Here’s Why Scottsdale Should Be Your Next Desert Getaway

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain (Courtesy of Sanctuary Camelback Mountain)

To many, Scottsdale might feel like a flyover destination where people go to retire, but the desert city just east of Phoenix is more than just a great place to golf. It is one of the most vibrant vacation destinations in the U.S., with a resort to suit every personality type and a thriving arts scene. Scottsdale is known internationally as a mecca for art collectors, and it has more than 100 galleries that exhibit fine art from around the world as well as Arizona. Scottsdale’s ArtWalk began in 1975 and still takes place throughout the Old Town Scottsdale Art District — with its soothing fountains and tree-canopy-covered courtyards — most Thursdays. And because nearly half of Scottsdale’s land area is open space, you can go hiking or horseback riding in the morning and visit one of the best contemporary art museums in the afternoon. It’s truly one of the most well-rounded getaways in the West. Here are our recommendations for where to stay, eat and explore in Scottsdale.


Where to Stay

The Scott Resort & Spa (from $429 per night) in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale merges Mission-style architecture with the angular lines of the Bauhaus. It has 204 guest rooms and suites with warm wood furniture and bronze accents bringing a touch of glamour. The hotel’s two pristine pools — including a family-friendly sand-bottom swimming pool and main lagoon pool with cabanas and a pool bar — mean it is never a challenge to escape the desert heat. The full-service spa, La Vidorra, has six treatment rooms and facial treatments and massages like the Havana Herbal Salt Stone Massage using Cuba-inspired aromatherapy. The Canal Club, specializing in bright cocktails and modern Caribbean-American cuisine, transports guests to old Havana.

East Coast hospitality brand Gurney’s Resorts, which has luxurious-yet-laid-back properties in Montauk, made its first foray into the West last year with the acquisition of Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain and destination spa lovers rejoiced. At Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, A Gurney’s Resort & Spa (from $599 per night) in Paradise Valley, every casita, suite or mountainside villa has desert views. The contemporary streamlined architecture and serene location next to Camelback Mountain already offer a mind and body reboot, but an Asian-inspired treatment in the spa featuring 12 indoor-and-outdoor treatment rooms and a meditation garden will truly leave you feeling like new. The hotel’s restaurant, Elements, serving farm-fresh American cuisine with Asian influences, and sleek jade bar with a backlit jade onyx drink rail round out the pampering.

Originally opened in 1956 and recently restored to its former splendor, Hotel Valley Ho (from $469 per night) is a downtown Scottsdale retreat with midcentury modern style and contemporary amenities. Guests can choose everything from a sunny cabana and wide-open studio to a chic tower suite with a living room, kitchen, washer and dryer and walk-in closet. Every room offers either a private patio or balcony and floor-to-ceiling glass letting in plenty of Arizona sunshine. The circular pool surrounded by colorful lounge chairs and palm trees is an urban oasis. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Old Town Scottsdale’s restaurants and shopping are just a short walk from the hotel.

Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale (from $519 per night), built below Camelback Mountain in 1959, reemerged as one of Scottsdale’s top design hotels after it was completely rebuilt in 2017. Located in Paradise Valley, the resort has modern lines and stark desert surroundings. The hotel’s Library Coffee Cart has design-centric books by Taschen and creative coffee drinks. Mountain guest rooms look out onto Camelback Mountain while guest rooms in the luxury wing are large and lavish including a modern three-bedroom penthouse with five private decks.

Above the rugged Sonoran Desert in the town of Fountain Hills, ADERO Scottsdale (from $359) is in a certified Dark Sky Community. The 177 large rooms and suites have balconies for taking in starry skies and sweeping views. The hotel also has a trailhead on site for hiking and mountain biking and a restorative spa offering activities and treatments inspired by the healing powers of the desert: sound healing with crystal singing bowls, sunrise yoga sessions, desert bathing walks and treatments utilizing amethyst-infused oil, blue corn and turquoise.

glowing fountain at dusk with cactus in the background
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West (Photo courtesy of Taliesin West)

What to Do

Every architecture lover should visit Taliesin West. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and laboratory is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built by Wright and his apprentices beginning in 1937, it is a study in desert colors and landscapes and how buildings can meld with their surroundings. The low-slung buildings, made of local stone, wood and desert sand, are designed to reflect the expansive desert while redwood beams add red accents. Taliesin West’s popular Sunset and Sips program resumes in October with happy hours offered on the property on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.

Architecture and design enthusiasts should also head to Cosanti in Paradise Valley. Italian-born architect Paolo Soleri built the imaginative structures in the 1950s and ’60s using his earth-casting technique. A concrete shell was formed over a mound of dirt and the soil was excavated from below by hand. Visitors can go on a guided tour of Soleri’s studio, the residential structures, which remain remarkably cool despite the desert heat, and bronze foundry where artisans still make bronze and ceramic wind-bells based on Soleri’s original design. Their sale funds the work of the Cosanti Foundation.

The free annual public art event Canal Convergence takes place this November 4 to 13 on the Scottsdale Waterfront. The 10th anniversary theme is Water + Art + Light. Large-scale light-based public artworks by international artists will illuminate the Scottsdale Canal.

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), in a minimalist building by award-winning architect Will Bruder, has four galleries for showcasing rotating exhibitions and a sculpture garden with the Turrell Skyspace, where visitors can see the sky through an elliptical opening in the ceiling. Also on display this fall: Janel Garzon’s mural “Environ” and Los Angeles–based Mandan/Hidatsa artist Teresa Baker’s Capturing Space exhibition featuring seven large-scale hanging works made of buffalo hide, willow and other natural materials.


Where to Eat

Cala, which opened at the new Senna House hotel in January, is like a voyage to the Mediterranean with dishes inspired by Greece, Spain, Italy and Morocco. Acclaimed chef and television personality Beau MacMillan is the culinary director and serves up a crowd-pleasing menu of pastas, pizzas and dishes like branzino a la plancha with blistered tomatoes, fennel and beluga lentils.

One of Scottsdale’s best restaurants lies in the luxury wing of the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall. At Francine, the city’s most stylish denizens sip rosé Champagne and dine on dishes like roast duck with broccolini and blackberry and salad niçoise at the curved marble bar or on the patio. The chef was raised in the South of France and the menu is a tribute to his mother’s bright and flavorful cooking.

In the McCormick Ranch neighborhood, Campo Italian Bistro & Bar is a modern Italian taverna serving bubbling pizzas and fresh pastas. Chef Alex Stratta got his start working for chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud, and he ultimately earned two Michelin stars while working at restaurants in Las Vegas. Now Scottsdale diners are reaping the benefits.

FnB in Scottsdale isn’t new, it opened in 2009, but it has continued to earn raves year after year for its focus on Arizona ingredients and Arizona wine. Chef Charleen Badman won the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southwest in 2019. While the menu changes nightly, expect seasonal dishes like chilled melon soup and Peruvian spring rolls. The location in historic Craftsman Court in downtown Scottsdale makes it a great choice after an evening spent gallery hopping.

wooden tables and white booths inside Cala restaurant
Cala (Photo by Jenna McKone for Experience Scottsdale)