I’m not sure about you, but these past 14 months of asking ourselves daily “what else could go wrong” has built up a stress bubble that needed to be popped. With vaccinations flowing and travel reopening, we could not wait to burst out of our abodes and live, breathe, relieve stress, and even see something quite different than our four walls and what was outside our home office window.
We pointed our compass to Scottsdale, Arizona. Different time zone, different flora and fauna, and just something new with multiple options to pamper the body, mind, and belly.
One major misconception or points of confusion for travelers when looking for a major airport to get to Scottsdale is that they don’t know geography. Being an east coast boy, I myself always thought Scottsdale was like 2.5 hours away from Phoenix, but in actuality, they are adjacent cities. So book your flight into Phoenix for Scottsdale. You can rideshare to Scottsdale, it’s that close, but we chose to rent a car from Avis, which made some of the commuting easier and on our time and dime.
And before you travel to any destination, it does not hurt to look at the websites of those cities. Experience Scottsdale (experiencescottsdale.com) is a great site to go when planning your trip. I’ve given you some great suggestions below, but there may be more they could point you toward to make your great trip even better.
For this recap of our trip, I broke it down into Where to Stay, Where the Boys Are, Pampering, Art & Nature, and Dining. Fair warning, I ate a lot so that’s the last category I’ll mention, but overall it was mission accomplished as I came back from Arizona and had only good things to say as people realized I was much more relaxed than before I left. Scottsdale was what I needed for my sanity, body, and apparently my belly. So enjoy my pics and words below!
Where to Stay –
We were going to arrive on Tuesday and depart on Saturday so the plan was to pamper ourselves during the week and then be closer to down town for the last two nights, but still pamper ourselves.
Mountain Shadows – www.mountainshadows.com – Instagram – IG: @mountainshadowsaz
Driving our rental car out of town, we were being dazzled by the very different flora presented to us along the road in the round abouts. The beauty was magnified by our view of Camelback Mountain from the lobby of Mountain Shadows. Originally built in 1959, this Paradise Valley resort was completely rebuilt in 2017. Our master suite possessed what had to be almost 20-foot ceilings and a wonderful shower stall. It was hard to leave the room to enjoy the rest of the resort, but the two 75-foot pools called our names often. Kudos to Coolidge (one of the many fine managers) for helping to make our stay a great one. We did not partake in the high-tech fitness facility or the 18-hole short golf course, but maybe next time. This was the beginning of our trip and we wanted to relax and recharge after that 14-month COVID journey we all went on. Computer was off, phone battery was not getting recharged, and we were fine with it all.
W Scottsdale – www.wscottsdalehotels.com – IG: @wscottsdale
When there is a W in town, it needs to be your first choice. Each one has its own flair, but all are the quality hotels you have grown to expect. In 2019 this property just completed a major renovation of its 197 guest rooms, 39 suites, and added 6 new penthouse suites. My room was a corner suite with its own private balcony, open concept, elegant view-through Italian closets, and a sectional couch. This rest and relaxation thing… the W helped with that immensely.
The W is known for its roof-top pool for day and night activities. The Cottontail Café by day is a great spot to grab a bite if you’re enjoying the pool or not, but at night, It is one of the most desired places to be in town as it often has some well-known visiting DJs. Artists also entertain guests in the Living Room, a rich entertaining and lounging space just off the main lobby. Great drinks there, too.
Where the Boys Are –
When looking at gay spots in the area, yes, there were more options in Phoenix, but I didn’t want to drive and everyone said there was a great option right there in Scottsdale.
BS West – www.bswest.com – IG: bswestscottsdale
In the center of Old Town Scottsdale, this was simple to find and wonderful to enjoy. I bellied up to the bar and waited for the drag show to start late as usual. I think I left just as the show started as I was full and tired, but while waiting, I met several locals. One boy escaped his home finally on his birthday to enjoy some beers, I watched some basics order white wine and specific flavors of White Claw, and I fell in love with the bartender that moved from Austin to Scottsdale to go to school for Electrical Engineering. So yeah, it was a fun night people watching. It’s a good gay watering hole for the city.
