Greater Phoenix Tells a Tale of Many Cities

Downtown Mesa Light Rail

Greater Phoenix boasts exciting new meeting options

To much of America, the Valley of the Sun is something of a mystery. Everyone knows that Phoenix is a big city—the sixth-largest in America—anchoring a major metropolitan area, with several fast-growing cities and surrounded by an amazing desert.

But the Valley of the Sun is still somewhat under the radar as a meeting destination. A lot of planners may not realize that this region now has a population of 4.3 million residents.

Planners may also not know that this region offers the types of cultural, culinary and commercial attributes found in other large cities and that it offers impressive meeting/convention facilities, spread out in settings ranging from desert to downtown, and featuring great variety.

No longer is this region just Phoenix and a bunch of other entities. The city is now ringed by several vibrant cities, each with its own distinct history and essence, and those distinctions help make this a fascinating region in which to hold your meeting.

If you’re looking for a different type of meeting experience in a region in which the Old West is still very much alive, here are five different types of experiences your groups will enjoy.

Phoenix: Desert Diamond

phoenix-convention-centerPhoenix Convention Center

What makes Phoenix a unique slice of the Valley of the Sun?

In the past decade, more than $4 billion has been invested in Phoenix’s urban core on projects such as a light-rail system; the expansion of the LEED-certified Phoenix Convention Center to 900,000 sq. ft.; Sheraton Grand Phoenix, the largest hotel in Arizona; a new downtown campus for Arizona State University; and CityScape, a retail, dining and entertainment district.

Downtown is made for walking, with locally owned restaurants, craft brewpubs and live-music venues. The 26-mile Metro Light Rail connects Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) to downtown. The city boasts cultural icons such as Heard Museum, with one of the most comprehensive collections of Native American art in the world, and Roosevelt Row Arts District, an impressive example of urban renewal, with galleries, restaurants, reborn housing, retail and music.

Yet just outside of town, the Sonoran Desert still has real cowboys, rugged mountains and, yes, cacti. South Mountain Park/Preserve features 50 miles of trails for horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking; spectacular views of the city; and restaurants, event spaces and gardens. Other interesting offsite options include Desert Botanical Garden, showcasing 50,000 desert plants along five trails.

Between baseball, football, basketball and hockey, there are major-league sports all year long, along with the colorful football, basketball and baseball traditions of the Arizona State Sun Devils.

wrights-sunday-brunchWright’s Restaurant at Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Phoenix (Photo by Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort)

Phoenix also offers hotels with desert/adobe motifs and cutting-edge technology. Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, with 714 guest rooms and more than 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, dates back to 1929. There, attendees can enjoy two championship golf courses; four excellent eateries, including the signature Wright’s at the Biltmore; and six pools. They can work out in state-of-the-art facilities and then soothe sore muscles at Spa Biltmore.

valley-overlook-business-reception greater phoenix meetings

Sheraton Grand Phoenix, adjacent to Phoenix Convention Center, is one of the greenest hotels in Arizona. It features 1,000 guest rooms, a 24-hour fitness center, an outdoor sundeck and pool, a rooftop garden with produce that goes directly to the hotel’s restaurants and 112,000 sq. ft. for meetings.

There are three Marriott Convention & Resort Network (CRN) hotels in Arizona, each offering luxurious, local experiences and myriad event opportunities. JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa boasts 950 newly remodeled guest rooms, championship golf, an incredible spa and more than 240,000 sq. ft. of event space, set on 316 acres of the Sonoran Desert.

“{In Phoenix,] it all starts with the airport…it’s the best I’ve seen in the world,” says Nancy Nachman, owner and chief connecting officer of Phoenix-based The Meetings Concierge, which arranges hotel blocks for corporate clients, free of charge. “There’s exceptional variety in meeting hotels and exceptional service in the hospitality industry. The weather is great, with four distinct seasons. There’s a booming culinary scene—and a ton of one-of-a-kind cultural and historical attractions, many with great meeting spaces.”

Scottsdale: Uniquely Western

andaz-scottsdale-resort-spa-printAndaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa

“Western” may not be your first impression of Scottsdale. Instead, it might be of a young, cosmopolitan city with galleries and golf courses, restaurants and resorts.

Yet, Scottsdale still cherishes the nickname, “The West’s Most Western Town,” which was bestowed upon it in the ’50s, when most locals still wore cowboy boots. From the legendary Rusty Spur Saloon and Western shops and galleries in Old Town to Arizona Cowboy College and MacDonald’s Ranch, a dusty pair of boots still works just as well here as a gleaming pair of heels.

