SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — It’s been three years since I’ve posted one of these guides, because once 2020’s Spring Training got shut down by the pandemic, we’ve had another (2021) affected by said pandemic and still another (2022) messed up by MLB’s lockout.
2023 will be my 34th spring training and as a veteran of going to spring games, I thought I’d post some helpful hints for those of you venturing to the Valley of the Sun for the first time. This is an updated version of the guide last published here in 2020. Spring training games begin two weeks from Saturday.
Ballparks and tickets
If you don’t have tickets to games at Sloan Park yet, the good news is that tickets are still available for all 18 games. Prices are high for certain high-demand games, but you can still get lawn tickets for some other games for $15 (plus fees), which is pretty close to the season-ticket price. You can buy a lawn ticket for this game against the Reds or this game against the Guardians at Goodyear for $10.
Almost all seats in Sloan Park are in the shade, which is helpful if you don’t want too much sun. If you’re looking for sun, there are over 5,000 tickets available on the outfield berms for each game.
The Cubs’ home schedule in 2023 has games spread out throughout the five-week span and includes a game against the Canadian World Baseball Classic team on March 8.
Speaking of the WBC, preliminary round games will take place at Chase Field March 11-15. The competition is usually top-rate and it is always fun to see ballplayers you know well from their MLB teams compete for their countries. WBC tickets for the Arizona bracket are available here.
Pro tip: Though it’s a nice ballpark and convenient to Old Town Scottsdale, avoid Scottsdale Stadium (spring home of the Giants) for Cubs games, as tickets there are priced even higher than Sloan Park. Here’s a map which will give you an idea of the general location of all the spring parks in the Phoenix metro area.
Further information and specific locations of each of the 10 Arizona spring parks can be found here.
Keep in mind that for most spring games, except maybe for the last week or so, you will be seeing minor leaguers play after the early innings.
Speaking of minor leaguers, you can see Cubs prospects play games at the back fields at the Sloan Park complex (the four fields shown below at the west side of the complex). Admission is free to those games, and on days when the Cubs aren’t playing a home game, parking is also free. Also at the complex, the Cubs generally set up an area for autographs for kids only (up to age 12) next to Field 1, which is the one adjacent to the Red Lot in this map:
Players have gotten better about stopping for autographs for kids at that location. They will sometimes take time near the Home Plate Gate as they make their way from the practice fields to the main field, also generally for kids only.
Sloan Park’s food choices are generally pretty good and they also have an area where local food trucks park and sell their wares. They change up the trucks pretty much every game so there’s a wide variety of food offered. This Phoenix-area street food schedule will tell you which trucks are at Sloan Park each day. You can bring outside food into Sloan Park, but many of the other Cactus League venues don’t allow that, so check with each park before you go. One thing you can do at any venue is bring in sealed plastic bottles of water. I can’t emphasize enough how good an idea this is, especially since the price of bottled water at ballparks can generally be termed “extortionate.”
Pro tip: Freeze a bottle of water before you come to the game. By the time it gets really warm you will have a nicely chilled bottle of water, with maybe a bit of ice left, that you can then refill at the ballpark water fountain.
You’ll probably be searching for souvenirs if you’re coming to Sloan Park from out of town. The park does have a large and well-stocked gift shop, but prices there can be pretty high. Pro tip: Across Rio Salado Parkway from Sloan Park, the folks at Clark Street Sports usually set up a large outdoor kiosk where you can generally find good Cubs spring merchandise at lower prices.
Getting to the various spring training parks in the Valley is easy. Many of them are located close to freeway exits and have ample parking. Parking prices range from $10 at Sloan Park to free at Surprise (home of the Rangers and Royals). You’ll note on the map above that some parking lots at Sloan Park are $5. The $5 lots are a very long walk from the ballpark and I would recommend this pro tip: Two large shopping areas not far from Sloan Park, Tempe Marketplace and Mesa Riverview, will let you park free on Cubs home game days in their huge parking lots and take you to and from the ballpark on a free shuttle. Here’s the scoop on transportation to Sloan Park from Mesa Riverview. Tempe Marketplace ran their shuttle last year and, though I have not been able to find an online link for 2023, it should be running again.
