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Best Event Venues and Experiences in Phoenix, Tucson and Scottsdale
Six new “Welcome to Arizona” highway signs now greet the 55 million people entering the state each year. Stylized depictions that include the Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park and Sedona’s Red Rocks celebrate the state’s signature landscapes.
Arizona’s natural beauty takes many forms. Otherworldly examples include the “wonderland of rocks” at Tucson’s Chiricahua National Monument. Northern Arizona icons include the multi-hued Wave formation at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and swirling Upper Antelope Canyon.
Exceptional, too, are the many distinctive and inspiring group venues and experiences in Arizona’s main group markets. Here are the highlights in Tucson, Phoenix and Scottsdale.
Rooted in Native American, Spanish, Mexican-American and cowboy culture, “The Old Pueblo” offers a medley of traditional and modern choices for groups.
For time travel tours, Mission Garden re-creates the Spanish Colonial walled garden at San Agustin Mission, Tucson’s birthplace in 1775. Interpreting 4,000 years of area cultivation, this four-acre living museum features Sonoran Desert-adapted fruit trees, heirloom crops and edible native plants.
This agricultural heritage figured in UNESCO’s selection of Tucson in 2015 as the first Creative City of Gastronomy in the U.S. Holding culinary court since 1922, group-capable El Charro Cafe claims rights as America’s oldest continuously operated family-run Mexican restaurant. Recent expansions include Charro Steak and seafood-driven Charro Del Rey.
[On Topic: Savoring Sonoran Cuisine in Tucson]
Groups can mix meetings with tribal gaming action at two local Desert Diamond Casinos and Entertainment properties. The main Tucson location offers a 148-room hotel and 20,000-square-foot conference center, with versatile meeting and conference rooms and 2,700 square feet of prefunction space. Unique rentals include the Monsoon Nightclub.
Other locations include nearby Sahuarita and Why, Arizona, by Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Slated for February 2020, the new $400 million, 2.3 million-square-foot Desert Diamond West Valley Casino will be one of the largest casinos in the state.
Photo: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum; Credit: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a veritable feast of natural and ecological encounters. Incorporating a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden and art gallery, the 98-acre campus displays some 230 animal species in their natural habitat surrounded by 1,200 types of plants. Accommodating 700 people indoors and 500 people outside, rentals include the scenic Green Room and tranquil Desert Garden.
[Related: CSR Programs Give Back to Desert]
The Tanque Verde Ranch is another special group venue. It dates back to the mid-1800s and is a working dude ranch overlooking the Saguaro National Forest’s East District. Multiple versatile lodging and event spaces include the new 20,000-square-foot, 350-capacity Event Barn, featuring a spacious dining room, indoor/outdoor rustic bar, fully functional kitchen and entertainment lawn. The property is also a top destination for horseback riding in the Tucson area, which is an easy add-on activity after meetings.
The preeminent Pima Air & Space Museum will attract adventure and history buffs thanks to its 300-plus historical aircrafts in six hangars, including three dedicated to World War II. Exclusive bus tours showcase the 2,600-acre “Boneyard,” a U.S. military and government aircraft storage facility. There’s 27,000 square feet of flexible space, with customizations that include skydivers landing at opening receptions.
Targeting 2021, the $65 million renovation of the Tucson Convention Center includes $14.7 million in upgrades and a $9.2 million meeting room expansion. A new adjacent $38 million DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, reportedly offering 4,000 square feet of space, is also on tap.
Other hotel developments include Tucson's first dual-branded Hilton, Home2 Suites & Hampton Inn, slated for December 2020, and the completed $3.5 million property renovation—spa and lobby included—at JW Marriot Starr Pass Resort & Spa.
As Arizona’s largest city and capital, Phoenix and its surrounding areas have a lot to offer meeting and event planners in the American Southwest.
