Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix’s Hidden Gems
Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Trek Through Desert Botanical Garden's Cactus Wonderland
With over 50,000 plants across five themed trails, the Desert Botanical Garden is a true cactus wonderland. Wandering through the garden's trails feels like an adventure, with new succulents and cacti to discover around every bend.
The Center for Desert Living Trail highlights the ingenious ways desert plants adapt to survive in an arid climate, like the jojoba plant's wax-coated leaves that minimize water loss. Marvel at the nurse tree, which provides shade for young saguaro cacti. Gaze up at the 15-foot cardón, Sonora's official state cactus.
The Desert Discovery Loop Trail features cacti and succulents from arid regions around the world. Compare the prickly Mexican fence post cactus to the strangely beautiful African bottle tree. See windowsill plants like jade and burro's tail that require little water to thrive.
For a stunning display of colors and textures, venture down the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail. In spring, watch ocotillo cacti burst into vine-like crimson flowers seemingly overnight. Run your fingers along the bumpy spine of a 100-year-old saguaro. Learn how Native American tribes traditionally used agave, devil's claw and other desert plants.
Don't miss the Mesquite Trail with its towering mesquite bosque and demonstration garden modeling water harvesting techniques used by the Hohokam tribe over 1,000 years ago. The Desert Wildflower Trail puts on a spectacular super bloom show after ample winter rains.
While trekking the garden, keep an eye out for wildlife. Butterflies flutter through on their migrations. Lizards like chuckwallas and desert spiny lizards scurry amidst the cacti. If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a roadrunner or jackrabbit.
To escape the Phoenix heat, time your visit for early morning or dusk when the desert comes alive and temperatures dip. Wear a hat, sunscreen and closed toe shoes to protect against sun exposure in the exposed garden. Stay hydrated and replenish electrolytes to avoid dehydration.
What else is in this post?
- Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Trek Through Desert Botanical Garden's Cactus Wonderland
- Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Feast on Tacos at a Hole-in-the-Wall Spot Loved By Locals
- Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Marvel at Musical Instrument Museum's Massive Collection
- Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - See Contemporary Art at Unexpected Venues Around Town
- Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Escape the Heat at Japanese Friendship Garden's Tranquil Ponds
- Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Shop Vintage Treasures on Melrose Street in Sunnyslope
- Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Tour Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's Winter Home
Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Feast on Tacos at a Hole-in-the-Wall Spot Loved By Locals
Taco enthusiasts know that the best tacos aren't always found at flashy new restaurants with buzzy openings. Sometimes, you have to venture off the beaten path, following seasoned locals to their favorite hidden gems. Phoenix has no shortage of delightful hole-in-the-wall taco joints, each with their own loyal fanbase of neighborhood regulars.
One such spot is Tacos Chiwas, a petite taqueria in Phoenix's Garfield historic district. Despite its small size, Tacos Chiwas churns out droves of top-notch tacos from their open kitchen. Their Carne Asada tacos are a customer favorite, with tender, melt-in-your-mouth grilled steak tucked into double corn tortillas. The Al Pastor tacos are another go-to, with succulent marinated pork sliced straight from the trompo rotisserie onto the griddle. Tacos are served swiftly, wrapped in paper for easy on-the-go eating. For the full experience, grab a stool at the counter facing the cooks and watch the tacos sizzle.
Further south in Laveen Village, Tacos Y Mariscos El Primo draws devoted crowds of locals for its authentic Mexican seafood tacos. Their specialty is ceviche, fresh raw fish "cooked" in citrus, paired with crunchy tostadas. Try the fish Taco Campechano piled high with ceviche, grilled tilapia and shrimp for a tasty mix of textures. Don't miss the shrimp diabla tacos, packed with plump grilled shrimp in a spicy red sauce guaranteed to make your tastebuds tingle. El Primo's casual counter service and BYOB policy creates a laid-back, welcoming vibe.
In central Phoenix, locals rave about Carolina's Mexican Food for its legit, no-frills Sonoran-style tacos. Their Carne Asada tacos are simply meat perfection - fatty, marbled grilled steak nestled in steamy homemade corn tortillas. Carolina's also does wonderful Tacos de Lengua, under-appreciated beef tongue tacos with tender meat contrasting crispy edges. Their crunchy, flauta-style Tacos Dorados, stuffed with chicken or beef, make the perfect accompaniment. Like all the best taco joints, Carolina's is small in size but huge on flavor.
Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Marvel at Musical Instrument Museum's Massive Collection
With over 15,000 instruments and associated artifacts from nearly 200 countries, the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) houses one of the world's most extensive collections of global musical instruments. Venturing through the museum's vast galleries feels like embarking on a musical journey across continents and cultures.
