The Secret to Capturing Magical Desert Vistas in Scottsdale

The silhouette of mountains in the distance at sunset.

Ask visitors to Scottsdale what most impresses them about the city, and many will likely mention the sweeping desert landscapes. Granite boulders, saguaro cacti, and the craggy profiles of Camelback and other mountains create a magical, otherworldly, and unforgettable atmosphere. This itinerary takes that aspect of Scottsdale and builds a trip around it.

The highlight of this weekend escape is a small-plane flight to the Grand Canyon. The natural wonder is only about 250 miles north of Scottsdale, but that relatively small distance includes a chance to soar above some of the Southwest’s most fantastic terrain—sandstone buttes and deep ravines, but also, surprisingly, forests of pines. You’ll also explore other panoramic highlights within Scottsdale itself. Some require effort, like a hike to Tom’s Thumb in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve. A meal at the J&G Steakhouse, on the other hand, requires no more exertion than ordering a cocktail and a steak and then looking up at the star-filled sky.

Sometimes, however, the most memorable views are modest ones—the morning sun shining on your mimosa or a board laden with Spanish cheeses. Plenty of those are also included in this weekend getaway.

The Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon Airplane Tour

A flight from Scottsdale to the Grand Canyon includes the chance to soar over the famous landmark and see, en route, the red rocks of northern Arizona, national forests, and Navajo lands.
Carl Grupp, a smiling man with a goatee. He wears a blazer and tie. His slicked-back hair is slightly greying on the edges. A telephone pole is visible amongst greenery in the background.


Carl Grupp

Carl Grupp of Coastline Travel Advisors in Scottsdale has more than 20 years of hands-on experience in luxury travel planning and a proven track record in exceeding client expectations. Few travel consultants know Scottsdale better than Carl, who can customize this itinerary around your interests for a truly bespoke vacation.
Breakfast on a table overlooking a pool. Sandy mountains are visible in the background

DAY 1Check into a Desert Oasis

The first step on a weekend of taking in bird’s-eye views of Scottsdale is to select a luxurious nest you can fly back to between your excursions. The Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia has rooms with incomparable views—over the resort’s pool, lined with palms, and with Camelback Mountain in the distance. (Suggestions of some other rooms with unforgettable views in Scottsdale can be found on the Experience Scottsdale site.)

The view out your window at the Omni Montelucia may grab your attention first, but other details are noteworthy, too: the Andalusian-inspired décor of rich, dark woods and fabrics; Devine beds with 300-thread-count sheets; and even an outdoor ceiling fan on your private patio or balcony. Three pools, five restaurants, a 31,000-square-foot spa, and a 24-hour fitness facility are among the resort’s other features.

While you may be reluctant to leave this oasis and head out on a hike through the desert, you’ll have time to enjoy Omni Montelucia amenities over the course of the weekend. Instead of lounging poolside, your next stop today will be Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This enormous, 30,500-acre nature preserve with more than 200 miles of trails offers a chance to explore the Sonoran Desert without leaving Scottsdale. While the Gateway Loop is one of the most popular and easier trails in the park, a hike to Tom’s Thumb—a dramatic granite formation—is more challenging. The reward for those who persevere is views of Scottsdale, Phoenix, and the southern McDowell Mountains.

Your view at dinner tonight is almost as stunning, though it will require less effort. J&G Steakhouse, located on the top floor of The Phoenician, takes advantage of that resort’s location in the foothills of Camelback Mountain. You can either dine on the expansive patio or in the restaurant with its floor-to-ceiling windows. Chef Jacques Qualin’s menu highlights steaks—including a wagyu for two if you’re feeling flush—though the kitchen also prepares excellent roasted Maine lobster and a choice of fish steaks and filets.

After dinner, get a nightcap at Scottsdale’s speakeasy-like lounge. To get to the Second Story Liquor Bar, you’ll climb a steep staircase to an intimate and dimly lit space with leather and dark-wood walls, and a speakeasy ambiance. The bar is known for its selection of more than 300 whiskeys, though the cocktails are popular too—from classic renditions of the Manhattan and old fashioned to the mixologists’ own fruitier and lighter creations.
A couple toast cocktails on a balcony overlooking the desert at sunset.

DAY 2Soar Above the Grand Canyon

This morning you’ll get a true bird’s-eye view of one of the West’s most famous landmarks, the Grand Canyon. Your airplane tour with WestWind Air Service will depart early in the morning. You’ll fly some 250 miles across Arizona, taking in the landscape of buttes and colorful red rock outcroppings. When you arrive at the canyon, you’ll spend 20 to 30 minutes flying above both the North and South rims. Needless to say, you’ll want to have your camera with you and plenty of memory space for this excursion.

You can also opt to land at the Grand Canyon to get a closer look at this natural wonder on foot as you learn about its flowers, fauna, and geology. You can also make a stop at Grand Canyon Village, with its stores, historic hotels, and other buildings from the early 20th century, when tourism here was in its infancy. Teddy Roosevelt and painter Thomas Moran, who arrived by train on their visits, would surely be envious of your ability to fly in for a day while enjoying vantages of the canyon that they could only imagine.

The Grand Canyon tour can either be booked as a full-day excursion or, if you want to spend more time in Scottsdale itself, as a shorter air-only one. The latter takes about three hours, but it doesn’t include the chance to land at the canyon and explore on foot.

After you get back to Scottsdale, return to the Omni Montelucia. You’ve resisted, until now, the desire to sit poolside with a good book or explore the enormous Joya spa—a Moroccan-themed escape complete with therapists providing massages, facials, and scrubs. This afternoon, you can give into temptation—at least until it’s time to get ready for dinner.

This evening, you’ll drive to the northern edges of Scottsdale and, as you leave the city behind, you’ll notice an increasing number of dramatic granite boulders dotting the desert hills, while the city lights become merely a glittering glow in the distance. Your destination is the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale, where Talavera is located. The restaurant features platters of Spanish cheeses and hams, tapas of grilled octopus and prawns in garlic, and the restaurant’s signature dish: paella, in four different variations. The views of the desert and the night sky pair perfectly with every course.
Three women do yoga poses on a balcony overlooking a suburban neighborhood in the desert

DAY 3Stretch Towards the Sky

You’ll end your weekend with a Brightside Yoga session on the Hotel Valley Ho’s Sky Line Rooftop Deck. The hotel dates from the 1950s and was long a favorite of Hollywood stars. It’s fitting, then, that the hour-long yoga sessions with views of Downtown Scottsdale would likely appeal to today’s silver-screen celebrities. An earlier generation of guests, which included the likes of Clark Gable and Zsa Zsa Gabor, may have skipped the poses and stretches and gone straight to the spirited conclusion of the class—mimosas and bellinis served at the hotel’s OH Pool. Be sure to bring your bathing suit.

Starting your day with a bit of serenity, thanks to both yoga exercises and champagne bubbles, should hopefully make your departure from Scottsdale a little easier. If you still feel regret that your warm and sunny weekend escape is drawing to a close, the only remedy we can offer is to start planning your return.
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Journeys: United States
Journeys: United States