PHX Insider: Best Local Coffee Spots

A love of caffeine seems to transcend almost all cultures, and in Phoenix it's no different. There are, of course, Starbucks and other chains to feed your need in a pinch, but it's way more fun to check out a local cafe to get your fix. Withing walking distance of the hostel, we have some great options for latte-lovers.   

Mornin' Moonshine (111 West Monroe Street)

This downtown cafe just opened a few days ago as an off-shoot of the coffee brewed at local brunch joint Vovomeena. The space is small but cozy, located in the lobby of an office building. Since they are so new, the staff loves to chat with patrons about their favorite drinks and snacks to help hone their offerings. All bakery goods are provided by the delicious kitchen of Phoenix Public Market Cafe. But the highlight is the signature cold-brewed Mornin' Moonshine iced coffee -- it's wonderful but strong. A great way to get you energized for a day exploring downtown Phoenix! 

Fair Trade Cafe (1020 North 1st Avenue)

This cafe bistro has two locations downtown, located just down the street from each other. They pride themselves on having organic and fair trade ingredients in just about all their drinks and dishes. They serve a great selection of espresso drinks and teas as well as a variety of lunch options like sandwiches, salads, and hummus plates. The 1st Ave location has big comfy couches and arm chairs perfect for sharing espresso and good conversation with friends, while the Civic Space Park location caters a bit more to ASU students who need lots of table space and strong Wi Fi. Both spots have nice outside patios to enjoy the sunshine on too. 

Grindhouse Coffee at Third Space (1028 Grand Avenue)

Grindhouse is located in a tiny cabin along with the other Shops at Third Space. But not too worry, there is plenty of outdoor seating on the patio both in the shade and sunshine. The staff here are super friendly and love to chat about the local arts' scene on Grand Avenue. The coffee is roasted on site in a neighboring cabin and you can taste that freshness. They also serve up a selection of savory and sweet bakery items. You have to try the vegan chocolate biscotti -- it will totally change your idea of what vegan chocolate can be. Have it with an espresso drink and dip the crumbly cookie in for the best experience. 

Lola's Coffee (1001 North 3rd Avenue)

Lola's is located on the corner of 3rd Ave and Roosevelt Ave, just a bit down the row from the busy alternative art district at Roosevelt Row. It's your classic local meet up spot with a mix of people working on laptops and community members dropping in to chat. With ample seating inside, there's always a space for you. And they even have an outdoor patio out back. Lola's has your standard offering of drinks and cafe snacks. Their scones are superb -- buttery, salty, and sweet all at once. 

(Brought to you by Ally Thibault)

Travel Insider: Dos and don'ts of packing

When I first started travelling, I dreaded packing. Choosing what to bring along and what had to be left behind was stressful, and yet my bag was still always filled to burst. Carrying around a heavy pack is a nuisance and digging around in it for that one ticket you need is even worse. So, from a chronic overpacker who has (finally) learned her lessons the hard way, here are some tips to help you pack for your next trip.

Less is More

I'm sure you've heard this one before, but it's importance can't be overstated. Keeping your pack as light as possible will make your travels so much more enjoyable and carefree. You never need as many clothes or shoes as you think you will, so pack less. If worse comes to worse and you really end up needing another sweater or pair of pants, you can always buy one on the road. 

And don't try to justify your overpacking by thinking you won't mind carrying the extra weight of those big jackets or rain shoes -- believe me, 10 minutes into your first walk from the train station to the hostel, you will be cursing yourself. You're a traveler now, it's okay to wear the same clothes for days in a row. 

What to Leave Behind

I never pack shampoo or toothpaste or any other toiletries like that anymore. Unless you're going trekking into the wilderness or traveling to a remote area of a developing nation, you'll be able to find a store at your destination to stock up on these essentials. That way you don't have to worry about checking liquids onto a plane or taking up more room in your pack with oversized bottles.    

Focus on the bare minimum that you will need on your travels and prioritize the items. Clothes and toiletries are really the only essentials. Packing for worse case scenario situations is smart if you're willing to carry the extra weight, but again, if it's something you probably won't need and you could just buy it at your destination, then just leave it at home.  

What to Bring

I know it's tedious and you'd rather just throw some random tops and bottoms into your bag and be on your way, but it really does help to plan out some outfits. Just by laying your clothes out a bed, you can see when you're trying to take way too much along. Remember, you're going to meet new people and experience new things, your clothes really aren't that important. 

If there are extra things you want to bring along, like laptops, tablets, cameras, or books, make sure you're being realistic about what you'll actually use. You are not going to read 3 books on your 3 month long trip. You don't need an ipad and a laptop. Be selective about extras you take along, because again, you're going to experience a new place, not new apps on your tablet or new TV episodes to stream. 

