Getting to Know the Phoenix Metro Area

Phoenix skyline.

By Christine Loomis

Greater Phoenix has roots deep in cowboy and Native American history and culture, giving it appealing western flare. But make no mistake: Phoenix, together with neighbors Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Glendale, Paradise Valley, Carefree and Cave Creek, offers the best of all worlds, melding authentic Western heritage and vast desert landscape with a classy, contemporary aesthetic. Though the collective cities share multiple attributes to enhance meetings, each has its own vibe and distinctive character.

PHOENIX

Arizona’s capital is the beating heart of the Valley of the Sun and ever evolving as older areas are newly revitalized and packed with trendy restaurants and nightlife venues.

Where to Stay

The city’s walkable downtown, just five miles from Sky Harbor International Airport, has more than 3,300 hotel rooms. Large conventions are easily accommodated at the 1,000-room Sheraton Grand with 80,000 square feet of meeting space just a short stroll from the Phoenix Convention Center. For smaller groups, the stylish Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix has 242 rooms and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Biltmore neighborhood is anchored by the Arizona Biltmore, which opened in 1929. With 738 guest rooms and 200,000 square feet of meeting space, it’s large but accommodates intimate meetings, too, in Ocatilla, the “hotel within a hotel” for groups of 10 to 60. Amenities include two golf courses, a spa and Paradise Pool with its 92-foot slide. Nearby and exuding “quirky elegance,” the 277-room Camby Hotel opened in December 2015, its design reflecting Arizona’s famous 5 Cs: cotton, cattle, citrus, climate and copper. It features 20,000 square feet of meeting space; creative cuisine is front and center.

Where to Play

At the stellar Musical Instrument Museum, attendees discover the roots of rock n’ roll, hear music of the world and meet in intriguing event spaces. For a glimpse into Native American art and culture, set functions at the Heard Museum.

Where to Eat, Drink & Entertain

The stylish Gladly in the Biltmore neighborhood features more than 240 whiskeys and craft cocktails and a menu of new American cuisine. Arrogant Butcher in CityScape, adjacent to the Phoenix Convention Center, offers steak and seafood plus three private dining spaces. Housed in a former car dealership, DeSoto Central Market in lively Roosevelt Row features food from seven independent restaurateurs and a main dining area accommodating 600.

SCOTTSDALE

Nowhere is the juxtaposition of historic and contemporary more evident than in Scottsdale, where the Old West is engagingly visible in rustic Old Town while the New West gleams in upscale resorts, modern galleries and high-end retail centers.

Where to Stay

Channeling Scottsdale’s Scottish heritage, the 732-room Westin Kierland Resort & Spa has more than 200,000 square feet of indoor/ outdoor function space plus 27 holes of golf, a waterpark and a distinctive Scotch Library with more than 175 single malts. At the 240-room Hotel Valley Ho, an architectural ode to mid-century modern design, there’s 33,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor space. The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch was purpose-built for meetings but it’s no charmless, big-box property. The 326-room resort has an inviting southwest aesthetic, loads of amenities and 60,000 square feet of elegant event space.

Where to Play

Nothing says adventure like riding in open vehicles across the desert. AZ Hummer Tours offers thrills, nature and history via exhilarating off-road adventures. More sedate, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, interprets the art, history, culture and stories of the American West.

Where to Eat, Drink & Entertain

Scottsdale loves steak. Mastro’s City Hall Steakhouse accommodates private groups of 15 to 500 while Dominick’s, with a classic Manhattan steakhouse vibe, has private dining for eight to 350. Upscale Italian eatery Sassi accommodates eight to 170 guests in private dining areas including an inviting garden lawn.

PARADISE VALLEY

Cradled by Camelback Mountain, Phoenix Mountain Preserve and the McDowell Mountains, Paradise Valley sits north of Phoenix.

Where to Stay

Tucked into 53 lofty acres, Sanctuary Camelback Mountain attracts incentives and C Suite execs with its 109 lavish casitas and seven private homes. Terraces, patios, gardens and private dining areas accommodate up to 150. In the valley, Spanish-inspired Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia offers 293 guest rooms and 27,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Where to Play

Hikers and cyclists can tackle trails winding through Phoenix Mountains Preserve, which encompasses Piestewa Peak, Papago Park and Camelback Mountain Park. Afterward, they can soothe sore muscles in the area’s sublime spas.

Where to Eat, Drink & Entertain

Many of the valley’s best dining options are located in hotels and inns. One option for an intimate dinner for 12: the Wine Cellar beneath Hermosa Inn.

TEMPE

Home to Arizona State University, Tempe has much for planners— including Tempe Town Lake where attendees can rent boats, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and hydro bikes.

