Phoenix has its desert city charms, but adjacent Scottsdale quietly thrums with creative energy, thanks to a compelling mix of historic sites and a thriving arts community. Scottsdale’s pedestrian-friendly downtown makes exploring the city a walkable adventure, with galleries, locavore-centric restaurants, shops, public art and events—most notably the Scottsdale Public Art’s Canal Convergence Water + Art + Light series, featuring large-scale installations by renowned international artists, which runs February 23 through 26. And should you encounter that most exotic of experiences during the cooler months—rain—precipitation makes the desert landscape look only more stunning and sublime.
Check into the Four Seasons at Troon North near Scottsdale’s northern boundary. Enjoy awe-inspiring vistas of Pinnacle Peak and other natural wonders within view of the 210 rooms (including 22 suites) situated in cozy casitas that dot the 40-acre property. Fireplaces provide the perfect antidote to chilly evening air. To settle in, get a spa treatment, or take a yoga class and warm yourself under the Arizona sun on the hotel’s lawn. If afternoon temps permit, tackle the approximately two-hour-long Pinnacle Peak hike—or explore nearby Brown’s Ranch by foot or mountain bike with Arizona Outback Adventures, and have all your questions about intriguing desert plant life answered. For dinner, Talavera offers southwestern-inspired indulgence by Executive Chef Chuck Kazmer.
After breakfast at Proof restaurant, which brings a bit of a Wild West vibe into an upscale yet casual setting, avid golfers will want to set an early tee time at the legendary Troon North course. For architecture lovers no Scottsdale visit is complete without touring national landmark Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and innovative workshop, which still functions as an accredited architecture school. Closer back towards downtown, check out the home and studio of Paolo Soleri, Wright’s erstwhile student from Italy who broke off from his mentor to explore his own wild genius at Cosanti. (Arcosanti, the experimental community that is Soleri’s famed work-in-progress, is located approximately 65 miles north of Phoenix. It merits a pilgrimage of its own.) But arguably there’s no more distinctive Scottsdale souvenir than a famed Soleri bell, still made on site and sold to support the foundation’s ongoing building and preservation projects.
Early risers have a couple Scottsdale-specific experiential choices. Hot Air Expeditions makes getting up at the crack of dawn (or even before then, realistically) well worth the effort with a gentle glide over town, followed by a hot breakfast served alfresco. Those craving a challenge can take on the formidable red rock humps of Camelback Mountain. Or, from the new Andaz Hotel Scottsdale—which perfectly captures midcentury-inspired desert chic with clean lines and colorful bursts of pattern—you can just marvel at the natural formations from a safe distance on your bungalow’s own private patio. But the desert view is all the better while savoring chilaquiles and blue cornbread with tomato-jalapeno jam at Warp & Weft, the hotel’s bar and restaurant. Stroll a few blocks away to Cattle Track arts colony, which has nurtured talent since the 1930s and collaborated on select artist-made elements of the Andaz. Mugs by ceramist Mary Van Dusen, for example, are also available in the hotel gift shop.
Saguaro cacti and other native plants serve as an undeniable reminder of how and why nature is the best architect and designer. The Desert Botanical Garden’s perfectly maintained teaching gardens and meditative spaces are conducive to pondering the wonders of the Sonoran Desert and the people who have inhabited its complex ecosystem over the eras.
Back in historic downtown Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art boasts a building designed by local award-winning architect Will Bruder, a James Turrell Skyspace, and an ambitious curatorial agenda. The collection and exhibitions showcase a diverse slate of artists from around the country. SMoCA’s commitment to supporting Scottsdale and Phoenix area artists of the present and past is also a part of its deeply engaged public programming.
Come nighttime, James Beard Award-nominee Charleen Badman works her globally-inspired culinary magic (on vegetables, in particular) at FnB, which boasts an impressive selection of Arizona wines from unorthodox yet highly skilled makers. Carlson Creek Vineyard, LDV Winery, and Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks, are among the mavericks reviving Arizona’s grape growing and winemaking traditions. Yes, you read that right. Desert life requires being resourceful and creative, and this group is following on the heels of the burgeoning craft beer world. At FnB you might find cans of carbonic macerated wine made from the relatively obscure Aleatico grape that the Bostocks personally delivered that day—or what they jokingly dub their “breakfast wine”—pulled from the barrel and infused with Arizona-citrus as a mimosa alternative. It’s a scene to keep your eye on.