Over the past few years Canadians across the country have been heading in droves to Arizona, plucking up investment properties and camping out at luxury resorts which offer a warm respite from our annual winter woes. After enduring another dull Toronto winter I was thrilled to pay my first visit to the sun-soaked Grand Canyon state.
And it’s handy to get here. Air Canada Rouge now offers direct flights to Phoenix from YYZ making the jaunt lickity split. Arizona is now a serious contender to California and Florida for the most visited American destination for Canadians keen on a sun-soaked pool party. A stones throw from downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale is where both locals and visitors alike come to wine and dine, wander through endless art galleries and relax with a refreshing cocktail at one of the city’s desert oasis inspired resorts.
The wind blows softly through a choir of plush palms as I walk through the colourful fountain flanked al fresco corridor that leads to my suite at The Saguaro (suh-war-oh). Located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, The Saguaro’s 194 guest rooms channel the palette of the indigenous wildflowers of Arizona. The bold Southwestern hues are the work of renowned architects Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat, whose design connects six wings of guest rooms, a reception pavilion, intimate spa and Distrito restaurant run by celebrity chef Jose Garces.
The Saguaro offers a vintage hotel vibe, having gone through several iterations in the past and now in full bloom as an art and design-centric boutique property. My room features 300 thread count linens, oversized down duvet, cool jersey cotton bathrobe, custom aromatherapy bath amenities by Lather, 42-inch HDTV and a walkout balcony only a few steps from the pool. I checked in at the lunching hour and quickly surveyed my room before skipping to the pool for a mandatory margarita and Corona splashed spicy taco lunch!
I was up bright and early at 6am the following morning to treat my body right via rigorous workout at the hotel’s petite fitness facility. In the early hours the gym fills with the days first rays, offering a pretty view overlooking the pool. I maintained my willingness for wellness by transitioning to the Saguaro’s intimate spa which offers indigenous treatments including massages, facials, body scrubs, manicures and pedicures. I hopped up on a comfy table to indulge in the spa’s signature treatment, a soothing 60 minute Turquoise Sage Mountain Arnica Massage which left me in a delightful daze as I waddled out into the sunlight and splashed into the pool.
Sips & Nibbles: Scottsdale is Arizona’s culinary mecca with no shortage of fancy feasts for the discerning foodie. Head to the posh dinning room at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale’s Talavera for the ultimate steakhouse experience. Indulge your margarita and mole cravings at Mexican inspired Distrito at The Saguaro. Tap into your love for local wine, fresh produce and tattoo adorned waiters at hipster friendly FnB Restaurant.
The Saguaro is perfectly located in Old Town Scottsdale, just a short stroll from some of the city’s top restaurants, cowboy bars and top notch museums. I popped by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art on a sunny afternoon and was thrilled to discover I had arrived for a very special one week exhibit. SMoCA, situated on a twenty-one acre, beautifully landscaped park, presents the best of contemporary art, architecture and design from around the world and from around the corner. The museum puts on nine to twelve exhibitions per year which rotate continually so that visitors always experience the most current works of art that represent the thinking of the best and brightest.
SMoCA’s short-lived “Street Art Moves Inside,” exhibit showcased the work of Phoenix’s most famed street artists via jaw dropping pieces by Lalo Cota, Pablo Luna, Mando Rascon, Thomas “Breeze” Marcus and Angel Diaz. While strolling through massive rooms covered in graffiti it’s hard not to be inspired by each artists whimsical renderings. Highlights included quirky designs featuring heart thumping spray paint can, DJ deck, wild rose and Mexican inspired skulls, vintage American auto and thugged out Hello Kitty.
