You come to Chandler, Ariz., for desert deceleration — not that fast life they live in Phoenix and Scottsdale. The city of about 240,000 (www.visitchandler.com) sits about 20 minutes southeast of Phoenix, below Mesa. In the central plaza it raises a 40-foot-high tumbleweed Christmas tree every winter. Chandler's several hotels (mostly budget chains) are easy driving from the 11 soon-to-be-active spring training stadiums of greater Phoenix, including the Dodgers (about 35 miles away in Glendale) and the Angels (about 17 miles away in Tempe). A child-related activity brought us to town, but among normal people, golf is the larger draw. Venues include the 18-hole Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort, which dates to 1913; the Ocotillo Golf Resort (27 holes); and the Bear Creek Golf Complex (36 holes).
Holiday Inn at Ocotillo, 1200 W. Ocotillo Road, Chandler; (480) 203-2121, http://www.lat.ms/XGqUZj. No big surprises here. This 106-room property, built in 2004, has a Tuscan theme, pool and Ocotillo golf courses next door. At breakfast, we got alert, kid-friendly service.
El Zocalo (28 S. San Marcos Place, Chandler;  722-0303, http://www.elzocalo.com) sits among the old storefronts of downtown Chandler's historic plaza area. It has a big courtyard out back with strolling mariachi musicians and twittering birds — great for Sunday brunch. Entrees $13-$29. For dessert, there's Paletas Betty (96 W. Boston St., Suite 100; http://www.paletasbetty.com) for ice cream.
Two finds, really. One requires timing and the other an appetite. When we were here Jan. 19 and 20, we stumbled onto Chandler's 18th annual multicultural festival, which took over much of the plaza. It included a performance by Mexican folkloric dancers from a group called Si Se Puede (Yes You Can), hula dancers and more. Info: http://www.lat.ms/XjvlKX. The other was Joe's Farm Grill (3000 E. Ray Road, Gilbert;  563-4745, http://www.joesfarmgrill.com), which sits just outside Chandler in semi-rural Gilbert. It's a family farmhouse converted into a diner, both sleek and old school, with glass walls, picnic tables and a menu full of burgers, pizzas, salads and ribs. Many of the vegetables are from the neighboring fields. Joe's opened in 2006, and crowds keep coming. By 5:30 on the Saturday night we arrived, the line was out the door. (Joe takes no reservations.) But the food made it well worthwhile. All eight in our party ate and laughed a lot, and I demolished the $14.99 barbecue sampler. After dinner, the kids ran around under the patio's tall trees. Open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
The lesson learned
Maybe we'll fly next time. We were already running behind on our 400-mile drive to Chandler when everything stopped about 20 miles from the Arizona line. A big rig had jack-knifed on Interstate 10, spilling some unnamed hazardous cargo that required hours of cleanup. For more than two hours, 20 miles of brake lights glowed malevolently between us and Blythe. The drive ultimately took 11 hours. A L.A.-Phoenix flight takes 80 to 90 minutes and costs about $130 round trip. Second lesson learned: In a pinch, you can trust the restrooms at the Chevron station on Lovekin Boulevard in Blythe.
The three of us (two adults, one child) spent $200 on gas, $127 a night at the Holiday Inn, about $55 on lunch at El Zocalo (plus $10 for the mariachis), $50 on dinner at Joe's Farm Grill and $40 on two buffet breakfasts at the Holiday Inn.