In general, no matter what spring park you’re going to, I’d recommend arriving early. Traffic can get backed up near game time at any of these parks, and Sloan Park is one of the worst for traffic snarls close to first pitch. If you’re taking a rideshare to Sloan, the dropoff and pickup location is outside the Right Field Gate along Sheffield Avenue (see the map above, and yes, they really did name those streets Waveland and Sheffield).
Apart from Sloan Park, my favorite is the home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies. It’s right off Arizona Loop 101 at Via de Ventura and has multiple parking lot entrances. Here’s useful information about this venue, officially called Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Pro tip: If you’re going to SRF, choose the parking lot on the side of the park closest to your seat. It will make things much easier and faster to get out when you’re leaving after the game.
Other parks I particularly like are Peoria Stadium (Padres and Mariners) and Surprise Stadium. Both are easy to get in and out of and have varied food choices.
The average high temperature in the Phoenix area in March ranges from 72 degrees at the end of February to 80 by the time March ends. In a typical spring training season, many afternoons can get into the low to mid 80s, which is quite comfortable given the low humidity. Note: That low humidity means that once the sun goes down, it can be a bit chilly at night. Light jackets or sweatshirts are useful to bring along if you’re going to sample the nightlife.
Airfare, accommodations and local transportation
If you’re flying in and don’t have plane reservations by now, do it quickly, because March is (obviously) high season for trips to Phoenix and prices can be exorbitantly high. If you live in a market served by Southwest, that might be your best bet, as you can always use Southwest travel dollars for up to a year if you have to cancel your flight. (Given Southwest’s recent troubles, though, I’d advise using caution when booking with them.)
Similarly, hotels are expensive and if you don’t already have a reservation, you might be out of luck. There is now a hotel immediately adjacent to Sloan Park, the Sheraton Mesa at Wrigleyville West. Some of the dates for spring training are still available, but expensive ($350 a night and up). There’s also a Hyatt Place hotel at the Mesa Riverview shopping complex across Dobson Road from Sloan Park (east of the park). Some rooms are available there for spring training dates, a bit cheaper than the Sheraton (though still pricey).
You might be better off checking out hotels in Scottsdale, which is only a 15-minute drive from Sloan Park, elsewhere in Mesa, or in Tempe, where there are plenty of hotels near the Arizona State University campus. AirBNBs might also still be available at various Valley locations.
If you are renting a car after flying to Phoenix, I’d recommend not doing it at the airport. First, the rental car hub is a long ride from PHX, and taxes and fees on your car rental at PHX can be more than 30 (!) percent. Pro tip: Take a taxi or rideshare to your hotel and rent a car near there; there are quite a few in-town car rental agencies (some actually attached to hotels) where you aren’t charged the airport taxes. Unless you’re going to rely on Uber or Lyft, you will need to rent a car somewhere. Uber and Lyft both operate out of Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix and here is complete information about rideshare options at PHX. Public transit options are slim, and few if any go to the spring training parks.
Here are some things to do and places to see apart from baseball.
Restaurants and bars
There are tons of them in the Valley and you shouldn’t limit yourself to Mesa, as the area is easy to navigate. The Phoenix area is mapped out on a grid, with numbered streets (east of the center dividing line, Central Avenue) and numbered avenues (west of Central). Once you learn the main east-west through streets, almost any place is easy to find.
Mesa Riverview, mentioned above, is located across Dobson Road from Sloan Park. It has quite a few restaurants and bars.
Tempe Marketplace, also noted above and about a mile and a half west of Sloan Park on Rio Salado Parkway, has a similar selection of restaurants and bars. If you’re missing Chicago while you’re there, Portillo’s has a restaurant at Tempe Marketplace (as well as locations in Scottsdale and Glendale).
More for the Chicago visitor: Lou Malnati’s has four full-service locations in the Phoenix area and four others for carryout/delivery.
