Why Scottsdale Is Arizona's Best-Kept Secret
Instagram walls, dirt buggy races, vintage fashion and more hipster food than you can shake a beard at – Scottsdale, Arizona is cool in the heat.
If you think the only thing you’ll find in the desert is a mirage, think again.
Scottsdale, Arizona, has risen from the dust like a prismatic desert paradise and is set to become the next hipster hideaway.
There is no shortage of things to do in Scottsdale and the Old Town area is quite the curiosity. Seriously cool hotels border understated backstreet food joints, and pop-up shops selling $10,000 art casually sit alongside kitsch tourist tat like cheap cowboy hats and key rings with a real cactus hanging on them.
Somehow, the juxtaposition of style works and you’ll notice chain stores and high street brands are few and far between. Instead, there is a tenacious support of local businesses and suppliers and this is what makes Scottsdale stand out as one city that is making America great again.
1. Take your pick of designer digs
We bunked at the Andaz Scottsdale, a hotel that is cooler than a frozen margarita but still manages a warm welcome. Modern mid-century style casitas (the Spanish for little houses) make up the rooms, which are decorated with a mix of industrial style concrete and wood accents.
Furniture and prints from local artists add extra cool points and everything is finished to the highest end. The perfect-for-posing-pool has its own resident flamingo and a sociable bar. Even better, the hotel’s own restaurant Weft and Warp, has dribble-inducing menu including chorizo bone in pork chop, a seared mushroom cap with chimichurri sauce and blistered shishito peppers.
2. The food'll have your stomach growling
If the menu at the hotel has got your stomach grumbling, wait until you head into town. Stretching only 31 miles from north to south, Scottsdale has managed to squeeze in some of the best, most innovative restaurants in the U.S. Even better, most of them are in walking distance from each other so prepare yourself for a marathon.
The only diet here is scoffing hot food in cool places and the best joint to start is a casual lunch at trendy Diego Pops, a modern Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale Old Town. Everything served here looks like it was baked in a beautiful Instagram oven. Choose from the ‘unicorn snow cone cocktails’ to the multicoloured Brussels Spout Nachos and the fiery charred corn, but get snappy before it all goes cold because it tastes as good as it looks!
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the only place serving food too pretty to eat. The Super Chunk bakery has intricate cakes that belong in a gallery not a gut. Cowboy Ciao is home to the famous Stetson Salad and at FnB, the thing to order is the braised leeks and mozzarella. Sounds simple but there’s a reason this place always has a queue out of the door.
3. The place is so pretty it even has an Instagram tour
Scottsdale is so colourful it could double as the backdrop for Cbeebies. If there’s anywhere guaranteed to brighten up your Insta feed, it’s here.
The Andaz Scottsdale even offers an Instagram Tour in a suitably photogenic vintage Cadillac if you are really serious about your grid. Alternatively you can walk between the best Instalocations, most of which are in Scottsdale Old Town.
4. The desert is a literal playground
Scottsdale is surrounded by 100,000 square miles of Sonoran Desert but we’re not taking sand dunes and camels. This diverse landscape is framed by the McDowell Mountains and has a surprising amount of plants, trees and rivers decorating it. Camelback Mountain, the area’s tallest, watches over the city like Dionysus. This is where Jay Z proposed to Beyonce, so along with the mighty Saguaro cactus that grows exclusively here, you’re in good company.
When it comes to getting outside and exploring the desert Sonoran style, there is literally something for everyone. From mountain top yoga, to uphill hikes, horse riding, hot air ballooning, mountain biking and kayaking, you are spoilt for choice on what to do around Scottsdale.
To embrace the fact Arizona is cowboy country after all, start with a two-hour horse-riding trek with Fort McDowell Adventures. Big western saddle, leather stirrups and a cowboy hat you are one step away from a shoot out at the courthouse. John Wayne would be proud.
The 200-mile long Lower Salt River that runs through the desert is a thirsty treat in the desert heat. Arizona Outback Adventures will take you on a kayak tour along the river, which is an incredible way to chill out and see the state from the water. The company use cool AF inflatable kayaks, of course, and the river has a downward current so rowing is optional.
If you’re someone with a need for speed to get your juices flowing, how about an off-road desert buggy excursion through the dusty plains in a Green Zebra Tom Car? A rush of adrenalin is guaranteed as well as the real possibility you will neck a desert of dust.
5. It's number one for golf
The dry climate, year-round sun (it is sunny for an average 310 days a year) also makes Scottsdale a top spot to hit the fairway. The Boulders Golf and Spa resort around half hour from the centre of Scottsdale and has two beautiful courses set in luxury grounds. Uniquely, the resort and green is cleverly manicured around 12-million-year-old rock formations. When you reach the seventh hole on the south course you’ll tee off next to Rosie – a balancing rock that has become the most Instagrammed spot on the resort. Standing under it to get this for the ‘gram is quite terrifying. Mother nature at her finest.
The Boulders is a luxury resort offering Flintstone-esk stone cabins with roaring fires (for toasting s’mores, of course), a rustic sun deck and an enormous bed. If you like your morning coffee with a desert view, this place has got you covered. For a more natural way to wake up, there are more options to explore the fascinating prehistoric landscape. There is a choice of pools, outdoor tennis courts and the option of joining one of the hotel guides for a boulder climb. Traversing the huge rocks and dusty trails is not for the faint hearted but the reward is a panoramic view of the desert plains and a glimpse of Scottsdale city in the distance.
6. Making America gait again
In the most iconic of all American traditions, the Buffalo Chip Saloon is a hugely popular after-hours party with bull riding, line dancing and live music. Aside from crazy cowboys mounting angry bulls, in what is a most obscure and fascinating sport, the vibe of the evening is surprisingly wholesome. Once the rodeo clowns have packed up and gone home, the families disperse and the real fun begins with an old-school rock country band and lads in NFL shirts downing Bourbon shots at the bar. Now, that’s more like it.
If you’re suffering a hangover after joining in with all the Yankee panky, the place to go is Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbeque, a roadside diner cooking up meat with a side of meat and some more meat thrown in for a laugh. Baskets of brisket, smoked chicken wings, pulled pork and chilli dogs come with the unusual option of southern-friend frog’s legs on the side.
Fill your (cowboy) boots because when your flight lands back in the UK a three-course meal will feel like a diet – and nothing will ever be quite as colourful.
MTV travelled with… Experience Scottsdale. Visit www.experiencescottsdale.com for everything you need to know. Room rates at Andaz Scottsdale start from £156. At The Boulders Resort and Spa, double rooms start from £109.
Words By: Helen Wright