There once was a time when Scottsdale was just a little town — to clarify, “The West’s Most Western Town,” as it has oft been called. But these days, the oasis on the eastern edge of Phoenix has grown far too big (and cosmopolitan) to be summed up quite so simply. Sure, there’s still plenty of Western kitsch to be found, but peppered among the mighty Saguaros and cowboy scene you’ll find a downright modern metropolis, where world-class art and five-star wellness resorts have as much a place as dude ranches and wide-open desert stretches. Add to that more than 300 days of sunshine per year, plus one of the largest concentrations of golf courses in the United States, and there’s no denying little Scottsdale leaves a big impression — no matter what your perfect itinerary looks like. Here are five ways to round out your next visit, whether you’re an art lover, an adventurer, or a wellness junkie looking for more of that feel-good Sonoran sun.
Few cities in the U.S. offer as many outdoor activities as Scottsdale. In fact, nearly 50 percent of the city’s land area is dedicated to open space. That adds up to a lot of adventures. Chief among them? Golf, of course. Scottsdale has dubbed itself (perhaps a bit unimaginatively) as The World’s Finest Golf Destination, and the distinction checks out: There are more than 200 courses across town, more than a few of which have earned major Golf Digest accolades. Head to Troon North Golf Club’s Monument for Open Championship-style play or Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor to tee off at a PGA Tournament favorite. Other top courses include Sunridge Canyon (host of the 1997 USGA Men's State Team Championship) and Wildfire Gold Club (designed by six-time major champion Sir Nick Faldo).
But guess what? You don’t have to play golf every day (or, any day for that matter) to get your fill of Scottsdale’s great outdoors. There’s a wealth of adventure beyond the green, from the McDowell Sonoran Preserve — a 30,500-acre nature sanctuary brimming with roadrunners, Gila monsters, jack rabbits, and javelinas — to the Salt River, a verdant habitat for wildlife and a top spot for kayaking. Hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers also have their pick of mountainous terrain at Pinnacle Point, which is home to easy and moderate trails as well as hardcore scrambles and peaks.
Scottsdale claims a seriously impressive food scene thanks in large part to its diverse influences, from Native American and Southwest flavors to a longstanding agricultural heritage that emphasizes seasonal produce and regional delicacies. Gastronomes should start their culinary education at FnB, helmed by the doyenne of seasonal cuisine, Chef Charleen Badman. Badman won Arizona the rights to James Beard’s Best Chef award in 2019 with game-changing dishes that transform local produce — from dates to heirloom beans — into fun and creative dishes like pork and rabbit rillettes. FnB also shines a spotlight on Arizona’s growing viticultural scene through beverage director Pavle Milic’s wine label Los Milics (worth a visit in its own right). Other not-to-miss dishes can be found at Citizen Public House (order the green-chile burger), Piccolo Virtu (another James Beard darling, where the handmade pasta will change your life), and Cala (excelling at Mediterranean specialties like heavenly whipped ricotta).
The Wellness Guru
The Sonoran Desert has a mystical reputation, full of energy vortexes, breathtaking views, and endless heaps of good-for-you fresh air. So, it’s no wonder Scottsdale has amassed a world-class collection of wellness resorts and destination spas, all of which welcome day visitors — and all of which go well beyond the typical massage-and-facial programming. At the Phoenician Spa, get a little farther-out with a Tarot card reading or hypnotherapy. Look to CIVANA for inside- out wellness with Watsu therapy, aerial yoga, TRX training classes, and knieppe walks. Or take pampering to the extreme at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess’s Well & Being Spa, whose extensive facilities borrow from healing practices around the world, from Swedish dry saunas and Swiss showers to Himalayan Salt treatments and a Sisley Paris salon.
The Culture Vulture
The beauty of the desert has stimulated creative minds since the dawn of time. In Scottsdale, that’s especially true of modern artists like James Turrell, whose Knight Rise installation is reason enough to frequent the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (never mind regular exhibitions from award-winning artists like Nick Cave and Phillip K. Smith III). Turrell’s outdoor art installation is an all-encompassing womb that frames the changing hues of the sky, creating a concrete dome through which to experience the transition from daytime’s bright blues to sunset’s cotton-candy shades. But Scottsdale’s godfather of contemporary design is undoubtedly Frank Lloyd Wright, whose Taliesin West is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that visitors can visit on guided tours. A veritable laboratory of vernacular desert design, the former home of the famed American architect is an expression not only of his talents but of his genius, experienced through natural light, local stone, and symbolic color.
The Serial Shopper
While there are plenty of malls and luxury boutiques in Scottsdale, a trip to the city’s Old Town takes you into the deep-rooted culture of the city. Visit Anticus for works by local artists like Caroline Kwas, whose vibrant oil paintings depict the Sonoran Desert in hyper-color. Stop by Scottsdale Trading Post for authentic Native American crafts like vintage turquoise, handmade pottery, and woven baskets. And shop Crazy Horse for jewelry and belts set with red opal, onyx, turquoise, and other native stones. For an additional primer on Southwestern art and design, visit the Native Art Market to peruse stalls from more local makers who are keeping silversmithing, ceramics, and other traditional regional crafts alive and well.
Select photos courtesy of Jackie Caradonio.