As a child, we often took our Spring Breaks in the Valley of the Sun, precisely because it was the Valley of the Sun and it was hot. After a cold snowy winter, escaping to the resorts of Phoenix and Scottsdale offered a quick preview of summer and a welcome respite from hats, gloves and heavy coats. What did we do? We swam, played tennis and, I have no idea what else. But it was fun!
My family never seems to want a respite from Winter. We haven’t taken a non-skiing Spring Break trip since our children were quite young, primarily because we fear breaking the news to our skiing-obsessed oldest (Who’s in charge, here?). And, because while I love the beach, I love Spring skiing even more.
Still, the Spring of 2011 was miserable. By early May, my husband and I had finally had enough snow, wind, rain, hail and cold temps. We left the kids at home and went to Phoenix for two days. He had a meeting and I figured that I would do some exploring and find some family-friendly activities about which to write. Wrong.
The Arizona Biltmore: Children Need Not Apply
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the early 1930s, the Arizona Biltmore has hosted every US President since Herbert Hoover. The public spaces are elegant, the rooms shady and comfortable, the grounds are immaculate. The views of Squaw Peak are breathtaking at dusk and as the Arizona evening cools, large fires are lit on the patio where guests gather for drinks.
Sophisticated and genteel, the Biltmore won’t refuse you if you bring your kids (we saw several couples with babies and toddlers), but your older children might wish to refuse this resort. It simply doesn’t cater to kids and it doesn’t care. For example, there is a playground, but it is tucked behind the mechanical plant at the back of the property, next to the tennis courts, and surrounded by chain link fence. It is neither pleasant nor welcoming. And, while the pool has a water slide, it empties into a small pool adjacent to the swim up bar. Kid-friendly? Perhaps not. And that’s okay, if you know what you’re getting into. Couples weekend? C’est parfait.
Squaw (Piestewa) Peak: Mountain Goats Need Apply
Although we’d been warned about the heat, we took a page from some mad dogs and Englishmen and decided to go for a late morning hike upon arrival in Phoenix. Squaw Peak, which was recently renamed to honor Lori Piestewa, a soldier from Tuba City, Arizona who was killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, is only 2 miles from the Arizona Biltmore property. Unbelievably rocky, craggy, rugged and steep, the 1.2 mile trail to the top of the peak teems with locals out for a quick, yet vigorous, workout.
The footing is ridiculous. Part cement trail, part upended jagged rocks, and part scrambling over small boulders, the trail rewards people with long legs and the balance of a mountain goat. When we started the trail, I thought to myself, “Kids would love this!” I was thinking of the surroundings: Enormous saguaro cactus about to burst into bloom, otherworldly rock formations and lots of birds. 100 yards up the trail, I realized that the only kids who would love this are riding in backpacks (and as static passengers would be devoured by gnats before trail’s end — so actually they wouldn’t love it) or sturdy hikers of late elementary or middle-school age. Portions of the trail ascend (and descend) along ridgelines and are basically stairsteps, but with giant steps. I am 5’6″ tall and my legs weren’t quite long enough. Smaller kids could make it and the most intrepid would enjoy it, but all-in-all, the Piestewa Peak trail is for adults — crazy adults. Take water and a camera.
The Wrigley Mansion: Apply at Sunset, Sweetheart Required
Built in 1932 by William Wrigely Jr. (he of Doublemint fame), the Wrigley Mansion sits on a 100 foot knoll directly adjacent to the Arizona Biltmore. In fact to get to the mansion, Biltmore guests walk out from the hotel, through a small, actually rather creepy-looking, gate and up the knoll along a wooded path which terminates adjacent to the outdoor patio of Geordie’s Restaurant. This is the destination.
Although the dining room is opulent and elegant, the outdoor terrace facing Camelback Mountain provides a perfect place to watch the sun set and feel the temperatures fall. Additionally, Geordie’s offers lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings during the Fall, Winter and Spring months.
Disclosure: We were not in Phoenix on a weekend, so we actually never got to partake of a sunset cocktail, but I did walk all about the lovely mansion grounds. I can’t guarantee the experience, but if you are in the neighborhood, I’d take a flyer on it and check it out.
When You Go….
More information on the Arizona Biltmore is found at their website. The Wrigley Mansion website lists their hours and has sample menus. More information about hiking at Piestewa Peak and within the Phoenix Mountains Park is found at their website.
Actually, we did discover some kid-friendly activities during our stay. We went to a Diamondbacks baseball game (take a fleece, the stadium has air conditioning) and we walked and ran on the Central Arizona Project (CAP) Trail, a flat wide dirt path adjacent to the CAP canal that is perfect for biking and biking and biking. The trail goes on for at least 23 miles (I saw a mileage marker) but the plan is to eventually have a National Recreation Trail along all 336 miles of the CAP canal.
Finally, there are the exhibits of the Phoenix Airport Museum. While some kids may blanche at the idea of an art museum, it has been our experience that if you can get them in the door, they actually enjoy it. When you are at the airport, you’re already in the door, so that makes getting the kids involved so much easier. With a collection of over 500 works, 25 exhibition spaces in six buildings spread throughout the three Phoenix area airports, the Phoenix Airport Museum takes advantage of long layovers and early airport arrivals to showcase some of their fantastic Native American and Contemporary Art. When we were there in early May 2011 we saw exhibits of Navajo Weaving, a multi-media exhibit on the Arizona Cactus League (baseball) and contemporary Arizona landscapes. These were all in Terminal 4, before security.
You’re already at the Airport. What else is a kid to do?
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