Our first-timer’s guides rarely venture beyond Colorado, but when we go farther afield it’s for good reason. In our opinion, the best reason to take a trip outside the Centennial State in March is to see spring training baseball. Yes, you could do that in Florida, the home of the Grapefruit League. But why do that when a quick 80-minute flight to Phoenix delivers you to the Cactus League, the much more convenient spring training destination? Yes, spring ball in Arizona is the ticket, especially for Coloradans who are often ready for a break from the chill come March.
Not a huge baseball aficionado? Not a problem. The Phoenix area is chock-full of things to do beyond baseball—including hiking, shopping, dining, and boozing. Of course, our favorite non-baseball-related activity is soaking up the sun at the hotel pool. Here, we show you how to do a spring training weekend right.
Travel time: 80 minutes by airplane; 14 hours (about 908 miles) by car
Go To A Stadium
Tucked among the saguaro cacti and other flowering desert plants of the Phoenix metro area are 10 pint-size baseball stadiums. Each March and into early April, 15 Major League Baseball teams break out the batting gloves and rosin bags and get to work. For 33 days, these teams battle each other in front of fans, who make an estimated $809 million impact on the local economy—and have a ton of fun doing so. The atmosphere at these spring training ball parks is much more intimate than your regular-season game, and players are considerably more willing to interact with the fans, especially youngin’s who get to the park early. First pitch each day is typically at 1:05 p.m. (unless noted otherwise). Under the warm Arizona sun—temps usually range from 60 to 86 degrees in March—fans eat peanuts and drink beer and get a preview of how their favorite teams will look on Opening Day. Ticket prices vary depending on which stadium you’re visiting, with Scottsdale Stadium generally being the most pricey and lawn seats at a variety of stadiums being the cheapest way to go. Find tickets at each team’s respective website. Having been to every Cactus League stadium, we suggest checking out these three on your first visit:
The Stadium: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (home of the Rockies and the Diamondbacks)
Why: Well, for starters, our Colorado Rockies call Salt River Fields home. Secondarily, as one of the area’s newer stadiums, Salt River Fields has everything you’d want in a ballpark—a great seating arrangement, a variety of food vendors, and open, airy design. The only thing missing is that old-timey ambience that some of the older spring training parks retain. Then again, there’s a huge casino next door so we’re not complaining.
The Stadium: Scottsdale Stadium (home of the Giants)
Why: This stadium is the crown jewel of the Cactus League. Nestled into downtown Scottsdale—which means you can walk to restaurants and bars galore before or after the game—this park feels like what baseball should feel like. Although it holds 12,000 (the lawn holds nearly 4,000), it still somehow feels intimate and maintains a bit of an older stadium look. Plus, the food court at this stadium slings better fare than your average ballpark frank.
The Stadium: Hohokam Stadium (home of the Oakland Athletics)
Why: In 1977, the A’s opened the stadium; now, 37 years later, the boys from the Bay Area return to Hohokam, which has been renovated, upgraded, and painted a familiar shade of green. Although the entryway is still a little dark and claustrophobic, the refurbishment has done this 12,500-seat ballpark good, adding a shaded terrace level, enticing concessions, and a huge hi-def scoreboard. For $24, we loved the field-level seats in sections 121 and 122, but the $10 lawn seats looked pretty nice, too.
Go for a Hike
Although we can justifiably say that hiking along the Front Range beats the heck out of hiking in Phoenix, there’s one trek that all spring training first-timers must make: Camelback Mountain. Not only is the red-rock-lined hike beautiful, the views from the summit are spectacular. Take note: There are two ways to climb up what is one of the area’s most recognizable landmarks. The Echo Canyon Trail, accessed via East McDonald Drive, is a challenging 1.23-mile hike that gains 1,280 feet in elevation. The Cholla Trail, accessed off North Invergordon Road, is a slightly less intense but marginally longer 1.42-mile journey. No matter which path you choose, make sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes, bring plenty of water, and get to the trailhead early. During spring training and on weekends, parking can be a nightmare. If you’re not there by 7 a.m., you might have to wait for a spot.
When you just can’t take any more baseball, spend a leisurely afternoon wandering the myriad boutiques and galleries in old town Scottsdale. The area is reminiscent of Cherry Creek North, but the streets are a bit more winding, the galleries are a tad more approachable, and finding a parking spot is a smidge less infuriating. Don’t miss picking up a pair of cowboy boots at Saba’s Western Wear; checking out locally made art at the Artisan Market on Thursdays from 5 to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and perusing turquoise jewelry at Chief Dodge Indian Jewelry and Fine Arts. If you’re looking for a more typical shopping experience, check out the shops at Scottsdale Fashion Square.
The Phoenix area is rife with amazing resorts. The Phoenician. The Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia. The Wigwam. FireSky Resort & Spa. W Scottsdale. They’re all great. In fact, you almost can’t go wrong so long as there’s a pool and a bar where you’re staying, but two new(ish) hotels caught our eye in 2016—and both are worth a visit.
The office park–like location of this three-month-old high-rise property might seem strange for a vacation weekend, but there’s a real upside if you’re in town for baseball. The Camby, a boutique hotel in Marriott’s Autograph Collection, sits in the middle of the action. With five ballparks to its east and five ballparks to its west, the Camby makes for a convenient—as well as comfortable and swanky—headquarters for a weekend of watching America’s favorite pastime. Plus, there’s the Rooftop Pool and Bar (order the Bow Tie), a snazzy lobby bar called the Bees Knees (order the daiquiri), and Artizen, a crafted American kitchen & bar (don’t miss the smoked sweet potato side dish or the Candy Store dessert), an eatery that’ll change your mind about hotel restaurants.
Spring training deal: The Camby’s spring training package (which must include a Friday or Saturday night stay) includes a $30 food and beverage credit per night that can be used at Artizen, the Bees Knees, and the Rooftop Pool & Bar.
The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, A Destination Hotel
While this property isn’t exactly new—it’s been around, primarily as a conference center, for nearly four decades—the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch has recently undergone major renovations to both its infrastructure and its business plan. The resort is no longer only looking to entice 350-person conferences; instead, with its reimagined pool area, newly added restaurants and bar, upgraded guest rooms, and a more open and welcoming lobby area, the Scottsdale Resort is hoping to attract leisure travelers, particularly during spring training. The improvements seem to be working: The resort was fully booked this past weekend, and guests seemed to be enjoying the excellent fare at Kitchen West Restaurant (don’t miss the molé meatballs), the zero-entry pool with adjacent bar, the free-with-your-room-access to commuter bikes, and the fireside outdoor lounging areas. As an added bonus, the resort is just a few miles north of downtown Scottsdale, making it a suitable jumping-off point for dining, shopping, and baseball.
Spring training deal: The resort is offering guests a free night plus a $50 credit to Kitchen West and a $25 voucher for Luna Spa with a paid-for two-night stay.
Go for a Bite
There’s no shortage of fabulous places to eat in the greater Phoenix area. No matter where you’re staying or which ballparks you’re visiting, there’s sure to be a mouthwatering option nearby. Here, a few of our favorite eateries:
Order: the Malbec-braised short rib
Order: the caprese salad, the carne pizza, and one of the 36 Arizona craft beers on tap
Order: the black molé sandwich or the Aztec tinga taco with rice and beans
Order: the brisket
Order: quesadilla de maiz with grilled pork
Order: the Apocalypse Sow (ground pork burger with bacon, cheddar, and grilled onions)
Order: chips and guac and a margarita?
Order: the mofongo with chicken or pork
Order: the carnitas
Order: chicken panang
—Photography by Lindsey B. Koehler unless noted