Photo: The Wigwam, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2019; Credit: The Wigwam
To the west of the metro, The Wigwam celebrated its 90th anniversary last year. This storied 440-acre West Valley gathering place dates to 1918, when the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company purchased 16,000 acres of local ranchland for cotton production. Company executives and suppliers lodged in The Organization House, which inspired the farm’s 1929 transformation into a guest ranch.
Today, part of the original Organization House serves as the Fireplace Lounge, one of many inviting venues at the 331-room resort. Accommodations include the Adobe Collection. Crafted in the Territorial Adobe style, these guest rooms, casitas and suites reside amid fragrant flora. The 90-room Oasis Collection is like a hotel within a hotel, while Fairway rooms and suites overlook the Blue Course, one of Wigwam’s three championship golf courses.
Groups have more than 100,000 square feet of scenic and versatile facilities at The Wigwam, including the 10,800-square-foot Wigwam Ballroom and 25 meeting rooms. Outdoor spaces include the 1,000-capacity Wigwam Lawn and Patio. Private dining options include the signature Litchfield’s restaurant and the Wigwam Bar, one of 12 outdoor dining venues.
Other fetching Phoenix venues include:
- Desert Botanical Garden, which has a host of venues that show off flora and fauna such as its amphitheater framed by desert plants, the Wildflower Pavilion and Steele Herb Garden.
- Phoenix Art Museum, holding 18,000 works of art, can host events in its 300-seat theater or one of the many various-sized galleries.
- Corona Ranch & Rodeo Grounds is no stranger to events, with its client list including big names like NBC Sports, Ford, Visa, IBM, Microsoft, NFL Owners Convention and more. Groups can arrange performances from the Western Rodeo Show or turn the patio and lawns into unique spaces for galas, casino nights, teambuilding activities and more.
- Musical Instrument Museum, displays more than 7,000 instruments from around the globe where attendees can marvel at the collection before or after events in the museum’s theater, courtyards or exhibit spaces.
- Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, is scheduled to complete a total renovation of its 1,000-room resort by early 2020 and features meeting spaces that fit as many as 2,500-plus guests, in addition to being located near the Phoenix Convention Center.
Just east of Phoenix, this vibrant leisure destination is a hotbed of striking venues and unique experiences that meeting and event planners can leverage.
In 2019, Taliesin West was among the eight Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Wright’s circa-1937 winter home and desert laboratory, now an architecture school, offers tours and hosts evening events. The sunset views from the terraces and gardens of this Scottsdale National Historic Landmark are breathtaking.
The Smithsonian-affiliated Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West also features award-winning architecture and landscape design. Showcasing the art, culture and history of Arizona and the American West, the venue hosts 500-capacity events.
Photo: Group Dinner at Cloth & Flame; Credit: Kyle Niemier
Scottsdale is a mecca for Arabian horse shows, with venues that include the event-capable Moroccan-style Los Cedros USA horse training facility.
Scottsdale is home to a host of unique experiences that groups can take advantage of after meetings. Some these include:
- Cloth and Flame is available for customized culinary events, including 150-person sunset dinners in the heart of the Superstition Mountains.
- Scottsdale Wine Trail features six tasting rooms in Old Town Scottsdale and is a great option for urban explorers who don’t have time to venture too far from the meeting venue.
- Hotel Valley Ho is a mid-century-style hotel that offers two-hour guided insider tours of Scottsdale’s nationally acclaimed public art installations.
- At 30,580 acres, McDowell Sonoran Preserve makes up one-third of Scottsdale’s land mass. Multi-program operators REI Co-op Adventure Centers and Wild Bunch Desert Guides can lead outings into this untamed wilderness, which has 200 miles of hiking and biking trails.
- Stellar Adventures takes groups on Hummer, ATV and other off-road tours. Plus, seasonal stargazing tours with night vision.
Scottsdale also has a slew of new and updated properties set for planners in 2020 and beyond. Slated for opening in fall 2021, Caesars Republic Scottsdale is Caesars Entertainment’s first non-gaming U.S. hotel. The 265-room property, which will be located adjacent to the luxurious Scottsdale Fashion Square, reportedly includes a 7,000-square-foot column-free ballroom.
