Don’t Just Drive Through This Booming Southwest City

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If there’s one place East Coast snobs have no compunction about turning up their noses at when it’s mentioned, it’s Phoenix. The sprawl, the newness, the topsoil-thin culture—there’s nothing to do, they’ll say. People will sheepishly share that their Christmas plans involve going to their parents’ place in, I know, I know, Scottsdale. But what that snobbery misses, and what I missed every time I stopped in Phoenix en route to somewhere else, is that while the sun and affordability have been bringing droves of people here for decades, there’s a lot of incredible stuff keeping them around. That’s why greater Phoenix is the latest selection for our series on underrated destinations, It’s Still a Big World.

Take, for instance, the insult that there’s nothing to do and that it’s a cultural wasteland, a mere place for those afraid of winter to golf or sit by the pool and tan. However, the next time you’re there, set aside half a day and get in a car (yes, you do need to drive everywhere) and head to north Phoenix. Just off Route 101 up here is MIM, the Musical Instrument Museum, a place where even the hardest to please will find themselves engrossed.

The museum is mind-boggling in its breadth—room after room of videos, instruments, and text walking you through musical history and traditions from more than 200 countries. It was a reminder for me that knowing everything would be boring and that ignorance can actually be a gift because that means there’s still so much one can learn, and learning about music is a particularly fun way to pass time. You’ll dawdle in front of films of musicians from Sierra Leone playing the segbureh, ogle the dozen thumb pianos from southern Africa, Google Egyptian composers, fall in love with music you’ve never heard or struggle with others (for me that would be shashmaqom from Central Asia), or feel envy over the array of guitars, whether made from the back of an armadillo or one of the first electrified…