A Guaranteed Fiesta in the Valley of the Sun!

Bowl Season is upon us, and the 2022 College Football playoffs are set! Arizona will be in the spotlight once again – showing off our community to football fans throughout the country – and tens of thousands will get to experience it first-hand!

The Greater Phoenix area will be home to two games within a five-day span, including a semi-final for the College Football Playoffs.

The B1G Champion Michigan Wolverines (13-0) take on the TCU Horned Frogs (12-1) in the VRBO Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, AZ, on December 31, 2022. The winner advances to the College Football Championship against either Georgia or Ohio State.

The other game that’s hosted by the Fiesta Bowl organization is the Guaranteed Rate Bowl which will be played at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix. The Wisconsin Badgers (6-6) will battle the Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5) on Tuesday, the 27th, at 8:15pm.

Coincidentally, I saw both teams win their Bowl games last year. The Cowboys were in town last year for their dramatic come-from-behind win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, and the Badgers beat the Sun Devils in the Las Vegas Bowl. Someone has to lose this year!

College Football provides the inspiration for me to travel and explore, and I’d encourage you to do the same! I’m a firm believer that when traveling to see your team play, it’s about more than just the game itself. You have the opportunity to explore a new city and experience the different cultures, sites, foods, drinks, and people that make our cities and our country so unique.

For those who will be descending upon the Valley of the Sun for either game – or both, here’s a list of places to stay, things to do, and places to eat and drink around the greater Phoenix area.

About the Area

The first thing you’ll have to do is determine where you’ll be staying. The Phoenix metropolitan area is huge, and while the Fiesta Bowl will be played at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, it’s not your best option (in my opinion) to stay and play. And while there is some transportation infrastructure, a rental car will undoubtedly be your best friend. Below are some of the best areas to make your home base for your stay!

Old Town Scottsdale:

When you talk about Arizona, you have to talk about Scottsdale. It’s really the best location for shopping, dining, nightlife, and attractions – and it will undoubtedly be the central location for many official events of all of the teams playing this week.

Located about 35 minutes from State Farm Stadium, Old Town Scottsdale is the heart of it all and offers a historic feel coupled with modern and upscale amenities. There are plenty of hotel options, from low-end to 5-star luxury. The Phoenician and the W Scottsdale represent some of the high-end, but there a several moderately priced places from all of the major brands, along with some awesome boutique options like the Hotel Valley Ho.

The Scottsdale restaurant scene would rival any in the country. Sure, there are chains, but there are some outstanding local favorites. Along the Scottsdale Waterfront and surrounding area, check out Olive & IvyRoaring ForkCitizen’s Public House, or Culinary Dropout. For a taste of some local cuisine and almost every tequila imaginable, head to Cien Agaves.

Old Town is teeming with nightlife with all types of bars for every taste. For a festive college feel, head over to the Coach House Tavern or Boondocks or pop into some of the old-time saloons along Main St, like the Rusty Spur.

Can’t get a ticket for the game? The Michigan Phoenix Alumni gather at Bevvy in Scottsdale. And the Badgers meet up at Loco Patron in Scottsdale while the Pokes fans take over Gallagher’s in Phoenix.

North Scottsdale

A few miles north of Old Town, there are several resorts and more restaurants, albeit a bit more spread out. Westin Kierland,  JW Marriott Desert Ridge, and the Fairmont Princess, home of the Phoenix Open, all offer great accommodations along with plenty of dining options on the property or nearby.  While not as active as Old Town, these places won’t disappoint. Even if you don’t stay at the Princess, you can visit their Christmas at the Princess festival and walk the grounds – and maybe set up shop by a campfire with s’mores!

Kierland Commons, adjacent to the Westin, offers convenient shopping, dining, and nightlife, while The Shops at Desert Ridge provide similar options for those staying at the high-end Marriott property. The Mission, with locations in both Old Town and Kierland, is a solid option for some tasty Mexican dishes.

The Mission, Kierland Commons

Downtown Phoenix

The downtown area continues to develop into a destination location, but it’s still not yet as “hip” as Scottsdale. There are a few high-rise hotel options like the Sheraton and Westin, along with a couple of boutique options like the Kimpton Palomar and the Clarendon, a cannabis-friendly hotel located near the entertainment district called CityScape.

CityScape offers a selection of bars and restaurants as well as a temporary outdoor Ice Skating Rink.

Roosevelt Row offers a solid variety of unique shops and dining, and the area around the Footprint Center, home of the Phoenix Suns, has some trendy restaurants and bars.  Check out the Arrogant Butcher for some great eats and Bitter & Twisted for innovative cocktails.

Phoenix is also home to some of the best Neapolitan-style pizza in the country. James Beard Award-winning Pizzeria Bianco has expanded to a couple of locations in town, and a couple of my favorites, CiboForno 301Pomo Pizzeria, La Piazza al Forno, and Il Bosco, offer great alternatives.

