Scottsdale, the lush and plush part of the stirring Sonoran Desert, defies the typical traits of a desert. Find out why this oasis is a must visit and what are the top things to do in Scottsdale.
In the winters of 1929, the revolutionary 20th-century architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, gets hit by the deadly bout of pneumonia. His doctor gives an ultimatum to Wright's wife:
In Wisconsin, he may not survive even for two months but he can live for another 20-year, if he listens to me
Wright agreed and went on to outlive promised 20-year. No, his doctor didn’t give him an Aladdin’s lamp. He just advised him to change his winter abode from Wisconsin to Scottsdale - an oasis in the blooming desert of Sonoran in central Arizona. Not only his health improved but the blooming desert inspired him to leave a legacy behind - Taliesin West - a studio, home and a campus for Architecture studies.
Frank Lloyd wasn’t the first or the last man whose life changed after shifting to Scottsdale. Scottsdale is rated as one of the best cities to live and retire in the US. I was completely bowled over by the City of the Spas and Resort. Here are the top 5 things to do in Scottsdale:
1. YEAR-ROUND SUNLIT WEATHER
When the entire United States is gripped by the cold wave, Scottsdale enjoys a perfect sunny weather. You can always take your convertible out without the fear of a snow storm. Sunny Scottsdale was such a welcome change from the shivering San Francisco in April. Applying sunscreen is way better than drowning in multiple layers. Every Scottsdale season has its charms. And with 330 days of sunshine every year and plenty of outdoor playtimes, any season is a great time to visit!
2. TOP DINING DESTINATION
Scottsdale may be in a desert, but stellar restaurants sprout up all the time. World-class restaurants are not restricted to swanky five-star hotels, resorts or chains. Independent restaurants rule Scottsdale food scene. Scottsdale’s thriving food scene encompasses nearly 800 restaurants in a setting of glorious weather and the Sonoran Desert vistas. No wonder even non-foodies become foodies in this Mecca of Dining.
FnB Restaurant, the crowning jewel of Scottsdale food scene, is run by Charleen Badman and Pavle Milic. Badman is a three-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef. The James Beard Awards are to food scene what the Oscars are to the movie world. Badman, nicknamed as the “Veggie Whisperer”, is lauded for her globally inspired menu and focus on Arizona-grown ingredients. With her magic touch, she coaxes unimaginable flavors out of veggies that you might discard as bland and boring.
The salad of beets, oranges, strawberries, olives, glacier lettuce, hazelnuts and goat cheese was the best concoctions of flavors one could ever relish. I am not a big fan of Broccoli but the grilled spicy broccoli made with tangerine aioli and pistachios made me its fan. The food, the drinks, the ambiance and the service at FnB were extraordinary.
And it wasn’t just FnB that impressed me. Prado, the signature award-winning restaurant at Omni Scottsdale Resorts was equally amazing. As I entered the picturesque resort, I felt I was transported to the gorgeous Mediterranean world. The wood-fired tapas display kitchen, soothing mood lighting, indoor and outdoor sitting arrangement with the views of Camelback Mountain under full moon night made the whole scene look dreamy. The food and drinks were a soothing riot of flavors and colors.
Other places that I loved eating at were AZ88, Farm & Craft, Gertrude’s at Desert Botanical Garden, Scott’s Grill at the Scott Resort and the Mission.
3. DESERT PLAYGROUND FOR OUTDOOR FUN
Scottsdale may be renowned for its culinary and cultural scene but being the beating heart of the Sonoran Desert, it is a desert playground for outdoor fun. The natural beauty of the blooming and diverse desert is jaw dropping.
Ride the River
Expect the unexpected in Scottsdale. In a desert where every drop of water is precious like gold, Scottsdale is truly blessed. Two snowmelt-fed rivers and a ring of turquoise lakes make it an ideal destination for water sports like rafting, SUPing, kayaking, and tubing. I loved Kayaking with Arizona Outback Adventures on the lower Salt River, which has national forest on one side and Native American land on the other side. Floating along the towering sandstone cliffs, lush shoreline embellished with Mesquite trees and inhabited by wild horses, turkey vultures, ducks and other desert wildlife was an experience to remember.
Soar over the Sonoran Desert
After marveling the lush desertscape overland, I decided to admire it from 5,000 feet up in the air as the sun wrapped the landscape in molten gold. Winds played a spoilsport on day 1 but on day 2 my flight took off smoothly. From the hot air balloon, I soaked up views of the vast expanse of the Sonoran Desert, rock formations, and the tantalizing blue of Lake Pleasant. Captain John and the crew members of Hot Air Expeditions were both entertaining as well as highly skilled. The icing on the cake was the champagne celebration at the end of the smooth flight.
