Home LifeTravel How to Take the Ultimate Vacation in Scottsdale, Arizona

How to Take the Ultimate Vacation in Scottsdale, Arizona

by Anthony L. Gonzalez

Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the journey to recharge, rediscover yourself and your relationships, and reconnect with the world. We’ll cover shopping stops, great bars, value-for-money restaurants, photo opportunities, memorable rides and experiences, and other key details you’ll need before you book.

Below, we chat with Caroline Bologna, senior travel and culture reporter at HuffPost, about why you want to put Scottsdale, Arizona, on your bucket list.

How to Take the Ultimate Vacation in Scottsdale, Arizona

What drew you to Scottsdale as a place to visit or explore?

As people exited the pandemic lockdown and started traveling again, I noticed many people on my Instagram feed heading to Arizona. I had never visited the state, but all the photos of beautiful art and breathtaking mountain landscapes dotted with cacti piqued my interest.

So when my partner had to travel to Scottsdale for work in November, I jumped at the chance to come along and was not disappointed. In fact, I enjoyed my time there so much that I took the opportunity to make a short return visit in the summer when hotel prices were low.

What are the best times of year to visit?

Fall and spring are popular times to visit Scottsdale because of the temperate weather, especially if you enjoy hiking. But I also had a nice time on my early summer visit.

Sure, it was hot, but it wasn’t unbearable. And among the spas, museums, shops, and restaurants, plenty of air-conditioned activities filled my time. Plus, summer hotel rates are attractive if you want to experience luxury accommodations without paying premium prices.

What’s your best tip for getting there? How can you make the trip as stress-free as possible?

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, just a short drive from Scottsdale, is one of the busiest airports in the US, so flight options are plentiful. While it’s easy to get around the metro area with rideshare apps, you might also consider renting a car and making Scottsdale part of a longer Arizona road trip.

Caroline Bologna/HuffPost

From left to right: a Rainbow Ryders hot air balloon, the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa in Montelucia, and The Canal Club.

Where do you recommend staying overnight when you go?

On my first visit, I stayed at the Scottsdale Marriott Old Town, which was great because it was within walking distance of numerous restaurants, bars, and shops.

For my second trip, I stayed at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa in Montelucia. While not close to the action, I got the classic desert resort experience with scenic grounds, multiple pools, and spa time.

That area is full of fun lodging options, including the upscale Camelback Mountain Sanctuary (Jay-Z and Beyonce spent their honeymoon). I’ve also heard great things about the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa and Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows.

What are your go-to restaurants or foods to eat while there?

I was pleasantly surprised by all the great dining options in Scottsdale. I’m a fan of Farm and Craft and Hash Kitchen for breakfast or brunch.

The Mission in Old Town serves great tacos, guac, and other Latin American dishes in a cool space. Shoutout to the white bean mash and pumpkin bread pudding dessert. The Montauk is also a great place for daytime dining.

If you’re looking for a restaurant with trendy vibes and delicious food, I recommend Toca Madera. I’ve also heard great things about Fat Ox, SumoMaya, FnB, and Elements.

For dessert, I loved Sugar Bowl, a historic ice cream parlor with cute decor and tasty treats. The last time I was in Scottsdale, I also had the opportunity to cool off by going on a gelato tour of the old town with JoyRidesAz.

Which bars or nightlife are sure to hit you? What’s good to drink there, or what else do people need to know?

Scottsdale has become a top destination for bachelor parties, so the city has plenty of clubs and pool parties.

However, I prefer the cocktail bar scene, so I visited Second Story Liquor Bar and The Canal Club. On my first trip to Scottsdale, I went to a party bar called Giligin’s for a trivia night.

Caroline Bologna/HuffPost

From left to right: A cocktail at Second Story Liquor Bar, strawberry treat at Sugar Bowl, and pumpkin bread pudding at The Mission.

What are your favorite stores, and what do you look for when you get there?

Fashion Square has about every popular chain, but I enjoyed browsing the local shops in Scottsdale. I found a lot of nice clothes and accessories at Carmen, Rolling Rack, and Iron Rose. Vintage by Misty also has great finds.

As noted, Scottsdale is a big destination for bachelorette parties, so I’ve noticed many stores focus on the “disco cowgirl” theme that has become popular.

What is your favorite place to take pictures, and why?

Don’t miss the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA). The James Turrell Skyspace alone is worth a visit, and there are always great temporary exhibits. If you’re a Turrell fan, consider checking out Arizona State University’s Skyspace nearby Tempe.

Scottsdale is also home to the first permanent Wonderspaces location. It is an interactive art experience with many interesting pieces.

Which tourist attraction should people skip, and what should they do instead?

Hiking Camelback Mountain is a popular activity, but it can also be very strenuous and even dangerous if you’re not prepared for the heat and elevation changes. If you still want to walk without breaking your limits, I recommend McDowell Sonoran Preserve. It is much flatter and still very beautiful.

Where do you feel most relaxed, calm, or happy?

While hiking Camelback Mountain wasn’t in the cards for me on my last visits, I achieved supreme happiness (no pun intended) by relaxing by the Omni’s pool and enjoying the beautiful mountain views. Many hotels and spas in the area offer similar vistas, so I highly recommend scheduling some relaxation time to enjoy that scenery.

What scenic spots do you recommend visiting?

If you are interested in architecture, you must tour Taliesin West. It was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and studio for over 20 years and is one of the most unique and beautiful spaces I have ever seen.

Another scenic experience is taking a hot air balloon ride over the desert. I went for a sunrise ride with Rainbow Ryders, and it was such a special experience.

Caroline Bologna/HuffPost

From left to right: SMoCA, Taliesin West, and Wonderspaces.

What is one thing you take with you when you go and why?

Even if you don’t plan on walking, Downtown Scottsdale is very walkable, so you’ll want to explore and shop without hurting your feet. Do not forget to bring comfortable walking shoes. Also, a refillable water bottle is crucial to staying hydrated in the desert.

What specific planning tips should you know before you go so you don’t get stressed?

Plan your outfits to build in layers. Even in summer, there are quite a few temperatures, so you’ll want to be prepared to cover up in the evenings and early mornings. I sweltered during the day but shivering at night without a sweater.

What surprised you about Scottsdale when you first went?

I was skeptical when I read that Arizona has a top-notch wine scene, but the local wine was surprisingly good. While most wineries are in the southern part of the state, Scottsdale has some great tasting rooms where you can sample their wines. I was a big fan of Merkin and LDV Winery.

Is there anything else visitors should know?

Try not to create an overly rigid itinerary for your trip. Part of the fun of Scottsdale is wandering through areas like Old Town and Fashion Square and coming across interesting shops, eateries, and activities you may not have read about online.

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