Going farther afield from Mesa, many people stay in or near Old Town Scottsdale, which is kind of kitschy (tourist-style gift shops) in its look back to Scottsdale’s history as an “Old West” town, but also has some excellent restaurants and art galleries. Every Thursday night, many Scottsdale art galleries stay open until 9 p.m. for a weekly “Art Walk”. Here’s a complete list of restaurants, bars and other attractions in and around Old Town Scottsdale.
My personal restaurant/bar recommendations around the Valley of the Sun:
Old Town Tortilla Factory, 6910 E. Main, Scottsdale: Contemporary Mexican. Has a large outdoor patio and the food is reasonably priced. They don’t take reservations for parties of less than six, so go early or be prepared to wait. Often you can get a table indoors when there’s a wait for outdoor seating.
Citizen Public House, 7111 E. Fifth Avenue: Contemporary American food and pleasant atmosphere.
Malee’s Thai Bistro, 7131 E. Main, Scottsdale: Some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. It’s not large and also gets very busy, so reserve a table early.
The Sugar Bowl, 4005 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale: Old-fashioned ice cream parlor that’s been in this location since 1958. Bil Keane, creator of the “Family Circus” comic strip, was a longtime resident of Paradise Valley and he and his family took a liking to this place. Some signed strips are on the walls.
Scottsdale Fashion Square, 7014 E. Camelback, has several sit-down restaurants as well as a food court and movie theaters.
Paul Martin’s American Grill, 6186 N. Scottsdale Road: Surprisingly affordable, regional American specialties, excellent attentive service. (Parking here can be a hassle at times, they do have valet service.)
Blue Adobe Grille, 144 N. Country Club Drive, Mesa: Old-fashioned place with good beer and New Mexican-style food (which is quite different from Mexican). Be prepared to wait, it’s popular with the locals.
Zipps Sports Grill: Neighborhood-style sports bar with plenty of screens and a wide choice of burgers, sandwiches and beer, including local craft brews. Fourteen locations throughout the Valley.
Luci’s at the Grove, 7400 N. Via Paseo del Sur, Scottsdale: Breakfast and lunch selections and also a store with eclectic goods. Large outdoor patio, kid- and dog-friendly, a couple of other locations in the Valley, including 7100 N. 12th Street in Phoenix.
Culinary Dropout is a bar/restaurant with an eclectic atmosphere and live music. Three locations in the Valley: Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe.
Pubblico Italian Eatery. Reasonably priced Italian food, with a location in Phoenix and another in Scottsdale.
San Tan Brewing Company, 8 S. San Marcos Place, Chandler: Huge selection of craft beers and brewpub-style food in a building that used to be a bank — complete with the original vault.
If you are into a Vegas-style experience, the Talking Stick Resort, 9800 E. Talking Stick Way in Scottsdale, has a full casino and several very good restaurants.
Higher-end restaurants that are worth it if you’re willing to spend a bit more:
Fat Ox, 6316 N. Scottsdale Road. “Modern riffs on regional Italian classics” is what they advertise, and the food’s very good. They have a happy-hour menu from 4:30 to 6:30 that’s less expensive and you can make a meal out of it. This was reportedly one of Joe Maddon’s favorites when he was managing the Cubs.
El Chorro Lodge, 5550 E. Lincoln Drive, Paradise Valley. This has been a Phoenix-area institution since the 1930s. It recently underwent modernization and features spectacular views of the mountains in the area.
For much more on things to see and do in Mesa, go to visitmesa.com.
It is worth noting that Maricopa County police take DUI very seriously. You might remember what happened to former Cub Mark Grace when he was arrested for the second time for a DUI. If you’re going to go out drinking — please have a designated driver or take an Uber or Lyft.
I’m not a golfer, but if you are, there are quite a number of courses open to the public in the area. Some will be expensive. Coronado Golf at 2829 N. Miller in Scottsdale is affordable. McCormick Ranch Golf Club, 7505 E. McCormick Parkway in Scottsdale, has two 18-hole courses. It’s a bit pricey, but the views of Camelback Mountain are pretty spectacular. Troon North Golf Club, 10320 E. Dynamite Blvd. in Scottsdale, also has excellent mountain views of Pinnacle Peak. TPC Scottsdale, 17020 N. Hayden Road in Scottsdale, is the host of the Phoenix Open PGA Tour event every January (or this year, February, to coincide with the Super Bowl being held in Glendale, Arizona this weekend).
