Finally taking the time to write about our trip to Phoenix. It’s a lot to recall when it happened a month ago. We received the news of my Granny passing two days after this trip, and I’ve put this post off for awhile. Our trip to the Grand Canyon and Saguaro marks the last significant event I experienced before her death. I remember a few days after she passed, someone told me, “You’ll start measuring life in the before and afters. Everything you do from here on out will be the after and slowly but surely, you’ll get through and you’ll get by”.
That’s pretty much how the cookie crumbled. Arizona feels like a lifetime ago when in reality, it’s only been 4 weeks. It’s hard to believe how unsuspecting I was 4, totally oblivious of the meteor that would soon wreck my world.
Have you ever wanted to go someplace so badly that it sticks with you for years? This is how I’ve felt about the desert. We live in a semi-arid climate, but the desert is the real deal. I really wanted to see Saguaro Cactus in person. So when I pitched the idea to Keegan, he seemed to be on board. I talked with my friend Tiffany whom advised the Southern Arizona region. Once I discovered Saguaro National Park located in the Sonoran Desert, that pretty much sealed the deal. We were flying to Arizona.
Nick and Regina agreed to tag along, so we split the Airbnb with them. Nick offered to research trails and restaurants, and everything he found ended up being awesome. He handed us a large list, and we picked what sounded good based on his finds.
I didn’t wanna go to Arizona just for the desert; most vacas we plan include a few different parks, so we opted for the Grand Canyon, as well.
This vacation crept on us, and before we knew it, the weekend had arrived. We scheduled Arizona the weekend after Halloween assuming the desert and the Grand Canyon would be relatively empty. What I didn’t realize until after I booked our flight was that it was the same weekend as Dia De Los Muetros. I was hopeful for some festive activities since we were in the heart of the South West, but Phoenix didn’t highlight DDLM the way Santa Fe did next door. We noticed way more Day of the Dead artwork in New Mexico than Arizona, but that’s okay. I was just surprised by how unalike these states seemed to be, considering they’re next-door-neighbors.
It’s hard to choose a favorite between the states. New Mexico was absoluting enchanting with down-to-earth people and hot springs galore, while The Grand Canyon and Saguaro National Park did not disappoint. I have to give it up to Arizona for the natural beauty and breathtaking views, although I enjoyed Santa Fe and Albuquerque more so than Phoenix.
We landed late Friday evening and stayed through Monday evening. Saturday morning, we dropped by Whole Foods and grabbed breakfast and lunch items for our picnic before heading to the Grand Canyon.
The drive passed more quickly than expected, and the Grand Canyon wasn’t too crowded. They don’t call it the Grand Canyon for nothing–this gigantic hole in the Earth puts the pit on Parks and Rec to shame.
We hiked around the canyon, stopped at several scenic points and took dozen of photos. Afterwards we returned to our Airbnb in Phoenix to change before dinner. We went in on an Uber and ate at Pizzeria Bianco.
This marked my first ever experience trying food made by a James Beard Award Recipient, which to me is very cool!! We tried the Wiseguy, and those roasted onions with the fennel came together to create the best flavored pizza I’ve tried in forever. There’s a reason why so many top food critics in our country rate this the best pizza they’ve ever had. I can agree; it really was the best pizza I’ve ever had. Click here to read more about Chris Bianco’s influence on American pizza, or Google “Best Pizza in America” and notice how many times Chris Bianco’s name is mentioned. He remains a reputable pioneer in the industry, and I am absolutely honored to have tried Bianco’s pizza. It was interesting to learn of American pizza’s history in Phoenix, Arizona of all places, but trust me, it’s good.
Afterwards we got on the wait list for Bitter and Twisted. We were told it would be about 30 minutes and encouraged to check out a rooftop bar called Lustre. This place was badass. The pool was closed, but I could only imagine how much fun it must’ve been during the summer. Their bar was well-stocked, the dj was spinning trance tunes, and the outdoor loung-y feel with epic views was swanky.
