Weekenders: Arizona’s Valley of the Sun

Discover Scottsdale and Phoenix.

By Mark Orwoll

The Valley of the Sun, with Phoenix and Scottsdale at its heart, is a year-round destination. That’s true even in summer, when there are plenty of ways to keep cool while making the most of the gorgeous Sonoran Desert and urban attractions—from regional museums to restaurants whose chefs are drawing the notice of the nation’s culinary connoisseurs. But a Valley vacation isn’t all about the modern city scene. In fact, traditional is a word you’ll hear a lot, because those who live here and love the Valley enjoy its slower pace and outdoorsy scene and take their Western heritage seriously. After a few days in the Valley of the Sun, you may feel the same way.

The Lure of the West

Phoenix was never a Wild West town but rather full of farms and ranches and hardworking settlers. To learn more about the Valley’s past, history buffs can visit the Smithsonian-affiliated Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, an archive of period relics and handicrafts as well as fine art. For a different kind of Western experience, consider touring starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright’s mesmerizing Taliesin West, an architecture school built by Wright and his acolytes in the 1930s. The school’s plan was inspired by the Southwestern landscape and was built with local materials.

There are few repositories of Native American artifacts more respected than the Heard Museum, which opened in 1929 and has since acquired one of the nation’s leading collections devoted to American Indian art and history. Among the tribes represented at the museum is the Hohokam, whose main settlement is now the Pueblo Grande Museum, an active archaeological dig within sight of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. This well-interpreted National Historic Landmark includes a handicap-accessible trail, a small museum and re-created living quarters that give a sense of what daily life would have been like for those early residents.

You can bring the whole family to Goldfield Ghost Town, where the kids can run through the streets of a reconstructed 1890s mining settlement and relish a well-acted shoot-out on Main Street, staged several times a day. Experienced drivers can continue beyond Goldfield on the winding Apache Trail (Arizona Highway 88) to take in the superlative desert scenery and make their way to Tortilla Flat, a roadside restaurant and gift shop deep in the Superstition Mountains. Or to view the desert from another perspective, consider going on a soaring balloon ride. Hot Air Expeditions adds to the fun with an elegant alfresco champagne brunch upon landing.

The Joy of Restaurant Cooking

The restaurant scene in greater Phoenix was in stealth mode for years, but now even national publications such as Food & Wine and Esquire have recognized the Valley’s culinary innovations. Virtù Honest Craft, for example, received a best-new-restaurant nomination from the James Beard Foundation for dishes that range from Saigon-style Cornish hen with crispy udon noodles and cilantro jam to charred octopus in Calabrese chili butter. Yet the setting is notably laid-back; the owners run a custom-bicycle shop and small bed-and-breakfast on the premises.

FnB, in downtown Scottsdale’s quaint Craftsman Court complex, has a vegetable-intensive menu that doesn’t leave out meat and seafood dishes like yuzu-cured salmon and lamb riblets in fennel. The growth of the region’s breweries becomes all the more apparent when you consider the 36 brewed-in-Arizona beers on tap at Craft 64. Ask for a taste of the restaurant’s own Smooove Hoperator, a strong American IPA. Add to that wood-fired pizzas whose fresh ingredients are almost entirely sourced from nearby farms, and you have a true Arizona foodie experience. If you’re craving another slice, chef Chris Bianco’s upscale pizzerias, including Pizzeria Bianco, in north Phoenix, are earning raves nationwide.

A visit to the Southwest would hardly be complete without some south-of-the-border fare. At La Hacienda, a menu by chef Richard Sandoval (whom some consider to be the father of modern Mexican cuisine) lists slow-braised pork-shoulder carnitas and tequila shrimp. Or you can opt for global plates at Lon’s. Highlights include the ahi tuna seared with Himalayan salt and a squash soup flavored with shrimp and toasted pumpkin seeds. Cowboy artist Lon Megargee designed the adobe building that now houses the restaurant and lived there in the 1930s.

Arizona is home to a budding wine scene, so make time to sample a glass or two. You can sit outdoors at LDV Wine Gallery, or head inside to view pieces by local artists as you sip signature varietals such as the petite sirah. The tasting room is set in a 1950s bungalow strung with twinkle lights in downtown Scottsdale. A few blocks away you’ll find an outpost of Carlson Creek, a family-run winery that’s become one of the largest in the state. Tip: A bottle of its medal-winning “Rule of Three” Rhone-style blend makes a great gift.

Staying Cool

It’s no secret that Arizona heats up in the summer, but there are a number of ways to keep your cool. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy ice-skating at the AZ Ice Arcadia. The Ice House Tavern at one end of the rink has picture windows so you can overlook the action on the ice as you recharge.

