Scottsdale, Arizona-the perfect winter getaway
As I’ve unofficially made it my goal to visit all of the states here in America (I’m nearing the halfway mark), Arizona seemed like the perfect one to cross off the list next. Why, you ask? Well, there’s a direct flight from Pittsburgh (huge bonus in my eyes) and the weather would obviously be PERFECT (well, for those who have to deal with snow and frigid temperatures here in the Northeastern United States) in early March. But the truth is I never had actual interest in being based in Phoenix. So that’s where Scottsdale came into the picture.
While officially a city, it really feels like a sprawling suburb of the state capital. While primarily known for its spa resorts and golf courses, I wasn’t too interested in those things. Rather, I was most intrigued by its awesome sounding food scene, its Old Town (and by Old Town we’re talking like 1900s old), and Tailesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s former home and studio. So if you’re a snowbird like me and are interested in going on a winter getaway, here’s all you need to know and plan for.
Where to stay:
There is a plethora of lodging options right in the Old Town area, but I can’t recommend the Hyatt House enough. Self-parking, no “resort fees” as many West Coast and Hawaii resorts like to add on, only a couple of blocks to the main drag of restaurants/bars and shops in the Old Town but also far enough away that I never heard any street noise (i.e. inebriated people stumbling back to their hotel rooms).
We arrived at the hotel a little before noon and were able to check right into our room, another plus in my eyes, especially since all of Scottsdale was teeming with visitors as spring training had started just that week. Fun fact-15 Major League Baseball teams have spring training in Arizona, and the stadium where the San Francisco Giants play is only a couple of blocks away from the Hyatt House.
The room itself was terrific. I had reserved a one bedroom suite which was perfect for two people. A medium-size kitchen with a full fridge, microwave oven, oven and burners.
The grounds were also lovely-even though it was more in “city” Scottsdale, it still felt resort like as the hotel comprised various buildings. There was a pool and hot tub, both wonderful to partake in during “winter,” as well as grills and a fire pit. Our first night there we arrived back at the hotel after dinner to find the hotel and a couple of blocks surrounding it were without power. Thankfully it didn’t last too long but we sat around the fire pit which was awesome (one of the many reasons I’d love to live there).
Breakfast was included and unlike the free breakfasts offered at Marriott hotels, this was rather extensive. Eggs, different breads, yogurts, fresh fruit, cereals, and then one of the days there were pancakes and bacon, and the other day waffles and sausage. Another nice touch was the inclusion of plastic take away containers in case you didn’t have time to eat right then or wanted to save something for later which I did with some muffins.
The staff was also the best, ranging from the workers at the front desk to the housekeeping department to one worker who came around to everyone at the pool offering popsicles. As he joked, maybe they weren’t needed as much on a pleasant March day as opposed to a summer day in July but a wonderful touch all the same.
This was definitely the right place to stay.
Where to eat:
I’ll be doing full restaurant reviews for my meals at Virtu Honest Craft and The Mission but here are the other places we dined at:
The Rusty Spur Saloon
See, in America’s West even in the 21st century saloons still exist (not bars that call themselves saloons). I first learned of the Rusty Spur from a food tour in Scottsdale I had been researching (unfortunately no food tours this trip due to the timing offerings of Arizona Food Tours). We headed here for lunch on our first day and even though (most) of the diners were over the age of 50 (realistically, probably 60 and up) it was still a fun time. It’s the oldest saloon in Scottsdale and a variety of old time Scottsdale and the Wild West graced the walls along with vintage America memorabilia (license plates from many a state).
The only surprise was how small it was, but then it is staying true to its historic saloon past. What you see is what there is. We both ordered the Sonoran Hot Dog (beef hot dog wrapped in bacon with refried beans, green chiles, tomatoes, onions, shredded cheese, and chipotle mayo)-$10. We also split a Beef Red Tamale which were labeled as being the best in Phoenix. Both the hot dog and tamale were delicious. There’s also live music even on a Thursday afternoon when we were there which definitely added to the ambiance.