One of the reasons I wanted to go to Scottsdale was to recharge and just restart some aspects of my life after the 14-month pandemic shut -in I just had. It was going to be great to have some human contact, and one way to do so is to visit a spa or two.
We Do Men – www.wedomen.com – IG: @wedomen
No, well yes, but that’s not the name of my business or my favorite past time, but it is the name of the business of Stacey Grondahl, or “Boss Lady Stace.” Meeting Stacey was one of my highlights as her whole business sense is about your skin health. Yes, that may sound like what all spas should be doing, but this is not just a spa to pump out products and treatments. It was obvious from the get go that Stacey was going to care for you and help you care for yourself and she did not mind repeating “Don’t Touch Your Fucking Face.” That took a little while to get used to as I do touch my face a great deal. But her DTYFF is a good practice, especially during a pandemic. Each of her clients will get an ear, nose and brow treatment with their scheduled session/treatment at no extra charge and we all need someone else to look out for those three hairy parts of our head. You won’t get traditional pedicures or manicures so don’t be calling and asking for one. What she does offer is some other wonderful spa options focusing on the individual in front of her, not a name in an appointment book. Questions were flying about my regiment, products, and so on. What Boss Lady Stace offers her regular clients is a service where you can send in pics of products you are thinking about and she will give her educated opinion. If planning a trip to Scottsdale, give Stacey a call to set something up. I’m glad I did.
W Scottsdale – Away Spa – www.awayspawscottsdale.com
There was no hesitation on booking my 80-minute Detox Massage. Robert listened to my spots I needed him to focus on and the rest was just pure bliss, pain, relaxation, and ahhhhh. If I had more time, I wanted to get a pedicure, but the 80 minutes unfortunately flew by. The spa itself is owned and operated by the W which I always find more comforting. The detox shot to begin the pampering was nice and got you in the mood to relax. The spa also does some night activities with glow in the dark treatments and dj. And the slippers were ours to keep.
Art and Nature –
Scottsdale has one of the largest art communities in the nation. Art can be found along the streets, galleries, and within communes, but it is also in nature and architecture.
Taliesin West – www.franklloydwright.org – IG: @WrightTaliesin
If you don’t know Frank Lloyd Wright’s history, you may not know about his time in Arizona. Built by Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices in the 1930s and expanded upon until his death in 1959, this breathtaking compound of creativity, art in architecture, simplicity and complexity of style was truly a great experience and we did not know enough about the man and his art. The construction of the buildings was and remains in harmony with the natural landscape. Considered one of his greatest masterpieces, Taliesin West is presented to you in a 90-minute guided tour. I would do this tour again, just to be able to examine the grounds further.
Wonderspaces – www.wonderspaces.com – IG: wonderspaces
What to do with extra space in a shopping mall? Why not use it to introduce art to mall-goers! Considered an evolving art show with art from around the world, this unused space in the nationally-known Fashion Square Mall was quite a surprise as who goes to the mall to experience art. There is a great deal of art in the shops of Tiffany & Co, Gucci, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and more, but this art, although not able to go home with you, was more inspiring than window shopping in other parts of the mall. This idea would be great to carry to even more cities than Scottsdale, Austin, Philadelphia, and San Diego.
Kayaking in the Desert? – www.destinations.rei.com/arizona
So if someone tells you that they’re going kayaking in the desert, they may not be pulling your leg. The Lower Salt River was to be our home for about 2 hours as we kayaked down the Class-1 waterway. The river flows from the mountains of Northern Arizona giving life to wildlife and plants that will keep you looking around to see more. Wild horses, bald eagles, mud cliffs, and more were seen on our journey. As a Mainer and an owner of a kayak here in Florida, this activity was right in my wheelhouse, but beginners would be fine on this easy coasting float. Highly recommended and I would do it every time I go to Scottsdale.
