It’s been called “The Beverly Hills of the Southwest” and “a desert version of Miami’s South Beach.” Scottsdale is fancy, yes. It’s also stimulating, creative, and rugged. There’s a reason Frank Lloyd Wright set up shop here in 1937. It’s the same reason artists have been flocking to the city ever since—for inspiration. And most of it comes from the Sonoran Desert, one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.
While much of the rest of the country is battling cold weather, people in Scottsdale are outside, hiking Camelback Mountain or enjoying lunch in the open air. January through April is the most beautiful time to visit, but it’s also the most expensive. Summertime brings up to 60 percent off high-season rates at some of the city’s top hotels and resorts. September through December you can still find decent prices without the outrageous heat.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is only about a 25-minute drive from downtown. You can also fly into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, where many of the country’s discount carriers land—though it’s a longer ride into Scottsdale.
You need a car. The Valley Metro Light Rail doesn’t connect into Scottsdale, and Greater Phoenix’s bus system, as a whole, is unreliable. In downtown Scottsdale, a free trolley runs every 10 minutes from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., daily.
Anything outdoorsy. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve, 32,000+ acres of desert playground, has open space for hiking, biking, mountain climbing, and horseback riding. When finished, the preserve will encompass more than 34,000 acres of permanently protected land. If you want to earn your local stripes, hike Camelback Mountain. It’s a challenging summit but worth the views.
Scottsdale is a hotbed for talented chefs—you'll find culinary stars like Charleen Badman (FnB), Matt Carter (The Mission, House Brasserie, Zinc Bistro, Fat Ox), Beau MacMillan (elements at Sanctuary). No matter where they come from, Scottsdale’s chefs are among the best in the country—leading an independent, locavore movement that celebrates dynamic cuisine.
Scottsdale ArtWalk is the country’s longest-running event of its kind. Every Thursday from 6:30 to 9 p.m., the free block party keeps the art district’s galleries open late with live demonstrations, complimentary drinks and bites, and other forms of entertainment. Nearby, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (also free on Thursdays!) is a five-gallery minimalist building designed by award-winning architect Will Bruder. It’s right next door to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, a premier concert hall nationally recognized for its diverse programming. At the Musical Instrument Museum, you can see 15,000 different instruments from around the world and even drop into a drum class. And between museum hopping, don’t forget to take in the city’s public art program, which includes 50 permanent pieces from the likes of Robert Indiana and Donald Lipski.
Winter and early spring are busy with events. Things kick off in January with a series of international auto auctions and then roll right into the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, aka “The Greatest Show on Grass” and one wild party. In March, Cactus League spring training takes over the town and appeals just as much to sunbathers as to baseball lovers.
It really is a dry heat. Yes, 100-degree temperatures can be daunting, but when you’re sitting poolside with an ice-cold drink, it’s easy to forget about it. That being said, you don’t want to attempt a hike in the middle of a summer’s day. Just save most of your activity—golf, wandering downtown’s streets—for the early morning or evening. No matter what time of year it is, pack plenty of sunscreen and drink more water than you’re used to. It is the desert, after all.
The Food Lovers' Guide to Phoenix & Scottsdale and contributor to Veria Living, Travel + Leisure online, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons and the New York Post. Follow her travels on Twitter @Little_K.
Katarina is a freelance writer and blogger from the Arizona desert by way of the Croatian coast. She's the author of