It’s not all golf courses and desert landscapes — here’s how to spend a chic city break in Scottsdale

Let’s get that out of the way first: Scottsdale’s rep — as a haven for tourists who want to relax at a spa or on the golf course — is more than fair. There are more than 200 golf courses in and around the desert city of Arizona, about a half-hour drive east of Phoenix. It’s also home to more than 50 spas and no shortage of luxury resorts, which explains why it’s one of America’s most popular bachelorette party destinations.

But Scottsdale is also a design-led destination, with award-winning restaurants, abundant art and great local shopping. That’s especially true in the downtown core known as Old Town, where a classic Southwestern aesthetic reminds visitors they’re in the desert, and yes, it’ll likely be sunny and warm even in December. On a recent visit, I was charmed by the area’s Old West architecture (dating from the city’s post-WWII boom, when shopkeepers cultivated a rustic vibe to attract tourists), the many galleries, and the desert landscape.

Here’s what to do, see and eat on your next trip to Scottsdale.

For one-stop local shopping: The Merchant of Scottsdale (3965 N. Brown Ave.)

Old Town is peppered with tacky souvenir shops, but if you’re looking for truly unique Scottsdale mementos, make the Merchantile your first stop. Founded in 2019 by California transplants Kimberly and Eugene Pak, this 5,400-square-foot indoor marketplace features chic booths for local vendors including Ava Jewelry Designs, Scottsdale Candle Co. and MKS Miminoo, a sustainable children’s fashion brand. The space is larger than it first appears, so walk past the first few displays to enjoy the full range of home decor, clothing, jewelry, and art.

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For a chic farm-to-table dinner: FnB (7125 E. 5th Ave., Suite 31)

This small eatery, owned by longtime friends Charleen Badman and Pavle Milic, has been making waves on Scottsdale’s food scene since opening in 2009, part of their extensive local growers roster. (Recent hits include a flamed badger beet, mashed cucumber, radish, ginger and sesame salad, and fried chicken served with kale and mustard spaetzle.) Milic, also co-owner of Los Milics Vineyards, oversees the beverage program, which features an all-Arizonan wine list.

For iconic architectural history: Taliesin West (12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd.)

Taliesin West was designed to blend into the desert environment and was the winter home and studio of the late Frank Lloyd Wright. This is where the architect designed some of his most famous projects, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and you can see blueprints, architectural paintings, and even Wright’s old typewriter on display along with a draft letter to the trustees of the Guggenheim (mild), which is about New York City is complaining to engineers. The campus also hosts regular lectures, movie nights, happy hours, and exhibitions (including the current Sacred Spaces, featuring images of Wright buildings by photographer Andrew Pielage, which runs through January 29, 2023).

For a cozy, casual meal: The Mission’s Old Town (3815 N. Brown Ave.)

The fries and guac at this cozy Old Town eatery are so good — and so generously portioned — you really have to make an effort to save room for the rest of the meal. But calm down because the whole menu is just as delicious. Small but filling tacos are made with hand-pressed corn tortillas; The Tecate Creekstone Skirt Steak is a classic, while vegetarians will be delighted with the roasted butternut squash or Brussels sprouts versions. Oaxacan cheese rice served with jalapenos and corn is a filling side dish. And for dessert, there are mini churros with a rich, chocolatey milkshake for dipping.

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For a morning coffee run: Fourtillfour Cafe (7105 E. 1st Ave.)

Fourtillfour was founded in 2007 as a community of classic car enthusiasts, but its chic café, which opened in 2015 and serves third-wave coffee (that’s coffee made from lightly roasted beans, mostly sourced from individual farms), needs no allegiance to vehicles of any kind Art. Sip your brew on the small, sunny terrace or take it away and stroll through the numerous galleries and boutiques nearby.

For a wellness excursion: Civana (37220 Mule Train Rd., Carefree)

Located in the town of Carefree, approximately 40 minutes from Scottsdale, this luxurious resort takes an indulgent, non-restrictive approach to wellness. Non-guests can also take advantage of the spa and salon, which offers a relaxing array of services, both general (massages, facials, mani-pedis) and more offbeat (reiki, singing bowl healing), before heading to the on-site restaurant for refreshments Embark and imaginative menu that still includes cocktails and desserts.

Stacy Lee Kong traveled as a guest of Experience Scottsdalewho have not reviewed or approved this article.


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