Bitter and Twisted, with their long-ass wait, definitely had the coolest drink menu I’ve ever seen before. With over 65 cocktails to choose from and a menu appearing like a board game, I honestly had no idea what to choose. When I described to the bartender what I was interested in, “Something clear, fruity and strong”, she referred me to the Porn Star: House-made vanilla vodka with fresh passion fruit, passion fruit liqueur and a “side kick of bubbles”. I’m like, “Champagne on the side? Sure.” This $15 drink combo had me so buzzed and happy. Between the Grand Canyon, Pizzeria Bianco and amazing drinks to boot, our first day in Phoenix was awesome.
The following morning, we headed to Phoenix Public Market for brunch. For some reason I went with the Blue Corn Pancake instead of the breakfast sandwich, thinking “This is regional, so I should get it while we’re here.” It honestly tasted like one big, bland piece of cornbread (lol), but it’s all good.
The drive to the Sonoran desert was much shorter, only an hour and a half. I was honestly way more excited about the desert than I was the Grand Canyon. After seeing Canyonlands in Utah, I had an idea of what to expect in Arizona, but with the cactus, I was in for a real treat.
I’d seen a few Saguaro Cacti the day before but not nearly as many as were in the park. The further North we drove the day before, the more green the landscape appeared, while our South bound commute rendered us nearly treeless.
I bought a peach-colored t-shirt at the Visitor’s Center and talked with one of the rangers about the dangers in different parts of the park. We decided to avoid the rattle-snake ridden trail and follow the trails that Nick found a few weeks earlier. The park also featured petroglyphs, and as someone who’s fascinated in ancient cultures, it’s almost surreal to see rock art from such a long time ago. We hiked a few trails before lunch and had a picnic among the cacti. For a few hours, I was completely and totally 100% happy. I would go back to the desert in a heartbeat.
We left the desert and tried another epic restaurant called Taco Guild. This marked another one of those places Nick found that racked up one award after another. Aside from my bland pancake, everywhere we ate was absolutely fantastic. Taco Guild was no exception. You should Google pictures of the inside; it’s nestled in a church with beautiful vaulted ceilings, traditional stained glass and hand crafted pews. Not included: Existential guilt for drinking inside a church.
My friends that know me well know I’m not huge on tacos, but the guild made me reconsider my stance. First we started with fresh ceviche of the day (dressed with shrimp and scallops) followed by chips and salsa with three types of salsa. The pork adovada and peking duck brought new smoky, unexpected flavors to my taste buds. Their borracho red beans with cotija cheese taste eerily nostalgic, and I wished I’d ordered two servings of the street corn.
We finished our meal and headed to the Bikini Lounge: One of Phoenix’s original, charming dive bars. I appreciate a solid hoity toity joint occasionally such as Bitter and Twister, but my heart belongs to the dives.
Biking Lounge, a cash-only establishment with a cheeky, tiki-theme made us feel at home the moment we walked through the door. For one thing, the door was wide open, and much like many restaurants in Phoenix, they all seem to enjoy the rare, cool breeze. The bartender was super friendly, the drinks were dirt cheap, and every single drink had rum and/or vodka in it. This was definitely my kind of bar. And to top it all off, my first drink came with a champagne side car. I don’t understand what’s up with all the champagne shots in Phoenix, but I am so about that life.
I hated to leave, but we still had all day on Monday to do things before we arrived to the airport. We ate at Matt’s Big Breakfast where I had another chance with a breakfast sandwich and jumped on it. Afterwards we grabbed coffee downtown and chilled in the heart of the city. Nick and Regina left a few hours before we did, so Keegan and I walked to the theater to watch It a week after Halloween. I loved the palm trees scattered across the metropolitan area. We had the entire theater to ourselves that afternoon. And It scared the hell out of me; It was probably the best scary movie I’ve seen in years.
Our last destination before we headed to the airport was Jobots. The service was slow, but the music was good; it was purely okay, nothing more nothing less.
Our vacation was awesome, and I loved getting out for the weekend. Saguaro National Park was probably my favorite thing about the park. Enjoying such warm weather in November made me want to become a snowbird one day. Hopefully we’ll return soon. In the meantime, here’s this: