An Aesthete’s Guide to Phoenix

Phoenix is a mecca for the arts.

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Shouldered by golf courses, sprawling resorts and mountain vistas, one might forget that Phoenix is also a mecca for the arts. From walking the downtown streets for the First Friday Art Walk  to experiencing quiet, contemplative galleries of Indigenous art at the Heard Museum, this is a must-visit destination for aesthetes. The city’s dining scene is equally design-centric, including a new restaurant that embraces Japanese cuisine in a glam environment, plus a cocktail lounge  named among the best in North America. Plus, you can’t beat the sculptural art in the natural landscape, thanks to the cacti and succulents.

While Phoenix and its surrounding ‘burbs do offer boutiques linked to designer labels, you can find those in Beverly Hills or Paris. Check out the indie shopping scene instead, which in recent years is highlighting more and more local makers, for an Etsy-like experience in real time. While the city is often overlooked in favor of Scottsdale, home to the late architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s homestead, Taliesin West, Phoenix is well worth a visit. Here’s what to do in Arizona’s largest city.

Where to Stay

JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa

  • 5350 E. Marriott Dr, Phoenix, AZ 85054

This 950-room luxury hotel boasts an impressive 17 pickleball courts, but the dining options, helmed by Top Chef alum Angelo Sosa, are equally—if not more—enticing. The Mexican-inspired Tia Carmen features fringe pillows and huge, shell-like ceiling lights dangling at different levels in a white-washed interior, the work of Schoos Design. Kembara, which opened just a few months ago, offers a menu inspired by Asia’s most celebrated street foods, such as fish head curry and Wagyu beef rendang, paired with a dramatic, moody interior. The pool received a recent update, and there are plenty of wellness activities, including sound healing, aromatherapy blending, yoga and sage bundling. Rooms were refreshed in 2022, with some first-floor options boasting outdoor fire pits. The gift shop highlights local artists, jewelers and food producers.

JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. werner segarra photography inc

The Global Ambassador

  • 4360 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018

Phoenix’s newest luxury property, open since December 2023, houses four restaurants from 12-time James Beard Award-nominated chef Sam Fox: Pink Dolphin (Mexican and Peruvian dishes poolside, next to petal-pink chaises and orange umbrellas), Thea (Mediterranean on the rooftop) and Le Ame (Parisian-style steakhouse), plus a lobby bar. Testani Design Troupe—a longtime partner for Fox’s other restaurants—oversaw the hotel’s interior design, including leather benches, botanical wallpaper and original figure-painting art from local artist Michael Carson in the 141 guest rooms. Elsewhere on the property, there’s an outdoor pool and wellness center, and stunning Camelback Mountain views.

The Global Ambassador. The Global Ambassador

What to Do

First Friday Art Walk

  • Downtown Phoenix

Started during the mid-1990s, the First Friday Art Walk now spans dozens of blocks, with about 70 galleries participating. Pop-up art installations and food trucks make it easy to grab dinner or have conversations with other artists. Many art spaces, including in the Roosevelt Row Arts District and Grand Avenue Arts District promote diversity and inclusion, such as Cahokia, a member-based collective focused on Indigenous art and design. Drop by Alwun House, which houses the country’s longest-running exhibit of erotic and exotic art (it’s in its 41st year), and make sure to stop by The Nash for live jazz. Not in town for the first Friday night of the month? Most of the stops are permanent galleries, as well as murals (the best are at 1½ Street Mural Project, at North 1st and Garfield) that you can visit at other times. 

First Friday Art Walk. Visit Phoenix/Foskett Creative

Phoenix Art Museum

  • 1625 N. Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004

This free-admission art museum consists of two structures designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien, a firm contracted for the Obama Presidential Center. The first building was completed in 1996, and the other a decade later, in 2006. Two fashion-oriented shows are currently on exhibit: “Barbie: A Cultural Icon” (through July 7, 2024) traces the pop culture icon’s history, while “The Power of Pink” examines the pros and cons of the color pink as used in fashion and culture. Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's Fireflies Infinity Mirror Room—emulating the experience of being surrounded by fireflies—is on permanent installation.

Yayoi Kusama, You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies, 2005. Mixed media installation with LED lights. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum. Phoenix Art Museum.

Heard Museum

  • 2301 N. Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004

A major holder of Indigenous American art, such as baskets, pottery and beadwork, this 11-gallery museum was first realized in 1929. Now in a more modern home, included in the permanent collection are the late Arizona U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater’s collection of Hopi kachina dolls and, as a new acquisition last year, jewelry by Laguna Pueblo/Santo Domingo Pueblo artist Gail Bird and Navajo artist Yazzie Johnson. Stop by the gift shop, where you can buy Indigenous-made fine art, folk art, textiles, beadwork, baskets and other objects bought directly from the artists.

