Tempe, Arizona

Ballpark: Tempe Diablo Stadium

Team: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Located to the east of Phoenix, Tempe is more than just a quaint college town, home to Pac-10 powerhouse Arizona State and the Insight Bowl. While sports, particularly football, have traditionally been the main draw for visitors and locals, an emerging arts scene has boosted the city’s “hip” quotient. At night, Mill Avenue becomes a regular romping ground for 58,000 students, but there are a few sophisticated outposts for the 22-and-over set who prefer jazz, folk and bluegrass over the twee sounds of indie pop. But watch out for that little red man with the pitchfork -- Sparky the Sun Devil has been known to roam the premises.

Go the Distance
While the light rail can zip you along 20 miles of sports and entertainment goodness, Tempe’s Rio Salado Paths are a treasured secret for pedalers who prefer to take in their cities at a more leisurely pace. While the 165-mile bikeway system may attract Ironman devotees, the Rio Salado Paths are flanked by the ASU campus and Sun Devil Stadium, and take bikers along five miles of paved lanes for an urban tour of downtown Tempe.

Home Plate
The Tempe Mission Palms hotel, situated downtown and steps away from the Sun Devil Stadium, offers customizable golf packages and a heated rooftop pool for a starting rate of $161 a night.

If you want your home base to so close to the Tempe Diablo Stadium that you can roll out of bed and be in your bleacher seat by game time in under five minutes flat, The Buttes, A Marriott Resort is the perfect spot. Sitting atop a 25-acre valley landmark, The Buttes exudes a southwestern charm and breathtaking views of Tempe. Book a room early, and you can get almost $100 off a night with the advance rate.

Also nearby, the Homewood Suites by Hilton is a great extended stay spot, with fully equipped kitchens and all the amenities of home.

Grub Hub
Dine alfresco out in the sun-dappled patio of House of Tricks where contemporary American cuisine is served up in two historic bungalows that bookend a canopy of old vines. Enjoy the seafood-stuffed poblano pepper or the coffee cardamon duck breast.

If you need a shot of espresso to jolt you out of that sun-induced lethargy, caffeine salvation can be found at Cartel Coffee Lab, which is one part coffee shop, one part hipster hangout.

Sadly, there’s not much in the way of sit-down dining near the Diablo Stadium, except a smattering of fast food joints, but there are more than 70 restaurants alone packed into the stretch of two blocks in the Mill Avenue District, where you could conceivably dine out for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day if you so wish.

Out of Sight
If you decide to catch the last gasp of spring training in the final week of March, don’t be surprised when downtown Tempe is transformed into one of the southwest’s biggest free outdoor fairs, the Tempe Festival of the Arts. From March 25-27, class it up along Mill Avenue with the locals to catch a Jazz show, wine tasting, street fare and tasty edibles from the 400 or so vendors.

Sweet Spot
If you’ve got a craving for some wings and five layer nacho dip -- which begs to be washed down by a pint of the trademarked Kilt-Lifter Scottish-Style Ale, Four Peaks Brewing Company is where it’s at.

-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Scottsdale
-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Clearwater
-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Mesa
-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Tampa

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Tampa, Florida

Ballpark: George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field)

Team: New York Yankees

Florida's third-largest city, Tampa, is host to a wide array of activities, from golfing, beautiful beaches (the city has more than three dozen), shopping and amusement parks to fine dining and a busy nightlife with no shortage of options. It’ll take you around five minutes by car to get to the stadium from the airport, so you can spend less time stuck in traffic, and more time enjoying all the things the city has to offer. Bonus: Situated just seven miles from downtown, Tampa International Airport is frequently cited in passenger surveys as one of the nation's most user-friendly.

Go The Distance
Visitors more often than not rent a car to tool about the sprawling city. But if you want to try to rely just on public transportation, Tampa hosts an inner-city bus system called HART with 28 routes, along with an "in-town" trolley system that connects many of the downtown neighborhoods.

Tampa also has a somewhat limited streetcar called the TECO Line Streetcar that goes from Centro Ybor in Ybor City to the convention center in downtown Tampa. Consider this more fun and touristy than useful, though it is a good option if you plan on checking out the shopping through Ybor City.

Home Plate
In Tampa you have options for quality lodging -- if you’re willing to pay that is. Stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota where every room has a bay, marina or skyline view. If golfing is more your cup of tea, stay at the Belleview Biltmore Resort, Beach Club, Golf Club and Spa and get playing privileges at the nearby golf club of the same name.

For a more wallet-friendly slumber option near the ballpark, you could stay at any of the budget hotels located near the airport. The Residence Inn Tampa Westshore/Airport is less than two miles away from the airport, as is the Howard Johnson Hotel - Tampa Airport/Stadium. The latter will cost you less than $100 for the night.

