arizona road trip, part 2: exploring chandler

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Happy hour on the patio at El Zocalo in Chandler, Arizona.

Happy hour on the patio at El Zocalo in Chandler, Arizona.

After a romantic Valentine’s Day in Scottsdale, Arizona, we headed to Chandler for a couple of days. Historic downtown Chandler is a gastronomic delight; if you’re dieting, you should not go there. The artsy area is just a few blocks long, but it’s packed with restaurants, pubs and specialty shops. Our intention was to have lunch and do a little window-shopping. We liked it so much that we ended up spending a good portion of our weekend there.

Pretzels and beer at the SanTan Brewing Company.

Pretzels and beer at the SanTan Brewing Company.

SanTan Brewing Company was founded in 2007 and is based in a renovated 1954 bank building. There’s lots of seating inside and out, but it was still pretty busy when we got there. I had a Sun Spot Golden Ale, which was light and refreshing. Scott tried the Sex Panther, because who doesn’t want to try a beer called Sex Panther? It’s a double chocolate porter that’s only available in early spring.

After lunch, we wandered down San Marcos Place to the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort. Originally built in 1913, it was the first golf resort in Arizona. I’m not sure how this gorgeous property did not come up during my search for a hotel, but we will stay there the next time we visit. It features a beautiful pool shaded by palm trees, an 18-hole golf course and a courtyard garden centered around a fountain. Bonus: You can walk to all of the shops, restaurants and pubs and back without needing a designated driver.

San Marcos Place in Chandler, Arizona.

San Marcos Place in Chandler, Arizona.

Just a few doors down, I found some retail therapy at Sibley’s West. Before I proceed, I should state for the record that I have a problem with purses. If you have not read “I Feel Bad About My Neck” by Nora Ephron, you should. She wrote that she was always searching for the perfect purse that would solve all of her organizational problems. That fits me to a T. I found the perfect bag at Sibley’s West, or at least the latest perfect one. I’ve been carrying it for 11 months, so I’d say it’s in the running for best bag of all time. It’s a Carogi, machine washable and made of upholstery fabric that’s been indestructible so far. You can switch the straps around to turn it from a backpack into a tote, plus it’s really cute.

There were too many restaurant choices to pick just one for dinner, so we decided to try several instead. Our progressive dinner started at the El Zocalo Mexican Grille. If you go, sit outside on the patio, festive with its palm and fruit trees, order a margarita and relax. The chips, salsa and queso were a good start to our trifecta of happy hours.

Murphy's Law Pub and Ale House.

Murphy’s Law Pub and Ale House.

Our next stop was Murphy’s Law Pub and Ale House. Since our daughter was going to spend a semester in Ireland, and we planned to visit, this seemed the perfect spot to conduct some important travel research. It’s a fun Irish pub. There are dollar bills stapled all over the walls with all sorts of messages written upon them. The one closest to me seemed to question the morals of one Ann Marie. We enjoyed a couple of Irish beers and even found one light enough for me, a Harp by Guinness. We balanced that out with some mouth-watering meatballs sautéed in Jameson.

Our final stop of the evening was at Bourbon Jacks, described on its website as “traditional country with contemporary appeal.” There’s an energetic, cozy atmosphere that makes you want to sing along with the live music or just get up and dance. Of course, that could also be attributed to the bourbon. The drink menu is impressive. Beer and beer cocktails; red, white and bubbly wines; whiskeys from Ireland, Canada, Tennessee and even a Japanese single malt whiskey; whiskey flights; more bourbons than you can shake a stick at; and a selection of Scotches that ranged from Dewar’s White Label at $5.50 to Johnny Walker Blue Label for $39. The food menu has a lot to choose from as well. The corn bread appetizer is a must; it’s made with sweet, roasted corn and served with orange honey butter. Next time, we will stay here longer.

Bourbon Jacks Bar & Grill in Chandler, Arizona.

Bourbon Jacks Bar & Grill in Chandler, Arizona.

We did spend some of our time outside of Chandler. We met my father-in-law Don and our almost-aunt Dawn (She is Scott’s aunt’s sister; I don’t believe there’s a name for that) at Uncle Bear’s Grill and Bar in Queen Creek. The first thing Dawn said was, “Don’t let me forget the bag of grapefruit I brought for you; it’s in my car.” You know how that went, right? We enjoyed catching up with them and had a nice dinner on the patio.

There were two things left on my to-do list that we tackled the next morning. First stop, Trader Joe’s. I don’t know why, but I was expecting a huge store along the lines of a giant Whole Foods. It is not like that at all. It looks like an old neighborhood grocery store, but is stocked with specialty foods like Pomegranate Vinegar, Speculoos Cookie Butter and Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole. There are gluten-free and organic versions of just about anything you can think of, and, of course, the infamous Two Buck Chuck. Except here, it was Three Buck Chuck. I don’t know if that’s due to inflation or just regional differences. We got a bottle and I’d say it was worth every penny, but not many additional pennies. We were also able to pick up a six-pack of SanTan Brewing Company’s Sex Panther to bring home.

What I really loved at Trader Joe’s were the lotions and soaps. I bought a lavender body scrub that I adore. It’s almost gone, so I will have to hit up one of the new locations in Denver as soon as they open.

Picking up some grooming tips at the Phoenix Zoo.

Picking up some grooming tips at the Phoenix Zoo.

Next on the list was a visit to Phoenix Zoo. The weather was warm and beautiful, and since it was a Saturday, the zoo was fairly crowded. We saw a lot of animals, soaked in the sunshine and enjoyed our time there. As we were leaving, almost-aunt Dawn met us at the exit with our grapefruit. Naturally, the bag broke open and grapefruit rolled all over the parking lot. They were so fresh and juicy it was worth crawling under a few cars to retrieve them.

Our drive back to Glenwood Springs was much the same as the drive to Scottsdale just a few days prior, except in reverse and with a quick side trip through Sedona. All in all, it was a wonderful, romantic Valentine’s Day road trip getaway. Stay tuned for more Tales from the Empty Nest.

© 2014 Mandy Gauldin

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