One thing I enjoy doing is eating well when I travel. Never do we try to go to a chain that we have at home, go to the popular places as unpopular are usually that way for a reason, but as well, do not forget to splurge, too. Scottsdale does not have a shortage of great places to eat. Here are most of the ones we enjoyed.
Diego Pops – www.diegopops.com – IG: @diegopops
Located on one of the main arteries in Scottsdale, Diego Pops is busy all.day.long. We witnessed a very festive patio when we drove by in the evening hours, but Diego Pops was one of our stops at lunch, make a reservation during that time of day, too. With an ever-changing welcome sign, it was telling us Reality and Tequila sometimes don’t mix. What did mix was the great service, fun atmosphere (misters on the patio), and great food that was served quickly. Ever had Brussel Sprout Nachos? A southwestern hot dog? Grilled Street corn with Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Dust? Well we hadn’t either, but cannot say that anymore. Try Diego Pops any time of the day for people watching, drinking, eats, and for an overall good time. For a libation, get the F&F – tequila, strawberry pure, muddled jalapeno.
Herb Box – www.herbbox.com – IG: @theherbbox
Simple and elevated environment found in the center of Old Town Scottsdale, the Herb Box was a great place to get out of the Arizona sun, sitting on the patio with shade and misters and great food. I went for the comfort food order of a grilled chicken pesto sandwich with home made sweet potato chips. There was a cocktail in there as this was a great place to unwind even more after a relaxing afternoon of shopping in Old Town.
Hash Kitchen Gainey Village – www.TheHashKitchen.com – IG: hashkitchenaz
My go to item on a menu when going to a “new to me” restaurant for breakfast is the hash. Some have one, some have many, some places name themselves after the dish. This was the case with this very popular and very filling breakfast option. Our arrival time of 9am was right as when we left, the line and the Ubers were o ut the door and out the parking lot. Go early, eat lots, drink lots, and digest. We began with the cannoli donuts which were rather filling, sweet, and freshly fried. Comfort indeed! Even though my head was not hurting, I did go with the Hangover Short Rib Hash (five-hour braised short ribs, jalapeno corn bread & potato hash, mozzarella, poached egg, fried onion rings, demi hollandaise). You’ll see we ate very well on this trip and I couldn’t polish off this skillet of yummy goodness.
Hearth ’61 – https://www.mountainshadows.com/dining/hearth/about-hearth-61 – located at Mountain Shadows
Yes, I did peel myself away from the pool and my very comfy bed at Mountain Shadows to experience yet another amazing meal in in the Scottsdale area. Patio or indoor seating was available, but I chose a high top with a mountain view and air conditioning. My server Anisa made my dining experience a 12 as the food had it already at an 11. Starter of Ahi Tartare (Persian cucumbers, shishito peppers, turnip, puffed rice) commenced the meal on a superb note, followed by my request for a ½ serving of Hearth’s little gem chop salad (baby artichoke, crispy chickpeas, farro, sundried tomatoes, cucumber, feta, dill vinaigrette). Main course was the Niman Ranch Tenderloin of Beef (red wine demi, bleu cheese fondue, truffled mash). The first two courses were accompanied by their tiki ‘61cocktail and the main course was partnered with a great Zinfandel. The wine was hard to choose as hearth ’61 had a section on their wine list titled “INTERESTING REDS.” Anisa and I had a great time choosing the wine, let’s just leave it at that. No room for dessert as the meal and evening was so filling with food, flavor, and maybe a new friend.
Hearth ’61 was a stop for breakfast one day as lounging around the resort was on the agenda and that’s about it. The breakfast is highly recommended.