Grub Hub
Because of the strong Cuban influence in Tampa (well, all of Florida really for that matter), if you have only one meal in Tampa, make it a Cuban sandwich: Decadent cuts of ham, pork, Genoa salami, cheese, mustard and pickle dress up two thick slices of Cuban bread, which are flattened and grilled briefly. Brocato's Sandwich Shop on East Columbus Drive and Columbia Restaurant on East 7th Avenue are known for their stand-out sammies.

Restaurants on the Gulf Coast, particularly north of Tampa Bay, generally have a more casual atmosphere than those downtown. Check out the Thirsty Marlin, which has some delicious grilled fish options on the menu. For a true taste of Tampa, check out La Teresita Restaurant, a local hangout that offers amazing food and cheap prices in a very casual atmosphere. La Teresita offers a sit-down service, but the most popular is the diner-style setup in the back. They also have a convenient take-out window if you’re in a hurry.

Out of Sight
For the adrenaline junkies, check out one of Busch Gardens' thrilling roller coasters and animal exhibits. If you’ve got kids in tow, check out some of the creatures at the Florida Aquarium, which hosts 10,000 aquatic plants and animals from all over the world.

Tampa is also a college town: It’s home to both the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa. It is no surprise then that there are quite a few quality bars nearby with a laid-back vibe, like New World Brewery on East 8th and The Rack that couples pool with sushi.

If you’re looking for nightlife, check out the Channelside area, and just northeast of downtown Tampa, Ybor City is a historic area where you can hit the shops during the day and the clubs at night. Go to Club Tantra or Pop Lounge and Theater if you want to get your dance on.

Sweet Spot
Derek Jeter loves Tampa so much, he’s building a 30,000-plus square foot home there. "I moved down here permanently to work out because it got a little cold in Michigan when I was in the minor leagues and I've been here ever since," Jeter told the Tampa Tribune. "This is where I call home. I enjoy Tampa, I enjoy my time here. I have a lot of times here, especially with my foundation moving down here." It’s rumored he’s stopped by the Hyde Park Café on a Tuesday night -- the club’s biggest night, so try to spot him there.

-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Scottsdale
-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Clearwater
-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Mesa

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Mesa, Arizona

Ballpark: HoHoKam Stadium

Team: Chicago Cubs

The urban nerve center of metropolitan Phoenix, Mesa takes its name from the Spanish word “table” to describe the flat top the city sits upon, surrounded by bluffs. A commuter town and sleepy 'burb, Mesa still has strong roots to its early farming community founded by Mormon pioneers in the late 1880s. The Wild West is still alive here, and we aren’t just referring to ballplayers gun slinging fast balls and lassoing in fans -- visit the historic Old West towns and the OK Corral (site of the famous gunfight of 1881), and see if you can rustle up some cowboys.

Mesa fiercely prides itself on its HoHoKam Stadium, which has served as the home to the Chicago Cubs since 1952, and holds the honor of being one of the original members (and venues) of the Cactus league. With history practically seeping out of its bleachers, HoHoKam draws record crowds, and sets the MLB spring training attendance record year after year. In 2010, the city of Mesa promised to build the Cubs an $84 million new stadium after the Grapefruit League tried to lure them away to Naples, Florida.

Go the Distance
Want to avoid the travel crush at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport? Fly into Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport instead -- an ancillary hub for air travel that serves small cities in the midwest.

Home Plate
Just two miles from HoHoKam Park, the newly renovated, Best Western Dobson Ranch Inn is a neighboring hotel to the Cubs, and a regular haunt for the fans that prefer the inn’s discount rates for spring training. Hilton Phoenix East/Mesa is a nicely appointed hotel with resort flair, and a quick drive from the Sun Devil Stadium and other ASU sporting venues. Located in the Mesa Riverview entertainment center, the Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa is close enough that you can bipedal on over to the number of restaurants, shops and the movie theater if you’ve got some downtime.

Grub Hub
While the Mesa restaurant scene hasn’t quite caught up to its downtown development growth spurt, you’ll find the city’s restaurants have a down-home, folksy vibe that suit the mellow fan. Blue Adobe Santa Fe Grill, a popular New Mexican restaurants in the area boasts gut-satisfying dishes like Green Chile Lobster Dip, Pulled Pork Adobo Sandwich and several enticing entrees from the Adobe Plate (think spices and smoky grill char) portion of menu.

Café Boa Bistro puts a contemporary spin on the Italian genre by fusing a Southwestern approach with local food. If you are hankering for a nearby watering hole and some trade talk with like-minded baseball fans, Diamond’s Sports Grill (formerly Sluggo’s, founded by Harry Caray and Steve Stone) is the unofficial “official spring training headquarters” for the Cubs, and also offers a shuttle to HoHokam. Schwing!

