By Josephine Matyas
In the heart of the Valley of the Sun, surrounded by the beauty of a heart-stirring desert and the jagged peaks of several different mountain ranges, lies Phoenix. With roots that stretch back to its early days as a sleepy frontier town, Phoenix is now the fifth largest city in the US and an exciting and eclectic mix of entertainment, outdoors and educational venues. There is always something happening in Phoenix – with a temperate winter climate and blessed with 320 days of sunshine a year, the city draws sports crowds (both players and fans), spa devotees, golf nuts, ‘til-you-drop shoppers and those who worship both the indoors (museum central) and the outdoors (the list is long).
Photos Greater Phoenix CVBArts, Culture & Entertainment
Big city lights shine bright in Phoenix and there is no shortage of places to catch a play, kick up your heels on the dance floor, or be moved by the musical notes of a concert or festival. Phoenix is home to the world class offerings of the Arizona Theatre Company, Arizona Opera, Phoenix Symphony and Ballet Arizona. “Performance venue and arts incubator” are words used to describe the downtown Herberger Theater Center. On the first Friday evening of each month, the downtown galleries, shops, restaurants and bars stay open late for Artlink’s First Fridays.
Photos Greater Phoenix CVBThe brand new Musical Instrument Museum is being hailed as “a new international destination for music lovers.” More than 300 exhibits celebrate the similarities and differences of the world’s cultures as expressed through the common language of music. Speaking of culture, the exquisite galleries at the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix are considered among the world’s finest for learning about the art and history of the American Indians. An essential Southwest experience on a sun-splashed day or a star-filled evening is the Desert Botanical Gardens. Visitors can stroll along five themed trails, displaying more than 50,000 arid-land plants from deserts around the globe.
“Play to learn” is the mantra at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, where interactive spaces run the gamut from the quiet (a book loft with cosy reading spaces) to the expressive (the art studio or the 10,000 blocks section for young builders). Families also love the hands-on exhibits at the Arizona Science Center and exploring the five trails and 1,300 animals at the Phoenix Zoo, a place of learning that is ranked as one of the top five zoos in the country.
For those who like to indulge in a little downtown retail therapy, the brand new, glitzy CityScape Phoenix is a three-block showcase of shops, restaurants, nightlife, office space and hotel development. Boutiques, cafes, a comedy club, fitness club, salon and spa are just a few of the services and shops.
From mega malls, like Desert Ridge Marketplace or Biltmore Fashion Park, to neighbourhood fashion and shopping districts, like Melrose on 7th, the lifestyle centres in Phoenix are filled with luxury cinemas, eateries, live music, local art galleries and, of course, shopping.
Phoenix’s golf weather is picture perfect: sunny skies with almost no need for an umbrella. With more than 200 courses in the Greater Phoenix area, the region has long been known as a golfer’s Mecca with top-rated courses offering traditional long fairways to challenging, cacti-lined desert courses. Some clubs are adding new programs – from golf clinics for ladies only to programs for junior golfers and their families.
Phoenix courses attract the pros, most notably the Waste Management Phoenix Open played on the beautiful TPC Scottsdale, and the most-attended golf tournament on the PGA tour. Serious golfers are drawn to the legendary “Troon Golf Experience” at the Troon Golf Club in North Phoenix. Troon’s impeccably groomed course is known as the hallmark of the desert golf experience, with two Tom Wesikopf-designed courses that snake through the natural ravines and foothills in the high Sonoran desert.
Sports fans know Phoenix by reputation. And what a lineup! No matter what the professional sport, Phoenix boasts a team: the NBA Phoenix Suns, the NHL Phoenix Coyotes, the NFL Arizona Cardinals and the MLB Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks, the 2001 World Series champions, play at Bank One Ballpark; with its retractable roof and its signature swimming pool the field has become one of the game’s most recognizable landmarks.
