Scottsdale, Arizona, is well known for its extravagant spas, five-star resorts, and high-end retail. The town, part of the Phoenix area, is a rounded wellness destination with a variety of natural, artistic, culinary, and cultural experiences that make it a perfect destination for a long weekend vacation.
Winter is prime time, thanks to temperate days that average around 70 degrees. And though triple-digit summer temperatures may seem intimidating, the resorts are typically quieter, the luxury spas are a bit more affordable, and indoor activities are even more vibrant.
Things to do in Scottsdale
For nature enthusiasts: Hike through the McDowell Sonoran Preserve
No trip to Scottsdale is complete without a visit to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which consists of over 36,000 acres of protected land and has over 200 hiking trails for all ability levels. The best time to arrive at the hiking trails during summer is sunrise. Starting early allows you to avoid the afternoon’s scorching temperature and gives you the opportunity to catch stunning, colorful views of the desert sky. The McDowell Mountains are the perfect backdrop for a serene desert hike with your significant other.
For the adventurous: Take a hot air balloon ride with Hot Air Expeditions
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It’s hard to beat the view of the city and surrounding desert from the air. Like other summer activities in Scottsdale, you’ll need an early start (though there are also afternoon rides November through March). The sunrise balloon ride with Hot Air Expeditions requires a 4:00 AM pick-up time, but the panoramic views from 3,000 feet up are well worth it. It all starts with inflating the balloon with hot air before joining the pilot in the basket (private rides allow for a more intimate experience). Once in the air, the pilot can point out various flora that make the desert landscape unique. Needless to say, the elevated view is incredible for photos. Drivers follow your journey from the ground and set up a table and gourmet breakfast, complete with Champagne, from the Vincent’s on Camelback restaurant wherever you land. People who take their first ride with Hot Air Expeditions also get a balloonist ceremony and the Certificate d’Ascension En Machine Aerostatique.
For modern creatives: Explore interactive art at Wonderspaces
This space in Scottsdale’s Fashion Square Mall is an unsuspecting location for a contemporary art exhibit. However, a mall perfectly aligns with Wonderspaces’s mission to make art more accessible to the public. Here, you’ll find 14 rotating exhibits that incorporate light, sound, color, and movement, like a chalkboard wall where anyone can write what they want to do before they die, or a room illuminated by reflections from 50 disco balls. Before experiencing the exhibits, stop by the Wonderspaces bar, which features specialty cocktails inspired by the installations.
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For the romantic couple: Unwind at a wine tasting at LDV Winery
Old Town Scottsdale is filled with wine tasting rooms. One that’s not to miss is LDV Winery, one of the many wineries along Scottsdale’s wine trail. LDV Winery has four estates and produces wines made with Rhone grape varieties like viognier, grenache, syrah, and petite syrah in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains. At the tasting room, you can sample a rotating selection in a flight or order by the glass or bottle, and there are small snacks, as well. The winery hosts events, too, on location and at nearby businesses, including a wine and art pairing, wine and cheese pairing, and wine and chocolate pairing.
For art lovers: The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Located in Old Town Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art focuses on art, architecture, and design. The building itself was once a movie theater and was redesigned into a museum space with an open, minimalist concept by architect Will Bruder. Exhibits spotlight Black and Indigenous artists, like Beverly McIver: Full Circle, which runs through September 4, 2022, and highlights McIver’s journey of discovery of the African American identity using self-portraits. On permanent view for the public free of charge is artist James Turrell’s Skyspace, which uses natural light to shift the viewer’s perception of the sky and its connection to the building. The best time to see the latter is during sunrise or sunset.
Where to eat and drink in Scottsdale
For Latin cuisine: The Mission
Stop by The Mission for dishes that blend influences from Spain, Central America, and South America. There are two locations, one in Old Town and one in Kierland, the latter of which has a striking main bar centered by a large amber cross. Both locations make tortillas and salsa daily and cook the menu’s meat options on a plancha with pecan and mesquite wood. If you stop by for lunch, try the chicken tortas, a delicious blend of crispy chicken, Oaxacan cheese, and chorizo.