Out of Sight
Mesa is situated just south of the Superstition Mountains, which make up part of the Tonto National Forest -- a sprawling three million acres of rugged backcountry that fans to the north. As the fifth-largest forest in the United States, this beautiful slice of wilderness is a great place for any number of recreational activities that include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and picnicking.

For urban sightseeing, take the kids to the Play Ball! The Cactus League Experience inside the Arizona Museum for Youth, an exhibit that opened last year celebrating the colorful history of professional baseball in Arizona. Admission is $7.00 (2 and over).

Sweet Spot
The 30,000 square feet Campeones (Champions) family entertainment venue, which just opened its doors Nov. 10, features an authentic Mexican restaurant, arcade games, a children’s and adult play area, the latter of which includes a sports bar with several gargantuan screens tuned to boxing and soccer matches.

-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Scottsdale
-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Clearwater

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Clearwater, Florida

Ballpark: Bright House Field

Team: Philadelphia Phillies

With more than three miles of sugary sand beaches and topaz waters, Clearwater sits on the Gulf of Mexico --a gateway to some spectacularly good fishing and recreational activities. Home to Hulk Hogan and the Church of Scientology headquarters, Clearwater has shed its old identity of being a sleepy beach town. Since the massive Flag Building was built in 2004, which covers a full city block, Scientologists have made Clearwater their international command center and maintain an uneasy relationship with non-believers.

But the Philadelphia Phillies, having resided in Clearwater since 1955 (the second longest running team association in spring training baseball), might rival the Scientologists for devotion. Bright House Field, one of

the newest ballparks in the Grapefruit League, features a tiki-hut pavilion that seats 75 fans. On Feb. 27, fans will pile in to watch the Phillies face the New York Yankees and hope to catch a glimpse of one of the team's four pitching juggernauts, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt.

Go the Distance
Fly in to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport, which serves a select number of small cities, or Tampa International Airport, which is only 17 miles away. Looking to spend the day as a beachcomber? Hop on the Suncoast Beach Trolley, which begins its route nearby Pier 60 and ends in St. Petersburg, making stops by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the sea turtle nests at Sand Key State Park, a 95-acre park and beach that overlooks Clearwater Pass.

Home Plate
If you get separation anxiety from Bright House Field, La Quinta Inn Clearwater Central is so close you can practically read the state-of-the-art scoreboard from your room. If you aren’t much of a landlubber or a frugal traveler, Sandpearl Resort, the brand new world-class hotel in Clearwater, sits on the beachfront and offers a stay so luxurious Cliff Lee might request an addendum to his new contract. If you are looking for a beach-centric baseball experience, there are scores of resorts and boutique inns and condos located around the Clearwater beach barrier, only 10 miles away from the Phillies’ spring training home.

Grub Hub
Casual beach fare is what this coastal oasis does well, and fresh seafood is a must-order item on the menu while you are in town. The Palm Pavilion is a Clearwater institution with an open-air bar popular with the locals, Phillies players and execs. Specials include a waggish “Free Sunset with Dinner,” and daily happy hour, and the restaurant prides itself on putting out predictable, but quality food dishes such as fried clams, grouper sandwiches and more adventurous offerings like gator nibbles.

For early-morning reinforcements, head over to Lenny’s for a gut-busting breakfast before a lazy day of baseball. Lenny’s manager Kevin Schauer, a Phillies “GM” in his own right, can recite the daily breakfast orders of the team’s regulars, including manager Charlie Manuel (turkey sausage and oatmeal). Waiters are decked out in the team colors, and the menu includes “Phan” staples such as scrapple and cheesesteaks.

For a Hooters-esque experience, check out The Tilted Kit Pub and Eatery -- a popular chain of sports bars with Celtic-themed pub food a hop, skip and a jump away from Bright House Field.

Out of Sight
Fish off Pier 60, or book a deep sea fishing charter to hook some of the area’s native gilled residents, which include grouper, king fish, sailfish, snook and tarpon, among 300 species.

Absolute Florida Flats Fishing and Tarpon Fishing Charters, manned by Captain Rich Knox, who has more than 20 years of experience as one of the area’s best local guides, offers private charters and instruction for novices to experienced anglers. With minimums at upwards of $600 for a half-day, private charters can be pricey. For a cheaper alternative, Queen Fleet Fishing Boats charges $50 a head for adults and $30 for children 12-and-under to fish on large party boats that can hold up to 80 people.

Sweet Spot
Sunsets at Pier 60 is a nightly “dock” festival located on the promenade portion of Clearwater Beach's famous fishing pier, featuring artists, craftsmen and performers with free weekend musical entertainment. Watch a film screening against the stunning backdrop of the Gulf Coast sunset on Fridays or Saturdays, or stroll to local gem The Bait House near the pier for some house-made crunchy kettle chips and a cold beer.

-- Spring Training Travel Guide: Scottsdale

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Scottsdale, Arizona

Ballparks: Scottsdale Stadium; Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (pictured below).

