Major League Spring Break in Arizona

It’s a whole new ball game for the legions of Chicago Cubs fans that head to Arizona every March for spring training.

After more than 60 years at the same stadium in Mesa, AZ, the Cubs are moving three miles away to a brand new ballpark.

“It brings the best of what Cubs fans love about Wrigley Field and combines it with what’s special about the Cactus League and Arizona,” says Justin Piper, general manager for spring training business operations at the new $84 million Cubs Park. “It’s a completely different ballpark with modern amenities, but Chicago fans will immediately see certain features reminiscent of Wrigley Field.”

Photo courtesy of Visit Mesa.

Alan Solomon, adjunct journalism professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and author of “A Century of Wrigley Field: The Official History of the Friendly Confines,” covered many a Cubs and Sox spring training for the Chicago Tribune. “What makes an Arizona spring vacation so terrific for baseball fans is, unlike Florida, where teams are spread all over the state, you’ve got all these teams, including the White Sox and Cubs, within about an hour drive of whatever town you choose as a base. You can watch one team work out in Glendale in the morning, hop in the car and catch two more teams playing a game in Surprise or Scottsdale that afternoon.”

Combine the chance to see your favorite baseball players up close and get autographs with daily temperatures in the 70s, and you’ve scored a home run! After the big game, Solomon recommends heading over to Don & Charlie’s, home base for Chicago fans. “It’s a pretty good steakhouse and rib joint, and Don Carson, the owner, is from the Carson’s Ribs family. Whole walls of the place are covered with autographed baseballs and other great memorabilia.”

Not a major baseball fan? You won’t strike out on this vacation. Nearby mountains prove nirvana for nature-lovers; the town of Scottsdale has an incredible arts scene; and the college town of Tempe is hopping. Here’s the lineup for a perfect vacation in the Valley of the Sun.

Fans Going Wild

Trade the Cactus League for real plants at the Desert Botanical Garden for a few hours. More than 50,000 plants bloom on 145 acres, including many endangered species from around the Southwest. An onsite farm supplies much of the produce for Gertrude’s, the deliciously unique farm-to-table restaurant. A great hotel choice for nature-lovers who crave style and comfort, the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North is an oasis of luxury in one of the Sonoran Desert’s most beautiful landscapes. Get your workout here the natural way hiking nearby Pinnacle Peak. Be a trailblazer or join one of the daily complimentary guided hikes.

Photo courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden.

Culture Club

Baseball isn’t the only game in town. Culture vultures will score big in Scottsdale, with more than 100 galleries and one of the country’s oldest art walks, held every Thursday night throughout the year. Major-league museums include The Heard Museum, a world-class collection of Native American artifacts and contemporary art. Take note of the new Musical Instrument Museum, where 12,000 instruments are displayed alongside Eric Clapton and Paul Simon’s guitars, John Lennon’s piano and other priceless rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia.

Architecture buffs will enjoy Phoenix’ legendary Arizona Biltmore. Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence is felt throughout this sprawling resort, from the geometric stained-glass panel he designed for the lobby to the Craftsman and Mission decor. There’s even a Prairiestyle waterpark! For more of the “Wright” stuff, take a tour of Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home and architectural school, in Scottsdale.

Attention Shoppers

Enjoy milling about on Mill Avenue in Tempe, home to Arizona State University. It’s a rare walkable urban district in our car-obsessed country. A college town, it has plenty of pubs, but you’ll also find trendy restaurants and delightful shops and galleries.

Big-league baseball at budget-friendly prices, a great arts scene and the beauty of the desert in bloom: A spring escape to the Valley of the Sun is sure to brighten your mood.

Research for this article was obtained on a trip sponsored in part by the Arizona Office of Tourism.

Top photo courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden.