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Scottsdale’s Wild Mix of Art, Food, and the Outdoors

Scottsdale has long been known as Phoenix’s most tiny suburb. But this western resort town continues to blend new and old, and its eclectic mix of urban sophistication and active outdoor activities has helped to maintain its unique sense of place.

Start with the art

Scottsdale boasts 150 art galleries, museums and art dealers within its city limits, and nearly half of them are clustered in the downtown area’s Arts District. You can spend a good portion of a day wandering the galleries—but if the daytime heat gets to you, note that on Thursday evenings, everything stays open late for the weekly Scottsdale ArtWalk series. And there’s a free downtown trolley in town, too—it runs every 15 minutes, seven days per week, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The trolley serves the Arts District, Old Town, Fifth Avenue Shops, Scottsdale Fashion Square, the Waterfront, and SouthBridge.

Another great option is to take a visit to Taliesin West, the former winter home of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Today, the property contains an architecture school. There are a variety of tours available, ranging from one to three hours in length. There’s even a Junior Architect tour offered, aimed at parents with children aged 6-12.

Also worth a visit while in town is the Cattle Track Artist Compound, a fascinating facility that has served as a refuge for artists since 1936. Free tours allow visitors to wander the buildings, meet the artists, and even purchase their work. Cattle Track includes creatives from visual artist Mark McDowell to stoneware pottery master Mary Van Dusen, as well as photographers, magicians, furniture makers and blacksmiths.

Cattle Track has been involved in a partnership with the nearby Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa, which opened in 2017. The 201-room resort—located a mere mile away—worked with the compound’s painters, sculptors, ceramicists, photographers, printmakers, fiber artists, and textile designers. The stunning results are seen in the rooms and public spaces, including some gorgeous rotating pieces that guests will see in and around the lobby. This resort truly takes the “local art” concept to new heights. Guestrooms and suites here range in size from 350 to 1,800 square feet. Nightly room rates are seasonally based, starting at $399 per night during Scottsdale’s peak season. Suite pricing starts at $2,500 during peak season.

Andaz’s rooms are graciously spread out across 23 acres, and the whole resort has an upscale, relaxed vibe to it. Stunning Camelback Mountain presides over the entire grounds, so even a short walk to the pool or over to the resort’s excellent Palo Verde Spa & Apothecary will leave you mesmerized from the never-ending views.

Eating options

Scottsdale is known for food, as well, and it didn’t disappoint on a recent trip there—if anything, it’s a challenge to choose from the city’s 800-some restaurants. The Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen at the above-mentioned Andaz resort was a hit during all three meals of the day. From regional creations such as blue corn pancakes for breakfast to a wonderful array of fresh fish for dinner, there’s something for everyone here, and the views of the pool and resort grounds will make you want to linger just a little longer for an after-dinner drink or two.

FnB, in the heart of Old Town, combines ingredients in unexpected ways, with almost miraculous results. Cauliflower combines with chaat masala, onion, yogurt, dates, and tomato for a veggie side dish possibly better than any you’ve experienced before. And beets join beautifully with a sprinkling of vadouvan, goat cheese, and croutons on top of a bed of lettuce—trying to share this dish may provoke an argument over who gets the final few bites! The menu changes seasonally and the ingredients are fresh and flavorful all around.

If you’re hungry for some Mexican food (and why wouldn’t you be after a day of strolling around in the desert?), SOL Mexican Cantina features a plentiful menu that includes delicious street tacos and other southwestern fare. The decor here is high end yet fun, and the bar will replace those margaritas just as fast as you can consume them.

Speaking of alcohol, Scottsdale boasts both an Ale Trail and a Wine Trail. The city boasts more than 30 craft breweries, as well as five different winery tasting rooms—a growing trend here the past few years. Experience Scottsdale, the city’s visitors bureau publishes fun and informative maps for both trails.

Get back outside

We used Arizona Outdoor Adventures to book a half-day guided kayaking tour of the Lower Salt River. We left early in the morning to beat the midday heat, which turned out to be a smart move. Navigating my kayak down the relaxing, class-1 river was really a memorable experience, with breathtaking views of four different mountain ranges all around. The Salt River flows down the mountainous northern part of the state and is a gentle waterway here, thanks to four dams that control its volume. Expect to see wildlife including herons, eagles and wild horses. We saw several groups of horses, including some that were wading in the river.

Guests of several nearby resorts, including Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, The Phoenician, and Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia can sign up for guided hikes to the top of 2,700-foot Camelback Mountain. Other great nearby hikes abound, including Pinnacle Peak Park, McDowell Sonoran Preserve, and McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Whether you’re most interested in gaining elevation, experiencing wildlife and wildflowers, or even trying your mountain biking abilities, the Scottsdale area contains tens of thousands of acres of magnificent public lands.

Or, for a different view of things—one that takes a lot fewer calories to achieve—spend a morning with Hot Air Expeditions. This outfitter conducts early morning and evening hot air balloon rides to afford tourists stunning views of the Sonoran Desert from high above. Flights range from 45-60 minutes in length and depending on weather conditions, you may soar anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 feet. Each flight includes either a morning breakfast or evening hors-d’oeuvres.

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