A Perfect One Day in Phoenix

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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to one day in Phoenix. Are you ready for a shocking confession? Before spending one day in Phoenix, I had never even heard of the Heard Museum. And of course I had no idea that it is one of the finest collections of American Indian art in the world.

But Downtown Phoenix has more to offer than simply one amazing museum. There are also historic buildings, fun facts galore, and shockingly good sushi, considering Arizona is a landlocked state. Don’t believe me? You will by the end of this blog post.

One Day in Phoenix

Where to Stay?

When I choose a hotel, I’m looking for a few things: affordability, cleanliness, a convenient location, and cool amenities in that order. The Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Downtown delivers on all those counts. It has a great location, it has a great restaurant, and it’s in a historic building where Psycho was filmed. (The non-murdery parts of Psycho.) It’s the perfect choice for your One Day in Phoenix.

If you want a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you’d rather explore deals on over 700 other hotels in Phoenix, click here.

One Day in Phoenix

What to Pack?

A Perfect One Day in Phoenix 2

You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.

Arizona can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.

A Perfect One Day in Phoenix 3

Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!

One Day in Phoenix

One Day in Phoenix

Morning: Heard Museum

The Heard Museum was founded all the way back in 1929. As you can probably guess from the name, it was founded by a couple whose last name was Heard. But as Mr. Heard died shortly before the museum opened, Mrs. Maie Heard and her passion for art were largely responsible for the museum’s success.

Today the Heard Museum is home to a vast collection of both contemporary and traditional American Indian art. It also hosts Native cultural events on a regular basis. During my One Day in Phoenix, I learned so much about the history of American Indians in Arizona, and I’m sure you will to. It was hard to limit myself to…

Approximately Top 5: Heard Museum

Matt's Big Breakfast Phoenix
1) Matt’s Big Breakfast

OK, so Matt’s Big Breakfast is not actually inside the Heard Museum. But it is within walking distance of the museum, and you’re going to need lots of energy for all that learning. Matt’s Big Breakfast has a few locations now, but it started in Downtown Phoenix. The founder (no points for guessing his name) wanted to start a diner that used high-quality local ingredients. I strongly recommend watching the video about his philosophy on the restaurant’s website because his butcher has the greatest mustache the world has ever known.

You might need to wait a little bit for a table but it will definitely be worth it. I had a plate of eggs, bacon, hash browns, and some truly sumptuous sourdough bread with the greatest strawberry jam I have ever eaten. Now I appreciate a rainbow avocado toast cupcake as much as the next girl. But there’s really something to be said for the classic dishes prepared perfectly. And I think a proper American diner breakfast stands up to the great cuisines of the world any day.

Katsina Dolls
2) Katsina Dolls

Arizona is home to many different American Indian tribes. Each tribe has its own traditions, artforms, and customs. The Hopi Indians are especially famous for their elaborate katsina dolls. (This is sometimes spelled kachina.) These dolls represent spirit messengers. In the Hopi religion, the spirit messengers do everything from bring rain to punish naughty children. While the katsina are certainly not toys, they are used to educate Hopi children.

The Heard Museum is home to over 1000 katsina dolls. I was quite surprised to find that many of these came from the personal collection of late Republican Senator and former Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Maybe if people knew he had such a spectacular collection, he could have carried more than six states in the election.

Indian School Days
3) Indian Boarding School Memorabilia

The Heard Museum often hosts exhibits about American Indian history in the Southwest. When I was there, I saw an exhibit entitled Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience. This exhibit showed what life was like for American Indian students forced to live in boarding schools so that they could assimilate into American culture. The first Indian Boarding School was started in the 19th century in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. But of course there were Indian Schools in Arizona as well.

At these schools, students were punished for speaking their native languages. They were also forced to cut their long hair. This action was especially disturbing because long hair has a religious significance for some American Indians. A barber chair from one of the boarding schools was on display at the exhibit, along with a quote from a student explaining that taking away the students’ hair and clothes was taking away their culture. Even though Indian Boarding Schools are no longer operating, the exhibit made it clear that many American Indians are still receiving a segregated education to this day.

