From architectural greatness and wide-sky vistas to local Arizona wine, there's more than meets the eye in Scottsdale.
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – It may be the Beverly Hills of the Southwest, but you shouldn't let that dissuade you from coming to check it out. Many an authentic experience awaits among the McMansions, big box strip malls, and Juicy Couture jumpsuits. Here's a quirky and culture-centric Scottsdale itinerary.
IF YOU ONLY DO ONE THING
The best thing to do in Scottsdale is explore Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy. Many of the projects he did later in life were situated in Scottsdale and nearby Phoenix, and most are still preserved, including The First Christian Church, Gammage Auditorium on the Arizona University campus in Tempe, and several homes. The combination of wide-open sky and rugged, desert terrain makes FLW's organic architecture a symphony for the eyes.
WHAT TO DO
A consummate visionary, Frank Lloyd Wright established a second branch of his Wisconsin-based architecture school at the base of the McDowell Mountains decades before Scottsdale became a hub for the rich and famous. Get there early to secure a spot on a tour to visit his office, home, theater, and eco-conscious landscaping. (Photo, at left, courtesy Scottsdale CVB.)
Come for a cocktail after your Talesin visit. The hotel's design was also inspired by FLW.
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA)
A must just to see artist James Turrell's Knight Rise, one of three Turrell skyspaces open to the public in the United States.
Located in Montelucia Resort, Joya is the only traditional hamman spa in Arizona. Imagine yourself in a bathhouse fit for the king of Morocco, with green, iridescent hand-tiled walls, billowy curtains, harem-type resting beds, and citrus-rose aromatherapy wafting through the air. The signature Moroccan Ritual includes a hearty body scrub with herbal black soap, hot and cold alternating treatments, and a massage.
Desert Botanical Garden
Technically this is Phoenix, but the immense cacti, exotic desert flowers, and gigantic bug sculptures are worth the trek. Don't miss the Butterfly Pavilion, where you can see thousands of vibrant monarchs. Admission is free the second Tuesday of every month.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
A taste of Southern Italy in a strip mall. Try everything. It's all made in-house, from breads to salami to fresh pastas. It's so good, I am tempted to make the six-hour drive from Los Angeles just to have a meal and turn around and go home. When you visit, say hello to chef Giovanni. His Italian charm and lack of BS will remind you why you ache to return to Italy.
Food & Wine magazine ranked its braised leeks with mozzarella and fried egg as one of the Best Restaurant Dishes in 2010. Chef Charleen Badman features Arizona farm-to-table produce and local Arizona wines and brews. (Yes, Arizona wines.)
The Original Pancake House
A privately owned, mid-century diner with good ol' fashioned stellar, stick-to-your-ribs pancakes of every variety. Bring cash because they don't take plastic.
Cartel Coffee Lab
If you're a java militant like I am, you'll appreciate the serious precision the baristas utilize in creating the perfect cup of Joe. Imagine an Intelligentsia experience among the touristy turquoise shops of Old Town Scottsdale.
Go when Tyson Buhler is behind the bar and sit at his feet via nearest barstool. He's always working some kind of molecular magic.
WHERE TO SHOP
Paolo Soleri, the 93-year-old architect who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, has created a futuristic yet humble artist's compound dedicated to his handcrafted bronze wind bells. Best local souvenir/gift. No competition. (Photo, at right, by Lanee Lee.)
My Sister's Closet
The influx of new money in Scottsdale means the secondhand stores are flush with finds. The Lincoln Village location is the best of the best, a 2,000-square-foot retail shop chock-full of designer brands like new Jimmy Choo shoes and Hermès purses. Well Suited, their men's resale shop next door, has excellent finds as well.
A rare gem for literary collectors where the smell of aged pages is enough to send you into bookworm ecstasy. Owner Richard Murian knows his stuff, so ask away. He's like a knight of the wordsmiths.
BEST FREE THINGS
A moderate-to-difficult hike where the huff and puff is rewarded with 360-degree views. It's very popular with locals, so come early to avoid the crowds — and also to avoid the hot mid-day sun in warmer months.
A moderate-to-difficult switchback trail with more diverse fauna than Camelback. Keep going until you reach Piestewa Peak, formerly Squaw Peak. It was renamed in honor of Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman in history to die in combat while serving with the U.S. military and the first woman in the U.S.armed forces killed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Built in 2010, Paolo Soleri's modern design is not only a bridge but also an ingenious sundial.
WHERE TO STAY
The former hacienda of artist Lon Megargee is a cowboy-chic boutique hotel. Have a cocktail or dinner at LON's on the firepit-dotted patio. What's that aroma in the air? Alligator juniper.
Sanctuary on Camelback
If a celebrity-centric stay is more your speed, this is the spot. Beyonce and Jay-Z spent their honeymoon here among countless other A-list guests. Though, again, don't let that discourage you. The hotel is a totally chill experience perched high among Camelback Mountain with insane views of the Sonoran Desert.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you have a private jet handy, Scottsdale Airport (SDL) has one of the busiest single-runway operations in the country. If not, fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) and rent a car for the 20-minute drive. The Valley of the Sun is so spread out that a car is an absolute necessity.
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
Under Arizona Skies: The Apprentice Desert Shelters at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer