Oregon vs. Kansas State
For the final stop of the College Football Travel Tour, I set foot in Phoenix for the 2013 Fiesta Bowl between the Oregon Ducks and Kansas State Wildcats. Visitors to Phoenix are greeted with cactus and red rusted mountains that rise above the rocks, dirt and city landscape to reveal the beauty of the Sonoran desert. In a city known for sand and hot sun, Phoenix is an oasis of discovery with activities for families, sports fans and adventure lovers.
Game day tips
Glendale is the host of the Fiesta Bowl in a state-of-the-art sports facility, the University of Phoenix Stadium. Located a few miles west of Phoenix, Glendale offers fans a fantastic game day atmosphere. If you’re staying in Phoenix, Scottsdale or the surrounding area, try and arrive a couple hours early to the game by Highway 101, I-17 or I-10. For Fiesta Bowl tickets, purchase them early through the Fiesta Bowl, or if you are a student, you can purchase them at your school. You can also find great seats on StubHub, which is how I was able to snag such great seats for this game.
Most stadium parking lots require parking passes, although there are a few open public lots. Parking can cost $30 or more in stadium parking lots. However, you can park across the street at West Valley Family Church on N 91st Ave for a small donation. Just make sure you arrive early because as evidenced by the city of Glendale’s game day video, you won’t want to miss out on one of the best stadium experiences in the country with lively tailgating and pre-game festivities inside the stadium.
Where to stay
Most visitors stay in downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale or Glendale. If staying in downtown Phoenix, moderately-priced hotels are located near the US Airways Center, Chase Field and the heart of Central Phoenix, also known as CenPho. The Holiday Inn Express, The Sheraton, Hyatt Regency and Springhill Suites are just a few of the many downtown Phoenix hotels.
At the heart of downtown Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Marriott, Hilton Garden Inn and Hyatt Place are within walking distance of Scottsdale’s nightlife and offer moderate prices. In Glendale, the Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn & Suites and Staybridge Suites offer comfortable, moderately-priced rooms near Westgate Entertainment Center and the University of Phoenix Stadium.
With a number of resorts and golf courses in the area, Scottsdale and Phoenix offer you the opportunity to travel in style. Scottsdale’s Orange Tree Resort features small apartment-style living with whirlpool tubs and plenty of living space. The Phoenician is a spa resort for the traveler who wants a little pampering with their stay. Bed and breakfasts, campgrounds and dude ranches offer alternative accommodation options.
Where to eat/drink
Phoenix is a fast growing area of culinary delights. In downtown Phoenix, many sports bars and Alice Cooper’s Cooperstown or for a little something different, The Arrogant Butcher offers fine dining combined with a sports bar experience. Upstairs, enjoy pub food and a drink with waitresses in kilts at The Tilted Kilt.
The Shops at Arizona Center offer local and chain restaurant options. Scottsdale has great Mexican food at Frank & Lupe’s, while Pita Jungle offers healthy meals, one of my favorite places to eat. In Glendale, you can dine at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville or any number of sit-down restaurants. The Phoenix area offers many varieties of food and menus from all over the world, making it easy to find places to eat that suit your palate.
With a variety of bars and an energetic crowd, Scottsdale is the best place to experience nightlife in the Phoenix metro area. Enjoy a rock ‘n’ roll crowd at Shotgun Betty’s, hang with the locals at Kelly’s, or drink and dance with a packed house at American Junkie. Whether it’s a dance club or bar, Scottsdale has a place for you.
During my nights in Scottsdale, I met Oregon and Kansas State fans in town for the game, while also meeting college students from Arizona State, making new friends where drinks then turned into lunch the next day. Whether its locals unwinding on the weekend or friends and tourists enjoying a night out, Scottsdale is the place to meet new people and enjoy a fun night on the town.
What to do
The Phoenix area has a number of activities – from great food to rich culture – that will surprise and entertain you. While the Grand Canyon lies a few hours away, Phoenix is a desert paradise for sports fans and lovers of the great outdoors. With 300 days of sunshine, major sports teams and scenic golf courses, you can enjoy sporting events all year long.
In nearby Glendale, University of Phoenix Stadium and Jobing.com Arena are home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. In downtown Phoenix, US Airways Center and Chase Field is where the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks play. In the spring, the Phoenix area is the site of spring training for many major league teams. If you love golf, there are a number of great public courses including TPC Scottsdale, home of the PGA’s Phoenix Open, and Troon North. The area also hosts NASCAR races and other sporting events throughout the year.
Outdoor lovers have just as much to choose from, including Papago Park and Desert Botanical Gardens, where you can learn about desert life, animals and plants. Nearby Hole-In-The-Rock offers an easy, short hike to the top of the rock, ideal for viewing a desert sunset.
Get a panoramic view of Phoenix with one of the most popular hikes in the area – Camelback Mountain. As I made the difficult climb to the top, I met people along the way, where I’d bond with fellow hikers as we paused to catch our breath. At the top, stunning views and the shared excitement of reaching the top led to many photos and conversations.
South Mountain was included in National Geographic’s best city hiking trails, helping make Phoenix a major hiking destination. The area also includes a number of nearby lakes, as well as whitewater adventures, giving people of all ages and abilities the opportunity to enjoy local water sports.
For a break from the outdoors, Phoenix has plenty of museums and activities for families, such as the Phoenix Children’s Museum, Arizona Science Center and Phoenix Zoo. Other notable museums include the Phoenix History Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum and Pueblo Grande Museum.
Whether you enjoy shopping at high-end stores or local shops, there is plenty of shopping in the area. The Shops at Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix and the Scottsdale Quarter in Scottsdale are just two of the many shopping centers in the greater Phoenix area.
While this is just a small sample of the fun side of desert life, check out other things to do in Phoenix to find the activities that suit your travel style.
Jeremy Branham lives in Sacramento, California and is a budget traveler, sports fan, and travel enthusiast. With his College Football Travel Tour, he explores the culture of college towns as travel and sports collide. Get more stories and photos from the College Football Travel Tour along with destinations, travel tips and stories, travel guides, and hiking adventures on his blog Budget Travel Adventures.