature brews. If you’re into IPA, we recommend the highly hoppy MoonJuice and a designated driver. Meanwhile, snack on sophisticated pub grub like the Brewhouse Nachos, smothered with SunSpot beer cheese and piled high with Devil’s Ale-braised short ribs.

Commonwealth Mural; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Commonwealth Mural; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
3 Questions with Mary Murphy-Bessler

The executive director of the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership lives and breathes her city.

Tell us about the Partnership and its role in the community.

The Downtown Chandler Community Partnership is an Enhanced Municipal Services District (EMSD). We are responsible for the marketing, promotion and clean and safe programming for downtown.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Seeing the numbers, seeing the momentum. I am seeing more and more new faces, so it’s obvious to me that things are catching on. People are starting to go, “You gotta come to downtown Chandler.”

What is your favorite thing about downtown Chandler?

It’s the people. It’s just such a refreshing community where everyone is so kind and everyone is so willing to help each other out.

Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
3 Things to Do

1. Chandler Center for the Arts: Boasting three performance spaces and two galleries, CCA is a dynamic destination that simultaneously showcases and serves the local arts community.
2. Rosales Family Fountain: Constructed by Emanuel Martinez in 2003, this bronze sculpture depicts the families of Chandler’s pioneering past – and makes a great photo op.
3. Chandler City Hall: The new City Hall complex features an art installation by Ned Kahn called “Turbulent Shade,” which accentuates the interaction between light and movement. It is illuminated from above and below by LED lights and moves with natural wind currents.

3 Places to Eat

1. Mingle + Graze: Bring your own booze and nosh on cheese boards, sandwiches, soups and salads at this elevated deli.
2. Serrano’s: This beloved Mexican eatery, which started as a family-owned department store, celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Come for the chimichangas and stay for the churro donuts.
3. The Hidden House: The setting: an enchanting bungalow built in the 1930s. The food: refined New American recipes with tantalizing twists such as espresso-crusted steak and Scottish salmon slathered with a miso marinade.

3 Shopping Options

1. Blue Planet Outdoors: Nature enthusiasts will love this local outdoor lifestyle boutique that purveys key chains, magnets, stickers, jewelry, home décor and apparel emblazoned with Arizona imagery. Bonus: Blue Planet plants a tree for every item sold.
2. Sibley’s West: Since 2010, Sibley’s West has been showcasing items from more than 200 Arizona artisans and companies. Stop by for everything from prickly pear lollipops to saguaro-adorned stationery.
3. Saba’s Western Wear: In the market for a new Stetson hat or Minnetonka moccasins? Saba’s is a one-stop shop for Southwestern garb – and has been providing said threads for nearly nine decades.

Future Chandler
• A highly anticipated lineup of new restaurants is coming to the New Square mixed-use development, including The Stillery, a Nashville-based bar slated to open later this year.
• Could Chandler be an e-learning hub? In July, tech firm CampusLogic – a developer of tools and resources to manage scholarships, loans and other financial supports – collected $120 million in venture capital to expand its services.
• Two new concepts will open on the southeast corner of Arizona Avenue and Boston Street: an arcade bar called The Uncommon and boozy brunch hub The Tipsy Egg.

2020 Population: 279,500
2050 Population: 329,000 (est.)
source: MAG

Get Your Bearings
Downtown Chandler sits within a neat rectangle of city blocks, with California Street as its west boundary.


Photo coutesy Adobe Stock Images
Photo coutesy Adobe Stock Images

Perfect for: Foodies, families, social butterflies

Past & Present

Visit Gilbert’s Heritage District today and you’ll set foot in what was the original town site. In 1902, the Arizona Eastern Railway asked for “right of way” donations to build a rail line between Phoenix and Florence. William Gilbert offered up his property, and the railroad siding – and the town that popped up around it – became Gilbert. Thanks to the construction of the Roosevelt Dam and the Eastern and Consolidated Canals in the early 1900s, Gilbert’s ag business boomed. In 2013, the “hay shipping capital of the world” designated its downtown area as the Entertainment District, a move that inspired the seemingly overnight boom of restaurants and nightlife.

One Day in Gilbert

First: Coffee at Bergies Coffee Roast House. Your gastronomy tour of Gilbert begins with a latte on the patio of this coffee shop.
Next: Peruse the Gilbert Farmers Market. Thread your way through booths piled with veggies, pallets topped with fruit and tables stacked with just-baked breads, all while slyly side-eyeing the Valley’s top chefs, who often shop here. Sa, 8 a.m.-noon Oct.-April, and Sa, 7-11 a.m. May-Sept.,
Then: Dinner at Clay Dawgs. You’ll find no shortage of class-act restos in Gilbert (see “3 Places to Eat”), but we like this spot for its hot dog ingenuity.
Finally: Drinks at The White Rabbit. Sure, you can hit up O.H.S.O. Brewery for small-batch beers or Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row for Western dancing, but this little speakeasy (password required for entrance) pours better drinks in a snazzier setting.

Fun for Free

Tour Gilbert’s public art, starting with the mural on the south-facing wall of The American Legion (206 N. Gilbert Rd.). The expansive image depicts Gilbert during World War I and was painted by participants of the Gilbert Chamber Foundation’s Leadership program.

Parking Tips
The main drag is thick with pedestrians and cyclists, so your best bet is one of the lots or garages located on the side streets east and west of Gilbert Road.

American Legion MerrellMitchell Post 39; Photo byGabrielle Hofer
American Legion MerrellMitchell Post 39; Photo byGabrielle Hofer
5 Questions with Joe Johnston

As a longtime Gilbert resident and co-founder of Agritopia, Joe’s Real BBQ, Liberty Market and Topo, Joe Johnston has not only witnessed big changes in Gilbert – he’s been a fundamental part of them.

How do you view your role in helping to shape this community?

I think of myself as a visionary, which sounds pompous, but all it means is that you have ideas and you put together the resources to make something happen. I’ve always enjoyed creating places where community can happen.

What is a childhood memory of downtown Gilbert?

During the summer when we were working on the farm, we’d take breaks at Jim’s Dairy Bar, which is where O.H.S.O. Brewery is now.

What is the heart and soul of Gilbert’s downtown district?

The Water Tower. It’s a touchstone to the past. Plus, people think of it as cool and modern, even though it’s old. It’s an icon of Gilbert.

What is downtown Gilbert’s best-kept secret?

There are a lot, but one of my favorites is the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. It’s 110 acres in the middle of the desert. People don’t realize it’s here, but those who do, love it.

What does Gilbert do best?

Gilbert bridges the city-town thing. When you think of “town,” you think civic-minded, knowing your neighbors, a simpler life. We do a good job retaining that, but we’re also a national-class city in terms of businesses and offerings.

Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
3 Places to Eat

Many of the Valley’s beloved eateries, such as Postino, Clever Koi and Pomo Pizzeria, also have outposts in Gilbert. So for an only-in-Gilbert dining experience, opt for one of these:
1. The Farmhouse Restaurant: This converted 1920s-era home has served as a popular lunch and brunch spot for 30 years.
2. Joe’s Real BBQ: The line stretching out the door of this family-friendly restaurant solidifies its status as a worthy barbecue joint.
3. Nico Heirloom Kitchen: Fancy Modern-Italian fare such as fennel-kissed octopus and hand-rolled bucatini.

Future Gilbert
On the docket is a 500,000-square-foot project by Heritage North that will feature retail and office space, a boutique hotel, residences and an urban park. Recently completed is The Collab, a shiny and glass-walled mixed-use development of restaurants, shops and offices.

2020 Population: 265,000
2050 Population: 318,000 (est.)
source: MAG

Get Your Bearings
Gilbert’s sprawling historical downtown is bisected by the Western Canal, with its central spine running along Gilbert Road.

Old Town Scottsdale

Perfect for: Art aficionados, fitness freaks, cultured cowpokes and weekend clubbers

Past & Present

“The West’s Most Western Town” earned its nickname with its Old West origin story. In 1888, United States Army chaplain Winfield Scott scoped out the Salt River Valley and ponied up $1,600 to buy 640 acres for a large-scale farm. Other settlers followed to what was originally called Orangedale to pursue agricultural opportunities afforded by the new Arizona Canal. By 1894, Scottsdale was born. The heart of modern-day downtown Scottsdale, lovingly and widely referred to as Old Town, has seen many evolutions since then – from ag hub to art colony in the first part of the 20th century, to a tony resort, retail and entertainment destination in the 21st.

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield; model Aimee Smith
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield; model Aimee Smith
One Day in Old Town

First: Indulge in locally roasted coffee on Scottsdale’s Coffee Trail, nine indie coffeehouses/bakeries that form a U around Scottsdale Road. Berdena’s has a delectable lavender-honey latte, fresh pastries and Instagrammable décor.
Next: Brunch or lunch at New Wave Market (, a bright and breezy eatery attached to Super Chunk Sweets & Treats ( After one bite of chef Country Velador’s house-made bagels or schmaltz chicken salad sandwich, you’ll understand why New Wave was a 2020 James Beard Foundation semifinalist.
Then: Do a museum blitz: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West ( and Old Town Scottsdale Rodeo Museum ( If you’re there on a Thursday, do a self-guided public art tour on the weekly Scottsdale ArtWalk (
Finally: Have dinner at FnB ( for a true taste of Arizona, from locally grown produce on James Beard Award-winning chef Charleen Badman’s ever-changing menu to wine wizard Pavle Milic’s pours of Arizona vino.