Citizen Public House – www.citizenpublichouse.com – IG: @citizenpublichouse
A place that has held the rank of one of the top 10 restaurants in Scottsdale, Citizen Public House was a must visit after I saw the menu and as well heard about Benjamin’s Upstairs. I ordered a drink for the table and then was able to take a peek at the House’s speak easy concept located upstairs. It used to be a private dining room, but now has been redesigned with some bold and heavy textures, an addition of a raw bar, and a place to enjoy natural wines. Reservations should be made for both Benjamin’s Upstairs and the restaurant space as the place was obviously in high demand. What I loved about the space was the multitude of seating options, high tops, bar seating, booths, tables, and on the patio. The enjoyment of the atmosphere was only second to the food offerings. I went with the Original Chopped Salad (I substituted chicken in for salmon) the Seared Sea Scallops main dish (bacon lardon, sweet corn grits, cola gastrique, sauteed pea greens), and the Whiskey Bread pudding for dessert. Thorough and deep satisfaction with all the dishes occurred. The comfort and ease and pace of the meal was wonderful. Back again, indeed.
The Mission Old Town – www.themissionaz.com – IG: @themissionaz
Walking into the Mission, it did not remind me of the usual Latin restaurant I had been in before. Local designer Charlie Morrow brought in palm wood floors, marble bar, faux rain waterfalls, ornate chandeliers, and a wall of salt blocks straight from the Himalayas. Service was epic as, me, the people watcher watched the teamwork overflow as guests were well taken care of. It was fun to see The Mission team flourish at what they do.
For yumminess, I decided to try two starters. The Crispy Pork & Cola Lime Glaze (pork belly, cola, lime, chiltepin, peanut, pickled red onion, & iceberg lettuce) was not to be shared with anyone but I wish I had someone with me for that meal to share the Duck Carnitas Empanads (duck confit, foie gras, orange habanero glaze, oregano, mushroom and queso Oazaca). I could not finish the empanadas as I NEEDED to save room for the Pumpkin Bread Pudding (scotch, pepitas, pomegranate, Villa Dolce vanilla ice cream) as it sounded like it was something to die for and it was. It also did not help that I met a great couple during my meal and they made me eat some of their food as we exchanged stories and commentary on the cocktails. You MUST get the Spicy Hibiscus Margarita as I would have consumed a gallon of those, but I also had the Prickly Pear Margarita as it is something you must have while in Arizona.
Hand Cut Burgers & Chophouse – www.handcutchophouse.com
Very close to all of the action, by Old Town and the Fashion Square Mall, but having its own look, flair, and feel, the Hand Cut Burgers & Chophouse was a bright, vibrant, well designed eatery that offered comfort, great mouth-watering options and fabulous service. I do not know what is in the water, but there’s a great staff at every eatery and this was no exception. I love watching a team work together to create an environment of ease and care. This truly adds to the culinary experience. But, much credit needs to be given to the Beets & Burrata salad. I needed to start off with this light, refreshing, and amazing appetizer, which I could eat every day. The Filet Sandwich was next with its bourbon pineapple jam, blue cheese, arugula, and thai mayo, followed by the home made cheese cake with brown sugared strawberries. I did wish I had the time to hold off and relax and have another strawberry crush drink or any of the other beverages they had on the list as I felt like I was in one of my favorite and most comfortable eateries.
Hula’s Modern Tiki – www.hulasModernTiki.com – IG: Hulasmoderntiki
One of our last meals in Arizona was a throw back to the world of tiki. Hula’s is a modern/urban twist on the classic tiki experience. Reservations should be made for this popular packed and fun locale in Old Town. The Polynesian/American offerings were a fun take on the traditional steak houses, Mexican and Italian offerings. The drinks reminded me of the islands and even a cruise in the Caribbean. The kitchen was not afraid of bold flavors as the lime-curry dipping sauce for my samurai beef sticks showed as well as the jerk that was present in the jawaiian jerk chicken plate, are I say better and spicier than the islands? It was a great experience, a wonderful place to people watch and walking distance from it all.