The austere beauty of the desert, not unlike a bespoke suit, is alluring and deceptive in its apparent simplicity. It’s also a whole helluva lot of fun. One can only handle so many beach vacations before one realizes that there’s more to leisure than a boring blue horizon. We took a trip to Phoenix to check out what kind of trouble and treats we could find. Here’s what you need to know if you want to do the same.
One of your best bets for where to stay in Phoenix is the hotel of (almost) the same name: The Phoenician. Consistently rated as one of the best hotels in the area, The Phoenician is a high-end luxury resort with one of the highest-rated courses in the greater Phoenix area. The 27-hole championship course is attractive and challenging, but if there’s one single thing you can’t miss, it’s the 19th hole gourmet burger joint, Relish, which houses the largest tequila selection in the state, and by extension, one of the larger ones in the nation.
Westin Kierland Resort’s club is a links-style course which has a number of challenging physical aspects, but what really attracts us to it are their unusual policies regarding the non-golfing aspects of golf. There, you can rent a Segway (modified to hold your cart), drink Irish whiskey out of the bottle on the course, and kilts are not only in line with the dress code, they’re encouraged. Add to that the sunset bagpipe serenade (seriously), and you’ve got a wee bit if Ireland in Scottsdale, AZ.
Get some culture
When you need to dial it down a notch and work out your brain rather you’re your body or your G.I. tract, there’s plenty of cultural options in Phoenix. Let’s say for the sake of argument it’s off season and Steve Nash isn’t around to be kooky and fast, there’s always the Musical Instrument Museum which is brand new this year. Inside you’ll find instruments and information spanning history and the globe. There’s also the famous Botanical Gardens, which you may wrongly have thought to be a contradiction in this dry climate. Marked by a striking glass sculpture by the world-famous Dale Chihuly(above), the gardens are shockingly vibrant. Then, of course, there’s the largest art walk in the nation (below) that takes place on the first Friday of every month. It’s such a huge party that the city started a second, smaller art walk for patrons actually interested in buying pieces as opposed to just making merry.
If you’re busted your legs out on the bike or hiking up Camelback mountain, and you’ve stretched your stomach to pain-for-pleasure proportions at the restaurants, it’s time for a little relaxation therapy. The desert Southwest is known for their world-class spa treatments, generally, so it should come as no surprise that the greater Phoenix area plays host to a few establishments that are more than capable of serving up anything you want, and plenty of things you won’t know you want until you see that they’re available. The W hotel is probably best known as a hotspot for upscale nightlife in Scottsdale, but their line of branded spas, Bliss, offers a full range of proprietary treatments, but we recommend their deep tissue (sports) massage followed up by their patented “the manly-cure” – detail driven manicure for guys. Intercontinental Montelucia resort is a good bet, too, if you’re willing to drive a little ways out of town. It’s located in an area just outside the city called Paradise Valley – a place where there’s a city ordinance against upward-facing lights which might inhibit star gazing. The resort is the brainchild of the wildly energetic Managing Director Valeriano Antonioli. He takes each guests comfort and entertainment seriously and personally as you might be able to tell from the video below of him helping out our trip-mate, Kelley, with cutting the cork off a bottle of bubbly.
Speaking of booze, we’ve got a few recommendations as far as adult beverages are concerned. We’ll start with the most interesting one: wine. And, not just any wine. We suggest checking out the Page Springs vineyard (above) for a few glasses creekside, a tour of their facilities, and maybe a vineyard-side massage (seriously). Then, head up to Jerome to the tasting room of one of the partners in Page Springs, Maynard James Keenan – the frontman of the metal band Tool. Without complicating things too much, we’ll suggest you simply order a flight (or two, or three) at each location as we found the staff to be (intimidatingly) knowledgeable. If you’re looking for something a little stiffer, a little rowdier, and possibly with a little more cleavage showing, the party bars are in downtown Scottsdale. After hours one night, we made the rounds and got a tip from some locals that Dos Gringos is the place to be if you’re looking for a relatively chill, relatively cheap, relatively buzzed bar. We agreed.
The Phoenician’s steak house, J&G Steakhouse is named for its head chef and restaurateur, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. It’s perched atop the Phoenician, and offers an excellent vista of the city, especially at sunset. The steak, of course, is incredible, but you’ll be making a grave mistake if you don’t order the pork bellies. And, interestingly, they offer a very California-style appetizer: tuna tartare with guacamole (left). It’s pretty hit or miss, but hit dead on with most in our group. On the other end of the spectrum is the local favorite for post-bar munchies, the Philadelphia Sandwich Co (right). Not only are the cheesesteaks excellent and authentic, but so is the music. At bar time, this sandwich joint hires a DJ to start spinning and they keep the party going until people are too full of greasy meat to continue dancing.
Probably the most fun you can have in the desert is when you’re out of doors in the actual desert. One thing you can’t miss is the infamous natural waterslide a few hours north of Phoenix in Sedona: Slide Rock. Originally a homestead, its unique geology eventually warranted it being designated a state park. The creek flowing through it has worn the red rock smooth creating a slippery stretch of creek bottom which visitors swim and slide their way down. There’s also some of the best mountain biking in the desert South West in Phoenix. Check out MountainBikeAZ for trail suggestions, but if you’re in Phoenix, we suggest concentrating your time in the Usery Mountain Park to the east. Or, if you’re not in the mood to pedal yourself around the desert, we recommend a more luxurious ride through the landscape with a desert Hummer tour. Voted one of National Geographic’s top 100 adventures, the Sonoran Hummer tours