The Geographic Galleries form the core of MIM's collection, with instruments organized by region. In the Latin America Gallery, inspect Andean pan flutes hand-carved from cacti andrainforest wood. Pluck the strings of Puerto Rican cuatros, cousin to the guitar. Try your hand at Brazilian berimbaus, playing the single-string bow instrument to the beat of an iron rattle.
The Asia & Oceania Gallery overflows with instruments from sitars to gamelans. See Australian didgeridoos and mouth harps from Papua New Guinea. Marvel at the diverse Indian instruments like tabla drums, veena lutes and pair of five-foot Jaltarang chimes.
The Middle East holds instruments like the oud, an oval lute central to Arabic maqam music. African galleries contain mbiras, kalimbas, koras and more. Europe highlights local instruments like mandolins, concertinas and alpine horns.
Beyond geographic origins, MIM also categorizes instruments into types like idiophones, membranophones and chordophones. The Experience Gallery lets you get hands-on with many instruments. Strum the strings of an electric guitar, tap out beats on a cajonbox drum, blow into ceramic ocarinas and try playing high-energy ¡Global Rhythms! on interactive touchscreens.
The Artist Gallery displays instruments played by music legends like Taylor Swift, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Louis Armstrong alongside fun artifacts like Kurt Cobain’s smashed guitar and Ray Charles’ braille sheet music. Special exhibits highlight specific artists, genres and themes.
MIM offers daily live performances on instruments spanning continents and styles, including Ukranian bandura playing, West African kora music and Cuban salsa dancing. The museum also hosts intimate Artist Insight Performances where renowned musicians like Lionel Loueke and Raul Midón discuss their creative processes.
Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - See Contemporary Art at Unexpected Venues Around Town
Beyond Phoenix's plentiful galleries like the Phoenix Art Museum and SMoCA, contemporary art flourishes in unexpected places all over the city. Keep your eyes peeled in alleys, parking garages, worn-down warehouses and hole-in-the-wall spaces for street art, impromptu installations and guerilla exhibitions - you never know what creative gems you may uncover.
For vibrant street murals by both local and international artists, explore downtown's Roosevelt Row Arts District. Roosevelt Row contains some of Phoenix's highest concentrations of urban art thanks to an ordinance allowing artists to paint on private buildings with owner permission. Many alleyways sport floor-to-ceiling technicolor pieces, and new murals constantly pop up on walls. Don't miss the Dutch, French, Brazilian and Puerto Rican art at The Hive. Marvel at massive wildlife murals like Bob Marley by Brazilian Kobra and Snout by Hyuro. Make sure to also venture inside galleries like Eye Lounge and Unexpected Art Gallery.
The Grand Avenue Arts District offers more outdoor art, like The Photo Graffiti Wall featuring rotating works by Phoenix photographers. Drive by Coronado's warehouse district for more colorful wall paintings. For impromptu pieces, hunt around abandoned buildings in neighborhoods like Sunnyslope and keep an eye on construction site barricades which frequently transform into canvases. Some businesses also commission murals, like the rainbow pride flag at Antigua Coffee Shop and tropical life scenes at Hill Cottage.
Beyond open air art, Phoenix hosts contemporary art in some truly unconventional indoor spaces. For cutting-edge installations inside a former boxing gym, check out Sisao Gallery in Garfield. They've displayed works like Rossitza Todorova's fiber-based Suspension piece and Vela incense burners by Wabi Sabi +1. Drive into an active warehouse at monOrchid's gallery - you might catch anything from sculpture to experimental film screenings. Look for exhibits inside Trailer Park's vintage mobile homes, or find curated shows at The Yard, an adaptive reuse of a former motorcycle garage.
Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Escape the Heat at Japanese Friendship Garden's Tranquil Ponds
When Phoenix's desert temperatures soar into the triple digits, finding respite from the oppressive heat becomes vital. Luckily, the city offers myriad ways to chill out when the mercury rises. High on the list of Phoenix's best cool-down spots is the Japanese Friendship Garden, whose peaceful ponds and verdant grounds provide the perfect escape from the summer swelter.
Spanning more than five pristine acres just north of downtown, the Japanese Friendship Garden transports visitors to an oasis of tranquility modeled after gardens in Japan's former imperial capital, Kyoto. Wander winding paths surrounded by native desert plants and imported Japanese maple and ginkgo trees providing soothing shade. Pause under cherry blossom trees and imagine their springtime blooms. Discover stone lanterns, pagodas, arched drum bridges, zen rock designs and more nods to classic Japanese garden style along the way.
But the garden's main allure lies in its ponds. Stepping stones lead across ponds filled with plump koi that surface hoping for a snack. Sit on benches centered on pond islands to soak in the peaceful atmosphere. Don't miss the impressive 18-foot waterfall cascading over volcanic rock - feel its mist help cool you. More petite water features like bamboo spouts and stone basins dotted around the garden add to its zen serenity.
