If it seems like just yesterday that you were standing on Michigan Avenue in a giant swarm of humanity as the Chicago Cubs paraded by with their shiny new toy, you’re not alone. Yep, something we Cubs fans have never had the chance to experience is that the postseason is not only a lot sweeter when your team wins it all, it’s also a lot shorter. And while there’s no question that things are forever changed on the North Side, the Cubs will be coming into Cactus League play in 2017 much the same as they did in 2016: as favorites to win it all (again).
Cubs Insider will be in Mesa to capture and report on every moment this spring as the Cubs get back to the diamond. We’ll be posting tons of real-time news and information you’ll need to help you stay on top of the team, as well as tips and tricks from the locals to help make your time in Arizona — if you can make it down — as fulfilling as possible.
Cubs Insider tip – Look for these throughout this page. Key links are located within the text below and can also be found listed at the bottom of this page.
Sloan park was opened in the spring of 2014 and has been the home of the Cubs and their annual record-breaking attendance figures ever since. Here is your definitive guide to planning a trip to Wrigleyville West this spring.
Sloan Park is located at 2330 West Rio Salado Parkway, Mesa, AZ, 85201. Since all of us have smartphones — or are always with someone who does — all you’ll need to do is type ‘Sloan Park’ into your map app and it should pop right up.
My suggestion is to arrive off Loop 202 and exit on Dobson Rd. (Exit 10). While it’s possible to access the park from other streets/highways, Loop 202 offers the easiest in/out access to the park. Head south on Dobson and the entrance to the parking lots are about a quarter-mile down on the right (west) side.
Cubs Insider tip – You can park in the Mesa Riverview shopping center on the left (east) side of the road for free. It’s got a very large lot with several restaurants and bars. Be sure to check out one of my favorite local bars, The Brass Tap. They offer a free shuttle service that will drop you off right in front of the first base gate, on the south side of the stadium, just west of the ticket office windows. Just inside the first base gate entrance you can stop to take a quick photo in front of the Sloan Park marquee, a replica of its big brother in Chicago.
If you decide to walk over from the parking lot, just head west and cross over Dobson Rd., continuing until you reach the stadium, which is approximately one mile away. It’s a nice little stroll through a park and past a small pond. If you’d like, you can swing into the Sheraton — on the east side of the Sloan Park parking lot — for a cold beer before heading in. We’re starting to see a theme here, aren’t we?
If you choose to forego the free parking options mentioned above, the field lots to the east of the park are easily accessible from Dobson Rd. Parking in the designated lots is available for $10 (reserved) or $5 (general) and will typically put you about a half mile or less to the center field entrance.
If you’d like more official directions, check out the Cubs’ Sloan Park directions page.
If you’re anything like me, Sloan Park — complete with wonderful weather, friendly people, and Cubs baseball (well, yeah) — will surely win you over quickly. Above, you saw the first base gate, which serves as the main gate at the “front” of the ballpark. Just a short walk to the east, you’ll also find the main team shop, which has now been expanded to twice its original size. That’s where you can get all the Spring Training schwag (or you can click here to buy said gear now, before you go) you’ll ever need.
Sometimes the team store can be packed, which is one of the big reasons they chose to expand. There was often a very long line to get in — you can only access it from inside the gates on a game day, otherwise you can go in the front doors (pictured left) — and an even longer line to get through checkout. Cubs Insider tip – Directly to the west of Sloan Park, about a mile down Rio Salado Parkway, is an outdoor shopping center/mall called Tempe Marketplace with a Just Sports store that normally has some decent Cubs gear. In addition, Tempe Marketplace also offers a free shuttle to/from Sloan Park on game days. I prefer the Mesa Riverview shuttle because you don’t get stuck in as much traffic getting to Sloan, but your decision may rest more on what direction you’re coming from.
If you continue walking east past the team shop, you will round the corner of the stadium and find yourself on east side of the park. There you will find the right field gate. This is a good entry point if you have stopped by the Sheraton or have just wandered a little more south when walking over from the either parking lot I mentioned earlier or The Brass Tap.
Past the right field gate heading north is the food truck lot — accessible only from inside the park — along with the kids zone, which is located in the northeast corner of the park. Located outside the park at the northeast corner is the center field gate, which is likely the closest gate if you walked from one of the east lots or the shopping mall across Dobson Rd.
The center field gate is a perfect entrance if you have tickets in the outfield grass area, which are all general admission. It’s also a good access point if you have tickets for the Budweiser rooftop, which is directly to the right (west) of the center field gate. Just to the south of the gate, if you walk along the path and past the kids zone, there are a few vending carts before you reach the Dos Gringos party patio. This is the main party area for anyone looking to be social before or during the game. The food trucks, which vary from year to year but generally offer solid alternatives to the regular vendors in the park, can also be accessed from just behind the patio.