In Scottsdale, there's never a shortage of outdoor activities. You can go for a morning hike at 150-acre Pinnacle Peak park, choose from self-guided hiking, guided hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, bird watching, horseback riding, and wildflower viewing at Saguaro-studded 30,000-acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve or see the world’s largest collection of desert plants at the Desert Botanical Garden.
Most importantly don’t miss capturing the can’t-believe-the-color sunsets.
4. FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S ORGANIC ARCHITECTURE
He landed in the Sonoran Desert battling against death in 1929 but he infused a new life in the American architecture and went on to create one of the greatest architectural legacies of the 20th century. In the final but remarkable stage of his career, he built Taliesin West - his winter home, studio and school of architecture. It was here, he invented some of the most influential and inspirational pieces of architecture in America — including New York City’s Guggenheim Museum. If you are a fan of Ayn Rand, you cannot miss visiting this landmark as the famous character of Howard Rork in the novel "The Fountainhead" was modeled on Frank Lloyd Wright.
When I saw Taliesin West, my eyes popped out with admiration. The Taliesin West spanning across 600 acres offered a fascinating peek into Wright’s revolutionary thinking. The organic architecture was seamlessly woven into the rugged terrain of the Sonoran Desert. The shapes, structures, and materials used were sourced locally and complimented the geography of the area.
5. UPSCALE DESERT LIVING
Scottsdale is amongst the top city to live and retire in the US. Despite an expensive cost of living (122 as compared to the American average of 100) it still attracts people from around the world for its upscale desert living. Its lively-meets-laidback character can be seen in its outstanding art galleries and museums, exceptional shopping and dining options, a plethora of golf courses and abundant recreational activities.
Spa + Wellness
Scottsdale is the Spa Capital of the US with the most resort spas per capita, and six Forbes Four Star spas. It’s a crime to visit Scottsdale and not experience its legendary pampering spas. Joya Spa at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa is the best thing you can ask for after the exhausting activities of the Sonoran Desert.
The high-end spa and resort experience at Omni was balanced by the eclectic vibrancy of the Scottsdale’s Old Town. A fusion of the Native American crafts and Western-themed bars and restaurants can be seen here in every street. A great walking spot, brimming with boutiques, galleries, art installations, restaurants, nightclubs, and other attractions. The best way to enjoy this spot is to grab a glass of wine and roam through the wide array of galleries.
My interest in Native American culture took me to the Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. I got a crash course on Native American Culture by the soft spoken but extremely knowledgeable Rebecca Heller. I didn't realize when almost half of the day went past admiring the outstanding permanent and rotating exhibits, rare old west artifacts, and monumental installations. SMOW is unique in many ways - one of them is how the elements of Sonoran Desert are seamlessly integrated into the design of the museum. For example, the walls and flooring had the texture of the Saguaro cactus.
Key ongoing exhibitions:
- Grand Canyon Grandeur (June 6 - December 31, 2017)
- Of Spirit and Flame: John Coleman Bronzes (Ongoing; Opened June 6, 2017)
- The Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History (June 20, 2017 - Sept 30, 2018)
- Canvas of Clay: Hopi Pottery Masterworks (Sep 16, 2017)
These were my top five things to do in Scottsdale. There are hundreds of more things that you can do here. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned regular, Scottsdale will welcome you with open arms. Hope these things to do in Scottsdale inspire you to plan a trip shortly to green heart of the Sonoran Desert. Here are some insider tips to help you plan better.
10 travel tips to Experience Scottsdale
- Visit during the two flowering seasons of the Sonoran Desert (Spring and summer)
- Walk through the Scottsdale Civic Centre Park for iconic public art collection
- Stay hydrated and put ample sunscreen to evade the dry heat
- Always book a dinner table in advance
- Pose with the Downtown Scottsdale Cowboy sign
- Stay at a centrally located place like the Scott Resort
- Try the Mesquite cookies or go for mesquite spa treatments
- Visit the Farmers Market and relish the fresh produce
- Savor the homegrown wines and Kombucha
- Scottsdale is extremely pet-friendly. You can take your pooch paddling or dining
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I was hosted by Experience Scottsdale but all the views expressed above are solely mine and based on my personal experiences. Many thanks to Experience Scottsdale, The Scott Resort, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Desert Botanical Garden, Hot Air Expeditions, Arizona Outback Adventures, Prado, and FnB Restaurant for the incredible experiences I had. Pictures posted above are either clicked by me or shared by Experience Scottsdale.