In short, keep it simple, light, and stress free! 

(Brought to you by Ally Thibault)


PHX Insider: Hiking in the City

Arizona is an outdoors enthusiast's paradise. From the depths of the Grand Canyon to the heights of various alpine and desert mountain ranges, there are tons of options for experiencing nature. Even in the metro Phoenix area, there are a diversity of great hikes within reach by public transit or a short car ride.  

Camelback Mountain 

This mountain, located northeast of the hostel on the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley line, looks like a gigantic camel slumbering in the middle of the city. The resemblance is so striking that when I first saw it, I half expected it to rise up and come to life, like the giant tiger made of sand that eats Aladdin in Disney's classic film. The mountain thankfully did not eat me, but the hike is certainly a strenuous one.

There are actually two trails at Camelback, but the one most people are referring to when they mention the hike is the Echo Canyon Trail. The trail, which leads up to the summit of the mountain (which has one of the best views of Phoenix and the surrounding valley) is very popular with tourists and locals alike, making it a generally pretty crowded hike. Many locals use it as their gym, jogging up and down the mountain and making it look easy. 

While the trail is not very long, it is very steep and includes several sections of rock scrambling with handrails to help you keep your balance. It's a great experience for someone who wants to push themselves physically for a couple of hours and doesn't mind the crowds. You can get to Camelback via public bus in about an hour or by car in 20 minutes.        

South Mountain 

South Mountain is so big that it feels more like a whole mountain range rather than just a single peak. The wilderness preserve here has over 50 miles of interconnected trails to explore, so it's definitely a good idea to print out a map before you go and to pay attention to all the signs you pass on the trails so you don't get lost. Unlike Camelback, the trails of South Mountain are much more secluded and on some paths you may not see another hiker for upwards of 30 minutes. 

The hike I like best here is a 4 mile combination of the Mormon Trail, the Hidden Valley Trail, and the National Trail. It is somewhat steep at the beginning as you ascent the mountain, but flattens out at the top, making it an easy trail for just about anyone to enjoy regardless of skill or experience. After reaching the top of the moutain and taking in the stunning views of downtown and the surrounding mountains, the Hidden Valley Trail takes you between and under amazing rock formations amoung the desert landscape. The book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles (which we have for you to use at the hostel) provides detailed directions and descriptions of the hike to help guide you.

While a few hours of peace and isolation hiking on South Mountain is a great experience, the best part of your day is yet to come. The Farm at South Mountain, located a short walk from the trail head where the hike ends, serves fresh lunch foods and bakery snacks to help refuel you in the most deliciously healthy way possible. Grab some snacks at the counter and take them out into the farm's pecan grove to have a celebratory post-hike picnic. South Mountain can be reached by public transportation in about an hour or by car in 20 minutes.   

Papago Park 

Papago has it all - a lagoon, hiking trails, a zoo, and a botanical garden. The trails here are mostly flat scenic walks through a mini desert space plopped in the middle of the city, but the highlight is the iconic Hole in the Rock. It's a sandstone butte with a small opening like an eye that allows vistors, mostly families and kids, to sit against a wall in the three sided cave-like structure and look out onto the downtown skyline. 

Another landmark on the paths around Papago is a white pyramid on a hill overlooking the zoo. This bizarre monument is actually the tomb of the first governor of Arizona, who was fascinated by the pyramids of Giza during his travels in Egypt. It provides another great vista of the city and valley as well as a glimpse into the giraffes habitat at the neighboring zoo. 

The Desert Botanical Garden is located in the northeastern part of the park. It has a wonderful collection of cacti and wildflowers along its trails designed to teach you all about desert environments. The garden also includes a butterfly area, an herb patch, and recreations of native peoples different housing structures. Papago Park is easily reachable by public transit in 45 minutes or by car in 15 mintues.

No matter which of these areas you decided to explore, make sure to bring plenty of water with you -- at least 2 water bottles per person are necessary while walking out in the desert sun. And don't forget the sunblock! 

(Brought to you by Ally Thibault... with much guidance from "60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Phoenix")


Travel Insider: How to explore a new city

There's nothing more exciting than arriving in a new place where you know hardly anything about the local culture or attractions. The thrill of traveling somewhere new to you and being ready to adventure and experience something different is the ultimate feeling for a traveler.

But sometimes it can be really overwhelming too. How do you know where to start exploring? How do you make sure you experience real local life while avoiding money-sucking tourist traps? Every city is unique, but here's a game plan that will help you have a stress-free and fun first few days in just about any place.    

Do only a little research

Okay, this part is actually a little trickier than it seems. One of the easiest ways to ruin a travel experience is to try to learn too much about a place before you arrive. This may seem counter intuitive -- wouldn't you want to know as much as possible before you go? In my experience, not really. You don't want to build up expectations solely based on what you read online from travel guides or random travelers who may not have the same interests as you. 

