Word of Mouth: Scottsdale

Architectural wonders, dining concepts, expeditions in the sky and hikes across the desert landscape

Settled in a picturesque portion of the Sonoran Desert, Scottsdale, Arizona‘s sunny days and year-round warmth have attracted visitors (and transplants) for decades now. Though its reputation may be wrapped up in its award-winning golf courses, Scottsdale excels in many other alluring areas. Its dynamic, international food scene continues to advance. Notable design hotels now pop up in various neighborhoods. And, among the exquisite natural beauty, architectural wonders—including iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright‘s western home-studio hybrid—warrant a visit  for their cultural gravity.

Of course, Scottsdale offers immediate access to all cultural things in neighboring Phoenix—like the mesmerizing Musical Instrument Museum and the immersive concept cocktail bar Century Grand (as well as Paradise Valley’s historic Paolo Soleri-designed gallery, Cosanti—a microcosm of the architect’s experimental Arizona city, Arcosanti). That said, though the desert town may benefit from what it borders, it’s a worthy destination itself for travelers seeking outdoor adventures and activities, culinary escapades or explorations of significant art and architecture. The following destinations are only a sampling from a recent excursion that found us admiring Scottsdale by land, and by hot air balloon.

by David Graver

Taliesin West

An architectural masterpiece, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West once housed the architect and his studio each winter. Today, visitors can tour the multi-structure compound and experience the magnitude of Wright’s distinct vision. Each building is more surprising than the next—as is their relationship to one another and the landscape surrounding it all.

Courtesy of Benjamin’s Upstairs

Benjamin’s Upstairs at Citizen Public House

Citizen Public House might be the most beloved restaurant in Scottsdale, with an award-winning reputation that dates back to its opening in 2011. The thoughtful menu is certainly one not to miss, but upstairs one will find the recently opened speakeasy Benjamin’s. The discreetly located venue offers a concise menu of delicious food items, and their world-class cocktails will appease many curious palates.

Courtesy of The Mission

The Mission

Whether dropping into the original Old Town location or the newer iteration in the shopping-friendly Kierland neighborhood, The Mission serves superb Mexican cuisine with a contemporary flourish. The environment is a comfortable balance of chic and casual; the menu supports this with delectable dishes and a lengthy list of tequilas. The Mission is one of several multi-location hot spots in Scottsdale, a list that includes Hash Kitchen, The Herb Box and Postino.

Image of Voice-Over: Zineb Sedira by David Graver

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Come for the outdoor James Turrell work; stay for the exemplary curatorial programming found within the walls of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Temporary exhibitions contribute to and initiate dialogue on the state of modern art today. It’s a necessary stop for any visit to Scottsdale. For those looking for immersive, colorful and cutting-edge works, a stop to Wonderspaces Arizona should also be booked.

Courtesy of Sumo Maya

SumoMaya

Serving up small plates of Asian-Mexican fusion items, Chef Lorenzo López’s SumoMaya masterfully blends together various culinary cultures. The vibrant, often tantalizing dishes aim to appeal to many senses—and everything is composed of farm-fresh components from boutique Arizona farmers). The venue itself also glows thanks to a bright color palette.

by David Graver

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort

Across 53 acres, the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort tucks suites and villas into the pristine natural landscape. It’s a hospitality oasis (the bright pool almost literally so), where impeccable service and privacy are paramount. Thoughtful amenities abound and the on-site restaurant, Elements, serves fine fare and clever cocktails.

Courtesy of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy

Gateway Loop Trail

Scottsdale’s trails welcome hikers of various skill levels. For a light to moderate hike, with a slight incline up to a desert vista, the Gateway Loop Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy can be completed in a few hours. It’s advisable to start early and bring water, and be sure to take in all of the flora along the way.

by David Graver

Hot Air Expeditions

A bucket-list item for many, a hot air balloon ride offers an unencumbered eagle-eye view for miles. In Scottsdale, the soaring, spectacular experience—which we partook in through Hot Air Expeditions—begins at sunrise over the Sonoran. The flight is charming and comfortable, and its conclusion includes brunch in the desert.

Hero image by David Graver