Hula’s Modern Tiki
When I saw there was a place serving authentic Hawaiian fare right in Scottsdale, I was sold. This is something you just don’t see on the (cough: boring) East Coast (there are actually a couple of Hawaiian eateries in the Phoenix metropolitan area). Originally I was planning to eat there on our first night but after learning you could do take away, it seemed like the perfect spot after our long and on the go day trip to Sedona. (The negative is they don’t take reservations and being a Friday night in a happening city, I didn’t want to have to wait 30 minutes plus to eat.)
We split an order of the Spicy Edamamae ($6) which definitely featured the spicy serrano kick the menu described. For his entree, D ordered the Loco Moco, a true Hawaiian favorite ($11). It consists of a burger patty, rice covered in a rich brown mushroom gravy, and sunny side up eggs. I selected the Kalbi Ribs ($15) which are soy marinated Korean short ribs and which came with Hawaiian macaroni salad and rice. The food was excellent and brought back a ton of wonderful memories from our trips to Hawaii.
The other great part was being able to eat the food outside at one of the patio tables on the hotel’s grounds. Unfortunately it was too dark to take my own photos.
Had we had more time, I would have loved to try Olive & Ivy.
The Great Australian Bakery
After our lunch at the Rusty Spur, we started ambling down Main Street and that’s how we discovered the Great Australian Bakery. Although my knowledge of Australian cuisine is rather sparse I did know of lamingtons (the country’s most famous cake) so when I saw it listed as a menu offering, I decided then and there we needed to go back. So on our last day in Scottsdale after breakfast, we headed down here and got a lamington to go along with a chai (for me) and a flat white. While I had made lamingtons before (I found them somewhat difficult and messy to work with in regards to the whole coconut application layer), the one from here was incredible. The cake was fluffy and moist and the chocolate just subtle enough to be mouthwatering.
There were a slew of other options available, both sweet and savory. And the staff was definitely from “Down Under.”
What to do:
Even if you’re not a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, I’d still recommend visiting here. I’ll be doing a full write-up of my visit in a separate post but do yourself a favor and add this to your itinerary. The architecture and its many details are too incredible to miss out on.
Visit Sedona for the day (it’s only a two hour drive away and quite easy to get to)
Head to the Old Town Farmer’s Market on a Saturday. The place was booming and had some of the coolest sounding culinary wares available. It’s on North Brown Avenue although it’s closed during the summer (no need to explain why…)
Shopping! Okay, so there is definitely no shortage of stores in Old Town Scottsdale. A lot are selling your standard tourist wares (i.e. junk) but be discerning and you’ll find some gems. And if you’ve ever dreamt about owning an awesome pair of authentic cowboy boots, well, go no further than here. They take their cowboy stuff quite seriously. I myself walked away with a handmade Navajo doll (dressed in traditional attire to add to my collection of dolls from around the world), a red salsa mix packet, the most adorable cactus tree with Christmas lights ornament (another to add to my ornament collection), and two glass cocktail stirrers (one has a pepper on the end, the other has a cactus). Can’t wait to use these in the summer. I actually did more shopping in Sedona (go figure).
If you’re a baseball fan and you’re in Scottsdale during spring training, well, do yourself a favor and head to a game. I mean you only have how many teams to choose from.
Hike Camelback Mountain (it’s considered the best hiking trail in the Phoenix area)
Visit the Desert Botanical Gardens (they’re actually in Phoenix but still a relatively close drive to Scottsdale)
Visit the Western Spirit: Museum of the West. It’s a Smithsonian affiliate so you know it will be good.
This was my second time to America’s Southwest and I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed it, from the food to the landscapes (so different from home), the weather, and of course the cacti; I’ve become obsessed with them. Scottsdale was the perfect base since it felt a lot more open and relaxed than a “concrete downtown area” (i.e. Phoenix) and was only a quick drive from the airport.
If you plan to stay in the Scottsdale downtown/Old Town area the whole time you wouldn’t need a car. But if you do want to do some exploring, a rental car isn’t a bad idea. And as driving in other cities goes (or being a passenger and observing as I did), I thought driving in Scottsdale and Arizona generally was actually quite pleasant. Roads/highways didn’t seem confusing, directions actually made sense.
Until next time, Arizona!