How to Spend a Haute Weekend in Scottsdale

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The rooftop pool at the spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
The rooftop pool at the spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.

It’s March and that means San Franciscans are preparing for their annual migration south to Arizona. Scottsdale is the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants and there’s nothing like spending a long and leisurely weekend in 80-degree weather, so if you haven’t booked your flight, do so now! Take in a couple of games and enjoy all that beautiful Scottsdale and the Sonoran desert has to offer. What should you do when you’re not cheering on Posey, Pence, Panik, and Co.? Here are the haute ways to soak in the sun, Scottsdale style.

STAY

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Although the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is a 20-minute ride from Scottsdale Stadium—the Giant’s home turf during spring training—the stunning grounds, impeccable service, and unparalleled dining options of the Princess make staying here well worth the drive. The 648-room resort overlooks two lush green golf courses, has five sparkling pools as well as five top-ranked restaurants and lounges. There’s also a lively bar, incredible wellness spa, and a handful of shops where you can find everything from a mermaid’s tail for your tween daughter to swim in to a cocktail dress for a night on the town. The rooms are large and airy with taupe walls and plush and comfortable king-sized beds draped in crisp white linens. Check-print white and beige flowing curtains lead to a balcony with lounge chairs and a small patio table. The bathrooms have a double sink, soaking tub, and standing shower with products from Le Labo. While the property can feel like a maze when you first arrive, it’s a beautiful space to get lost in. Trees heavy with citrus, gurgling fountains, statuesque palms, and even a living breathing tortoise, named Cecil, are some of the things you may come across when roaming the Princess, which is truly an oasis in the desert.

If you prefer to stay in town, book a room at the vintage chic Valley Ho. The Hotel Valley Ho dates back to 1956 and was once an escape for Hollywood legends like Bing Crosby and Zsa Zsa Gabor. The mid-century modern architecture of the hotel feels fresh thanks to the cool contemporary decor scheme. The rooms have private patios or balconies, upscale stylish furniture, bathrooms with separate shower and tub, and feather-top beds. There’s a fitness center, two pools, a spa, and restaurant, Zuzu, that serves classic fare with a modern twist. During March, the Valley Ho has live music by the pool after Friday games, as well as whiskey and wine tastings and happy hour deals. It’s less than a mile from Scottsdale Stadium, so the Valley Ho is a great spot if you want to be in the heart of everything.

EXPLORE

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Experience the expansiveness and grandeur of the Scottsdale landscape by taking a fun and tranquil hot air balloon ride. For over 21 years, Hot Air Expeditions has been taking tourists and locals on hot air balloons twice a day, for either a sunrise or sunset excursion. The thrilling trip begins with a live-action demonstration of the balloon being filled with air. Once the massive 10-story balloon is full, guests literally climb into the basket. From there, it’s up, up, and away for a surprisingly peaceful hour-long journey that reaches a height of 6,000 feet. You’ll see the desert, wildlife, and nearby lakes, canals, and mountains. After the journey, once you’re back on land, there’s a gourmet snack and champagne toast.

If the thought of hopping in a hot air balloon has you weak in the knees, there are plenty of ways to explore Scottsdale without leaving the ground. Book a day, or if you’re feeling adventurous, a night, at the Arizona Cowboy College. There’s nothing glamorous about this down-in-the-dirt school where you actually learn what it’s like to be a cowboy. Upon your arrival on the Lorill Equestrian ranch, you may be greeted by a family of seven mixed breed dogs, a free range black and white Arabian horse, or an adorably chubby black pot belly pig. There’s baby goats, donkeys, llamas, 50 horses (most of which were rescued by the college’s head cowgirl, Lori Bridwell), and a fully-functioning cattle operation, which you’ll help manage during your time at the college. You’ll learn riding techniques, equine safety, roping, penning, sorting, and everything else related to the cowboy lifestyle like how to cook in a dutch oven over a fire. It’s a hands on experience that’s not for the light-hearted, but it makes a great story and is an unusual way to spend part of your day learning something new.

Experience a little bit of architectural history at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. The winter home of the famed architect took seven years to construct, with development beginning in 1937. With plenty of indoor/outdoor spaces, lots of windows, and rocky details, the vibrant home resembles the surrounding desert foothill landscape. Today, the organic home is a national landmark that offers a variety of different tours throughout the day. The most popular and comprehensive tour is the 90-minute Insights Tour which takes you through the garden room, Wright and his third wife’s private bedrooms, and the social gathering place of the home. You also get to see the seminar theater, Wright’s private office, the cabaret theater, and the school of architecture’s functioning draft room.

If you explore just one thing in Scottsdale, make it the Desert Botanical Gardens. The 140-acre garden has over 50,000 plants in its beautiful outdoor exhibits. It’s a stunning display of desert landscape that’s a feast for the senses. Everywhere you look there are purple cactus paddles, towering spiky saguaros, and pointy pale green agaves. What look like giant asparagus and pineapple tops sprout from the ground while massive air plants form a riotous tangled carpet. Snake-like cactus grow in mounds and wind around sage green aloe plants and palo verde trees. It’s a breathtaking exhibit of plants with six different loop trail options. There is also an exhibit worth checking out. From now until May 8, light installation artist Bruce Munro’s work can be viewed. The exhibit consists of eight massive light-based installations using an array of materials (like plastic water bottles) and hundreds of miles of glowing fiber optics. One entire hillside is covered in 30,000 spheres resulting in a cascading blooming cactus hillside — it’s truly a sight worth seeing.

