One of the few experiences of Arizona I’ve had was as a six-year-old living in a dust-bowl suburb of Phoenix for a year before my mother decided windstorms and lightening were better experienced in the concrete suburbs of Los Angeles.
So when I received an invite to Scottsdale, Arizona, I didn’t get too excited. Those hot and dusty days as a child obscured Arizona as a vacation destination from my mind. But, I thought to myself, “It can’t be too hot in January.” And, a stay at a W hotel certainly would make the experience much nicer.
Scottsdale is only a 20-minute drive from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and, as I found to my pleasure, it is a thriving cultural, culinary and sports center (the MLB Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is near Scottsdale, with an 11,000-square-foot stadium and 12 full-size training fields), with Sonoran desert beauty that entices hikers, balloonists and general lovers of the outdoors.
Following is part one of the highlights of my Scottsdale vacation.
Stylish Desert Stays
A stay at any W hotel is always unique. Each is themed to its location, this one being the desert of course. A wonderful scent of vanilla greets you when entering the lobby of the W Scottsdale, which is only a block from the heart of Old Town. To the left is a circle of petrified tree trunks that were fished out of an Indonesian lake (petrified wood is protected in Arizona), while the Living Room lounge area and bar, with cowhide covered chairs and leather sofas, invite visitors to kick back and stay awhile. The mix of rustic with the chic modernism, which the W hotels are known for, blend well at the W Scottsdale. The hotel’s WOW suites, decorated in bright colors with hip furnishings, reminiscent of the sixties, are popular with sports and movie celebs, who book these suites for special celebrations.
While it might be too hot in the summer to lie in the sun, the W Scottsdale’s WET pool offers lounges, cabanas and even a sand area that are very comfortable in the winter and early spring. At night, the area turns into an outdoor nightclub, with a DJ, and blue and pink lighting.
The Bliss Spas that are in all W hotels are spare affairs, with baby blue-and-white themed check-in, lounge, and treatment rooms, with a “no-frills, get-down-to-business” attitude. That business is enjoying top-notch treatments. I had a “blissage 49,” a 49-minute massage that’s designed for those who need to “get in and out” but be relaxed. Unlike typical spa and massage places that are either silent or offer meditative ambient music, Bliss Spas offers rhythm and blues tunes, and instead of fruit and vegetable sticks—brownies, cheese and crackers. All that’s missing is the wine.
Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright came to Scottsdale in 1937, and, with his apprentices, built Taliesin West from the desert, using rocks and sand. At the time, he had placed rocks with petroglyphs in certain spots, a practice that is now illegal.
Wright established an apprenticeship at Taliesin West to explore his unique idea of “living architecture,” combing indoor and outdoor spaces. It now serves as the accredited Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. It was also his and his wife Olgivanna’s personal winter home until his death in 1959.
The angled, low-roofed buildings cause one to slouch in order to enter the various quarters, and it’s hard to imagine living there in the winter as the only heat in those days came from fireplaces built into corners of the rooms. But the views are fantastic, although power lines eventually marred the wide-open southeastern landscape, causing Wright to orient his outdoor living and entertaining space to have a view of the mountains to the northwest instead.
Tours take you through restored versions of his home before his death (Olgivanna had made changes after he died), and to the unique Cabaret Theater, whose six-sided rock and concrete walls are specially angled to maximize the acoustic quality of sound.
Scottsdale, as many culturally like-minded cities, also has an ArtWalk every Thursday. This one, however, has taken place for more than 30 years. There are more than a 100 art galleries in Scottsdale. Luckily a free trolley is available to relieve your feet.
A Taste of Old Town Scottsdale is one of the best ways to be introduced to a variety of restaurants and other food-oriented venues in an afternoon.
We started at the Rusty Spur Saloon on Main Street. The oldest bar around, the likes of John Wayne to Jennifer Aniston have gone through its doors, perhaps to partake of their famous burgers. Live music is played seven days and nights a week.
Just across the road from Rusty’s is Az88 The Bar,in the same plaza as the Scottsdale Historical Museum and Center for the Arts. Accompanying
our Peach Bellini’s were Hell’s Fire Chips, homemade potato chips sprinkled in bleu cheese and hot sauce, and a fresh and tasty Shrimp Ceviche. A unique sculpture of a Christmas tree (it was the first week of January), made of paper clips, hung from the ceiling. The restaurant, which is light and airy, with comfortable modern décor, is known for its cocktails and artwork, sometimes made by employees of the restaurant.
The Outrageous Olive Oils and Vinegars shop, our next stop back on Main Street, lives up to its name. We tasted gourmet vinegar that comes in
flavors such as chocolate, espresso and raspberry, and olive oils infused with basil or blood orange. They were definitely unique and delicious. They ship their products, and are well worth the price at $16 for a 12-oz. bottle of flavored olive oil or vinegar (oliveoilaz.com).
Other stops on our tour took us to Su Vino Winery, where you can have personal wine bottling parties; Cowboy Ciao, home of the original Stetson Chopped Salad; and Lee’s Cream Liqueur, which offers deliciously creamy, liqueur-infused ice cream.
Sushi in the Desert
Sushi Roku is the W Scottsdale’s onsite restaurant, where the fish is fresh and the extravagantly prepared special dishes, created by Executive Chef Matt Zdeb, are simply delicious. The yellowtail sashimi with diced chiles appetizer was light, flavorful and had the right amount of spiciness. The filet Mignon-wrapped asparagus was also a winner, and the crispy Mahi Mahi Tacos were succulent.
Some think that the “Los Angeles import” is a bit too Hollywood (Ryan Seacrest and Tori Spelling are two investors of the restaurant; scenes from “Baseball Wives” have filmed there), and too “glam,” but I thought it had a great energy and vibe, which spilled over perfectly to the W’s Living Room, where eclectic local bands perform live Thursday through Saturday nights. Two members from Vinyl Station, a Phoenix-based indie group, performed while I was there. Sporting Amish-style beards, while playing bass and guitar, they were quite good, singing cover tunes from the Beatles to Green Day, sometimes better than the originals, as well as their own tunes. Here’s a link to their Facebook page where you can check out some of their music.