December 2, 2022

Mike’s Travel Diary: It’s Easy to Have a Good Time in Phoenix

SPONSORED POST – No city has risen in my personal rankings over the years more than Phoenix. Between spring training, golf trips, business meetings, and now my parents snow bird there, I’ve spent a lot of time in the desert over the past few years. It’s hard to beat the combination of sun, heat, golf and food. And I could spend countless hours staring at the saguaro cacti. Like a good holiday, each one is unique!

Moreover, a trip to watch football there can lead to a particularly enjoyable time. Remember, their fans are as laid back as they come (most of them have another team they grew up with). So this is your chance to cheer on the locals.

Since spending more time there, I’ve started breaking out of my usual golf, dinner, rehearsal routine. I’ve actually found some really amazing hikes that show off the scenery.

The obvious hiking spot is Camelback Mountain, where you’ll climb to the top alongside runners and all kinds of outdoor types. But if you want a little more solitude, try the Cone Mountain Loop Trail in North Scottsdale. It’s 3.8 miles of fairly flat terrain that will expose you to all sorts of local nature. There are saguaros for days and lots of fresh desert wildflowers. It is also ideal for children and you may see people riding horses in the area.

On the way, make a reservation at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center. They rehabilitate many species of animals there and your kids will love a visit.

Yes, you will need to bring your clubs with you as the Phoenix/Scottsdale area has become a mecca for golf. There are courses at almost every price point, but here are a few of my favorites:

Verrado – 36 holes (I prefer the Founders course) located 45 minutes away in Buckeye. It’s the best in desert golf, but more reasonably priced than its Scottsdale brethren.

Greyhawk – 36 holes and none are easy. It’s not cheap, but the course is often used for college tournaments and championships.

Camelback – Another option with two 18-hole courses, but these two have very different personalities. The Padre course is an amusement park course that should offer plenty of scoring options. And Ambiente is a rare desert course that presents a challenge for any golfer.

Sun City West – No, it’s not fancy. At all. This is one of the few courses that is in a retirement community near Peoria. But it’s great value among the high-priced options and I had fun picking up with the local retirees!

Boulders Resort – 36 holes (notice a theme?) set among a natural outcrop of boulders in North Scottsdale. The views are spectacular but the greens are small so make sure your accuracy is on point on this day.

Boulders is also a pleasant place to stay, with small rental cabins and a year-round heated swimming pool. I also recommend the Valley Ho hotel in the old town. They remodeled an old 50’s style motel (looks like it was a Howard Johnson) and transformed it into a cool, trendy and cozy hangout with a mid-century vibe. This is where Don Draper would have stayed for sure!

If you’re not a golfer (or are tired of being frustrated on the course), there are some great options to spend a day.

Try the Musical Instrument Museum (4725 E Mayo Blvd) in Phoenix. It has instruments from the last 6,000 years of music and lots of interactivity.

And if you’re in the Old Town, you can learn about the area and challenge your mental acumen with a Puzzle Ride. It’s basically an escape room on wheels, where you’ll solve puzzles as you zip around the neighborhood in a modified golf cart. This is the best kind of treasure hunt! Have fun with the kids, but they also have themed rides for adults.

Let’s come to the food. There’s a dizzying array of options, so choosing a meal can be as easy as choosing a cuisine. But here are some of my favorites:

Richardson’s (6335 N 16th St) and neighboring Rokerij. Richardson’s is famous for its New Mexican cuisine and the Rokerij is a meat lover’s paradise.

Pizzeria Bianco (4743 N 20th St) offers gourmet pizzas that you can’t miss.

Mastro’s (multiple locations): The best steakhouse you can find.

Sumomaya: The perfect fusion of Japanese and Mexican cuisine in a trendy atmosphere.

Americano: Upscale Italian food with some of the most impressive drinks I’ve ever seen.

Los Dos Molinos (8646 S Central Ave). It’s a hike but the authentic Mexican food and homemade tortillas are worth the trip!

Consider Culinary Dropout (multiple locations) and OHSO Brewery for casual dining. And for lunch, find an Original Chop Shop for healthy, organic salads and wraps. You’ll want to save those calories for a big dinner!

After a few days of sun, golf, food and fun, you’ll be ready to head to Glendale to watch the game. Remember to allow a little extra time to return the rental car, as the rental center may be closer to SeaTac than to PHX!

Stadium: State Farm Stadium
Stadium food: Churro Donut Sundae (obviously)
Seattle’s Lair: Skeptical Chymist (we met tons of Seattleites there in January 2015)