Why go in summer: Because after a long hot day, everyone deserves a cool, carless, and carefree night on the town.
The strategy: Plan a full night around two of the rail’s most bustling stops: Central Ave./Camelback Rd. in Phoenix and Mill Ave./Third St. in Tempe.
A train is born: The light rail launched on December 27, 2008.
And exceeds expectations: An average of 27,662 riders take it on Saturdays—more than anyone ever thought.
Dress code: Comfortable shoes.
Play it again: Local bands jam inside the train cars, often on Friday nights (thetraintracks.org).
Up for a third stop? The Central Ave./Campbell Ave. stop is within striking distance of great cafes and bars, including Lux Coffeebar (open till 10 p.m.; 4404 N. Central Ave.; 602/696-9976), which draws crowds with its organic espresso and Wi-Fi.
Ticket to ride
The light rail whooshes along 20 miles of restaurants, bars, and galleries in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. A one-way light-rail ticket is $1.75, but the better deal is the all-day pass for $3.50. Visit metrolightrail.org for passes, maps, and schedules.
Art with a purpose
True to its name, (1) Practical Art specializes in objects you can use. Browse 1,000-plus locally made pieces, including bowls, vases, and superior French rolling pins by woodturner Paul Porter.
The rotating gallery wall shows a different artist each month; on most Fridays, the shop stays open late to host free workshops. Till 9 p.m. Fri, 6 p.m. Sat–Sun; 5070 N. Central Ave.
Dinner and drinks
From Central and Camelback, you can wander in any direction and find a great place to eat (or sip). Go north and you’ll stumble onto the wine cafe (2) Postino Central ($; 5144 N. Central Ave.; 602/274-5144). Go east for (3) St. Francis ($$; 111 E. Camelback Rd.; 602/200-8111), where the seasonal menu and outdoor bar have created buzz. Go south for (4) Maizie’s Cafe & Bistro ($; 4750 N. Central) and its hopping patio: The burgers are the stars of the menu.
Feel young at heart
Get in touch with your inner teen at (5) Stinkweeds, an indie music store that also serves as a performance space (check website for events). Pick up the Phoenix: We Love It CD ($10) with tracks by local groups, including the front men of The Format and Jimmy Eat World. Till 9 p.m. Fri–Sat, 6 p.m. Sun; 12 W. Camelback Rd.
A performance for everyone
At Tempe’s (6) MADCAP Theaters, you can check out a concert, a fashion show, an indie film, or whatever else happens to be playing in the six theaters. MADCAP has a certain grittiness, but that makes the people-watching as fun as the show. From $5; 730 S. Mill Ave.
Make a toast
Tempe’s (7) Caffe Boa has stayed relevant since the ’90s with a local, organic menu and a 24-page wine list. Drop in for a post- (or pre-) performance drink: the Amarice, with elderflower liqueur and blood orange bitters (pictured, front), or the Absinthe cocktail if you’re feeling adventurous. $$; 398 S. Mill Ave.