1. Where to Stay
Bypass doilies and dolls at the four-room, year-old Bespoke Inn (from $269), a refined bed and breakfast along a quiet tree-lined street in downtown Scottsdale’s walkable arts district. Thanks to owner and innkeeper Kate Hennen’s sharp eye, the three cozy rooms downstairs, which open onto private patios, feel decidedly modern, swathed in tones of cream, gray, and black, and kitted out with walnut and marble vanities along with linen boyfriend-style sleeping shirts. The upstairs apartment comes outfitted with a well-stocked, turquoise blue tiled kitchen, oversize leather chairs, a Victoria and Albert soaking tub, and a wraparound balcony and outdoor fireplace, ideal for cool desert nights. Borrow chic wheels to cruise around town at the on-site, full-service bike shop, stocked with British Pashley bicycles free to guests; then, cool off post-ride in the infinity pool or relax with a book in the courtyard, under the shade of two 100-year-old olive trees.
Go retro at the laid-back Hotel Valley Ho (from $139), a mid-century modern gem. Designed by architect Edward L. Varney in the 1950s, the property was up for demolition until new owners saved it and renovated it to its original glory in 2005, complete with Fender guitars and original arrow-motif concrete columns in the high-ceilinged lobby. A seven-story tower, in Varney’s blueprint, was grandfathered in a few years ago, but for easy access to the O-shaped pool and bar book a room in the original hotel, like the sprawling, bright Studio Guest Room ($179), decked out with custom prints by local photographer Barry Wolf, pops of color in yellow drapes and lime-hued headboards, and a soaking tub right in the middle of the room. On Wednesdays, stop by the restaurant lounge for complimentary wine tastings from 5 to 7 p.m. The featured pour, such as a Diseno Malbec, goes for $6 a glass for the remainder of the night.
Join the pool party at the boldly colorful Saguaro (from $189), a 194-room, renovated downtown property. The vibe here is ever chill, especially at the Picante pool, where beach balls, live music, and pitchers of blackberry-brandy-infused sangria ($36) ensure a good time (for a more tranquil dip, try out the smaller pool across the way, with a waterfall that tunes out any surrounding noise). The cheery rooms rock a desert-meets–South of the Border aesthetic: woven Mexican pigskin leather and rose-wood furnishings matched with fuchsia, burnt orange, and violet hues inspired by desert flowers. Borrow cruiser bikes (included with the $22 resort fee) or hit the spa for a 30-minute prickly pear sugar scrub ($60). Pop into the modern Mexican restaurant on the premises, Distrito (a local favorite), at night for guacamole ($10) and plantain-crusted mahi mahi tacos ($12), washed down with a ginger-laden Mezcal mule ($9).
2. Where to Eat
Delight in local produce at FnB, a pint-size downtown spot tucked away in a quiet alley. Since late 2009, self-trained chef Charleen Badman has turned out farm-inspired fare like pistachio- and tarragon-dusted lobster mushrooms and corn pasta ($24), Tuscan kale falafels ($7), and braised leeks with fried egg ($14), while co-owner and Queens native Pavle Milic pours bottle after bottle of Arizona wines like Callaghan Vineyards’ Mourvedre and Dos Cabezas’ Rose. For further proof the grapes do grow in the desert, visit the restaurant’s bodega and wine store next door, where Milic stocks two dozen rotating Arizona wines, as well as flours, cornmeal, and wheatberries ($7–9) from Hayden Flour Mills in the southeastern part of the state, along with locally made mustard ($6) and habanero jelly from Arizona-based Carol’s Delectables ($5).
Survey the scene at year-old Virtu Honest Craft, chef-owner Gio Osso’s ambitious Mediterranean-inflected restaurant attached to the Bespoke Inn. The intimate 25-seat space, adorned with little else than Edison-bulb-style pendant lamps and simple wooden tables, is the perfect backdrop to showcase dishes such as burrata di bufala with almond honey, dates, and limoncello ($15) and olive oil halibut with fava bean puree, sun-dried tomato, and saffron aïoli ($31). Through a cutout window looking into the kitchen, patrons can watch Osso prep, pan-sear, and garnish; often, he’ll stop by tables to greet guests and even share a childhood memory of cooking in Italy alongside his aunt.
Savor Latin flavors at four-month-old Taco Haus, a casual spot by chef-owner Payton Curry and his wife, pastry chef Shantal, in the tony McCormick Ranch neighborhood. Curry is a produce obsessive, working with local farmers’ markets twice a week on behalf of McClendon’s Select Farms in nearby Peoria, talking to marketgoers about purple kale and Thumbelina carrots and sharing recipe ideas. His passion for high-quality ingredients comes through at the restaurant, where the enormous comal (a flat, round griddle) turns out tortillas made from corn and wheat milled in nearby Tempe, and the raw bar showcases salads such as jicama and watermelon radish ($7). Start with ahi ceviche with strawberries, avocado, sprouts, and pickled peppers ($13), move on to achiote-rubbed pork loin with pineapple green chile salsa ($24), and finish with the to-die-for tres leches cake ($6).
