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Follow the Sun to Phoenix

Phoenix brings it all together — sports, culture, spas and wellness, and outdoor adventure.

The sun shines over Phoenix more than 300 days each year, practically guaranteeing good weather whatever time of year your group visits. The city buzzes with excitement as Major League Baseball teams gear up for spring training early in the year. Several native American tribes call Phoenix home, with plentiful stories and culture to share. Add in luxurious spas and a renowned culinary scene, and your group will agree this Sonoran Desert city is a genuine oasis.

Spring Training

Cactus League Spring Training in Phoenix signals the beginning of a new season as 15 Major League Baseball teams take to the city’s 10 stadiums. With no stadium more than a 45-minute drive from the other and 200 games scheduled between late February and the end of March, there’s always an option for your group. Fans are rewarded with close proximity to the players, and often, the chance to get autographs before a game.

“No two experiences are alike,” said K.J. Phillip, director of communications for Tempe Tourism Office. “It doesn’t matter which team you’re a fan of, because you’re going to have an excellent day at the ballpark.”

During two weekends (at the end of February and first of March), Tempe entertains fans at the Innings Festival, celebrating baseball and live music. Superstars such as Foo Fighters, Chris Stapleton and Sheryl Crow have performed here. And attendees are likely to see baseball heroes such as Randy Johnson, Bret Saberhagen and Roger Clemens.

“The fan activities and great weather set this festival apart,” said Phillip. “Cool photo ops include a larger-than-life baseball glove, the chance to take a diving catch photo, batting cages, player meet-and-greets, and fan-favorite ballpark fare.”

Native American Experiences 

One of the most prominent tributes to Arizona’s Indigenous culture and history, the Heard Museum displays a vast, high-quality collection recognized worldwide. Stunning Southwest art features the history, artifacts, clothing, tools and more of Arizona’s Native American people groups. In the Sky-Dome Gallery, the “Substance of Stars” experience invites visitors to enter the land of each community in an immersive environment surrounded by images and sounds of the desert, arctic seascape, woodlands and mountains.

Year-round in two locations, the Native Art Market offers authentic art created by more than 400 native families. Patrons can purchase handmade jewelry, artwork and pottery directly from their creators, providing artisans with financial support. For those wanting more, the Salt River Art Trail is worth a visit.

“Adjacent to Talking Stick Resort and on native American land, the Salt River Art Trail is a wonderful collection of sculptures along a self-guided walking tour,” said Sarah Doyle, director of communications for Visit Phoenix.

Spa and Wellness

Phoenix is renowned for stunning spas providing relaxation and wellness. Many offer spa cuisine, beautiful pools and an array of indulgences. The spa at the Phoenician resort recently underwent a multi-year, multi-million-dollar renovation. New from the ground up, the three-story spa offers a co-ed relaxing area as well as various spaces that allow guests to spread out.

“The Phoenician Spa facilities are stunning, and their spa menu is very comprehensive,” said Doyle. “It feels quiet and secluded. Their rooftop pool has a view of Camelback, and in the opposite direction, the downtown skyline.”

Inspired by Morocco and Andalusia in southern Spain, the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia oozes luxury. Named after the Spanish word for jewel, Joya Spa is the property’s 31,000-square-foot oasis that provides Arizona’s only modern interpretation of the traditional Hammam, or Turkish bath. Joya Terrace offers a poolside menu and views of Camelback Mountain. Noteworthy Aji Spa at Sheraton Grand Wild Horse Pass has been named after the Pima word for sanctuary. This 17,000-square-foot spa features 17 treatment rooms, a salon, a fitness center, a relaxing Watsu pool and a traditional roundhouse, all with a Native American flair.

Culinary Bounty     

With its rich culinary tradition and celebrity chefs, Phoenix often leaves visitors wishing they had more time for sampling local menus and dining al fresco. For a casual meal, Fry Bread House introduces diners to traditional Tohono O’odham dishes. Newly opened, Kembara at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge embraces the Asian street food culture of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. Iconic El Chorro Lodge in Paradise Valley offers an authentic Arizona dining experience.

“El Chorro is located on the north side of Camelback with amazing views,” said Doyle. “Groups can reserve the elevated outdoor dining area surrounded by the desert.”

The Mesa Fresh Foodie Trail spans approximately 52 miles and showcases desert bounty. Highlights include Queen Creek Olive Mill, Arizona’s only family-owned and operated working olive mill and farm where olives are grown and pressed into high-quality extra virgin olive oil. After a tour and tasting of oils, olives and tapenades, guests can dine at the Tuscan-inspired eatery serving brick-oven pizzas. The large shop provides complimentary recipe cards and sells the mill’s olive oils, vinegars, cookbook and olive oil spa products.

Food lovers should plan time to visit a number of other worthwhile sites on the trail. Fourth generation Schnepf Farms is the state’s largest organic peach grower and hosts seasonal events. Located in the middle of a citrus field, Jalapeno Bucks has been featured in Food and Wine magazine’s 2020 “Best Barbecue in Every State.” Their most unusual offering is a peanut butter-and-jelly brisket sandwich. And at True Garden Urban Farm, visitors can check out their 5,000-square-foot vertical urban garden featuring hydroponics, stroll the weekly farmer’s market or attend seminars on organic growing practices and nutrition.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.