In the late afternoon as the sun was splashing across Scottsdale’s streets I strolled with a few new friends in search of a thirst quench. The city is currently indulging in a craft beer boom and with the help of a local expert we zig-zag across town to create our very own Ale Trail. Our first stop was Sip Coffee & Beer House, an absolutely charming cafe concept where local hipsters and office-less entrepreneurs come to buzz in the morning with a cup of coffee and lullaby through the afternoon with a sudsy pint. Sip’s coffee beans are provided by local roaster Cartel Coffee Lab while behind the bar you’ll be spoilt for choice with 19 rotating craft beers on draft and over 100 bottles of brew. Next up, Craft64 “where local craft beer and fine wine meet wood fired pizza.” We grabbed a seat in front of the bar and whisked our way through the restaurants exclusive Arizona beer list which they serve up via 30 draft tap handles and over 50 bottles. The restaurants name offers a tip of the hat to the 64oz growlers which sit in boxes waiting to be filled and appreciated at home. With little time to spare we took our bartenders recommendation and sampled through eight of his favourite local brews before hitting the road once more. Our final stop of the day was at Illinois import Two Brothers Brewing Company which recently opened a spacious spot in January 2015. The 100% family owned and operated micro-brewery features a string of comfy bar stools perfect for chirping at your bartender. Sip through the brewmasters quirky creations such as the Wobble IPA, Domaine DuPage French Country Ale and Ebel’s Weiss.
Fans of Wild Wild West cowboy culture will feel as though they are strolling through Disneyland at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. The museum boldly immerses its guests in the essence of the American West – past and present – guiding you on an interactive journey by means of outstanding expressions of beauty, reality and lore found in western art; authentic and evocative cultural objects and riveting personal stories. After skipping through the museums double-decker space I encountered taxidermy bison, a circle of saddles, rickety rifles and rusty knives, collection of shiny sheriff badges and an extensive art collection which helps depict the heroic stories that Native Americans and early settlers shared together.
Smack dab in the centre of Old Town Scottsdale sits Lawrence Dunham Vineyards‘ pretty art adorned tasting room. Owners Peggy Fiandaca and Curt Dunham greet our group with wide open smiles and motion for us to sit outside at a pink rose adorned feasting table where the spend the next hour introducing us to their award winning wines. We enjoyed an intimate tasting of Curt’s hand-crafted, estate-grown Rhone-varietal wines which he grows at his remote vineyard located in the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. Oenophiles keen to tap into Arizona’s up-and-coming wine scene now have a unique opportunity to do so in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale. LDV’s Signature Petite Syrah offers the best taste of the winery’s unique terroir featuring 100% Petite Syrah aged in new American oak barrels for 22 months.
Seeing that this was my first trip to Arizona I was adamant about visiting the Grand Canyon. I felt like I’d be cheating myself out of one of America’s ultimate nature experiences if I didn’t do a bit of investigation to make it happen. The drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon is approximately 4 hours each way. If you were to do a road trip it would be a gruelling drive where you’d spend over 8 hours behind the wheel.
For those looking to treat themselves to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure Westwind Air Service pulls out all the stops. In the early morning I hopped on their Signature South Rim Grand Canyon Tour which begins with a scenic, narrated flight over some of the most beautiful parts of Arizona. The aerial tour departs from the Deer Valley Airport in Northern Phoenix, with a first leg which includes spectacular views over the Tonto National Forest, Verde River, Red Rock formations of Sedona and San Francisco Peaks before arriving at the south rim of the Grand Canyon which is a jaw dropping 7,000 ft above sea level.
Moments after our plane crashed onto the tarmac at Grand Canyon Airport snowflakes drifted in the breeze. After stepping into the terminal we stared out the window and discovered that a freak blizzard had descended upon us. My group spent the next 4 hours shivering through what is best described as an unforgettable weather day which featuring a blizzard full of snow, sleet and hail.
We were picked up at the airport by the Pink Jeep company which has been operating in the area for years. We all huddled in the back of the vehicle totally mystified that just an hour ago we were basking in 40 degree desert heat. I tried to keep a chipper mood even though most views were filled with white fog. On our last stop at the Grand Canyon Historic Village we explored the grounds of the historic El Tovar Lodge where for a short 10 seconds the clouds parted and I got a glimpse into the worlds Grandest Canyon. Success!
Skip across the lodge and you’ll find the Hopi House which was originally built in 1905 as a market for Native American crafts, made by artisans on the site. The Hopi, as the historic inhabitants of the area, were chosen as the featured artisans, and the building was designed to closely resemble a traditional Hopi home. Today the Hopi House remains true to its roots, offering arts and crafts fans two floors of colourful Native American artwork.
My visit to Arizona was a press trip coordinated by Experience Scottsdale. Flights, accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.