Phoenix is the capital and most populated city in the US state of Arizona. The greater city area connects to its neighbouring town Scottsdale, and is best known for year-round sun, warm temperatures, and lush green golf courses. But an emerging arts and dining scene adds a surprisingly sophisticated flavour to the mix.
Taliesin West is Frank Lloyd Wright’swinter home and desert laboratory in the foothills of the Sonoran Desert. Built in 1937 and diligently handcrafted during the decades since, the building highlights the famed architect’s principles of organic architecture constructed in harmony with nature. Wright and his apprentices constructed Taliesin West out of the local landscape by gathering rocks from the desert floor and sand from the washes to keep the design in balance with the surrounding environment. Tours of this popular site run daily – reservations are strongly recommended.
The Heard Museum is one of the world’s top museums for the presentation, interpretation and advancement of American Indian art. It provides stories of the American Indian people from a first-person perspective and showcases the vitality of traditional and contemporary art.
Visit one of the world’s most extensive collections of arid plants at the Desert Botanical Garden to view. More than 50,000 plants, including more than 1,000 types of saguaro cactus, are displayed along the garden’s five thematic trails. If you visit during the hot summer months, consider an evening flashlight (torch) nocturnal tour. The garden shop is a treasure trove of desert-based goods.
There is no shortage of adventure for outdoor enthusiasts, from hiking and rock climbing to kayaking and more.
Get a taste of the wild west with a hike in the Sonoran Desert. The nearby McDowell Sonoran Preserve, American’s largest urban preserve, is best explored on foot via the many trails winding through iconic saguaro cacti. There are plenty of options suitable for roadrunners and hikers at every level of fitness.
Fancy yourself a cowhand? WindwalkerExpeditions offers custom horseback excursions along 1,000-plus miles of trail in the Tonto National Forest – you choose where, when and for how long you’d like to ride one of their desert-wise mounts.
Escape the heat with a paddle on a cactus-speckled stretch of the Salt River with Arizona Outback Adventures. Their inflatable kayaks are easy to paddle while the gently flowing currents allow paddlers to focus on sighting red-tailed hawks and sheer volcanic cliffs along the way.
Phoenix and Scottsdale are beacons for professional and amateur golfers. There are 200-plus courses in the greater city area, so golfing visitors are spoiled for choice in this desert oasis.
The ancient rock formations in and around the Boulders Club ensure it remains at the top of many must-visit golf course lists. Those in the know book their holidays around the course tee times – so be prepared for pre-7am starts in the American summer.
Another scenically blessed option, the Royal North Troon, offers 18-hole courses punctuated by granite boulders and natural ravines in the shadow of the nearby rugged peaks. The course has played host to the United States Mid-Amateur Championship, thw Arizona Open, Ping Pro Scratch, and the Merrill Lynch Shoot Out. Playing here is a true Southwest experience.
As host to the Phoenix Open on the US PGA Tour, TPC Scottsdale is one of the most popular courses in the area, where players can try to re-create Tiger Woods magic on the greens.
Phoenix has more resort-based spas per capita than any other US city. Little surprise, then, that the region’s wellness retreats offer a plethora of relaxation options, from ancient rituals to new-age remedies.
Native American minerals underpin the treatments at the Spa at the Boulder Resort. Choose from turquoise oil hydrotherapy baths to blue cornmeal exfoliation. Rain-stick rituals during treatments help complete the indigenous experience.
The Moroccan theme at the Omni’s Joya Spa transports guests to a traditional desert house, complete with exotic dark pathways and deep red and purple hues. The spa’s Hammam black soap body scrub is a luxurious way to soften up the mind and body.
Clients can mix up their own aromas in the Phoenician’s luxury spa, which also features gemstone facials, in one of the area’s most famed desert resorts.
Leave any preconceptions about insipid American cuisine along the highway into Phoenix. The dining options in this desert oasis offer fresh, flavourful and intriguing choices.
FnB restaurant dishes up truly creative and delicious plates – from grilled asparagus, fried egg, crispy polenta and pecorino starters to sublime halibut. Better still, the food is more than matched by an incredibly eclectic, excellent wine list that pours grapes sourced from Arizona to Europe.
There is a local obsession with healthy, sustainable, community-style dining in Phoenix. This trend comes to a head at Farm and Craft, a popular casual café in neighbouring Scottsdale. The seasonal wellness menu ticks all the “free from” boxes including sustainable, gluten-free, organic and hormone-free ingredients – but carnivores need not worry, their burgers also get high marks.
The Mission is the area’s go-to source for sophisticated Latin cuisine. It offers Mexican and other Central and South American favourites with a sophisticated twist – the next-level guacamole and Malbec-braised short ribs are just two highlights. Diners can choose to sit in the restaurant’s candlelit, chandelier-draped interior or the more relaxed outdoor patio.
Nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain, Omni Scottsdale Resort bristles with Spanish flair. Arched entryways, fountains and relaxed seating around outdoor fireplaces are dramatically framed by the atmospheric mountains just behind. The bathrooms – some with enormous walk-in showers – will have you snapping photos for inspiration back home. Friendly staff add to the “siesta” ambience.
The Arizona Biltmore is Phoenix’s original grande dame and the only existing hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It flaunts Gatsby-like luxury that has made the property a playground for the rich and famous. The hotel’s iconic look reflects Wright’s original design, including building materials sourced from the desert and a unique geometric design. Plush guest rooms and suites in elegant surroundings ensure the hotel retains its special caché.
Fans of self-contained holidays should check out the villas at Scottsdale Holiday Inn Vacation Club. This somewhat hidden resort features enormous kitchens with espresso machines and wine fridges, along with separate dining areas and large bedrooms, decorated in an upmarket Southwest design.
One of America’s most scenic and dramatic sights, the Grand Canyon, is a must-see for international visitors. The 450-kilometre-long, 29-kilometre-wide and 1.6-kilometre-deep canyon is breathtaking in its size and beauty. Various tour companies leave early in the morning to take visitors on the four-hour drive from Phoenix (you can find them on viator.com). Be sure to choose one that take you to the South Rim – the best side for viewing the canyon. If you prefer to hire a car and drive yourself at a slower pace, you can overnight either at the South Rim or in nearby Flagstaff.