Early mornings and evenings, when the garden opens exclusively to members, are the prime times to position yourself poolside without the crowds. Daytime visits still offer ample koi viewing and quiet contemplation if you venture down more secluded side paths away from the central pond. The ponds' stillness contrasts beautifully with the garden's other dynamic elements like swaying reeds and raked gravel designs.
While meandering, appreciate the immense thought and care that went into crafting this tranquil getaway in the middle of the desert. From recreating Kyoto's symbolic bridge to importing each stone and plant, every detail evokes Japanese principles of harmony with nature. The garden was designed to provide an authentic experience of Japan without leaving the American southwest.
Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Shop Vintage Treasures on Melrose Street in Sunnyslope
Far removed from Phoenix's trendy vintage clothing stores with their carefully curated selections and NYC-esque price tags lies an altogether different vintage shopping experience: Melrose Street in the Sunnyslope neighborhood. This unassuming North-Central strip features a cluster of thrift shops where diehard treasure-hunters sift through box after box of pre-loved items searching for hidden gems. Prepare to dig for deals at prices a fraction of big-name vintage boutiques.
At classics like Savers and Goodwill, sort through racks stuffed to the brim with every style imaginable, from mod mini dresses to cowboy boots and everything in between. While mass-market big box thrift stores lack the quality control of pricier vintage shops, their enormous selection means striking occasional gold is still possible if you don't mind some duds along the way. Be ready to scour - finding the diamond in the rough takes persistence. Check mismatched tops and bottoms for pieces worth pairing. One thrifter found a $10 genuine Italian silk Valentino skirt buried behind a rack of sweatpants.
Smaller thrift stores like Clothes Caboose offer shelves of accessories begging to be pawed through, with prices typically under $5. Scour baskets of clip-on earrings, trays of brooches and bins of chunky belt buckles to add fun flair. Check behind counters for vintage treasures like music boxes, cameras and typewriters. Racks of vintage tees and jackets deliver throwback flair. And nothing beats finding a quality item like a cashmere sweater or Frye boots for less than $10.
For more curation, boutique Waste to Couture sells only the choicest vintage apparel alongside reworked and upcycled fashions. Their collection of handpicked denim ranges from classic Levis to modern styles, all priced under $40. Floral frocks, boho dresses and Y2K-chic tops fill the racks begging to be tried on during a girls' vintage shopping excursion. Small locally owned shops like this epitomize the thrill of thrifting on Melrose.
While the treasures found on Melrose may need some TLC compared to higher-end vintage shops, the unbeatable prices let you take more risks on unique statement pieces without breaking the bank. Don't expect to find many polished looks ready for a photoshoot. But for imaginative DIYers, the breadth of choice means ample raw materials ripe for reconstruction. Breath new life into dated dresses by replacing sashes, shortening hemlines or dyeing fabric. With vision and skill, create modern looks from the vast array of pieces sourced on Melrose for a fraction of big-name boutique prices.
Cactus Quest: Venture Beyond the Tourist Traps to Find Phoenix's Hidden Gems - Tour Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's Winter Home
Step into the past at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s former winter residence and desert laboratory where the famed architect’s signature prairie style took form amidst the cacti. Getting a glimpse into Wright’s life and work at Taliesin West provides an unparalleled opportunity to understand the creative genius behind over 400 celebrated designs.
Guests can embark on Insight Tours of the grounds led by expert Taliesin Fellows, former apprentices who studied under Wright and now educate visitors on his innovations and ideology. Guides vividly share stories that transport you back in time as you tour Wright’s private office, bedroom, living spaces and the renowned Cabaret Theater. Hear how Wright built Taliesin West as an architectural experiment in harmony with the natural desert surroundings, utilizing local stone and wood while eschewing right angles. Marvel at the home’s origins as a campsite and the ingenious solutions Wright employed to counter the desert climate like canvas roof panels.
Many who tour Taliesin West find themselves awestruck seeing Wright’s original sketches, furniture designs and signature touches like the geometric leaded glass windows he created. Visitors gush over the meals served in Wright’s private dining room on the Insight Tour, relishing the chance to envision Wright entertaining luminaries like Marilyn Monroe at this very table. Equally impressive are Taliesin West’s expansive terraces and patios, whose thin roof lines seamlessly integrate indoors with outside. Meandering the grounds, Wright’s respect for the surrounding landscape becomes evident through his preservation of natural rock formations throughout the architecture.
For those short on time, the hour-long Panorama Tour provides highlights of Taliesin West's history and architecture via shuttle ride. But Insight Tours allow for a deeper 3-hour immersion into Wright’s world, including food and beverages he savored. Night tours cultivate added atmosphere with candlelight casting Taliesin West into Wright’s era. Private tours can also be booked for more intimate experiences.