March is the month that baseball fans descend on Phoenix to watch the spring Major League Baseball Cactus League, when 15 major league teams head to the area ball diamonds for spring training. Pro teams from Chicago to San Francisco choose Greater Phoenix to get that jump-start on their season – and the fans love it and support it with enthusiasm! This year, baseball will be centre stage in July as Phoenix hosts the 82nd Major League Baseball All Star Game on July 12, 2011.
For something a little different – but very Western – the All Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association compete at the state fair in Phoenix.
Photos Greater Phoenix CVBTake To The Outdoors
There’s no denying that the museums and theatres of Phoenix are alluring, but just step outside into the jaw-dropping scenery of rugged mountain ranges and desert, and before you know it you’ll be lacing up a pair of hiking boots.
The city is surrounded by a vast network of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Camelback Mountain (the area’s highest peak and an unmistakable landmark) and South Mountain are two favourites. Those who make it to the summit of Camelback – named for its double-hump shape – are rewarded with a 360-degree panorama of the city and surrounding landscape. Steps have been taken to preserve parts of the unique wilderness for all to enjoy – nature lovers gravitate towards the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, South Mountain Park and the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area. Jeep tours take visitors deeper into the desert wilderness; and evening Hummer tours (with night vision goggles to spot nocturnal wildlife) are especially popular.
Photos Greater Phoenix CVBFor a totally unique perspective, it’s hard to beat an early morning hot air balloon ride, watching a desert sunrise splash light on the stands of saguaro cacti.
Does the number 400,000 mean anything special to you? It would be the total square footage of Phoenix spa space. That’s a lot of space for massages, body wraps and facial treatments. Surrounded by rich textures and inspired by ingredients of the desert, Phoenix spas specialize in treatments with a local twist. The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa offers a Blue Coyote Wrap using blue azulene mud; the Dream Catcher Aromatherapy Massage is the signature spa treatment at the iconic Arizona Biltmore; and The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa includes the indigenous agave plant in many of its treatments, including the exfoliating Agave Body Glow and the signature Blue Agave Mud Wrap therapy.
More Than A Place To Stay
With over 60,000 hotel rooms in the Greater Phoenix area it would take several lifetimes to try a different hotel each night. There are resort properties for every need and desire – from the classic Arizona Biltmore (its waterslides make it a great place for families), to the über-romantic Royal Palms boutique property, and dozens of others. The JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa commands sweeping views of the McDowell Mountains and the surrounding Sonoran Desert. Astronomer wannabes and families will love the resort’s guided Thursday night stargazing events.
There’s even more selection than the luxury resorts the valley is famous for – guests can book dude ranch stays in the surrounding desert communities, and the city itself has the whole alphabet soup from A through Z of chain hotels, many offering packages tailored to the business traveller, families or the golfer. One of the Historic Hotels of America, the downtown boutique property, Hotel San Carlos, caters to guests who want to sense the rich passage of time intertwined with the amenities of modern times.
The Westin Phoenix Downtown, the second Westin in the city, is set to open in February 2011 one block from the Phoenix Convention Center in the 26-storey Freeport McMoRan building. The hotel will occupy nine floors with 242 rooms and offer all the amenities and services known by the Westin brand. starwoodhotels.com
The Arizona Biltmore is pouring its 21st season of Winemaker Dinners. The monthly epicurean events run through May, 2011 and feature the acclaimed wines of California, French and Italian winemakers. The historic resort serves up its 81st season of Afternoon Tea through May 8, 2011. www.arizonabiltmore.com
The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa offers 20 hypo-allergenic rooms. Designed for all travellers, but especially suited to guests with asthma, allergies and other respiratory sensitivities, the Respire by Hyatt Hypo-Allergenic Rooms, powered by PURE Solutions NA, are designed to eliminate up to 98 per cent of airborne viruses and bacteria, as well as pollen and other irritants commonly found in indoor environments. www.scottsdale.hyatt.com
The Arizona Science Center presents All About Me, an exhibit that explores how your body works and functions from the inside-out. Experiences include walking through a giant “working” stomach and experiencing the digestion process from one end to the other. www.azscience.org
For more information, visit www.visitphoenix.com or www.arizonaguide.com