Bordered by Phoenix to the west, Scottsdale is a destination in its own right. Don’t be fooled: it may be nicknamed “the West’s Most Western Town” — and you can certainly learn to Arizona two-step and come home with a pair of cowboy boots if you’d like — but it also flourishes with visual artists and museums, food artisans and fashion, and, of course, adventure. Read on for our recommendations of eight ways to wrangle up some fun in Scottsdale (and find more through the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau).
- Museums: From the Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring a public “skyspace” by Arizona-based artist James Turrell, to the 1-year-old Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, to the stunning and serene Old Adobe Mission, Scottsdale offers a variety of options for the culture-goer. Of all the possibilities, we recommend you make sure to set aside time to visit Taliesin West (pictured above). Built by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s, the property was his winter home and studio for many years. Take the 90-minute tour of the historical landmark given by one of the knowledgeable docents, and you’ll not only get to sit where Wright sat, but you’ll leave inspired both by the simplicity and beauty of the architecture and the surrounding 160 desert acres.
- Galleries: Every Thursday evening except Thanksgiving, downtown Scottsdale brings attention to its Arts District with the 40-year-old ArtWalk. It’s a great time to wander in and out of galleries and chat one-on-one with both owners and artists. If you can’t hit a Thursday night, still plan to walk the along Main Street and Marshall Way for a glimpse at a wide-range of artistic styles. We loved Gebert Contemporary (look for the extremely large head sculpture out front), the Bishop Gallery (chock full of both art and antiques), and Blink Gallery for the metalwork and sculpture of Ingrid Donaldson Design (tucked in little courtyard off Main Street).
- Farmers Markets: Old Town is home to a large and varied market filled with local growers and food producers on Saturday mornings. Purchase items here ranging from homemade caramels and almond croissants to goat milk lotions and free-range eggs. For an extra-special Saturday market experience, head just a little out of downtown to the 20-acre Singh Farms to grab freshly picked greens and veggies, artisan bread, fresh-squeezed carrot-orange juice, and honey, and wander the grounds lovingly tended by owners Lee and Ken Singh.
- Outdoor action: Choices, choices. Hike (and partially scramble) the intense Echo Canyon Trail 1.2 miles up (and back down) Camelback Mountain. Bike some of the 60-plus miles of McDowell Sonoran Preserve, including the “Double Bypass,” a 1,600-foot rise over two passes. Kayak the scenic Class 1 Lower Salt River and watch for bald eagles and wild horses. You can’t really go wrong with any outdoor adventure as long as you plan for the heat. (Go early, wear sunscreen, and bring water.)
- Spas: Many of the local spas feature Arizona products in their treatments, from agave extract to desert lavender. And you can find massages, facials and the like at both resort and day spas. One location that stands out is the Well & Being Spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which offers all these treatments and more amid a luxurious environ. From the grotto waterfall to the rooftop pool to the eucalyptus inhalation room, Well & Being encourages you to stay awhile. Meet with a counselor for a body composition scan in a Bod Pod or sign up for a fitness class. Especially fun? Aerial yoga. If you’ve never done inversions hanging a few feet above the ground from a silk hammock, your neck, shoulders and back will thank you after this class. (And, let us say, your core and arms will get a serious workout.)
- Dining: It’s hard to throw a rock and not hit a locally owned restaurant in Scottsdale. (Which we don’t recommend doing, but you catch our drift.) Smart options to try? Bink’s Kitchen + Bar to taste some of James Beard Award finalist Kevin Binkley’s treats. FnB for unique takes on veggie and meat dishes. Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue for beef brisket and veg-friendly pulled squash. And Sweet Republic for Salted Butter Caramel ice cream.
- Craft and creative beverages: Start your morning off with a single origin pour-over from Cartel Coffee Lab, sip on a 100 percent organic Turmeric Flush at Kaleidoscope Juice, grab an early evening flight of Japanese whiskey at Second Story Liquor Bar, and maybe return to Cartel to try a pint of Coffee Brown ale on tap. Or seek out a prickly pear margarita — they’re easily found in bars all around town.
- Shopping: As mentioned earlier, cowboy boots (and Wranglers and turquoise jewelry) are a staple in many stores here, but they’re not the only options. Stop by the 27-year-old Poisoned Pen indie bookstore to purchase a new release or sit in on a mystery author panel discussion led by owner Barbara Peters. Oogle vintage dresses at Fashion by Robert Black — and if he’s not on site, let manager Alicia Chavira usher you into the dressing room to try on a few pieces while she astounds you with her knowledge of the designers of the 1940s, ’50s and beyond. And if you’re seeking a gift to bring home to loved ones, stop in Chocolade Van Brugge for a box of traditional Belgian chocolates.
About the Author:
Kirsten Akens is a freelance writer, traveler, and restorative yoga evangelist. She’s a lover of books, Boston terriers, blogging, (cowboy) boots, Browncoats & baked goods. And she has an unnatural affection for alliteration.