Ultimate Phoenix Travel Guide
May 4, 2021
Famous for receiving around 300 days of sunshine per year, this vibrant desert city is something of an adventure playground. The Valley of the Sun has it all: warm desert breezes, swaying palms, southwestern cuisine, endless shopping. Good news, getting to Phoenix is EASY! The Sky Harbor Airport (a major hub for American Airlines) is one of the more affordable and accessible airports in the country. Chances are, you can find a direct flight! There were a ton of very affordable tickets from Charleston to Phoenix. If you’re considering your first trip to the Valley of the Sun, here is what you should know:
Where To Stay In Scottsdale, AZ
The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
On my last trip to Scottsdale, I stayed at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. It was magical. The resort is located in the heart of “new” Scottsdale and is the perfect base camp to explore Phoenix! The AAA Four Diamond Resort features accommodations that will sooth and stimulate from a full-service spa and world-class golf to award-winning dining and upscale shopping. One of the resort’s biggest attractions is the Adventure Water Park which offers a lazy river ride and a 110-foot-long waterslide. Guests can rent a poolside cabana to relax in shaded luxury or soak in one of the two hot tubs. There is an adults-only pool which we thoroughly enjoyed (since we were kiddo-free on this trip). Whether you are visiting to see your favorite artist in concert or an exhibition at the Heard Museum, taking the family to the Grand Canyon or exploring the desert wilderness on ATV or horseback, the staff at The Westin Kierland will help you plan your adventures and make your stay a ton of fun! Check out my entire post about The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa HERE!
The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch
Last October we went on another girl’s trip to Phoenix and we stayed at The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch. This resort is a destination all on its own. Set amidst flowering cactus and framed against the majestic McDowell Mountains, this 27-acre Scottsdale hotel resort is home to the world-renown Spa Avania, a 2.5-acre water playground, championship golf, four casual and fine dining destinations, and nightly entertainment. Spacious guestrooms and suites offer private balconies or patios, perfect for entertaining with friends or families, or simply for watching the stars rise over the desert. There are eight total dining options on the property with a 24 hour market for picking up quick meals and Starbucks coffee. While we were there we enjoyed the “Wine Me Dine Me” at SWP and it was fabulous. Chef Juan and his culinary staff take you deep into the heart of fresh, authentic Southwestern flavors. He custom prepares a four-course menu for you complete with tequila and wine pairings. I have had some not so great experiences with tequila in the past (college days) but this tequila was so smooth and I really enjoyed it.
Best Restaurants in Scottsdale Arizona
While staying the the Westin Kierland we decided to try their on-site restaurant, Deseo. Bold, bright colors, unique menu choices, and an attractive open kitchen made this one of my favorite meals from the whole trip! With influences spanning the Caribbean and South America, we enjoyed a savory selection of ceviche, creative seafood entrées and marinated meats.
If you go, I highly recommend ordering:
- Ceviche (try the chutoro tiradito and the wild sea bass).
- Pan de bono (this bread is served with garlic butter and it was insanely good).
- Wagyu Hanger Steak “churrasco” style (the chimichurri was on point).
- Make sure you try dessert! They were all decadent and delicious.
Postino Wine Cafe
Postino is the Valley’s original neighborhood WineCafe. We went to there for dinner one evening and it was awesome! It combines unique and approachable wines with simple, delicious and locally grown fare. The wine selection was deep and the menu options can accommodate all eating preferences (including vegans). We enjoyed an incredible array of bruschetta boards, cheese boards, and a veggie board. I highly recommend the roasted cauliflower. I am not usually a cauliflower fan but this stuff was delicious. Bruschetta + Paninis + Wine = Perfect Combo!
Y’all The Churchill is such a cool concept! Each of the Churchill’s 10 businesses is housed in a repurposed shipping container. At the heart of The Churchill is a 9,000 square foot courtyard intended for dining, drinking, socializing and learning. It is made up entirely of local businesses, both established and new places to shop and eat. These include a pair of open-air bars: Pobrecito, a coastal Latin-themed bar from the owners of UnderTow cocktail lounge; and The Brill Line, which offers craft cocktails and two dozen draught beers. The restaurants include:
- Breadwinner: A restaurant from the Culinary Mafia Group that runs Evo in Scottsdale.
- Provecho: A Mexican eatery focusing on the flavors from central Mexico.
- Foxy Fruit: A healthy-eating spot featuring açai bowls and smoothies.
- Pobrecito: A cocktail bar from Barter & Shake, which runs Undertow and Counter Intuitive bars.
- Freak Brothers Pizza: The popular food truck’s first brick-and-mortar location.
Gertrude’s offers a fresh food experience at the Desert Botanical Garden, focusing on ingredients directly from the farm and pasture to the plate. The menu showcases local ingredients from artisans and farmers around Arizona and the Southwest. We decided to give it a try after the Electric Desert event at the Desert Botanical Garden. We were so impressed! We sat outside around a garden area with an umbrella overhead and started off with the Crab Dip. It was a perfect mix of claw meat, Old Bay, mozzarella, cream cheese, kale and served with Crostinis. It was delicious! Then I has the Braised Beef. It reminded me of a very savory pot roast. I loved it! It was served with Fingerling Potatoes and Electric Radish Confetti. It was on the heavy side but I highly recommend!
Things To Do In Scottsdale
Enjoy the Spa
One of the city’s standouts is its world-class spas, making people flock to the desert oasis for some much-needed pampering sessions. Arizona has long been an oasis for those seeking the healing properties of the desert. All of the area’s top resorts have impressive full-service spas that cater to guests’ ever-increasing requests for massages, body wraps, mud masks, and salt glows. I went to two different spas in Scottsdale and they were both fabulous!
The Agave Spa
This spa offers a desert-inspired retreat designed to rejuvenate and renew the mind, body and spirit with a refined collection of treatments. Situated along a citrus-tree lined pathway within its own courtyard at The Westin Kierland, my trip to The Agave Spa was perfection. It has 20 treatment rooms, a movement studio, a fitness studio, men’s and ladies’ locker rooms, a juice bar, and a full-service salon. Plus, guests can enjoy the Spa’s relaxing courtyard garden and quiet lap pool. Check out their list of services HERE.
Spa Avania is at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa in Scottsdale makes frequent appearances on lists of the best spas in the country. The spa facilities are absolutely stunning. We booked a massage in one of the garden treatment room, then spent the day by the French-Celtic mineral pool and lotus pond. It was fabulous. I also spent 30 minutes in the Himalayan Salt Room and it was fabulous. It is a method of inhaling pure, dry, micronized salt air particles. These particles reach deep into the lungs absorbing bacteria and pollutants, providing an anti-inflammatory property. Additional benefits encourage clear skin, enhanced breathing, superior endurance, deeper, more restful sleep and overall wellness. I highly recommend this spa!
Hot Air Balloon Ride
My sunrise hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done! Scottsdale’s much-hyped desert terrain is even more breathtaking from above. It is the kind of worthwhile splurge that you’ll be talking about long after you’re back on solid ground. Bring your family and friends, and don’t forget your camera. The post-flight celebration includes a Sonoran Sunrise Gourmet Breakfast with Prickly Pear Mimosas and local Arizona treats. You’ll also receive a commemorative flight certificate. Price varies depending on the date but it is usually $179-$209. You can purchase your ticket HERE.
Visiting the Desert Botanical Garden should definitely be on your list of things to see while in Scottsdale. There’s a good chance that you’ve never seen a cactus before, so instead of driving to the nearest Saguaro, head to the garden and take a tour of all the different plant life that lives in Arizona. This gorgeous place showcases the stark beauty of Sonoran flora. It has been a Phoenix institution since 1939, and supports research and conservation. The DBG hosts rotating exhibitions as well as classes and workshops. Daily tours are led by seriously passionate and knowledgeable guides. It is 1 of only 24 botanical gardens accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and has over 50,000 plant displays showcased in beautiful outdoor exhibits.