Where to Stay

Downtown, Tempe Mission Palms has 30,000 square feet of IACC certified space plus 303 guest rooms. For mountaintop lodging, there’s Phoenix Marriott Tempe at The Buttes with 353 guest rooms, a spa and 40,000 square feet of meeting space. Tempe also offers two new options. In April, Marriott launched its first U.S. Moxy Hotel, a new lifestyle brand, in Tempe, with 186 industrial-chic and techsavvy guest rooms and 4,000 square feet of meeting space. In June, the 159-room AC Hotel Phoenix Tempe/Downtown opened along Tempe Town Lake with 938 square feet of event space. Its AC Library offers complimentary computers, wireless printing and two private media salons.

Where to Play

Arizona Mills, the state’s largest outlet/value retail shopping area, is also home to Sea Life Arizona Aquarium, Legoland Discovery Center and Harkins IMAX Theatre—all available for group events. Desert Botanical Garden showcases thousands of desert plants and has indoor/outdoor function spaces for up to 500. In addition to staged performances, Tempe Center for the Arts offers a superb setting for catered events for up to 600.

Where to Eat, Drink & Entertain

Downtown, Culinary Dropout features eclectic cuisine and live music along with two private event spaces for up to 723. More intimate and hidden inside two turn-of-the-century homes near Mill Avenue, House of Tricks offers new American cuisine, an extensive wine list and private dining for up to 75. The expansive 14,000-square-foot Pedal Haus Brewery features a sophisticated pub menu and craft brews on multiple taps, plus the city’s largest patio and yard-style games such as corn hole and ping-pong. Team building? Pedal Haus can help.

MESA

Arizona’s third largest city, Mesa offers shopping, arts and access to spectacular outdoor adventures.

Where to Stay

Sporting a conference center and 37,000 square feet of indoor/ outdoor space, the 180-room Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West is near the Chicago Cubs’ spring training park. Hilton Phoenix Mesa offers 260 guest rooms and 25,000 square feet of event space, while Phoenix Marriott Mesa features 274 guest rooms and 56,000 square feet combined with adjacent Mesa Convention Center.

Where to Play

The Commemorative Air Force Museum specializes in group events and buyouts in addition to providing flights and interior tours of WWII-era aircraft. Apache Trail Jeep Tours and Goldfield Ghost Town take visitors back to yesteryear with off-road adventures, gold panning and mine tours.

Where to Eat, Drink & Entertain

A long chef’s table elegantly set with white tablecloths in the middle of a peach orchard at Schnepf Farms makes for a memorable event. Ditto cruises on scenic Saguaro Lake aboard the Desert Belle, complete with music and a catered meal for up to 125. Las Sendas Golf Club offers several venues for private dining—no extra charge for the 360-degree views of downtown Phoenix and the Superstition Mountains. At Hacienda de Rosa’s, planners can choose among private rooms, patios and a gorgeous lawn for events.

GLENDALE

Located in the northwest metro area, Glendale is Arizona’s antique capital, with more than 90 antique shops in the downtown area all within walking distance of one another.

Where to Stay

A short walk from University of Phoenix Stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play, Renaissance Phoenix Glendale Hotel & Spa has 320 guest rooms and 100,000-plus square feet of meeting space. In nearby Litchfield Park, the Wigwam has welcomed guests since 1929. Its 331 guest rooms, 100,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space and three championship golf courses draw groups large and small.

Where to Play

Meet during spring training to take in a Dodgers or White Sox game at Camelback Ranch-Glendale. Chocolate lovers should check out Carreta Candy Company’s daily factory tours. Retail therapy? Arrowhead Town Center was named among the nation’s 10 best places for shopping. Outside the bungalow-turned-specialty shops, white picket fences, gas lamps and brick-trimmed sidewalks create a nostalgic ambience.

Where to Eat, Drink & Entertain

Fleming’s Steakhouse in nearby Peoria offers 100 wines by the glass and three private dining rooms for 24 to 65 guests. Desert Rose Gastropub in the historic downtown features 16 craft beers on tap and live music three nights a week.

CAREFREE & CAVE CREEK

In Carefree/Cave Creek, visitors can mix pampering at lavish resorts with rugged adventure, cowboy cookouts and bellying up to the bar at authentic saloons.

Where to Stay

Boulders Resort & Spa has it all—223 accommodations and 50,000 square feet of meeting and function space, including exquisite outdoor venues, all set amid 1,300 acres of dramatic desert terrain. Carefree Resort and Conference Center, a mid-century-modern property with Southwest style on 23 acres, offers 218 guest rooms and 60,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor meeting space, including an 11,000-square-foot opera house.

Where to Play

In addition to multiple golf courses, the go-to for outdoor play is Cave Creek Regional Park, encompassing 3,000 acres and trails for hikers and bikers. Cave Creek Trail Rides offers horseback rides within the park.

Where to Eat, Drink & Entertain

Beloved Buffalo Chip Saloon & Steakhouse recently reopened following a fire. The Old West is alive and well here with live bull riding, western dancing and dance lessons and plenty of barbeque—groups welcomed.