48 Hours in Phoenix, Arizona

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iol travel march 9 phoenix2

AP

The Arizona Capitol building

Got 48 hours to explore Phoenix? The sun-drenched city, the nation's sixth-largest, which boasts up to 300 sunny days a year, is growing fast.

Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most from a short stay in the capitol of Arizona.

Friday

6pm - Start at a place that bears the name of what a desert denizen is commonly called here - The Phoenician (www.thephoenician.com). Nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, this 250-acre resort offers a wide-lens view of the sprawling metropolitan area from its lobby deck.

Grab a prickly pear margarita, step outside, and enjoy the city's twinkling lights.

8pm - Drive down Camelback Road to Central and Virginia for a taste of old-time Phoenix. Durant's (www.durantsaz.com) a wall-papered restaurant is where the who's who of Phoenix used to gather in the old days to cut deals and eat a good steak. Enter through the kitchen. Only out-of-towners use the front door. Save room for the strawberry shortcake for two.

iol travel amrch 9 phoenix

The full moon of December climbs above a stand of saguaro cacti on a ridge line in New River.

AP

Saturday

8am - Hungry for breakfast? There may be a crowd, but the red-bricked Matt's Big Breakfast (www.mattsbigbreakfast.com) on a corner just blocks from downtown Phoenix is well worth it. Order the Hog & Chick, two eggs and a choice of local thick-cut bacon, country sausage or off-the bone ham.

10am - The contemporary Phoenix Art Museum (www.phxart.org) is attracting a considerable buzz with high-profile exhibits that match others in some of the bigger US cities. The museum has about 18,000 pieces in its permanent collection and hosts at least 15 other exhibitions annually. Its eatery, run by a local catering company, is a cut above many other restaurants.

2:30pm - Drive north on Central Avenue and at Encanto you'll run into the venerable Heard Museum (www.heard.org), which is dedicated to Native American heritage, culture and arts. The annual hoop dance contest on the second weekend in February, and museum guild fair and market on the first weekend in March, are must-see events.

5pm - Meet Chris Bianco. The Bronx-born, Phoenix pizza king has been proclaimed by one author as making the best in the country and was honored with the prestigious James Beard award as top chef in the Southwest. Fans line up outside his original restaurant, Pizza Bianco, on E. Adams Street (pizzeriabianco.com) for a seat and for pizzas like the Wise Guy - wood-roasted onions, house-smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage. The restaurant is also open for lunch.

10pm - Get ready for some lofty stargazing. Enter the Hyatt Regency hotel lobby on North Second Street (phoenix.hyatt.com) and take an elevator to the top. The rotating Compass Room offers a view that's hard to match through its 180-degree glass windows.

Sunday

7am - Armed with sturdy shoes and plenty of water, thousands of avid hikers each week take to the 1.2-mile Summit Trail at Piestewa Peak for some exercise and exhilaration. The moderately difficult trail, first constructed in the 1930s by a wrangler at the famed Arizona Biltmore hotel, offers a good glimpse of the surrounding desert preserve.

11am - A visit to Phoenix would not be complete without Mexican food. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza has wowed the culinary crowd with her own brand of the cuisine at Barrio Cafe (www.barriocafe.com) on N. 16th Street, and brunch is no exception. Try a spicy Bloody Mary made with Milagro Tequila while listening to the acoustic guitarist.

1pm - Complete your stay with a few hours strolling the grounds at the Desert Botanical Gardens (www.desertbotanical.org) which is known for its collection of more than 50,000 plants that can be seen from five thematic trials spread across its 145 acres. - Reuters

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