PHOTO: Downtown Phoenix, Arizona at night. (photo via Flickr/Alan Stark)
March Madness will reach its final destination in Phoenix, Arizona this weekend when the Final Four tips off from the desert.
For those making the trip out to the University of Phoenix Stadium in nearby Glendale, the Valley of the Sun promises to produce some unexpected but welcome surprises.
Sure, Phoenix is renowned for its warm and sunny weather, along with its luxury golf and spa resorts, but there's a lot more to Arizona's capital than one might anticipate. From world-class eats to rising hotel room rates, there's plenty travelers should know before arriving in the Final Four's host city.
Hotels Are Booking Up Fast
A recent survey conducted by CheapHotels.org shows only about half of the hotels in the Phoenix-Scottsdale metropolitan area still have rooms available between March 31 and April 4. As demand soars, rates are climbing with it.
CheapHotels.org's survey found that hotels are raising their room rates by 97 percent on average compared to their standard pricing as a result of Saturday's and Monday's championship action. The most dramatic increases are being felt closest to the stadium, though, so visitors are likely to find more affordable rates outside of Glendale in places like Downtown Phoenix and Old Town Scottsdale.
A Foodie Paradise
Believe it or not, Phoenix is turning out some of the best flavors in the Southwest these days.
"Phoenix is being reborn as 'a foodie oasis in the Arizona desert.' Sure, it takes a while to recalibrate sensibilities – the best restaurants can turn out to be in strip malls or gated communities, and 'down the road' might mean a 30-minute drive. But the sense of a city on the cusp is palpable," wrote the Guardian's Marina O'Loughlin.
For fine dining, head to Durant's for a slew of seafood appetizers and one of the best steaks around. Also, check out Barrio Cafe for some of the top Mexican food in Phoenix.
Phoenix is also home to an exciting craft beer scene. Take a brewery tour to ensure you don't miss out.
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City of Adventure
Northern Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park may be a bucket-list attraction, but Phoenix is home to its own impressive natural wonders. In fact, there are many scenic parks and trails to explore without having to venture too far from downtown.
Camelback Mountain and South Mountain Park are certainly worth checking out, especially if the weather is nice. For the ultimate view, however, travelers can book a helicopter tour or hot air balloon ride.
If you'd rather avoid the sun and stay inside, the city offers plenty of fascinating museums—perfect for couples, groups and families.
Whether you prefer live music under the stars or the bumping bass of a hip nightclub, nearby Scottsdale is the perfect spot to get your heart pumping when the sun goes down.
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The Wasted Grain features live music Wednesday through Sunday and a five-hour-long Happy Hour three days a week. There's also plenty of room to dance.
Looking for something a little bit more sophisticated? Kazimierz World Wine Bar is just a five-minute walk away and boasts an endless list of wines that can be sipped while you take in a live jazz performance.
Of course, there's no shortage of whiskey bars and brewpubs to visit along the way either.