Heard Museum. Heard Museum

Historic Walking Tour

During this two-hour tour ($25 on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 1 p.m.), Phoenix’s Art Deco landmarks and buildings are examined on foot, with a knowledgeable guide to provide historical context. It’s a great way to experience one of the most walkable parts of Phoenix. Among sites visited are the 1929 Orpheum Theatre, once the only theater between Los Angeles and Denver hosting vaudeville shows. Another bonus: this tour visits filming sites for Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic 1960 movie, Psycho.

Orpheum Theater. WireImage

Where to Shop

Frances

  • 10 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013

Georganne Bryant (mom to Saturday Night Live alum Aidy Bryant) cultivates a whimsical vibe at her Midtown boutique, with an array of artisan-made gifts. Whether you’re shopping for a new planner, a sassy greeting card or a piece of jewelry, it’s all here. Bryant also throws support to the community by hosting an annual arts and craft fair called “Crafeteria.”

The Merchantile of Phoenix

  • 730 E Missouri Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85014

A sister shop to the Scottsdale location of the same name, this boutique popped up in 2022 in uptown Phoenix. Owner kimberly pak gives creators and small businesses a physical space to exhibit their work at a low cost. Look for the building’s sky-blue exterior paint and cacti motif against a backdrop of bubble-gum pink. Inside, you’ll find jewelry, apparel, candles, pet accessories, Taylor Swift-themed greeting cards, Stetson-style hats and more. Pak also organizes the outdoor Merchantile Market every March (this year, it’s on March 9).

The Merchantile of Phoenix. The Merchantile

Made Art Boutique

  • 922 N 5th St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

Housed in a historic bungalow downtown, this art gallery-meets-boutique sells artist-made wares such as ceramics (including a stacked blue-stone vase by ted ciccone) and jewelry and “Desert Vibes” motif t-shirts. Co-owners Cindy Dach (an embroidery artist) and Greg Esser (Phoenix’s former Public Art Program Director) shine a well-deserved spotlight on local artisans.

Made Art Boutique. Made Art Boutique.

Antique Sugar

  • 801 N 2nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

Co-owners (and avid thrifters) Annamarie Sanchez and Sarah Bingham offer a carefully curated selection of styles in their 2,000-square-foot space in the Roosevelt Row Arts District. This is a far cry from a Goodwill, where you have to flip through lots of hangers to find the perfect halter top. The items can be pricey, because you’re simply not going to find a 1970s flared-leg jumpsuit anywhere else. Their wildly popular Sugarbox is a mystery box of vintage accessories for him (such as cufflinks, ties or belt buckles) or her (think sunglasses and scarves).

Roosevelt Row Arts District sign. Visit Phoenix

Where to Eat and Drink

Platform 18 at Century Grand

  • 3626 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018

Longtime Phoenix mixologist jason asher debuted this Arcadia cocktail lounge in 2019, and earned a spot on the top 50 bars in North America last year. Two major aspects set this place apart; first, the bar debuts a brand-new concept every year or so, and second, a killer mixology program. Rolled out in February, the newest theme dials it back to 1924 in New York City—including a replica early-20th century Pullman train built just for the bar. Drinks in the eight-page book-style menu include “54th Street Club” (featuring popcorn-infused tequila) and “Granny Hatchet” (an ode to a radical member of the temperance movement known for attacking taverns with a hatchet), each one celebrating the Roaring Twenties while folding in flavors of dishes served during the Prohibition era.

Platform 18 at Century Grand. Grace Stufkosky

Pyro

  • 4300 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018

Open since November 2023, this 4,200-square-foot restaurant offers a Japanese twist on open-flame, live-fire cooking. Designed by AvroKO (the firm’s other projects include the highly acclaimed SingleThread in Healdsburg, and the forthcoming Six Senses in London), this 4,200-square-foot space is largely inspired by mid-century Japanese supper clubs and casinos, with a clubby vibe throughout to drive that point home, complete with velvet fabrics, black-and-white tile flooring and gold finishes. Standout dishes include branzino with pickled ginger shoots and Tokyo turnip.

Pyro. Werk Creative

Pip Coffee and Clay

  • 2617 N 24th St, Phoenix, AZ 85008

If you’re craving a hands-on art activity with your latte, this cafe definitely delivers. Pip Coffee and Clay debuted three years ago, offering open studio sessions as well as guided classes in working with clay to create ceramics and pottery. It’s not just coffee on the café menu: you can also order a glass of natural wine, or snarky-named bagel sandwiches like “Eff U (and the avocado toast you rode in on)” and pastries baked in-house.

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