In 1951, the population was only 2,000. Today it’s 237,000 and growing. Scottsdale is home to more than 70 hotels, with four of them boasting AAA Five Diamond status, and 200 golf courses. With 330 days of sunshine annually, there are plenty of outdoor meeting spaces and team-building activities in the exotic landscape of the Sonoran Desert. At the end of the day, your attendees can choose from more than 600 restaurants.

What gives Scottsdale its own distinct personality? Probably its two iconic spots.

The first is Taliesin West, the winter home (and architecture school) built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1937. Wright felt a deep connection to this ruggedly beautiful landscape, and built a property incorporating its elements. His architecture, and that of his students, can still be seen all over Scottsdale.

The second iconic spot is McDowell Sonoran Preserve, where attendees can roam 30,200 acres, with 170 miles of trails for biking, hiking and horseback riding.

Scottsdale has unique offsites, as well. Arizona Cowboy College will teach groups the local arts of ridin’ and ropin’. At Octane Raceway, they can experience a faster form of transportation—electric karts that can travel up to 45 miles per hour.

Talking Stick Resort and Casino is a lively AAA Five Diamond property in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. It features 496 guest rooms, a Native American cultural center, six restaurants, two golf courses, a casino and 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, part of Marriott’s CRN, is a unique AAA Four Diamond Pueblo Revival-style resort offering 453 spacious casitas, each with its own private patio or balcony, and 91,119 sq. ft. of event space, plus 36 holes of championship golf and a spa with unbeatable mountain views.

New hotels are coming. Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa will open in November, with 201 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

“Scottsdale offers a lot of what meeting planners love,” says Jan Ross, senior director of meetings and education for PIAA, a Rockville, Maryland-based medical trade association. “The weather’s great, the golf is great and the meeting facilities are great.”

Glendale: Super Bowl City

westgate-city-centerWestgate Entertainment District, Glendale

Glendale first appeared on the national radar screen when it hosted the 2008 Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium.

This city began to grow in 1895, with a new railroad link to Phoenix. Through the growth, it’s maintained its links with the past, as is evident by Historic Downtown Glendale. It’s actually two neighborhoods—Catlin Court, with bungalows-turned-specialty shops, and Old Towne, with brick-trimmed sidewalks and glowing gaslights.

Glendale is home to two great entertainment and dining centers, Westgate Entertainment District and Arrowhead Entertainment District. The city boasts NFL football, NHL hockey, spring training for two Major League Baseball teams, a thriving nightlife and 500,000 sq. ft. for meetings. Planners also like Wildlife World Zoo, featuring Arizona’s largest collection of exotic and endangered animals, and Cerreta Candy Company, a longtime local institution.


What makes Glendale unique? One spot of note is Sahuaro Ranch Park Historical Area, with 13 buildings from the late 1800s. Peacocks roam the red-brick Main House and 17 acres where livestock used to graze. One building, the 1891 Fruit Packing Shed, hosts meetings for up to 150.

Glendale looks to the future, as well: Challenger Space Center offers fascinating meeting spaces in a 23,000-square-foot facility.

Attendees can break a sweat on 40 miles of hiking trails and 100 miles of bike routes. Or, they can roam Elsie McCarthy Sensory Garden, which uses native vegetation to enhance all five senses.

When it comes to meeting hotels, Wigwam Arizona has been a landmark for 85 years. Offering 331 casitas and suites, and 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, the resort also has outdoor spaces and terraces that can accommodate up to 1,000. There are four pools, including a new 25-foot-tall tower with water slides; five dining options; three championship golf courses; the renowned Red Door Spa; and many outdoor recreational options.

Residence Inn Phoenix Glendale Sports & Entertainment District, which offers 2,802 sq. ft. of meeting space, is undergoing a $3.2 million renovation of its 126 guest rooms.

“In Glendale, we never forget our roots,” says Lorraine Zomok, president and CEO of Visit Glendale. “I live in one of downtown’s oldest craftsman-style bungalow homes, built in 1918. And here, you can be riding at a ranch in the morning and teeing off in the afternoon. We have Major League Baseball every spring. And we have a wide variety of options for meeting planners.”

Mesa: A Bundle of Surprises

To the surprise of many, Mesa is the 38th-largest city in America, with a population of 465,000. It boasts five museums, more than 20 golf courses, 70 hotels and some 900 restaurants, breweries and wine bars.

Mesa was founded in 1878 along the Salt River. In 1904, work began on Roosevelt Dam and subsequently the Apache Trail was constructed to facilitate transportation of materials for the dam. When it was completed in 1911—and flooding of the Salt River was controlled—the dusty desert settlement was turned into a prosperous farming town.