[Related Article: Group Friendly Restaurants in Scottsdale]
Newly refreshed luxury group properties include:
- Phoenician, A Luxury Collection Resort
- JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa
- Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
- Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
Arizona Shines Bright
With the combined hosting prowess of Tucson, Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona continues to further establish itself as a Southwest meetings magnet. And thanks to the reliably sunny weather and unbeatable natural attractions, it will drum up excitement with your meeting and event attendees, too.
Visit Tucson | 520.624.1817
Bleisure travel remains hot for groups. In a 2020 trends report, Skift found that nearly 60% of U.S. business trips are extended for leisure. Savvy to the trend, El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort has just launched a program called Gilt Trips.
Photo: Mountain view from El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort; Credit: Courtesy of El Conquistador
Playing off the resort’s location in historic Oro Valley, or “Valley of Gold,” this brand-new platform suggests customizable experiential itineraries and activities geared to guest areas of interest. Organized around the resort’s diverse offerings, categories include “The Big Chill,” offering massages, movies and dinner under the stars, plus cooking classes or custom craft cocktails. “Fun & Games” options include golf, hiking, poker and whiskey sampling.
“Gilt Trips allow us to creatively showcase the incredible riches of both environmental and resort offerings available here exclusively in Oro Valley,” said General Manager Otton Suarez. “Our goal here is to create golden, life-long memories that are ‘Uniquely Southwest.’”
The world-class resort also comes gilded with awards. Maintaining its AAA Four Diamond rating for 35 consecutive years, El Conquistador was named “Best Experiential Hotel” by Hotel Interactive in 2018. Last year’s honors include a “Top 52 Hilton Hotel” by Forbes and as one of the top properties in Meetings Today’s “Best of Awards” voted on by our readers for the third consecutive year.
Covering 50 acres at the base of mountainous Pusch Ridge just north of downtown Tucson, El Conquistador recently remodeled all of its 428 luxurious guest rooms and suites. True to its name, El Conquistador’s commanding presence as Southern Arizona’s only IACC-approved venue includes more than 100,000 square feet of versatile indoor and outdoor function space.
Exceptional venues include the 11,000-square-foot Executive Conference Center and mini-Western village for outdoor functions. Amenities include the scenic outdoor pool and Epazote Kitchen & Cocktails. Spiritual touches include indigenous music played by a Native American flutist at dusk, described as “one of the greatest expressions of spirit, heart and healing.”
Slated to open in mid-2020, the resort’s new free-standing luxury spa will be another wellness siren call. This new feature, plus its bleisure offerings and meetings muscle, promise El Conquistador to be a solid gold choice for groups, whatever the agenda.
That’s the Spirit!
Get in tune with the local Arizona spirit—the sipping kind, that is—during downtime after meetings to relax with co-workers. These are three top picks for you to consider.
1. Gold Miner Spirits
Located by a private airport in the Route 66 town of Kingman, Gold Miner Spirits offers tours and tastings of its award-winning agave rum, whiskey and other spirits. Coming in 2020, venue rentals will include theme dinners and exclusive gatherings aboard a 1918 Pullman railcar saved by owners Deborah and John Pat and installed outside the distillery.
2. Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery
With eight retail locations, including Sedona and the main estate in Elgin, about 50 miles south of Tucson, Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery hosts events and 300-capacity private tours and tastings. The winery is one of Arizona’s largest growers of wine grapes. The distillery, which was launched in 2016, also puts an emphasis on grape-based spirits like vodka, brandy, grappa and an assortment of infused liqueurs made from eau-de-vie.
3. Blue Clover Distillery
One of Scottsdale’s most lively happy hour spots is Blue Clover Distillery in downtown Scottsdale. It is a heritage-inspired micro-distiller of small-batch spirits. Corn gin and vodka, plus a list of uniquely crafted cocktails, are some of the highlights of the distillery’s drink menu.
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