My boyfriend and I always work like crazy over the holidays, so it never feels like we really get any time off. Finally, we both ended up feeling burned out from work and decided that we both needed a little vacation. We knew that, with the weather heating up and people heading out on Spring Break or vacations, the beaches and islands would be packed. Instead of fighting the tourists to get down to the ocean, we decided to head out to the desert that is Phoenix, Arizona instead.
We got this super cute Airbnb right outside of the Willow District in Phoenix. While you may think there’s nothing out in the desert except dirt bikes and cactus, you’re wrong. Where Seattle and Portland were the places to be five years ago, and where Echo Park and Silverlake in Los Angeles became the places to be only a few years ago as well, Phoenix is definitely going to be the next up-and-coming hotspot. Rent is super cheap compared to California but wages are about equal, making it possible to work a full-time job and afford to not have to have any roommates. On top of that, there are plenty of houses for sale, even in the historic districts, and what were once not so nice areas, are now being slowly renovated and gentrified.
The place we stayed was super adorable with a modern kitchen and bathroom, custom wood accent wall, and plenty of brick to help keep the whole place cool. There was even a roomy back yard (by my Los Angeles standards) and plenty of street parking. It looked like a cute one bedroom apartment that you’d find for $2500 in Silverlake, which made me feel right at home.
We arrived in Phoenix at about 5:00 pm, but after six hours in the car, we were exhausted and starving. We decided to keep it pretty mellow our first night and explore the neighborhood we were staying in and grab dinner with one of my boyfriend’s friends.
While I wasn’t sure how easy it was going to be to find places that catered to my vegetarian diet out in the desert, I was so surprised. Right across the street from the neighborhood we were staying was a whole block of healthy vegan-friendly places including restaurants, cafes, and pastry shops. It was all within walking distance (or bicycling distance, if you’re so inclined) and everyone was so friendly. It felt like I was walking down a street in Echo Park.
Saturday started off pretty early because I was dying to see this David Bowie wall down the street from where we were staying. I saw it the night before, but I was so exhausted that I didn’t feel like checking it out until the next morning.
David Bowie was such a huge icon to me and so many others, and it destroyed me when I heard that he had passed. David Bowie tribute murals can be found all over Los Angeles, created both before and after his passing, so it was really cool that I was able to stumble across an entire wall that was a giant David Bowie mural in Phoenix.
The reason we drove six hours to Phoenix instead of taking a 45 minute flight, was because we decided that we wanted to check out the desert on a motorcycle, and loaded my boyfriend’s Harley-Davidson into the back of his van. We picked this time of year to go out to Arizona because it’s the last chance you have before it starts hitting over 100 degrees and then is way too hot to ride a motorcycle.
We met up with my uncle who moved out to Arizona by himself in the 70s when he took his chopper, at 18, and just kept riding from California to Arizona until he found a truck stop to hang out at for a while. Now, he’s definitely not living in a truck stop anymore, but his love of motorcycles hasn’t died and he was happy to ride with my boyfriend and I to see the coolest spots in the desert.
After exploring the desert on a motorcycle all day, we decided to meet up with some of my boyfriend’s friends to check out the nightlife of Downtown Phoenix. After an amazing dinner and a modern Mexican restaurant, we went to one of my boyfriend’s friend’s favorite bars: Valley Bar.
Valley Bar is everything i could ever want in a bar: a creepy decor, live music, great drinks, and secret rooms. Valley Bar is located under a main building, with all of the pipes and support beams for the building above exposed. There’s a bar, and music stage, and a secret room that looks like a little library located in the back of the bar. The decor is eclectic, like the crowd, featuring bookshelves, brick walls, candles on all the tables, and old Western-style booths mixed with modern tables.
As for the creepy part of the decor, another major element of the Valley Bar is the shadow mobile above the bar where the shadows of rotating razorblades, saws, knives, and dismembered doll parts rotate against a canvas screen. The Valley Bar’s decor revolves around the story of Winnie Ruth Judd, a woman who lived in Phoenix and murdered her two friends in 1931. After killing her friends, she dismembered them and attempted to get rid of their bodies by shipping them by train in multiple trunks to California. After being sent to Arizona State Asylum, she escaped six times before her sentence was completed.
For out last day in Arizona, my boyfriend wanted to get out of the city before heading back to California, and explore the real Arizona desert landscape. Luckily for us, a 20 minute drive will take your from the heart of Downtown Phoenix to a place called Scorpion Gulch.
Scorpion Gulch is a portion of the desert that’s complete with paved roads, hiking trails, stables, and the stone skeleton of what once used to be a ranch. It was really cool to see the real desert up close and personal. Scorpion Gulch was actually pretty crowded even though it was a Sunday morning, so we stayed for about an hour before heading back to crowded California.
Photography: Nathan Jelenich & myself