The Explorer: Cool But Hype

As I stepped into the black Toyota Camry I was instantly surprised by a cloud of air freshener or cologne, I couldn't tell which. A kind man greeted me and asked to confirm the location of my destination. Although I had never been to Phoenix before, I had read about a sweet little coffee shop not far from the airport. 

My Uber driver asked why I was in Phoenix, assuming I was attending the Fiesta Bowl in a couple days. At the time I wasn't aware there was a bowl game in the area, which tells you how much of a football fan I am. After pointing out a few sights (with Drake playing in the background), he explained to me that Phoenix was "chill and cool" but could also "get pretty hype." I laughed and told him I looked forward to my visit. 

Toward the end of my trip, I thought back to that man's honest assessment of his city and smiled to myself. I think he was right. 

I had been looking forward to our New Years trip for months, and although I had only gotten four hours of sleep the night before, I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my travel mates. My college roommates and I hadn't spent quality time together in nearly four years, and it was a sweet reunion to say the least. 

As our little posse of four settled into our Airbnb for the weekend, we started putting together an itinerary and a grocery list. At first I was a bit reluctant to rent an Airbnb, but by the end, I realized our little vacation home was a highlight of the trip. We decided to split meals, cook some at the house, and also leave room to explore some local spots. After all, I do love exploring. The four of us together living under the same roof again for 4-5 days was both refreshing and nostalgic. 

Multiple music videos created, meals cooked, coffee brewed, and local adventures found. I think each of us would have been content to linger at the dinner table with a glass of wine after eating a home cooked meal and catching up on life for hours on end. We stayed up noticeably past my normal bedtime chatting (and dancing) into the wee hours of the night and let ourselves sleep in an extra hour or two. 

Now we live all over the country - from California to Tennessee and a couple places in between. Although I'm not exactly sure how we decided upon Phoenix as our destination of choice, the city exceeded all of our expectations. If you're looking for a weekend getaway spot, Phoenix is a great option! See below for some of our favs and list of recs. 

1. Luxe Central

The moment we walked into this coffee shop meets bar and local bakery, I was obsessed. The vibe is very eclectic and cool; I felt as though I stepped into a scene in a magazine or some sort of local club or collective. I ordered a soy latte and vegan lemon poppyseed donut - 10/10 would recommend. And if you're debating whether or not to get a treat with your coffee, just get one. You won't be sorry. 

2. Songbird Coffee & Tea House

When I first arrived in Phoenix, I was several hours ahead of my travel mates, so I sought out this sweet little local coffee shop near the airport. It feels very homey and airy inside - the perfect place to spend an extra few hours. The baristas were very friendly and even offered me several other recommendations in the area. My friend Megan and I stopped there again on our way out of town and enjoyed it just as much the second time. 

3. Camelback Mountain - Cholla Trail

Everything I read about Phoenix before we went referenced the amazing hiking trails in the area. After researching a couple different options, we landed on the Cholla Trail at Camelback Mountain. The hike was only a couple miles, but it definitely escalated toward the top. There's another trail on the opposite side of the mountain, but we were told it was slightly more difficult / intense. The scenery was amazing and afforded us an incredible view of Phoenix. I thought the duration of the hike up and down was perfect, although we ran into the whole Clemson marching band on the way up! 

4. La Grande Orange

My friend Claire recommended this little joint and it did not disappoint. When you first walk in, it's as if you are entering a market, but to the side, beyond the pizzeria, there's a little room and bar where they serve brunch. I ordered the Madame Croque and was very pleased. If we had more time, I would have loved to explore the little market, but I suppose that leaves something for my next trip. 

5. Scottsdale Art Walk

Our little crew happened upon this event our first night in town. We ordered tacos from a local restaurant and bar and then decided to walk around and explore downtown Scottsdale a bit. After walking into one of the galleries, we learned each Thursday night galleries and artists open their stores for visitors and guests. Although none of us purchased anything, it was fun to walk around and peruse. 

6. Chelsea's Kitchen

This restaurant is owned by the same people that run La Grande Orange, so we knew it was going to be good. We came here for dinner on New Year's Eve and definitely splurged a bit. I ordered the Swordfish tacos, which were delish, and also helped myself to a bit of my friend Megan's brussels sprout salad. The cocktails were spot on, the service excellent, the vibe was classy and a little mysterious - overall great choice. 

7. Postino's

A friend in Waco recommended this little restaurant to me, and I'm so glad she did! The restaurant is also a wine bar and the service was incredible. Each person we met was so friendly and helpful and offered to customize the menu however we wanted. I ordered a glass of the house merlot and my friend Megan and I split several bruschetta dishes. Our favorite by far was the apple, brie, and fig bruschetta - 5 stars, people! 

8. Futuro

This coffee shop is very minimal and modern and the coffee did not disappoint, ya'll. I was a bit skeptical when I walked in and saw some interesting art pieces on display. Yet after ordering my cold brew coffee with coconut almond milk, I was sold. I'm not sure this would be a place to socialize (I didn't quite get the same homey feel as Songbird) but it's definitely worth a try. 

There were so many other great options and places to explore - I wish we had time for them all! Other things worth mentioning that were highly recommended are The Desert Botanical Gardens, Paniq Room, Bink's Midtown, Liberty Market, Cartel Coffee & Brewery. There's always a next time!