Richard Chavez
4) Contemporary Artists

The Heard Museum isn’t just home to historical artifacts and traditional American Indian art. They are also committed to displaying works from modern artists. When I visited the Heard Museum, I especially enjoyed seeing the work of jeweler Richard I Chavez of New Mexico. He is especially famous for his stonecarving techniques.

My favorite piece in the collection was that sweet bolo tie pictured above. It’s made from green jade, coral, and turquoise. One of my aunts lives in New Mexico, and I’ve seen a great deal of American Indian jewelry there made from turquoise and coral, but never green jade. I know I can’t complain because ladies have so many more jewelry options than men do, but I think it’s unfair that we don’t get to rock a bolo tie. I think I could totally pull it off.

Pueblo Ovens
5) Pueblo Ovens

The main permanent exhibition at the Heard Museum is called Home: Native People of the Southwest. I strongly recommend taking one of the free docent tours of this exhibit so that you can get the most out of the experience. Our guide was a retired gentleman–95% of the population of Phoenix is retired–full of knowledge of Arizona’s history.

This artifact above, a Pueblo oven, shows one way that the lives of the Native people of Arizona were affected by the arrival of Europeans. Before Europeans arrived in North America, the staple grain of the Native diet was corn. But after the Spanish brought wheat, Native people of the Southwest began making bread in these special adobe ovens.

This oven was one of the more positive things to come out of the encounters between American Indians and Europeans. However, many results of these encounters were not so positive. Our docent pointed out that Arizona was the last state in the mainland to join the United States. He said that this was because Arizona couldn’t join the US until the wars between the United States government and various Native groups were concluded. I was left wondering why I didn’t learn about these wars in school.

Rossom House

One Day in Phoenix

Afternoon: Heritage Square

Phoenix is a modern, spread-out city. If you’re looking for a One Day in Phoenix of strolling around quaint historic homes, check out Boston or Philadelphia instead. But there is one section of Phoenix dedicated to preserving turn of the century buildings. I refer, of course, to Heritage Square, just near the Heard Museum. There are a quite a few historic museums in this area where you can peruse ancient typewriters and make your own yarn art. But I’m going to focus on Heritage Square’s main attraction: The Rosson House.

You can only see inside the Rosson House on a tour. These tours leave on the hour every day except for Mondays and Tuesdays. But I guarantee that you’ll find the tour worth the money because you can learn more than…

Three Fun Facts: Rosson House

Rosson House
1) When Was The Rosson House Built?

The Rosson House was built in 1895, which makes it about the same age as the average resident of Phoenix. It was built for Dr. Roland Rosson and his lovely wife. Our guide told us that the house was built for 7500 dollars in 6 months. I have a grand new money making scheme now! Find a time machine, kidnap this architect who knows how to make a house for that price in that amount of time, bring him to the future, and make a killing in real estate development.

Then, as now, being a doctor got you a very nice living. Of course the Rossons wanted to showcase their wealth in all aspects of their house. Otherwise their guests might come inside, think, “Oh no! Have I accidentally entered a poor person’s house?”, and leave, never to return. Of course, this was the 19th century so the main signs of wealth were electricity and hot and cold running water. Sometimes I think it’s better to be an average person now than a wealthy person a century ago.

Rosson House Dining Room
2) When Was The Rosson House Open to the Public?

After the Rossons left the house (more on this story later), it passed to the hands of the Goldberg family. Then it went to several others, until the Gammel family decided to turn it into a boarding house. Our docent didn’t seem too keen on the Gammels because they made a lot of changes to the house that took away from the historic authenticity. Eventually the house ran into total disrepair and was vandalized by skaters and assorted miscreants.

Then came the 1970s and the fine people of Phoenix got more interested in historic preservation. That’s when the city began to restore the house to its present glory. Walking through the house, you could imagine what it would be like to be a wealthy citizen of Phoenix 100 years ago.

Perhaps the most interesting fun fact from that time period is that the first couple to get married in Arizona after it became a state were married in this house. This was all the way back in 1912. And their ringbearer? None other than future Senator Barry Goldwater. So that means I’ve mentioned Senator Goldwater two times more in this blog post than I have all the rest of my posts combined.

Rosson House Haunted
3) Is the Rosson House Haunted?