Today, however, with companies such as Boeing, General Motors, TRW and Motorola setting up shop, the former farming town is a Fortune 500 hot spot.

For planners, Mesa offers great value, with hotel rates and meeting expenses often 20 to 30 percent less than the national average. Also, Metro Light Rail makes it easy to get around downtown.

One of the area’s unique spots, Tonto National Forest, is close to Mesa, and lakes and rivers are just minutes from hotels. Mesa Arts Center is the largest arts and entertainment complex in the Southwest. The Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics both have spring training in Mesa.

Surprisingly for a desert area, Mesa is known for water sports. Groups can river raft, kayak and paddleboard on the Salt River, and enjoy scenic tours on Saguaro Lake or Canyon Lake. In fact, many locals will tell you the stunning landscapes of the Sonoran Desert are actually best experienced on the water.

The recently completed Fresh Foodie Trail provides attendees with access to Mesa’s treasured heritage of family farms. These experiences offer a unique Southwestern charm and farm-to-table dinners, and they’re great for team building.

The hotel scene is constantly evolving. Arizona Golf Resort, Spa & Conference Center, with 200 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, just finished a $3 million renovation project to guest rooms, the pool and banquet space. Phoenix Marriott Mesa, with 274 guest rooms and 45,128 sq. ft., will be renovating guest rooms and meeting spaces next year.

Chandler: Small City, Big Meetings

74889583-h1-phxqq_4188242008Crowne Plaza Resort Phoenix-Chandler Golf Resort

Chandler was founded in 1912 by Dr. Alexander Chandler, the first veterinary surgeon in the Arizona Territory. Today, the city is one of the fastest-growing in America, with 236,000 residents. It has a thriving downtown, growing economy, active cultural life and a natural wonderland at its doorstep.

An entrepreneurial vibe is on vivid display in its independent restaurants and innovative small companies. Downtown is anchored by historic Crowne Plaza Resort Phoenix-Chandler Golf Resort, built the same year the city was founded and offering 249 guest rooms and 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Nearby are award-winning companies including SanTan Brewing Co., a microbrewery serving some of Arizona’s finest draft beer. With its trellis-covered walkways and colonnades, downtown hosts more than 60 festivals and events annually. At the heart of the original town square is Dr. A.J. Chandler Park, which is surrounded by boutiques, antique shops and galleries.

Chandler’s most impressive landmark may be Tumbleweed Ranch, a collection of historic homes, farm buildings and equipment that provides an intimate peek at how early farming families lived in a desert environment. The ranch has four main “interpretation” areas, along with features such as the McCroskey House, a farm bungalow home and the Edwards House, built in 1913.

The city’s hotel scene is ever-evolving. Drury Inn and Suites Phoenix-Chandler Fashion Center is scheduled to open in late winter or early spring, with 210 guest rooms and 3,139 sq. ft. of meeting space. Hilton Phoenix Chandler has been around for only seven years, but last year underwent a $2 million of its guest rooms, meeting spaces and public spaces.

“We have a robust economy with a diversified employment base, including technology, manufacturing, aerospace, bio-tech and finance. And that’s one of the reasons we’re attractive to meeting planners,” says Mayor Jay Tibshraeny. “We’re forward-looking and service oriented. And we can offer a great range of cultural, culinary and historic attractions.”

Steve Winston is an award-winning writer who has traveled extensively and writes for national and international magazines.

Tempe: Overflowing with Fun


Tempe, also known as Hayden’s Ferry during the territorial times of Arizona, is a city with around 170,000 people that is sandwiched between Phoenix and Mesa. It’s a fun place that hosts family-friendly events, welcomes outdoor activities and is the proud home of Arizona State University.

Groups enjoy visiting the downtown area, featuring brick sidewalks and dozens of bars, entertainment venues, microbreweries, restaurants and shops. The Tempe Winter Arts Festival, set for Dec. 2–4, is among the many fairs and festivals held in the area.

A section of Mill Avenue, near Arizona State University, has plenty of unique shops, restaurants and bars. The area is popular with tourists as well as locals and students from ASU. It’s a definite must-visit place for food and happy hour.

Tempe also offers an abundance of recreational opportunities. One option is a run or bike around Tempe Town Lake’s 5 miles of shoreline. For a short urban hike, try Hayden Butte, more popularly known as “A” Mountain. This trail is located in the heart of downtown Tempe and offers amazing views of Tempe and the surrounding area. Also, South Mountain Park and Preserve provides stunning scenery and a variety of hiking and mountain bike trails.

