Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix has plenty of Arizona’s desert heat but it has also sparked a spicy and vibrant art and culinary scene…with some sweet spots to rejuvenate

img_2657After my Lotus Blossoming Chakra massage, I discover that some of my seven chakras aren’t quite as aligned as they should be. Apparently I need to meditate more. I try to remedy this immediately by walking the labyrinth at The Boulders Resort & Spa. Round and round I shuffle, the scent of sage wafting over me, the sun warming my face, the dry desert wind softly fluttering my robe. I think it’s working.

Or it could just be this place, the huge rocks the resort is named for, the tall saguaro cacti, the amber and rusty hues of the baked landscape. The next morning I rise early in my adobe-style casita at The Boulders (theboulders.com) and venture into the desert for a run as the sun is just starting to spread its heat. I feel my chakras realigning…
img_3240The Sonoran desert may seem harsh but it teems with beauty. Closer to Phoenix (The Boulders is in Scottsdale, just outside Arizona’s capital and largest city), I walk through the Desert Botanical Garden (one of only a few botanical gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums; dbg.org) and then hike nearby Camelback Mountain to marvel at the range of colour this arid land sprouts, like the magenta spikes of a barrel cactus.

The southwest vibe continues at The Camby (thecamby.com), one of Phoenix’s newest hotels (a major refurb and rebrand on the site of an old Rat Pack bar and former Ritz property). Inspired by the surrounding desert (its name is a play on that iconic Camelback peak), the swish hotel is infused with the five Cs of Arizona—cattle, copper, citrus, climate, cotton—including lamps the shape of cow skulls and grapefruits, turquoise and copper accents, luxe pima-cotton sheets and local art.

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And there’s art everywhere. In the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM; mim.org), a sophisticated conference/meeting site as well as repository of some 15,000 musical instruments from around the world, art is in the form of objects like a horse jawbone from Mexico that rattles when its teeth are scraped or struck with a nail. In downtown Phoenix, Roosevelt Row or RoRo (rooseveltrow.org) is a wild display of commissioned street art that’s as vibrant as some of those desert blooms. The revitalized ’hood is home to artist studios, galleries, boutiques, co-ops, small-stage theatres, coffee shops, restaurants and even a craft brewery and gastropub, Angel’s Trumpet Ale House (angelstrumpetalehouse.com). Every first Friday night of the month, thousands of people gather in revitalized RoRo for the First Friday Art Walk.

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At the nearby Phoenix Public Market Café (phxpublicmarket.com, art comes in the form of local food, from coffee roasted in nearby Tempe (try the Desert Dawn: oj and a splash of lemon topped with cold brew coffee) to “Eat the Rainbow,” a combo of farmers’ market veggies (and cool t-shirt), or the Arroz & Frijoles bowl, a healthy, heaping, hipster take on southwestern fare. More foodie inspiration is found uptown at The Yard, at the graffiti-art-clad Barrio Urbano (barriourbanophx.com. It’s an urban take on traditional Mexican cuisine by Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, a four-time James Beard Award nominee, where craft cocktails and killer tacos come together in an atmosphere that’s part gritty barrio and part art gallery. And it’s yet another way of finding that desert zen. — Barb Sligl

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For more info on Phoenix, go to visitphoenix.com, for nearby Scottsdale, check out experiencescottsdale.comand for Arizona, visit visitarizona.com.

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Seattle (USA)

The “Emerald City” of SEATTLE is laidback west coast but also cutting-edge, the birthplace of grunge music and also some über-modern architecture.

Seattle is often referred to as Emerald City. And while that’s a reference to the fantastical place in The Wizard of Oz, it’s also a moniker for the lush and green coastal wonderland of Seattle on Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. Washington State’s largest city is known for many “wonderous” things; it’s ground zero of grunge music and tech-forward companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing. There’s a new-world gleam here as well as a rebellious spirit. This is the birthplace of the Starbucks coffee empire (its Pike Place roast is now ubiquitous but is named for Starbucks’ very first location at Seattle’s public market). And yet the city’s caffeinated can-do spirit is tempered with an easy-going PNW vibe that puts the outdoors (Seattle comes by its Emerald City nickname because of thousands of acres of parkland) and west-coast lifestyle first and foremost.

seattle3 While the Space Needle (a legacy of the 1962 World’s Fair) may still be the city’s most iconic landmark, there’s far more futuristic architecture to behold in Seattle. Within the Needle’s shadow is the sinuous EMP MUSEUM. It stands for Experience Music Project and as such its mission statement states that it’s a “leading-edge nonprofit museum, dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel contemporary popular culture.” And gazing up at its gleaming, undulating Frank Gehry design (made of 21,000 aluminum stainless steel shingles and 280 steel ribs), one can envision the cross-sections of cur-vilinear guitars that the architect says inspired him and served as building blocks. And inside “boldly go where no one has gone before” via the Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds exhibition (opening May 21). {empmuseum.org}

