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Scottsdale & the Sonoran Desert

(Above photo: Sunset and wildflowers on the Pinnacle Peak Park summit trail, near Scottsdale. Photo by Joel Hazelton for Experience Scottsdale.)


Countless exciting destinations are within easy reach of RSW International Airport. Scottsdale, Arizona, tops the list of reasons to hop a flight (jetBlue, anyone?) to the sunny Southwest of the country this spring. This tantalizing destination, which is only about 30 minutes north of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, appeals to baseball fans, art lovers, golfers, spa-goers, hikers and sun worshippers.

Scottsdale is a vibrant fusion of Hispanic, Native American and cowboy cultures, an easily navigable resort city set against the dramatic landscape of desert mountains. This nearly perfect opposite of Southwest Florida is all about the outdoors, except maybe in high summer. Hiking trails wind up and around landmarks like Camelback Mountain (shaped like, you guessed it, a camel). A late afternoon hike is often rewarded by an expansive sunset in shades of fuchsia and orange. 


Dotted with iconic saguaro cacti—and surprisingly traversed by Hohokam Indian canals from centuries ago—Scottsdale makes a spectacular getaway October through May. Spring is prime season. 


Major League Baseball’s Cactus League fans enjoy March temperatures in the 70s. Teams play at ballfields throughout the Phoenix metro area, but one of the nicest—Salt River Fields at Talking Stick—is right in Scottsdale, and is the spring training home of both the Diamondbacks and the Rockies.

Historic Old Town, circa 1886, is the nightlife and cultural hub of the city. After a day of exploring art galleries—the Altamira and Legacy are two of the best—finish it off right with dinner at the elegant Café Monarch, which is open only a few hours at night but wows with its prix fixe menu.  

Rotating exhibitions at the architecturally stunning Western Spirit Scottsdale’s Museum of the West showcase cowboy heritage and Hopi Indian culture, while also celebrating the acclaimed artists who have documented this fascinating slice of America’s past and present. Named America’s Best Western Museum in 2018, this Old Town destination also offers visitors a relaxing sculpture garden in which to recharge for more exploration.

 From here, it’s only a few blocks to locals’ favorite The Herb Box for lunch or dinner. (A second location at the DC Ranch community north of Scottsdale is also terrific). The butternut squash and corn enchiladas are a winner for anyone who loves Southwestern cuisine, but everything at The Herb Box is fresh, sophisticated and imaginative. Toast your savvy travel plan with a blood orange mule or a lemon basil martini. 

Lon’s at the Hermosa is a restaurant ripe for romance. The Hermosa Inn, circa 1930s, was once the private retreat of artist Lon Megargee, for himself and his guests. Today this lovely adobe compound is a boutique inn still celebrating the original owner by displaying his artwork throughout. Lon’s cozy fireplace patio is a memorable setting for enjoying global cuisine under the Arizona stars. 

Vivid green golf courses offer eye-popping contrast to Scottsdale’s desert terrain. Whether or not you golf, you can explore the city’s most beautiful resorts (and vistas) by lunching where golfers play. Four Seasons at Troon North or the legendary Fairmont Scottsdale Princess are two of the best options. Alfresco cocktails are a perfect way to cap a day of hiking, shopping or gallery-hopping.

Step into the vision of Frank Lloyd Wright with a visit to Taliesin West, the famed architect’s winter home and seminal mid-century school in Scottsdale. Amazing day trips are also within easy reach from Scottsdale. The small, chic villages of Carefree and Cave Creek are a short but worthy drive, while lovely red-rock Sedona and historic Spanish-style Tucson are each about two hours by car—one north, one south. Adios!

Libby McMillan Henson has been visiting the Scottsdale area for 20 years.