Midtown Phoenix

The Arizona Part of Our Vacation

posted in: Personal Essay, Photography, Travel | 0

As I mentioned in a previous post, Holly and I made our first vacation plans in 3 years. Obviously, the pandemic was the big reason why we haven’t traveled much in that span.

We made out plans at the end of March for a trip that began on May 5th. Our vacation centered on a return to Carmel-by-the-Sea where we’ve had a couple prior excellent vacations. Our response to those visits was that we hadn’t spent enough time there so we planned a much longer trip this time. We spent about 3 days there on our first trip in 2018 and about 5 days in 2019.

We were away for 13 days, nearly 9 of which were in Carmel. We also spent a few days in Phoenix and Scottsdale. I wrote about the logistics of our travel in the aforementioned previous post.

This might have been the longest vacation I’ve ever taken, and it felt like one of the best.

Day One: Flying to Phoenix

Our vacation began with breakfast close to home. Our flight was scheduled for 1:40 pm so we had some time in the morning.

We went to one of our favorite places, Café Lutecia, and sat outside. I started my vacation with their Basque omelet and Holly got their bagel and lox. We enjoyed having the time for a leisurely breakfast before needing to head home to get our luggage and make our way to the airport.

We took the train to the airport which is usually convenient unless we have an unpleasantly early flight.

We arrived in Phoenix the afternoon of Thursday, May 5 and left the morning of Sunday, May 8. We had some time to ourselves before meeting up with Holly’s dad and 2 brothers.

Our flight got in around 4:00 which gave us time to get to our hotel before seeking out dinner. We took the light rail from the airport which worked out well since there was a stop a couple of blocks from our hotel.

For dinner, we decided on Barrio Café which was a little over a mile from where we were staying in midtown Phoenix. We took a Lyft there since we were tired from traveling, and it was 95 degrees. Of course, as I know from the years I lived in Las Vegas, 95 desert degrees isn’t as bad as 95 humid degrees but hot nonetheless.

One of the cool aspects of Barrio Café is all of the graffiti art on the nearby buildings.

Because we had just gotten in, I didn’t feel like unpacking my Nikon Z fc so I only had my Samsung Galaxy S9+ with me, but I was still able to get some good photos.

Graffiti Art outside of Barrio Café in Phoenix
Graffiti Art outside of Barrio Café in Phoenix
Graffiti Art outside of Barrio Café in Phoenix
Graffiti Art outside of Barrio Café in Phoenix

The food at Barrio Café was likewise impressive. 

We each ordered a couple Margaritas and shared appetizers of esquites and aguacate asado. For entrees, I had the cochinita pibil and Holly had the chiles en nogada vegano.

It was the first of many excellent meals on our vacation.

Since the sun had gone down, the evening cooled off so we walked back to our hotel. 

Phoenix Palm Trees and Moon
Phoenix Palm Trees and Moon

Day Two: Phoenix 

Other than passing through the Sky Harbor International Airport, I had never been to Phoenix before so I was looking forward to exploring.

Since our bodies were still on east coast time, getting an early start was easy. We wanted to get moving before it got too hot. It was a pleasant morning so we walked to breakfast, and I was able to take some pictures along the way.

Now that we were more settled, I dug out my Nikon Z fc. I had packed it with my NIKKOR Z 28mm f/2.8 lens on it and decided to just use that. 

Our morning walk included some interesting ornaments on the street lamps, some cool buildings, plenty of palm trees, and the Navajo Code Talkers Tribute statue.

Navajo Code Talkers Tribute
Navajo Code Talkers Tribute
Midtown Phoenix
Midtown Phoenix

Our breakfast destination was Valentine, a restaurant Holly found online. We were intrigued enough by its menu and approach that we not only planned on breakfast there but also made dinner reservations for that night.

Luckily, it turned out as good as we hoped for breakfast. Although the weather was pleasant when we first left our hotel, it was already getting pretty warm by the time we got to Valentine so we ordered a couple cold coffee drinks. Holly got an espresso and tonic made with Arizona tonic, and I got the Chiltepin Shakerato which was an iced espresso shaken with Chiltepin chili and chocolate. For eats, Holly got an avocado toast that came with smoked trout, and I got a cereal made with an indiginous grain and seed mix.