Speaking of Camelback Mountain, there are several hiking trails open to the public. Here’s what you need to know about the Camelback trails.
Camelback has a reputation as being a challenging climb. Somewhat easier hiking trails are on Piestewa Peak in Phoenix.
The Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central in Phoenix, is the pre-eminent museum of Native American art in the United States. Their website says: “Since its founding in 1929, the Heard Museum has grown in size and stature to become recognized internationally for the quality of its collections, world-class exhibitions, educational programming and its unmatched festivals. Dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art, the Heard successfully presents the stories of American Indian people from a first-person perspective, as well as exhibitions that showcase the beauty and vitality of traditional and contemporary art.”
Arizona Science Center, 600 E. Washington in Phoenix, is especially fun for kids, with interactive exhibits. There’s a planetarium, too. If you’re into dogs, there’s currently a scientific exhibition centered around our canine friends. From the website: “Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking? Dogs! A Science Tail is a fun, interactive glimpse into the world of our canine friends. The exhibition highlights the extraordinary ways dogs see, hear and smell their surroundings, and explores why humans and dogs are best friends.” The exhibition runs through April 30.
OdySea Aquarium, 9500 E. Vía de Ventura, Scottsdale. Yes, there is a huge aquarium in the middle of the desert. Worth your time, if a little pricey. Occasionally you can find a Groupon for the aquarium, which will lower the cost from “outrageous” to “reasonable.” Very kid-friendly if you have children with you on your trip.
Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix. I went to this museum in 2019 and had a fantastic time, and just made a repeat visit this week. Even with that, I’ll probably go back and see more sometime in the future. I give it my highest recommendation and TripAdvisor says it’s the top-rated attraction in the Phoenix area and among the top 20 in the United States. The MIM has an almost-daily concert series, including Chicago’s own Poi Dog Pondering on March 11.
Taliesin West, 12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard in Scottsdale, is the architecture “laboratory” Wright established in Arizona in the 1930s. There are public events and you can take a tour, which includes some spectacular views of the entire Valley of the Sun. Here are some special events at Taliesin that will happen during Spring Training.
In addition to the usual selection of bars (some listed above), there’s other entertainment in and around the Phoenix area. The first listing is baseball-related!
The Innings Festival is an annual music fest that also includes appearances from baseball people, including Ryan Dempster, who will host his “Off The Mound” talk show from the festival. Other baseball folks scheduled to attend include Randy Johnson, Jake Peavy and Dontrelle Willis. Music headliners are Green Day and Chicago favorite Eddie Vedder as well as Weezer, the Black Crowes and The Head and the Heart. It’s at Tempe Beach Park & Arts Park, 80 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, February 25 and 26, which is the opening weekend for spring training games.
ASU Gammage Theater, 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe, features touring stage shows and musicals from all over the world. The link has the latest schedule. It’s worth a visit just for the architecture, as it is one of the last public buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Disney musical Frozen runs from February 22 to March 5.
The Grand Canyon is definitely worth a visit if you’re coming to Arizona for the first time, or if you’ve been there many times and never seen it. It’s just as impressive as the photos make it appear. Pro tip! Even if it’s 75-80 degrees in the Phoenix area, it will be colder at the Grand Canyon, which resides at about 7,000 feet elevation. Typically in March it’s in the upper 40s or lower 50s during the day. Dress accordingly. The Grand Canyon is about a three-hour drive from the Phoenix area; you’ll be going to the South Rim, as the North Rim (which is also farther) is generally closed until mid-May.
If you’re into astronomy, the Lowell Observatory is at 1400 W. Mars Hill Road in Flagstaff, two hours north of Phoenix.
There are even more Phoenix-area tips and recommendations here. (It’s from 2019, but still valid.)
Enjoy your trip... and bring lots of sunscreen. (Trust me on the sunscreen.)