My Favorite Places: #1 Phoenix

As wonderful and whimsical as they are, my previous 9 favorite places just aren’t the same as my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. I hear a lot of criticism about our town: bad schools, unlivable weather, nothing to do, ignorant people. I’ve found exactly the opposite to be true. I’m a warm weather kind of gal so the dry heat of Phoenix suits me perfectly. I prefer sunshine to rain and flip flops to… well, any other kind of shoe. I’ve experienced and observed the passion and determination of Phoenix teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of attending inspiring and entertaining local events, dining in unique restaurants, and brushing elbows with amazingly talented and dedicated artists. I’ve had conversations with intellectuals, activists, and compassionate individuals who, even if we disagree on issues, want to leave our city better than when they arrived.

As fun and exciting as traveling can be, I’m always relieved to arrive back at Sky Harbor (the best named airport) and to drive the familiar curves of the 101 toward home. The sunsets are amazing, the swimming pools endless, and the cheesy Western gear is so much fun. I sometimes romanticize living elsewhere, but Phoenix really is my home. And there’s no place like it.

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My Favorite Places: #2 Montmartre

One of my very favorite cities in the whole world is Paris, and my very favorite part of Paris is Montmartre. The hill is topped by the beautiful and iconic dome of Sacré Cœur overlooking the city below. Montmartre is best known for the many incredible artists who gathered, worked, and partied in its restaurants and cabarets. Matisse, van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Toulouse-Latrec, and Picasso found inspiration here and drank plenty of Absinthe under the stars. When I visited the area, I was enamored with the collection of beautiful spaces. I spent hours there, pretending I was in a Renoir painting at the Moulin de la Galette, sipping drinks at the Lapin Agile, and admiring surrealist sculpture at Espace Dalí. Especially wonderful was the crème brulée at Les Deux Moulins café, made famous in Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, my very favorite film. Around every corner is an artist at an easel, a couple in an embrace, or a scene right out of an impressionist painting. It’s the kind of place of which artists dream.

My Favorite Places: #3 Lake Powell

Growing up in the Phoenix heat, we always found ourselves gravitating towards water. My brother and I found ourselves obsessed with the lake and especially with wakeboarding. We lived it, watching videos of the pros pulling off gravity-defying tricks and idolizing the greats like Shaun Murray and Parks Bonifay. Every year we waited anxiously for our summer trip to Lake Powell. If you’ve never been, it truly is the wakeboarder’s dream. Smooth, glassy water was easy to find in hidden coves and the weather was always perfect. We, with several family friends, drove our houseboat to hidden beaches, anchored, and relaxed. We swam, fished, and wakeboarded till our arms couldn’t hold on anymore. As we grew older and our school and work became more demanding, our annual trip discontinued. But with Clay, Vanessa, and their lovely families joining our lives, I’d really like to create a new Lake Powell tradition for the future.

My Favorite Places: #4 Disneyland

It’s not called “the Most Magical Place on Earth” for nothing. Disney has had me captivated since I was a child. Their television shows, films, and music engulfed me, transported me to fantastic places. I dreamt of becoming an animator for Disney Studios and getting married in Cinderella’s castle. Visiting Disneyland was a joy: meeting favorite characters in person, escaping pirates of the Caribbean, and taking star tours to the forest moon of Endor. Waiting in line was never a bore; we always had churros and great conversation. Even as an adult, I dream of my next visit to Disneyland. Every year they add new attractions and improve on our favorites, but the true beauty is that Disneyland exists as a place for imagination and fun.

My Favorite Places: #5 Musée du Louvre

There are few single buildings that can draw visitors from every corner of the world. Musée du Louvre began as a palace, but has since been converted into the most visited museum on Earth. Inside its beautifully structured exterior lives the greatest collection of artwork ever seen, spanning from prehistory to the late 19th century. Historical timelines are kept in surprising quality as you travel through the Egyptian, Eastern, Greek, Roman, Etruscan, and sculptural collections. But nothing drops jaws or makes me feel warmer than the paintings that span the Richelieu and Denon wings of the museum. Delacroix, David, Vermeer, and Caravaggio are among favorites, but truly nothing compares to the Mona Lisa. While many who see it in person scoff at its surprisingly small size and its ever-present crowd of camera-flashing tourists, the tiny portrait’s draw is what makes it incredible. For a man to have created a single work of art that is recognized by all and is the most visited piece in the most visited collection of nearly 35,000 pieces, well, that’s magic. I love I. M. Pei’s glass pyramid, the distinct parquet floor of the Grand Gallery, wall after wall of masterpieces, and how I still have to pronounce it Loo-vrah.

