But while weather is a big factor in planning a holiday, there’s a lot more to Phoenix than being the sunniest city in the USA. So, when Hotels.com asked me to recommend a destination for the March instalment of guide2travel.ca’s weekend getaways series, the Irish connection in Phoenix immediately popped into mind to go with the sunshine.
Things You May Not Know About Phoenix
Phoenix is the largest city in North America’s Sonoran Desert. I find winter road trips through the desert, which is how we’ve visited Phoenix, are intriguing . In fact, the Sonoran Desert covers an enormous 100,000 square miles (260,000 sq. km) and more important, is the hottest, most bio-diverse of North America’s four deserts.
Like its namesake from Greek mythology, the phoenix, a bird that dies and is reborn again and again, the city has a fascinating history. It was inhabited by a community of some 50,000 Hohokam people for a millennia prior to the mid-1400s when they disappeared. These ancients managed to use canals to transform the Salt River Valley into a fertile oasis in the desert. While nobody knows what happened to the Hohokam, settlers discovering the ancient waterways in the 1860s re-established the town.
Today, you’ll find 180 miles of canals in the metro area of Phoenix. That’s more than double the miles of canals in Amsterdam and Venice combined! Back in the ’50s those canals were used for swimming and even water skiing by daredevils being towed behind car bumpers along the canals. In those days, cottonwood trees towered along the canal banks, making it a great spot for picnics and relaxation. That’s all changed now, as the cottonwoods were removed to prevent interference with power lines and canal maintenance.
As well as desert and canals, you’ll also find mountains. Indeed, the Phoenix mountains provide access to hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails at a variety of different access points in the city.
Plan Your Phoenix Weekend Getaway
Three major freeways flow out of Phoenix: Interstate 10, Interstate 17, and U.S. Route 60, making it a city we’ve often visited on road trips. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is the state’s largest and busiest airport, so getting flights is easy. Likewise with car rentals. You can also use both Uber and Lyft, although both were planning to stop curbside service to Phoenix airport due to a rideshare fee hike ordinance in 2020. Supershuttle also stopped airport service at Sky Harbor on Dec. 31/2019.
When it comes to places to stay, Phoenix has a hotel to suit every traveler’s needs. If you’re looking for fun and trendy close to the Irish Cultural Center, check out the Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix Convention Center. The big attraction here is the rooftop bar where you can sip cocktails and watch the sunset. Also close, the Foundre Phoenix, a boutique hotel, has great rooms and onsite dining. Or, if the Penske Racing Museum tops your list of must-see attractions in Phoenix, the Scottsdale Village Mirage by Diamond Resorts is just a mile from the museum.
The Irish Connection in Phoenix
Ireland, the Emerald Isle, and Phoenix, a desert beauty, may seem about as unrelated as any two places you can imagine. However, 10% of the city’s population have a Irish ancestry. That means, of course, that March and the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are important to the city’s inhabitants.
Indeed, as the locals say, St. Patrick’s Day is the greenest day in the desert!
Celebrations begin with a parade and thousands of spectators lining 3rd Street. What follows on your Phoenix weekend getaway is all things Irish, including marching bands, Irish step bagpipers, and of course floats with glittering green and leprechauns. There’s even an Arizona Irish Colleen and her Court to serve as Queen of the parade.
The Arizona Colleen and Rose Program is an Irish heritage program for women that has run since 1983. The Colleens, of course, must have Irish ancestry and be between the ages of 18 and 27. For the younger colleens, there’s a Little Miss Shamrock (6 to 12) and Arizona Irish Lass (13 to 17).
As well as celebrating all things Irish in Arizona, the Irish Colleen also represents the state of Arizona in the Rose of Tralee International Festival in Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland in August.
Irish Cultural Center & McClelland Library
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is followed by — of course — a Faire. As you might guess, there’s lots happening at the event! You’ll find Irish stepdancing, bagpipers, Irish music, crafts, clubs and more. There’s even a VIP Pub hosting Arizona craft beers.
And it’s during these events that you’ll discover the amazing Irish Cultural Center & McClelland Library. What makes it amazing is that it’s designed to resemble a 12th century Normal castle with Romanesque architecture. Complete with stone carvings and curved arches, you half expect to see knights walking through the three stories inside instead of shelves holding 8,000+ books.
The Castle holds a lot more than books, though. It’s a huge resource for Irish and Celtic studies, as well as genealogy. If you have Irish roots, Phoenix is the place to explore them on a weekend getaway!
There are two additional buildings in the Irish Cultural Center complex. The Great Hall, with its artwork and stone from County Clare hosts events all year from sword fighting to dance, while the Cottage represents a typical 1850s Irish cottage. The big event of the season though is the Saint Patrick’s Day Ceili, which a family-oriented Irish social dance.
Things To Do On Your Phoenix Weekend Getaway
If you miss the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities in Phoenix, or want to add more to your Phoenix weekend getaway in March, there’s lots to choose from. My recommendation for motorsports lovers like us is the Penske Racing Museum and its 40 years of Penske Racing history. The team’s achievements include 15 Indianapolis 500 wins, so you’ll see some of those cars along with trophies. Our favorite? The 1963 Pontiac that Roger Penske drove to win the 1963 NASCAR Riverside 250.
For music enthusiasts, the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) provides an interactive introduction to instruments from around the globe. If you’re like me, you’ll be able to spend hours going through the multimedia presentations that let you hear and see performers from other lands. The collection of 6800 musical instruments can be almost overwhelming! And when it comes to local culture, the Heard Museum, which is recognized worldwide for its collection on the culture and art of the American Indians of the Southwest, is a must-see.
If you’re looking for outdoor activities, you have both desert and mountain trails to choose from for hiking and biking adventures. Those looking for extreme sports can go mountain climbing, mountain biking, skydiving, and cliff jumping. For the less adventurous, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is a great place for a leisurely walk.
Dining in Phoenix
Of course, food is a big factor for most of us when we’re on holidays, whether it’s a week or a weekend. If you want to stick with the Irish theme in Phoenix, you’ll have lots of Irish restaurants and pubs to choose from. Try the shepherds pie at The Dubliner Irish Pub, the Irish version of poutine at O’Connor’s Pub, and the Irish beef stew at Seamus McCaffrey’s Irish Pub and Restaurant. But there are many more, as you’ll find in this Phoenix New Times article, 12 great Irish pubs and restaurants in Metro Phoenix.