Sure, we haven't even turned the calendar yet, but now is the time to start scheming if you're planning on attending spring training in March (and giving a surprise trip to someone as a Christmas present sounds good, right?). While Florida spreads its teams out all over the map, there are over a dozen who play within an hour's drive in and around Phoenix.
Last year, we found the towns of Tempe and Scottsdale to be the two of the best locations for those looking to get the full spring training experience, especially those going for the first time and those looking to balance game-watching with nightlife. Their respective stadiums are close to their respective downtowns, giving you loads of options when it comes to socializing, dining, and entertaining yourself outside of the game. From these locations, you can take advantage of free trolleys to get to and from the stadiums. Here’s the run down on the two towns:
Main Stadium: Tempe Diablo Stadium (LA Angels)
Nearby Stadiums: Cubs Park (Brand new, Cubs, 11 miles)
Why it rocks: The home of Arizona State University, Tempe has the buzz, flair, and businesses that come along with a college town. It’s also only a ten-minute drive from the airport.
What to do before and after the game: Mill Avenue runs through downtown Tempe and is the spot for all your bar and restaurant needs. You can take a free trolley to and from the game, so fear no beer. Here are a few places we’d recommend:
Handlebar: A backyard beer garden atmosphere that feels like a city park with lighted trees, park benches, street lamps, and fire pits. Perfect for a post-game brewski.
La Bocca Urban Pizzeria: Pizza is the name of the game at La Bocca, but don’t miss out on a few other favorites, including bruschetta planks, house-made sangria, and sandwiches made with bread from Arizona Bread Company (as you know, the bread makes a sandwich).
Four Peaks: This brewery/restaurant is Arizona’s largest and tucked away in a suburban neighborhood about ten minutes from downtown Tempe, but when we walked in, you would have thought you were in NYC – the place was absolutely jammed inside and out. I mean that in a good way. Extremely popular amongst locals, you’ve got to try a couple of their brews (you’re there for baseball, after all). My favorite was the Kiltlifter, which, if you’re not careful, might have you living up to its name.
Where to Stay: The Courtyard Tempe Downtown is two blocks from Mill Avenue and a five-minute walk from the stadium shuttle stop.
Main Stadium: Scottsdale Stadium (SF Giants)
Nearby Stadiums: Phoenix Municipal Stadium (A's, 4 miles); Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (D-backs & Rockies, 6 miles); Tempe Diablo Stadium (Angels, 10 miles)
Why it rocks: Scottsdale Stadium is within walking distance to downtown Scottsdale, which means great pre and post game entertainment at one of over 90 establishments.
To spice it up to another level, grab tickets to the Charro Lodge ($100) in the right field pavilion. It’s a party atmosphere, and with your admission you get six beers and unlimited ballpark food (hot dogs, hamburgers, peanuts, etc.). Seating is first come, first serve, but there’s plenty of room to stand and hang out. The Charro Lodge opens two hours prior to first pitch.
What to do before and after the game: Walk back to downtown Scottsdale and continue the festivities with eating, drinking, and shopping.
The House: A little girl planted her Christmas tree in the backyard in 1940, and now the thing is straight up gigantic (I’m taking the proprietor’s word for it that the story is true), adding a bit of history and awe to this Mediterranean-styled restaurant in a refurbished house. I found it to be a nice night out with plenty of patio seating to enjoy the warm spring evenings, and the menu offers extreme variety. I know it sounds crazy being landlocked and all, but if you’re feeling fishy, go for the salmon. Also, be sure to try the house-made cinnamon whiskey either on its own or in a cocktail.
The Mix at Southbridge: “Buying local” is guaranteed in this shopping center as one has to be an independent, local business to have a lease in the building. Located on Stetson Drive on the banks of the Arizona Canal in Scottsdale.
Maya Day and Night Club: This new property is a beach club by day and a nightclub after sunset.
With over 90 places to grab a bite and/or drink, you have many more options. Check out Distrito (Mexican), the Rusty Spur (burgers, live music), Don & Charlie’s (burger bar, steaks, baseball decor), Pink Pony (steakhouse), Citizen R + D (speakeasy with back-alley entrance).
[Photo: Will McGough for Jaunted/Tempe Tourism/SF Gate]