Best of Tucson 95

Best Small Park/Plaza

St. Philip's Plaza 4380 N. Campbell Ave.

READERS' PICK: From the moment you enter the tree-lined cobblestone driveway, it's clear this is no ordinary shopping plaza. Regardless of the season, color surrounds you at St. Philip's Plaza. The Spanish mission-style plaza is filled with bright blooming flowers, manicured landscaping and lush green grass. Door and window frames are painted bold contrasting shades of teal, raspberry, cobalt blue and sunny yellow. You could fill a day strolling through the 18 shops and galleries. Looking for unique clothing or one of a kind jewelry? Do you have an eye for exquisite Indian pottery? Have you been searching for that perfect work of art to fill the vacant space in your living room? Whether you prefer contemporary or Southwestern art, or perhaps something with a whimsical touch, this is the place. After you have shopped till you drop, stop for a bite at Café Terra Cotta, Daniel's or Ovens, all culinary delights. Sit outside. If you're craving a refreshing treat, indulge without guilt at I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! Savor your fat-free hot fudge brownie sundae while you sit al fresque at the colorful mosaic-topped benches and tables, surrounded by birds of paradise. Relax on the wrought iron lattice-backed park benches under the huge leafy trees and watch starry-eyed lovers dangle their feet in the fountain as they giggle softly. Stop by on a Friday afternoon for the Farmer's Market. Saturday nights you might be lucky enough to catch live jazz. And when you are doing your holiday shopping, don't be surprised if you encounter a courtyard full of dogs in silly outfits, waiting patiently to have their photo taken with Santa.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: How can they pack so much peace-of-mind into the small, urban-locked oasis that is Tohono Chul Park? This 37-acre arid-lands park with its Buddhist calm and Zen pools is a great place to meditate or to get married. It's nice to see someone believes cacti have the right to die or regenerate naturally without landscaping or pruning. We enjoy the many secluded nooks on the grounds where one can nap with only the distant hum of traffic on Ina Road to invade one's desert dreams. The suggested donation for admission to the park is two dollars, although one can certainly enter by putting whatever pocket change one has in the box. The ethnobotanical garden displays an interesting alternative to the usual non-indigenous plants available from seed companies somewhere on the East Coast. We also find this a good place to introduce children to the desert. Make them carry their own water as you hike along the trails, stopping to introduce yourselves to the native plants and abundant birdlife. This is one park where pigeons are not likely. Tohono Chul is on Tucson's northwest side, at 7366 N. Paseo del Norte, north of Ina Road just west of Oracle Road.

STAFF PICK: TIE--Plaza of the Pioneers (a.k.a. Tucson Museum of Art Plaza) and El Presidio Park. Small is, if not exactly beautiful, then at least cozy. These two downtown spaces--right across the street from each other--manage to pack a decent amount of ambiance into moderate square footages. TMA Plaza, 140 N. Main Ave., is vaguely suggestive of some dignified, ancient ceremonial space. Meso-America meets the Sixties. It's great for intimate arts and cultural events. And El Presidio, just east of City Hall, 255 W. Alameda St., is larger, but maintains that cozy feeling with the proper placement of plants, pigeons and homeless people. Land speculators and developers also congregate here, waiting to bribe our city and county officials. Interesting conversations about scoring cheap wine and million-dollar deals commingle under the noonday sun.

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