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Courtesy of Provenance Hotels and The Miller's Guild

Also currently showing at the EMP: Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. The band most associated with grunge music also embodies Seattle spirit. Local label Sub Pop Records signed the band in 1989, over 25 years ago, and to relive some of that era stay at the HOTEL MAX, the art- and music-filled boutique bolthole that recently revealed an exterior mural (proudly proclaiming that “Seattle doesn’t settle” in six-foot tall letters and a redesigned lobby that shows off vibrant art (including an original Warhol and a bass guitar signed by Krist Novoselic of Nirvana), along with a retail shop collaboration with Sub Pop. Also on offer: free samples of local Caffe Vita brew in the morning and craft beer in the afternoon…and there’s a Sub Pop floor in which to hole up and listen to tunes. {hotelmaxseattle.com}

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Courtesy of Provenance Hotels & The Miller's Guild

Attached to the Hotel Max lobby is THE MILLER’S GUILD, where a custom-made nine-foot-long Infierno wood-fired grill is a fiery centrepiece. The name is inspired by the building’s past as the 1925 Vance Lumber Company Hotel, where workers rested between harvest-ing and milling trees in the surrounding forests. Now it’s all about nose-to-tail cuisine and other fire-roasted PNW fare, as well as cask-aged craft cocktails
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seattle9More of Seattle’s creative spirit and innovative pioneering is found at the central branch of the SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY. The multi-faceted structure, as if a bright gem nestled in the downtown core, is the creation of another internationally renowned architect, Rem Koolhaas and former Seattleite Joshua Ramus. Take a free guided tour of its award-winning architecture, including a maple floor that’s made of 556 lines of raised text in 11 languages {spl.org} - Barb Sligl

For more visitor info on Seattle go to visitseattle.org.

St. Petersburg / Clearwater / Tampa, Florida (USA)

ST. PETERSBURG / CLEARWATER is worth crossing the bridge for—world-class arts + culture, award-winning beaches, diverse wildlife.

Like stepping into a postcard, St. Petersburg/Clearwater is a gem on Florida’s west coast. Nestled on a peninsula separating Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, St. Pete/Clearwater has an impressive array of attractions and activities in a compact area.

TOUR  

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The Dali Museum

Made of glass, but resembling more like molten confectionary, Dale Chihuly’s fantastical art has a permanent home at the Morean Arts Center. This shrine to Chihuly was purpose-built, blending art and architecture to best showcase large-scale pieces such as the anemone-like Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier and the Persians. moreanartscenter.org Nearby, along St. Pete’s waterfront is the unmistakable, avant-garde building that could only be home to The Dali Museum. Here you’ll find the largest collection of the surrealist’s work outside of Spain. Not to miss: The Persistence of Memory (aka: the melting clocks) and The Hallucinogenic Toreador.  thedali.org

TASTE

Octopus at Locale Market.
Octopus at Locale Market.

Named one of the top seafood restaurants in town (and there are a lot to choose from) by USA Today, Sea Salt should not be missed. Chef Fabrizio Aielli has 130 different salts in his kitchen to masterfully season his innovative dishes. seasaltstpete.com For more casual fare, Locale Market offers a beautifully curated, European-style grocery experience designed by celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona. Gourmet take-away meals are available, as are epicurean grocery items for you to cook at home. localegourmetmarket.com For a visually spectacular dining experience, RumFish Grill at the Guy Harvey Outpost features a 33,500 gallon aquarium that spans an entire wall of the dining room, filled with local marine plants and animals. Cutting edge seafood is the second main attraction, where diners can choose from elevated comfort food like lobster mac’n’cheese and Gulf shrimp jambalaya to more exotic offerings like Lionfish. rumfishgrill.com

DO

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Winter, the dolphin with a prosthetic tail

Just across the harbour from stunning Clearwater Beach is The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a marine rescue centre that’s home to star of “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2”, Winter, who swims with a prosthetic tail. seewinter.com For wildlife in the wild, head to Fort de Soto Park and slip into the water aboard a kayak. Spend a couple of tranquil hours gliding amongst the mangroves and you may be lucky enough to see stingrays, dolphins and even manatees. pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm And if you’re looking for a game head over to The Shuffleboard Club, which has been enjoying a massive renaissance in recent years. On Fridays this private club opens to the public for an evening of free shuffling fun. stpeteshuffle.com - Catherine Tse

Find more info on St. Pete/Clearwater at visitstpeteclearwater.com.
For more on Florida:  visitflorida.com.

TAMPA

Tampa knows how to entertain. Whether you're here to observe its adorable, gentle manatees or the not-so-gentle Tampa Bay Buccaneers this city offers fun across the spectrum. For cigar aficionados, check out historic Ybor City. yborcityonline.com If you've brought the family, Busch Gardens, an African-themed adventure park is not to be missed. buschgardens.com

For more to see/do in Tampa, go to visittampabay.com.

Photos courtesy of Visit St. Pete Clearwater and Leroy Bridges (VSPC)