PHOENIX (AP) -- The last time the Super Bowl took place in Arizona, in 2008, Phoenix looked like an obstacle course. The city was wrapping up construction of a light rail and expanding its convention center. Partying was relegated to Scottsdale and to the Glendale suburbs, where the game will again be played Feb. 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
This time Scottsdale and Glendale will still fill big roles, but Phoenix won't be a benchwarmer. And its thriving light-rail line and new bike-sharing program make it easy for football fans to explore the city.
SUPER BOWL CENTRAL
The free fan event Verizon Super Bowl Central spans 12 city blocks, Jan. 28- Feb. 1, from Central Avenue to Fifth Street, between Van Buren and Madison streets. Giant XLIX Roman numerals representing the 49th Super Bowl will be set up for photo ops and selfies. Local talent will perform on one stage each afternoon, while another stage hosts NFL players for autograph sessions. Concerts and fireworks will take place each night. There will be food for purchase along with a beer and wine garden.
The NFL Experience Engineered by GMC takes place Jan. 24-Feb. 1 at the Phoenix Convention Center. Admission is $35 (kids 12 and under, $20). Fans can play games testing their ability to kick field goals, throw like NFL quarterbacks or race 40 yards down a field. At the NFL Play60 Zone, kids can do arts and crafts, agility drills and other activities. Visitors can watch live NFL Network broadcasts, look at a collection of 48 Super Bowl rings and take photos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded each year to the Super Bowl champs.
Just because Phoenix is in the desert doesn't mean you can't ice skate. CitySkate Ice Rink runs through Feb. 2 on Central between Washington and Jefferson streets next to the CityScape shopping center. CityScape is also the starting place for Meet Me Downtown, a free 3-mile walk/run held every Monday. It goes past local attractions, Arizona State University's downtown campus and other sites, and includes restaurant discounts for that night.
GETTING AROUND DOWNTOWN
The 20-mile light rail runs from north-central Phoenix through downtown and then east to the suburbs of Tempe and Mesa. A $25 seven-day commemorative Super Bowl pass includes a pocket guide and souvenir lanyard.
Bright green bicycles make it easy to spot stations for Grid Bike Share, the city's new bike-sharing program. You can reserve bikes using a mobile app or keypad on the bike. Customers receive a four-digit PIN to unlock the bike and can return it to any station. Fares start at $5 an hour, plus tax.
FOOTBALL AT THE ARIZONA SCIENCE CENTER
At the Arizona Science Center, kids can learn about everything from the human body to what makes volcanoes erupt. But the museum on Fifth and Washington is embracing football geeks with an exhibit called ''Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame,'' Jan. 24-May 3. More than 200 artifacts from the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be displayed, including Knute Rockne's 1919 Massillon Tigers helmet. A section dedicated to hometown team Arizona Cardinals will have Larry Fitzgerald's shoes and gloves and Pat Tillman's Army ranger uniform. Visitors may also throw, jump and kick through a 1,200-square-foot ''training camp'' gallery.
The Heard Museum, known for its Native American collection, is using Super Bowl week to spotlight the outcry over Native American imagery in sports. The museum will screen the documentary ''In Whose Honor?'' Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. for free with admission. The film follows a Spokane, Washington, mother who organized a movement against the use of Native American culture for sports logos and team names. A panel featuring former NFL player Jim Warne, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, will lead a symposium, ''Indigenous Stereotypes in Sports,'' Jan. 30. A current exhibit, ''Beautiful Games: American Indian Sport and Art,'' showcases Native American athletes in competitive sports.
Jimmy Fallon tapes a special edition of the ''Tonight Show'' Feb. 1 from the historic Orpheum Theatre. The restored 1,300-seat venue was built in 1929.
FOOTBALL FESTIVITIES IN GLENDALE
DIRECTV is mounting a Super Fan Festival near the Glendale stadium Super Bowl week at Pendergast Family Farm. Visitors can ride a mechanical bull, fly down a zip line or challenge their football skills against NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. The digital TV service provider will also produce 12 concerts Jan. 28-30 including Zac Brown Band, Snoop Dogg and Imagine Dragons.
Los Lobos and others will headline another concert series Jan. 28-Feb. 1 at Westgate City Center near the stadium. In the same complex, visitors can find ''Super Moments, Superstars, Super Game - An Associated Press Photo Exhibit,'' at Gallery Glendale, displaying 50 images by Associated Press photographers from every Super Bowl game since the first in 1967.
FOOTBALL FESTIVITIES IN SCOTTSDALE
Just like last time, there will be plenty of glitz and glamour in neighboring Scottsdale. The suburb hosts a free Fan Fest Jan. 26-Feb. 1, with chef demonstrations and fashion shows daily outside the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall, including the NFL Wives Fashion Show Jan. 30.
Rolling Stone, Playboy and Maxim magazines are throwing parties with the usual promises of VIP access and entertainment; tickets $800-$2,000.
Westworld of Scottsdale hosts the $700-a-head Taste of the NFL, where chefs representing 32 NFL cities pair food and wine, donating proceeds to food banks.
Need a break from Super Bowl revelry? Take advantage of Phoenix's warm winter and find some peace hiking the summit trails on Camelback Mountain. Or head to South Mountain Park in south Phoenix.
A two-hour drive north of Phoenix are the majestic red rocks of Sedona and Flagstaff's fresh mountain air. Two hours south of Phoenix is Tucson, offering golf, hiking trails and the outdoor Sonoran Desert Museum.