Cibo courtesy Phoenix New Times

Regardless of where you’re staying in the Valley, consider hitting up some of these holiday-inspired cocktail bars that transition to a holiday motif and introduce new cocktails for the season.

Sip on a Holiday Spiked Chai at the Miracle Pop-up at the Floor 13 Rooftop Bar and take in the twinkling lights of downtown Phoenix below. Or add some competition and take up some Bowling at Champ Pang Lanes while enjoying a Mistletoe Mule. The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale hosts a pop-up Tipsy Grinch Holiday Lounge with festive drinks and apps until the end of December.

Floor 13 Rooftop Bar


The Valley of the Sun is bursting with attractions and entertainment options. For gamblers, check out the numerous Casino options scattered around the edges of town.  Talking Stick and Gila River are two resort complexes that offer hotels, gaming, golf, dining, entertainment, and other amenities. While Desert Diamond Casino in Glendale is the newest addition in town. And know that sports gambling is also legal in Arizona! Michigan is giving 9, and Wisconsin is favored by 4!

The Valley is loaded with museums. Topping the list is the Heard Museum in Phoenix. It’s renowned for its Native American artifacts. Or check out the Musical Instrument Museum in North Scottsdale.  It will open your eyes and ears to a world of music.  Architecture buffs should head out to Scottsdale for Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home. Or check out the Penske Racing Museum in North Scottsdale. To stay on the football theme, why not visit the Fiesta Bowl Museum in Old Town Scottsdale.

For Holiday Light displays, you have plenty of options. A couple of perennial favorites include ZooLights, Glendale Glitters, and the Mesa Temple Christmas Lights. Some newer options include the drive-through Illuminations or the Lights of the World display at the AZ State Fairgrounds.

If you want some incredible daytime views of the Valley, drive straight down Central Ave and enter South Mountain Park. From there, take Summit Road to the top of the mountain and see the Valley of the Sun from a thousand feet above.

Want to get the views, but be more active than driving?  Head out to the hiking trails in South Mountain or the more aggressive ones at Camelback and Piestewa Peak.

Camelback Mountain

Another option would be to take the drive to the Superstition Mountains east of the Valley. Stop in Goldfield, the recreated mining town for a taste of the old west. Continue on the winding road that carves through dramatic scenery that carries you high above the canyon lakes below, then drops you down to the water’s edge, where you might catch the big horn sheep sipping from the lake.

Canyon Lake

Towards the end of the paved stretch of road, stop in Tortilla Flat for a sasparilla or a burger before continuing your journey. Either brave the easily passable dirt road for some even more dramatic scenery or turn around and head for the Salt River around Coon Bluff, where wild horses gather just before sunset for their feeding.

Salt River Wild Horses

Day Trips

If you’re looking to explore more of Arizona, the Grand Canyon is about a 3-1/2 hour drive north of the Valley, but check weather conditions before heading out. With an elevation of about 7,000 feet, the northern Arizona area can be quite different than the Valley.

Sedona is about 2 hours north and offers some of the most stunning scenery in the country, but again, check the weather.

Prefer a taste of the old west? Head south to Tombstone, the site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The 2-1/2 hour drive southeast will take you through Tuscon and into the days of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

If you still want a taste of the old west but you’re not in the mood to travel too far, head to Cave Creek and Carefree. There you’ll be able to step back in time and maybe catch a Wild West Jeep Tour.

Wild West Jeep Tour

Sporting Events

If you’re getting into town early, the Cardinals will be hosting Tom Brady and the Bucs on Christmas Day, while the Coyotes will be hosting the Avalanche on the 27th, and the Maple Leafs on the 29th at the cozy, new Mullett Arena in Tempe. Get up close and personal and experience an NHL game in a college arena!

The area is home to a crazy number of golf courses in all price ranges, with We-Ko-Pa my personal favorite for a splurge. The previously mentioned resorts all sport some pretty solid experiences as well.


And finally, down in Tucson on Friday, December 30th, there’s an afternoon matchup of the Wyoming Cowboys (7-5) vs. the Ohio Bobcats (9-4) in the Barstool Arizona Bowl. For about $25, you can be on the 50-yard line.

And for you Michiganders who can’t go too long without a Detroit Coney, check out Detroit Coney Grill, with a couple of locations around the Valley.

So there you have it.  Pack your sunscreen, golf clubs, team gear, and most importantly, your wallet, and head to the southwest for some fun in the sun.  Enjoy your time, and let’s hope your team is celebrating New Year’s Eve with another win!

One last tip from a local. While the daytime temperatures should be in the mid-60s, once the sun goes down, temps can dip into the 40s and lower. And just like the dry heat has a way of cooling things down, so does the dry cold.  Be prepared and wear layers if you plan on staying out all day and night.

Know that whatever you choose, you’re “guaranteed” a “fiesta” in Arizona!

If that’s not enough information, comment below or contact me with any questions.

Stop wondering! Start Wandering!


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