By Katherine Adomaitis | Photo (C) VISIT PHOENIX
On a glorious Friday afternoon, the crowd soaks up the sun and the laid-back ambiance at one of the Cactus League’s spring training stadiums in greater Phoenix. The beer and lemonade flows as fans watch the boys of summer shake off winter doldrums. Sunscreen perfumes the air. Between innings, a young man stands up on the grassy knoll, looks slightly confused and asks loudly, “Doesn’t anyone work in this town?”
It may seem like everyone in greater Phoenix is constantly on vacation, but the answer is yes, they do work–and play–hard here. People squeeze out every ounce of juice in the metro area’s positive business climate and a positive climate-climate, where the sun shines almost every day on everything from spring training and golf to desert hiking and mountain biking. Factor in an exciting, lively cultural, dining and nightlife scene, and you’ve got one of the nation’s premier settings for meetings and events.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
With more than 4 million people and covering 2,000 square miles, greater Phoenix is made up of numerous contiguous cities and towns, including Phoenix itself (Arizona’s capital), Scottsdale, Paradise valley, Tempe, Glendale, Mesa, Chandler, Carefree and Cave Creek. It sits squarely in the sunny Sonoran Desert, bisected by the sometimes-flowing salt River and is ringed by several small mountain ranges, earning it the commonly used moniker, “Valley of the Sun.” Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport serves more than 40 million passengers annually, offering nonstop and connecting flights to hundreds of U.S. Destinations, as well as nonstop flights to Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom. The airport’s sky train connects to the newly expanded light rail system, which whisks passengers from northwest Phoenix through the city’s downtown, and on into Tempe and Mesa. A well-integrated bus system also serves greater Phoenix, and there’s even a bike-share program in downtown Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa. By car, Interstates 10 and 17 lead into the metro area.
Your meeting won’t be cramped for space. Greater Phoenix has more than 60,000 guest rooms, with nearly 3,000 in downtown Phoenix, walking distance of the recently expanded Phoenix Convention Center. Numerous new and rebranded properties are scheduled to be completed this year. Those thousands of guest rooms populate properties ranging from glittering, fabled hotels and resorts such as the Sheraton Grand Phoenix, JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix and Fairmont Scottsdale Princess; to historic resorts such as the lodge-like Wigwam in Litchfield Park, the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Arizona Biltmore Resort and the romantic Royal Palms in Phoenix; and Scottsdale’s classic JW Marriott Camelback inn and the midcentury-modern Hotel Valley Ho. Upscale casino resorts are another option. As an alternative to the convention center, Greater Phoenix brims with out-of-the-box venues, including sports fields, historic warehouses, old West towns, farms and even elegant, gated mountainside estates.
A SHORT HISTORY (NATURAL AND OTHERWISE) LESSON
The history of greater Phoenix starts with the Hohokams, who farmed here as early as 450 AD. Learn about these ancient peoples at Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix, an archaeological site with a platform mound, ballcourt and recreated dwellings, or head over to the Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park in Tempe, a museum that traces the area’s more recent history. Want to learn about the desert? The Desert Botanical Garden’s 140 picture-perfect acres and winding trails in Phoenix showcase some 50,000 arid-region plants from deserts around the world. A restaurant and gift shop invite lingering.
CULTURAL PURSUITS IN GREATER PHOENIX
Art buffs love Greater Phoenix. Phoenix Art Museum’s collections include Latin American art, photography and fashion and it frequently hosts blockbuster exhibitions. Nearby, the Heard Museum is known internationally for Native American art and culture, and has a noted shop featuring handcrafted jewelry, basketry, Katsina figures and more. Scottsdale’s museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) offers edgy and thought-provoking art and installations, while in Tempe, Arizona state University’s ASU Art Museum, housed in an Antoine Predock-designed building, emphasizes contemporary art and ceramics, plus works by Arizona, southwestern and Latin American artists. Downtown Scottsdale is dotted with galleries, and the city’s Thursday Night ArtWalk is a long-held tradition, with galleries staying open late to launch new shows. Downtown Phoenix has become home to emerging artists and galleries, and its First Fridays art walk is part artist showcase, part street festival and all party, especially in the hipster Roosevelt Row and grand Avenue neighborhoods. Design aficionados appreciate Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic architectural compound in the Scottsdale desert.
Like a little Carmen with your event? The Arizona Opera presents a full season annually at Phoenix symphony hall, where the curtain also rises on Phoenix symphony and Ballet Arizona performances. Catch Pulitzer Prize-winning plays at the Herberger Theater, also in downtown Phoenix, or enjoy standup comedy, pop, rock and other concerts at Comerica Theatre or the capacious Talking Stick Resort Arena. Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe and Chandler also have performing arts theaters, staging everything from chamber music and dance performances to country favorites and folk music. In north Phoenix, the musical instrument museum, opened in 2010, has become a go-to magnet for music buffs, with thousands of instruments on display, representing some 200 countries, plus an intimate theater where acclaimed musicians mesmerize audiences.
