Scottsdale, Arizona, is definitely a resort town, but there is so much more to do than sit by the pool all day (although that certainly isn’t a bad idea, either). It neighbors Phoenix, and it’s about a 20-minute drive from the Phoenix airport to Scottsdale proper. Because the city is spread out, having a car is a plus, but ride-sharing apps are an effective and economical way to get around. Once you’re there, you’ll have no shortage of great things to eat, drink, and do. But if you’re only visiting for a weekend (try to make it a long one), this is the best way to spend it.
What to do in Scottsdale
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
This small but mighty museum is a great way to get out of the hot Arizona sun and take in some modern art. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art usually has three exhibitions that rotate a few times a year. Recently, there was a glass art exhibit that showcased the medium in stunning shapes, sizes, and colors. One of the three exhibits is typically interactive, allowing visitors to touch, listen, and watch art pieces transform before their eyes. The staff here is extra friendly and will walk you through an exhibit or explain specific pieces to anyone who asks.
Arizona Outback Adventures
Scottsdale is a great place to visit if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, and Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA) has been serving the local community since 1997. It specializes in bike rentals, guided adventure tours, and multi-day backpacking and hiking excursions. Embark on an AOA outing in the morning to beat the heat and make sure you have time for another activity in the afternoon. You can choose from activities like mild river rafting, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and road and mountain biking. An expert guide will lead you on the experience so you get the most out of your nature adventure. If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, the nearby McDowell Sonoran Preserve has an excellent accessible trail for an easy desert outing.
Where to eat and drink
For innovative food pairings: Mowry & Cotton
Mowry & Cotton, located inside The Phoenician resort, has the kind of expansive, plush dining room that makes you feel right at home, if your home includes stellar dining service. The helpful staff will guide you through chef Tandy Peterson’s inventive dishes. She grew up hunting pheasants with her father, and you’ll see the bird sprinkled throughout the menu in a variety of preparations (definitely try the soup, though). Peterson has a knack for flavor pairings, like buttermilk buns served with citrus sea salt butter and duck fat fig butter. The local melon salad with vanilla lemon vinaigrette is a must-order, as is the grilled cabbage, which is a flavor bomb of charred orange, shiso goat cheese, cornbread croutons, and duck egg. The prime pork steak is succulent, cooked perfectly medium rare and served with peanuts, white kimchi, and bok choy salad. The excellent cocktails and spirits list will keep you lingering long after the meal is over.
Where: 6000 E Camelback Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
For wine lovers: Merkin Vineyards
Founded by Grammy-winning musician MJ Keenan, Merkin Vineyards is making some of the best Arizona wine. The winery has 110 acres of vineyards in the Verde Valley and Willcox, but the Old Town Scottsdale tasting room is one of the best places to experience the wines. Merkin’s diverse portfolio includes the beautiful Chupacabra — a grenache, syrah, and mourvédre blend — and Helio Dolce dessert wine. The food is excellent, too, and most ingredients are sourced from the Merkin Vineyards greenhouses, gardens, and orchards. The tasting room is a great place to kick off a night on the town.
Where: 7133 E Stetson Dr #4, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
For a touch of local seasonal flair: FnB
FnB has been serving seasonal Arizona cuisine for a decade, and owner and chef Charleen Badman has been nominated for the James Beard Best Chef Southwest award six years in a row. She won in 2019, and her food definitely deserves the accolade. Badman is always looking to highlight Arizona’s best farmers and seasonal ingredients, so the menu is constantly changing. Small plates are piled high with vegetables, like the cabbage with dried apricot, mint, green almonds, and feta. You’ll likely find greens and beans on the menu, such as collard greens with pickled jalapeño, black eyed peas, and parmesan, and roasted broccoli with grapefruit, yogurt, and dukkah. Main dishes often include a pasta and perfectly cooked proteins, like lamb loin with Arizona grains, tepary beans, purple peas chermoula, and mint. Delicious cocktails and a wine list expertly curated by co-owner and beverage director Pavle Milic features both local and international vinos.
