Cool off with culture in downtown Chandler

IMG_1807Arizonans don’t have to travel far to take advantage of cool, cultural offerings. Five air-conditioned locations in downtown Chandler offer respite from the heat and provide satisfaction for summertime cultural cravings — music, theater, art, film and literature.

At Chandler Center for the Arts, free summer concert performances start Friday Aug. 2 with the Bad Cactus Brass Band at 7 p.m. Other performances are jazz musician Dmitri Matheny on Aug. 16, a blend of flamenco and mariachi — “FlaMEXico!” on Aug. 23, and a music variety show for youth, “Plugged In” on Aug. 24. Tip: Since these shows are free and seating is first-come, first-served, you may want to get there when the doors open at 6:30 p.m. Allow extra time to check out the center’s gallery.

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Xico Arte y Cultura Galeria is an art gallery, shop and studio dedicated to traditional arts and crafts by Native American and Latino cultures. Find jewelry, paintings, multimedia art, folk arts and crafts at the shop, located on the west side of A.J. Chandler Park. Many of the items carry colorful Dia de los Muertos themes. Tip: Check this non-profit organization’s Facebook page for upcoming special exhibits and artist demonstrations. Open Wednesday through Saturday noon to 5 p.m.

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Stop by the versatile Vision Gallery and view special exhibits: “Decision Portraits by Susan Lenz” until July 26 or “Fine Art Photography by David Miller” beginning Aug. 2. About 300 regional artists’ works are on a rotating display. Don’t miss the popular “Art-O-Mat” — itself a mini art gallery, a showcase of mini art. It’s really a converted cigarette machine. Hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tip: Sign up for the gallery newsletter and you’ll get first news about special exhibitions and artists’ opening night receptions.

Cool off with a “hot” read from Chandler Public Library’s Friends of the Library summer book sale. Buy Library discard books at 4 for $1 through the month of July! And if you stop by on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. through Aug. 6, you can watch a showing of one of the flicks in the Get Reel Documentary Film Series hosted by the Library in partnership with Public Television’s Point of View series. Tip: Don’t forget your library card to check out a Cultural Pass for free local museum visits.

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Gangplank, downtown Chandler’s collaborative workspace, comes alive with arts, crafts and music as the indoor location of the Downtown Chandler Art Walk on third Fridays during the summer months. Desks and computers make way for displays of sculpture, photography, painting, ceramics and jewelry from 6 to 10 p.m. So if you don’t have plans yet for this Friday, July 19: Come and enjoy music by Chris Buzan and a glass of wine while you stroll through the exhibits at Gangplank, located at 260 S. Arizona Ave. Learn more about Gangplank and its Wednesday brownbag series talks, health initiatives, community classes, business workshops by visiting the website or signing up for the weekly newsletter. Tip: Park in the city parking garage directly across the street, on the east side of Arizona Avenue. (Entrance to the garage is on its east side — off of Washington Street. It’s No. 10 on this handy downtown Chandler parking map.)

Combine any of these “artsy” venue visits with dinner at one of downtown Chandler’s cool restaurants, and you have the makings of a masterpiece — a memorable night out on the town.

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Leisurely lunch at The Cafe in Sonoita

Once in a while I get a huge desire for a big, juicy burger. Who doesn’t?  Again when I feel that craving I hope I’ll be near Sonoita, Arizona, so I can stop in The Café. Chuck and I recently enjoyed a leisurely Saturday lunch at this wonderful little country café, located just east of the intersection of State Routes 83 and 82, about 45 miles southeast of Tucson. While I can’t accurately testify about all the menu items, I can report my findings about the Blue Cheese Burger and “the day’s special” green chile cheeseburger. These were among the best I’ve had in a long time.

More reasons to dine at The Café in Sonoita:

On-the-way to wine country

Before an afternoon of wine-tasting at any one or more of the Sonoita and Elgin area wineries, you may want to have a bit of lunch. The Café is one of just a few eateries in Sonoita. The drive from I-10 south to Sonoita along highway 83 is part of an entire stretch of officially-designated scenic Arizona highway. You’ll see some of Arizona’s best farm and ranch lands.

Views from the patio at The Cafe

Views from the patio at The Cafe

Excellent mountain views

The restaurant itself doesn’t look like much from the outside, but who cares? You came here for a good meal, and you’ll be enjoying it either inside the rustic, oak and brick interior or you’ll be out on the patio gazing at the Santa Rita Mountains or the Canelo Hills while you dine. And those mountain views are excellent. On the warm, sunny Saturday we visited, the higher elevations were still under a layer of snow.

