When it’s warm desert air you crave, there’s no better place than Scottsdale. Formerly citrus groves and cotton fields, it’s now a mix of modern and Old West in this Sonora Desert locale.
Scottsdale is a little more than two hours by plane from San Francisco, and is near the Phoenix airport. Find shops, galleries and restaurants, some along the Scottsdale waterfront (a stretch of the 50-mile long Arizona canal popular with cyclists and joggers), museums and a performing arts center, too.
Downtown properties include the hip W Scottsdale and the more laid-back Hotel Saguaro. Both have attentive service and topnotch restaurants.
The W delivers the goods — the cool vibe and signature Living Room of W Hotels worldwide. Mix in a sexy pool and outside lounge area complete with sandy beach, and it’s a recipe for nonstop action. The interior with natural stone, bright colors and fabrics, resembles the desert scenery. Stylish guest rooms are modern and spacious with floor-to-ceiling windows, luxurious bedding and their own Bliss Spa amenities. 888-627-8347, www.wscottsdalehotel.com.
The Hotel Saguaro is a standout in Scottsdale with its retro style and bold exterior colors. The city allowed the purples, pinks, greens, and oranges after the hotel argued the colors represent Arizona wildflowers. The vibrant hues also come alive in the lobby, the rooms, and the pool furniture. The Saguaro is comfortable, casual, and a place to unwind. 877-808-2440, www.jdvhotels.com.
Cars aren’t needed in downtown Scottsdale. Walking is a healthful way to get around, or catch a trolley, pedal cab or golf cart.
If you’re not interested in one of the championship golf courses or don’t visit during spring training, there is still plenty to do. Explore the city along the Art Walk — follow the map or meet up with others every Thursday evening (www.scottsdalegalleries.com). For larger collections, see recent works at the Museum of Contemporary Art (www.smoca.org) or learn the area history at the Scottsdale Historical Museum (www.scottsdalemuseum.com). Find all things Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West, (www.franklloydwright.org) his former home and now a school of architecture.
Don’t miss the Paolo Solieri-designed bridge (www.scottsdalepublicart.org), part of the city’s interactive art gallery. This modern structure has two 64-feet-long steel-clad pylons. Enjoy drama, dance and concerts at the Performing Arts Center (www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org).
When it’s time to let go, swimming pools and private cabanas are waiting at both the W and Saguaro. There are plenty of drinks poolside, so join the party atmosphere at the W or find a more quiet space of your own at the Saguaro. Both properties offer luxurious treatments at their spas. We tried the massage that goes after those uncomfortable knots at the W’s Bliss Spa (480-970-2111, www.blissworld.com).
If you’re energetic, get up early before it’s too hot and climb Camelback Mountain (www.climbcamelback.com). The red sandstone cliffs and view at dawn are spectacular. Depending on your fitness level, make it up and down in about two hours. And Keen’s Presidio is the comfortable, durable shoe to wear (www.keenfootwear.com). Another amazing sight is from a hot air balloon. About 30 minutes outside the city, hook up with Rainbow Ryders (480-299-0154, www.rainbowryders.com) for a stunning ride over the desert at sunrise.
Nightlife is hopping in Scottsdale. You don’t have to leave the W to find some of the hottest action. Savor creative cocktails and warm desert air around the pool or chill out downstairs in the Living Room. If you’re adventurous, call for a golf cart and explore the many nightclubs in the Entertainment District, conveniently located near the hotel.
Scottsdale has big-name merchants downtown, including Barney’s and H&M at Fashion Square (www.fashionsquare.com). Urban Outfitters shares space with residential living and restaurants with outdoor seating at the Waterfront (www.scottsdalewaterfrontshopping.com). The 5th Avenue Shopping District is the original arts and crafts section of Scottsdale. Find jewelry and other Native American treasures as well as more galleries, restaurants and a fun consignment shop.
On Thursday evenings, explore the Artisan Market at the Waterfront (www.artisanmarketsaz.com). And every Saturday from October through August, shop at the Farmers Market in Old Town (www.arizonafarmersmarkets.com), a neighborhood full of quaint shops and restaurants reminiscent of the Old West.
The Scottsdale scene has dining options for every taste. Here’s what we tried.
At the W, the trendy Sushi Roku is dimly lit with lots of wood features in its open interior. This sleek restaurant offers a delicious assortment of Japanese food with a modern twist. The “hanabi” (Japanese for “fireworks”) of spicy tuna and diced chilies popped with flavor, as did the yellowtail sashimi with green chilies. Baked black cod in sweet miso was moist and tender. Our favorite rolls were the Shima — shrimp-wrapped spicy tuna with cilantro and avocado and the Katana — tuna and yellowtail with spicy tuna and shrimp tempura. 480-970-2121, www.innovativedining.com.
Distrito at the Saguaro features modern street food from Mexico City. The brightly colored interior is as intense as the spices in the kicked-up cuisine. Start with the guacamole piled high with fresh crab and served with fresh tortilla chips and the spicy shrimp ceviche. You’ll love the tacos — with shrimp and chorizo or chicken and queso fresco or the pulled pork with pineapple salsa. And with a cool margarita, you’re set. 480-970-4444, www.jdvhotels.com.
One afternoon we got an inside peek of Scottsdale’s offerings by touring Old Town with Arizona Food Tours (www.arizonafoodtours.com). This food and history tour takes you to places like the Rusty Spur, the oldest saloon in town, for one of their burgers with roasted chilies (www.rustyspursaloon.com) and AZ88, a stylish spot for cocktails and taste treats like water chestnuts wrapped in thick bacon and served on cucumber and radish slices (www.az88.com). Our final stop on the three-hour tour took us to Lee’s Cream Liqueur where we enjoyed yummy Jack Daniels chocolate swirl ice cream (leescreamliqueur.com).