3 Things to Do

1. Hit the Scottsdale Wine Trail (, a cluster of tasting rooms from five Arizona wineries. A Wine Trail Passport ($5) gets you $2 off tastings of five wines at each location, a commemorative wine glass and other discounts.
2. Shop at beloved local boutiques like Carmen ( and Southwestern galleries like River Trading Post (
3. Sip locally distilled vodka and gin at Blue Clover Distillery (, which has also been producing hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

3 Places to Eat

1. Citizen Public House ( is Old Town’s neighborhood restaurant, a polished yet comfy spot centered around chef Bernie Kantak’s upscale gastropub cuisine.
2. Craft 64 ( boasts some of the Valley’s best pizza and one of the most renowned beer programs around, with 30 handles dedicated to Arizona craft brews. Great wine selection, too.
3. Sel ( is among the newer generation of Scottsdale fine dining spots, with a regularly changing menu inspired by seasonal produce and chef Branden Levine’s travels.

Bet You Didn’t Know

Winfield Scott himself planted the olive trees along Second Street – the namesake of Los Olivos Mexican Patio (

Parking Tips
Parking is free and abundant. Look beyond the two- and three-hour spots lining the streets and hunker down in a public garage or lot.

Fun Tip!
Bring home a taste of the AZ Wine Trail with  bottles from Merkin Vineyards and LDV Winery, and snack it up with Super Chunk Sweets & Treats artisanal popcorn.

Future Old Town
• The Merchantile of Scottsdale ( recently took over the iconic Saba’s Western Wear building on Brown Avenue. The indoor marketplace features kiosks for local designers, artists and makers to have a physical retail space.
• At press time, controversy continued to swirl around the felled Southbridge II development and any future developments that would vertically increase Scottsdale’s density.
• A new era begins this fall with the departure of Mayor Jim Lane, who is facing term limits.

2020 Population: 253,800
2050 Population: 311,000 (est.)
source: MAG

Get Your Bearings
Starting at the northern extremity of Scottsdale Fashion Square, Old Town creeps south along Scottsdale Road roughly to Osborn Road.

5 Questions with Ace Bailey

With a name like hers, you’d expect Ace Bailey to be a gumshoe in a film noir. In reality, she’s a walking Scottsdale encyclopedia who runs Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours ( and serves as concierge at Hotel Valley Ho (

In normal times, how does your company run?

I work more with private groups and custom design art and cultural tours, so artists’ studio tours, gallery tours, museum tours… I do the historic architecture tour of the Hotel Valley Ho.

Do you have a tour guide philosophy?

I think everyone should be a visitor in their own town.

What makes Old Town different from other downtowns?

The public art. Also, it’s clean… People want to live here. They want to live in this urban core where they can bike and walk everywhere.

What are your favorite public art pieces?

The hidden gems that are in plain sight, I think are so great. Like Knight Rise, which is the [James] Turrell piece at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art… It’s this permanent installation, and it’s all concrete… and there’s an oculus in the ceiling that you just see the sky through… It’s almost a religious experience.

Any that are more hidden?

There’s one up on Indian School [Road] and 68th Street-ish, as you get to the canal pathway there, and it frames a view of Camelback Mountain… It’s this little innocuous, metal, cool-looking piece of art with a large circle in it… It’s taking a breath and taking your time to just really experience where you are in that moment.

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield


Sunset on Tempe Butte; Photo by Kevin Kaminski; Model: Josh Villa
Sunset on Tempe Butte; Photo by Kevin Kaminski; Model: Josh Villa

Perfect for: Sports fans, outdoorsy folks and festival-goers

Past & Present

The Valley’s signature college town traces its higher education roots to 1885, the founding year of the Territorial Normal School, a small teachers college. Before that? Farming. Lots of farming. Mexican settlers arrived in the area to dig out the irrigation canals left by the Hohokam, establishing a community east of Tempe Butte. West of the butte, another settlement known as Hayden’s Ferry was built, and soon became a trade center for the Salt River Valley – and the genesis of Tempe’s modern downtown along Mill Avenue. For years, the butte signaled the “end” of downtown until 1999 when Tempe Town Lake opened on the north side. Today, luxury apartments and glossy, high-rise offices line the lakeshore, shifting Tempe’s boundaries and communicating its big-city stature.