Molly enjoying the dog friendly patio at The Cafe

Molly enjoying the dog friendly patio at The Cafe

Dog-friendly outdoor seating

A separate entrance to the patio from the outside often will indicate a restaurant has a dog-friendly area. Since each restaurant has its own policy and each Arizona county government has its own health restrictions, I will first inquire before I bring Molly over to the patio gate.

Green chile burger was the special of the day

Green chile burger was the special of the day

 

Blue Cheese Burger

Blue Cheese Burger

Mouthwatering menu

The Café’s lunch list clearly shows that this restaurant is a few steps ahead of other Arizona rural cafés. The menu excites the taste buds with one of these selections: a Black and Bleu Salad with steak, blue cheese with greens and cucumbers, a Hot Bacon Vinn Salad with tomato, apple bacon and walnuts or a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar, Swiss, provolone cheese and homemade pesto. The burgers we were served were really tasty — fresh, hot beef patty with melted cheeses, sesame bun, veggies and condiments on the side with crisp fries… need I go on?

Get there early to get a table -- this place fills up fast for Saturday lunch

Get there early to get a table — this place fills up fast for Saturday lunch

Locals eat here

Most of us already know: it’s obvious to distinguish tourists from locals when you step into a restaurant. When you see a solid representation of locals, you can be confident of consistency in food quality, customer service and value. Chuck and I can’t wait to return.

Top-notch service from Kirsten at The Cafe

Top-notch service from Kirsten at The Cafe

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Five Reasons to dine at Babe’s Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage

Babe's Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse beer sampler

After a short but steep morning hike in the desert mountains of Rancho Mirage, Calif., (see previous post), we opted for lunch at Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse. Hot, tired, thirsty and hungry, we may have found any restaurant option more than adequate, but we were authentically impressed with this casual barbecue eatery at The River shopping center. So here are five reasons we’ll be returning to Babe’s:

1. Barbecue. We loved the large variety menu selections of barbecue sandwiches, combination plates and platters. Our lunch sandwich temptations included choices of chicken, pork, sausage, brisket or tri-tip with two side selections of French fries, sweet potato fries, cole slaw, baked beans or turkey chili. As a no-risk diner, I stayed on the conservative side and ordered a simple sandwich lunch but other menu selections that raised my interest were: the tri-tip or shrimp po’ boy, or the smoked black angus short rib sandwich with hot link sausage, brisket, grilled onions, pickles with Babe’s spicy sauce. My pulled pork sandwich plate comprised two sandwiches. The meat was tender and juicy and dabbled with Babe’s own barbecue sauce. It wasn’t smothered with sauce, as others have attempted, as if to mask a tough meat cut or to soften up a dried, overcooked brisket. Only negative about this sandwich: it was served on a white refined flour bun. Babe’s barbecue sauce compensated for the bun drawback — it’s just the right balance of smoke, spice and sweet to pair with pork, or any barbecue meat.

2. Service. Our service was right on the mark. Sometimes servers get a little too anxious to try to move customers — ours was not. Some servers lose track of tables and neglect customers — ours did not. Some servers are a little too aggressive, trying to pump up sales for the larger tip — ours did not. He was knowledgeable about the menu products, brews and local area.

Three pigs welcome diners to Babe's Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse

3. Vibe. I’m not sure about using the ‘vibe’ category, but I suspect this includes a description of décor and clientele. One word to describe the casual interior at Babe’s Brew House: whimsical. Okay, maybe the word should be kitschy. Porcine objects are everywhere: pig lamps, pig windows, pig statues, pig pictures. Seating is comfortable, ranging from cozy booths to spacious tables to accommodate groups. We stopped by on a Sunday around noon, so we witnessed an influx of The River center shoppers, seniors, large families and the after-church crowd.

4. Price. All menu items are fairly reasonably priced – especially when you compare prices to other restaurants in the area. Our two sandwiches with beer samples came to less than $50 with tax and tip. (The beer samples were at least half of the bill.) Meal portions are large so two persons could easily split an entrée or sandwich plate.

5. Brews. We sampled six of Babe’s beers: Hog Tie Rye, Babe’s Classic Golden Ale, Honey Blonde Ale, a wheat beer called Das Schwein Dunkel Weizen, 29 Palms Pale Ale and Blackfin Lager. I thought three of the samples were very good: the honey blonde, the dark lager and the 29 Palms. The latter was my favorite — it had just the right balance of malt and hops, an easy drinking pale ale.

