For three of the four fan bases bound for Arizona this week, the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four is a historic occasion. For the other, the Grand Canyon State is an entirely new frontier.
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Neither Gonzaga nor South Carolina has ever appeared in the Final Four, and Oregon hasn’t made it to the Final Four since 1939 (when the “Big Dance” consisted of only eight teams).
Perennial power North Carolina has made an NCAA-record 20 appearances in the Final Four, but none of those appearances has taken the Tar Heels anywhere near Arizona. That’s because Phoenix—the sunny host city for so many Super Bowls and college football championships—has never before been the site of the Final Four.
In fact, when the semifinal games tip off Saturday, it will mark the first time college basketball’s marquee event has been played west of the Mississippi since 1995.
So all four fan bases have reason to make the most of the occasion, either by arriving early to see the sights or staying late to bask in the sweetness of victory. To give them guidance, here are four day-trip ideas to different regions of Arizona, each replete with tips on what to see and where to eat:
The Icon: The Grand Canyon
Inarguably breathtaking, the Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and Arizona’s most visited attraction.
Stretching 277 miles from end to end, the canyon’s multihued rock walls descend more than a mile to the wild Colorado River below. There are several ways to see the Grand Canyon, from scenic rim overlooks to hiking trails to air tour. Bold and brave visitors can even make a tandem skydive jump over the canyon.
A favorite day hike: South Kaibab Trail to the aptly named Ooh-Aah Point. It’s a 1.8-mile roundtrip, and Ooh-Aah-Point is a great place to take photos and relax for a snack before heading back to the rim.
The drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon takes about 3.5 hours, but it’s worth extending the trip to see the famous red rocks of Sedona or wine country of the Verde Valley.
Memorable Meal: Coppa Café in Flagstaff
Worthy Side Trip: Sedona
The Cinderella Story: Small-Town Arizona
The Final Four is always better when a sleeper—some plucky team with colorful characters and an indefatigable spirit—busts everyone’s bracket. Likewise, any road trip is more memorable when it includes little towns with big personalities.
Arizona has got those in spades.
Several such towns are located along Route 66—the “Mother Road”—which snakes across northern Arizona. Fans of the hit-making band the Eagles will appreciate “standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.” Down the road, in Kingman, day-trippers will find classic cars, neon signs and the Historic Route 66 Museum.
The mile-high city of Prescott is famous for Whiskey Row, a collection of saloons that sprung up during the gold rush to quench the thirst of miners, gamblers and outlaws. The town is filled with Victorian architecture and boasts 700 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2016, USA Today named Bisbee America’s best historic small town. Nestled in the Mule Mountains in southern Arizona, this former mining camp is now populated by artists and free spirits whose wares fill shops and galleries on Main Street. Off the main drag, murals adorn alley walls and sculptures decorate the tiny yards of Victorian homes.
Memorable Meal: Bisbee Breakfast Club
For the Kids: Bearizona in Williams
The Quiet Favorite: Saguaro National Park
This is the best place to see the giant cactus Arizona is known for—the saguaro.
Saguaros grow to 60 feet tall and live 200 years, and visitors to Saguaro National Park can get up close and personal with these majestic plants on hiking and biking trails. Guided walks led by visitor center staff are also available.
Of course, you can also take in the cactus-studded scenery from the comfort of your car.
Nearby is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is ranked on TripAdvisor as one of the Top 10 Museums in the country. The museum is filled with indigenous plants and wildlife, and about 85 percent of the experience is outdoors.
Memorable Meal: Café Poca Cosa in Tucson
For the Kids: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The Trendy Pick: Verde Valley Wine Trail
As Arizona’s reputation for quality wines grows, so does the popularity of the Verde Valley. This green-and-gold river valley—one of three wine regions in the state—is home to seven wineries and eight tasting rooms.
The trail winds through lush canyons with stops in Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona, Clarkdale and Cornville. The Verde Valley is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Phoenix, and be sure to designate a driver or hire a shuttle if you plan to hit every winery on the trail.
If you want to mix in some outdoor fun with your wine sipping, a “Water to Wine” tour is a great option. It begins with a leisurely 1-hour float trip down the Verde River in an inflatable kayak and ends in the shade of giant Cottonwood trees at the Alcantara Vineyards, where you can sample award-winning wines inside a Tuscan farmhouse.
Memorable Meal: Elote in Sedona
Side Trip: Montezuma Castle National Monument
For More Information
Log on to www.visitarizona.com for in-depth visitor information and videos about Arizona—including comprehensive directories of Arizona hotels, dining and shopping, as well as things to do and places to visit throughout the Grand Canyon State.