Mark Your Calendar

ASU Sports (year-round): Cheer on the PAC-12 Sun Devils at a football game, basketball game, tennis match, swim meet, golf and more.
Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade (December): Light-covered boats drift along Tempe Town Lake in a holiday celebration.
Innings Fest (March): Multistage music festival and culinary event.
Tempe Festival of the Arts (March and December): A juried art show with more than 350 artist booths lining Mill Avenue.

One Day in Tempe

First: Water sports on Tempe Town Lake. Rent a kayak, pedal boat, electric boat or stand-up paddleboard to spend a few hours plying the calm waters of the lake. Boat Rentals of America,
Next: Lunch at Pedal Haus Brewery. Grab a table outside and order a dish from the surprisingly large, mouthwatering menu of gluten-free and vegan options.
Then: Walk Mill Avenue. Tempe boasts one of the Valley’s most walkable downtown cores. Wear comfy shoes, take your time, window-shop, maybe even stop for a mid-afternoon glass of wine.
Finally: Dine at House of Tricks. Request a table on the lush, string-light lit patio at this long-running, fine dining establishment.

Paddleboats on Tempe Town Lake; Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
Paddleboats on Tempe Town Lake; Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
3 Retail Gems

1. Cactus Sports: Arizona State University alums going back 25 years will fondly recall this shop, still going strong as the place to pick up ASU merch.
2. The Shoe Mill: For your Birkenstock fix.
3. Yucatecan Imports: A hidden gem – literally and figuratively – this store lines its shelves with clothing, jewelry, art, trinkets and more, all with a global flair. 480-303-9404

Parking Tips
You’ll likely pay for parking no matter what, so download ParkiT, the city’s parking app. You can add money to your meter from wherever you are.

Future Tempe
Alibi, the East Valley’s only full-service rooftop pool and bar, arrives by way of the newly opened Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown. Perched on the hotel’s 14th floor, it boasts a fire pit and lounge-y cabanas for soaking up epic sunset views. Under construction and set to open by the end of 2020, Mirabella will cater to the ASU alumni crowd with a luxury, 20-floor, high-rise retirement home.

2020 Population: 200,500
2050 Population: 280,000 (est.)
source: MAG

Get Your Bearings
Mill Avenue remains the heart of downtown, though lakeside high-rises and student housing have stetched it north and east.

3 Questions with Corey Woods

Newly sworn in as Tempe City Mayor, Woods not only lives in downtown Tempe, but he’s made it his mission – and passion – to help guide it into the future.

What are three adjectives to describe downtown Tempe?

Fun. Diverse. Eclectic.

What does downtown Tempe do best?

I love how strong the community is. The residents are active, engaged and involved. They want to be a positive force. I’ll be at the grocery store or picking up takeout and I’ll bump into residents who have ideas about how to move our city forward. They reach out to offer not just their opinions but also their time. They roll their sleeves up and help.

What is the heart and soul of the downtown district?

There isn’t any one person or entity. It’s the companies. It’s the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s the people who’ve been here for years and who provide input and stability to downtown, and a vision for where we should go as a city.

Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Gabrielle Hofer

Cave Creek & Carefree

Perfect for: Retired bikers, prosperous cowboys and boot-wearing moseyers

Past & Present

Cave Creek and Carefree share both a geographic border and a rich history. From 700 to 1400, the Hohokam and Salado Indians called these desert foothills home. Nearly 500 years later, in the 1870s, soldiers from Fort McDowell clip-clopped through on horseback, and a few years after that, gold prospectors and cattle ranchers arrived. Modern 20th-century residents built resort ranches, hosted movie crews and threw dinner parties – at which streets like Ho Hum Road and Lazy Lane were christened – all the while enjoying affluent wilderness living. In the 1980s, however, perceived encroachment from nearby cities inspired town incorporation.

Local Spotlight

Eric Watson

This master hatter owns Watson’s Hat Shop in Cave Creek, where he makes custom hats – cowboy, fedora, panama – by hand. “Cave Creek keeps cowboy culture alive,” says Watson.

