Located in Arizona’s “Valley of the Sun,“ Phoenix is a thriving metropolis in a stunning desert setting filled with Native American culture, incredible Southwestern and Mexican food and loads of sunshine. It is a sprawling city that lives up to its stereotypes with plenty of retirement communities, golfing options and luxury spas, but it is also an oasis of cool that is rich in cultural history and boasts a vibrant indigenous art scene and sophisticated design community. Those elements and easy access to some of the best urban hiking in the nation amongst the jagged peaks and giant saguaros of the Sonoran Desert have quietly transformed Phoenix into an alluring vacation destination.
Recreational cannabis use is prohibited in Arizona but medical marijuana use was legalized in 2010. In order to make a legal purchase, patients need to be diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition and then get a written certification from a medical doctor, osteopath, naturopath or homeopath licensed in Arizona. There are a number of clinics in Arizona that specialize in issuing marijuana certifications and are staffed by physicians who are often willing to make both the medical diagnosis and the required certification to allow access to a marijuana dispensary. There is a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use that could reach the public for a vote in 2020 but it is still under review. Much of the regulation would be left to the state’s Department of Health Services and new tax revenues would be used primarily for community colleges and public safety.
Arcadia is a hip, laid back (and highly desirable) neighborhood northeast of downtown Phoenix, just south of the iconic Camelback Mountain and close to neighboring Scottsdale. Its easily walkable tree-lined streets packed with relaxed eateries, antique shops, wine bars, lounges and indie boutiques make it one of the city’s more picturesque locales. Close proximity to miles of trails for biking and hiking ensure that it is a good base for enjoying Phoenix’s outdoor attractions. The open-air Biltmore Fashion Park sits on the western edge of the neighborhood and features high-end shopping options in a lush garden-like setting.
This diverse and welcoming district is filled with colorful murals and vibrant restaurants and shops. Melrose on 7th
is a particularly delightful stretch of retail and residential and is ideal for a stoned stroll filled with browsing and window-shopping at the engrossing retro shops like Michael Todd’s Treasures and Retro Ranch. Finish up a visit to this top neighborhood with a drink or nibble on the massive outdoor patio at the Thunderbird Lounge.
Located in the oldest section of the city, Heritage Square provides a welcome respite from Phoenix’s daunting sprawl. It’s the historic center of town that features the Rossen House Museum – an immaculately restored 1895 Queen Anne Victorian – as well as the Arizona Science Center. The Square and the surrounding streets have several eating and drinking options (including Pizzeria Bianco – see below) and Chase Field, home to Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks, is two blocks south.
The desert is hardly an empty and dry wasteland devoid of life. It’s a flourishing ecosystem with some of the most interesting plant life on Earth. And that is what makes the Desert Botanical Garden a must-do when in Phoenix. This impressive facility has one of the top collections of dry climate plant life in the world and has a great cultural trail on Native American life and offers tours that focus on birds of the Southwest or provide a behind-the-scenes look at the expansive gardens. If possible, visit between March and May when everything is in bloom and the gardens explode in color. Partake in some cannabis and savor the sweet smell of mesquite and the odd shapes of the huge collection of cacti. The Garden also hosts evening concerts that take advantage of the beautiful setting and incredible sunsets.
Housed in an attractive modern building in Downtown, the Phoenix Art Museum offers a wide variety of displays and activities that will appeal to the casual visitor as well as the serious art scholar. The exhibits are varied and constantly changing, there are lectures open to the public and the restaurant is delectable. The collection from Southwestern artists is particularly strong, as are the contemporary Latin American works. The Friends of Contemporary Art Film Series operates out of the museum and curates an excellent calendar filled with highly rated documentaries and independent movies.
This group of trails offers something for everyone and is a perfect way to access the attractive wilderness that surrounds Phoenix. The trails vary in difficulty from an easy stroll in the desert to scrambling across boulders to full-on rock climbing. Be careful – bring plenty of water and know that the landscape is covered with cacti, brush, bushes, yucca, and other painful things that can shred your skin. If you are visiting over Summer months, hit the trails in the morning or early evening to avoid the unrelenting desert sun.
This hidden gem located on the northern side of town is the only global musical instrument museum in the world. It is an extraordinary space filled with over 68,000 instruments and recordings, videos and a hands-on area where visitors can get in on the fun and play all sorts of string instruments, gongs and drums. Grab a headset, take the self-guided tour and lose yourself in the vast array of sounds made by instruments from close to every nation on Earth.
