Scottsdale, Arizona boasts that it’s the westernmost western city of the U.S.
It still has cowboy bars and cowboy art; celebrates horses and the Pony Express; and it showcases aboriginal art and culture.
Scottsdale is often stereotyped as the snobby cousin to Phoenix, and it’s true it has many fabulous mansions and resorts as big as small towns. In just a few hours, we saw more Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches on the road than we recall in other major American cities.
“You can smell the money,” one observer said, driving past bougainvillea-draped mansions and ranches, then golf courses and resorts that used to be ranches.
Yet all that wealth still sits next to “horse crossing” signs. Visitors might not go to a dressage arena here or want to ride horses in the heat, but horses are so much a part of everyday life for many, that riders have their own city trails, next to the joggers.
There are haute couture shops by the dozen, but Barney’s is overshadowed by baseball this time of year.
The Cactus League draws baseball fans by the thousands, who want to see the game up close. Spring training tickets are a lot cheaper than regular season too.
“These are the real, true baseball fans,” says Val Tolero, a 38-year-old paralegal from San Francisco who travels to Scottsdale every year for spring training. “They’re there, no matter who’s playing, because they just love baseball.”
Players have time to meet fans, sign autographs, and kid around, says Tolero. He’s been making the trek with friends and family — usually a different group every spring — since 2003, and finds it so popular, the baseball camaraderie endures.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Tolero says. “I’m hooked on it.”
As evidence of the century-old appeal of baseball here, consider this: Scottsdale has a population of 218,000. Last year, it drew 7.5 million visitors.
Spring training is spread over March and April; golf is year-round. Palm trees and cacti line 200 golf courses, some with private lakes and outdoor sculpture.
Visitors come from all over the world for the scenery, and artists, especially, are drawn by the Sonoran desert light.
Incredibly, Scottsdale has more than 500 art galleries and shops, and 600 restaurants.
It’s not just the foodies and the big chefs, or the Picassos and the Warhols for sale in the arts district.
That old “wild west” spirit lives in a laidback attitude here, where there are more than 100 dramatic public artworks, yet one of the most popular is a water fountain stacked with antique horseshoes.
Scottsdale residents are really open, Tolero says.
“Everyone is so friendly. They’re very welcoming. It’s definitely a different vibe — people are pretty excited.”
He credits that to the optimism of the season, when baseball teams at spring training show their stuff, and fans debate who shows the promise of champions.