Dine & Drink

La Hacienda

The food and beverage scene in Scottsdale is thriving. From upscale vegetable-driven haute cuisine to some of the best Cali-style Mexican food you’ll ever eat, there is something for every tastebud. If you need a healthy, but hearty breakfast Comoncy is your best bet. Located across the street from the W Hotel, Comoncy has espresso drinks, a pressed juice bar, and a handful of filling breakfast options like the egg-cellent sandwich with whole grain bread, apple-smoked bacon, and scallion mayo and a seasonal fruit parfait with greek yogurt and Brighton granola. According to local lore, the chopped salad originated in Scottsdale and there’s no better place to experience a stellar chop than at the Original Chopshop. This cafe serves up seven different chopped salads, a variety of hearty bowls, sandwiches, and nutritious breakfast options. With house greens, carrot, tomato, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, corn, pistachios, parmesan, and red wine vinaigrette, the raw vegetable is a personal favorite.

For dinner, La Hacienda at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is a must. From local celebrity chef Richard Sandoval, this large restaurant with wooden accents, burnt orange walls, and lots of brown leather, serves up sensational modern Mexican cuisine. Tequila lovers take note: the Hacienda has an extensive, highly curated list of tequila selected by the gorgeous tequila sommelier, Katie Schnurr. Order a margarita with 7 Lenguas Reposado or a flight of tequila and mezcal. The food is fresh, contemporary Baja-style Mexican at its best. The smoky chipotle salsa is to die for and the guacamole, with chunks of perfectly ripe avocado and just a hint of jalapeño, is one of the best restaurant guacamoles around. The platos Mexicanos highlight the chef’s prowess of traditional Mexican cuisine. Fish tacos are reconstructed into a whole tempura fried sea bass. You build the tacos yourself with cabbage slaw, mango salsa, and chile arbol remoulade. There’s also stellar enchiladas, carnitas, and camarones al tequila. For dessert order one of La Hacienda’s bebidas de fuego—flaming coffee drinks that involve a spirited table side preparation.

Second Story Liquor Bar is another restaurant where you can expect a memorable meal. The eatery is located on the second floor of an unassuming strip mall, but the young, handsome chef, Nick Rusticus’s cuisine makes it a worthy reservation. Order the 3-course tasting menu and experience the best of Rusticus’ delightful preparations. There is smoked cobia on blue corn blini with caviar and warm egg, housemade rye corzetti pasta with leeks, Asian pear, and truffles, and braised lamb shank with saffron orzo, black garlic, and hedgehog mushrooms. Classic cocktails pair well with the interesting and complex dishes that are served in a moody, Mad Man-inspired space with crystal chandeliers, black tufted leather booths, black wood tables, and intimate lighting.

At FnB, in the heart of downtown Scottsdale, James Beard Award-nominated chef Charleen Badman, whips up elevated vegetable creations in an unpretentious setting. The restaurant spotlights locally grown ingredients and the wine list, curated by owner Pavle Milic, is 100 percent Arizonian. The tuscan kale falafel, carrots with dukka and harissa mayo, and grilled spicy broccoli with tangerine aioli are superb examples of Badman’s expertise with vegetable preparations.

At LDV Wine Gallery, taste the best of Arizona’s burgeoning wine industry. LDV stands for Lawrence Dunham Vineyards, an estate-grown vineyard from Peggy Fiandaca and Curt Dunham. They focus on Rhone-varietals that flourish in the volcanic soils of their 5,000-foot estate in the Chiricahua Mountain foothills. Call ahead to make a tasting appointment and cheese pairing. If  you’re in the mood for a hand-crafted cocktail made with artisanal ingredients, head to Citizen Public House. The restaurant has a large square-shaped bar with six-barrel aged concoctions, like the Rose Garland, a mixture of bourbon, blood orange liqueur, and coffee-caramel bitters, and an extensive menu of house made beverages. Their Manhattan, with Elijah Craig small batch bourbon, Marteletti sweet vermouth, maple syrup, and tobacco bitters is potent, well-balanced, and dangerously delicious. For after dinner revelry, head to Kazimierz World Wine Bar. Wooden wine casks line the walls of this old-school speakeasy that has over 1,850 different types of wine. Order a flight and grab a table, then sit back and enjoy the live music that plays here nightly. Your best bet for baseball player sightings is the lobby bar at the W Hotel. This happening spot is the place to see and be scene.

Relax

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No vacation is complete without some relaxing down time. On Saturday morning, stop by Singh Farms, a truly extraordinary farm from Ken Singh, for a yoga class under the palo verde trees. Grab a fresh-pressed fermented juice, hand made by Singh’s son, and explore the lush 20-acre farm that is abloom with kale, artichokes, mushrooms, and more. If you have the chance to meet Ken Singh, do stop and talk to him. The inspiring farmer will regal you with tales of his past and share delightful anecdotes on living a more mindful, peaceful, and happy life. Gardeners take note: Singh makes and sells his own nutrient-dense compost-blended soil, so pick up a bag if you’re planting soon.

For a spa day, the Well & Being center at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is your oasis. This rejuvenating sanctuary offers a variety of fitness classes (arial yoga, anyone?!), pampering facials, soothing massages, and invigorating body scrubs. There are also sleep-focused services, a lunch menu of scrumptious and healthy food options, an outdoor waterfall, a private adult-only roof deck pool, and hair styling bar. If you book a treatment, make time to spend the entire afternoon at the luxurious spa. From the prickly pear pink lemonade to the make your own body butter experience to the warm rushing water of the fall, everything about the spa is sheer perfection. You won’t want to leave, but when you do, you’ll feel clam, cool, and collected.

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