Editors’ Picks for Best of the Valley 2021 Lifestyle & Entertainment

Editorial StaffJuly 6, 2021
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Welcome back, life. As the pandemic winds down, the Valley’s cultural diversions — festivals, the arts, gyms and tours — are blossoming anew.

Best Garden Tour
Phoenix Home & Garden’s Garden Tour

We might be biased – OK, we’re definitely biased – but our sister magazine puts on the best spring showcase of verdant Valley yards out there. Knowledgeable docents from Desert Botanical Garden are on hand to answer questions, and you get to peep various landscape and architectural styles, from French country to desert minimalism. phgmag.com

Best Way to See Arizona Highways
Arizona Memory Project

Wait, what? Your mom pitched all your old copies of Arizona Highways in a pandemic purge? No worries. Grab your laptop and feast on vintage images of flowering cactus and stories about the state’s past – as well as its present and future – thanks to the Arizona Memory Project. azmemory.azlibrary.gov/digital/collection/aho

Phoenix Home & Garden 2021 Garden Tour
Phoenix Home & Garden 2021 Garden Tour

Best Merging of Art and Science
The Program of Art in Medicine

If we’ve learned one thing lately, it’s that medicine is as much an art as a science. Taking that literally – with an eye to developing better bedside manners – University of Arizona’s medical school is offering classes on drawing and other artistic pursuits to its Phoenix campus students. Doctor’s orders! phoenixmed.arizona.edu/artinmedicine

Best Way to Bring Poetry to the People
Rinky Dink Press

Phoenix poet laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski isn’t content to sit in her ivory tower and write; she is constantly on the hunt for ways to engage the public with poetry, including micro pop-up readings around town. Keep an eye on her site for the next one. rinkydinkpress.com

Best Segway Tour
Scottsdale Segway Tours

Sure, you can hoof it around Old Town Scottsdale, but why not zip around on a Segway instead? These tours offer insight into the city’s history as well as its current art, cultural and culinary scenes. The Sunsets, Segways & City Lights Tour includes stunning photo opportunities as the sun sets on The West’s Most Western Town. scottsdalesegwaytours.com

Best Ballet Mash-Up
Desert Botanical Garden x Ballet Arizona Collab

We’ve always liked watching ballet outdoors, but the pandemic made us love it. A safe way to see art! And in an unforgettable setting. Ballet Arizona stages these late-spring productions on an extra-long stage with the sun setting behind the Papagos for an only-in-the-Valley experience. balletaz.org/performance/the-four-seasons

Scottsdale Segway Tours; Photography by Mark Lipczynski
Scottsdale Segway Tours; Photography by Mark Lipczynski

Best Mobile Art
Puppet Pie’s Ice Cream Truck

While most of us were watching Netflix last year, puppeteer Stacey Gordon was busy buying and restoring an old ice cream truck, with dreams of bringing her puppets to the streets. Look for her at upcoming festivals – she even plans to sell puppets inspired by festival treats like hot dogs and snow cones. puppetpie.com/pages/puppet-ice-cream-truck

Puppet Pies; Photography by Madison Kirkman
Puppet Pies; Photography by Madison Kirkman

Best Urban Drive
Apache Road

Stretching from downtown Tempe to the Superstition Mountains – and beyond, as things get windy and rural – Apache is a terrific Sunday drive, a lesson in the Valley’s past (vintage neon signs) and present (the burgeoning Asian community and all those condos) with a dose of nature at the end.

Best Remote-Labor Solution
Hotel Valley Ho’s “Work from Ho(me)”

On a deadline? Avoiding a deadline? For a hundred bucks ($109, to be exact) a day, a guestroom at Hotel Valley Ho can be your office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. When you need a break from the work-email deluge, head to the pool or take advantage of a $25 dining credit. 6850 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-376-2600, hotelvalleyho.com

Hotel Valley Ho; Photo by Splendid Photo Co.
Hotel Valley Ho; Photo by Splendid Photo Co.

Best Flower-Arranging School
The Flower Garage

Take a class at The Flower Garage’s Scottsdale Studio, or they’ll come to your home or event and teach a minimum of 10 people the tips and tricks of creating beautiful flower arrangements. You pick the vase and flowers, and they’ll take care of the rest. theazflowergarage.com

Best Lit Enclave
Nurture House

In a city that often struggles to build community, several players in the lit scene have come together to create Nurture House. Wasted Ink Zine Distro, Pachanga Press, Palabras Bilingual Bookstore and others share space with Por La Vida bakery. The organizers are busy planning post-pandemic activities. Sign us up. 906 W. Roosevelt St., Phoenix

Best Camp
Camp Dreamtree

Artists Roy Wasson Valle and Koryn Woodward Wasson have run dream-stoked camps (think: story readings with Izimbra, “a 16-foot-tall yellow cone who speaks and laughs and dreams”) for years with Scottsdale’s public arts program. This year they concocted a virtual spring break experience for Valley youngsters, complete with augmented reality and real camp gear. We hope the next camp’s in person, and that we’re invited.