In nearby Tempe, various boat rentals are readily available for a day on Tempe Town Lake. Kayaks are popular, but those who want to stay out of the sun can choose an electric surrey-top boat from Tempe Town Lake Boat Rentals, whose kiosk is on the south side of the lake by the Mill Avenue Bridge. Tempe is only about 10 miles from Phoenix, so it’s possible to spend the afternoon on the water then head back to the city in time for dinner.

If warm temperatures persist in the evening, consider joining the crowds for the free weekly Thursday Scottsdale ArtWalk. Galleries keep their doors open well into the night, often putting out complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres for browsers. As you wander among the art, you may see antique Navajo weavings, abstract paintings or contemporary Western works. Just like the Valley of the Sun, there’s a little bit of everything on view—and when it’s time to leave, you may find you’ve given a piece of your heart to one of the wonders you came across.

EAT
Craft 64

6922 E. Main St., Scottsdale; 480-946-0542; craft64.com; dinner for two, $60*

FnB

7125 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale; 480-284-4777; fnbrestaurant.com; dinner for two, $85

La Hacienda

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, 7575 E. Princess Dr., Scottsdale; 480-585-4848 ext. 7320; fairmont.com; dinner for two, $100

Lon’s

The Hermosa Inn, 5532 N. Palo Cristi Rd., Paradise Valley; 602-955-7878; hermosainn.com; dinner for two, $100

Pizzeria Bianco

Town & Country Center, 4743 N. 20th St., Phoenix; 602-368-3273; pizzeriabianco.com; dinner for two, $60

Tortilla Flat

1 Main St. (Apache Hwy., AZ-88), Tortilla Flat; 480-984-1776; tortillaflataz.com; lunch for two, $35

Virtù Honest Craft

3701 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale; 480-946-3477; virtuscottsdale.com; brunch for two, $45

RELAX
AZ Ice Arcadia

Desert Palms Power Center, 3853 E. Thomas Rd., Phoenix; 602-957-9966; azice.com; admission, $6.50 a person; skate rental, $3.50 a session (session times may vary)

Carlson Creek

4142 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale; 480-947-0636; carlsoncreek.com

LDV Wine Gallery

6951 E. First St., Scottsdale; 480-664-4822; ldvwinetastingscottsdale.com

Scottsdale ArtWalk

N. Marshall Way and E. Main St., Scottsdale; 7–9 p.m. on Thursdays; scottsdalegalleries.com

Tempe Town Lake Boat Rentals

72 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe; 480-303-9803; boats4rent.com; electric surrey rentals, from $80 an hour

EXPLORE
Goldfield Ghost Town

4650 N. Mammoth Mine Rd., Apache Junction; 480-983-0333; goldfieldghosttown.com; admission, free; individual attractions, from $4 a person

Heard Museum

2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix; 602-252-8840; heard.org; adults, $18; students and children, $7.50

Hot Air Expeditions

702 W. Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix; 800-831-7610; hotairexpeditions.com; adults, $179 a person; children, $129 a person; gourmet brunch included

Pueblo Grande Museum

4619 E. Washington St., Phoenix; 602-495-0901; phoenix.gov; adults, $6; children, $3

Taliesin West

12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale; 480-627-5340; franklloydwright.org; tours, from $28 a person

Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West

3830 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale; 480-686-9539; scottsdalemuseumwest.org; adults, $13; students and children, $8

STAY
RCI® affiliated resorts in the Valley of the Sun include:
Sheraton Desert Oasis 5247

The resort has a 4,500-square-foot swimming pool. 17700 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale
Member Review: “Staff is unfailingly helpful.”

Scottsdale Camelback Resort 1150

Amenities in the adobe-and-tile units include a private patio, fully appointed kitchen and living area with fireplace. 6302 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale
Member Review: “Great location close to both Phoenix and Scottsdale.”

Holiday Inn Club Vacations Scottsdale Resort D921

A PGA-quality golf course is within walking distance for adults, and the kids can splash around in the on-site water playground. 7677 E. Princess Blvd., Scottsdale
Member Review: “Large updated units.”

Westgate Painted Mountain 4909

A great pick for shutterbugs, who can snap panoramic views of Red Mountain and the Mesa Valley. 6302 E. McKellips Rd., Mesa
Member Review: “Nice on-property restaurant.”

Cibola Vista Resort and Spa DC62

Adventurers staying here can explore the Southwest on horseback. 27501 N. Lake Pleasant Pkwy., Peoria
Member Review: “Loved the spa.”

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
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Non-RCI affiliated resorts in the Valley of the Sun include:
Hotel Valley Ho

You can book a room near the family-friendly pool at this midcentury masterpiece. 6850 E. Main St., Scottsdale; 480-376-2600; hotelvalleyho.com; doubles from $159 a night

The Hermosa Inn

Enjoy a cocktail in front of a kiva fireplace at the atmospheric Lon’s Last Drop Bar before dinner. 5532 N. Palo Cristi Rd., Paradise Valley; 844-423-2981; hermosainn.com; doubles from $200 a night

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Summer 2017