In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

Don't miss Hula's Modern Tiki. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)

The social side of spring training: Scottsdale style

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. – Even with the Brewers' impressive renovations to their ballpark in the Maryvale neighborhood of Phoenix, let's (continue) to be honest: once the games are over, you're leaving the new American Family Fields of Phoenix and not coming back until first pitch the next day.

While you can make your home base for a Spring Training trip anywhere in the valley, the gold standard is still Scottsdale, which very much feels like the Beverly Hills of the Southwest. The restaurants are better, the nightlife is livelier, and the post-game activities are top notch.

You can't hit everything in Scottsdale in just a few days – keep in mind that since games run from 1 to about 4 p.m., and traffic is omnipresent in the Phoenix area, you can choose just a few things a night if you want to be fresh for lounging around the berm and watching baseball the next day.

So this year, we hit a few old favorites and worked in a new experience or two – one of which we'll unfortunately never get to see again, at least in its current form.

Topgolf

I'll get this out of the way early: I suck at golf, and typically don't like to engage in activities I'm so bad at. However, Topgolf makes hitting balls at the driving range fun again. With illuminated circles on this gigantic course, your group reserves one of 100 private bays on multiple levels. The goal is to smack the microchip-embedded balls as close to any tee you choose.

Computers keep score for you, so it feels a little like a mashup of bowling, curling, darts and of course, golf. If you truly refuse to golf, you can chill in your little cabana and sip a Casamigos watermelon margarita and nosh on delicious apps like loaded waffle fries, pretzel bites (with PBR cheese sauce), a great hummus dish and pulled pork sliders. Don't forget the "injectable" donut holes for golfing dessert.

Hula's Modern Tiki Bar

Very possibly the best meal I've had in Scottsdale, Hula's is more than just amazing Polynesian-inspired drinks (though definitely don't forget about those). We left extremely stuffed after nibbling on ahi tuna poke, Mongolian beef sticks, crispy fish bites, Jamaican jerk chicken, the "Loco Moco" and south seas fish tacos. And oh yeah, coconut cream pie. Everything about this place is perfect – I'm talking to you, mai tai – and it is a must-visit stop on any Old Town adventure.

Hotel Valley Ho

While it's not the swankiest hotel in Scottsdale, it's close – and it's certainly my favorite: this Midcentury Modern property oozes élan, and that extends to its curvy, top-shelf bar that flanks the Hollywood-style pool. Presentation is key here, and bartenders craft exquisite cocktails that pack a punch. We make a point to grab a drink at HVH every spring, even if we're not staying at the hotel, itself. Exhibit A: the "Hot Fuzz," made with Deep Eddy peach, Destillaire curacao, ancho reyes, grilled peach puree, cedar-smoked rosemary and habanero.

Pro tip: visit the restroom and wash your hands with the Red Flower Icelandic Moonflower soap. You'll smell great the rest of the night.

Karsen's Grill

You'd never know you're inside somewhere special at this tiny hole-in-the-wall, but Karsen's has one thing going for it: it's where MLB umpires hang out. Unless you are the most diehard baseball fan, you won't recognize these crews by face, but trust us, they're there, and they're chatty. Grab a Miller Lite, eavesdrop, and if you play it cool, you might find yourself talking baseball with a crew chief or retired ump.

Old Town Gringos

Up until a few years ago, Old Town Gringos was Dos Gringos, an extremely popular but very dingy open-air cantina that catered to the many Giants fans who flock to Scottsdale. Now, it looks largely the same – just a lot cleaner and prettier. This bar has two crowds: the sun-soaked baseball fans who come for happy hour, then the bar crowd that comes back to party into the wee hours. Like everywhere in Old Town, Bird and Lime Scooters are everywhere, so it's cheap and easy to zip over to OTG and enjoy a Dos Equis on the upper deck and people-watch, or play a huge game of Jenga under the heaters on a chilly desert night. Just make sure you scooter responsibly if you're having a tipple or two.

Don & Charlie's

Tragically, this is the last time this amazingly iconic desert supper club and baseball bar will ever appear on this list, because on April 10, it's closing down to be demolished and replaced by an upscale hotel. The iconic, old-school Scottsdale watering hole is home to an insane amount of baseball memorabilia since 1981, and is the place you're most likely to see Bob Uecker sitting at the corner of the bar. But all of that ends after spring training this year. Staff told us that the new hotel may recreate a smaller version of Don and Charlie's in the yet-to-be-named property, but nothing is set in stone. In the meantime, visit for the first or last time and get the dry-aged steaks and a Manhattan.

Expect this place to get very busy as visitors catch wind of its demise, so get your reservations in before they stop accepting them. Nothing like this will ever exist again in the growing Scottsdale. It's a throwback to a simpler time in the Cactus League. Enjoy it while you still can.


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