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Things To Do in Scottsdale, Arizona’s Desert Playground

Luxurious hotels, restaurants, and a community charm, Scottsdale has something for everyone — no Super Bowl tickets needed

The sun sets over the Sonoran Desert at Brown’s Ranch in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve
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Image Credits Sonoran Desert: Photo by Jenna McKone for Experience Scottsdale; Mountain Shadows: Photo courtesy of Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale; Western Week Parade: Photo by Christine Johnson for City of Scottsdale; Hotel Valley Ho: Photography courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho; LOVE: Photo by Halie Sutton for Experience Scottsdale

Next month, thousands of football and baseball fans, golfers, and tourists will head to Greater Phoenix for a sports trifecta: Super Bowl LVII kicks off at State Farm Stadium on February 12, the Waste Management Phoenix Open tees off from February 6-12, and spring training for 15 Major League Baseball teams stretches from February 24 to March 28 across ten stadiums. Area hotels, resorts, and restaurants are getting ready to welcome visitors with special packages, activities, and more. But you don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy all that this desert playground has to offer. It’s a leading destination for health and wellness, art, car auctions, horse shows, and shopping.

Mountain Shadows, a $100 million midcentury hideaway at the foot of Camelback Mountain in downtown Scottsdale, has two 75-foot pools with private cabanas, a fitness center, a par-3, 18-hole golf course, and special packages geared toward healthy living. Start the day with fresh juice smoothies delivered to your patio or terrace. Then, choose from the resort’s wellness offerings throughout the day and into the evening including yoga, meditation, and sound healing featuring Tibetan singing bowls which create gentle vibrations designed to relax the body and mind. Local wellness experts will guide you through the sessions in your room or beneath the stars overlooking the mountains, which are especially magical when the moon is full. “Free Flow Nights,” complimentary yoga classes, are held each week on the lawn or terrace.

For a restful night’s sleep, ask for the “Moon & Stars” package which includes a cup of Golden Moon Milk before bedtime, inspired by Ayurvedic wellness, to combat inflammation and aid in relaxation, and a sleep journal designed to help you sleep better and live a more present life. Spritz your pillow with Star Dust mist and slip on a silk mask for a serene slumber. Hearth 61, the resort’s signature restaurant, serves seasonal modern American cuisine in an attractive dining room or outside on the spacious patio with mountain views. A lively bar serves cocktails inside and out, where fire tables offer warmth on chilly nights.

The Scottsdale and Phoenix regions are known for spas, many of which incorporate indigenous botanicals from the Sonoran Desert long used by Native Americans for their healing properties. The Well & Being Spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess offers a scrub made with jojoba to exfoliate skin and a prickly pear cactus gel in its body wrap to smooth and hydrate. At The Spa at Camelback Inn, try the adobe clay purification treatment followed by warm juniper and sage oils. The Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale offers a turquoise sage massage to create a sense of calm and well-being while The Spa at Talking Stick Resort uses warmed stones and native wild chaparral to ease stress and tension. Mountain Shadows and Hotel Valley Ho also offer special pampering packages for mothers-to-be.

For exercise, hit the trails! Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a sprawling sanctuary in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, is consistently named among the area’s top attractions. The largest of its kind in the United States, the 30,500-acre preserve offers more than 250 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking for people of all fitness levels.

Another must is Old Town Scottsdale, the city’s heart, with historic sites that date to the late 1880s, such as the Little Red Schoolhouse and the Old Adobe Mission. Cavalliere’s, dating to 1909, is still a family-owned blacksmith shop to this day. Old Town is now a lively area of shops, tasting rooms, restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries, and museums including the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art which celebrates the art and architecture of our time. On view now through August 6, the museum features “Phillip K. Smith: Three Parallels,” dramatic light-based work focusing on form, color, space, the environment, and change from the noted Southern California artist.

The nonprofit Scottsdale Public Art organization presents ArtWalk, featuring exhibitions and entertainment every Thursday evening from 7-9pm. It includes a free one-hour self-guided tour of the town’s most celebrated artworks from The Yearlings, a monument to wild horses and the free spirit of the West by George-Ann Tognoni to Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture, which became a symbol of peace during the Vietnam War and is now a favorite place to take photos with loved ones. Art shows, exhibitions, and special events are held throughout the year, including the Celebration of Fine Art from January 14 to March 26. The most spectacular event is Canal Convergence, taking place in November along the banks of the Arizona Canal. The event showcases large scale, light-based public artworks, educational programming, family-oriented activities, dance, music, and more.

Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture is one of many public artworks on display in Old Town Scottsdale
Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture is one of many public artworks on display in Old Town Scottsdale

Also well worth exploring are the Old Town Scottsdale Rodeo Museum and Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, an expansive space highlighting art, culture, and history. Its mission: “Illuminating the past to shape our future.” During Western Week from January 28 to February 5, Old Town features parades, Native American festivals, a pony express ride, and cultural exhibits including the Gold Palette ArtWalk highlighting native artists and artwork, performances, and more. 

Car shows include the Arizona Concours d’Elegance on January 22 at the Scottsdale Civic Center, the Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions from January 21-29, and the MAG Classic Car Auction on January 27-28 at We-ko-Pa Casino Resort. The Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show draws crowds from February 16-26.

The annual Western Week in Old Town Scottsdale includes the Parada del Sol Parade and Trail’s End Festival
The annual Western Week in Old Town Scottsdale includes the Parada del Sol Parade and Trail’s End Festival

Scottsdale Fashion Square is a top destination for luxury retail including Bottega Veneta, Cartier, Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, St. Laurent, and Versace. The Scottsdale Quarter, an open-air shopping center, features stunning views, boutiques, gourmet restaurants, and The Quad, a park-like gathering space with the biggest jet fountains in the region, the setting for events and activities throughout the year. Biltmore Fashion Park, in the heart of a historic, upscale neighborhood, has gardens, fountains, dining, and oh yes, great shopping. 

For architecture buffs, the historic Hotel Valley Ho is considered one of the best-preserved midcentury hotels in the country. Designed by architect Edward L. Varney, the hotel opened in 1956 and soon became a Hollywood hideaway for stars that included Betty Grable, Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, among others. Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner held their wedding reception there on December 28, 1957, and baseball players including Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams checked in during spring training. Westroc Hotels bought the hotel in 2002 and spent $80 million restoring it to its midcentury splendor, with many upgrades since then, but its original bones remain. Just ask Ace Bailey, the Valley Ho’s unofficial historian, who is happy to give guests a tour. You’ll feel like a Hollywood star lounging on a huge daybed by the OH Pool (one of two swimming pools on property), pampering yourself at the VH Spa, or enjoying a meal at the popular Zuzu restaurant, named after the beloved matriarch of the hotel’s owners, an accomplished cook “who believed that food is better when it’s shared with the people you love.” 

In honor of the Super Bowl, Executive Chef Russell LaCasce is serving a 57-ounce “Quarterback Tomahawk Steak Plate” for four. Cap it off with a football-themed vanilla-cola “Show Stopper” milkshake on a bed of chocolate cake topped with sprinkles, meringue goal posts, candy cacti, and, of course, a chocolate football. Touchdown! 481.421.1004, experiencescottsdale.com

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