Itinerant Fan

Phoenix city guide

Phoenix, an oasis in the desert, has also made a reputation for itself as a mecca for major sports. The region has played host to some big events in recent years — two Super Bowls, college football’s national championship, some memorable Fiesta Bowls, etc. It’s home to all four major sports leagues as well as a major Division I university. And don’t forget Cactus League spring training and all the major golf courses.

No matter what time of year you visit the Valley of the Sun, there’s bound to be something sports-related going on (especially if it’s not summertime and it isn’t 100-plus degrees outside). And you don’t have to be a golfer or a snowbird to take advantage of it. Read on for just a small taste of what the Phoenix area has to offer.

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The landscape

For pro sports in Phoenix, look to two areas: Downtown (specifically the area dubbed the “Legends Entertainment District”), home to Chase Field and Talking Stick Resort Arena, and the western suburb of Glendale, where University of Phoenix Stadium and Gila River Arena are located. Arizona State University, whose Sun Devils are members of the Pac-12 in football and basketball, is in Tempe, just a few miles east of downtown.

The venues
• Chase Field: Home of the Diamondbacks. Located at 401 E. Jefferson Street in downtown Phoenix.
• Gila River Arena: Home of the Coyotes. Located at 9400 W. Maryland Avenue in Glendale.
• Sun Devil Stadium: Home of Arizona State football. Located at 500 E. Veterans Way on the ASU campus in Tempe.
• Talking Stick Resort Arena: Home of the Suns. Located at 201 E. Jefferson Street in downtown Phoenix.
• University of Phoenix Stadium: Home of the Cardinals. Located at 1 Cardinals Drive in Glendale.

Talking Stick Resort Arena

Talking Stick Resort Arena

The strategies

Getting in
Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX), aside from having an interesting name, is centrally located, just east of downtown. The downtown area, Tempe and Scottsdale are easy to reach from the airport, and as a hub for American Airlines, it receives flights from most major American cities and many international destinations as well. A taxi from the airport to downtown will typically cost between $15 and $20.

Many, many people drive to the area for their stays, judging by the many out-of-state license plates you see on the road — particularly during prime visiting times in the winter and spring. Other than Tucson, 90 minutes away, Phoenix is not close to any other major cities. Access is via Interstate 10, which connects the city with Los Angeles five hours to the west and then veers to the southeast as it heads toward Tucson. Interstate 17 north connects to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.

Where to stay
Just pick a spot where you think you’re going to spend the most time, and the area is bound to have its fair share of lodging options. For sports fans, downtown Phoenix and Glendale, where the pro sports venues are, have quite a few hotels nearby ranging from commuter to high-end. A good, cheaper option for most purposes is the area around the airport, which is close to downtown, Tempe and many of the stadiums in the Cactus League. The Phoenix Metrocenter, a few miles north of downtown along I-17, also is home to a wide variety of hotel choices.

Getting around
Unless your plans center around the downtown area, you’ll want a car to get to where you need to most conveniently. If you’re visiting either of the Glendale venues but not staying in Glendale, you’ll definitely need a car — public transportation is scarce in that region and not geared toward serving sports fans during events. Glendale and downtown Phoenix are about 15 miles apart.

Phoenix’s Valley Metro light rail system serves the downtown and outlying areas of Phoenix and extends into Tempe and Mesa, and is a good park-and-ride option for fans trying to get from the suburbs to downtown, or to the Arizona State campus. If it’s hot out, though, walking to a station and then waiting for a train might not be the most pleasant experience.

Each of the pro venues, ASU’s campus and the Cactus League stadiums all have ample parking, often at cheaper rates than you’ll find in comparable venues in other cities. The downtown structures that support Chase Field and Talking Stick Resort Arena were built with a high volume of traffic in mind and are often surprisingly easy to enter and exit, and at Gila River Arena, parking is free if you park at the adjacent Westgate Entertainment District.

Westgate City Center

Westgate City Center

The extras

Spring training, baby!
As of the 2016 preseason, the Cactus League had 15 teams — half of Major League Baseball — and all of them train within the Phoenix metro area. So in theory, you could spend a week there and see all 15 teams play at least once. Most of the stadiums are either newish (less than 15 years old) or newly renovated and offer many of the same creature comforts expected of a major-league stadium. The newest stadium is Sloan Park, opened in 2015 on the western edge of Mesa and the new home of the Chicago Cubs.

Sloan Park, the Cubs' spring training home

Sloan Park, the Cubs’ spring training home

Golfer’s paradise
Phoenix is known as a haven for golfers, who come down in the winter when the weather gets too inhospitable to hit the links wherever they live. You can see a list of courses in the region here. If your preference is to watch golf, Scottsdale hosts a major PGA tournament, the Phoenix Open, held every February (usually Super Bowl weekend) at TPC Scottsdale.

Desert eats
While not exactly known as a culinary destination, Phoenix has its share of unique eating experiences. Given its proximity to Mexico, the Mexican food scene is strong, with establishments from budget to gourmet and offering lesser-known items such as tortas and chimichangas.

If you’re looking for a downtown watering hole before a Suns or Diamondbacks game, Alice Cooper’stown (owned by legendary rocker Alice Cooper) and Majerle’s Sports Grill (owned by former Suns player Dan Majerle) are the most well-known of the many options along the surrounding blocks.

More sports
As previously mentioned, Arizona State has a major athletic program with teams in most NCAA sports. In addition to Sun Devil Stadium (football) and Wells Fargo Arena (basketball), Packard Stadium hosts the Sun Devil baseball team, which is occasionally nationally ranked. Most of the university’s sports facilities can be found on the east side of campus, along Rural Road. Grand Canyon University, located in North Phoenix, also is home to Division I baseball.

Phoenix International Raceway, technically in the western suburb of Avondale, hosts two NASCAR events each year, one in early March, the other in early November.

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