Pull out a map of Phoenix and there, on the big city’s southeast edge sits Chandler, Arizona. Far more than a suburb, Chandler is a city in its own right, the fourth largest in Arizona. With a population nearing 300,000, Chandler has friendly locals and plenty to do. It’s a place where faith-based groups find much to like.
Entrepreneurial spirit lives
Founded in 1912 and only 30 years younger than Phoenix, Chandler was the brainchild of Dr. Alexander J. Chandler, and his entrepreneurial spirit is rooted in the desert city that bears his name. Chandler today is blessed with start-ups, small local businesses and energetic entrepreneurial types who welcome visitors.
“Chandler is a very personable community,” says Kimberly Janes, tourism program manager for Visit Chandler, who’s lived there nearly 20 years. “You get to know folks and part of that goes back to that entrepreneurial spirit. Have you ever met an entrepreneur? They’re always happy to keep talking about what they love.”
The downtown Dr. Chandler designed in the early 1900s is well preserved, its historic buildings filled with some 40 local restaurants and shops. Palm trees and trellises shade sidewalks as murals and more than 60 pieces of public art add color and creativity. Tour groups and conference attendees love to be turned loose to dine at restaurants that cover most of the food bases: Thai, Mexican, sushi, ramen, Italian, American steak and burgers, Irish and BBQ, to name a few. Music is also an attraction. “About 14 venues have music; every night there is live music in downtown Chandler,” said Janes.
Plenty of meeting places
Dr. Chandler also had a hand in building downtown’s historic Crowne Plaza Phoenix Chandler Golf Resort. Its location, 249 guest rooms and 32,000 square feet of meeting space make it a natural for meetings. Next to the resort, the San Marcos Golf Course reminds of Dr. Chandler’s biggest innovation – he figured out how to make grass grow in the desert and thus created the state’s first grass golf course.
The Crowne Plaza was the city’s first gathering place, but it is not its only one. Of 3,900 total hotel rooms in Chandler, 2,500 have been added in the last 20 years. One of its newest properties is the Marriott Phoenix Chandler, a four-star, 264-room hotel with Sonoran desert views that opened in 2019. Its 28,000 square feet of meeting space is all on the main level, making for easy navigation. Other conference hotels include the 192-room Hilton Phoenix Chandler with 16,000 square feet of meeting space and the 106-room Holiday Inn Phoenix Chandler, with 2,000 square feet of meeting space. Select-service properties are plentiful, including several adjacent to the city’s popular Chandler Fashion Center mall.
Sweet spot: Groups of 100 to 150
Chandler sees its share of faith-based conferences and retreats. “I’d say our sweet spot is groups of 100 to 150,” said Janes. Faith-based group tours often use Chandler as a home base for itineraries that have a Phoenix focus. The area is a short drive from attractions such as the Desert Botanical Garden, the Phoenix Zoo or, in the spring, baseball’s Cactus League spring training. For those arriving by air, Chandler is 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Groups bring the family along
Janes has found that many faith-based groups bring families along, and Chandler’s laidback, playful atmosphere makes it a fun stay for everyone.
In summer months, when temperatures are high and room rates are low, indoor entertainment centers like Big Air Trampoline Park are cool retreats. A bevy of bowling alleys also provide team building and family fun, including its new boutique alley, 810 Billiards and Bowling. Another good escape? Escape Chandler, recognized as one of the West’s top five escape rooms.
Chandler is also home to the Crayola Experience, one of five centers of colorful fun from the maker of America’s favorite crayon. Group outings and discounts are easy to arrange; kids can spend hours dashing among 20 hands-on Crayola-themed projects.
The Crayola Experience is located at the Chandler Fashion Center with its 200 stores and restaurants. In the fall 2023, the center will add to its offerings with the opening of Arizona’s first Scheels. The North Dakota-based retailer sells sports equipment, outdoor goods, clothing and home décor, but it’s also famous for features like the gigantic saltwater aquarium stocked with 600 fish that will entertain shoppers at the Chandler location.
For other indoor options, history and art buffs can enjoy the Chandler Museum or the Eddie Basha Collection and its 3,000 pieces of Western American and American Indian art.
Given its desert location, Chandler is also a natural for hikes and horseback rides. And, like any desert locale, it has its share of oases, including the 100-acre Veterans Oasis Park, 100 acres of wetlands and desert laced with hiking and biking trails. Birders, picnickers and fishermen flock there; sunset is celebrated with a concert series from October through March. Public pools are also a cool option and many are so elaborate they seem like mini water parks.
Local restaurants loaded with stories
With a wealth of local restaurants, it’s easy to find great food and see the restaurateurs passion for their community. The Hidden House, a remade 1930s cottage with three dining areas including a lush patio, makes meals feel like a celebration. The Perch is a restaurant and bar with a mission. Diners there can meet more than a dozen exotic birds the owner has rescued. And speaking of fowl, there’s also the Ostrich, a subterranean speakeasy named for one of Dr. Chandler’s unsuccessful ventures, raising ostriches for their feathers.
Family-run and a family favorite, Serrano’s is one of Chandler’s oldest businesses. Known for its delicious bean dip and a roomy banquet space, it’s a perfect place to celebrate Chandler’s entrepreneurial spirit. And, as Janes reminds, “Everyone loves to have Mexican food when they are out here.”
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