After breakfast, it was too hot to walk far so we took the light rail to the Phoenix Art Museum. The highlight of our visit was the Desert Rider exhibit which, according to their site, explores “the sociopolitical realities and imaginative interpretations of automotive and skateboarding subcultures through diverse works by local Arizona and regional artists.”

Desert Rider Exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum
Desert Rider Exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum
Justin Favela: Gypsy Rose Piñata
Justin Favela: Gypsy Rose Piñata

We also enjoyed the rest of their collection which was an interesting mix of better known and newer artists, as well as their Farewell Photography: The Hitachi Collection of Postwar Japanese Photographs, 1961-1989 and their Generation Paper: Fast Fashion of the 1960’s exhibits.

Generation Paper: Fast Fashion on the 1960s
Generation Paper: Fast Fashion on the 1960s
Robert Arneson: J and Jung
Robert Arneson: J and Jung

We spent well over 2 hours there and were then ready for lunch. To keep things simple, we had a light lunch of a hummus plate and fries, along with a couple local beers from Huss Brewing Company, at the museum’s restaurant, Palette.

From there, we walked up the street a few blocks to meet Holly’s dad and brothers at the Heard Museum. Along the way, we explored the grounds of the Phoenix Art Museum, and I took pictures of some other buildings as well.

Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix Art Museum
Midtown Phoenix
Midtown Phoenix

The Heard Museum features American Indian Art and has a fascinating exhibit about American Indian Boarding Schools called Away from Home.

Heard Museum
Heard Museum

They have outdoor sculptures, some of which are part of an American Indian Veterans National Memorial.

Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache): Unconquered II
Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache): Unconquered II

Inside was a little dark so I didn’t take many pictures of the main part of the museum, but I was able to get some shots of their courtyard as we made our way to the boarding school exhibit.

Heard Museum
Heard Museum

When we were done exploring the museum, we had a little time before our dinner reservation so we went with Holly’s family to a coffee shop, Copper Star Coffee, that was near Valentine.

I didn’t take any photos of dinner, but we had a few sharing plates, including Oyster mushrooms with mole amarillo, Niman pork ribs, Elote pasta, and an AZ tomato salad, among other items.

After dinner, our waiter offered to hold a table for us in their speakeasy. We had no idea they had such a thing, which isn’t surprising since a) we were from out of town and b) it’s a speakeasy.

We took him up on his offer. Holly’s family didn’t have anything to drink, but we each had a cocktail. I had the Grassland (sotol & blanco tequila, navajo tea, green chartreuse, lime, chiltepin-sumac salt) and Holly had the Desert (AZ botanical gin, cactus vermouth, citron, creosote blossom).

We had a long, tiring day so ending with a lovely dinner and a relaxing cocktail was the perfect way to finish our first full day in Phoenix. 

Day Three: Scottsdale

Our second full day focused on spending time with family. They picked us up at our hotel early and drove us to Scottsdale where her dad and youngest brother live.

We all went to Chompie’s for breakfast which is a New York style deli. I wanted to make sure to enjoy getting a good bagel so I had an everything bagel with jalapeño cream cheese, eggs, sausage and hash browns. Holly had a pumpernickel bagel with belly lox and avocado. 

We spent the rest of the day just hanging out at Holly’s dad’s house. She and I took a little walk around the neighborhood.

Scottsdale Palm Tree
Scottsdale Palm Tree
Scottsdale Neighborhood
Scottsdale Neighborhood

Holly’s dad adopted a tortoise, and we had been looking forward to meeting Tina in person, as it were.

Tina the Tortoise
Tina the Tortoise

Holly and her youngest brother made an excellent dinner of 40 garlic chicken, asparagus, and salad with tomatoes from the garden.

After dinner, we got a ride back to our hotel, and we prepared for the next leg of our trip. We were in Phoenix and Scottsdale for such a short time that I feel like I didn’t get much sense of either place. But it was a good introduction nonetheless. It’s been over a decade since I lived in Las Vegas, but Phoenix felt hotter to me, especially for early May.


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