When the Iowa Hawkeyes played in last year’s Insight Bowl, it marked their first postseason visit to Greater Phoenix since the university formed a varsity football team in 1899.
They didn’t wait nearly that long to make a return trip.
Iowa will square off against perennial Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma in the 2011 Insight Bowl on Dec. 30 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The Hawkeyes will be going for a school-record fourth consecutive bowl victory on the same field where they vanquished Missouri 27-24 a year ago.
“We’re happy to welcome the Hawkeyes back so soon, because it’s no secret that they travel well,” said Scott Dunn, associate communication director for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Of course, from the perspective of the host city, fans who ‘travel well’ don’t just show up for the game. They take time to see the city and make some fun memories. So my message to Iowa fans would be to relish the sunshine and desert vibe. Go on a hike. Play some golf. Take a balloon ride. Eat somewhere with a view. Post something on your Facebook wall that makes your friends back home jealous.”
Fortunately for Iowa fans, it’s impossible to experience all of Phoenix’s scenery, attractions and dining options in one visit, so there is plenty left for them to see and do. To help get them started, the Greater Phoenix CVB has compiled a Top 10 list of suggested activities:
10. Eat out (literally).
When picking a restaurant in Greater Phoenix, consider a dining room with a view. Many restaurants feature open-air patios where you can watch a postcard-perfect sunset or dine beneath desert stars. Among the restaurants with the best winter patios (and creative cuisine) are Bourbon Steak, Café Bink, Cibo, El Chorro, Elements, Kai, Lon’s and Talavera.
9. Ring in the New Year on Mill Avenue.
Stay an extra night to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the Mill Avenue District, which hosts the Fiesta Bowl Block Party. Named one of the top 10 places in the nation to ring in the New Year by USA Today, Mill Avenue each year attracts more than 100,000 people to enjoy to Arizona State University’s entertainment hub. (An insider’s tip: Tempe is linked to Phoenix by METRO light rail, so if you book accommodations in downtown Phoenix or at any hotel on the rail route, it’s possible to take a train to both Sun Devil Stadium and Mill Avenue, thereby avoiding traffic.)
8. Cowboy up.
For a taste of the Old West, check out the cowboy and Native American art galleries of Old Town Scottsdale, see Cave Creek or South Mountain from the saddle of a trail horse, take a scenic drive along the Apache Trail to the outpost of Tortilla Flat (population 6), or mosey down to Rawhide Western Town and Steak House. The latter, a spot-on replica of an Old West main street, features gunfights, stunt shows, stagecoach rides and live country music.
7. Relish a resort experience.
Greater Phoenix has more luxury resorts than James Vandenberg has touchdown passes, and staying at one these elegant retreats is a vacation in itself. Expect gorgeous grounds, kingly service, fine food, and access to some of the best golf courses and spas in the Southwest.
6. Shop with abandon.
From fashionable malls to chic boutiques to charming antique shops, Greater Phoenix harbors a spectrum of retail experiences few destinations in North America can match. Take advantage of the pleasant weather to stroll the garden-park setting at Biltmore Fashion Park, the outdoor promenade at Keirland Commons or the sidewalk shops of Old Town Scottsdale. Peruse high-fashion couture at the palatial Scottsdale Fashion Center, or search for vintage goods in midtown Phoenix’s funky Melrose District.
5. Cheer for another team.
Greater Phoenix is one of only a half-dozen U.S. cities with eight professional sports franchises, and one of the locals’ favorites is the Phoenix Suns. Led by two-time league MVP Steve Nash, the Suns play their home games at US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix. The Suns host the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 28 and the Golden State Warriors on Jan 2. The Phoenix Coyotes, meanwhile, host the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Dec. 28.
4. Learn something.
Football fans who like a dash of culture with their blitzes and smash routes will not be disappointed by the quality of museums located in Greater Phoenix. A sampling:
• The Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix’s newest must-see attraction, is the first museum in the world dedicated to the celebration of global instruments. Founded by the chairman emeritus of Target Corporation, this $250 million museum features a collection of more than 15,000 instruments—including the last guitar Elvis played in concert and the piano on which John Lennon composed “Imagine.”
• Heard Museum provides fascinating insights into the culture and history of Arizona’s 22 Native American tribes. It features both traditional and contemporary works, including what is perhaps the world’s greatest collection of Kachina dolls. A tip for visitors in search of meaningful souvenirs: The Heard Museum Shop is one of best places in Phoenix to buy authentic American Indian jewelry and art.
• Desert Botanical Garden is a 50-acre outdoor museum that showcases endangered desert species from around the world, including Dali-esque trees from North Africa and sprawling cactuses from Mesopotamia. Through Dec. 30 visitors can purchase tickets to Las Noches de las Luminarias, a Phoenix Christmas tradition in which the garden paths are lined with more than 8,000 hand-lit luminarias.
• If kids designed a museum, it would look like Children’s Museum of Phoenix. This indoor playground features a hanging forest made of foam swimming noodles, a miniature grocery store with scanners and box-filled aisles, and a wooden racecar track that would tickle the fancy of M.C. Esher. And you can touch everything.
3. Take a hike.
Wherever you stay in Greater Phoenix, you’re not far from a park or preserve. On the city’s southern frontier is South Mountain Park and Preserve, the largest municipal park in the nation. The park is crisscrossed by more than 50 miles of trails and occupies 16,000 acres, making it 19 times bigger than New York’s Central Park. (There’s also a paved road to South Mountain’s summit, so motorists can enjoy the bird’s-eye view.) Other easily accessible spots for outdoors pursuits are Phoenix Mountains Park and Camelback Mountain. The latter, Phoenix’s most famous natural landmark, challenges hikers with a rugged trek to its 2,700-foot peak.
2. Play 18 … or 36 … or 54.
The Scottish invented golf, but Phoenicians might have perfected it. Greater Phoenix is home to more than 200 golf courses, many designed by legends of the game such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf and Pete Dye. This is desert golf at its best, with emerald-green fairways set against a panorama of rugged mountains and towering cactuses. Some courses occupy canyons where civilization feels a world away, while others are part of opulent resorts where you can relish a “warm golf ball massage” after your round.
1. See one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Phoenix is the gateway to America’s most iconic natural landmark: the Grand Canyon. It’s a 3½ to 4-hour drive to the South Rim, depending on how many scenic stops you make (and there are plenty, with the red rocks of Sedona being a favorite). True wintry weather awaits at the Grand Canyon’s higher elevation, and you might be lucky enough to see this national treasure covered in snow.
For more details about the above attractions, plus information about where to stay and dine in Greater Phoenix how to get around town, Insight Bowl fans can log on to www.visitphoenix.com/insightbowl2011.