And, yes, all the aforementioned cultural institutions are meeting friendly.
WHILE THE SUN SHINES
Let’s be honest. not everyone comes to greater Phoenix for culture. Sunshine and blue skies tend to lure people outdoors for, say, golf. Linksmen can choose from more than 200 golf courses, ranging from desert-centric, challenging courses and lavish resort links to pleasant mornings spent on a municipal 9. Waste management open, the greatest PGA party on earth, comes to TPC Scottsdale each February and draws more than half a million spectators.
Adventurers will want to head to desert trails to hike and mountain bike. The city of phoenix alone has more than 40,000 acres of parks and desert mountain preserves, with 200 designated trails, including popular spots such as Piestewa Peak, Camelback Mountain and South Mountain Park. Scottsdale’s Mcdowell Sonoran Preserve encompasses more than 30,000 acres and has some 146 miles of trails that lead to everything from mountaintops to ancient landslides. Let a horse do the walking with a trail ride booked at a local stable.
Surprisingly, greater Phoenix is also a base for nearby watery adventures. You can kayak on the Verde and Salt Rivers. The Salt is also the watery way for summer-fun tubing treks. Five large lakes ring the town, where you can sail, water ski, swim and take boat tours.
Organized sports? Check. All four major professional sports leagues are represented here–the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks and NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. Their respective stadiums make great spots for big groups. In March, Cactus League spring training heats up, with 15 teams coming to roost at 10 state-of-the-art (and rentable) stadiums. In a weekend, a fervent fan could easily see six teams play.
For those who like to go home with a heavier suitcase, shopping experiences abound. Recently expanded Scottsdale Fashion square, the Southwest’s über-mall, includes 250 stores, including Nordstrom, Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus and Macy’s, numerous restaurants and a new 14-screen cinema. Farther north, Scottsdale Quarter and Kierland Commons, two outdoor shopping centers straddling Scottsdale Road, offer restaurants and national retailers like Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware and the Apple store.
To dig into the local retail scene, hit places like downtown Scottsdale, where you can get your cowboy on at Saba’s Western Wear or shades of the West; Cave Creek for Mexican, southwestern or Western home furnishings; or downtown Phoenix for urbanista-approved fashions at shops like Bunky Boutique and Frances. Downtown Glendale is a great place to scour antiques and vintage shops.
Local is also a key word in describing the burgeoning food scene in Greater Phoenix. Make dining pilgrimages to restaurants conceived by the area’s best chefs, such as James Beard Award-winning chefs Chris Bianco and Nobuo Fukuda, whose respective Pizzeria Bianco and Nobuo at Teeter House are both in downtown Phoenix. James Beard Award-nominate chefs Silvana Salcido Esparza and Kevin Binkley’s numerous respective restaurants dot Phoenix, Scottsdale, Cave Creek and Carefree. For the ultimate in old school-meets-New World dining, head to Kai at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, the state’s only AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five-star restaurant, where the elegant menu reflects the culture of the surrounding Gila River Indian Community. to sample a farm-to-table feast, try Quiessence Restaurant in south Phoenix, where ingredients for seasonal menus are mostly plucked from the fields of the surrounding Farm at south mountain, an agrarian gem.
Want something else? Burger joints, family-run Mexican eateries and indie restaurants abound, especially if you stroll the streets of downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and Gilbert. Keep your eyes peeled for the well-received food trucks that often ply the scene in Greater Phoenix’ urban cores.
At the end of the day, there’s no reason to call it a night until well into the early morning hours. Uber yourself to spots in downtown Phoenix like the Crescent Ballroom, the intimate showcase for music of all genres; valley Bar, a basement speakeasy where emerging musical acts unleash their talents; Bitter & Twisted, a cocktail parlor par excellence, located in a historic high rise or the beloved, dive-y Bikini Lounge, a tiki bar dating to the 1940s. Downtown Scottsdale has wine bars and brewpubs, but it also has the swanky nightclub scene all sewn up, with dozens of places ruled by the velvet rope. Tempe’s Mill Avenue district abuts Arizona State University and bristles with collegiate-friendly bars and restaurants. get a little Western swing in your step at places like the Buffalo Chip Saloon in Cave Creek, which serves live bull-riding along with brews, or at Scottsdale’s Rusty Spur Saloon, where swinging saloon doors and live cowboy music make you want to jingle your spurs.
Visit our directory page or go to visitphoenix.com/meetings to plan your next meeting in Phoenix.