Perhaps best known as a mecca for golf and professional conferences, Scottsdale offers a slew of sophisticated and active pursuits, whether or not you bring your clubs and business cards. With its stunning desert vistas and a surprisingly sophisticated food and art scene, Scottsdale takes all your preconceived notions and one-ups them.
5AM HOT-AIR BALLOON RIDE
If you’re visiting from the east, your crack-of-dawn wakeup call won’t be as painful, but even without the time difference advantage, it’s worth faking being a morning person to catch a sunrise hot-air balloon ride. Floating high over the Sonoran desert, this is the stuff of bucket lists (with wide-open views of Scottsdale and its surroundings, it’s also a neat way to get oriented). It’s tradition for balloonists to share a champagne toast after landing (legend has it the first French balloonists offered bubbly to spectators – no doubt because finding a touchdown site is as unpredictable as the wind and landing on private property wasn’t unheard of) and a group recitation of the Balloonist’s Blessing.
11AM THE MISSION
Old Town Scottsdale might lay claim to the title of “the West’s most Western town” but it’s also one heck of a good spot for foodies seeking out a more local experience. Maximize your tasting opportunities with the Taste of Old Town walking tour, which visits one of the city’s most acclaimed modern Latin eateries, the Mission (given the early wake-up, by now it’s sufficiently late to try one of their avocado margaritas), along with Thai food, a sangria and tapas bar and booze flavored ice cream.
3PM TALIESIN WEST
12621 N. FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT BLVD. SCOTTSDALE, AZ 85259
Architecture geek or otherwise, a visit to Taliesin West, once the summer home of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is a must. With its airy, naturally lit rooms built into the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, the surprisingly modern 75-year-old home doesn’t so much evoke the desert as embody it. The 90-minute insights tour, offered every half hour between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. is chock full of interesting tidbits, both about the structure itself and Lloyd Wright’s eccentric personality.
8PM NORTH FATTORIA ITALIANA
Arizona hasn’t missed out on the farmhouse-style Italian cooking trend, and it’s particularly well done at North Fattoria Italiana in Phoenix’s Arcadia district. The slick, huge space evokes a barn – only a barn with a gleaming open kitchen where the gnocchi are rolled out right in front of you. Though the menu isn’t necessarily intended to be ordered family style, you’ll want to bring a group and share everything – if only to save yourself from having to make the tough decision of whether to order the burrata with grilled bread, hand-shaped spinach tortelloni with ricotta, mascarpone, pecorino, grana padano and herb butter or housemade sausage pizza. It’s all good.
6AM CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA 85018
Another early morning, but you’ll sleep when you’re dead (or home from Scottsdale). Relief from the heat and gorgeous sunrise views make early morning the best time for climbing Camelback Mountain, the 2,700 foot summit that’s visible from just about everywhere in Scottsdale and looks, well, just like a Camel’s back. Echo Canyon, the 1.2 mile, 1,264-foot path to the top, is strenuous to be certain, but you’ll likely run into locals who do it several times a day.
9AM RIVER KAYAKING
A kayaking trip probably isn’t the first thing you think of doing in Scottsdale but a float down the Lower Salt River is an easy, tranquil way to refresh after all that early morning exertion. If you’re lucky (we weren’t) you might spot wild horses grazing along the banks or a bald eagle. But even if you don’t, you’ll still revel in unobstructed 70-mile views into the region’s four mountain ranges.
1PM SANCTUARY AT CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN RESORT
By now you’ve earned some chill-out time, in the form of an afternoon relaxing by the hotel pool. Order a bento box (or perhaps a Kobe beef hot dog – c’mon, you’ve earned it) from elements, Iron Chef America winner Beau MacMillan’s restaurant at the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort, delivered straight to the hotel’s infinity-edge pool – it’s the largest in Arizona, and the views of Camelback are lovely.
With some of the best Native and Western art in the U.S., Old Town Scottsdale is packed with galleries, each a quick walk from the other. Every Thursday, they stay open late for ArtWalk, a DIY gallery crawl along Main Street and Marshall Way (there’s literally a line painted down the sidewalk so it’s impossible to veer off track) that pioneered the art-hopping trend back in 1976.
7125 E. 5TH AVE. SUITE 31 SCOTTSDALE, AZ 85251
Considering that chef Charleen Badman’s braised leeks with mozzarella and fried egg made Food & Wine’s list of best new restaurant dishes, calling FnB a hidden gem might be a stretch. Don’t let the fact that it’s already been discovered deter you. With its ever-changing menu based on seasonal and local ingredients, Arizona-focused wine list (bet you didn’t know that was a thing) and charismatic co-owner Pavle Milic working the front, FnB is all local charm minus the “local” buzzwords.
WHERE TO STAY: SANCTUARY CAMEL BACK MOUNTAIN RESORT
5700 E. MCDONALD DR. SCOTTSDALE, AZ 85253
Boasting spectacular views, luxurious casitas, and award winning spa, the elegant, tranquil Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort lives up to its name.