Image: Lonna Tucker/Experience Scottsdale
From a cultural walking tour to a kayaking adventure to unforgettable food, here's how to make the best of your Scottsdale trip for whatever kind of experience you may be seeking.
With the dry heat and desert views, Arizona is a far cry from the landscape we call home—especially in winter—so it's easy to see why Canadians flock there in droves. Located in Eastern Maricopa County—no, it's not a mirage—the city of Scottsdale shines, serving up a vibrant offering of food, culture and adventure to suit any personality.
FOR THE HISTORY BUFF
Image: An Pham/Experience Scottsdale
The subterranean gallery and studio of architect Paolo Soleri, who's perhaps most well known for his bronze bells, looks almost Seuss-like in spots and showcases his design ethos of arcology, a term he coined that marries architecture and ecology. The buildings are designed to reap the benefits of the sun (to provide warmth and light) and the earth (to provide insulation) and are a masterful example of eco-friendly living.
Images: Jeff Noble/Experience Scottsdale (left) | Taliesen West (right)
DO: Tour Taliesin West
For fans of Frank Lloyd Wright, a trip to one of his most personal creations, Taliesin West, is a must. It's not only where he wintered and spent his later years but it also serves as the headquarters for his foundation and architecture school. Learn about how Wright honoured the rugged landscape of the Sonoran Desert and take in a space truly connected to its stunning surroundings. As he said himself, “Taliesin West is a look over the rim of the world.”
Image: Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Ribs
EAT AT: Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue
An interest in history isn't a requirement for devouring barbecue, but it helps if you have an appreciation for fabulous food. Chef Bryan Dooley, who trained at The Culinary Institute of America in New York, puts his spin on authentic western-style cuisine—like his famous coleslaw with a hefty dose of olives—and offers a vegetarian option of pulled squash so tasty it could satisfy any carnivore.
FOR THE ADVENTURER
Image: Scott McGinty/Experience Scottsdale
VISIT: McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Hike this protected area of land surrounded by mountains and desert and you'll fall in love with this unique landscape. Since the hike is moderate, see if you can spot some of the area's signature vegetation, including the palo verde tree and the saguaro cactus—though if you miss them, it's likely because of the sweeping views of Scottsdale from above.
Images: Arizona Outback Adventures
DO: Kayak the lower Salt River
Though you should count on getting wet, this guided kayak tour with Arizona Outback Adventures is a relatively smooth trip—novices welcome!—with brilliant views of red cliffs, green brush and mirror-still waters. While lucky souls might catch a glimpse of wild horses or bald eagles, I spotted a squadron of javelinas, which are often mistaken for pigs.
Images: Ryan Cordwell/Experience Scottsdale
EAT AT: FnB
Chef Charleen Badman's much-lauded menu highlights a constantly changing selection of dishes featuring seasonal and local ingredients served in a creative way—perfect for adventurous eaters who want to taste some of the best of Arizona. Try as many plates as possible and treat yourself to a few selections from the famously extensive wine list, including the co-owner's label, Los Milics.
FOR THE R&R-MINDED
Image: Boulders Resort & Spa
VISIT: Boulders Resort & Spa
Craving rest and relaxation? You'd be remiss not to check out this luxury eco-friendly spa boasting spectacular vistas of the Sonoran Desert and surreal 12-million-year-old boulder formations. To curtail some of the effects of the dry desert heat, I opted for the Desert Rose Radiance body treatment, an 80-minute indulgence to relax and rejuvenate, and felt like a new woman walking out.
Image: Carlson Creek Vineyard
DO: Try the wine
A glass of vino pairs perfectly with a desert sunset, so do a tasting to savour the local flavour. There are three wine regions in Arizona, including spots in Santa Cruz County, Cochise County and Yavapai County, but Scottsdale has five tasting rooms serving wine from different regions if you prefer to stay in the city. Don't skip Carlson Creek Vineyard's tasting room in Old Town Scottsdale.
Image: Dustin Ravella
EAT AT: Farm & Craft
Indulge in some modern healthy favourites among the feel-good food—yes, there's avocado toast. Whether you're looking to power up your probiotics and antioxidants or reduce your stress, there's a dish for that. Great for brunch or a smoothie to go, this spot offers farm-to-table fare in a community atmosphere (read: Pups are welcome on the patio).
FOR THE ART LOVER
Image: Alexandra Donaldson
VISIT: The Cattle Track Arts Compound
A classic Old West–inspired complex built in the 1930s, this hidden treasure housing the studio spaces of many local artists is a true glimpse into the art history of Arizona. Wander the grounds, learn about past residents (including icon Philip C. Curtis) and admire what current residents are working on. (I enjoyed watching the fibre artist Chance Phillips make whimsical felt creations.)
Image: Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa
DO: Go on a cultural walking tour
The guide at Ultimate Art & Culture Tours will reveal attractions you might otherwise miss (the installation of The Doors and its companion piece, Sound Passage, is unassuming from the outside but looks like a kaleidoscope from within), plus historic landmarks (City Hall's stained-glass ceiling is a stunner) and modern art curiosities (the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art features work from renowned installation artist James Turrell).
Image: Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa
EAT AT: Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen
Embracing bright minimalist decor with a Mid-Century Modern spin, this restaurant serves up style that'll make you want to stay awhile. Good thing there's modern art to admire and purchase, as well as inspired shareable small dishes that are so artfully plated you won't be able to resist snapping a photo or two.