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Fire pits and lounge seating make the patio a prime location for evening drinks at the Andaz Scottsdale.


Dry Spell

By Tate Gunnerson

Photo courtesy of the Andaz Scottsdale


It’s (almost) always sunny in the Arizona desert, and exclusive enclaves like Scottsdale and Paradise Valley offer swanky poolside resort spas and awe-inspiring outdoor recreation.

Some people employ extraordinary measures, such as light lamps or negative ion therapy, in a valiant effort to combat the winter blues; others just book a ticket to a warm-weather haven like Phoenix. Boasting nearly 300 days of sunshine per year and easy access to tony enclaves like Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, the area offers something for everybody, including luxury resorts, top-notch dining and a wide variety of outdoor activities—no heavy winter gear required.

Ensconced below Camelback and Mummy mountains, the aptly named Mountain Shadows ($299 to $409 per night) has a variety of room types designed with a sophisticated selection of contemporary and midcentury-inspired furnishings, many with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Arizona’s only 18-hole, par-3 golf course, and sculptural soaker tubs with mountain views. Channel your inner Gwyneth by trying moonlight rooftop yoga—one of the many classes offered at The Citizens Club & Juice Bar, an upscale on-site fitness center that boasts two gorgeous swimming pools that look like something out of a Slim Aarons photo. The resort is also rolling out photography classes, cooking demonstrations and other programming designed to enhance your stay. You might not want to leave, and the good news is that you don’t have to: The resort just debuted 42 luxe resort condos and lofts with valet service, access to resort amenities and loads of other perks.

In the ’50s and ’60s, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bing Crosby and other A-list Hollywood types hobnobbed at Hotel Valley Ho ($129 to $499 per night), and the buzzy resort still has a cool Rat Pack vibe with ’50s tunes playing in the lobby and a colorful design scheme. Although it’s located steps away from downtown Scottsdale’s many restaurants, art galleries and museums, there’s really no reason to venture out: The resort has two swimming pools as well as a full-service spa, and ZuZu, an on-site restaurant that serves up delectable fare and craft cocktails. For a more exclusive experience, stay in The Tower: a hotel within a hotel, with two-story loft suites ($699 to $1,299 per night) that sport balconies overlooking either Camelback Mountain or downtown Scottsdale.

Located on 23 acres just 2 miles from downtown, Andaz Scottsdale (rooms from $399 per night, suites from $2,500 per night) has 201 luxurious bungalow-style guest rooms ranging in size from 350 to 1,800 square feet spread out throughout the property for a more private, intimate experience. The resort also has several on-site dining options and three swimming pools, including one located in the Palo Verde Spa & Apothecary, a 24-hour fitness center with a full suite of services (the uber-relaxing Himalayan salt stone massage is worth the flight alone). 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West, offers tours and gorgeous sunset views.

Consider dining alfresco at LON’s at The Hermosa Inn, where the patio’s rustling trees, bubbling fountain and adobe fireplace create an intoxicating atmosphere that somehow holds its own against the magnificent rock formations that surround you. Executive chef Jeremy Pacheco grew up on an Arizona farm and uses the freshest possible ingredients to create local comfort dishes, like braised beef short ribs with goat cheese polenta, that have a distinctly global flair. For a more intimate experience, ask for a table in the old wine cellar, which is made of Chicago common brick, and rustic old beams and trusses.

Experiencing Food Network star and chef Beau MacMillan’s innovative and award-winning culinary creations is just the most pressing reason to make a reservation at Elements, a handsomely designed restaurant at the world-renowned Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa. Known for its impeccable service, well-stocked wine bar and down-home cooking featuring American cuisine fused with Asian accents (think hoisin-braised short ribs with wasabi crema), Elements has long been one of Paradise Valley’s most well-ranked dining establishments, and it’s not hard to see why.

No visit is complete without dining at FnB, a romantic destination in downtown Scottsdale that has earned national acclaim since owners Charleen Badman and Pavle Milic began welcoming diners in 2009. Selected by Milic, who owns his own wine label, the wine list features a wide array of wines from around the world, including many made in Arizona, to complement chef Badman’s seasonal menu using locally sourced ingredients (she can do things with veggies that will make you believe in miracles).

One of the most popular destinations in the area, Camelback Mountain has a number of trails of varying difficulty that lead past wildflowers, saguaro cacti and, let’s face it, at least a few rattlesnakes, but cliff tops overlooking magnificent 360-degree vistas make it well worth the trek. Wild Bunch Desert Guides will lead you up to the summit via the Cholla trail and then wind back down the Echo Canyon trail ($175 per person), pointing out wildlife and edible cactus fruit along the way. The quirky, highly entertaining guides also lead biking adventures and private hiking tours of other less-challenging trails.

If climbing a mountain isn’t your cup of tea, the serene and stunningly beautiful Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is a fantastic alternative. With no incline to speak of, its five well-manicured walking trails wind past permanent and temporary art exhibits and other seasonal programs designed to educate visitors about the desert. Or Hot Air Expeditions will sweep you off your feet, literally, in one of its vibrant hot air balloons, allowing you to take in unparalleled valley views while floating gently on the warm breeze ($179 to $199).

If you look closely from that vantage point, you might be able to make out Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West, well worth a visit just to see how the arid landscape inspired the famed Midwest architect’s designs. For a fun change of pace, ditch the kids and book the Friday evening tour ($40, reservations required, no children under 13). And no visit to the area is complete without a stop at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, where there’s plenty for people of all ages, including antique Hopi pottery exhibits and a sculpture courtyard made all the more stunning by its picturesque setting.  

LON’s at The Hermosa Inn serves cold-seared Pacific albacore tuna as a seasonal starter.