Photo courtesy Watson Hat Shop
Photo courtesy Watson Hat Shop
One Day in Cave Creek & Carefree

First: Brekkie at Black Mountain Coffee Shop. Start the day in Carefree with huevos rancheros and freshly brewed coffee. Locals have been gathering and gossiping at this iconic diner since the 1970s.
Next: Nature walk at Carefree Desert Gardens. Carefree’s pedestrian-friendly downtown takes you right to this free botanical garden, with its 4 acres of desert flora and fauna and the town’s striking sundial – the largest in the country.
Then: Browse Frontier Town. The Old West facade and costumed performers at this Cave Creek spot scream tourist trap, but in truth, the shops sell charming gifts and cute homemade goods. 480-488-9129
Finally: Brisket at Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue. Pitmaster Bryan Dooley knows what he’s doing with pulled pork, ribs and chicken, but there’s no comparison to the smoky, tender brisket.

Nearby Attractions

Rare Earth Gallery: Hypnotic agate and geode pieces as tall as a bear – some made into coffee tables, others into lamps – distinguish this Disneyland for rockhounds. A home decor dream.
Cave Creek Trail Rides: Scenic horseback adventures through the Sonoran Desert, from three-hour treks on the rugged Go John Trail to gentle sunset rides.
CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa: A spiritual retreat tucked away on 20 acres in Carefree. Offers spa services, yoga and nutrition and fitness classes.

Get Your Bearings
Cave Creek

Main Drag Cave Creek Road provides the backbone of downtown, with Galloway Drive and Rancho Mañana Resort as its bookends.

Southeast of its twin town, the Carefree downtown also follows Cave Creek, starting at Bloody Basin Road.

Future Cave Creek & Carefree
Not much changes in this slow-paced part of the world, and that’s the appeal. But a few new (as in, the last year) restaurants that are worth a visit include: Pizzicata (, Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse ( and Vino & Panino (

2020 Population: 9,800 (combined)
2050 Population: 11,400 (est.)
source: MAG

Fountain Hills

Perfect for: Planners, designers and neat freaks with an appreciation for tidy aesthetics

Past & Present

As one of the Valley’s youngest cities, Fountain Hills celebrated its 30th year of town incorporation in 2019. Created as a 12,000-acre planned community by Disneyland designer Charles Wood Jr., Fountain Hills was settled in the 1860s by cattlemen before being purchased 100 years later by Robert McCulloch Properties. It’s McCulloch’s manicured vision that you see throughout Fountain Hills today.

One Day in Fountain Hills

First: Fountain selfies. For 15 minutes at the top of the hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., a towering plume of water rises from Fountain Park to a maximum of 560 feet – three times taller than Old Faithful – to spray and shimmer in the sunlight.
Next: Gem shopping at Sami Fine Jewelry. This family-owned store, a longtime staple of downtown, specializes in Arizona gems: peridot, garnet and amethyst mined from the Four Peaks.
Then: Chocolate tasting at Chocofin Chocolatier. For nearly 20 years, these chocolate artisans have been whipping up barks, ganaches, toffee, caramels and bars.
Finally:  Stargazing. Thanks to the screening effect of the McDowell Mountains, Fountain Hills earned official designation as an International Dark Sky Community

Get Your Bearings
The fountain Hills downtown is encompassed by four meandering streets west of the fountain.

Future Fountain Hills
Hardly a growth-minded city – projected to add only 2,000 residents over the next 30 years – Fountain Hills does have one notable development in the works: a new apartment community from local homebuilder Keystone, set for completion in July 2021 in the Avenue of the Fountains area.

2020 Population: 24,700
2050 Population: 26, 900 (est.)
source: MAG

Queen Creek

Perfect for: Laid-back strollers seeking wide-open spaces; you-pick farm fans

Past & Present

The Queen Creek Wash anchors downtown and offers mesquite-lined recreational trails. But once upon a time, the waters of Picket Post Creek flowed through the wash and served as the lifeblood of this agricultural community below the San Tan Mountains, first settled by Native Americans. Present-day Queen Creek – including the emerging 850-acre downtown core, which was conceived in 2017 as a Town Center – still reflects its agricultural heritage and small-town feel.

Mark Your Calendar

Every September in Founders’ Park, downtown Queen Creek celebrates Founders’ Day with agri-fun events. And don’t miss the Pumpkin and Chili Party at Schnepf Farms in October..

One Day in Queen Creek

First: Breakfast at Schmear Bagelry & Café. Pair Peixoto coffee with a from-scratch, hand-rolled bagel.
Next: Hike or bike Queen Creek Wash Trail. The 4.7-mile paved path launches from downtown and wends past wide-open farmland.
Then: Outdoor fun at Mansel Carter Oasis Park. Located along the Queen Creek Wash Trail, this 50-acre park offers so many amenities, including a 5-acre lake, you’ll want to set aside a few hours to explore.
Finally: Pints at Old Ellsworth Brewing Company. The tap list of locally brewed beer leans IPA-heavy, but the nutty brown ale serves up smooth flavor.