3. What to Do
Touch and climb public art, including Robert Indiana’s iconic block letter Love sculpture, along the Civic Center Plaza downtown. Scottsdale’s public art program, running since 1985, encourages viewers to engage with sculptures and installations; many were designed with interaction in mind. Start an hour-long public art walk at the Love sculpture within the green Civic Center Plaza space, then walk west toward Main Street, stopping at Main and Brown Avenue at The Yearlings, a trio of bronze horses in mid-gallop by George-Ann Tognoni. Further up the street, at Main and Marshall Way, find Ed Mell’s Jack Knife, featuring a quintessentially Southwestern cowboy riding a bronco. Walk north along Marshall Way and make a right at East 5th Avenue, parallel to the Arizona canal. Make a left at Stetson Drive and then another left at Scottsdale Road to arrive at Paolo Soleri’s pedestrian bridge, held up by two 64-feet-tall steel cylinders with a six-inch gap between them, through which the sun casts shadows that lengthen through the winter and shorten during the summer. Cross the bridge to Donald Lipski’s The Doors: three colossal Brazilian hardwood doors propped up against each other like a teepee and covered with mirrors inside to simulate a kaleidoscope.
Explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s talent and eccentricities at his desert base camp and laboratory, Taliesin West, begun in 1937. Wright’s doctor suggested warm weather might alleviate some of his health troubles, and so Wright and his third wife, Olgivanna, headed westward. The Taliesin West complex, which houses Wright’s office, drafting studio, living spaces, and bedrooms, as well as his architectural school, sits on a mesa in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, a 25-minute drive north from downtown. Themed tours ($32) highlight Wright’s love of geometry, light, and natural materials such as desert rock and Douglas fir, as well as signature design elements such as low ceilings and built-in integrated furnishings. As you stroll the extensive grounds, take in views of the valley below and Camelback Mountains in the distance, and note the art pieces on site, such as Native American petroglyphs and Chinese porcelain ceramics that Wright found in the basement of a department store in San Francisco. A series of bronze sculptures by Heloise Crista, who studied at the Taliesin West campus, are on the west end of the complex.
Gaze at the sky through the opening of Arizona-based artist James Turrell’s Knight Rise skyspace, permanently at the Scottsdale Contemporary Museum of Art ($7 museum admission). In the museum’s courtyard, the plaster-and-steel skyspace features a 10-by-15 feet oculus at the top and a circular bench at its base where viewers can sit. The light is especially dramatic at sunrise and sunset, when the sky looks close enough to touch. While there, don’t miss soon-to-debut murals by James Marshall (once an apprentice of Takashi Murakami) in the outdoor courtyard and the fantastic museum shop, which has an entire Arizona by Design section devoted to the work of local artisans.
4. Insider’s Tip
Artists, blacksmiths, and ceramicists live and work together at the 13-acre Cattle Track Art Compound, an artist colony and informal gallery of sorts, just five miles from downtown Scottsdale — and hardly known even to locals. The complex is dotted with one-of-a-kind sculptures by Ron Haggerty and works by some of its most famous residents, including Arizona art godfather Philip Curtis, who later founded the Phoenix Art Museum, and abstract sculptor Louise Nevelson. Local art and design expert Ace Bailey leads tours of the complex (price upon request).
5. Oddball Day
Take a break from art-gazing to take in the outdoors. Start the morning with a house-ground French blend coffee ($1) and a freshly baked cinnamon bun ($5) at The Simple Farm, a three-acre farm and goat dairy thriving amid suburban mansions in northern Scottsdale, started by husband and wife Michael and Lylah Ledner. Tour the beds of burgundy okra and heirloom tomatoes and even get up close and personal with one of their sweet Nubian dairy goats. Leave with bags of Lylah’s sea salt caramels, made with the goats’ milk ($10), and other edible souvenirs, including locally made mint and lemon verbena jellies ($8). Drive 25 minutes south to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, and stroll through the more than 4,000 species of cacti, succulents, and agave thriving amid the Sonoran desert. Stay for lunch and dig into Tepary-bean-infused hummus ($9) and the house burger with Arizona Cheddar and smoked onion jam ($16) at the sophisticated on-site farm-to-table restaurant, Gertrude’s. Head back toward northern Scottsdale to burn off the calories on the moderate four-and-a-half-mile Gateway Loop trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which offers vistas of the valley floor as well as Camelback and Mummy mountains in the distance. The 30,200-acre preserve is incredibly peaceful—it’s actually possible to hear the hummingbirds and coyotes lurking in the sage and saguaros. Celebrate your stamina with a tofu green curry ($7) protein plate served over forbidden rice at Original Chop Shop Co., back near downtown, and finish the day with the Slim Squeeze pressed juice—a refreshing blend of pear, strawberry, orange, apple, kiwi, lemon, and mint, and the perfect antidote to a day in the desert sun.
Peruse the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website, Experience Scottsdale, for everything from hotel to shopping to even hiking trail ideas, as well as maps and a calendar of events.
The I Love Scottsdale blog follows local cultural happenings, with a particular eye toward developments in the arts scene.
Skim through local and regional news and happenings at the Arizona Republic newspaper’s online home, azcentral.com.
Map out your time in downtown Scottsdale thanks to the directory and information at the Downtown Scottsdale’s website. A free downtown trolley, covering some sights in downtown, runs every 15 minutes.