What to bring:
- Hat & Sunglasses
- Comfortable Shoes
- This Trail Guide
Roosevelt Row Arts District with Arizona Pedal Cab Tour
Roosevelt Row is the walkable arts district in downtown Phoenix, home of impressive murals, award-winning galleries with rotating exhibitions from renowned artists, incredible local restaurants, boutiques and more. While you walk around, make sure to check the sides of buildings and wander the alleys, that’s where you’ll see the awesome murals that originally turned this area into a destination. If you’re looking for a new backdrop for the ‘Gram or happen to visit Phoenix on a cooler day, it’ll be hard to go far on Roosevelt without seeing a colorful piece of art that you won’t want to snap. If it is going to be toasty outside, I recommend going REALLY early in the morning or at sunset.
Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix Art Museum has provided access to visual arts and educational programs in Arizona for nearly 60 years and is the largest art museum in the Southwestern United States. Its permanent collection galleries are drawn from more than 19,000 works of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design. Visitors also enjoy photography exhibitions through the Museum’s landmark partnership with the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. Plus, the restaurant, Palette, showcases local farmers and producers for a fresh meal, so it’s really a day of local art and cuisine. General admission tickets are $14 for kids ages 6-7. $18 for students. $20 for seniors. $23 for adults. You can purchase your tickets HERE.
Old Town Scottsdale
While Scottsdale has not yet achieved the party reputation of Vegas or L.A., it’s fair to say the city lays claim over one of the most vibrant and busy nightlife scenes in the West. If you’re looking for a hub of upscale nightclubs and bars, it’s safe to say that Old Town Scottsdale’s Entertainment District is where you want to be. It was like a high end, classy, miniature Las Vegas! Whether you come to dance, drink, or both, Scottsdale offers enough late-night distractions to keep you going until dawn. Our TOP 5 clubs were: Maya Day and Nightclub, Bottled Blonde, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, The District and The Mint. The area is packed with all different types of venues, from country bars to day clubs with pools and cabanas and is often the nightlife destination of choice for bachelor and bachelorette parties!
As one of the highest peaks in Phoenix, Camelback Mountain is among the most scenic hiking spots in the city. Soaring more 2,700 feet in elevation, Camelback’s summit offers spectacular views of Phoenix and Scottsdale and can be reached from the 1.2-mile (incredibly steep) Echo Canyon Trail. But getting to the summit of the camel’s hump and the extraordinary 360 degree views of surrounding cities of Scottsdale, Phoenix and Paradise Valley is no leisurely stroll in the park! There are two hiking trails: Echo Canyon and Cholla. Both trails are difficult, while Echo Canyon is steeper and Cholla is longer. Parking for both trails is only allowed from sunrise to sunset so plan accordingly. You can also schedule a guided hike HERE!
If you’re a history buff make sure you take advantage of the spectacular exhibits (and air conditioning) housed in the Heard Museum. The Heard Museum introduces visitors to the Native American and Hispanic cultures that have influenced and continue to shape Central Arizona and the Southwestern United States. Founded in 1929 by Dwight and Maie Heard, it is one of the top Phoenix tourist attractions and aims to educate and promote greater understanding of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, particularly American Indian tribes and other cultures of the Southwest. The Heard Museum is located just north of downtown Phoenix and is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission costs $18 for adults and $7.50 for kids 6 to 17. Guided tours are included with admission and are offered daily at noon, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. On-site facilities include a gift shop, a cafe and outdoor sculpture gardens.
Planning a trip to Phoenix and Scottsdale? Check out Visit Phoenix for great information and guides!
Photos by: Aneliia Miller Photography