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We’re not sure when or exactly where we were when we fell in love with the Valley of the Sun—we just know it happened. Maybe it was during that early AM hike at Dreamy Draw when a rawboned coyote zipped right past us, maybe it happened while exploring the architecturally perfect Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece Taliesin West, or maybe it was while dining under the stars at Mowry & Cotton, the elegant New American restaurant at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale. One thing we know for sure though: At some point during our weekend in Phoenix, Cupid shot an arrow through us and now we’re officially in love with the sprawling desert metropolis. America’s fifth largest city (sorry, Philly) offers a sunny escape for families, couples and singles alike. Here’s where to go and what to do.
Hit a home run
Want to score major league points with your kids, colleagues or the baseball fanatic in your life? The Valley of the Sun is one of two locations (the other being Florida) where MLB teams come for pre-season practice beginning in February, and catching a Cactus League exhibition game lures thousands to Phoenix each spring. Take yourself out to stadiums like Salt River Fields (training home of the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks) or Sloan Park (training home of the Chicago Cubs) and don’t forget to order some peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
Go with the Row
There was a time when visiting Phoenix meant beelining it for neighboring Scottsdale (see below). What a difference a decade makes! True, downtown is booming again, but where you’ll really want to set your sights is on Roosevelt Row, a pedestrian-friendly and loft-filled neighborhood less than a mile north of downtown and centered around the bars, shops and eateries lining Roosevelt Street. Check out The Churchill, a bustling food hall, FilmBar, an indie multiplex serving beer and wine, morning bites at Matt’s Big Breakfast, and hangouts like Cobra Arcade Bar and Angels Trumpet Ale House.
Do an afternoon on the town, Old Town that is
Beam us up, Scottsdale! Part of the Phoenix metro area, this sunny resort town is beloved for its spas, golf courses and walkable Old Town. Take the kiddies to Sugar Bowl, a pink-hued, retro soda fountain that’s been serving up thick shakes and ooey, gooey sundaes since 1958. Parents, meanwhile, should take an art walk, then duck into one of the many wine bars (Arizona vinos are legit!). Merkin Vineyards, for example, offers a flight of reds that’s perfect for “chilly” days, plus its large, wrap around bar will make you feel like you’re visiting an oenophile version of Cheers (Norm not included). Everyone else should head to packed Diego Pops for snow cone margaritas and tasty tacos. Don’t forget a selfie in front of the “LOVE” sculpture near the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
Have a change of art
Phoenix has great museums (check out the beloved Musical Instruments Museum on the outskirts of town), but if you’re looking to explore art while enjoying the great outdoors, head to Oak Street Alley, a street tucked away within a residential neighborhood that’s been taken over by a mural project a few miles northeast of downtown. An obligatory mural spelling out Phoenix in vintage block lettering is just waiting to be photographed and be on the lookout for a 3D mural with a child standing in front, as well as a Converse mural that ingeniously integrates the telephone pole blocking it. A mural festival happens every March (but in 2020 happens in October).
Rise, shine, hike
Even if trail mix is something you only eat while in front of the television, you need to get into nature in Arizona. In Phoenix, you’re never more than 15 minutes from a walkable preserve or a traversable peak and all skill levels are easily accommodated making a morning or evening hike (afternoons can be dangerously hot in summer) a great activity for families, couples and solo adventurers. For a light jaunt, head to Papago Park (home to kid-friendly attractions like the Phoenix Zoo) and walk the super cinch Double Butte Loop. Intermediate trekkers will enjoy wandering the numerous paths cut into Dreamy Draw (its proximity to the freeway ensures you’ll never get too lost) while only fit hikers should tackle Camelback Mountain, the city’s most iconic peak.
Take a sundae funday
Wondering where your grandparents—or perhaps great grandparents—might’ve gone on their first date? Step back in time at MacAlpine Soda Fountain, a kid-friendly diner and ice cream shop that’s been serving tummy-aching sundaes (like the classic banana split featuring an ice cream trio surrounded by banana and topped with strawberries, pineapple and hot fudge), fizzy phosphates (basically soft drinks), savory blue plate specials and more since 1924. Enter though the neighboring antique store and saddle up to the vintage counter for a mid-century time warp. It’s the perfect cherry on top to any Phoenix vacation.
The most common word uttered in the Valley of the Sun is surely, “ahhhh!” Phoenix-Scottsdale is a bona fide spa mecca and a perfect destination for creative unwinding in the form of a Himalayan salt stone ritual or a desert serenity scrub. Top spas in town include The Phoenician Spa at the Phoenician, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess and Alvadora Spa at Royal Palms Resort. During our Phoenix stay, for example, we spent an afternoon soaking in the communal areas at the Phoenician Spa, treated ourselves to an aromatherapy massage (where we built our own custom-designed scent) and then followed it all up with a poolside dinner at onsite restaurant Mowry & Cotton. It was a heavenly day.
Located along a sloping hillside spiked with cacti and featuring panoramic horizon views, Taliesin West was the winter home of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright and today houses the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Wright believed Taliesin West (actually a complex of buildings) should be constructed to resemble the desert landscape it’s set in, as evidenced by the open windows, abundance of natural light and desert masonry. The 90-minute Insights Tour offers visitors a chance to see Wright’s bedroom, living room, drafting studio, Music Pavilion and immaculate grounds—plus soak up tons of Wright trivia and juicy biographical tidbits.
Think of UnderTow and Century Grand—two of the Valley’s coolest cocktail bars—as mini theme parks for adults. At tiki-themed UnderTow, enter through coffee shop Sip and look for the thatched straw hut in the middle of the room. Follow the staircase to the basement where you’ll be transported to the hull of an 18th-century trading vessel hauling rum and other spices along the famed Spice Route. Look through the portholes and you’ll swear the bar is a legit moving vessel (or maybe it’s just the boozy, flaming libations). Yup, UnderTow is the coolest bar in Phoenix-Scottsdale, that is until you walk next door to Century Grand. This railroad-themed bar includes turn-of-the-century car Platform 18 where bartenders serve up craft cocktails while passengers gaze out the windows at the passing “scenery.”
Looking for sun-drenched swimming pools, stargazing sessions and mountain views? You’ve come to the right city. At Hotel Valley Ho, a mid-century legend in Old Town Scottsdale is reborn. Take the Magical History Tour to learn about the hotel’s Hollywood past, wake and bake at one of two swimming pools or just swing open the doors of your chic and cheerful guest room and enjoy the desert air—every room comes with either a patio or balcony. Kids will love the Show Stopper Shake at restaurant ZuZu, it has to be seen to be believed. (Adults love it as well). Get a little more elbow room at resort-style Mountain Shadows Resort, in Paradise Valley. The mountain it sits in the shadow of? That would be famed Camelback. Play a round of golf, book a stargazing session or a guided photography hike, relax poolside or sit and stare at a meteor shower with cocktail in hand.
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