PHOENIX — With cactus and strip malls obstructing the views at times, visitors could easily write Phoenix off as a place where water and culture are scarce. It’s more than just golf courses crowded with retirees. In central Phoenix, which predates Arizona’s 100 years of statehood, you can find historic homes and classic bungalows, including one designed by master architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Brightly colored murals around town show how much the Hispanic community has influenced the city.
Here are five free ways to heat things up in Phoenix:
CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN HIKE
One of the most popular views is from the top of this red, sandstone landmark situated between Phoenix and Scottsdale. Trekking to the top, which extends 2,704 feet (824 meters) above sea level isn’t for the faint of heart. Fortunately, there are less exhaustive trails at the base. You may also get a warm-up having to park a little farther away. The free lot fills up quickly. Considered one of the best hiking cities, Phoenix has several other peaks that don’t cost a cent to climb: http://phoenix.gov/parks/trails/index.html
FIRST FRIDAY ART WALK
Downtown Phoenix takes on another life come night fall the first Friday of each month. Art aficionados, skater-boys, and teens looking like they just came from Comic-Con deluge Roosevelt Street in the Roosevelt Row neighborhood. Artists selling anything from T-shirts to Day of the Dead figurines are stationed along the sidewalks. It’s also worth venturing onto streets off Roosevelt. You’ll find numerous old homes converted into businesses.
TEMPE TOWN LAKE
This 2.5-mile man-made lake that provides flood control for Tempe is also a haven for cycling, jogging and other activities. Feel free to skate or stroll the 12-foot paths that lie on either side of the lake. On any given day, you can spot people kayaking, sailing and even dragon-boat racing on the water.
RIO SALADO AUDUBON CENTER
The Rio Salado Audubon Center is nestled in a 600-acre preserve along the Salt River. The park is home to at least 200 different species of birds and other wildlife including coyotes and jackrabbits. Take a walk or bicycle ride along the 16 miles (26 kilometers) of riding trails. Closed Mondays, http://riosalado.audubon.org/
HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS TOUR
In 1996, a coalition of city residents led by Gerry and Marge McCue sought to dispel the myth that downtown Phoenix wasn’t safe and had no decent housing. Their grassroots effort culminated in a handy guide to 34 historic neighborhoods. Each one is a showcase of past architectural trends. The styles range from Tudor to American Colonial and craftsman. (602-253-5579).
Frank Lloyd Wright fans should go to east Phoenix to gaze upon the home Wright built for his son at 5212 E. Exeter Blvd. Constructed in the 1950s, the home has a circular spiral layout modeled after the Guggenheim Museum in New York.