To truly learn about a place, you have to go and experience it yourself and be open to just about anything that may happen. That being said, you still don't want to arrive knowing absolutely nothing. Look into basic things like how the public transit system works, key phrases in the local language, and try to find out what the city is known for as far as new kinds of food, nightlife, and art.

Ask for recommendations

Exploring a new city on foot or by bike with no destination in mind is a great way to get a feel for the culture and vibe of the people. It can be a lot of fun as long as you are in a vibrant area. Ask the hostel staff or locals where the happening business or arts districts are and head that way. For some cities, it's downtown or the city center that's lively while other cities may have specific neighborhoods that are more fun.

If you are asking for recommendations on restaurants or bars, make sure to find out why someone likes a certain spot. Just knowing that someone loves a  place doesn't help you know if you'll like it - one person's perfect spot could be your worst nightmare.

But still stay open to new ideas. If the suggestion sounds like a bizarre place, it may be worth checking out for the experience. And of course, if a city is famous for a certain dish or type of restaurant, you should try it out even if it feels super touristy.

Adapt to the culture

There's no point in traveling to a new place if you are only going to do things you'd normally do at home. Your destination is not your hometown, so don't arrive assuming certain things will be the same. I've made that mistake before when traveling and it will only leave you dissatisfied with your trip and blind to the unique beauty your destination does offer.

The best way to explore and enjoy a new city is to accept each place for what it has to offer and to try to make connections with local people. Leave your expectations and any emotional baggage at the train station and enter your new city willing to learn and interact with new people. After all, traveling is oftentimes more about who you meet on the journey, not where the journey ends up. 

The most helpful travel advice I've ever gotten is this: Don't do something just to check it off your list. Don't feel like there are certain things you have to do at your destination as a rite of passage just because everyone else does them. If you really aren't that interested in a certain attraction, don't feel like you lost out by skipping it. The best moments always end up happening at hole-in-the-wall local joints or just by hanging out in public squares and parks anyway. 

(Brought to you by Ally Thibault


PHX Insider: Live Music

If you love live music, then you'll love Phoenix. This month, the city is host to several music festivals featuring many different genres. This weekend, VIVA PHX features 80 acts at 20 different venues around downtown and the Pot of Gold musical festival is taking over Tempe Beach Park for four days. Later on in March, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival hits town as well. 

While these special festivals will be great, Phoenix actually has great, affordable live music almost every night. From jazz to indie pop to electronic music, Phoenix has something for everyone.  

Crescent Ballroom

Crescent truly has it all when it comes to live music and entertainment -- from indie rock shows to trivia nights to drag shows. All shows in the lounge area are free while most others are just $10 to $20. Crescent also has a full kitchen serving Mexican inspired dishes until midnight every night. The venue is located just a block west of the Van Buren light rail stop, making it easily accessible from the hostel by public transportation. 

Third Space

This restaurant bar has free live music most Fridays and Saturdays. Located around an outdoor patio with a collection of other locally owned small businesses, Third Space serves brunch, lunch, and dinner as well as wine and beer. When the weather is nice (aka anytime but summer) shows are held on the outdoor patio, but when the rare rain storm or chilly night rolls in, shows are held inside among comfy couches and an exposed brick wall interior. Located on the corner of Grand Avenue and 11th Avenue, Third Space is about a 15 minute walk from the hostel.

Lost Leaf

There's no better kind of live music than FREE live music. Located in a revamped house on 5th Street, Lost Leaf has a free show every single night starting at 9 pm. Artists range from rock bands to indie acts to house DJs. The bar serves up a great selection of Arizona brews and features a back yard patio area to escape the sometimes cramped quarters of the 'stage' area. Lost Leaf is about a half hour walk from the hostel or a cheap uber or taxi ride. 

The Nash

This is the prime destination for jazz music in Arizona. The Nash is an intimate club in the arts district on Roosevelt Row and has live jazz just about every day. Ranging from blues to big band to Latin style jazz, it's a great place for casual fans and jazz aficionados alike. Most shows range from $5 to $15 and there are usually tickets available for purchase at the door.

While there is a small selection of snacks and drinks for sale inside, you're best off visiting a neighboring bar for sustenance beforehand if you want a nice meal or more drink options. Short Leash, a bar/restaurant next door, serves gourmet hot dog dishes, homemade donuts, and has a huge selection of canned craft beers. They also have a few local Arizona wines on tap. Or you could check out Carly's just another block down the road for bistro plates and specialty cocktails. And all this is within a 25 minute walk of the hostel or a quick bike ride.

(Brought to you by Ally Thibault)