Nature may have spent 12 million years creating the rock formation that is the centerpiece of this 1,300-acre Waldorf Astoria resort in the foothills of the Sonoran Desert, but late-coming humans have done a commendable job of adding the finishing touches. Although the Boulders, with its casita accommodations blending into the landscape, its championship golf courses, and its upscale shops, is as luxurious as any resort in the Scottsdale area, it's also where guests are most likely to feel they are truly in the desert. An early morning walk along groomed paths, when the first rays of light are turning the landscape golden, is as likely to produce the sounds of woodpeckers or owls calling from their nests in saguaro cactus as it is the whack of a ball against club or racket.
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For serious shoppers and culinary explorers, the offerings of downtown Scottsdale are a half-hour drive, but El Pedregal, a jewel-box–size collection of shops and restaurants, is a short walk from the resort. For a true Arizona experience, there’s the nearby town of Cave Creek, where the Old West, the biker crowd, and Boulders guests happily co-mingle. It’s not unusual to spot a horse on the street, or a motorcycle helmet at the Tonto Bar & Grill, whose dishes incorporate such local ingredients as ocotillo flowers, cholla buds, jojoba beans, and the fruit of saguaro and prickly pear cactus. What surprises many, though, is that Cave Creek is also home to Binkley’s, which is ranked among the very best restaurants in the Phoenix metropolitan area. A meal there might start with a dish containing shaved Burgundy truffles, followed by foie gras–stuffed quail.
Need to Know
Rooms: 221 rooms; from $119 low season, $349 high season. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Southwestern cuisine dominates at the Palo Verde, with its “Don’t Need a Knife” short ribs. At the Grill Restaurant & Bar guests can never go wrong with a burger. The choices are healthy and local at the Spa Café. Mexican classics such as carne asada are favorites at the Spotted Donkey Cantina, whose extensive tequila menu soon has everyone ordering in flawless Spanish. Spa and gym details:Like everything at the Boulders, the Waldorf Astoria Spa draws much of its inspiration from the desert, thus its Zen-like serenity. The fitness center offers cardio, strength, yoga, and Pilates classes for all levels.
Who’s it for:Luxury travelers seeking desert beauty in a stress-free setting, who have time to unpack their bags for at least a few days, as the airport is almost an hour away. Our favorite rooms: Golfers might prefer Golf Course Casitas 205, 206, or 208, overlooking the fifth hole on the Boulders South Course, but for seclusion, quiet, and desert panoramas, casita 220 is unsurpassed. Pool options: If the main pool is crowded, ask for a golf-cart ride to the club, villa, or spa pools, which tend to be much more serene.