Spring Training Isn’t The Only Game In Town: 14 Things You Can’t Miss On Your Arizona Trip

During March, baseball fans know the Phoenix area is the place to be, as 15 teams play Cactus League spring training within an hour’s drive. But with up to 10 games every day, even the most diehard fan will need a break from the ballgame.

Here are 14 tips to sneak off for an extended 7th-inning stretch to explore the Phoenix area and venture out into the rest of Arizona.

Squeeze Plays: Before or After the Ballgame

1. High and Outside

For an early-morning workout, take a sunrise hike up Camelback Mountain in the middle of Scottsdale. Fill your Instagram with the red and gold hues of the surrounding Sonoran Desert. The climb isn’t for beginners — bring plenty of water and keep an eye on the temperature.

For an even better view, take a hot air balloon ride (some even come with Champagne breakfast). You’ll be back in plenty of time for an afternoon game.

Camelback Mountain Arizona
Flickr/Kristopher Volkman

2. Go Wild for a Few Hours

Not all of the wild things 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.

Make it a doubleheader with a stop at the Desert Botanical Garden nearby.


3. Take a Swing Off the Tee

Arizona has more than 400 golf courses to choose from. Couple that fact with breathtaking desert and mountain backdrops and it’s not surprising Golf Digest and Golf Magazine recognized Phoenix as one of the best cities in the U.S. to golf. 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.

Arizona golf

4. Go Beyond Peanuts and Cracker Jacks…

As much as we love stadium dogs and beers in plastic cups, it’s not really a sustainable diet. For about the same price, you can fuel up before the big game with all-day breakfast at Matt’s Big Breakfast of “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” fame in Phoenix. Their made-from-scratch Belgian-style waffles steal the show.

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 taste test the local food trucks; there’s always a few parked outside Sloan Park in Mesa.

Matt's Big Breakfast
Photo courtesy Matt’s Big Breakfast

5. Keep It Inside the Park

It’s the Cactus League … so take a selfie or two with the cacti in one of the largest urban parks in the world. Fifty-one miles of trails in South Mountain Park near Tempe will stretch your legs. Make your way on foot, by bike or by car to Dobbins Lookout, the highest viewpoint in the park.

Got night game tickets? Afternoons are perfect for horseback rides through the scenic McDowell Mountains, a 45-minute drive from Phoenix.

Arizona Sunset

6. Paint the Corners

The Phoenix Art Museum is worth a side trip — especially on the second Sunday of the month, when it’s free. Sports fans should check out the baseball card exhibit, starting March 9 and featuring rare cards of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Honus Wagner and other greats.

One of the oldest museums in Arizona, the Heard Museum, dates back to 1929 and showcases American Indian art and history. Visit during First Fridays for free admission, when the Phoenix art galleries stay open late as part of the monthly Artlink art walk.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays baseball card, courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

7. Shop Southwestern Style

Open-air malls, high-end boutiques and eclectic Southwestern shops are found statewide. Get fitted for the perfect cowboy boot in Old Town Scottsdale at Saba’s, Arizona’s original Western store dating back to 1927. Or just walk around the charming frontier town now lined with American Indian jewelry galleries (think turquoise) and bustling outdoor restaurants.

Tempe is another destination for shopaholics with 150+ stores at Arizona Mills center, which also houses Sea Life aquarium and GameWorks.

Old Town Scottsdale

8. Trade in a Day at the Stadium for the Spa

With so many 4- and 5-star resorts in the area, you could visit one spa every day during your trip and not even scratch the surface. Book some “me time” to recuperate after a big game and indulge with a rejuvenating spa day, many of which feature authentic American Indian healing techniques — hot stones, Arizona jojoba oil, desert salt and mineral-rich clay from Sedona.


You’re Out (of Phoenix): Day Trips and Road Trips

9. Check the Grand Canyon Off Your Bucket List

This one doesn’t need much explanation — it has to be seen to be believed. Plan to add on at least two days to fully experience the Grand Canyon — about a four-hour drive from Phoenix. Short on time? Opt to stop midway in Sedona for a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon and Red Rock country.

Grand Canyon

10. Feel the Energy (Vortexes)

Postcard-perfect vistas of red rocks await in Sedona, a two-hour drive from Phoenix. See famous red rock formations like Lizard Head and Chimney Rock up-close on an off-road Pink Jeep Tour excursion. This drive isn’t for the faint of heart — 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.

Cathedral Rock Sedona

11. Head South for a Sip (or Two)

Rolling hills, red clay soil and cooler temperatures in Southern Arizona mirror climates in Italy and France, making it the perfect spot for wineries. This up-and-coming wine region lies about an hour south of Tucson (the home of the University of Arizona) with 12 wineries (and counting) in Sonoita, Elgin and Wilcox. Boasting more than 20 varietals, most notably Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, these mom-and-pop tasting rooms also offer affordable tastings for less than $5.

Winery trail ride

12. Feel the Rush

The season has begun … for white-water rafting that is. Paddle through the 2,000-foot-deep canyon of Salt River past the high Sonoran Desert scenery and through epic rapids like Maytag, Overboard and Mescal Falls — aptly named for its waterfall. At 45 minutes from Phoenix, it makes for an easy day trip.

Salt River rafting
Flickr/Joshua M

13. Tortilla Flat — Not Just Another Name for a Quesadilla

A “population of six” sign greets visitors as they enter the old Western town of Tortilla Flat, an hour drive from Phoenix. This quaint town started as a stagecoach stop in 1904, later becoming a stop along the historic Apache Trail. Stop in for sarsaparilla (root beer) at the local saloon or dip in for prickly pear gelato in the nostalgic Country Store. On weekends, the “Smokin’ Guns” stage an Old West cowboy gunfight in the streets.

Tortilla Flat

14. Float Your Boat

It’s a party on the lake — houseboat-style. To the north, bordering Utah, sits Lake Powell, and to the west, bordering California, is Lake Havasu. Houseboats can be rented for a minimum of two nights, and most accommodate 8-12 people. Some are even equipped with hot tubs. 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.

Lake Powell houseboat

Check out deals in the Phoenix area during spring training.