Scottsdale beckons behind the stunning and spiritual landscape of the Sonoran Desert, filled with the statuesque saguaro cacti, abundant sunshine, lofty outdoor adventures, rocky landscapes, prime mid-century architecture, magical resorts, and farm-to-table offerings. Sure, there's plenty of golf for everyone, but instead of teeing off, explore this trio of itineraries catering to the authentic charm and magic of the Valley of the Sun. With the summer desert heat not yet settled in, now is the time to visit.
Nature and Wellness
Arizona is astoundingly rich in national parks. Take advantage of the great outdoors with a relaxing half-day kayak down the Lower Salt River in the sparse, beautiful Tonto National Forest. Keep an eye out for local wildlife sightings, particularly loons and eagles, and if you’re lucky, wild horses along the water's edge. Hiking enthusiasts will take delight in the moderate 3.5-mile stretch of terrain along Pinnacle Peak. The less-traveled, more rigorous trails of Gateway Trailhead and Brown's Ranch both offer stunning, expansive views. Head out early to beat the crowds, then unwind post-hike with a cold drink at the rustic, no-frills Greasewood Flat. On Sunday nights, expect live Western music, a fun mix of locals and bikers, massive green chiliburgers, and local beers on tap. Afterwards, head over to the buzzy Four Season's restaurant, Talavera, for a spectacular sunset dinner, and sample chef Mel Mecinas' modern fare of Arizona ranch-raised meats and deliciously creamy lobster mac n’ cheese.
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Stay: Nestled at the foot of Pinnacle Peak, the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North is a brilliantly landscaped resort with 210 rooms and 22 suites for families, couples, and wellness seekers alike. At night, the distinct smell of juniper wood fills the air from outdoor kivas (fireplaces) as you gaze up to the infinite gallery of stars.
Art, Design, Museums
It's easy to arrange a day of architectural gems and savvy museum explorations. Don't miss the informative 90-minute tour at famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's fascinating Taliesin West, with intimate viewings of his life. The gift shop has a great array of t-shirts and literature. Music aficionados will stand in awe of the massive, 200,000-square-foot instrument collection housed at the Musical Instrument Museum. Expect a generous sampling from all continents with demonstrations via wireless headsets. If you're hungry, consider the on-site Café Allegro, serving fresh local food. Elsewhere, the art savvy crowd will be impressed with the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. For a unique spread of succulents and cacti, stroll through the 140 acres of the Desert Botanical Garden. Downtown, the award-winning Italian architect Paolo Soleri has recently completed Soleri Bridge, which considers space and light. Hungry? Chef Jose Garces' Distrito is perfect for a roving feast of tacos paired with mescal margaritas. Meanwhile, chef Paul McCabe's handsome culinary haven, T Cooks, doles Spanish octopus, decadent stone seared foie gras, and beautifully plated antelope with smoked potato and maple.
Stay: Nestled in the iconic Camelback Mountain, the stunning Royal Palms, once used as private mansion, now hosts 119 intimate guestrooms and casitas. This postcard-perfect 1920's Spanish structure reveals stunning archways scattered with lush palms, flowers, babbling fountains, and citrus trees. The intimate oval pool is perfect for a swim and a nap.
Eat, Drink and Shop Local
Scottsdale's Art District is perfect for strolling, gallery shopping, and a range of great food options. Every Thursday, join the 30-year Art Walk tradition to sip wine and meet the various showcased artists. The slew of galleries range in style and showcase works from Indian art to sculptures to contemporary pieces. The literary and history set will appreciate the family-owned mainstay Guidon Books, which houses books on Western America. Hidden behind a shopping plaza, locavores flock to the friendly, tasty kitchen at FnB (Food and Beverage) run by chefs Charleen Badman and Pavle Milic to sample fresh vegetables and (surprisingly) good local Arizona wines. Next door, FnB's tiny and curated AZ Wine Merchants caters to the take-out sipping crowd. The 1988-mod mainstay AZ88 still churns out solid American staples like burgers and grilled cheese. Of course, their extensive cocktail list and dessert never disappoint. Local chef Matt Carter serves up French fare at his charming The House Brasserie. At night, the outdoor patio is ideal for a romantic, candlelit dinner. The Thai mainstay Malee's is perfect for a bowl of Tom Ka Gai soup. Later, channel your-inner Clint Eastwood and stop for a cold Grand Canyon Beer at divey cowboy bar, Rusty Spur Saloon, and kick up your heels to live music.
Stay: Debunking any notion of a traditional B&B, Bespoke Inn in the Arts District is a unique, charming find. Book the well-appointed Signature Flat with your own chef's kitchen, and take a dip in the hotel's infinity pool. Pedal around town on a stylish British Pashley loaner cycle. Later, grab a seat at the new, intimate restaurant Virtu helmed by chef Gio Osso for your brunch.
Kate Donnelly is a freelance writer based in New York. She's the founder of the creative collaborative, From Your Desks. She's a Contributing Editor at Fathom and her work has appeared in Bon Appetit, Forbes, The Huffington Post and Refinery 29. She travels for the food. Follow Kate on Twitter @k8bdonnelly.