Camelback Ranch Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Spring Training home of Dodgers & White Sox)

Discover the Best of Central Arizona

By: Teresa Bitler

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September 30, 2017

Create your ultimate Arizona adventure with these attractions, restaurants, and places to stay

About the author

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Sunset and Valley Guide magazines. She is the author of Great Escapes Arizona as well as four Arizona-related iPhone travel apps and is currently working on her second guidebook, Backroads & Byways of Indian Country. She can be reached at

With so much to do and see, planning a visit to Central Arizona can be a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a guide to the best the region has to offer, plus recommendations for where you might want to stay.

East Valley

The East Valley is one of the fastest growing areas in the country and has a lot to offer.

Gilbert, Arizona, is just southeast of Phoenix and is central to many outdoor getaways, such as the Superstition Mountains (where you may get lucky and find the legendary Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine) and Tonto National Forest. Gilbert also boasts several parks for families, five golf courses, and one of the Valley’s best nature preserves – the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. During the day, you can hike and watch for the almost 250 different species of birds in the preserve; at night, peer into space at the observatory, open to the public every Friday and Saturday evening, weather permitting.

If you’re a foodie, you may already know about #DeliciousGilbert. One of the five best food neighborhoods in Metro Phoenix, Gilbert boasts a thriving local restaurant scene that offers more than just food but also culinary adventures, from farm tours to a sushi school to Mexican soul food. Highlights include Shar’s Kitchen, which offers healthy eating cooking classes, and Agritopia, a Gilbert subdivision with community gardens, a restaurant featuring farm fresh produce, and a craftsman collective called Barnone.

Hungry yet? It’s always patio season in Gilbert, and some of the Valley’s best restaurants (Clever Koi, Barrio Queen, and Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles) are in downtown Gilbert.

West Valley

There’s just as much to see and do in the West Valley. Whether it’s outdoor adventures, major sporting events, culture, or food that fuels your vacation fun, Glendale is the hub for it all. Named the #1 Emerging Tourist Destination by Trivago, the city even offers personalized itineraries to help visitors find exactly what they’re looking for – just call 877-800-2601. If you’re not ready to commit to an itinerary just yet, check out these hallmarks of Glendale to get a feel for what will be in store once you visit.

Don’t miss Sahuaro Ranch with its 13 original buildings, rose garden and peacocks roaming the 17-acre grounds. Another local favorite is Cerreta Candy Company’s free tours, where you may even score a sample of their famous French mints or turtle-like Camelbacks.

Historic Downtown Glendale has been named one of the country’s 10 best places to shop by multiple publications. Pop in the bungalows-turned-specialty shops lined with white picket fences in Historic Catlin Court then walk along brick-trimmed sidewalks and under the glowing gaslights of Old Towne on your way to dinner at one of several ethnic eateries.

In nearby Litchfield Park, the World Wildlife Zoo & Aquarium prides itself on letting visitors get as close as safety permits to its more than 600 different species of animals. In a different kind of park, you can cheer on the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium or the Phoenix Coyotes at Gila River Arena.

Come in March to root for your favorite major league baseball team during spring training in Peoria. The West Valley has several great venues, including the Peoria Sports Complex, home of the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres. Goodyear Ballpark, just 20 minutes from Sky Harbor Airport, also hosts spring training for the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds. If you’re an Indians fan, sign up for an on-field workout session with coaches and players, or watch pregame batting practice from the field. During the game, every section has a great view. The stadium provides intimate, unobstructed seating on top of its several on-field experiences, which also include souvenir photos, and ground crew and ceremonial first-pitch experiences.

Peoria is also home to a lively entertainment district filled with shopping, dining, and live performances at various local venues that each have their own flair. Plus, The Rio Vista Park and Recreation Center has 50 acres for stretching your legs. Or, rent a boat at Lake Pleasant Regional Park instead and relax on the water. With temperatures around 22°C most of the year, you can easily spring into Peoria’s active lifestyle.

Where to stay

Central Arizona has so many great resorts and hotels that it can be a little daunting trying to find the right one for you.

For a budget-friendly option that doesn’t sacrifice location or comfort, stay at one of the many BEST WESTERN® hotels throughout the Valley. You’ll be close to where you want to go, while still having a quiet basecamp to come back to at the end of the day.

Prefer to get away from the city lights and immerse yourself within the quiet Southwest desert? Book a room at the 20,000-acre Rancho de Los Caballeros in Wickenburg for a modern ranch experience. Relax on the porch or in the spa, eat world-class cuisine, golf, and horseback ride through the Sonoran Desert between daytrips to the Valley, just a little over an hour away. ATV tours, tennis, a pool, and trap-and-skeet shooting are also on-site. Plus children’s program and babysitting services let mom and dad enjoy grown-up time.

If the dramatic desert surroundings of Wickenburg and the life-as-you-want-it lifestyle capture your pioneering spirit, then consider a move to Wickenburg Ranch. This luxury home community offers first-class amenities that provide a cozy escape while still being close to the activity of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Lake Pleasant, and the great outdoors. From hiking trails and golf to culinary delights and a five-star social club, the on-site experiences will have you living the dream every day.

While these Central Arizona hotspots will certainly get your vacation going, there’s still more to discover in the heart of the state. From metropolitan Phoenix to the cowboy town of Wickenburg, explore what else there is to see and do in the center of it all.


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