Get Your Bearings
The QC’s embryonic downtown North: Downtown extends south on Victoria Lane to Queen Creek Wash, between Ellsworth and 209th Way.

Future Queen Creek
A sure sign of modern growth, Trader Joe’s recently broke ground just north of the downtown core. And keep an eye out for Queen Creek’s first hotel – a 100-room Hampton Inn – to open at the end of 2020.

2020 Population: 65,000
2050 Population: 120,900 (est.)
source: MAG


Perfect for: Antique-hoarding, tattoo-collecting, astrologically minded, theater-loving foodies with a sweet tooth

Past & Present

The community began, oddly considering its present party atmosphere, as an alcohol-free zone. Settled in 1892 by hooch-forswearing Brethren Christians under the guidance of W.J. Murphy as Glendale Temperance Colony and incorporated 18 years later, Glendale was initially a market town for westside farmers. The downtown consists of two sections: the idyllic Catlin Court residential blocks, and Old Towne proper’s commercial storefronts and – sorry, Brethren – bars.

One Day in Glendale

First: Shop for miniatures or pedal cars at Auntie Em’s Miniatures and Smilin’ Jack’s Pedal Cars and Vintage Toys. Check out Bears & More ( for sweet old-school toys, books and stuff.
Next: Load up on highbrow or lowbrow literature by browsing the shelves at Velma Teague Library ( or Drawn to Comics (; your call as to which outlet carries which brow level.
Then: Get your aura photo taken ($20) or interpreted ($35) at The Astrology Store ( or book ahead to get a full-on medium reading.
Finally: If the message from the spirit world indicates that it’s an auspicious day for body art, get yourself tattooed at Inkenstein ( Then snarf some oatmeal goodies at Coyote Oaties ( cookie shop.

Photo by Danny Upshaw; model Sara Anderson with her dog, Brady
Photo by Danny Upshaw; model Sara Anderson with her dog, Brady
On the Calendar

On Teddy Bear Day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. September 12; Bears & More will collect monetary donations for “trauma teddy” programs, and other downtown merchants will participate in this observation of National Teddy Bear Day. October 10 brings the music-and-food Front Porch Festival (

3 Places to Eat

1. Bitz-ee Mama’s: The nearly half-century-old diner serves fine huevos rancheros or eggs Benedict for breakfast; they do Mexican and American lunch and dinner, too.
2. Haus Murphy’s: The best German food in town hails from this eatery across Glendale Avenue from Murphy Park. Don’t miss the jager schnitzel. They do an Oktoberfest most years, too.
3. Little Saigon: One of the Valley’s best Vietnamese restaurants serves pho, spring rolls and other treats in a charming house with a white picket fence.

Nearby Fun

Cerreta Candy Company: Walking distance east of the historic downtown – in case you want to walk off your indulgence – is the Valley’s best-known confectioner, offering intriguing tours as well as sweet stuff.
Dazzo’s Dog House: A few blocks west of the railroad tracks on Glendale Avenue is this purveyor of Chicago-style eats. It’s also a small museum of sports memorabilia.
La Purísima Bakery: Grab some pan dulce or other such Mexican delectable delicacies on your way east on Glendale Avenue.

Fun for Free

You can drop plenty of dough on food and drink at the annual downtown Glendale Glitters holiday light fest; but soaking up the good cheer is free.

Get Your Bearings
Murphy Park is the beating heart of downtown Glendale, which informally extends east to 56th Avenue and north to Myrtle Street.

One Day Bonus!
Brelby Theatre Company ( stages interesting local productions in a repurposed Catlin Court house.

5 Questions with Du Le

The patriarch – and chef – of popular family-owned Vietnamese restaurant Little Saigon explains why he moved it to Glendale.

This restaurant was originally located in the Christown Spectrum Mall in Phoenix. Why did you move?

Because I am broke at Christown.

What made you decide to relocate here to Glendale?

The customers that come to eat the last day I am at Christown, when I tell them I am going out of business, they tell me that they have a place in Glendale to rent. I tell her, “I buy it. I don’t want to rent.”

What does Glendale offer that you can’t find elsewhere?

It’s a good location, lots of customers. And my old customers from Christown can follow me out here, too.

How it is operating out of a house?

Customers love it; they want to take pictures all the time.

Any evidence this place is haunted?

No, no, no!

Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Danny Upshaw; model: Austin Miller
Photo by Danny Upshaw; model: Austin Miller

Future Glendale
• Several new businesses are changing the face of downtown despite of the recent COVID challenges. Take, for instance, The Black Sheep Coffee+Tea+Smoothies ( “They actually opened in May, at the height of the pandemic,” says Lori German of the city of Glendale. “They’re West Valley people, so they bring that passion to move the West Valley forward. They’re folks from Honduras, who get their coffee from their family back on the plantation.”
• Also new since the pandemic are Don Juan’s Mexican Grill ( and Santos Tamale Kitchen ( Slated to open soon is The Village in Glendale. “They’re a collective restaurant and market, getting ready to open; planning lots of vegan options. They’re super interesting,” German says.

2020 Population: 279,000
2050 Population: 333,000 (est.)
Source: MAG


Perfect for: Incognito creatives; fans of curvilinear parapets

Past & Present

W.J. Murphy, the same guy who got the Glendale Temperance Colony going, also masterminded the settlement in the mid-1880s of the area along the diagonal road – now Grand Avenue – that ran between Phoenix and Wickenburg from Peoria, Illinois. The town incorporated in 1954, and has sprawled in all directions from its small, now-neglected downtown.

One Day in Peoria

First: As you enter the area, notice the beautiful floral designs painted right on the street pavement. Grab a cup of something caffeinated and/or sweet at Driftwood Coffee (
Next: Check out the exterior – the historical museum formerly housed within is now closed, and in deaccessioning mode – of the old Peoria Central School building. From a sign outside, you will learn that “the main architectural feature is the curvilinear parapet.” It’s almost certainly one of the better curvilinear parapets in all of northwestern Maricopa County.
Then: Once you’ve torn yourself away from the curvilinear parapet, check out Fire Station No. 1, home of Lucidi Distilling Co. ( Whether it’s open for tastings or not (not, at this writing), it’s a beautiful building, built in the 1920s as a movie theater. When Peoria incorporated in 1954, it became the city’s first fire station.
Finally: Allow yourself time for one more gaze at the curvilinear parapet, then see a play by Theater Works (, in the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts.

Bet You Didn’t Know

Downtown Peoria’s Osuna Park has a public restroom designed to look – from the outside – like an old-fashioned railway station on the Santa Fe line.

Devour festival; Photo courtesy Devour
Devour festival; Photo courtesy Devour

Get Your Bearings
Old town Peoria is a tightly gridded cluster of rectangular city blocks between  87th and Grand avenues, south of Peoria Avenue.
Fun For Free

Also in Osuna Park, there’s a seriously cool feature called Harmony Park, with public percussion instruments. Some ambitious gang of jazz percussionists ought to arrange (and record) a jam session.

Future Peoria
Highly uncertain. Even aside from the miseries of the pandemic for a saloon keeper, Chris Lucidi of Lucidi Distilling Co. has been frustrated by the lack of civic interest in Peoria’s downtown. “I love that area,” says Lucidi, who opened his distillery in 2015. “I bought a firehouse thinking firefighters would come there. They really don’t, except for retirement parties… We don’t have that kind of venue on the westside; people go to Scottsdale. I’ve done nine weddings, but it could be so much more.”

2020 Population: 196,000
2050 Population: 312,000 (est.)
source: MAG


Perfect for: Cowboys and cowgirls and those who wish they were

Past & Present

According to dubious legend, the town’s namesake, a California Gold Rush washout named Henry Wickenburg, discovered the nearby Vulture Mine in 1863 when a vulture he shot fell out of the sky on the claim. The mine produced much gold until its closure in 1942, and the town grew, despite a history of bloody conflict with the Yavapai.

One Day in Wickenburg

First: Have a late breakfast of chilaquiles at local Mexican fave Anita’s Cocina ( Do some shopping at Tegner and Apache streets; take the kids into The Old Livery Mercantile ( for cool Southwestern souvenirs, from scorpion lollipops to prickly pear taffy; get your frilly on at Sweet Somethings and Whatknots (; step into Stoney Saddlery on Apache ( just for the leather smell.
Next: Check out the statuary across the street in front of the city hall. First, note the tragically countenanced bust of Henry W. himself; then cheer yourself up with the jollier statue of Everett Bowman, “All-Around Champion Cowboy of the World, 1935 and 1937,” and his beloved mules. Track down each of the colorful “Downtown Characters” statue series by J. Seward Johnson, ranging from a prospector leading a donkey to a schoolmarm carrying a suitcase to smaller pieces like Gila monsters and rattlers.
Then: Wander the exhibits at Desert Caballeros Western Museum (, presenting world-class Western-themed art, historical artifacts and photographs, and recorded oral history of the town and the region.
Finally: Sneak out of downtown long enough to get some late lunch – or dinner, depending on how long you’ve wandered – at knock-your-socks-off good Mexican joint El Ranchero. ( Follow it up with a movie at the old-school Saguaro Theater (

Get Your Bearings
Wickenburg’s tidy, four-block downtown rests between Frontier and Valentine streets, north of Wickenburg Way
Fun for Free!

