The Sooner Schooner doesn’t need GPS technology to find its way to Greater Phoenix: After four bowl trips to America’s Sunniest Metropolis in the past five years, it knows the route. Oklahoma fans, however, might appreciate some tips on fresh things to see and do once they arrive.
Luckily, as legions of annual visitors from the Midwest and Canada can attest, migrating to the nation’s sixth-largest city in wintertime never gets old.
“Everybody knows that Oklahoma fans travel well,” said Scott Dunn, associate communication director for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But, to me, ‘traveling well’ doesn’t just mean showing up in droves for the game. It means taking some fun memories back home with you, win or lose. So my message to OU fans would be to relish the sunny weather and desert scenery. 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.”
The Greater Phoenix CVB has created a web page for fans who plan to visit Greater Phoenix for the Insight Bowl. Log on to www.visitphoenix.com/insightbowl2011 for helpful information about where to stay, what to do and how to get around town.
And CityScape, a two-block dining and entertainment district in downtown Phoenix, is hosting an Oklahoma Pregame Party on Dec. 29 at 3 p.m. The party will be emceed by Lee Roberts, host of Sooner Talk on Oklahoma’s official radio station, 107.7 KRXO, and the Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band will perform. Fans also will be treated to live music and special offers from CityScape restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.
While Dec. 30 will mark the Sooners’ inaugural appearance in the Insight Bowl, they actually have been bowling in Greater Phoenix six times, beginning with their appearance in the Fiesta Bowl in 1976. (Oklahoma also appeared in the Fiesta Bowl in 1983, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.)
In honor of the Sooners’ seventh visit to the Valley of the sun, the Greater Phoenix CVB has compiled a Top 7 list of things for fans to see and do during their latest visit:
7. 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.)
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. 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, Elements, Kai, Lon’s and Talavera.
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 and more, plus information about where to stay and dine in Greater Phoenix, travelers can log on to www.visitphoenix.com.