Groups will discover a wide array of visual arts—including contemporary art, photography and ceramics by major national and international artists—at ASU Art Museum, including its Ceramics Research Center & Brickyard Gallery, and other museums and galleries located on the Arizona State campus. Also, Tempe Center for the Arts’ Gallery at TCA displays rotating art exhibitions throughout the year.

Tempe has some excellent hotels, including Tempe Mission Palms Hotel and Conference Center (pictured), where the serenity of the surrounding desert landscape and its rose-colored vistas are reflected in the hotel’s decor and relaxing ambiance. The property features 303 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

Major Meeting Venues


Crowne Plaza Resort Phoenix-Chandler Golf Resort

Arizona’s first golf resort; 123 acres; tennis; heated pool; fitness room; A.J.’s Restaurant is a local landmark; shaded terraces for dining; 249 guest rooms; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Hilton Phoenix Chandler

Convenient to Sky Harbor International Airport; restaurant and bar; outdoor pool and hot tub; fitness center; 197 guest rooms; meeting spaces recently renovated; 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.



Hip and historic event venue; cutting-edge technology and creative spaces; 7,753 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space.


Glendale Civic Center

Considered by many the best meeting space in Arizona; located in historic downtown; 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix; ballrooms and outdoor gardens; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa

Next to Westgate City Center and University of Phoenix Stadium; full-service Spa Botanica; popular Soleil Restaurant; 320 guest rooms; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Thunderbird Executive Inn & Conference Center

On the historic campus of Thunderbird School of Global Management; dining hall; Thunderbird Pub; complimentary business center; 134 guest rooms; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Wigwam Arizona

Has set the local standard in luxurious desert accommodations for 85 years; adobe-style resort on 440 acres; Litchfield’s has elegant indoor and outdoor dining; four pools; spa; 331 guest rooms; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.


Arizona Golf Resort, Spa & Conference Center

Newly renovated guest rooms, pool and banquet space; sits on 147 acres; championship golf; four food and beverage outlets; two lakes; five hot tubs; 200 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Mesa Convention Center

Full-service facility located downtown; set on 22 acres of parkland; Wi-Fi; full-service catering; 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater; 38,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Phoenix Marriott Mesa

Next to Mesa Convention Center; modern hotel with an outdoor fire pit; Cafe Azul serves great food in funky atmosphere; fitness center; pool and hot tub; 274 guest rooms; 45,128 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West


Opened spring 2015; three pools, two hot tubs; four dining options; business center; onsite car rental; 180 guest rooms; 37,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.


Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort

One of the West’s greatest resorts since 1929; two championship golf courses; elegant dining at Wright’s At The Biltmore; hiking, mountain biking, hot-air ballooning; six pools; spa; 714 guest rooms; more than 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Camby Hotel

The only Arizona hotel in Marriott’s Autograph Collection; Artizen, Crafted American Kitchen & Bar; innovative treatments at Zest Spa; creative, colorful meeting spaces; 277 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Hyatt Regency Phoenix

The 693 guest rooms have great mountain or city views; adjacent to Phoenix Convention Center; five eateries; close to Chase Field, home of MLB’s Diamondbacks; 24-hour gym; outdoor pool; 48,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa


Set on 316 acres of the Sonoran Desert; 950 guest rooms; 241,106 sq. ft. of meeting space includes 40 meeting rooms; Revive Spa; two championship golf courses; five eateries; saltwater pools, lazy river.

Phoenix Convention Center

Surrounded by restaurants, nightspots, shopping and cultural facilities; striking exterior design brings in abundance of natural light; 2,300-seat performance hall; 900,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort

“Green” resort; Different Pointe Of View Restaurant; two pools; Tocaloma Spa & Salon; 584 renovated guest rooms; 65,000 sq. ft. of event space.

Sheraton Grand Phoenix

Located next to Phoenix Convention Center; District American Kitchen & Wine Bar; outdoor pool and deck; striking artworks in meeting spaces; 1,000 guest rooms; 112,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.


Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa

Opening in November; 23-acre desert oasis; restaurant and pool bar; spa; 201 guest rooms; 46,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Boulders Resort & Spa

Located in Carefree; 160 guest casitas and 61 villas; seven restaurants; two championship golf courses; 17,800-square-foot conference center.

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

AAA Five Diamond rated for the past 24 years; Bourbon Steak Restaurant; four golf courses; 750 guest rooms; 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa

AAA Four Diamond Pueblo Revival-style resort; 453 casitas; 91,119 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space includes 20,000-square-foot ballroom; 36 holes of championship golf; 32,000-square-foot full-service spa; restaurants include BLT Steak.