For happy hour and a relaxed dinner: Citizen Public House
Chef Bernie Kantak, a Best Chef Southwest James Beard nominee, created a menu with features like yellowfin crudo or bone marrow for starters and ingredient-focused mains like fair trade short ribs cooked in a coffee rub and cherry barbecue sauce. If you’re in the mood for comfort food, the Amaro Meatloaf, topped with a porcini sauce and demi-glace, is exceptional. The beverage program is also notable. If you are in the mood for an early start, Citizen Public House’s social hour from 4 to 6 PM has snacks like bacon fat popcorn and beer fondue that match perfectly with a beer, wine, or barrel-aged cocktail. The upstairs private room, Benjamin’s Upstairs, was once a natural wine speakeasy and now hosts groups and special events.
For a luxurious Italian dinner: Marcellino Ristorante
The Italian ambiance here encourages guests to linger over house-made pastas, seafood, and wild game. If it’s not too hot, there’s a patio surrounded by olive trees for outdoor dining. Inside of Marcellino Ristorante, there are a number of elevated experiences. A private dining cove comes with a five-course dinner with wine pairings that the chef personalizes for each group after learning each person’s preferences. At the u-shaped chef’s island, there are 16 seats where guests can watch the chef cook on the wood-fired oven and enjoy a four-to-six course tasting menu paired with Italian wine.
For tropical flair: Hula’s Modern Tiki
Inspired by the classic tiki bars of the 50s and 60s, Hula’s Modern Tiki delivers a tropical experience with two large communal tables and an indoor-outdoor concept with a sliding glass front wall. The drinks menu focuses on tiki classics like the painkiller, zombie, and mai tai, along with a selection of signature cocktails and mocktails. Find deep discounts on drinks and appetizers like ceviche, potstickers, and tofu tacos during the long happy hours that run all day on Wednesdays, from 3:30 to 6 PM on every other week day, and all day on weekends (drinks only for weekend happy hour prices). There’s also a weekend brunch that features Hawaiian specialties like loco moco and poke alongside brunch staples.
For speakeasy vibes: Platform 18 at Century Grand
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Head into neighboring Phoenix to sip classic cocktails in a bar inside Century Grand thats modeled after a 1920s Pullman Train Car. This isn’t your average bar. It’s recommended to book a reservation for the 90-minute cocktail journey that comes with a lively story about a railroad tycoon and bootlegger in the Rocky Mountains in the early 20th century. It’s one of three concepts at Century Grand. In the same building, you’ll also find Grey Hen Rx, a bar inspired by a New Orleans apothecary, and UnderTow, a tiki bar designed like a ship complete with rare rums and port-hole-style windows with special effects that make you feel like you’re at sea.
Where to stay in Scottsdale
For a full wellness experience: CIVANA Wellness Resort and Spa
This destination resort focuses on a comprehensive wellness experience that includes a spa and classes that range from wall yoga to desert bathing to meditation to mindful mixology. If you’re at CIVANA Wellness Resort and Spa with a significant other, try the Feng Shui: Love and Relationships class that incorporates the art of feng shui with manifesting techniques, crystals, and oils. The Spa King, King, and Double Queen rooms have a private walk-out balcony or patio (and views of the Continental Mountains in the Spa King). Amenities include a pool, pickleball courts, and bikes that you can use to explore the surrounding town of Carefree.
For a throwback luxury: Mountain Shadows Resort
This restored boutique resort in Paradise Valley is at the bottom of Camelback Mountain and pays homage to its 1950s origins with a sleek and modernist design. There’s always something to do at Mountain Shadows Resort without leaving the property. The Gallery features a new exhibition every two months, and there’s a par three golf course. Beat the heat in a poolside cabana, take a yoga class in the shadow of the mountain, or unwind with wine tastings or a Friday and Saturday cocktail hour featuring live music from local artists.
How to get to Scottsdale
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is the easiest port of arrival. Southwest is one of the largest domestic carriers to Phoenix, offering nonstop flights from across the West and Southwest and West.
The Phoenix metropolitan area is spread out, so renting a car is highly suggested for getting to and around the city. In areas like Old Town, you’ll find that the area is pretty walkable and it’s easy to go bar hopping by foot or rideshare.