"I love you Arizona, Your mountains, deserts and streams...The warmth you give at sunrise, Your sunsets put music in us all. I love you Arizona, Desert dust on the wind. The sage and cactus are blooming, and the smell of the rain on your skin."
~Arizona's State Song "Arizona" by Rex Allen Jr.
phoenix/scottsdale (my hometown!)
Old Town Scottsdale/Fashion Square area
Super Chunk Sweets & Treats - Around the corner from Cowboy Ciao. Get a sea salt bagel toasted with cream cheese, a bag of caramel corn, a canele, and an oatmeal rye cookie. Great breakfast spot.
The Mission - Great tacos and "Modern Latin" food - the ambiance/lighting is perfect. If you do one dinner in Old Town, make it here.
Craft 64 - Awesome new addition to Old Town. It has 36 Arizona beers on tap and a great wine list. Plus, the pizzas are fantastic - the pizza chef worked at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix for 17 years.
Olive & Ivy - A Scottsdale classic with a great patio. Go here for lunch if you're near Fashion Square.
Arcadia Farms - The classic ladies’ lunch spot in Arizona - home to many a baby shower and bachelorette lunch.
The Sugar Bowl - Did you read “The Family Circus” comic strip? I loved it! The creator, Bil Keane, lived in Arizona for decades and The Sugar Bowl made several appearances in the comics. It opened in 1958 and not much has changed, including the candy pink exterior.
Grazie - The perfect place on a cool Arizona night for good Italian eats.
Cowboy Ciao - BEST Stetson chopped salad! Better ambiance at dinner.
Merci Cafe - The location is random - in a strip mall close to Fashion Square mall - but it's cute inside and has fantastic food by a French chef.
Tarbell’s - Another one of those wonderful old-school AZ places. Don’t miss the meatball, a recipe from the chef’s mother.
Postino Arcadia WineCafe and La Grande Orange - These warm and wonderful spots are right next to each other. La Grande Orange has great pizza and a cute shop to browse. You can sit in the restaurant, or order in the shop and sit outside. Great salads but DO NOT MISS THE RED VELVET CAKE. This original Postino location has great wine, panini, and bruschetta.
El Chorro Lodge - If you have time for one meal in the area, I always say go to El Chorro Lodge, open since 1937 in Paradise Valley. Don't miss their famous sticky buns. There is a great brunch and happy hour here, and perfect patio seating (with heat lamps if it's cold!).
Central and North Scottsdale
Andreoli Italian Grocer - This is right near my family's house and it's the best taste of Italy in Arizona. It's deli-style - so you order at the counter, and find a seat inside or on the patio. The sandwiches are served with a big side salad dressed perfectly. I love the Viva L'Italia (tomato & mozzarella) and Bocca di Rosa, an eggplant parm (I usually don't like eggplant but it is out-of-this-world good). At night, you can get homemade pastas. It's in one of those nice Scottsdale strip malls, so it doesn't get huge points for surrounding atmosphere or sunset views. But the food is so wonderful!
La Hacienda - Amazing Mexican food by Richard Sandoval at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Don't miss the street-style lobster tacos - they are small bites and absolutely divine. The outdoor tables have fire pits in the center. Ask to say hi to the resident "tequila goddess" - yes, that's her full-time job!
Cartwright's - This is in Cave Creek, a half hour drive from Scottsdale and is a wonderful ranch-style only-in-Arizona steakhouse.
The Farm at South Mountain - Super romantic and beautiful spot that is slightly out of the way. California meets Arizona.
Pizzeria Bianco - At one point, The New York Times named this the best pizza in the country. Long waits but there's a great house next door to wait in.
Arizona hotels are the first hotels I ever loved. The best time to visit is in March, when the orange blossoms are blooming, the air is warm during the day and cool at night. But in the summer, hotel rates drop significantly - there is great air conditioning and pools to cool you down. I love to resort hop and go for a drink at all the different hotels. Many of them have truly fantastic restaurants.
Four Seasons Troon North - Talavera, the hotel’s main restaurant, has one of the most stunning sunsets in the Valley. You can also just come for drinks and soak up the view.