Teams: San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks

Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers, unite. With 330 days of sunshine a year, Scottsdale is the perfect place to banish the winter blues and emerge from baseball hibernation. The San Francisco Giants, newly minted World Series champs, play downtown at Scottsdale Stadium, and the Rockies and Diamondbacks will be premiering their new ballpark Salt River Fields at Talking Stick -- the first Major League Baseball spring training facility located on sacred Native American grounds. Our bet? The bats (and the balls) will really sing here.

Scottsdale combines two great American sports loves: Baseball and golf. With more than 200 golf courses in the Phoenix metropolitan area, there’s no end in sight to beautifully manicured greens, whether they are pocked with bunkers, or geometric lines of sand. But be forewarned: Scottsdale desert greens are infamous for initiating a new breed of the game: Target golf -- the maddening test of rainbowing shots in, over and near a flagpole surrounded by cacti, sagebrush and arroyos.

Go the Distance
The Metro Light Rail is all you need to get around Scottsdale, and the 76 bus line will take you to the entrance of Scottsdale Stadium. Renting a car is probably the best bet to transport you and your entourage to Salt River Fields, which sits on a huge tract of land.

Home Plate
Here are some creative alternatives to the high-end hotels in Scottsdale. Live it up like a player in the full-service condominium residence, Xona Resort Suites -- which provides all the comforts of home and a 2011 Cactus League package ($279, plus $50 dining credit, and a connecting bedroom for $129 a night).

The boutique Hotel Indigo Scottsdale is an antidote for those who view the resort scene as an anathema, and for a three-night stay you’ll receive a $50 gift certificate at Don and Charlie’s restaurant.

Recently renovated, and popular with the Giants’ players, the swinging Hotel Valley Ho is a mid-century modern resort that may charge steep prices, but for the late night reveler, they offer a sweet spring training deal that includes a 14 percent discount ($249/night), with all-inclusive breakfasts at highly touted breakfast joint Café Zuzu, VIP nightclub access to several hot party spots, and a Westcor shopping discount for the ladies.

Courtyard Scottsdale Old Town and Holiday Inn Express are within walking distance of Scottsdale Stadium and offer bargain rates.

Grub Hub
The pickings are good and foodstuffs plenty near the Scottsdale Stadium -- the ideal location for a night of cheering Timmy Lincecum (or sporting a beard à la Brian Wilson) and noshing on some quality food. Try the southern stylings of Lolo’s Chicken and Waffles, which has been openly endorsed by Charles Barkley and other traveling athletes who make it a regular pit stop. The signature Lo-Lo’ s, priced at only $11 for a three-piece southern fried chicken and double-decker waffles, might just be the best thing since Domino’s pizza to absorb the six beers that somehow managed to be funneled into your stomach.

Don and Charlie’s is also a winner with the jocks and the place to be seen -- the steakhouse/BBQ joint is practically a sports museum in its own right, with enough memorabilia to justifying making an anonymous call to A&E’s Hoarders.

Strike out for The Mission Restaurant and Lounge a block away from the Giants, and rally for a nightcap at this modern Latin spot with some top-shelf tequila cocktails and fancy nibbles.

Out of Sight
With so many courses contiguous to one another, Scottsdale is practically one gigantic driving range and golfer’s paradise. Two bargain tracks for getting in a round are The TPC Scottsdale (Champions) and Papago Municipal. Golf pros tag the Champions as a must-play for the Phoenix area, especially after the course received an extreme makeover. Troon North is the crown jewel of the Scottsdale public courses, offering stunning views of Pinnacle Peak and the dramatic mountain backdrop.

Art aficionados can stroll down North Drinkwater Boulevard from Scottsdale Stadium and revel in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art’s (SMoCA) sleek architectural lines. The Desert Botanical Gardens are a can’t-miss, and even better, you’ll learn how to name-drop all the exotic-sounding flora and fauna native to Arizona just like the locals.

Sweet Spot
Bump and grind your way over to Axis/Radius, which as its namesake suggests, offers two dance clubs in one. A cigar bar and a swanky VIP lounge make this club a favorite for Suns’ players like Steve Nash and Amar’ e Stoudemire.

The Pink Pony closed last year but has re-opened under new ownership. Pat Gallagher, former Giants president and chairman emeritus of the San Francisco Convention and Tourism Bureau, shared a bit of Scottsdale lore on the Pony: "This old steakhouse and bar boasted big steaks, waitresses with beehive hairdos, and two wines on the list (a red and a white, both chilled). Billy Martin used to hold court at the bar, with Chub Feeney, Bill Rigney, Ron Fimrite, Bruce Jenkins, David Bush, Mickey Morabito, Mike Murphy and anybody who was anybody from the Giants, A's, Cubs.”

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