If you only see one of the “Downtown Characters,” make it the forlorn “Jail Tree Felon.” Be sure to push the green button and hear the jocular narrative.

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield; model: Tara Sharpe
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield; model: Tara Sharpe
On the Calendar

The 32nd Annual Cowboy Christmas Poetry Gathering is (at this writing) scheduled for December 4-5, with an opening reception at 6 p.m. Friday at Desert Caballeros Western Museum and a full-on performance by the bards of the saddle at 6:30 p.m. the following evening at Wickenburg Community Center.

Future Wickenburg
According to Mike Wallace of the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce, the cool, vintage, single-screen Saguaro Theater has used the closure to undergo construction. “All new seats; revamped; they just did a mural on the outside.,” says Wallace. “The inside is almost done, and it won’t just be for movies; they’ll have kids in there to learn acting, stuff like that.” The theater hopes to reopen this year.

2020 Population: 8,500
2050 Population: 9,800 (est.)
source: MA

Web Extra! Southwest Valley cities of Avondale, Buckeye and Goodyear


Perfect for: Auto racing fans who prefer non-chain restaurants and stores

Past & Present

Founded as Coldwater by William “Billy” Moore in the 1860s as a stagecoach stop, this outpost on the Agua Fria River was incorporated under its present-day name in 1946. Probably most famous as the home of Phoenix Raceway, it hides a low-profile but charming and walkable downtown along Western Avenue.

Get Your Bearings
Avondale’s downtown creeps along Western Avenue from Dysart to Central.
Robot sculptures at Avondale Civic Center; Photo by Angelina Aragon
Robot sculptures at Avondale Civic Center; Photo by Angelina Aragon


Perfect for: Hungry rodeo clowns, cigar and hobo fans, golfers

Past & Present

Named after the Buckeye Canal, which in turn was named in tribute to canal planner Malie M. Jackson’s home state of Ohio in the 1880s, the town was incorporated in 1929. It has an unmistakable Main Street USA-style downtown, running along Monroe Avenue to where it curves off into MC-85. Alternately, the downtown district at Verrado – Buckeye’s New Urbanism-inspired planned community – functions as a supplementary downtown.

One Day in the Southwest Valley

First: Take a stroll up Western Avenue in Avondale; have a lengua taco at Café Zamora (, maybe stop in for a for an ice cream or a champurrado – depending on the season – at Casita Kahlo.
Next: Check out The Bible Museum in Goodyear (, a collection of antique bibles and theological works, located in a Hampton Inn. It’s free and open 24 hours, but, as the website commands: “Thou Shalt Practice Social Distancing.”
Then: Wander into the Butcher & Farmer Market IGA ( in Buckeye, buy a bottle of pop, and feel like you’ve stepped into 1971.
Finally: Old Buckeye meets new Buckeye (i.e. Verrado) at Waddell’s Longhorn Corral (, an indoor-outdoor barbecue joint and beer garden with its own fleet of horseshoe pits.

Roman’s Oasis; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Roman’s Oasis; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield

Fun for Free
Get a pic among the amusing bric-a-brac in front of Goodyear dive Roman’s Oasis.

Bet You Didn’t Know

Longtime Minnesota Viking Randall McDaniel hails from Avondale.

Buckeye Boom!
With 393 square miles of incorporated territory, Buckeye is second only to Phoenix among Valley cities. Largely undeveloped, it’s also slated for the most population growth over the next two decades. Current pop.: 79,620. Est. 2050 population: 409,000

Future SWV
Goodyear was excluded from our list of downtowns, for good reason. “We don’t really have a downtown,” says Corinne Holliday, the city’s Communications Manager. But Goodyear has entered into a public-private partnership with Globe Corporation on Civic Square at Estrella Falls (, featuring a new city hall, library and park, plus copious commercial space. “The goal is it that would be sort of the heart of the city,” Holliday says. It’s due for completion in 2022.

2020 Population: 258,420 (SW Valley total)
2050 Population: 649,500 (est.)
source: MAG

Get Your Bearings
Downtown Buckeye extends down Monroe Avenue between Miller Road and Ninth Street
Waddell’s Longhorn Corral; Photo by Jim David
Waddell’s Longhorn Corral; Photo by Jim David