Destination: Chandler, Arizona

Ever had breakfast in a brewery?  That is one of the pleasures I recently experienced in downtown Chandler.

Founded and named after Dr. Alexander Chandler in 1912, Chandler was a sleepy little agricultural community for much of the 20th century. In 1979, tech giant Intel saw the possibilities and began building a state of the art manufacturing and research facility. The influx of jobs changed the landscape of the city, as agricultural plots gave way to high tech industry and residential housing.  The population grew from about 15,000 in the late 70s to over 230,000 today, making Chandler one of the largest suburbs in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Like many suburban residential areas, the city center was showing its age. Not content to be just a bedroom community, Chandler officials and local business people began a revitalization of the downtown area in 2009. What we have today is a destination spot for dining, entertainment and shopping.

Downtown is anchored by the Crown Plaza San Marcos, Arizona's first golf resort. The Hotel San Marcos was conceived and brought to life by Dr. Chandler in 1913 and offered such amenities as golf, tennis, horseback riding, swimming, afternoon teas and social events. It's proximity to Hollywood attracted the stars – luminaries such as Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Cher--and now, even I!--have stayed at the resort. This is the place to be if you want to walk to all the shops and restaurants. The hotel has been modernized of course, but retains much of the charm of its original design. The grounds are quite lovely, and the outdoor fire pits are a great place to have a drink and unwind. If you go, be sure to request a room with a garden view. The rooms on the parking lot side suffer from a lack of privacy in addition to the uninspiring view.

Our party included my husband, Jim, our daughters Nicole and Emily, and Nicole's boyfriend Sam. We arrived on a Friday night, and it happened to be the night for Chandler Art Walk, a monthly event featuring juried artists displaying their wares. We walked across the street from the hotel, put our name in for dinner at SanTan Brewery, then wandered the festival while we waited. SanTan cleverly uses text messaging when the table is ready, so as long as someone in your party has a cell phone, you can roam freely without being out of range. We saw lots of jewelry, pottery and paintings and were particularly entertained by an artist carving a bear using a chainsaw.

SanTan is a must if you like craft beer. They brew what they call Southwestern style ales, designed to be “crisp, refreshing and quenching” for the desert climate. Jim loves his IPA and SanTan's Hop Shock is one of his favorites. He also tried the seasonal Mad Czar, a Russian Imperial Stout. Nicole sampled the Moon Juice, a wheat IPA and the Devil's Ale, SanTan's flagship West Coast Pale Ale. Sam went for the Gargoyle IPA, which we all agreed is an acquired taste.  With seven year-round beers and ten or eleven rotating brews there's something for every palate. Except mine; I still prefer my chardonnay. As for underage Emily, she had to settle for a coke, but for her that's not really settling.  The food is pub food, but pub food done well. Try to wrap your mouth around the Mac+Cheese burger, and sub the onion rings for the fries. Choose from sandwiches such as Mr. P's Pulled Pork Sandwich, street tacos, pizza and other pub favorites. Indoor seating areas get quite noisy, so if you'd like a little conversation, opt for an outdoor table and people-watch as you enjoy your meal.

While at dinner, we noticed they were advertising breakfast so we thought why not come back and try it out? Well, this was a good choice as the food was fabulous! If you like pancakes, it's hard to decide among the Jalapeno Corn Meal Cakes, the Peanut Butter and Blueberry Stack and the Strawberry White Chocolate Stack.  The best thing to do is order one of each and pass the plates around! Members of our party also tried the Beer Belly Breakfast Burrito and the SanTan Big Play Breakfast, which certainly lived up to its name.  Be sure and try the jalapeno bratwurst hash and the chiptole bacon!  And  yes, you can get beer with your breakfast or a variety of breakfast cocktails, but we opted for the locally roasted coffee.

If shopping is what you're after, walk past SanTan to find a variety of boutiques and gift shops.  You'll find a lot of southwestern art, western gear and one of a kind clothing shops.  Chandler Fashion Square is also one of the nicest malls in the Phoenix area.  Anchored by Nordstorm, Macy's and Dillards, there are more than 180 stores in the mall and twenty more shops and restaurants in the adjacent Boulevard Shops. And if that's not enough, there are 90 stores at the Premium Outlets, located in the southern part of the city next to the Wild Horse Pass Casino and Resort.

For culture and history, the Chandler Center for the Arts offers an art gallery, music and performances. The Arizona Railway Museum has restored rail cars from different eras in railroad history. If you want to get outside and enjoy the weather, head to the Solar System Walk at Veterans Oasis Park. The walk, on a pathway around a lake,  features a series of concrete monuments that represent the major objects in the solar system. And if you are here in the spring, it's a short drive to many of baseball's spring training facilities.

After a day of exploring, we headed back to the hotel where we had the difficult problem of choosing a restaurant for dinner. Our choices included an Irish pub, a steakhouse, a wine bistro, a sports bar and a Mexican grill, all within walking distance.  We started with a cocktail and some live music at Bourbon Jack's, where they specialize in variations on a Moscow Mule.  But with a full bar, you can satisfy any desire. We settled on Vintage 95 Wine Lounge for dinner, where the chardonnay did not disappoint! Jim had a Pinot Noir and Nicole enjoyed a Viognier. Sam, being Sam, had a beer, and Emily will have to be content with cola for another year. Still feeling the effects of the big breakfast, we mostly chose salad. We enjoyed the Pear Salad, the BLT Salad and the Jalapeno Caesar.  All the salads can be made into an entree with your choice of chicken, salmon or steak.  I found the salmon to be a particularly good addition to the combination of pears, walnuts, crispy pancetta and blue cheese. The restaurant also offers flatbreads and a nice selection of contemporary classic entrees. The atmosphere is quite inviting, with table seating or a selection of couches, and the live music caused us to linger.  

Up early Sunday and back home to Prescott.  Chandler is a great place to relax for a weekend, with plenty of sunshine and lots to do for the entire family.  Be sure to consider a stop here next time you are passing through.

Mary St. Germain is Chief Financial Officer of St. Germain Cellars and appreciates an oaky, buttery chardonnay. On the occasional break from wine, she enjoys Mai Tais with an ocean view. Check out her other Destination blogs here

Mary St. Germain

Mary St. Germain is Chief Financial Officer of St. Germain Cellars and appreciates an oaky, buttery chardonnay. On the occasional break from wine, she enjoys Mai Tais with an ocean view.