Take a Break from the Ballgame: 14 Things You Can’t Miss in Arizona
Baseball fans know that Arizona is the place to be in March, as 15 teams play Cactus League spring training games within an hour’s drive of Phoenix. But with up to 10 games every day, even the most diehard fan might need a break from the ballgame.
Here are 14 tips to sneak off for an extended seventh-inning stretch to explore the Phoenix area and venture out into the rest of Arizona.
Squeeze Plays: Before or After the Ballgame
1. Take a sunrise hike.
Arizona’s golden hour is best seen from a high vantage point.
Head to Lost Dutchman State Park to see those early morning red and gold hues light up the desert cacti and blooming wildflowers. The park is 25 miles east of Mesa, so you can make time for a morning workout or spend the day hiking (maybe even out to the Superstition Mountains) and be back for an evening game.
2. Go where the wild things are.
Not all of the wild creatures in Arizona are on the pitching mound. The Phoenix Zoo is home to 1,400 animals, and highlights include feeding giraffes, riding the Safari Train and visiting Monkey Village — the only walk-through squirrel monkey exhibit in the U.S.
If the kids want to visit a zoo and an aquarium, you can do it all at the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park (15 miles west of Peoria and Glendale). There’s a safari park featuring cheetahs and lions, an aquarium with sea lion shows, and even a petting zoo. The aquarium offers discounted admission after 5 p.m.; making it easy to visit following an afternoon baseball game.
3. Take some swings of your own.
Golf Digest and Golf Magazine recognized Phoenix as one of the best cities in the U.S. to golf. Beyond the city limits, the state has more than 400 golf courses to choose from, with breathtaking desert and mountain backdrops.
Early risers can score morning tee times for 18 holes ahead of an afternoon first pitch. Morning plans at the ballpark? Save on greens fees in the afternoon at many courses with discounted twilight rates.
If you don’t have time for a round, then check out Topgolf. This golf sports bar has more than 100 climate-controlled hitting bays, a rooftop terrace, and more than 200 TVs; you can watch the spring training games between swings at the Scottsdale and Gilbert locations.
4. Swap hot dogs and beer for tacos, tequila and barbecue.
As much as we love stadium dogs and beers in plastic cups, it’s not really a sustainable diet.
Upgrade your ballgame beer for tequila cocktails at Barrio Queen — the Scottsdale location houses the largest tequila selection in Arizona — and your hot dogs for hot link sausages or barbecue ribs slow cooked over pecan wood at Joe’s Real BBQ, featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Post-game, dine on prime steak and baby back ribs while gawking at sports memorabilia at one of Bob Uecker’s favorite steakhouses, Don & Charlie’s. Or sample the local food trucks; There are always a few parked outside Sloan Park in Mesa.
5. Trade a day at the stadium for a day at the spa.
With so many 4- and 5-star resorts in the Phoenix and Scottsdale area, you could visit one spa every day during your trip and not even scratch the surface.
Many of the spas feature authentic American Indian healing techniques like heated stone tables and desert sage oil available for body treatments at the Alvadora Spa. Prickly pear red clay and aloe oil are central to services at Aji Spa, where ancient Pima and Maricopa traditions are still practiced.
6. Enter the shark tank.
The Arizona Science Center offers hands-on exhibits where kids can walk through a massive model of a working stomach, ride a SkyCycle across a 90-foot cable suspended 15 feet off the ground or lie down on a bed of nails.
Dive into the current featured exhibition showcases sharks. It’s a cinematic gallery experience with full-scale models, shark teeth and fossils as much as 370 million years old.
The museum also hosts an adults’ only event every third Friday of the month with live demos, a bar and music.
7. Make some music at one of the nation’s top museums.
The Musical Instrument Museum is the No. 1-rated activity in Phoenix on TripAdvisor. Just seven years old, the museum houses more than 6,500 musical instruments and memorabilia from John Lennon, Elvis Presley and Taylor Swift.
The Experience Gallery lets you try different instruments from around the world — from a gong to a Burmese harp.
You’re Out (of Phoenix): Daytrips and Road Trips
8. Fill up your Instagram in Red Rock country.
Postcard-perfect vistas of red rocks await visitors in Sedona, just two hours north of Phoenix. Hike to famous red rock formations like Devil’s Bridge Trail or Soldier Pass Arches — all in Red Rock State Park. The more adventurous may want to go off-road with a Pink Jeep Tour excursion, though beware a bumpy adventure lies ahead.
Apart from its natural beauty, Sedona is regarded by American Indians as a sacred place for healing and spiritual renewal. Experience the energy vortexes with a guided tour, or explore your spirituality with an aura reading.
9. Visit one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in America.
Hidden in the Mesa Verde hills, about 26 miles south of Sedona, are the ancient cliff dwellings of Montezuma Castle National Monument. Built in the 1100s by the Sinagua people, the dwelling is no longer accessible to visitors, but you can walk to the base along a well-paved trail.
Families can make it an interactive experience with free junior ranger workbooks for kids 14 and under, available at the visitor center, and free ranger-led bird walks on the first and third Saturday of each month. The site is managed by the U.S. National Park Service and requires a $10 entry fee per person.
10. Party on the lake, houseboat-style.
Make sure to check out the world’s largest natural bridge, Rainbow Bridge, on Lake Powell and the famous London Bridge brought to Havasu from the Thames — that’s right, all the way from England.
11. Give Tucson the old college try.
Tucson is about two hours south of Phoenix, and you can get your cacti fix at Saguaro National Park on the way.
Downtown Tucson is modern with some history sprinkled in — think 150-year-old buildings, cocktails in the historic Hotel Congress, hip boutiques and coffee shops near the University of Arizona campus and year-round alfresco dining in Main Gate Square.
Every spring, Arizonans come together to showcase their artisan crafts and locally sourced cuisines with more than 400 booths — and live music — as part of the Spring Street Fair (March 24-26).
12. Go deep to an airplane graveyard.
One of the world’s largest non-government funded aviation and space museums in the world is in Tucson too, the Pima Air and Space Museum. You can even tour a literal aircraft boneyard at the nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, home to more than 4,000 aircrafts from the likes of the U.S. Air Force, Army and NASA.
13. Wind back the clock to the Wild West.
Just beyond Tucson, in the National Historic Landmark town of Tombstone, Western legends Wyatt Earp and “Doc” Holliday once roamed the streets. This mining town shot to fame after the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral — it even inspired a movie starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer.
The original courthouse, saloons and Southwestern shops along Allen Street have preserved that old town charm. Visitors can relive its glory days with daily live reenactments of shootouts on every corner or visit during Wild West Days (March 18-19) for street entertainment, a parade and the USO Canteen dance.
14. Cross the Grand Canyon off your bucket list.
This one doesn’t need much explanation — the Grand Canyon has to be seen to be believed. Plan to spend at least two days fully experiencing the natural wonder, which is about a four-hour drive from Phoenix.
Check out hotel, activity and spa deals in Arizona during spring training.
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