Spotlight :: PHX

[trip style = urban + sun + active & adventure]

{Editor’s Note :: This month we’ve been prescribing a healthy dose of Greater Phoenix’s desert sun covering girls’ getaways, a stay at the Arizona Biltmore and The Saguaro, and outings like a Spring Training baseball game or a hike up Camelback Mountain. Next week: A Scottsdale Spotlight.}

Resorts, sports and sprawl. That was my assumption. Going out on a limb, that might be yours too. After touching down at the airport, I would put on my blinders {read: oversized sunglasses} to the nearby city, pick up my rental car and hightail it on the freeway toward to a resorty palm oasis filled with welcome drinks, sun and loungers.

Passing by Phoenix at 100 mph, I n-e-v-e-r guessed the urban playground had enough eateries, arts venues and artisan markets to make you sit down and stay awhile---linger even.

Many US cities are going through a renaissance. Urban hubs once high on towers, power suits and caffeine are undergoing a rebirth, favoring a blend of business and pleasure. Phoenix, the sixth-largest city in the US, is one of the movement's savants. The Valley of the Sun's economic hub is quickly becoming a live/work/play space where a new breed of urban dweller is shaping the cityscape on foot and on rail.

This is all part of the plan, with completed projects like the $1.4-billion METRO Light Rail system, moving 15,000 people per hour along a 20-mile stretch linking a series of key stops in Phoenix to Tempe and Mesa. Forgotten city quadrants are filling up with music halls, vintage shops and coffee/cocktail bars, pulling people in at all hours of the day instead of depending on the in-and-out rat race regulars.

Don't bypass Phoenix like I did on my first few visits. Even if it's just for a day of your vacay, take off your sunglasses and dig into Arizona's sun-tropolis, where culture is the new currency.

Eat Breakfast // Lux Central When you order a coffee, your bevvy gets a name tag. Of course it does. Lux started off with java, stayed true to its roots, then grew into a coffee-come-cocktail bar offering a small-batch breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. Open from 6am - late, it's like Cheers, but replace Ted Danson with Ted Hipster, bar stools with schoolhouse Marais chairs and the bar with a community table adorned with bowls of limes and crystal mixology sets. Visit Lux enough and everyone will know your name - but the name tag on your coffee cup helps.

Lunch // Pane Bianco Starting off as a take-away sandwich shop offering a covered picnic-style eating area in the parking lot, Pane Bianco has experienced similar growth to Lux - and they happen to be nextdoor neighbors. In Pane Bianco version 2.0, you can take out on one side of the restaurant or eat in on the other. Named best chef in the Southwest region by the James Beard Foundation in 2003, owner Chris Bianco's simple menu packs a culinary punch with wood-fired market sandwiches like goat cheese with roasted tomatoes and arugula, or mortadella with date/tomato jam and pecorino sardo.

Dinner // Tuck Shop Not enough restaurants whip up homemade tonic in the AM, are anchored by mod 70s living room lounges or feature an original bank vault {left over from when the space was a credit union}. Thank God for architects-turned-restauranteurs. When said living room lounge includes vintage aqua arcade games akin to waterfall ring toss, the space can't help but take you back to a time when you snuck away from the dinner table to watch Chips on TV and your mom called you back to finish your peas. In Tuck Shop's case, you want seconds, comfort food like crispy chicken with savory waffles, or beer-battered cheese curds demands it. Order a G&T - you won't be disappointed.

Drinks // Durants Drinking at Durants is like watching an intense red-on-magenta sunset that hangs on and on. With only a slight facelift since its opening in 1950, the bar at this speakeasy is ringed by red-tufted vinyl half-moon booths {insert Ron Burgundy here}, set against blue-red damask wallpaper and orangey-red carpets. Servers and bartenders wearing the traditional black on white avec vest and bow tie trio, only add to the what's-old-is-new-again scene. Don't even think about ordering beer or wine; Durants is a place for whiskey and old fashioneds. Shut the front door! Tradition demands entering through the kitchen.

Après // Crescent Ballroom While I was walking around downtown Phoenix, I couldn't help but notice this place. Beside a mechanic shop, it channels the same feel with a color scheme reminiscent of a black, 1970's Volvo wagon. From the outside, Crescent Ballroom looks like an urban watering hole, but it's what's on the inside that counts, no? Two kitchen-like doors open up into one of Phoenix's hottest indie music venues the size of a boutique used-car lot. A different act takes the stage every night.

Do Phoenix Public Market & Food Trucks As roosters are crowing at dawn in the country, vendors are setting up for Phoenix's open-air public market in the city. On Saturday morning, grab a coffee, browse local farm produce and buy locally made jewelry. Also on Wednesdays from 4-8pm. If you're lucky, you might spot the torched goodness crème brûleé food truck, voted one of the 20 best food trucks in the US by Smithsonian magazine. I tried it and the truck's crusted custards deserve all the credit they receive.

Art Walking, driving and taking the Light Rail through downtown Phoenix you spot clean-lined architecture with unique passive heating/cooling techniques. Take an hour to wander by these structures. Also visit the Phoenix Art Museum. With exhibits like Frank Lloyd Wright's "Organic Architecture in the 21st Century", a massive contemporary art collection and a boutique fashion collection {currently: bathing suits through the ages}, this 160,000-sf gallery doesn't overwhelm, it delights. Also check out the Heard {right down the street}, a world-famous museum featuring the art and culture of the Native Americans of the Southwest. {Trip Styler Tip :: The Phoenix Art Museum's FLW exhibit is on until April 29th. If you go, try to join a tour. Don't miss the interior garden---a great place to rest tired, sightseeing legs.}

Hike Networks of steep climbs and flat trails await as close as 20 mins outside the city.

Spring Training Baseball Every year Arizona gets fever pitch for the month of March playing host to 15 Major League teams. Catch a midday game for as little as $8.

Stay [trip style = luxury] Arizona Biltmore - vintage desert glam and Trip Styler approved! See full review here.

[trip style = budget conscious] Priceline - book or bid on a two- to five-star stay for less.

Getting There Direct, daily flights {with favorable flight times} from Vancouver to Phoenix start at $400 return via US Airways or WestJet.

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[all photos by @tripstyler {except light rail shot, durants & crescent ballroom} taken while as a guest of Phoenix's CVB.]