Scottsdale: A Desert Reboot in Valley of the Sun

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

Stay

Although the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is 20 minutes by car from Scottsdale Stadium—the Giant’s home turf during Spring Training—the stunning grounds, impeccable service, and unparalleled dining options make staying at this Sonoran Desert oasis worth the drive. The 750-room resort overlooks two golf courses, and it has six sparkling pools and five top-ranked restaurants and lounges. Last summer, the resort’s Sunset Beach debuted, complete with 830 tons of cool white sand. There’s also a lively bar and a handful of shops where you can find everything from a mermaid’s tail (that you can actually swim in) to a slinky designer dress for a night out.

After check-in, you’ll be taken to a light, airy room done in shades of taupe so soothing you may want to fall right into the soft white linens on your plush king-size bed for an afternoon nap. Flowing curtains lead to a balcony with lounge chairs and a small patio table. (Imagine sitting here after dinner with a cocktail, just taking in the lush desert oranges, purples, pinks, greens, and yellows at twilight.) Each bathroom has a double sink, soaking tub, and standing shower with products from Le Labo. While the property can feel like a maze at first, you’ll find it’s more like a beautiful network of secluded areas that you can roam, past citrus trees heavy with fruit, gurgling fountains, statuesque palms, and even a comic tortoise named Cecil.

A guest room at the Fairmont
A guest room at the Fairmont

For a spa day, the Well & Being spa center is your sanctuary. This rejuvenating retreat offers a variety of fitness classes (try to imagine aerial yoga!), facials, massages, and invigorating body scrubs. There are also sleep-focused services, a tantalizing lunch menu of healthy options, an outdoor waterfall, an adults-only roof-deck pool, and a hair-styling bar. If you book a treatment, set aside the entire afternoon. 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, calming perfection.

Eat and Drink

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 taste. If you need a healthy, 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 or a seasonal fruit parfait with Greek yogurt and Brighton granola.

Pork sopes at La Hacienda
Pork sopes at La Hacienda

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 café serves up seven different chopped salads, a variety of hearty bowls, sandwiches, and nutritious breakfast options. We love the filling raw vegetable salad, with its house greens, carrot, tomato, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, corn, pistachios, Parmesan, and red wine vinaigrette.

For dinner, La Hacienda at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is a must. From local celebrity chef Richard Sandoval, this large restaurant, awash in wood, burnt orange, and brown leather, serves up sensational modern Mexican cuisine. Tequila lovers take note: The Hacienda has an extensive list of tequila selected by gorgeous tequila sommelier Katie Schnurr. Order a margarita with 7 Leguas Tequila 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 around. The platos Mexicanos highlight the chef’s prowess with traditional Mexican cuisine. Fish tacos are reconstructed as a whole tempura-style fried sea bass. You build the tacos yourself with cabbage slaw, mango salsa, and really spicy árbol chile remoulade. There are also stellar enchiladas, carnitas, and camarones al tequila. For dessert, order a bebida de fuego—a flaming coffee drink that’s prepared tableside.

The patio at LDV
The patio at LDV

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 a wine list of almost 100 percent Arizona wines, curated by co-owner Pavle Milic. 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.

LDV Wine Gallery gives you the tools to taste the best of the southeast Arizona wine region, endowed with the sunny days and cool nights of the world’s best regions for growing wine grapes. LDV stands for Lawrence Dunham Vineyards, a vine-growing and winemaking estate from Peggy Fiandaca and Curt Dunham. They focus on Rhône varietals that flourish in the volcanic soils of their estate in the Chiricahua Mountain foothills. Call ahead to make an appointment for a tasting and cheese pairing.

Kazimierz World Wine Bar
Kazimierz World Wine Bar

If  you’re in the mood for a handcrafted 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.

After dinner, head to Kazimierz World Wine Bar. Wooden wine casks line the walls of this old-school speakeasy that has more than 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 star sightings? The lobby bar at the W Hotel. This happening spot is the place to see and be scene.

Taliesin West
Taliesin West

Explore

What should you do when you’re not cheering on Posey, Pence, Panik, and company? Why not experience the expansiveness and grandeur of the Scottsdale landscape by taking a tranquil ride in a hot-air balloon. For more than 21 years, Hot Air Expeditions has been taking up tourists and locals in balloons for either a sunrise or sunset excursion. The thrilling trip begins with a demonstration of the balloon being filled with air. Once the massive 10-story balloon is full, guests climb into the basket. From there, it’s up, up, and away for a surprisingly peaceful hour-long journey of up to 6,000 feet above desert, wildlife, lakes, canals, and mountains. Back on land after the journey, there’s a gourmet snack and champagne toast.

If the thought of hopping into a big balloon has you weak in the knees, there are plenty of ways to explore Scottsdale without leaving the ground. Discover architectural history at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, his winter home and school from 1937 until his death at 91 in 1959. His signature organic architectural style imbues Wright’s structures there with a rocky, rustic look that meshes with the hilly desert landscape, and his spaces move from indoors to outdoors seamlessly with lots of windows and naturalistic details. Discover this national landmark on one of the many daily tours. The most popular and comprehensive is the 90-minute Insights Tour, which takes visitors through the garden room, Wright and his third wife’s private bedrooms, and the home’s social gathering place. You’ll also see the seminar theater, Wright’s private office, the cabaret theater, and the school of architecture’s functioning draft room.

Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden

Don’t miss the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden, which has over 50,000 plants in its beautiful outdoor exhibits. It’s a stunning desert display 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 that can be seen on six loop trail options.

A short drive from Scottsdale, there are even grander outdoor wonders fit for a magnificent day trip or two: the mighty Grand Canyon and the prehistoric Native American cliff dwellings and petroglyphs in the hills around nearby Sedona, where you might say this artistic heritage has spawned a modern-age community of writers and artists. In Scottsdale or in the wider region, go soak in the Southwest at its best: Take an art walk, visit a culinary festival, go on a jeep tour of the desert, wander the Arizona wine country, see an Arabian horse show, visit the home of the Phoenix Open or Spring Training baseball. Make this a trip you won’t soon forget.

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