When thinking of the wonders of the United States, some people think of the skyscrapers in New York City or Chicago. Others think of the picture-perfect beaches of Florida, or the lush vineyards of northern California. Not me. Before moving to the U.S. 11 years ago, I romanticized the American Southwest—the mountain ranges dotting the desert terrain, cacti the size of single-story houses, and the hazy landscapes depicted in Georgia O'Keeffe paintings. It was, of course, a simplistic vision of an entire region, whose history of hardships I knew nothing about yet.
But the allure of the area is one understood by many. When I told my American friends that I was going to Scottsdale, Arizona, a few months ago, I was met with, "I've been wanting to go there for so long," proving that it wasn't just my foreignness that led me to glamorize states like Arizona and New Mexico. Credit millennials' current obsession with O'Keeffe, succulents (and all other houseplants), and the Southwestern-hacienda and Art Deco décor, and it's easy to see why places like Sedona, Palm Springs, Marfa, and Santa Fe are suddenly seeing a rise of visitors from that demographic.
Having made my way to Scottsdale in November, I can say that this dreamy desert destination exceeded all expectations I had previously conjured up. You can't help but feel small and insignificant in contrast to the expansive sands, towering mountains, and the wild and rugged desert landscaping untamed by the man; it's humbling and freeing.
Should you make your way to this oasis, one that also managed to seduce the great Frank Lloyd Wright, here's where you should stay, eat, drink, and shop, and what you should do.
Where to Stay
Mountain Shadows: One of the newest (and most stunning) accommodations in Scottsdale, Mountain Shadows, which derives its name from the shadows cast by the breathtaking Camelback Mountain (it serves as the property's backdrop), is where Hollywood royalty like John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor stayed in the '60s. Having reopened just last year after a 13-year hiatus and a giant renovation, this Paradise Valley property is a minimalist's dream with exquisite rooms that boasts see-through showers, free-standing bathtubs that overlook the impressive landscape, individual balconies and private patios, and stylish furnishings. If your trip extends to the end of the weekend, check out Hearth '61, the property restaurant that one Sunday a month features a guest chef, a local supplier, and a winery or a distillery coming together to create a paired four-course dinner and conversation. I caught the Mumm vs. Mumm Napa one, and it was something special.
The Scott Resort & Spa: Fact: You will want to photograph every single corner of the perfect lobby and outdoor area of this recently renovated desert sanctuary that combines the colors and feel of old Havana with Southwestern decor and New Orleans' knack for flair. From the wood, leather, and wicker detailing and furniture to the lush indoor plants, Bauhaus-inspired bar, palm print bathroom wallpaper, and lagoon-like pool, The Scott is what I imagine Cuba looked like during its heyday—that is, if you added lots of millennial touches. Make sure to spend at least one dinner at The Canal Club, the onsite restaurant that specializes in traditional American cuisine with a contemporary Cuban twist, where I had the best El Floridita outside of Havana.
Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa: The fashion-forward types should check out this sophisticated property, known for its Instagrammable main pool and surrounding cabanas. If you can get away from your stylish bungalow-style rooms, check out the spa that offers ingredients from a local botanist in its natural healing treatments.
Where to Eat
Diego Pops: Three words: Brussels. Sprouts. Nachos. One of the most frequently Instagrammed dishes at this casual Mexican eatery—that additionally charms the photo-obsessed with its pineapple print wallpaper and neon signs—it is also insanely delicious. As is almost everything else on this menu that extends from build-your-own poke bowls to plantain tacos and green chili chicken burritos, and drinks like prickly pear and watermelon mint blossom margaritas.
Virtù Honest Craft: There are few chefs more revered for their culinary innovation and talent in Arizona than Gio Osso. With a focus on seasonal Meditteranean, his James Beard-nominated restaurant dreams up some of the freshest and most delicious dishes, like handmade pastas with house-made sausages, vermouth-braised short ribs, and grilled octopus, you will have in all of Scottsdale. Come Valentine's Day, he will be creating their legendary and whispered-about bespoke menu, which he changes every year, with every dish prominently featuring chocolate. Yes, even the foie gras.
Original ChopShop: After you get your dose of Tex-Mex that this state is known for, head over to this health-conscious eatery to detox. Its fresh green juices, salads, protein bowls, and wraps easily rival those in New York City and California.
The Mission: This is the most talked-about restaurant in the city. No, seriously—everyone from my Uber drivers to museum tour guides told me that this cantina is an absolute must—and for good reason. Everything from the famous tableside guacamole to the tacos, chorizo porchetta, and cauliflower pibil is mouthwateringly delicious at this Latin joint with a French influence. If you make it to the Old Town location, sit on the patio and make sure to leave room for the espresso churros. (I made the mistake of missing out on dessert, and was chastised for it by another driver.)
Fat Ox: Housed in a stylish space, this modern-leaning restaurant puts out contemporary takes on Italian classics. Everything from the hand-pulled cheeses and handmade pastas to the prime steaks and seared scallops (the largest ones I've ever seen) is delectable. Make sure to stop by the restroom just so you can photograph the door sign calling it like it is: "Men to the left because women are always right."