Added notes: Babe’s original owner was Donald Callender, known for founding the Marie Callender’s restaurant chain (Marie’s son). He died in 2009, but current chef/brewer/manager Arthur Vasquez continues his legacy.

According to Palm Springs Life’s Desert Guide, Babe’s is the valley’s only onsite brewery.

Babe’s has won awards for Palm Springs Life magazine’s Best of the Best for Best Barbecue Restaurant, Best Happy Hour and Best Cocktails. This  pub’s not only known for its beers, but its signature cocktails.

Pulled pork sandwich platter at Babe's could feed two

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Wings Over Willcox nature festival bolsters tourism

Willcox, Arizona is earning a well-deserved place among Arizona’s tourism communities. When Arizona visitors think about Willcox, they will not only imagine singing cowboy-actors, apple orchards and agriculture, but also quaint shops, museums, fine wines and nature festivals.

Willcox can boast about being hometown to one of Arizona’s favorite celebrities: singing movie cowboy Rex Allen. His son, Rex Allen Jr. also brought his own fame to the small, but growing southeastern Arizona city. The region around Willcox also became known for its famous apple orchards and pistachios. More recently, a new crop of wine grapes has flourished and wineries have sprung up around Willcox. The town is now a popular spot for wine tasting.

What many don’t know: Willcox is famous for birds, birding and bird watching. Wings Over Willcox (WOW) is an annual birding and nature festival with the main focus on the winter migration of sandhill cranes. Seminars, trade show and bird tours bring visitors to Willcox for the four-day festival. This year’s event is January 12-15.

While in town for the event, visitors and festival attendees will have much to do and see. The chamber website has listings for attractions as well as dining and lodging.  The city’s website also contains visitor information. Here are just a few of the places we recently visited:

Downtown Willcox, along Railroad Avenue holds several of Willcox' main attractions. Willcox Commercial Store is said to be the oldest, continuously operating retail establishment in Arizona.

 

Also on Railroad Avenue, Rex Allen Museum is a tribute to the singing cowboy-actor and his son

 

Vintage Photography, Gambing Hall and Parlor is full of antiques and vintage clothing

 

Coronado Vineyards, a few miles northeast of Willcox, is one of several area wineries. Its retail shop has a large selection of quaint gifts, and wine, of course.

 

A Taste of Coronado offers Willcox visitors an option of upscale dining

Wine-tasting at Carlson Creek Winery

 

 

Window shopping along Railroad Avenue

Wine tasting room at Keeling Schaefer doubles as art gallery

Readers: what are your favorite things to do in Willcox? Any favorite restaurants? Attractions?

Don’t sidestep Superior’s sights

There’s a lot more to Superior, Arizona than meets the eye – at least the driver’s eye. For motorists traveling east on US 60 from the Phoenix area, it’s easy to pass up the downtown business section of the small town, located about 30 miles east of Apache Junction. For many motorists, their destination ends at Superior’s main tourist attraction, Boyce Thompson Arboretum or their destination lies beyond the town’s main intersection of US 60 and State Route 177. They rarely turn off the main highway onto Supeior’s Main Street from the west, or Ray Road from the east. But they’re missing the chance to shop at the unique shops or dine at the home-style eateries.

Over the years, after making some trips around Superior, such as Picket Post Mountain, Apache Leap and Pinal City (ghost town), we’d often stop in Superior for breakfast or lunch. I always thought to would be nice to come back and spend some time in Superior, but I never had the chance again — until just recently.

I  recommend making Los Hermanos Restaurant your first stop of the morning. This one is right on the highway – impossible to miss, really. Although my husband and I love all the food here: basic Mexican fare and sandwich platters, we especially like the breakfast menu. There’s nothing better than one of their big breakfast burritos to start the day. The tortillas are homemade — thin, flaky, and always fresh and warm.

Los Hermanos Restaurant: homemade tortillas and delicious Mexican breakfasts

 

Sausage-egg breakfast burrito from Los Hermanos. Took mine 'to go' and eat in the park.

After breakfast, take a drive down Main Street, park your vehicle and explore.  There are some fascinating places! Rolling Rock Gallery is one of those. You’ll find everything here: unique toys and gifts, rock specimens and mining equipment – even handcrafted dinnerware. It’s a museum and gift shop in one, and according to clerk Toni Sanchez, it’s also a temporary employment agency.

 

Rolling Rock Gallery is part gift shop, rock shop and employment agency

Toni Sanchez of Rolling Rock Gallery

The Copper Gecko is another shop that looks worthwhile, unfortunately it was closed for the day, but we did do some “window shopping,” and just gazing inside, we could see all the antiques, gifts and collectible items.

