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Not-so-fossilized Phoenix

The site of this year's Super Bowl has plenty of attractions for out-of-towners. Here's a list to save visitors a little digging.

January 27, 2008|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — Centuries ago, native people known as the Hohokam built an agricultural civilization on a stretch of desert known today as Arizona's Valley of the Sun. Some archaeologists believe the brutally arid climate forced the people to scatter in search of milder environs, leaving behind miles of irrigation channels, stick-figure pictographs and no forwarding address. From the ashes of that civilization rose one of America's fastest-growing assemblies of planned urban developments, golf courses and cactus, and it will host Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3. But maybe the Hohokam had good reason to skip town.

Even today, Phoenix has a reputation as being an exceptionally forgettable city, unless, of course you're a golfer with a superhuman tolerance for heat.

What's there to do in Phoenix during the Super Bowl weekend? I asked friends and family.

"Best things about Phoenix are the highways leaving town," a travel writer from nearby Tucson responded. Even my wife, who attended college in Tempe and lived in Phoenix for two years, drew a blank when I asked for recommendations. Undeterred, I visited the Valley of the Sun for three days and dug up these gems of amusement.

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Where to eat

Durant's Fine Food

Walk into Durant's cool, dark dining room, and you might expect to see Frank Sinatra holding court in one of the shadowy corners. This place is old-school hip with dark mahogany walls, red faux-leather booths and fresh flowers on each table. The waiters wear starched white shirts and bow ties. Best of all, the gin martinis are served strong and the steaks sizzling hot.

Dinner entrees $22 to $73.

2611 N. Central Ave.

(602) 264-5967, www.durantsaz.com.

Los Dos Molinos

If the red chili sauce at this Mexican eatery in south Phoenix is too spicy for you, don't even attempt the green chili sauce. The waiters leave a pitcher of ice water on each table, probably to avoid personal-injury lawsuits. This is authentic Mexican food with a bite like a pit bull.

Dinner entrees $3.25 to $13.95.

8646 S. Central Ave.

(602) 243-9113, www.losdosmolinosaz.com.

Matt's Big Breakfast

This red-brick restaurant is tiny, with a kitchen the size of a Mini Cooper, but the meals are big, greasy and tasty. Try the omelets, made with eggs from cage-free birds, with thick slices of freshly made toast slathered in butter.

Breakfast entrees $4 to $6.50.

801 N. 1st St.(602) 254-1074, www.mattsbigbreakfast.com.

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OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreation Area

"Where's the Summit Trail?" I asked a group of hikers after I parked at the base of 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak, about nine miles north of downtown Phoenix.

"See all of those people?" a gray-haired woman told me. "Follow them."

There's a good reason Summit Trail attracts more than 5,000 hikers a week. This 1.2-mile schist-lined path is a moderate to difficult climb with a 1,200-foot elevation gain and an exhilarating payoff: an eagle-eye view of the valley, from Scottsdale to Glendale and every golf course in between.

Directions: From Lincoln Drive, take Squaw Peak Drive until it ends; www.phoenix.gov /PARKS/hikephx.html.

South Mountain Park/ Preserve

The park ranger at the entrance to South Mountain Park/Preserve said I could drive a paved road to Dobbins Lookout on the mountain's summit in 15 minutes, or I could hike to the top along Holbert Trail. I chose the 2.5-mile hike and was rewarded with a rocky, saguaro-lined climb. I was serenaded by red-tailed hawks, accompanied by curious jack rabbits and shaded by bushy small-leafed Palo Brea trees. Along the way, I examined 600-year-old Hohokam pictographs etched into massive flat, black rocks. You can't get that from the driver's seat of a Chevy.

10919 S. Central Ave.

(602) 495-0222 or (602) 534-6324, www.phoenix.gov/ PARKS/southmnt.html.

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MUSEUMS

Phoenix Art Museum

After a $50-million expansion last year, this stylish, two-story museum in downtown Phoenix has much to offer the art lover. The air-conditioned rooms are adorned with the creations of such artists as Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Georgia O'Keeffe and Claude Monet. But the museum will be a red-hot ticket this month with the opening of several new exhibits, including a collection of 19th century French painters and the work of famed fashion photographer Richard Avedon.

Admission: $10 adults; $8 seniors; $4 children.

1625 N. Central Ave.

(602) 257-1222, www.phxart.org.

Heard Museum

Joining a tour of the Heard Museum is like walking into a high school history lesson on Native Americans, enhanced by some of the world's best visual aids. Colorful kastina (also called kachina) dolls, sand-cast silverware, hand-woven wedding shawls, water jugs and red-clay pottery lined the glass cases. The highlight of the tour -- I joined about a dozen tourists from South America -- was when we all squeezed inside a log hogan, to feel the tight living quarters of a Navajo family.

Admission: $10 adults; $9 seniors (55 plus); $5 students with ID; $3 children (ages 6 to 12) 2301 N. Central Ave.

(602) 252-8840, www.heard.org.

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