We took the light rail to downtown Phoenix last Saturday. No event to attend, nothing we needed to do, no particular sight we wanted to see. We were simply conducting an experiment.
If it took us between 50 to 60 minutes to travel from our Airbnb in Queens to Manhattan, and once there we never lacked for interesting things to do, and after doing said things, we never lacked for good things to eat, we intended to find:
- Is the Phoenix Light Rail an efficient and reliable form of transportation for reaching our downtown area?
- Is there an interesting assortment of things to do in downtown Phoenix, enough to settle my post-NYC trip blues?
- Can we find an eatery with not only good food, but in an interesting building with charming atmosphere like every, single, flippin’ place we ate at in Manhattan?
Here’s what we found:
Procedure: I should admit that we cheated somewhat. In Queens, there was a bus stop right outside our Airbnb and we took it to Jackson Heights, where we caught the subway. Our total trip into lower Manhattan was 12 miles. (Keep that in mind – it took us 50 minutes to travel 12 miles.)
For our Phoenix trip, we drove to the nearest light rail station rather than use a bus. Is that cheating?
It’s just that nearest light rail station is 12 miles from our house, and taking a bus would have required a 1/2 mile walk plus a transfer. Oh, and it was supposed to reach 95 degrees that day. So, yeah. We drove.
First impressions upon entering the train:
- Empty! Oh, wait… okay, three others in the compartment we entered. Nearly empty.
- It’s really clean. Granted, far fewer people use it than New York’s subway, but also our light rail is only 10 years old, so the trains are in good shape.
- Also, they’re air-conditioned. Nice touch.
The train stops every 1/2 mile, each stop we gained more passengers. By the time we reached downtown, the compartment was full and some people were standing.
I allowed Husband to choose our stop, so it shouldn’t have surprised me we got off at the ballpark.
Total Travel Time from Our House: 1 hour, 12 minutes
Total Length of Trip to Chase Field: 20.8 miles
Driving Time According to Google Maps: 34 minutes
Back to Question 1: Is the Phoenix Light Rail an efficient and reliable form of transportation for reaching our downtown area?
Most Phoenicians would say they prefer the speed and convenience of their own vehicle. But if there’s any way to use the light rail, I still say it’s a better option. There’s no hassle with parking, no danger of accidents or traffic problems, it’s better for the environment, and it offers ample reading time and/or chatting the breeze with spouse.
Plus… How shall I put this? It’s gets you out of that privileged bubble you live in and see how other people live. We saw many walks of life on the train, both to and from downtown. Nearly all looked very accustomed to using the light rail.
(This is something that pisses me off every time there’s a referendum on the ballot asking for more funding for public transit. Invariably someone will say, “Phoenix isn’t made for public transit! Everyone drives!” What they’re really saying is, “I never use public transit; why put money into something I don’t use?”)
From what I saw last Saturday, the light rail gets used and some people depend upon it. Even when there’s nothing going on downtown.
Seriously. Nothing was going on downtown. When we got off the train, this is what we saw:
The streets were empty. The sidewalks were empty. It was like a sci-fi flick where all earthlings were snatched from the planet and we were the only ones left.
We walked a few streets until we came upon the Convention Center. According to the sign outside, the Phoenix Comicon starts May 25th. Meaning we missed it by five days. Not only would we have seen people, many of them would have been wearing costumes. (We couldn’t decide if we were happy or sad to miss that.)
We went inside the Convention Center to use the restrooms.
Oh — here’s a bonus over NYC: it’s much easier to find public restrooms in Phoenix. There’s even signs for them.
So yeah. We got potties.
In fairness, I should point out that we’re hitting the off-season for Phoenix. After the Comicon and our triple digit temperatures begin, our event season turns into a desert.
We continued walking. It looked like the Catholics had something planned at St. Mary’s Basilica, but not being Catholic, we didn’t think it right to join them.
They do have a beautiful building and grounds though; if you ever make it to Phoenix, it’s well worth a tour.
Another must-see of Phoenix — honestly, a trip downtown just isn’t complete without seeing the Herberger’s naked dancers.
After walking a few more empty streets, we saw some tents. Something was happening!
Every Saturday morning — all year long, even in triple digits — there’s the Phoenix Public Market. And while it was warm, there were plenty of people in attendance.
Only their summer hours began May 20th, the day we were there, meaning they closed at noon. We arrived at 12:10. So as we walked around admiring the local honey and homemade salsas, the smoked meats and locally grown produce, people were folding up tables and packing up their wares.
As to Question 2: Is there an interesting assortment of things to do in downtown Phoenix?
Answer: Well, if you time your visit right, yeah. But even during the summer you can visit museums or the library, and in the evenings you can catch a game or a show.
Most people are wise enough to stay inside when the hot weather hits, though I was glad to see the Public Market is still a thing. As we watched the tents being taken down, Husband turned to me. “Now what?”
I pointed to the building behind the market: Phoenix Public Market Cafe. “Let’s check it out,” I said. It was lunchtime, and we still had our third Question before us.
The cafe bills itself as a “casual urban hangout.” It had a cool, hip vibe to it, but very friendly and cheerful. On one wall was painted the words, “Building Community Through Food.” The place was crowded, we found a table near the bakery case.
Husband and I shared Tito’s Cubano: a grilled pork sandwich with a side of fries. It was fantastic. Best sandwich I’d had since… you got it: New York.