The Phoenix location of this small non-profit national chain carries over 50 varieties of flower and prides itself on organic cultivation and a minimized environmental footprint. The interior is clean and the waiting area is comfortable with a mellow doctor’s office vibe. The staff is well educated, focused on patient care and eager to steer visitors to daily specials and offers. Nature’s Medicines carries plenty of pre-packaged products like kief, moon rocks, live resin and other distillates to enhance your time in the Valley of the Sun. Pre-ordering online or visiting during off-hours is recommended due to the popularity of this excellent establishment. Address: 2439 W McDowell Rd, Phoenix, AZ
Urban Greenhouse is a well-maintained dispensary northwest of downtown Phoenix. It is known for its modern look and feel, and its independent budtender stations provide extra privacy and don’t make customers feel rushed when making decisions. The airy space has computers at each station that can be used to compare strains and products and provide a seamless checkout procedure. Their new patient specials are excellent and the $35 Blunt Club keeps the locals happy. Urban Greenhouse recently switched from outsourced flower to weed grown in house and the strains from their production facility are stellar. They are open Monday – Sunday from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. Address: 2630 W Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ
The mission of Herbal Wellness Center is “to provide an excellent patient experience by exemplifying, through action, our belief and dedication to altruism.” This is accomplished with top-shelf private reserve flower like their Bubba Kush Skywalker, Agent Orange and Ghost OG. They also carry Charlotte’s Web CBD disposable vape pens and a solid assortment of Vapen products. The concentrates at Herbal Wellness Center are also well made, consistent and packed with potent THC. Try their top-shelf shatter or live resin for a tasty THC treat! There are also usually buy one get one free deals on Wednesdays. Be sure to call ahead for the daily specials. Address: 4126 W Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ
The friendly and welcoming Phoenix Relief Center is down on the southwest side of town in a bright and safe strip mall with plenty of parking. The CBD and cannabis edible options are as good as anywhere in town and they carry highly regarded brands like California’s Korova and Arizona’s-own Sublime and Drip. The staff sets a mellow yet educated tone and is on point when it comes to explaining product and not just pushing sales. There are deals almost every day of the week but Fridays and Sundays usually have the best specials. Address: 6330 S 35th Ave #104, Phoenix, AZ
Urbana is a lovingly curated boutique in Arcadia that is packed with curios, fun gift items, and unique housewares. Husband and wife owners Brian and Ana Wells have perfected the art of event and party hosting and stock their store with thoughtfully designed pieces for entertaining and a selection of locally-crafted jewelry. Their selection of bar items (glasses, napkins, coasters, decanters) is especially good.
The Bentley Gallery focuses on contemporary art from the American Southwest but also offers ancient art and artifacts from Asia and other parts of the globe. The works are arranged in visually stunning displays and the installation art and video can be particularly stimulating for cannabis enthusiasts. Even if most of the art for sale is well beyond the means of most, the Bentley Gallery is worth a visit to get an idea of the creative forces coming out of Arizona and the surrounding region.
Phoenix General – as it’s known – is a popular independent boutique that sells clothing for men and women and features hip brands like Fortoul Brothers and Ace & Jig, as well as local purveyors that you won’t find anywhere else. Everything is thoughtfully sourced and presented to complement the relaxed Arizona lifestyle. There is also a fine selection of succulents and cacti coupled with locally crafted planters. Be sure to pick up a hemp-wrapped creosote bundle to make your shower smell like desert rain.
This trailblazing gallery began in nearby Scottsdale in 1985 and relocated to a sleek and semi-subterranean building designed by local architect Al Beadle in midtown Phoenix in 2014. It holds a fabulous variety of artwork from mixed media to sculpture to modern photography. Lisa Sette has a unique aesthetic vision that guides the pieces she chooses to display and her artists range from students to veteran international creators. She and her enlightened and informed staff have a particular interest in showcasing contemporary artists who address current social issues.
Tacos Chiwas opened in 2016 and quickly rose to prominence thanks to its honed menu based on the cuisine of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. This is well-crafted Mexican comfort food; homemade bean stew with sliced hot dogs and cilantro, gorditas stuffed with fire-roasted peppers and picadillo burritos wrapped in organic flour tortillas made in-house with ground beef, carrots, celery, potatoes and beans are but a few of the mouthwatering options.
This is truly a one-of-a-kind restaurant. Kai (Kai means “seed” in the indigenous Pima language of southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico) is a Native American-inspired fine dining experience that you will not find anywhere else. The menu is comprised of dishes that use ingredients grown on local farms by the Pima and Maricopa tribes from the Gila River Indian Community. Try the seared prairie squab and oxtail-merguez sausage frittata with cuitlacoche sauce and charred tomato crema. It doesn’t get much better. Located in the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, the restaurant is the only AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five Star restaurant in the state.
If you are craving an old-school burger experience that will knock your socks off this is the place to go. Phoenix residents flock to The Stand for fresh ground burgers and hand-cut fries that take the In-N-Out burger experience to a much higher level. Spicy green chili can be added to any burger and the milkshakes are delicious. The convenient drive-thru is open until 10 p.m. Sunday – Thursday and until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Pizzeria Bianco is a Phoenix treasure that has been around since 1988 when James Beard Award Winner Chris Bianco started making pies in the back of a grocery store. Prior to the modern pizzeria revolution that swept across the country in the late ‘90s, Bianco was creating Neapolitan-style masterpieces in his wood-burning oven with locally sourced ingredients and mozzarella smoked over pecan wood. The pizza is still phenomenal and the laid back vibe of the Heritage Square location should not be missed.