I just assume that every house is haunted unless someone tells me otherwise. But there’s actual a reason to think that a ghost might walk these halls. You see, Dr. Rosson died under…rather mysterious circumstances. He didn’t actually die in the house. Dr. Rosson and his wife Flora had moved to Los Angeles when he suddenly took ill and died…after buying a whole bunch of life insurance.

Officially, his death was ruled a “stomach ailment”. But some think that he committed suicide. Our guide seemed to be of a third opinion, that Flora had murdered him for the insurance money. After he died and she collected, she fell off the grid. This blog does not condone murder, but if she managed to get away with the insurance money scotfree, I need to give her a little respect.

One Day in Phoenix

Evening: Dinner at Nobuo at Teeter House

Still loving life at Heritage Square? Then keep the party going with dinner at Nobuo at Teeter House, also located in Heritage Square. I was a little skeptical of this restaurant because it didn’t seem like you could get excellent Japanese food in a landlocked desert state like Arizona. But the head chef, Nobuo Fukuda, is a James Beard award-winning chef from Tokyo, so I felt confident that he knew what he was doing. And the food more than justified my faith!

I opted, as I always do, for the tasting menu. What’s better than getting to sample as many dishes as possible? And while I can’t allow you to taste along with me, I can share the…

Approximately Top 5: Nobuo at Teeter House

Nobuo Sushi
1) Sushi Spoons

We begin with the finest sushi that the Sonoran Desert has to offer! There’s grapefruit hamachi with avocado and white truffle ponzu. Next, house cured salmon with pecorino cheese and basil, tuna tataki with beets, and finally yellowtail with fried taro and sesame seeds. I needn’t have worried about the quality of fish because the sushi was all perfectly fresh. And this selection showcased how Chef Nobuo’s East-West fusion works. Obviously you wouldn’t typically find pecorino cheese and avocado in Japanese cuisine.

Nobuo crab
2) Crabby Patties

Next we begin the parade of proteins and techniques! This is a fried soft shell crab salad with chili oil and rice noodles. Spicy dishes usually need a starch to tamp down the heat, and I enjoyed the lighter option of rice noodles, as opposed to rice.

Nobuo Miso Cod
3) Miso Cod

So black cod marinated in miso is not an invention of this restaurant. This dish is often associated with legendary Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa. (It’s his signature dish.) But not every dish needs to be innovative. And miso marinated cod is famous for a reason. It’s damn delicious! Eat it, fool!

Chicken Nanban
4) Chicken Nanban

We’ve done fish and shellfish, so now it’s time for chicken, the other other white meat. Chicken Nanban is a very Japanese way of preparing fried chicken. What makes Chicken Nanban special is that the batter is made with egg and you serve it with tartar sauce. But Chef Nobuo added his own twist by serving it with egg salad. There’s something terribly cruel about serving the chicken with its own baby like this. But it is also cruelly delicious, so my conscience is clear.

Pork Belly
5) Pork Belly

For our final, and heaviest, protein of the evening, it’s time for pork. This pork belly is prepared in a banana leaf and served with rice and mushrooms. The belly is already a screamingly tender part of the piggie, so cooking it in a banana leaf made it so soft you almost didn’t need a leaf. (Don’t worry, the leaf did not make the pork taste like a banana.)

Nobuo Strawberry Fritters
6) Strawberry Fritters

Dessert is generally the least exciting part of a Japanese meal. Desserts just aren’t as much a part of cuisine in Japan as they are in say, France or the UK. But one of my favorite Japanese desserts are these little fried balls of dough because you can kind of do anything you like with them. These fritters were perfect for spring because they were served with strawberries and adzuki beans. (If you feel like beans don’t belong in a dessert, Japanese sweets might not be for you.) They were the perfect end to One Day in Phoenix.

That’s a Perfect One Day in Phoenix

What would you do with One Day in Phoenix? Do you think I could rock a sweet bolo tie from the Heard Museum? And is the ghost of Flora Rosson roaming the streets of Heritage Square, looking for more rich doctors to poison? Please leave your thoughts below!

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in Phoenix in Phoenix. And if you have time for another One Day in Phoenix, try this itinerary. Or try this one with the Grand Canyon!

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