When it’s warm desert air you crave, there’s no better place than Scottsdale. Formerly citrus groves and cotton fields, now it’s a mix of modern and Old West adjacent to Phoenix, in the Sonoran Desert.
Scottsdale is a little more than two hours from San Francisco. Find shops, galleries and restaurants in the compact Old Town (downtown) area as well as museums and a performing arts center. Here’s what my husband and I discovered during a recent visit.
The mid-century modern boutique Hotel Valley Ho was our home during the trip. Conveniently located in Old Town and within walking distance to everything, this contemporary hotel has a hip vibe. It was first opened in 1956 and restored to its original beauty, including preserving much of its mid-century architecture. The lobby, with its low-hung ceiling, is typical of the era and decorated with Indian motifs and an inviting fire pit. Hide away here just like Bing Crosby, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and others did during the 1950s and 1960s.
Our light-filled Tower suite overlooked the pool area and downtown. It featured abundant space, an open floor plan and floor-to-ceiling glass, plus a full, high-end kitchen (think Bosch, Subzero, and Dacor appliances) and washer/dryer off the bathroom. Both the living room area and bedroom have sliding doors leading to the balcony. The bathroom has double sinks, large glass-enclosed shower and botanical, sustainably based products from red flower (480-376-2600, hotelvalleyho.com).
PLAY & SHOP
Scottsdale certainly has its share of championship golf courses, and at this time of the year baseball’s spring training is a powerful attraction, but it’s the city’s embrace of art and culture that appealed to us. The Arts District (in Old Town) is filled with numerous galleries focused on a variety of folk, traditional southwestern, Native American, Western, and pop art and more in a variety of media, including oils, watercolors, pottery, sculpture and jewelry (turquoise and silver).
Every Thursday evening galleries stay open late so you can explore the ArtWalk and meet the artists, listen to live music, and enjoy libations as you take in all that’s on display (scottsdalegalleries.com). If you don’t participate on Thursday evenings, just follow the green squares on the sidewalk and you won’t miss a thing on your own art stroll. You can also hop on and off a free trolley that winds its way through town.
Scottsdale is filled with museums. For larger art collections, see recent works at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where exciting exhibits are installed on a rotating basis. Their Skyspace is the perfect way to experience the vibrant colors of the desert sky (480-874-4666, smoca.org). Delve into Scottsdale’s past at the Historical Museum (480-945-4499, scottsdalehistory.org/Historical-Museum). Learn about the history of western states (including Arizona) as well as their unique art and culture at the Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (480-686-9539, scottsdalemuseumwest.org). Find all things Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West at his former home and now a school of architecture (franklloydwright.org/about/TaliesinWestTours).
Don’t miss the Paolo Solieri-designed bridge, part of the city’s interactive art gallery on display throughout Old Town. This modern structure has two 64-feet-long steel-clad pylons (scottsdalepublicart.org). Enjoy drama, dance, and concerts at the Performing Arts Center (scottsdaleperformingarts.org).
As we wandered through Old Town, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to taste Arizona wines along the Scottsdale Wine Trail (scottsdalewinetrail.com). Cool evenings, warm days, and the altitude provide the conditions for growing grapes near a desert. There are more than 100 wineries in the state and two designated AVAs.
Our first stop was at Carlson Creek Tasting Room. The winery’s first release was in 2009. They grow a number of varietals and favorites in the tasting room, including the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and both these 2015s: the Sweet Adeline Riesling and the Syrah (480-947-0636, facebook.com/CarlsonCreekVineyard).
LDV Winery has a prime corner location with outside seating — the perfect spot to catch the scene as you sip wine. The grapes are grown in volcanic soils created millions of years ago on their sustainably farmed estate in southeastern Arizona. We especially liked the 2014 Sky Island Syrah, the 2012 Petite Sirah, and the 2013 “The Signature” Petite Sirah (602-320-1485, ldvwinery.com).
When it’s time for something more vigorous, the Scottsdale waterfront (a stretch of the 50-mile long Arizona canal) is popular with cyclists and joggers. And for laid-back luxury, head to the OH Pool at the hotel; find private cabanas, hot tub, craft cocktails, and light foods. There’s a second pool if it’s more relaxation you seek.
At night, don’t miss the Electric Desert at the 140-acre Desert Botanical Gardens. It’s one of many exhibits held throughout the year. This light and music show sets a dramatic scene as you wander the trails through cacti, succulents, and many other desert plants. Listen to Apache stories and even see craters on the moon compliments of a telescope from the Arizona Astronomical Society (480-941-1225, dbg.org). When you’re done, head to the Entertainment District for late-night cocktails and music.
On Saturdays, visit the Farmers Market in Old Town (arizonafarmersmarkets.com).
Scottsdale has plenty of dining options; our choices included these local favorites:
The Mission Old Town offers spicy Latin cuisine in this upscale casual eatery. We opted for patio dining and began with one of their specialty margaritas. Next up: Homemade chips with fire-roasted tomato and chipotle salsa and chunky guacamole made tableside with herbs and spices. A Peruvian stew with clams, rock shrimp, chorizo, corn, and more was served next followed by mole duck confit tacos. The succulent pork shoulder was made with chorizo, white bean purée, and garlic crèma. The decadent pumpkin bread pudding was boxed to go (480-636-5005, themissionaz.com).
The Citizen Public House draws its inspiration from public houses of long ago and adds it own modern flair. It’s high energy with nonstop conversation, drinks, and food. The original chopped salad is a house favorite, teeming with smoked salmon, couscous, arugula Asiago cheese, pepitas, marinated tomatoes, and lots more. The fair-trade short ribs have a coffee rub adding to the rich flavor. The tuna crudo is served with a wasabi yuzu crème fraîche. We also tried house cocktails and a decadent maple pot de crème for dessert (480-398-4208, citizenpublichouse.com).
ZuZu is the house restaurant at Hotel Valley Ho. The mid-century modern design of the hotel extends through the expansive bar and dining area. Both have front-row seats to the outside patio and pool. In the morning, you’ll be tempted by the Bloody Mary and mimosa bars in addition to omelets, pancakes, and huevos rancheros. At lunch, we had the squash, carrot, and ginger soup, then split the Brussels sprout and kale Caesar with grilled jumbo shrimp and the Hawaiian ahi tuna poke bowl (480-376-2600, hotelvalleyho.com/zuzu).
Upcoming Events: Scottsdale Arts Festival (March 8-10, scottsdaleartsfestival.org)
Scottsdale CVB: experiencescottsdale.com
Old Town Scottsdale: oldtownscottsdaleaz.com
Arizona Vignerons Alliance: arizonavigneronsalliance.org
City of Scottsdale: scottsdaleaz.gov