Whether you are escaping the cold, a spa aficionado, a baseball or aviation fan, a foodie, or possess a certain goat fixation – more on that later – exploring the greater Phoenix area is a good choice for a pleasant get away.
Mainly temperate temperatures
Sun worshipping is required since in this part of Arizona there are on average 325 days of sunshine a year. From October to May, average temperature highs run comfortably from 65 degrees to 92 and average lows run 36 to 57 degrees. Coupled with affordable real estate explains the influx of snowbirds especially from Canada. The summer months are, in a word, hot, with highs averaging 99 to 104 and lows 64 to 74. Arizonians adjust to the heat with many taking advantage of outdoor activities in the summer months in the early mornings and evenings.
Native American spa
The Aji Spa at the Sheraton Grand Hotel at Wild Horse Pass in nearby Chandler is unique, offering an authentic Native American spa experience in a serene setting on Pima and Maricopa tribal lands. Aji, meaning sanctuary in the Pima tribal language, also houses a fitness center, beauty salon, and a café serving inspired spa cuisine under the direction of Chef Rachael Calabrese using local ingredients, such as chicken “pizza” with goat cheese, shaved fennel, pickled herbs and apricot mustardo served on house made lavash.
The spa menu, designed by Indigenous cultural caretakers, has items found only here such as Ho’ishp – a sacred prickly pear body treatment, Vachk – the pond, where water and gentle rocking are used to stretch and massage in a traditional round house, and Pima medicine relaxation massages. The spa design, muted earth tones, dark woods and stone colors are relaxing. Watercolor paintings from local artists like Mike Medicine Horse Zillioux adorn the walls and tell tribal stories with brush strokes.
The “Mustangs & Massage” package provides a morning horseback ride through ancient tribal lands followed by a massage and spa lunch. For gamblers, the Wild Horse Casino is five minutes away. If retail therapy beckons, Phoenix Premium Outlets is just around the bend. The Sheraton Grand provides complimentary shuttle services to both.
Cubs, Apaches and Prince Harry, oh my
In 2014 Sloan Park – Wrigleyville West officially opened its new stadium in Mesa where 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs train. The Cubs were the Cactus League’s team with the highest attendance in 2017 for the fourth straight season with over 250,000 fans in 17 games. Next door the Sheraton Mesa fronts Riverview Park with water play areas and jungle gyms for children and shady picnic areas. And if you’re not a Cubs fan, Mesa also hosts the Oakland Athletics.
For aviation buffs, on the grounds of Mesa’s Falcon Field Airport – which opened in September 1941 as WWII pilot training bases for both British Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Corps – is the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum. Here you can walk through a working hangar, climb aboard a bomber, and if on your bucket list, you can take a flight in an authentic WWII warbird. There are several to choose from, including an open bi-plane. Boeing manufactures the Apache attack helicopter and Hummingbird Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in Mesa and Prince Harry (aka Captain Wales), did some of his training here.
The Fresh Foodie Trail
Farm to fork here takes on real meaning in Mesa and environs since there’s an abundance of family farms and a food festival heritage.
A few of my favorites along the trail:
- True Garden Urban Farm – Owner Troy Albright, a compounding pharmacist by vocation, started to see pharmacy clients coming more often for medications to resolve ailments seemingly correctable with lifestyle changes. Albright was also carrying 275 pounds on his own 6’3” frame. Thinking of change and “You are what you eat” principles, Albright opened up True Garden in 2014 next door to his pharmacy. In his 5,000 square foot greenhouse, and minus 100 pounds of his own, his vertical food farm grows every imaginable lettuce, herb and various other vegetables with aeroponics – George Jetson like cylindrical towers where the plant roots are suspended in air with hidden timed showers – as opposed to the roots sitting in water as with hydroponics. This greenhouse provides the produce equivalent normally requiring one to two acres of soil. It also uses 95% less water and runs on solar. I tasted arugula, celery, mint, basil, Swiss chard, stevia and spinach in the greenhouse that were bursting with flavor, crunchy and nutrient-dense. Albright now provides produce to several area restaurants, farmers’ markets, non-profits and food banks. He also holds classes on the second and third Saturday of each month for those wanting to learn to grow produce with these towers at home.
- Queen Creek Olive Mill – In 1998 owners Perry and Brenda Rea started Arizona’s only olive oil production operation. Now with 7,000 olive trees in 100 acres processed by both hand and mechanical operations, they provides olive oil to over 200 restaurants in the area. The “Olive Oil 101” tour is both delicious and informative – sampling various oils and learning about different grades and uses. The Tuscan-inspired retail center houses a wide variety of olive oils, including innovative spa products. The Eatery uses locally sourced ingredients serving the freshest fare. Superstition Coffee and bakery – serving cupcakes made with olive oil – and live weekend music guarantees you’ll depart wanting to return.
- Agritopia – Originally a homestead for the growing Johnston family in 1960, with vision, engineering and community cooperation, Agritopia became a modern day village in Gilbert with 452 homes and a farm as its centerpiece. It’s a vibrant, connected, mixed-use, upscale interfacing community. The trendy Coffee Shop is in an old tractor shed and The Farm Stand sells fresh produce on an honor system. The honey sweet Medjool dates I tasted were picked that morning. BarNone, an old Quonset hut made from melted aircraft steel, contains several uber cool thriving business such as Prickly Pear Paper, Everybody Loves Flowers, and my favorite, Lettercraft, which creates handcrafted wood items including those with celebrity faces (I opted for a Ruth Bader Ginsberg keychain). Garage East, BarNone’s hip wine bar poured some surprisingly excellent Arizona wines from grapes originating in Sonoita and Willcox.
- Bendable, bleating Bovidae and downward dogs – “We couldn’t really have a petting zoo for adults” said yoga master Sara Williams, who with her partner, goat whisperer April Gould, started teaching goat yoga classes last year at Welcome Home Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona. “But adults and human kids love hanging out with goats.” Hence goat yoga was born. On a recent Saturday morning, I joined a class. Not really big on yoga, and even less so on goats, the class was novel and frankly, quite fun. These are not rambunctious, foul-tempered mountain goats, but tame, affectionate animals adorned with colorful bandanas, tutus and angel wings that are seemingly having at least as much fun as the participants. The first time goats jump on you while you’re in plank or other position, it’s surprising. And while you can never really zone out since there’s always a set of horns nearby, it does make for hilarious happy hour conversation. Classes are held several times a week. There are usually about 75 participants and are often themed, such as ninja, shark week, and raves. Whether it’s weather, unique spas, baseball, aviation, farm-to-fork, good wines or hooved happiness, you can find what floats your boat in the greater Phoenix area.