What attracted guests such as Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, and landed the Arizona Biltmore in films going back to the Golden Age, is the same mix of noteworthy architecture, glamour, and hospitality at the highest level that draws discerning travelers today. This is a hot spot with style and substance. The resort’s 22,000-square-foot Tierra Luna Spa uses Indigenous botanicals and the spirit of the surrounding Sonoran Desert in its full-service skin, body and mind treatments and is just one of the exemplary ways you can have an elevated experience here.
The story of Phoenix’s “Jewel of the Desert” starts in 1929 and includes architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his lauded designs, which helped create an unparalleled environment for the old-meets-new stay that’s thoroughly rewarding at the resort. This timeless palatial icon continues to showcase beautiful architectural updates and recent modern advancements to create an experience unlike any other.
A vision of a traveler’s haven in Arizona
The playful comfort of the present-day Arizona Biltmore has its roots in the vision of pioneering brothers Warren and Charles McArthur. From Chicago, the pair headed west in 1910 in search of adventure. They found it in Arizona and, after discovering it lacked accommodations for out-of-towners, called on their brother Albert Chase McArthur to design a fabulous new resort.
McArthur worked with his former mentor Frank Lloyd Wright on the grand project, which ended up costing more than $2 million (the equivalent of nearly $35 million today), twice what they had originally planned. Chewing gum magnate and Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr. pitched in with an investment and the “winter resort and bungalow group hotel” opened February 23, 1929, to much fanfare. Three days’ worth of opening festivities hosted 600 eager guests who came to see the dazzling desert haven.
Architectural highlights—a temple of great art
From the beginning, the hoteliers focused on creating a masterpiece using organic architecture designed specifically to blend into the Arizona desert landscape. McArthur, an earlier apprentice of Wright, hired him as an on-site consultant. They landed on “Biltmore Blocks,” made from Arizona sand and heavily influenced by the “textile block” system that Wright had devised and used in four homes in California, along with distinctive lighting from semi-opaque glass blocks. The patterned concrete blocks were woven together with hidden reinforcing rods, forming both an elegantly textured skin and structural skeleton for the building.
In all, more than 250,000 blocks in 34 geometric patterns (sculpted by Emry Kopta) were used in the original Arizona Biltmore. The roof featured 33,000 pounds of copper—and the property boasted the Gold Room, the formal dining room with the second-largest gold leaf ceiling in the world, behind only the Taj Mahal.
Many of these original features remain, as well as updates, such as when the popular Gold Room was lengthened; the Catalina pool installed, lined, and bordered with high-glaze clay tiles in vibrant blue and yellow from Wrigley’s Catalina Island in California; and a bath house and 20 cabanas were added, two years after the grand opening. More renovations came in 1969, including the addition of a small dining room off the lobby that was later enlarged into what today is the Grand Ballroom.
A cultural touchstone
Tales of the rich and famous, who flocked to the resort’s inviting environs and attentive staff, abound. Clark Gable once lost his wedding ring on the golf course and was overjoyed when a helpful Biltmore employee found it. Marilyn Monroe loved the stunning Catalina pool so much; she declared it her favorite pool for sunbathing. Spencer Tracy endeared the staff by remembering their names and doling out generous tips. And Harpo Marx honeymooned at the hotel—often holding hands with his bride and skipping through the formal dining room after meals, which both charmed and scandalized his fellow guests.
In 1988, a few guests on the second floor of the main wing reported an “awful ruckus going on” in the piano bar late one evening. The staff gently coaxed the disgruntled guests out of their rooms to peek—they were surprised to see none other than Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Liza Minelli were singing an impromptu set, quickly turning grumbling into delight.
Politicians, used to the utmost privacy and most modern amenities, have been attracted to the resort as well. Every U.S. President from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama (who visited as a senator) has stayed at the Arizona Biltmore, with President Ronald Reagan choosing it for his honeymoon.
The resort has also been the setting for several films, one of the earliest being Blonde Bombshell, made in 1933 and starring Jean Harlow and Lee Tracy. In 1994, the remake of The Getaway starring Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin had shots at the Biltmore; the next year, Waiting to Exhale, starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett, filmed there too.
Edna Ferber wrote several novels while staying at the Biltmore, and Irving Berlin was such a regular that guests vied to have the cabana closest to his at the pool. Legend has it that the song-writing maestro—quoted as saying he was inspired by the sun—soaked up enough inspiration in the warm Arizona heat to pen White Christmas while staying at the resort in 1939.
Other bold-faced names who have trusted their pampering to the resort include Tony Bennett, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Nelson Rockefeller, the Duke of Windsor, Billy Joel, Fred Astaire, George Burns, Marlo Brando, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, and Elizabeth Taylor—to name a few.
Guests love learning of the hotel’s star-studded history so much that the resort now offers 90-minute walking tours. In addition to telling stories, the popular Legendary History Tours cover the resort’s best-in-class hospitality that, since day one, has lured so many of those celebrities, giving nods to the people who raised the bar on the level of excellence expected during a stay there—a level upheld to this day.
The tours also explore the 39-acre property’s top architectural highlights and cover the meticulous care and restoration that goes into being a steward of such an important historical landmark. One bonus for tour-goers is hearing the history of how the hotel became the birthplace of the Tequila Sunrise, thanks to bartender Gene Sulit.
Moving forward while paying homage to its roots
One of the most ambitious recent renovations was a $140 million project that finished in 2023 to launch the brand-new adults-only Saguaro Pool; outdoor Spire Bar; 65-foot triple waterslide at the family-friendly Paradise Pool; private Citrus Club; two new dining concepts including Renata’s Hearth and McArthur’s Restaurant and Bar; pickleball courts; and the lauded Tierra Luna Spa and Sol Garden. The project also reimagined the Wright Bar and hundreds of resort rooms to infuse old Hollywood mystique throughout every corner of the property.
Other additions include the now iconic, six-foot-tall Solemn Sprites statues in 1985; the full-service spa and beauty salon in 1998; and a $50 million project that included a luxury residential complex called the villas, completed in 1999.
These days, a stay at the storied Arizona Biltmore offers an array of five-star amenities. Have a sunset cocktail at the sparkling Spire Bar, dine at Latin hot spot Renata’s Hearth (or McArthur’s for New American fare), and have a nightcap at The Wright Bar, where so many A-listers have created lifetime memories too.
Rejuvenate at the four-star Forbes rated Tierra Luna Spa and Sol Garden, where treatments such as the Grounding Quartz Massage or Mud Alchemy Experience might use an Indigenous mud or native scent to ground you in the surrounding Sonoran Desert. Book tee time at either of the two adjacent premier golf courses, browse the retail shops, and swim in one of seven pools that promise “sun-soaked glamour.”
Finally, lay your head in one of the resort’s hundreds of desert-chic accommodations, ranging from guest rooms to spacious villas, that offer invitingly airy décor, refreshing outdoor spaces, and amenities such as private fire pits and access to the Citrus Club (included with select suites or as an add-on to any room). No detail is left unturned during a stay at the dreamy Arizona Biltmore resort—it retains the excitement and lore of its past while looking ahead to the future of top-level hospitality.