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Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway

Down in the Valley
A New Spirit in the Old West
by Carey Sweet

Red Rock State Park is a short drive from the Phoenix/Scottsdale area
Red Rock State Park

When you think of Arizona, do you conjure rugged cowboys wandering an arid desert landscape dotted by towering spiny-skinned cacti and skittering tumbleweeds? If so, you are in for a surprise. The Phoenix-Scottsdale area, especially, is a showcase for the "new" Arizona. This former little cowboy town has become a burgeoning metropolis with exciting new developments stretching from border to border. Authentic Arizona charm still entices, but what was once barren desert now glistens with elegant homes and shopping malls, fine dining dens and recreational opportunities. A glance at the new culinary temples calling the Valley — as the entire metro Phoenix area is known — home is impressive, with restaurants like Nobuo at Teeter House and Citizen Public House dotting the gastronomic landscape. New hotels have opened under respected brands such as W in Old Town Scottsdale and the luxurious Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler. Today, shopping is a dream, thanks to Tiffany, Gucci, Ferragamo, kate spade, and several designer boutiques outfitting the new Scottsdale Quarter, and SouthBridge in Scottsdale.

While there's still plenty of open space climbing to soaring mountaintops, the winding dirt roads have given way to high-speed freeways linking all points in metropolitan Phoenix and beyond, plus a brand new high-tech light rail system. And most of the desert sand is now nicely ensconced within the traps at the Valley's 250-some golf courses. One thing that hasn't changed is that the Sonoran Desert is still very appropriately known as the Valley of the Sun. That means ample year-round opportunities to experience a wide range of tours and sightseeing excursions, whether on foot, by Jeep, hot air balloon, on horseback, or even by boat skimming along one of the Valley's sparkling lakes.

While the Phoenix-Scottsdale area is renowned for its scorching summer heat, it's a dry heat, and many visitors take great pleasure in relaxing poolside at the Valley's more than three dozen luxurious resorts. In fact, savvy travelers know that visiting the Valley during the summer months often exposes incredible bargains at luxury properties like the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, The Boulders, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, and the elegant, but family-friendly Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch (a highlight is the Hyatt's cool, refreshing swimming pool with a sand beach).

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain offers contemporary accommodations in Phoenix
Sanctuary Camelback Mountain

Accommodations catering to virtually every budget and lifestyle abound. Perhaps you want to spread out in a 4,000-square-foot presidential suite, complete with its own Steinway baby grand piano, at The Phoenician. Or maybe your children are clamoring for the wet wonders of the four-acre Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort, with its shimmering pools, cascading waterfalls and Lazy River tubing experience. For old Phoenix charm, the grand dames are the Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort and the newly redone JW Marriott Camelback Inn Scottsdale Resort & Spa. For new Phoenix fashion, the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa or The Clarendon Hotel and Spa are sleek, contemporary escapes. And for the best of old-meets-new, book a room at the upscale but funky and retro Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. Finally, one of Scottsdale's best-kept secrets is the Chaparral Suites Scottsdale, privately owned by the local Silverman family for more than 25 years, and featuring charming personal touches like flirtatious live parrots in the lobby. As a bonus, many of the Valley's best restaurants are conveniently located right inside the top hotels and resorts.


The Fifth Avenue Shops in Scottsdale, Arizona
Fifth Avenue

Over the past few years, the Scottsdale area has developed into one of the country's finest shopping meccas. Begin your day with breakfast in the heart of the retail corridor at Camelback/Indian School and Scottsdale roads: Daily Dose will fuel you up with grippingly spicy chorizo eggs Benedict, an omelet of handcrafted turkey sausage, an egg, bacon and cheese sandwich paved with fiery harissa aioli or killer banana split pancakes. Work off your meal by strolling around Scottsdale Fashion Square, the Valley's most exciting shopping mall, conveniently located right next door to Daily Dose. More than one million square feet of stores, including Juicy Couture, Abercrombie Kids and Hugo Boss, packs something for all ages, tastes and wallets.

Next, hop aboard Scottsdale's free, seven-day-a-week trolley for a visit to the nearby Scottsdale Waterfront and adjacent SouthBridge, a newly redeveloped cornucopia of fine stores and restaurants. Jump back on the trolley to continue through the fabulous Fifth Avenue Shops next door, and its adjacent Marshall Way and Main Street arts districts, where locals and visitors alike flock to the sidewalk and garden cafés wedged between eclectic boutiques and fine art galleries.

Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale serves up inventive Southwestern fare
Cowboy Ciao

By now you'll be hungry again. Stop for lunch at Arcadia Farms on the edge of the Fifth Avenue neighborhood. Relax on the picture-postcard garden patio or inside the cheery French Provincial-style cottage for enormous sandwiches, organic salads and fresh pastries. You won't want to miss the best-selling dish, a salad of grilled chicken, strawberries, toasted almonds, mixed baby greens and poppy seed vinaigrette. Or, if you're in the mood for more sophisticated fare.

From here, you'll need a car to continue your tour (the large, sprawling Phoenix area, while progressive, still lacks convenient public transportation). But it's a short drive just a few miles southeast to the Phoenix Zoo for a relaxing tour of more than 1,200 mammals, fish, invertebrates, birds and reptiles. You can easily walk the 2.5 miles of trails, but you might want to jump aboard an open-air tram and reserve your energy for your next stop — the spectacular, 50-acre Desert Botanical Garden located right next door. Home to almost 150 rare, threatened and endangered plant species from around the world, the Garden also hosts seasonal activities such as bird walks, jazz festivals and chile-chocolate tastings.

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is home to 150 rare plant species from around the world
Desert Botanical Garden

Next, enjoy imaginative food at Cowboy Ciao, a few minutes drive away in Old Town and an excellent dinner choice if you're hankering for whimsical Nuevo Southwestern fare like espresso-charred filet mignon with pan-grilled vegetables, mashed tortilla potatoes and chipotle hollandaise. Campfire cowboys never lived this well.

Wrap up your evening at Kazimierz World Wine Bar, next door to Cowboy Ciao. The sexy, sophisticated place is hard to find (there's no sign, although insiders know to duck into the unmarked door in back), but a great tapas and drinks menu awaits, with an astonishingly long list of thrilling cult wines.

Continue to Day 2


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Arizona Travel Guide

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Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau official website

Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau official website

* Images courtesy of Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. Desert Garden courtesy of

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