It’s no surprise that Scottsdale, Arizona has been named one of the most livable cities in the U.S. The dry climate, endless sunshine, and plethora of cultural offerings draw a large number of visitors to the Valley of the Sun each year. If you’re looking for a taste of the New West with a complete taste of the Old West, Scottsdale is the place to be.
Scottsdale isn’t just about golf courses and luxury resorts, the city also offers a variety of things to eat, drink, see, and do. Since the city is located in the northern part of the Sonoran Desert, you’ll find much of the area’s natural beauty on the outskirts of town.
With a short stay in Scottsdale, you won’t waste time getting to know the land. The city is easily accessible, and no part of the city center is more than a 15-minute walk away, which makes it easy to discover the city. When you’ve had your fill of foot wandering, hop on the free Scottsdale Trolley, which runs from 10am until 9pm.
A river runs through it, or, more accurately, a canal. The Scottsdale waterfront – a mix of high-rise buildings, restaurants and retail stores – has become a thriving community in its own right. Perfect for a daytime jog or an evening stroll, the waterfront is also home to many public art installations among its lush vegetation and elegant palm trees. Across the waterfront is Fashion Avenue, a designer mall showcasing luxury brands such as Gucci, David Yurman and Prada. Meanwhile, a short walk further into the Fifth Avenue shopping district, you’ll find a number of small, independently owned restaurants, cafes and boutiques.
The painterly desert backdrop has been attracting artists and creative people for decades, so it’s no surprise that art is no stranger to Scottsdale in much of Arizona. You’ll encounter temporary and permanent installations in a variety of media, many of which blend seamlessly into the urban landscape. One of the most ambitious pieces of public art is the striking bridge designed by Paolo Soleri – the only bridge in the world designed by a renowned Italian-American architect – that connects Scottsdale’s waterfront to downtown. In addition to its delicate sculptural lines, the bridge is surrounded by an idyllic landscaped plaza where sidewalks, solar calendars and public spaces meet. On the south side of the canal, you’ll see Soleri’s Golden Water Bell Assembly, a bronze sculpture made in Cosanti by the artist, whose gallery and studio are located in nearby Paradise Valley.
On the south side of downtown, you’ll find the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, a theater for music, dance and theater performances. Adjacent to the center is the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), a center for modern art and architectural exhibitions. In the same area, don’t miss the Civic Center Plaza, where you’ll find plenty of space to roam, relax and daydream. In this 21-acre public outdoor space, you can grab a bench or a spot on the grass and soak up the blazing sun. While you’re in the park’s fountains and gardens, keep an eye out for the iconic Robert Indiana “Love” sculpture, a popular backdrop for photos. If you come between noon and 1 p.m. on a Thursday or Saturday in January, February or March (the exact dates vary each year), you can participate in the Native American Trail – an annual festival that honors the Hopi, Diné (Navajo), Archimeles O’Asm and San Carlos Apache tribes through music and dance, traditional costumes, and arts and crafts.
As you might expect, the Scottsdale ArtWalk has a well-developed gallery scene with dozens of establishments that specialize in selling and displaying fine art. The Scottsdale ArtWalk is open every Thursday night from 7 to 9 p.m. year-round (except Thanksgiving), giving art lovers the opportunity to leisurely browse more than 30 galleries while enjoying the nightlife.
While you’ll find a fair selection of chain hotels in the downtown area, there are several unique properties in the city too.Hotel Valley Ho (6850 E Main St) throws back to the property when it was built in 1956 and pays homage to the glitz and glamour of Old Hollywood. ZuZu, a fun, hip bar and restaurant off the lobby, is a solid choice if you’re too pooped for adventure when you arrive late at night.
Funky and colorful, The Saguaro (4000 N Drinkwater Blvd) sits in a stellar location adjacent to Civic Center Park, mere steps from the Arts District. Stay here and you won’t have to venture far to experience some of Scottsdale’s finest galleries, cafes, and restaurants. Rooms come with private balconies, iPod docking stations, and handcrafted furnishings from Mexico. Meanwhile, for a more boutique option, the Bespoke Inn (3701 N Marshall Way) combines the amenities of a luxury resort and the personalized service of a bed and breakfast. Chill out in the rooftop garden, swim in the 43-foot infinity pool, and dine at Virtú, named one of the best restaurants in the U.S by Esquire Magazine.
Restaurants & Bars
For Latin-inspired cuisine, head to The Mission (3815 N Brown Ave), an inviting eatery crafting toothsome dishes like chunky tableside guacamole, beer-battered mahi-mahi tacos with escabeche and cotija, and green chile duck confit, all equally delicious. Have a look at their extensive tequila and rum list as well as the lineup of margaritas, mojitos and other libations. The Primarita (El Mayor reposado tequila, organic agave nectar and pressed lime) is an excellent option if you’re counting calories, and the Mission Sour (Pisco, vida mezcal, pineapple, agave nectar, and egg white) is a refreshing take on the classic South American Pisco sour.
