Blackbird's owners, Robb and Melody Smith, provide a creative haven for artists and musicians of all ages and abilities in the 4,000-square-foot Blackbird Music & Art Center, which boasts seven music studios, two classrooms, and an art gallery showcasing the work of their students. In groups of 5–24, students can learn to accurately portray the essence of a loved one's alter ego in the cartooning course, where an instructor teaches students the basics of characters, cartoons, and comic strips. After School Art Club, appropriate for ages 12 and up, challenges brush wielders to learn drawing skills and various art techniques, and The Art of Sketching class demonstrates the different drawing and shading techniques needed to decorate paper and metallic public-bathroom stalls. Though some supplies are provided, students should check with their instructor about the necessary equipment to bring.
Hop aboard an antique tractor to take a hayride tour of The Windmill Winery, which spans more than 100 acres of Arizona countryside, boasting historical buildings and breath-stealing scenery. Visitors can wind through the working farm to see a collection of early 20th-century buildings plus a host of farm animals humming nursery rhymes under their breath. Wine sippers can then drink in views of two lakes, the Gila River, and the Superstition Mountains before heading into the 1920s dairy barn to test palates with five signature wines culled from small and organic wineries. Learn about each wine's origin and how to pair it with the right culinary sidekicks, then sate grumbling bellies with a freshly grilled meal served on the back porch of the First Pinal County Sheriff's House. The night will wind down under the stars with a bonfire, s'mores, and bone-chilling stories about pairing fish and red wine.
Winner of the Phoenix New Times Best Exotic Nursery award, Tropica Mango nursery fosters a forest of tropical and subtropical fruit trees and oversees a wide inventory of plants suitable for desert climes. Take home a banana ($35–$45), pomegranate ($35), or avocado ($49) tree to provide shade and edibility in your back yard, or watch mango ($55) and guava ($49) trees flourish under the blazing heat of the Sonoran sun. If you have gardening inquiries, Tropica Mango can dole out advice on fertilizing, nurturing, raising fruit trees in a desert environment, and burying VHS tapes in an eco-friendly manner.
In 1975, Jay Kogan's parents opened up a store that was literally a hall of frames—just a small store stacked with thousands of frames. At the time, they had no idea that that tiny corridor would expand to 12 locations throughout the greater Phoenix area, all still run by the Kogan family. Today, their shops have more than 4,500 custom frame options along with mats of all colors and textures, as well as seven glazing choices and expert assembly. They can answer framing questions and frame everything from documents and artwork to posters and small 3-D objects such as sports memorabilia and very still grandmothers.
When they custom-produce frames, the family cuts their mats exactly, miters frame corners precisely, and installs flawless glass. Or, since the stores' walls are lined with ready-made frames, customers can walk in and find what they're looking for quickly. Since installing framed art is an art unto itself, they also offer hanging services with an eye for placement and ability to install in difficult spaces.
Mind Over Batter, a confectionery delight in the heart of Tempe, opened its doors on Valentine's Day 2011 and shortly thereafter won the Phoenix New Times' annual Best Cupcakes award. After being dismayed by the banality of store-bought desserts and the lack of business ethic among shadowy sheet-cake cartels, the team at Mind Over Batter decided to set out on their own, eventually expanding their labor of love to two different locations in Tempe and Gilbert. The shops bake cupcakes in an array of traditional and less common flavors, such as peanut butter and strawberry or chocolate chip and fudge, with the bite-sized cakes come adorned in glittering sugar crystals or technicolored layers of creamy icing. Cake pops weigh down skewers with cake spheres dunked into various buttercream icings and candy coatings. Custom-made cakes commemorate baby showers, weddings, or the weddings of love-struck babies with batters such as chocolate red velvet or classic butter yellow, and fillings such as chocolate ganache or seasonal fresh fruit.