My Favorite Places: #6 Piazza San Marco

Venice is the kind of city from a storybook. Arriving there, it’s like stepping away from the real world and into a fantasy land where everyone is fashionable, the pasta is endless, and the streets are made of water. At the heart of the city is Piazza San Marco, a sprawling courtyard surrounded by stunning architecture and capped by the tremendously beautiful Basilica of San Marco. The piazza sits only feet from the mouth of the Grand Canal, guarded by two iconic columns. On any given day, Piazza San Marco is flooded: with tourists, pigeons, or a thin layer of water from an afternoon rain. It’s truly picturesque and must be seen in person.

My Favorite Places: #7 The Sistine Chapel

Ever since I was young, I’ve been fascinated by paintings. I loved looking at them, studying them, and especially trying to create them. Another fascination of mine has been Catholic tradition, architecture, and storytelling. Although I’m not Catholic, I’ve always appreciated the tremendous artwork that has been created from those beliefs and reverence. I can think of no other building that so beautifully and intricately embodies the strength of religious tradition and the utter brilliance of a master like Michelangelo. The walls and ceiling are magnificent, perfectly visualizing the doctrine at the heart of Christianity in stunning fresco. The space itself is enormous, adding to the awe and admiration I feel. I hope that everyone could see the Sistine Chapel sometime in their life, religious or not. The art, history, and architecture would be more than worth the trip.

My Favorite Places: #8 Fisherman’s Wharf

photo by John Smatlak

Most of my family lives in or around the San Francisco area. I’ve been visiting the city ever since I can remember. One of my very favorite things has always been taking the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. My family and I would spend the afternoon there, eating clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls, watching the sea lions sleep in the sun, and browsing the seaside stores. It’s only a short walk to Ghirardelli Square and short ferry rides to Alcatraz and Angel Island. The seafood is exceptional and the ocean breeze refreshing. There’s something relaxing and comforting about Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a fun escape from the city where you can enjoy the smell and sound of the ocean and the taste of authentic salt water taffy. Every time we visit San Francisco, we always manage to squeeze in a trip to the wharf. Who knows, one of these days I may even face my fears and visit their famous aquarium.

My Favorite Places: #9 Belmont Park

photo by flickr user foxtongue

San Diego has always been one of my favorite cities. It’s close enough to Phoenix for a weekend trip, but far enough away to feel exotic. The weather is perfect: warm during the day and chilly at night. And who can complain about staying only a minute’s walk from the beach? When I was growing up, my family would rent a beach home on Mission Beach almost every summer. My brother and I spent hours on the beach and hours at Belmont Park. We rode the roller coaster, ate unhealthy carnival food, and wished we were surfers as we browsed all the shops. In high school, my best friends and I started a tradition of our own, spending a week every summer staying in a beachside condo. We bonded and grew and spent our days basking in the sun. Every time I go back, I remember all the amazing summers I spent on that boardwalk. Last weekend, a group of my colleagues and I traveled to San Diego for a web design conference. Our last night there, we spent it eating Luigi’s pizza and sitting on the beach listening to the waves. It was perfection and I can’t wait to go back.

My Favorite Places: #10 Greer, Arizona

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an outdoorsy kind of person. I prefer the warmth and protection of the indoors and the conveniences of modern technology. But mention Greer, Arizona and my heart flutters. When I was growing up, my family and a large group of our family friends camped every long Labor Day weekend in Greer. Our campsite became a familiar retreat where I was able to grow, learn, and explore. It was where I first truly learned to play poker and where we all heard that Princess Diana had been tragically killed. It was a constant in my ever-changing developmental years. The weather was always wonderful, even the rain (and that’s a lot coming from me). The food always tasted better in Greer and the fishing was always plentiful. I haven’t been back for several years, but I always feel warm and nostalgic when I remember all the great times we had there.