Take advantage of the varied menu of tacos, market salads, wraps, and sandwiches, and more at The Herb Box (7134 E Stetson Dr, Ste 200). Impeccably fresh, the short rib tacos are a must-try, as are the sweet potato and corn enchiladas. With a host of vegetarian and gluten-free choices, a super friendly staff, and a lovely outdoor dining space, the Herb Box embodies the essence of the Scottsdale food and drink scene.
The farm-to-table movement is alive and well in Scottsdale, and that’s no more apparent than at FnB. Helmed by James Beard-nominated chef Charleen Badman, this neighborhood gastropub does every dish justice but takes vegetables to a heavenly level. Frontrunners like grilled spicy broccoli with tangerine aioli and pistachios won’t allow you to miss meat at all, but the succulent pork shoulder doesn’t disappoint diehard carnivores. Longtime restaurateur and winemaker Paul Milic oversees the drinks selection which highlights craft cocktails, a lineup of locally-produced wines, as well as interesting choices from France, Austria, California, and other regions.
If you’ve never tried Arizona wine, now’s your chance. Although a young region, expect a surprising range of varieties including Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Merlot, and Syrah, among other reds and whites that can easily compete with the West Coast output. Wine enthusiasts will find bottles to sample and sip at the family-owned Carlson Creek Tasting Room (4142 N Marshall Way) in the heart of the Marshall Arts District. Founded in 2008, Carlson Creek crafts an excellent collection of reds, whites, and rosés. A standout, however, is flagship wine Rule of Three.
For a local java fix, enter Cartel Coffee Lab (7124 E 5th Ave), a hip yet welcoming hangout brimming with worker bees on laptops and locals downing caffeine. Loved most for its house-roasted brew and experienced baristas, Cartel also offers herbal tea, chai tea lattes, scones, pop tarts, and other confections, as well as gourmet soft pretzels.
Consisting of three levels – the main gallery, second-floor salon, and the rooftop sculpture garden – Calvin Charles Gallery (4201 N Marshall Way) exhibits work from artists living and working in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The gallery aims to showcase a variety of styles, often focusing on new and emerging artists, proving that art can be for everyone.
See fine art and crafts from more than 70 artists in the wonderfully lit space of the Marshall Gallery of Fine Art (7106 E Main St). In addition to paintings, drawings, ceramics, and sculpture, the shop is widely known for its selection of art glass from the likes of Alexander Fekete and George Bucquet.
Observe original works by some of the most iconic European and American artists in history at Modern American (4161 N Marshall Way). Pieces by Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, and Andy Warhol among other great modern visionaries have graced the walls here at one time or another.
No matter your taste or budget, you’ll want to stop by Art One Gallery. Since 1993, founder Craig Foote has given up-and-coming artists – many of whom are local high school and college students – an opportunity to exhibit their work. The modest space contains an incredible assortment of affordable pieces begging to be bought.
No western town is complete without an authentic western wear shop. Family owned and operated since 1927, Saba’s (3965 N Brown Ave) vends a diverse selection of hats, clothing, accessories, and of course, handcrafted cowboy boots made in the USA. Choose from a plethora of leather styles for men, women, and children, made of buffalo, calf, kidskin, and ostrich. Browse brands like Justin, Nocona and Tony Lama at this popular outpost in the heart of Old Town.
When your sweet tooth calls, listen. Super Chunk (7120 # 6th Ave #19), a delightful bake shop specializing in small-batch handcrafted treats, represents the epitome of sugary goodness. The mesquite chocolate chip cookie bursts with hints of southwestern flavor, and the best peanut butter cookie – made from house-made peanut butter – is accurately named. Other sinful sweets at Super Chunk include brownies, blondies, cakes, pies, and “brookies,” a brownie and cookie combo.
To browse an array of unique gifts from around the globe, stop by The Store at Scottsdale Performing Arts Center. (7380 E 2nd St) Tucked inside the center’s entrance, the shop stocks fair trade and upcycled/recycled arts and crafts, artisan jewelry, housewares, greeting cards, and other nifty items from around the world. It’s the perfect spot to pick up a memento for yourself or a gift for that special someone.
Native-American, western, and southwestern arts and crafts reign supreme throughout Scottsdale, but Bischoff’s is the place to find bona fide jewelry, Navajo rugs, pottery, folk art, baskets, as well as other souvenirs and collectibles from indigenous tribes. A treasure trove of fascinating finds, this emporium meets gallery will make you fall in love with the Southwest – if you haven’t already.