Scottsdale, Arizona likes to bring attention to its wild and untamed side, underlining its picturesque and perilous Sonoran desert surroundings. But the fact is the wild western vibe – while still as visible as the towering stature of saguaro cacti dotting the landscape – is fading into the sunset, allowing the city’s mid-century and contemporary pedigree to shine. Luxe and cosmopolitan options are aplenty, each attracting vacationers looking to spend the day outdoors getting dusty and dirty, then clean up for a cocktail-fueled night on the town. For Angelenos like myself, Scottsdale is distant enough to deliver all the benefits of a vacation, while close enough to rank high as a candidate for a long weekend getaway. The Design Milk guide below shares some of our favorites spots we’ve visited through the years, in and around the “West’s most Western town”:
WHERE TO STAY
Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa: Scottsdale Resort: If your idea of the perfect vacation is laying poolside with nary a thought about time – with drinks always at an arm’s length – then the upscale Andaz Resort has you covered three-fold with its trio of pools. But what we most remember about the luxury Hyatt-operated resort overlooking the Camelback Mountain are its 201 Alexander Girard-inspired guest bungalow-style rooms, the entirety stretched across a checkerboard of desert landscaped walkways all leading back to the resort’s communal pools, lounge, and eatery.
With rooms at the Andaz featuring names like the Eames Bungalow, Saarinen Bungalow, Girard House, and Albers House, it’s pretty clear the resort embraces the mid-century spirit that still looms prominently across Scottsdale. Rooms are decorated with a sophisticated mixture of mid-century classics mixed in with contemporary local furnishings and art, staying clearly outside the bounds of retro-kitsch decor. Small semi-private patios and enclosed backyard spaces permit sunbathing during the day and stargazing at night, affording guests a level of privacy always welcome while vacationing.
The Scott: If Instagram is any indication of where we should stay next while in Scottsdale, we’re apt to reserve a night or two at The Scott Resort & Spa. The Scott presents a trendier side of Scottsdale; imagine a craft cocktail served with a sprig of 1930s German modernist vibe, all set within a lush atmosphere established with high cane back chairs, dabs of greenery, and a liberal dose of brass detailing.
The resort’s newly renovated indoor/outdoor lobby bar is its most captivating space, decorated with a relaxed joie de vivre. The old meets new spirit isn’t accidental: the 55-year-old former property actually dates back to 1961, when it was called the Executive House Arizonian. Purchased in April 2016 by Classic Hotels & Resorts, $15 million was invested to renovate every corner of the property with a somewhat unique theme of “Spanish Revival meets Bauhaus”.
Sanctuary: The broken brittle outline of the Camelback Mountain plays a prominent and panoramic role here, shadowing the 53 acres of the Sanctuary grounds everywhere guests look. Suites are comfortably contemporary and envisioned with a monochromatic eye, allowing the landscape to take center stage.
And the hotel does indeed lives up to its name in amenities, offering guests the sanctuary of a meditation garden overlooking its own reflecting pool, a water-therapy pool, lap pool and full-service salon. A complimentary candlelight turndown service punctuates each evening with a romantic notion.
Hotel Valley Ho: Where the above-mentioned Andaz respectfully nods to mid-century design, the Hotel Valley Ho fully wraps itself in its most vibrant and colorful history. Designated a historically significant American hotel by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the hotel has been kicking it old school even before there was an old school to speak of. But don’t worry, each room and suite at Hotel Valley Ho isn’t a time capsule, benefitting from an $80 million renovation responsible for modernizing the 1956-built hotel, refreshing the Downtown Scottsdale’s accommodations with soft pillow-top beds, Terrazzo-tile bathrooms, and large flat screen television inside every room. Now it’s equally modern and mod.
WHERE TO PLAY
Taliesin West: No trip to Scottsdale is truly complete without visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sonoran winter home and architectural school. Tours winding through the residence and working classrooms are guided by passionate volunteers infinitely versed in the history of the buildings and life of the iconic architect. Every return reveals new and fascinating details, tying together the desert landscape with the architectural philosophies of its founder.
Arcosanti: Venture northward up along Interstate 17 into the desert and you’ll eventually find signs directing visitors to an experimental terrestrial commune spaceship of sorts. Envisioned as a utopian living laboratory by artist and architect, Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti (a portmanteau of ‘architecture’ and ‘ecology’) persists in its exploration of improving the urban experience through holistic planning. After taking the hour-long guided tour, be sure to grab a health and staff-cooked meal served in Arcosanti’s cafeteria for the full experience.
Cattle Track Arts Compound: With renowned architectural destinations like Taliesin West and Arcosanti swallowing all of the attention, it’s no surprise most people never make it inside the Cattle Track Arts Compound. A shame, because within its intimate complex exists the heart and soul of Scottsdale’s creative community. Artists, craftsmen, and students work both individually and collectively to continually shape and reshape what it means to be a Sonoran American artist. Several works from Cattle Track are sold nearby at the Andaz Resort’s gift shop.
WHERE TO SHOP
Cosanti: When the weather is just right, the former residence of Arcosanti architect Paolo Soleri greets visitors with the musical multitude of ceramic and metallic Soleri bells ringing from nearly every surface, each vying for your attention to buy and take home. There’s an amusing irony at play, noting Cosanti’s name derives from Solari’s anti-consumerist beliefs (Cosanti was created joining two Italian words: cosa and anti; “opposed to things”), yet the gift shop at Cosanti is our favorite in all of Scottsdale. Even if you don’t buy a single item, touring the Earth House and foundry here feels like a gift in itself.
Copenhagen Imports: Danish founders Tony Christensen and Erik Hansen, began in 1970 with a belief the simple, unadorned, yet functional modern designs of their homeland could find a place in the Southwest. Decades later, they’ve expanded to 6 more locations across numerous states, each showroom stocked with modern classics and newer designs, each abiding by the tenet “that clean design is more sophisticated than heavy ornamentation”.
Modern Manor: With over 6,000 square feet of furnishings spanning the decades of the 1940s thru the 1970s, and fortified with a convincingly confident portfolio of staged interiors, the team at Modern Manor is highly capable of advising how to mix and match their selection of modern classic furnishings within a contemporary space.
Modern on Melrose: If the words “vintage” and “original” perks up your ears, the assemblage of mid-century modern antiques on display at yet another Melrose District store should definitely warrant a visit. Ideally, you’d set a budget, check out their Instagram account, then swoop in with purpose and intent. But come on, half the fun is just browsing.
Jim Sudal Ceramic Design: Hardy desert flora features prominent in ceramicist Jim Sudal’s collection of captivating Sonoran Desert pottery sold from his studio and gallery (admirers from afar can also purchase his designs online). Embellished with graphic depictions of Blooming Aloes, Prickly Pear, Agave and Desert Lupine, each hand thrown vases, bowls, tiles, and plate glows with the resilient spirit of plants.
There’s a plaque adhered onto Taliesin West’s music auditorium wall attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that reads, “The reality of the building does not consist of the roof and walls, but the space within to be lived.” Similarly, Scottsdale is best understood not by the city’s limits, but in appreciation of the larger expanse of sun, air, and Sonoran desert permeating all around – a space that has long inspired the likes of Lloyd Wright and Soleri to seek its arid palette as muse and material. Visit Scottsdale enough and you’ll remember.
Have any other favorite destinations in or near Scottsdale we’ve missed? We welcome additional recommendations below!