If you’re coming to Sloan Park from the west, on Rio Salado Parkway or taking the shuttle from Tempe Marketplace, your closest entry point is going to be the home plate gate. As you may have guessed by the name, this gate is directly behind home plate and is perfect if you have seats in sections 100 to 117. Honestly, the park is so cozy that you could really enter at any gate and be a short stroll to your seats, wherever they are.
As you enter the home plate gate you will see ample vending in either direction. Section 111 will be directly in front of you with descending numbered sections to the left (north) and ascending to the right (east). Cubs Insider tip – One very cool feature of Sloan Park is that immediately behind sections 107 to 116 there is a stand-up drink rail overlooking the park available on a first-come basis. This area is perfect if you have lawn seats and want a break from the sun or are just looking for a different view of the game.
There is a second, much smaller, team shop located directly behind home plate. It typically has a much smaller selection than the larger shop but it is a decent alternative if you just want to try to get in and out quickly. There’s a third team shop in the outfield just west of the center field gate, which is perfect if you want to swing by on the way out of the park heading to the east field parking lots or Mesa Riverview.
The most important part here is making sure you actually have a ticket to get in. After that, it’s about having adequate sunscreen or just trying to avoid the sun altogether. It can, and usually does, get into the mid-to-upper 80’s or low 90’s during the day in March. Getting seats in the shade can be a great option but, not surprisingly, those tickets tend to be the most expensive and quickest to sell out.
Sections 103 to 116 will offer the most protection from the sun, as there are large shaded areas in all of these sections. Cubs Insider tip – I prefer to sit between home plate and left field anywhere in sections 108 to 103. These have a clear view of the field with no netting in your field of vision and they are in the shade for most, if not all, of the game. The first few rows in these sections will be in the sun early but become shaded shortly after the games begin at 1:05 PM MST. For shade the entire game, be sure to grab seats in row eight and higher.
Practice fields and player facilities
Immediately to the west of Sloan Park are the practice fields and player performance center. If you have time before the games or on non-gamedays, this is the place to go to get close to the players and coaches. Practices take place on most days starting at 9 AM (MST) and typically will run until 12:30 PM. In the afternoons during Spring Training, the Cubs minor league players will hold exhibition games on the back fields. If you love following prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Ian Happ, Dylan Cease, Eddy Julio Martinez, not to mention many others, this is the place to go.
There are six full-sized fields and one infield-only field on the grounds. As you walk from Sloan Park towards the performance center, field 1 will be directly to the north. Just beyond that, further north, is field 2. If you arrive early, these are the two fields to check first and it’s typically where you see players when they first come out of the performance center.
Fields 3-6 — the main practice fields during Spring Training — are located in a cluster on the west side of the performance center. Watching the players from these fields is ideal since all four can be seen clearly from one viewing area behind the fields’ home plates. In order to access this viewing area it’s necessary to walk or (preferably) drive around to the entrance on the westernmost side of the fields. This requires going all the way around all the fields since the most direct route is restricted to the Cubs. There is a dedicated lot located directly to the west of the fields on Cubs Way, and the walk from Sloan is approximately 3/4 of a mile.
Once you’re back at fields 3-6, you may notice another large building just east of the fields and north of the performance center. That is where the batting cages are located. Unfortunately, there is no way to access or even view the inside of the batting cages, but just knowing it’s right there is pretty cool.
There are a limited number of Sloan Park tours available before the Cactus League season play kicks off. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the Sloan Park box office. Here are the dates/times:
- Friday, Feb. 10 – 10 a.m.; 1 p.m.
- Saturday, Feb. 11 – 11 a.m.
- Wednesday, Feb. 15 – 2 p.m.
- Thursday, Feb. 16 – 2 p.m.
- Friday, Feb. 17 – 12 p.m.; 3 p.m.
- Saturday, Feb. 18 – 12 p.m.; 3 p.m.
- Monday, Feb. 20 – 2 p.m.
If you are looking for places to interact with the players and get autographs, there are two main areas that offer perfect access. Both are outside Sloan Park and players are accustomed to seeing fans and signing for them there.
The first, and most common, area is directly outside of the home plate gate, just a few steps to the north of the entrance. There you will see a dirt path that runs from the performance center directly to the player’s entrance. All the players enter through this gate and it can become quite packed prior to the games. Cubs Insider tip – The best time to get access to the players at this gate is from the late innings through the end of the games. Players will often leave the park early and this is a good time to try and get a quick signature.
You can also try to catch the players as they leave the performance center and head to their cars. This sounds a little more stalkerish, but it’s actually pretty common. If you stand along the gate that surrounds the player parking lot just south of the performance center, you can see players exiting the building and many times they will stop and sign. The nicer you are the nicer they are but they won’t always stop and sign no matter how cool you’re trying to be. Just be respectful and they’ll probably sign for you the next time you see them. Or, they’ll just remember you as that really cool fan.
