There's a great little town just north of Phoenix that is great for more than just the name - but then, you have to feel kindly disposed towards any place that refers to itself as 'Surprise.'
I wasn't sure I wanted to do a review just of Surprise - as it's more of a jumping off point where travellers are concerned, and for me was encompassed largely in a visit to a very old friend from my old Texas days.
However - it seemed wrong not to mention it at all, as it turned out to be such a positive aspect of my first Arizona experience. And when I remember my time in the states on my last West Coast travels, I always specifically remember Surprise with a subtle fondness.
So - it is probably worth mentioning right at the start that for the average traveler visiting Arizona for the first time - it's not the place with the most exciting or awe-inspiring things to do. In many ways, Surprise is just a town. But it's a very nice town, and one that left me wondering about my decision not to move back to the US just yet.
Long gypsy days around the world for the past 8 years has given me a lot of scope to imagine where I will see myself living next. And it wasn't until I spent some time in Surprise, that I felt like considering the states again as a serious contender.
However - for the traveler - this little Arizona town has many benefits to offer, too. For one thing - it's a town with everything you could really ask of a city. The grid system they've implemented means that just as soon as you get the hang of things there - everything is easy to find. There's a superb selection of stores, restaurants, shops and malls - and if there's something you can't get in Surprise, you'll find it in one of the adjoining towns.
It's close to Phoenix - a fairly easy hour (approx) drive to get you into the city or the airport ( a very easy airport in and of itself)
If you don't want to stay in the city but aren't ready to make the drive to Tuscon or Flagstaff - this is a very amenable place to stop - enjoy the scenery and get your bearings for other adventures.
If you're not looking to stay - it's also a great place to stop off to stock up on anything you need. Many of the sights are easy striking distance from here - Flagstaff, Sedona and even the Grand Canyon are just a few hours drive away. Not to mention all of the hikes, mountains, etc that you have easy access to all around.
If you're on your way back to California - it's an excellent stop off before you get on the long, and extremely empty 10 to LA. It's also about a 4 - 5 hour drive through beautiful remote country to Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam.
The only downside that I really found with Surprise (and a very important tip for the traveler, even if you are only driving through) is that the police are absurdly strict here. They are quite harsh in all of Arizona - so you really want to be careful to obey the rules of the road there. But this is especially true in Surprise. The speed cameras are hyper-sensitive and seem to be at every intersection, and the police will pull you over in a heart beat if you step even slightly out of line. We actually managed to get pulled over 5 minutes into the town (for a strange local offense which we got off with a warning for). It made for an interesting arrival - especially given that my husband had only been driving on the 'US' side of the road for 3 days, and had never been pulled over before.
So be extremely careful with your speed and driving while you're in the area, and otherwise - enjoy what the little Surprise town has to offer your trip to Arizona.