As we ate, we looked over their pastries.
I selected three macarons for the trip home: Chocolate Espresso, Salted Caramel, and Pistachio Raspberry Rose.
Question 3: Can we find an eatery with not only good food, but in an interesting building with charming atmosphere?
Answer: You betchya. Actually, if you avoid the chains, you can find interesting places most anywhere.
Will it be just like in New York? Well, duh. Of course not. There’s only one New York. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be good in its own way.
Conclusion: This little excursion was just the thing I needed to banish my post-trip blues. It reminded me that even when our streets are empty, when little is happening and our temperatures are rising, downtown Phoenix is darn pretty.
In truth, this is a fine city in which to live. Our light rail system works (and should be expanded), and we have some damn fine eateries.
Plus, we got naked dancers. There’s just no beating that.
18 thoughts on “Gotta Cure My Post-NYC Blues”
I think you’ve made a good choice.
Thanks JC! New York is fun, but in the end, I think I prefer warmer weather and empty streets. 😉
I think that looks like a fabulous outing!
Yes, it worked out pretty well. Of course the company helped!
This is May. I’ll see your comparison and raise you one New York January night with freezing rain, slushy snow, a bitter wind and not a cab with shouting distance. And the winner, once again ladies and gentlemen, is … Phoenix! But god, NYC is fun, ain’t it?
Yes, a great deal of fun. So much fun it’s hard to come back down. But you’re right, I wouldn’t give up a Phoenix January (or Oct., Nov. Dec., Feb., March, April or May) for anything.
Sounds like a great day out. We had naked dancers in our city once, but they kept arresting them, so they left.
Haha! Well, our naked dancers are pretty well behaved. There were more I didn’t get a picture of, and for a short while there was an entire family titled “The Gathering.” It was several adults and a few children. I miss them.
Looks like a lovely city.
On behalf of our city, thank you!
When I was young the downtown was just so-so, but they put a lot of work into it over the years and the light rail helped revitalize it, as did the ballpark. So now it’s a place of civic pride. (Amazing how important that is.)
For comparative purposes: Dallas is in a similar situation. Downtown is being revitalized quite extensively, a complete change from the 70s and 80s when you simply DID NOT GO DOWN THERE AFTER DARK. There are still some pockets of crap, but there are pockets all over this massively spread-out city, with South and East needing the most attention. The dining options have always been expansive, albeit with fluctuations over the years. (I seem to recall an official figure a few years back that there were nearly 5,000 restaurants in the metroplex.) And the light rail is very well-planned, although adjustments and expansions are heartily welcomed. We use the rail whenever possible, and we are lucky enough to be smack between two different stations, both roughly a mile away and have huge, brightly-lit and patrolled parking lots. You can get an all-day pass for five bucks (even cheaper if senior or student) and get to many of the key areas of the city. Still, the vast majority of Dallasites have never even stepped foot on a rail platform. Sad, really.
Funny you should do this comparative analysis, as I’ve often wondered how Texas cities compared to Phoenix. Except for the hats and the drawl, we seem pretty similar. 😉
One thing about this trip on the rail, nearly every stop we’d see an interesting set of apartments or condos and we’d do a quick search, only to find out they were WAY out of our price range. *sigh*
Lucky you for being advantageously located. Until an expansion goes through, we’ll be sticking with our 12-mile drive to the station.
This will probably make your 12-mile trek seem even more itchy: The rail, with just one transfer, allows us to get to both major airports (Love Field and DFW). This is not an option for long trips with lots of luggage, of course, but it’s ideal for shorter trips when you have just a carry-on or maybe a small suitcase. No airport parking fees or arranging for someone to do a drop-off and pick-up. I realize I’m just babbling at this point, but I’m a big supporter of mass transit and you’ve pushed one of my geek buttons… 😉
Oh, I’m a huge fan too! Phoenix is such a late arrival to getting rail, the advantage being they can learn from other city’s mistakes. But getting the money for more track is always a challenge.
On our vacations we make it a point to use public transit whenever possible. Of the cities we’ve visited, San Francisco’s transit system won my heart, as I understood it after one day. That never happens!
Fun post! We live in a suburb between Denver and Boulder and use the light rail or busses whenever we can. It is so much easier. We enjoy interacting with the other people along the way too, it’s a good check on our white privilege I think. And it allows us to have a few alcoholic beverages if we so choose without worrying about getting home safely.
I love Denver’s light rail! We have family in Littleton, and have taken the light rail several times into LoDo. The last time we were there during the Christmas season so we got to see all the lights. Sooo beautiful!
I think big cities are more fun when you’re visiting. I don’t live in NYC, but I live in LA and it can be overwhelming. There are a lot of interesting places and things to do. I just learned about some new places the other day. Traffic is so bad, though, that I sometimes isolate myself between my neighborhood and work. Sometimes I don’t want to go to an event, because I don’t want to deal with crowds. Also, it’s expensive. There are pros and cons no matter where you live and every place has their gems.
Oh my gosh, LA’s traffic is a nightmare! Every couple years or so we do a Disney trip, and navigating through LA seems worse each time. I hear complaints about Phoenix traffic, but overall we’ve got it pretty good. Especially in the summer — as soon as the temps rise, seems like we lose half our population. So on the one hand, we live in an oven, on the other hand, it’s crowd-free. 🤔