Best places to stay and eat
I’m not going to overwhelm you with an all-encompassing list of every great restaurant in the Valley of the Sun. That would be overkill and I’m assuming you all know how to use Google, Yelp, or Trip Advisor. Instead, I’m going to tell you my hands-down favorite places to go. These are the spots that, as a local, I’ve been going to for years and have almost always had great experiences with.
If you want to stay near Sloan there are two main options. First is the Sheraton at Wrigleyville West. This hotel is located in the parking lot of Sloan Park and is the most convenient place for easy in and out walking access. The hotel is brand new and it’s a great option of you want to be close to the action. Chances are good that it’s booked out way in advance but it’s certainly worth checking into if you want to feel like you’re basically staying at the park.
The second closest hotel to Sloan Park is Homewood Suites by Hilton, located just west of Sloan Park on Rio Salado Parkway. Again, this place is brand new and it’s a little less than a mile walk to the park. This is an easy stroll for some but if you don’t want to or can’t do that you can either walk a half mile to the west to Tempe Marketplace and catch the free shuttle, or you can drive to the park. If you stay here, I’d recommend walking and not driving since you’ll be stuck in traffic longer than it will take you to walk.
If you want to be in a more resort-like setting and you don’t mind driving to the park, I’d highly recommend staying about 15-30 minutes north in Scottsdale. There are a ton of places to choose from, so I’ll just let you check Trip Advisor.
Restaurants and bars
Probably the most important decision you’ll be making while staying in the Phoenix area is where to eat and drink. In order to help you choose wisely, I’ve spent a lot of time diligently researching pretty much every possible option. Keep in mind, I’m not going to recommend places that are touristy and/or obvious locations (like old town Scottsdale or old town Tempe/Mill Avenue). Rather, I’m going to guide you to spots you might miss out on if you hadn’t read about them here or didn’t know someone from the area (like me!).
Four Peaks Brewery on 8th Street in Tempe is my go-to spot. It’s got a huge outdoor patio, stellar bar-style food, and great beer. It’s also only 2 miles from Sloan Park.
If you don’t mind driving a little farther, head about 12 miles south of Sloan to old town Chandler. There you’ll find lots of great bars and restaurants. My top two are San Tan Brewery and Perch Brewery. Both have a great atmosphere, awesome food, and fresh-brewed beer.
Gameday bars near Sloan Park
There are a whole slew of places in and around Sloan park to choose from on gameday. My two favorite places are the Brass Tap (mentioned above/free shuttle) and Woodshed 2. If you’re looking for a newer, pretty nice place with lots of craft brews on tap, Brass Tap is your spot. If you like dank, dive bars you should hit Woodshed, which also carries a great selection of craft beers without the yuppie experience to go along with it. Both places are within a mile of Sloan.
Of course, this one is totally subjective so I make no real claims as to what the best burger is. I’ve had many and I’ve loved many. If you’re in the Phoenix area you must try In-N-Out Burger. It’s a West Coast original and absolutely the one place I’d send anyone who has never been there. There’s one a mere three miles from Sloan Park. Do it.
Another great burger, and great sports bar for that matter, is Zipps Sports Grill. They have awesome double-patty burgers, great wings, and a decent (not great) beer selection. If you’re looking for a sports bar with a great burger, this is the place. The closest one to Sloan Park is on Mill Avenue approximately four miles west of Sloan.
No restaurant list would be complete without mentioning breakfast. There are a couple places near the park that I frequent. The first is Snooze A.M. Eatery in Tempe, near the Arizona State University campus. Snooze is a solid breakfast joint but it can get very busy on the weekends, so keep that in mind.
Another favorite of mine is just down University Avenue past ASU called Harlow’s Café. Just about 5 miles from Sloan, this place has been there since 1980 and it never misses. If you have a bit of a hangover and don’t feel like dealing with the trendy Snooze, give this place a try and you won’t regret it.
Best “nice” restaurants
I will only name two places here and they are my absolute favorites. The first is House of Tricks in Tempe, about four miles west of Sloan Park. The food is phenomenal, the atmosphere is amazing. Two old houses with a small outdoor bar set between them create a cozy feeling for the lush, tree-covered patio. This is a can’t-miss joint, for sure. Call in advance for lunch or dinner reservations.
Mastro’s City Hall in Scottsdale is the best steak I’ve ever had (and I’m from Omaha and have spent plenty of time in Chicago, so I’ve had a lot of steak). Scottsdale to the max, Mastro’s is over-the-top swanky and very expensive, two important things to keep in mind if you want to dine here. It’s located around 8 1/2 miles from Sloan and reservations are required, although you can probably grab a place at the bar without a reservation.