There's still a bit of the Wild West out here in Maricopa County. Scottsdale, in particular, has deliberately played up that aspect of its history in its Old Town quarter, where souvenir shops are labelled "trading posts" and the streetlights are adorned with spurs bearing the town's name – although you're unlikely to see any real-life ranch folk moseying around town.
The Wild West attitude is celebrated each February at the annual Parada del Sol, a free, family-friendly street festival with crowd-pleasing activities like trick-riding demonstrations and Old West gunfight performances. Many festival attendees get into the spirit as well, dressing up in hats and boots and other cowboy finery.
The modern Wild West exists a short drive north in the town of Cave Creek, a hub for motorbike enthusiasts and rodeo folk alike, with a central strip lined with rowdy roadhouses and saloons, such as the famous Buffalo Chip Saloon, which hosts live bull-riding events on the premises.
The hub of visual arts activity in the area is the Phoenix Art Museum, an 18,860-square-metre facility opened in 1959. In addition to the gallery displays, the museum is a cultural centre for film, musical performances and educational programming.
Native American culture and heritage also has a strong presence in Maricopa County, influencing everything from spa treatments to restaurant menus. Native artworks and jewelry designs are a major part of the fine art scene. To learn more about Native culture and history, check out the impressive Heard Museum in metropolitan Phoenix, a sprawling facility dedicated entirely to re-telling the ancient and modern stories of the southwestern Indian tribes.
The Phoenix-Scottsdale area is also culturally significant for its contributions to mid-century modern architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright built his visionary Taliesin West compound at the foot of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale. Wright protege Paolo Soleri continues to work from his Cosanti studio-gallery and residence site in Paradise Valley.
In 2010, Scottsdale erected a footbridge of Soleri's design as a public art initiative in the Waterfront district bordering the Arizona Canal.
Following an US$80-million renovation in December 2005, downtown Scottsdale's mid-century modern landmark Hotel Valley Ho, designed by architect Edward L. Varney, is the focus of all things hip these days. It has regained its cool from the days when it drew a celebrity clientele that included Bing Crosby, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.
There's a distinct sense of classic Americana here as well that lingers in the old-school ice cream parlours, the love for the game of baseball and the vibrant community of vintage car collectors and aficionados.