 

Copper Gecko, with antiques and collectibles, in 'downtown' Superior

Because we were traveling with our dog, we didn’t get to visit the Bob Jones Museum, which contains collections about the area’s mining and pioneer history. Also worth a look: the World’s Smallest Museum, a cute, maybe gimmicky, little roadside stop, tourist-type photo op and Porter’s Café, which appears, on Yelp and Facebook at least, to be a popular place for lunch and dinner. We’ll have to have one of their daily lunch specials on our next visit. I guess we’ll have to come back to Superior and spend more time.

Spend some time in Superior, Arizona -- like at this peaceful park along Main Street

Sedona, Arizona – April 2011

Sedona is a popular getaway destination for many living in Arizona. Residents of Phoenix, Flagstaff and even Tucson are drawn to Sedona for its magnetizing beauty even if they don’t buy into the “harmonic convergence” vortex theories. (I’m not going to attempt to explain it. You have Google; look it up.)

We travel to Sedona for a number of more mundane reasons:

1) Close proximity to the Phoenix metro area (only takes about 2 hours)

2) Wide range of lodging and dining experiences because of the heavy volume of tourists

3) Extensive options for outdoor recreation activities such as hiking, camping, backpacking

4) Numerous opportunities for art, music and film fairs and festivals

5) Historical sites

6) Wine tasting in the Verde Valley

Here are some photos of our last trip to Sedona in April. We spent a week there, hiking, shopping, wine tasting, dining, sightseeing and relaxing. This time was very much like previous trips, except we were traveling with Molly, our border collie. And from our point of view, she has lot more energy than those vortices.

Starting out on the Marg

View from Marg

Red rocks from Marg

When we visit Sedona, we always try to take a different trail, or explore a different area. Marg’s Draw Trail is easily reached from the “Y” — just a short 2.5 mile walk up Schnebly Road. It’s almost an urban trail running path — with plenty of neighborhood residents using this as their morning or evening workout. Don’t be discouraged; this is a wonderful trail with excellent views of many rock formations as it weaves beyond the reach of the subdivisions.

Fly fishing on Oak Creek

Spires of sandstone from the Marg

For seven nights, Los Abrigados Resort & Spa would be our lodging. We found it comfortable, but a little cramped. But we spent most of our time on the patio, watching the wind sculptures, soaking in the hot tub and snacking on Verde Valley wine and cheese.

Some Los Abrigados room patios include hot tubs

Our dog, Molly really enjoyed being next to Oak Creek, where she could watch the ducks and meet some of the other guests.

Creek frontage of Los Abrigados

Water feature along Oak Creek at Los Abrigados

No trip to Sedona should be without a side trip to some of the Verde Valley wineries and there are several, but we stopped at three — Page Springs, Javelina Leap and Oak Creek.

Oak Creek Vineyards

Large roses around the vines

Oak Creek, a bottle of Arizona wine and a bistro cheese and meat basket makes perfect lunch

One of the sights I would highly recommend is Montezuma Well. Everyone goes to “Montezuma’s Castle,” but few take the extra half hour to see his “Well.” Believe me, it’s worth the time. And it’s more than just a “hole in the ground.” It’s a set of cliff dwelling ruins and an easy and beautiful path to a natural irrigation system, still in use by local farmers. We just happened upon the back entrance to Montezuma Well when we were attempting a trip to the West Clear Creek trailhead. (Our low profile passenger car would not reach that destination without a severe beating.)

Ruins above the water at Montezuma Well

Students learn about the irrigation outlet of Montezuma Well

Path to the

Another trail we explored on this trip to Sedona was the Boynton Canyon Trail. We always felt slighted on each of weekends to Sedona, not having the time to fit this one into a short two-day trip, but we finally got our chance to walk the popular “vortex” trail in northwest Sedona.

We thought it was a good idea to get an early start on the trail, for reasons including afternoon temps in the upper 80s, parking availability and the chance of heavy hiker volumes. Boynton Canyon is a scenic mixture of red rocks, manzanita thickets, ponderosa pine stands and soaring cliffs housing ruins of prehistoric cultures. The approximate six-mile round trip is an easy, leisurely walk which will take about 3 hours.

Boynton Canyon Trail winds along parts of the Enchantment Resort

Along the Boynton Canyon Trail

View of Boynton Canyon from the end of trail

Every time we go back to Sedona, whether it’s for a weekend or a week, we never get bored with the views, trails, dining experiences or resort stays. We’ll always be back.

One of the few dining patios that allow dogs is Ken's Creekside

 

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