Cactus. High temperatures. Relaxation. This is what I was looking forward to on my first trip to Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona. And I have no disappointments to report. On arrival at Sky Harbor International Airport, I was greeted by each in no time flat.
What I didnt expect was to be oohed and awed by the warm and pinkish-colored sunsets, to be completely intrigued by the regions rich Native American history, and to be wowed by the perfectly sculpted mountains that provide a picturesque backdrop to the one of the largest and fastest-growing areas in the entire country. The hospitality was another pleasant surprise. Primarily from the Gay community, which presented a glorious Gay pride parade and festival during my visit.
Tempe, where I spent the bulk of my vacation, isnt an in-demand city for Gay travelers. Yet, for a simple, quiet and oh-so-sunny way to spend a few days, or more, it deserves strong consideration. Arizona State University boasts the biggest student body in the US and its on-campus Gammage Theatre has landed Tempe within the top three markets for touring live theatre productions. The Color Purple is rumored to make its off-Broadway debut at the theatre.
A few airlines offer direct flights between SeaTac and Sky Harbor airports, or connecting flights through LA and Las Vegas. I flew America West, now merged into US Airways, with gate-to-gate time clocking in just over two hours. It was one of the shortest trips I can recall offering in-flight movies. Visit www.americawest.com for current flight information, schedules and fares, or call (800) 428-4322.
WHERE TO STAY
The Buttes, A Marriott Resort (2000 Westcourt Way) Minutes from downtown Tempe, ASU campus and a short cab ride from Sky Harbor International Airport is The Buttes, A Marriott Resort built directly into the citys eye-catching red Buttes. This is a grand and beautiful property, offering 353 rooms and 9 suites in two separate complexes separated by swimming pools (with waterslide) naturally carved into the mountainside. The rooms blend neutral colors, soft wood furniture, snug beds and ample space for guests to relax, play or work. Daily newspapers, in-house coffee service, high-speed Internet access, and iron with ironing board can be found in each guest room. Half of the rooms face the interior of the hotel, where the clear blue pools illuminate the property, and half face out to the cities of Tempe and Phoenix.
On-site restaurants, indoor and outdoor lounges, spa, fitness center and lighted tennis courts are some of the amenities provided by The Buttes. This dazzling property, with an unparalleled viewpoint of Camelback Mountain, is perfect for the traveling Gay couple needing quiet time, relaxation and pampering within close proximity to the city. Visit www.marriott.com/PHXTM for current availability, reservations and rates, or call (800) 225-9000.
Fiesta Inn Resort (2100 South Priest Drive) If you prefer to stay in the city, I recommend the splashy, hacienda-style Fiesta Inn Resort. The property, host of the annual Tempe Music Festival, has 270 refurbished rooms and contemporary amenities to suit the trendy Gay traveler. Southwest décor and Native American art sprinkled throughout the hotel add nice touches of pizzazz, especially the stained glass windows in shiny, Jello-like colors. The morning buffet, located in the hotels lobby and outdoor patio, is a delicious and affordable day-starter. Visit www.fiestainnresort.com for current availability, reservations and rates, or call (800) 528-6481.
WHERE TO EAT AND COCKTAIL
Cheuvront Wine & Cheese Bar (1326 North Central Ave.) Owned by openly Gay State Senator Ken Cheuvront, this exquisite Phoenix restaurant is a terrific spot to enjoy scrumptious food and cool cocktails in a sophisticated, lively ambience. Across the street from the citys central library, Cheuvront Wine & Cheese Bar features mouthwatering lunch and dinner entrees, an impressive wine list, much-too-yummy desserts and signature cheese and pate plates. I devoured my roasted salmon dinner, served alongside fresh wilted spinach and a sweet, tangy sauce. Desserts vary nightly. On the evening I visited with friends, a devilishly good chocolate cake topped with warm chocolate sauce and fresh cream raised my mood up a few notches. Prices range from $7.00 to $15.00 for cheese-pate and starter plates, and $20.00 to $30.00 for entrees. Visit www.cheuvronts.com for current menus, reservations and prices, or call (602) 307-0022.
Top of the Rock Restaurant (2000 Westcourt Way) The best brunch in Tempe is easily found at Top of the Rock Restaurant, perched high on the well-known and glorious Buttes. You name it, theyve got it. From fresh seafood to cooked-to-order omelets, imported cheeses and freshly baked pastries, herb-rubbed roasted meats and a stacked salad bar, youll gain ten pounds just deciding what to have. Top of the Rock offers an unbeatable panoramic view of Tempe and Phoenix, this aside from the amazing selection of food. Brunch price is about $40. Visit www.marriott.com/PHXTM for current menus, reservations and prices, or call (602) 431-2370.
Caffe Boa (398 South Mill Ave.) Located on the bustling Mill Ave. in downtown Tempe, Caffe Boa is paradise to anyone seeking fresh Italian favorites. In a city with few fashionista sightings, the rare trendsetters are found at this chic restaurant that boasts an open dining space, high ceilings, full bar with an extensive wine list and happy hour specials that locals go crazy for. The classic setting satisfies Gays and straights alike, those out for a night of fun and those wanting a twinkle of romance. Appetizers, such as fresh mozzarella on beefsteak tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar or grilled, marinated vegetables, paired with a sparkling glass of vino, are meals by themselves. Prices range from $7 to $15 for starters, $15 to $30 for entrees. Happy hour specials, consisting of half-off appetizers, are only valid at the bar. Visit www.cafeboa.com for current menu, reservations and prices, or call (408) 968-9112.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
The Apache Trail day trip Fifteen to twenty minutes outside Tempe is The Apache Trail, a wondrous 40 miles of paved and unpaved road that brings you face to face with the Superstition Mountains and Tonto National Park. Its a windy drive and at times quite steep, so anyone with a weak stomach might refrain from going. But the bumpy, swerving road trip is well worth it. The views from atop the trail are spectacular. Along the way youll see giant cactus, wild flowers, roadside shops and diners. A stop at the town of Tortilla Flats is memorable, and while youre there try a scoop of the locally made Prickly Pear ice cream at the convenience store for an unusually delightful treat. If youd rather have someone else drive, visit www.detoursaz.com, or call (480) 633-9013 for guided tours in air-conditioned vans.
ASU Gammage Theatre performances If youre a theatre buff, a do-not-miss entertainment option in Tempe is to check out whats playing at the nationally-noted Gammage Theatre, located on the rim of the Arizona State University campus. A revved up production, though a tad too loud, of Stomp pleased a sold-out audience when I visited with friends in early April. The acoustically blessed, elegant building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Doubt, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Chita Rivera:
The Dancers Life and The Light in the Piazza, which debuted in Seattle before heading to Broadway, kick off the 2006-2007 ASU Gammage season. Visit www.asugammage.com for current schedule, ticket availability and admission prices, or call (480) 965-3434.
Narande Spa treatment and pampering Whether you stay at The Buttes or not, an indulgent time-spender or sore body-healer is an afternoon at Narande Spa (2000 Westcourt Way). You think all massages are equal? Not here. These folks really know how to loosen stiff muscles and sooth tired backs and shoulders, using many organic ingredients. Enjoy space-friendly changing rooms with showers, personal toiletries, grooming appliances and clean towels. Visit www.marriott.com/PHXTM for current rates, specials, treatment variations, or call (602) 431-2370.