Smart Luxury: Scottsdale, Arizona

by  Laura Motta | Nov 27, 2017
Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain / Laura Motta

With its dreamy desert landscape and long roster of high-end resorts, Scottsdale is a no-brainer of a luxury getaway. This tony Phoenix suburb, though, can be visited without spending a fortune. Here’s when to go and what to see in sunny Scottsdale -- with a few bonus finds in Phoenix to ensure that your luxury getaway comes at a nice price.

When to Go

Like so many destinations in the desert southwest -- think Las Vegas, Palm Springs, or Taos -- the bargains in Scottsdale are sweeter in summer. Granted, the weather is also significantly less pleasant in these places in July, August, and September than they are in January or February. But if you can handle the heat, you’ll reap the benefits. Smaller crowds, lots of hotel vacancies -- even at the best resorts -- and easy-to-find reservations at marquee restaurants are common. Shoulder months of May and October can yield some bargains, too.

The Mission Scottsdale Old Town

Eat Local, and in Style

Scottsdale has no shortage of excellent eats. For delicious fare at un-intimidating prices, we love FnB. Situated right in the heart of downtown Scottsdale and helmed by four-time James Beard Award-nominated chef Charleen Badman, this veggie-focused restaurant should be where you make your first dinner reservation. Share dishes include chilled long beans with preserved lemon, feta, and cured duck yoke; roasted chicken with mustard crisped spaetzle and chanterelles; and tuscan kale falafel. The restaurant also has a wine menu comprised entirely of Arizona vintages. Plates range from $8 to $36. If you’re interested in exploring other local wines, head just a few doors down from FnB to Carlson Creek Tasting Room. This family-owned winery’s grapes are grown in the remote Arizona town of Wilcox, but you can enjoy its signature chenin blancs, grenaches, sangioveses, and others without leaving town. Stop by Wednesday-Sunday from noon to 8:00 p.m. for a tasting ($10) and no corkage fees on bottles. And if you buy a case, you’ll get 15 percent off. For lunch or dinner, we also enjoyed The Mission, which has two locations, for its modern take on Latin cuisine. On the menu, you’ll find a flavorful pozole with generous portions of pork, tacos made with hand-pressed corn tortillas, and guacamole served table-side, among other carefully prepared dishes. Appetizers range from $8-$14, while entrees are $12-$42, with lower prices and a simplified menu at lunch. We’re also fans of the locally-inspired cuisine -- and the excellent brunch -- served poolside or in air-conditioned comfort -- at Weft & Warp at the newly opened Andaz Scottsdale. If you’re stopping by the unmissable Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix (described below), we also recommend Gertrude’s, the on-site restaurant, which also focuses on locally-sourced ingredients. The green chili “hummus” here is made with white tepary beans, which are native to the southwest. Or, try the fry bread, which is stuffed with anasazi beans and a soft Mexican cheese.

Talliesin West / Laura Motta

Get Outdoors and Into Art

A stay in Scottsdale often involves liberal amounts of relaxing by the pool, but there’s plenty more to do here, especially if you’re staying in summer when even the pool deck can feel overheated. Start at the granddaddy of all Scottsdale art attractions, Taliesin West, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, education center, and studio. A guided tour will take you through meticulously planned and colorfully decorated rooms, and through the gardens. Tours range in length and price, starting at $34 for a 1.5-hour general overview, to $73 for a three-hour behind-the-scenes tour that’s suitable for any Lloyd Wright fanatic. Tours are mandatory to see the house, and some fill up in advance, so plan ahead. To get a sense of Scottsdale’s more current art scene, head to the Cattle Track Art Compound, a cluster of studios and gallery spaces where you’ll find painters, printers, photographers, potters, and maybe even a blacksmith at work. Look for special events and shows, and if you’re staying at the Andaz, you can take advantage of the hotel’s partnership with the collective. The hotel offers classes and presentations by Cattle Track artists, and you can visit the compound, which is just minutes away, via its house car -- a Tesla. Farther afield, you’ll find the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, with a stunning series of exhibits that lets you explore -- and listen to -- an entire world of music, from an ancient Chinese guitar to one played by Taylor Swift. General admission is $20 with discounts for teens and kids. The Desert Botanical Garden, with its trails of cacti and wildflowers, is great for a peaceful stroll, particularly late or early in the day when the sun isn’t quite so hot. Admission costs $24 with discounts for those 17 and under. If you’re up for a significantly more strenuous desert trek, head to Camelback Mountain, whose peak rises to 2,700 feet over the city. The trek to the summit takes a few hours to complete in each direction, and the views of the city are breathtaking. Just keep in mind that the city of Phoenix classifies these trails as “extremely difficult,” and you’ll need plenty of water and temperature-appropriate hiking gear.

Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia

Take a Break

Scottsdale is known for the quality of its spas and pools, and you don’t necessarily have to be a hotel guest to spend the day in a cabana with a cocktail in one hand. These resorts offer day passes -- some as low as $20 -- so you can resort-hop, try the spa facilities, or just enjoy a change of scenery from your own hotel. We especially like the deal for $135 cabanas at the Omni Scottsdale, a AAA Four-Diamond resort. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Changing Hands, one of the city’s top bookstores, which is always great for an afternoon browse -- or a beer. The First Draft book bar, located inside the store, has a killer happy hour ($4 draft pints and $5 glasses of wine) and always hosts a fun, eclectic crowd.

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