Where to Drink
Counter Intuitive: After several rounds of themes, décor, and offerings (it all rotated every few months), this innovative cocktail bar finally settled into its current iteration, doing what it does best: putting out stellar concoctions. Select from an impressive drinks menu and sit back in this speakeasy-like space decked out with taxidermy heads and quintessential Southwestern aesthetic. If you make it to Phoenix, make a reservation at its sister tiki bar UnderTow, inspired by a 19th-century ship and hiding underneath a coffee shop, that takes guests on a 90-minute sea voyage.
Sip Coffee & Beer House: Can't decide whether you want coffee or a craft beer? While Scottsdale boasts plenty of both, this outpost serves them at the same time. Start with a well-made cup of joe and follow it up with one of 19 rotating craft brews and 100-plus bottled beers.
Second Story Liquor Bar: Sit back in this lounge-like setting that sends out cocktails, both classic and innovative. The restaurant's focus on seasonality extends to the bar, so most of the ingredients used, like turmeric-infused gin, rose water, and carrot juice, are made in-house and are seasonal, as well.
Fourtillfour: A coffee shop that boasts its love for antique automobiles on its (coffee cup) sleeve, this cafe offers killer roasts that you can sip on its patio or, yes, a hip parking lot.
What to Do
Taliesin West: There is no person who put Scottsdale more on the art map than Frank Lloyd Wright. The famed architect behind the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater came here in 1937. His winter home, studio, and architecture school (that still operates today), Taliesin West was built by Wright's apprentices using native materials, like rocks from the nearby desert floor and sand from the washes, to keep the design in balance with the surrounding environment, a style of architecture he coined as "organic." An architectural marvel to this day, this "desert laboratory" continues to host visitors who can sit in the living room where many of Wright's famous guests, like Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Taylor, and Wayne, were once entertained, walk through his living quarters, and see the theatre where he would watch his beloved movies courtesy of his granddaughter, actress Ann Baxter.
Cosanti: One of the most notable apprentices of Wright, Paolo Soleri is best known for Arcosanti, an arcology (architecture and ecology) community built from the desert that continues to develop today as an experiential urban center focused on innovative design and environmental accountability. (If you have time to travel, you should check out the workshops and tours offered there, or even stay overnight at one of its Airbnbs.) What people are less aware of is Cosanti, Soleri's remarkable gallery, studio, and residence made entirely from earth-formed structures that the architect-craftsman began building himself back in the '50s. Having become known for his ceramic and bronze bells, which continue to be made and sold here today, he made sure to donate proceeds from their sales to supporting Arcosanti and non-profits long before it became "a trend" for businesses to give back; proceeds today continue to support various organizations like Planned Parenthood, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and UNICEF. Pro tip: Pay for a guided tour and have residents and actual craftsmen walk you through the entire property; it's a treat to get a lesson in history from people who knew Soleri when he was alive.
Take a hike: You can't fully experience Scottsdale without getting one with the majestic landscapes. All to say, though I typically avoid all physical activity while on vacation, a hike through one of McDowell Sonoran Preserve—30,200 acres of protected land reserved for hiking, biking, and horseback riding—31 trails is an absolute must-do while in Scottsdale. Do all that and more with an experienced guide from Arizona Outback Adventures. While you might ordinarily prefer to hike on your own, it's really worth having someone experienced help you select the best trail for your fitness level and most panoramic views, answer any questions you may have about the desert plant life, and help you should you encounter some terrain obstacles, like snakes or dangerous cacti that clasp to your skin (I will never look at cacti the same), you're not used to.
Desert Botanical Garden: If you didn't get enough of the botanical life while on your hike, make your way to the largest botanical garden in the Southwest; it holds more than 50,000 desert plants. Your #PlantShelfie game is about to get strong.
Wine tasting: While you wouldn't necessarily think of Arizona as a vino destination, there are now more than 100-plus wineries in the state, many of which received 90 and over ratings from the Wine Spectator, and even a designated Scottsdale wine trail. Tl;dr: Check out Aridus Wine Company, Carlson Creek Vineyard, and LDV Winery tasting rooms. Brew lovers, take note, there's an ale trail, too.
Where to Shop
Fashion by Robert Black: An icon in his own right in Scottsdale, former modeling agency owner Robert Black, alongside philanthropist Doreen Picerne, opened this vintage gem that specializes in red carpet couture, special occasion designer wear, and one-of-a-kind pieces that the duo carefully curates and displays by colorways. If you're a serious vintage connoisseur, ask to be taken to the back, where some of the most exceptional vintage finds you'll ever see are kept hidden. I almost cried when a Chloé jumpsuit did not fit me.
Stephanie's: Stocking up on our favorite brands like Self-Portrait, Adam Selman, Isabel Marant, Fleur du Mal, and Rodin, this boutique is a Cool Girl's haven that could be just as easily be located in one of the major fashion cities. Prepare to spend a lot of time (and, yes, even more money) here.
New Wave Market: From the wife-husband duo behind Super Chunk Sweets & Treats, a bakery that puts out addictive treats like chocolate bacon caramel corn, award-winning mesquite chocolate chip cookies, and duck fat toffee, New Wave Market is an adjoining retail space that could just as easily be on the Where to Drink, for its locally roasted coffee, and Where to Eat list, for its handmade breads and ice cream. Stock up on foods to take back home and browse the selection of quirky pottery and home goods.
The Paper Place: Stationery lovers will love this gift store that offers everything from coffee table books and greeting cards to cutesy Kate Spade office accessories and designer candles.