SCOTTSDALE – It’s that time of year again. The sound of the bat hitting a baseball. Cold beers passed down the aisle. And the Arizona sun in your face.
Spring training games have begun for the 15 Major League Baseball teams based in Arizona. And Scottsdale, with its central location, is hands down the best place to base yourself for a baseball spring. It’s also home to the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies for spring training practice and games, which continue for several more weeks.
Not only is Scottsdale popular with retirees, but it also has an increasingly urban and youthful vibe; with hip coffee shops, Instagram-worthy dining spots, great cultural attractions and a very walkable downtown.
Here’s a look at one frequent visitor’s favourite things to see and do in the city, along with some fine food and hotel recommendations.
There are some intense climbs if you’re into that sort of thing. But you’ll also find dozens, even hundreds, of relatively easy hikes and walks that almost anyone can enjoy. Camelback Mountain, just north of downtown, takes a couple hours to climb. But there are fine views from the first main lookout that would satisfy most casual hikers. Papago Park is very close to downtown and also has great hikes for all ages. The folks at The Boulders Resort can take you on magical walks through amazing rock formations that look like they’re ready to topple over any second (relax, they’ve been that way for hundreds if not thousands of years).
The Four Seasons Resort also has terrific hikes. I had a marvelous walk in the north part of Scottsdale a few years ago, checking out the lovely, tranquil river valley at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area. It’s not really a hiking spot, but the Desert Botanical Garden is a great place to walk and admire the wonders of cactus and other desert plants. They have a terrific light and music show at night called Electric Desert that goes on until May 12, 2019.
Troon North is a remarkable course carved out of the desert; with deep green grass surrounded by towering saguaro cactus and deep brown, sun-baked rocks and bluffs. Need something a little faster and closer to downtown? The par-three course at Mountain Shadows Resort is a stunner that rests in the shadow of Camelback Mountain.
It’s in fantastic shape and has a number of difficult holes that make it one of the top par-three courses anywhere. The TPC Scottsdale is one of the best-known courses in the U.S. and hosts the rowdy, riotous Waste Management Phoenix Open every year on the PGA Tour. It’s a beauty that was designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish.
The Musical Instrument Museum is an outstanding spot that celebrates everything from rock and roll to jazz and world rhythms. You’ll find everything from Swedish bagpipes (who knew) to Turkish guitars and Indian chaturangui. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (free on Thursdays) features cutting edge displays of modern works in a lovely building.
There’s also an exceptional gift shop. Western Spirit, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, offers up everything from Impressionist-style works to bronze figures of cowboys and native Americans. When I was there they also had stunning photographs taken by former Arizona senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
Architecture and Culture
Taliesin West is the former Arizona home of world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Take a tour and you can learn about his architecture and art, as well as hearing tales of his dashing about the Arizona desert at breakneck speed in his early driving days. A remarkable spot to celebrate a legendary American architect.
Don’t miss a chance to tour Cosanti, where the late artist Paolo Soleri once worked and where you can have a free look around at today’s artists making magnificent bells and other items. The wavy rooftops are said to have inspired some of the house designs seen in the early Star Wars movies.
Fashion Square is a massive, multi-level indoor mall on the edge of downtown, just north of the beautiful, park-like Arizona Canal. There are plenty of high-end shops, but also fun places like Sports Expression, where you can buy sports bobbleheads or plaques supporting your favorite baseball team. Better still, try the independent shops downtown such as Giving Bracelets, where they make wonderful jewelry out of leather and other goods.
Just a few doors down is Carmen, where you’ll find Arizona-designed goods, scented candles and other fine products. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA) also has a lovely gift shop with fun, creative items. If your energy is lagging, Cartel is a fabulous coffee shop with killer lattes, as well as craft beer. A little further south, Sip also is a very urban and urbane place with a strong community spirit and equally strong coffee. They also have local beers on tap.
One of the closest hotels to downtown is the classic Hotel Valley Ho, a 1956 property done up in mid-century modern style with tremendous bones and bright colors of orange and aquamarine.
If Mad Men’s Don Draper ever came to Scottsdale this is where he’d stay. Try their Zuzu restaurant for dinner, and don’t miss their Showstopper dessert shakes.
A little further north, their sister property, Mountain Shadows, is another spot that was wildly popular with Hollywood types back in the day. It was closed for a bit but re-opened less than two years ago as a sleek and sexy modern hotel with a fantastic swimming pool complex and a wonderful restaurant called Hearth 61. The Hyatt Regency is a little further north but just a minute or two off Scottsdale Road. You’ll find a series of gorgeous swimming pools and expansive grounds, as well as gondola rides, a water slide, a beach, a free birds of prey show and other great features.
Be sure to sign up for the Wine Me/Dine Me program at their SWB restaurant, where you’ll get treated to a fabulously inventive, four-course meal made up with the freshest ingredients and matched with tequila and fine wines. It’s $65 without the booze, $90 (USD) if you want the tequila and wine. A very good deal for the quality and portions. And you’ll be seated at a bar with a front-row seat so you can see the chefs at play.
Dining & Drinking
Downtown Scottsdale is home to several Arizona winery tasting rooms. The grapes are grown at cooler elevations north and south of the city, but they’ve set up tasting rooms where the people are, which makes sense. I loved the wines at LDV Winery, where they specialize in Rhone varietals such as Syrah. Equally impressive, and a little less expensive, were the wines at Carlson Creek Vineyard. Their Sangiovese ($26 at the tasting room) is plush and rich and not at all jammy.
The restaurant scene seems to grow every time I go back. Craft 64 serves up fabulous pizza. They make their own beer and have their own label of wine (from Oregon). Better yet, they make their own mozzarella and their own dough and use only fresh, local, organic ingredients. Try The Fico pizza with fig sauce, three kinds of cheese and arugula. It’s even better if you add prosciutto. I loved the breakfast burritos and the avocado toast with egg whites at Farm and Craft, where they also have taps dispensing wine, beer and cold-brewed coffee.
Citizen Public House is now home to the famous Stetson or Scottsdale chopped salad, which features arugula, salmon, couscous, tomatoes, corn, pepitas and cranberries. It’s a salad that has its own Facebook page if you can believe it.
Diego Pops is a tremendous spot with a youthful vibe and great tacos. Try the nachos with roasted Brussels Sprouts and a fried egg on top for a tasty, filling treat.
Hula Modern Tiki has very good food (try the macadamia nut-encrusted mahi-mahi, just like in Hawaii) and terrific drinks. The just-right Mai Tai is only $8 during regular hours and $6 during happy hour. A crazy good deal in a restaurant that draws a young crowd. If you want to try a variety of foods, check out the Taste of Scottsdale program with Arizona Food Tours, where you’ll not only get to try five great restaurants but learn a little about the city’s history.
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