Where: 7125 E 5th Ave #31, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
For craft pizza and Arizona beverages: Craft 64
You might not think of pizza when you’re planning a meal in Scottsdale, but Craft 64 is not to be missed. The restaurant’s oven heats to more than 900 degrees and turns out wood-fired pies that are crispy in all the right places. Craft 64 sources its produce locally and makes gooey mozzarella from scratch every day. On a recent visit, we ordered a perfect margarita pie as well as the Fico, which was topped with mozzarella, Parmigiano, ricotta, arugula, truffle oil, and fig sauce. The restaurant has a wonderful wine list, but the beer selection is truly outstanding. There’s a rotating assortment of 30 Arizona beers, ciders, and meads on tap, and you can order a flight if you’re having trouble deciding. We sipped on two selections from Superstition Meadery: the coveted Blueberry Spaceship Box cider and mind-blowingly good Peanut Butter Jelly Crime mead. Cocktails are also available if you’re seeking something stronger.
Where: 6922 E Main St, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Where to Stay
It’s perfectly acceptable to spend the bulk of your Scottsdale vacation soaking up all the resort amenities. If you’re in need of some serious R&R, a stay at The Phoenician will make you feel anew. The rooms here have a luxurious desert feel with just the right amount of minimalist touches. The huge Italian marble bathrooms are outfitted with rain showers and soaking tubs, and the private balcony is a perfect place to enjoy morning coffee and pastries from the grab-and-go Marketplace. Much of the time, resort food is just okay, but The Phoenician has excellent dining options with Mowry & Cotton and J&G Steakhouse, which offers prime cuts of beef and fresh seafood options. The newly opened Phoenician Tavern serves traditional pub fare like burgers, fish and chips, and ice-cold beer. Even the Mediterranean-inspired skewers and hummus from poolside restaurant Kalio Kabobery were a hit. The pool complex will make anyone feel like a kid, especially if you take a turn on the twisty, 197-foot water slide. Or you can simply lounge on a chaise or in a cabana and take in the sparkling blue waters.
If you like to workout on the go, The Phoenican has a two-story, 4,600-square-foot-plus Athletic Club, plus a studio for group classes. Seven tennis courts are up for grabs (as well as tennis classes), and bike rentals and a beautiful golf course are also on the roster. The on-site Phoenician Spa has rejuvenating massages, detoxifying body wraps, and couples packages. The Hydrafacial is an experience that cleanses, exfoliates, extracts, and hydrates to leave skin glowing and radiant. If you typically wear makeup, you won’t need it for days following this service.
Where: 6000 E Camelback Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
The Scott Resort & Spa
If you’re looking for luxury accommodations that feel a little more indie and intimate, The Scott Resort & Spa is one of the dreamiest places in town. Set against Scottsdale’s historical downtown, the rooms are clean and modern with sleek bronze accents like a tempting bar cart with all the fixings. You don’t have to stray far for a great meal, as the on-site restaurant and bar, The Canal Club, serves excellent Caribbean-inspired American fare from Chef Chris Castro. The menu boasts everything from hearty salads and shrimp ceviche to a crispy skinned salmon and spiced skirt steak with poblano chimichurri. The Canal Club’s signature cocktails will quickly get you into the vacation spirit with tropical libations like the Green Bird, a Caipirinha twist made with gin, kiwi, vanilla, Green Chartreuse, and lemon.
The Scott has two glittering pools to cool you off from the Arizona heat. Surrounded by lush gardens, swimming through the water will almost make you forget you’re in the desert. La Vidorra spa features six dreamy, sun-drenched treatment rooms where you can experience affordable massages, facials and special seasonal treatments that include a tasty cocktail to top things off. The Scott also features a full-service fitness center, complete with everything you need for yoga, strength training and cardio, so you can leave feeling completely rejuvenated. While Old Town Scottsdale is within walking distance, you can also take advantage of the complimentary shuttle or bikes.
Where: 4925 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251