The Phoenician - My first job out of school was here working in communications - where I first met brilliant editors and writers! Great views and best Sunday brunch.
The Sanctuary - Best for drinks at sunset - hands-down the best views over Paradise Valley and the mountains.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess - Amazing Willow Stream spa + restaurants (Bourbon Steak and La Hacienda) + pools. This was the the very first hotel I stayed at in Scottsdale as a kid.
The Montelucia - Gorgeous Joya Spa, fun Spanish tapas & happy hour, and great backdrop of Camelback Mountain.
Hyatt Gainey Ranch - I used to come here a lot in high school - they have a great lobby for a drink and even have gondola rides...
The Royal Palms - Classic Phoenix hideaway - super romantic and small. I love the bar and T. Cook's for a fancier dinner.
The Arizona Biltmore - This Arizona hotel landmark seems as important to the state’s heritage as the cactus. Frank & Albert's is a great restaurant.
SEE & DO
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park - I remember taking my little siblings here many times and I love it just as much as an adult. It's totally unique and has a famous train ride and carousel that kids (and adults) love. Last time I went, I discovered the model railroad museum, which has exhibits by four local clubs.
Old Town Scottsdale - Every Thursday, the art galleries in Old Town extend their hours and stay open for ArtWalk. It's a fun way to see Old Town and you can eat at The Mission with dessert at The Sugar Bowl. The Scottsdale farmer's market in Old Town on Saturday mornings is surprisingly diverse, with delicious ethnic food (plus local everything).
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Aji Spa - I got one of the best massages of my life here from Jason. It’s been a few years so I’m not sure if he’s still there but somehow he knew where every painful knot and chronic tight muscle was and kneaded them out. It's a drive from central Scottsdale.
Rawhide - Right next to Wild Horse Pass and designed to look like an 1880’s Western town, with a steakhouse and saloon, gold panning, burro rides and a petting zoo for kids. You can enter for free and then just pay for the attractions that you want.
Queen Creek Olive Mill - A bit of a drive but really fun to tour and buy bottles to bring home. And you don't expect it in Arizona!
Sweet Basil Cooking School - Fun cooking classes in central Scottsdale - check out the shorter hour-long lunch classes.
Sunset drinks at a great hotel - This is an absolute must if you're in the Valley. Sometimes, if I'm in vacation mode, I plan my whole days around the sunset. For a view, try The Sanctuary hotel overlooking Paradise Valley and Scottsdale or the Four Seasons further north. For a beautiful patio, fire pits, and great happy hour, try The Hermosa Inn.
Camelback Mountain - If you haven't done Camelback Mountain, you have to - if you're fairly fit! Centrally located, there are two hikes to the summit, the “hard” side, Echo Canyon and the easier, longer side, Cholla Tail. Echo Canyon is a difficult vertical climb (at one point, you will have to hold on to a pole to pull yourself up) but you feel great at the end. Echo Canyon has its own parking lot but it fills up quickly in the morning. For Cholla Trail, you’ll end up parking on the street. For a less crowded (and incredibly beautiful) hike, try Tom's Thumb Trailhead.
Pinnacle Peak - A great moderate hike in the area. It is just so beautiful with all the Saguaro cacti and views of the mountains. Very easy to pick up from the Four Seasons.
Tom's Thumb Trailhead - A great 4+ mile loop that has incredible views of Scottsdale and the surrounding Mountains. For a normal person, it takes around 2.5 hours to complete, including lots of photos at the top. The first bit is fairly gradual, followed by about a mile of steep switchbacks, then another easy-ish part, and a tough climb to the top. My favorite hike in the area. (23015 N. `128th Street. Lots of parking. Bring lots of water! There is none here.)
Granite Mountain Trail - Stunning scenery with huge boulders and an abundance of green cacti as far as the eye can see. If you do the loop (around 6 miles if you follow the signs), it's fairly flat the entire way. It's much more about the leisurely stroll and scenery here than the climb. (31402 N. 136th Street. Bring your own water - none here!)