Best Downtown Glow Up

Once known as “Nil Avenue,” Downtown Mesa has become one of the coolest places around. Food selections slap, anchored by Worth Takeaway, Myke’s Pizza and Que Chevere. Drinks peak with 12 West Brewing Co. and Cider Corps. These days, Main Street swells come lunch hour. Construction is everywhere, yet the old facades and brick remain. The future of Main Street is bright, and nil no more.

Best Big Idea
Epicenter at Agritopia

Idea machine Joe Johnston and his son William are overseeing this ambitious project, which combines home, work, play and sustenance in close proximity. At the Gilbert compound, 320 apartment homes will exist beside commercial space, including a Matt’s Big Breakfast and Peixoto Coffee. There will be food delivery lockers, a co-working space and a greenhouse-inspired conference room. The project goes live this fall. agritopia.com/#epicenter

Epicenter rendering; photo courtesy Agritopia
Epicenter rendering; photo courtesy Agritopia

Best Socially Distanced Outdoor Theater Experience
The Phoenix Theatre Company

In November 2020, The Phoenix Theatre Company began outdoor programming on a custom-built stage in an adjacent church parking lot, giving theater-goers their first live performing arts experiences in several months. Safety protocols like distanced chairs, sanitizer stations and mask requirements made it a comfortable experience. Shows are back inside for the 2021 summer season. 1825 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-254-2151, phoenixtheatre.com

Best Overdue Redevelopment Project
Paradise Valley Mall

We Americans certainly have nostalgia for the indoor mall of yesteryear (Michael Galinsky’s photography book Malls Across America sells for nearly $1,000 on eBay), but in truth, they don’t serve much purpose today. That’s why it’s exciting to hear of plans to transform the 1978-built, 92-acre Paradise Valley Mall into a live-work-play center à la Scottsdale Quarter. Expect high-rise condos, restaurants, shops and office space. 4568 E. Cactus Rd., Phoenix, paradisevalleymall-zoning.com

Best Control Tower
Terminal 1, Sky Harbor International Airport

Terminal 2 shut its gates for good, and 3 and 4 change all the time. But one building stands as a beacon for the whole city – the 1952 control tower, still in operation. In a city with a constantly changing skyline, it’s nice to have a familiar façade welcome us home.

Best LGBTQ+ Milestone
Phoenix Pride Celebrates 40 Years

Middle age is sexy. Four decades of educating and engaging people to support the LGBTQ+ community and its allies is significant, but Pride hit another milestone in 2021: Fulfilling a $1 million goal to provide grants and scholarships to the community. This year’s soirée (November 6-7) features a bevy of exhibitors and stellar entertainment (Jody Watley, Deborah Cox, Neon Trees). phoenixpride.org

Terminal 1 control tower; photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org
Terminal 1 control tower; photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

Best Use of a Parking Garage
designspace at ASU

With Gammage Auditorium empty for months on end, Arizona State University administrators got creative and launched a show – in a parking garage. For a few weeks this spring, slow-moving cars snaked up and down the cement angles of Packer Stadium’s garage, full of families and friends enjoying a drive-by show of neon light, music and movement. Was it Hamilton? No, but it was something. asugammage.com

designspace at ASU; photo courtesy Arianna Jones
designspace at ASU; photo courtesy Arianna Jones

Best Alternative Film Experience

Cult hits. Indie and foreign films. Private theater rentals. A groovy Twitch channel. What’s not to like? Ten years after FilmBar’s rise, its recent alliance with Pemberton PHX and Phoenix Art Museum for screenings under the stars continues to inspire film lovers. Owner Kelly Aubrey’s artistic commitment never fades to black. Bravo. 815 N. Second St., Phoenix, 602-767-9632, twitch.tv/filmbartv

Best Way To Treat Pandemic Fatigue
Urban Yoga’s Sound Meditation

Over-Zoomed. Sluggish? Urban Yoga’s Candlelight Flow To Zen, Sunrise Flow and $5 Karma Flow are body-mind-spirit elixirs for our times. But the portal’s Restorative + Sound Meditation incorporates the healing elements of sound: flute, live gong, and Tibetan and crystal bowls. Breathe. Let go. 3225 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-277-9642, urbanyogaphoenix.com

Best Handicap-Accessible Hiking Trail
Elliot Ramada Loop Trail at Papago West Park

Clocking in at 2.7 miles, this paved and flat-packed dirt path bests other accessible trails with its longer distance and stunning views. As it loops around Papago’s red-rock buttes, the route grants unmarred sightlines of Downtown Phoenix – perfect at sunset – and up-close encounters with desert flora. 626 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, 602-495-5458, phoenix.gov

Best Strip Mall
Danelle Plaza

Once home to a skateboard park, this beloved strip of Tempe is home to several cool retail businesses – most notably Yucca Tap Room – and if that’s not enough, it’s become an outdoor art installation, featuring projects and murals by locals like Laura Spalding Best. 3400 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, danelleplaza.com