1. Where to Stay
Downtown Scottsdale is finally hot, now that once-shabby hotels have been given serious face-lifts. The newest addition is the FireSky Resort & Spa (from $149), which opened last April with a stunning, daybed-laden lobby, a bar overflowing into the pool area, and a glowing onyx communal table where guests sip coffee, read, and tap laptops.
At the similarly months-old Mondrian (from $145) in Old Town, the undercurrent of original sin is everywhere, from the serpentine bench in the lobby to the red apples in the black-and-white guest rooms. The celeb-friendly hotel has all the luxury necessities: high thread counts, massive plasma screens, and iPod hookups at every turn.
Once a glamorous getaway for the likes of Bing Crosby and Natalie Wood, downtown’s Hotel Valley Ho (from $149) has been rescued from a 28-year sentence as a Ramada. Though the hotel’s shell is the same, the interior’s been gutted. Furnishings are stylishly mod, and all rooms have balconies, patios, or—in the case of the terrace suites—glass-enclosed, 800-square-foot decks.
2. Where to Eat
Elements at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain looks like a Manhattan martini lounge but has views right out of a John Ford picture. Try one of the Asian-influenced entrées like the honey five-spiced pork with sweet-potato grits and sugar-cured pears, and save room for the ridiculous-sounding (but great-tasting) banana fluffernutter.
Beard Award winner Nobuo Fukuda serves up equally inventive Japanese fare at the 28-seat Sea Saw in downtown’s Waterfront district, overlooking the Arizona Canal. The omakase menu—eight courses with wine pairings for $125—is worth the splurge.
Next door, Cowboy Ciao has a cheesy name and cowboy-kitsch décor but also a knockout chopped salad—smoked salmon, Israeli couscous, arugula, trail mix, dried corn, and bruschetta-cured tomatoes tossed in a buttermilk pesto. Both Cowboy Ciao and Sea Saw make use of a 3,300-bottle wine cellar at the neighboring Kazimierz (Kaz Bar for short).
At Café ZuZu at the Valley Ho, chef Charles Wiley serves upscale renditions of comfort-food classics: His beef Stroganoff is made with filet mignon, and a tuna slider is crowned with seared ahi, curry mayo, and pickled beets.
3. What to Do
Scottsdale’s been perfecting the art of the spa since 1936, when its first resort, the Camelback Inn, was built. Now there are so many body-enhancing centers in town, it’s hard to know where to begin. Ease into things at the tiny, still-off-the-radar Agua, where the Desert Hydramemory facial ($130) uses desert plants to restore dry, dull skin. It’s the perfect antidote to the arid climate. Organic devotees should head to the FireSky Resort’s Jurlique Spa, where the Tea Tree Body Polish ($125), a 60-minute scrub, rub-down, and mini-facial, leaves you refreshed and invigorated. Holistically minded spagoers will like the Hotel Valley Ho’s VH Spa, which has a fitness room and movement studio alongside a full-service treatment center. Shed some calories with a belly-dancing class then some dead skin with the red-flower hammam ($185), a vigorous exfoliation. Then get the knots and kinks literally pummeled out of you with a full-body massage. End your spa wanderings with some Zen time at the Sanctuary Spa, which has Asian-inspired treatments, a meditation garden, and a Watsu pool. For ultimate seclusion, reserve the Sanctum, a private, stone-walled outdoor retreat with a hot tub and double-headed shower ($125 half-day; $250 full-day).
4. Insider’s Tip
On the weekends, the hotel pools are where the proverbial party’s at, but not all pools are created equal. The Mondrian has a Vegas-like vibe, with thumping beats and cocktail girls in miniskirts. The retro-chic Hotel Valley Ho attracts an older, though still silicone-enhanced, crowd. And the mother-of-pearl-tiled pool, just one of nine at the Phoenician, simply oozes opulence. But for those who just want to get some sun in peace, Scottsdale’s most comfortable swimming holes are the calm, lagoonlike pools at the FireSky.
5. An Oddball Day
Built as a construction road for the Roosevelt Dam, the 40-mile Apache Trail is now one of Arizona’s best scenic drives, winding along spectacular ravines, groves of saguaro cacti, and four man-made reservoirs. There are plenty of hokey stops along the way—ghost towns, curio shops, Old West–style saloons—but the main draw is the landscape. At mile 8, Needle Vista provides views of Weaver’s Needle, a 4,535-foot pinnacle named after frontier scout Pauline Weaver. At mile 15, stop at Canyon Lake, where you can swim beneath towering, rugged cliffs. The Superstition Saloon (mile 17) in the six-person “town” of Tortilla Flat serves up great half-pound burgers smothered in chili. The parking lot at the top of Fish Creek Hill (mile 25) has restrooms and sweeping vistas (look for bighorn sheep). It’s also a good turnaround point: The eastern part of the route is less picturesque, and the paved section of the road ends here.
6. Related Links
AZ Central publishes an excellent guide to spas, with rundowns of the best-in-class for massages, skin care, and hair removal.
Smartly packaged and bathed in bubblegum pink, Arizona Spa Girls publishes daily deals and the dishy “Spa Blah Blah” blog.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed twelve buildings in the Scottsdale area, including Taliesin West, the Arizona Biltmore, and the Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium. Check out the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation site for tour information.