Western chic meets outdoor splendor
Think of your coolest friend. You know the one. She’s out running a desert trail in the morning, taking in a hip art festival in the afternoon, and then ready for a night out on the town in the evening.
To top it off, she always knows the trendiest spots for brunch.
Well, when it comes to towns in Arizona, Scottsdale is your chic friend.
I had a chance to explore the many sides of Scottsdale recently, and I have to say: This community seems to have it all.
Hiking opportunities galore, beautiful open-air dining choices, a buzzing downtown, two spring-training baseball stadiums, an Old West vibe, and fantastic shopping – just to name a few.
Located on the eastern side of the huge Phoenix-area Valley of the Sun, Scottsdale manages to distinguish itself nicely from the other metro areas.
Here are a few of my favorite features of “The West’s Most Western Town.”
While neighboring Phoenix and Paradise Valley claim two of the Valley’s best-known hiking spots – Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak – Scottsdale is no slouch in the hiking department either. (See related post).
Perhaps the most prominent Scottsdale trail is at Pinnacle Peak, a rugged, rocky point that is visible for miles around.
The entire park consists of 150 acres of pristine Sonoran Desert terrain, and the main trail takes hikers right through the middle of it. The trail, which skirts the main peak but still climbs a total of 1,300 feet, is about 1.75 miles one-way. It is heavily used and attracts hikers of all ages, as well as many trail runners.
Spring is arguably the best time to hike Scottsdale’s trails, because of the abundance of wildflowers. And I think the terrain is at its loveliest at dusk.
A host of other stunning Scottsdale desert hikes are available in the nearby McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Downtown/Old Town/Waterfront vibe
Venture into Scottsdale’s charming downtown area on a warm spring Saturday night, and you will immediately sense that this is the heart of the town. Open-air restaurants are everywhere, with conversations buzzing, and cutting-edge food and drink being served.
Choosing from the seemingly endless options for dining, I stopped for lunch at Farm & Craft, an indoor/outdoor spot on the corner of North Scottsdale Road and Sixth Avenue. The venue, with its clever “food + affection + community” theme, is adorable, and the food is delicious.
On another outing, I stopped in at the casual little Crisp pizzeria for a slice, and that was also solid.
The area that makes up Old Town, downtown, and the adjacent Waterfront District is fairly compact and is completely doable on foot. It’s a great walk during the mild weather of the winter, spring, and late fall.
The area also includes the Scottsdale Stadium – one of the many Phoenix-area locations for Major League Baseball’s Cactus League spring-training games. Games take place nearly every day throughout late February and March, adding to downtown Scottsdale’s fun scene.
Arizona in general has a wealth of Mexican-food choices, and Scottsdale is no exception. There are multitudes of Southwestern-cuisine spots to choose from, ranging from taco trucks to fine-dining options.
On one of my cross-town treks, I stopped at the Scottsdale location of the local chain, Blue Adobe Santa Fe Grill. The restaurant is situated in a busy shopping district just off the major Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, so its setting is fairly hectic.
Still, the margarita was on point – properly salty and limey, with a good kick. And the chips, salsa, and fish-and-shrimp-taco combo were near perfection.
I also stopped at the downtown-Scottsdale location of another popular local chain, the Barrio Queen. I love a good ceviche, and Barrio Queen’s ceviche de camaron (shrimp ceviche) appetizer really delivered.
Nearby Tonto National Forest
Along with all of its urban charms, Scottsdale is blessed too with its proximity to the sprawling Tonto National Forest, just to the east. At nearly 3 million acres, the Tonto takes in a range of desert and mountain terrain, including the picturesque Bartlett Lake.
The lake, which is really a dammed reservoir of the Verde River, is known during wet-weather years to be the epicenter of the region’s wildflower “super bloom.” When I visited in March, golden poppies and other flower varieties were everywhere.
The location is a little remote, but if you’re into gorgeous wildflowers and towering saguaros, the drive to Bartlett Lake is definitely worth it. (See related post).
Art is literally everywhere in Scottsdale – from its street-side sculptures to its fountains and reflecting pools.
For an even more concentrated dose, head to the downtown area during the annual March Scottsdale Arts Festive, which is billed as “A three-day-long celebration of art, music, food, and family fun located at Scottsdale Civic Center Park.”
When I visited, the park was packed with creative and colorful art booths, live bands, and an avenue of food-truck options.
Classic desert resorts
I really can’t think of Scottsdale without having visions of the gorgeous desert resorts that dot the landscape.
My favorite is the Scottsdale Fairmont Princess, an Arizona classic that sits among lush desert landscaping and a series of six beautiful swimming pools – each with its own ambiance. I especially love the Sunset Beach Pool, surrounded by 9,000 square feet of white sand. The poolside service is impeccable, and I enjoy nothing more than to lounge poolside with a fruity cocktail and a book.
Another thing to love at the Princess is the annual Christmas at the Princess – a November/December spectacle of holiday cheer that boasts four million holiday lights, an ice-skating rink (Desert Ice), train rides, a carousel, Ferris wheel, and ice slides, and attracts a quarter-million holiday revelers a year. (See post).
While these six features offer a taste of Scottsdale’s charm, there are obviously many other cool traits as well. Depending on their interests, visitors might want to check out: the OdySea in the Desert aquarium and adjoining Butterfly Wonderland; the Scottdale Museum of the West: Western Spirit; the Musical Instrument Museum, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West,
Of course, a trip to Scottsdale wouldn’t be complete without a bit of retail therapy. The community is renowned for its lavish shopping districts, with gorgeous venues such as the Scottsdale Fashion Square, the Scottsdale Quarter, and Kierland Commons.