Scottsdale, Arizona: A Cultural Oasis in the Desert

Need a change of scenery but want to economize your vacation? Scottsdale and its neighboring cities could be just what you’re looking for. Typically, on first glance, it’s a city of chain restaurants, eyesore strip malls, and McMansions. But we’ve dug beyond the glossy, commercial veneer to unearth rich cultural, historical and even culinary delights waiting to be discovered by an adventurer such as you.

What to Do:

Taliesin West

As a consummate visionary, Frank Lloyd Wright established a second branch of his Wisconsin based architecture school decades before Scottsdale became a hub for the rich and famous. A tour of his office, personal home, theater and eco-conscious landscaping is a must-see. A knowledgeable guide provides an overview of Wright’s philosophies and theories of design, the history of the site and the activities of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s educational programs.

12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd
Scottsdale, AZ 85259

Cosanti Foundation

A visit here is both a great souvenir shopping find and a study in genius eco-architecture by Paolo Soleri, former student of Frank Lloyd Wright. He is most known for his charming metal wind bells but has also gained international recognition for a bridge design displayed at the Museum of Modern Art. A new bridge by Soleri is under construction in downtown Scottsdale.

6433 E Doubletree Ranch Rd
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253


Camelback Mountain

A hike up Camelback Mountain is a perfect way to fit a little communing with nature into your urban vacation. Camelback Mountain, located in the center of Scottsdale, offers four different trails with varying degrees of difficulty from easy to strenuous. Easy, less-than-an-hour trails are Bobby’s Rock Trail or the Ramada Loop Trail or go for the gusto and do the most difficult climb, Echo Canyon, to be rewarded for your efforts with spectacular city views at the top. Ask any local or your hotel concierge how to get there.

Scottsdale Public Art

Besides Scottsdale boasting over 100 art galleries, they also have transformed the city into a huge outdoor art gallery with more than 100 pieces of art from sculptures to experimental pieces. It’s like an oversized treasure hunt finding and exploring these works installed mostly around downtown Scottsdale.

Scottsdale Public Art


Where to Eat:

Andreoli’s Italian Grocer

Hidden among a sea of strip malls, Andreoli’s Italian Grocer is a foodie’s paradise sure to seduce the taste buds into unadulterated ecstasy. The unpretentious café of mismatched chairs and worn wooden tables gives the feeling of sitting in an Italian mama’s kitchen waiting to be served a homemade meal made with care and quality ingredients. And that’s exactly where Chef Giovanni Scorzo gets his inspiration for his divine yet simple dishes – fresh, homemade, authentic – just the way his mother used to cook in her kitchen in Italy. No matter what you order – whether it be the mile-high tiramisu, the intricately engineered croissants, the perfectly sliced bresaola or the specials of the day which could vary from Bolognese boar sausage pasta or frutti de mare salad, you’ll be making plans to return before you’ve even finished with the appetizers.

8880 E. Via Linda
Scottsdale, AZ 85258

Matt’s Big Breakfast

Matt’s Big Breakfast, in the heart of the Phoenix art district, is a return to the diner concept your grandparent’s enjoyed – farm to table ingredients, made from scratch menu items, served with a small-town personal touch.  Try their Sopressetta Scramble for a new twist or just revel in their flawless buttermilk pancakes served with real maple syrup, no doubt. Be prepared to wait for a table on weekends or go on a weekday. Breakfast is served till close – 2:30 pm. Lunch starts at 11 am.

801 North 1st Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004-2013
(602) 254-1074


Where to Drink:

The Roosevelt

One could imagine in pre-prohibition era, quietly exploring the cozy rooms in this tiny early 20th century house, for an illegal sip of hooch. The Roosevelt, a beer and wine bar serving late-night snacks, is both historical and modern at the same time. The crowd is a mix of college students from ASU and artsy-types sipping on their micro-brews, enjoying live music. Happy Hour food and drink specials, 5-7 pm weekdays, all night Sunday.

816 N. Third St., Phoenix
Phone: (602) 254-2561


Thank goodness for restaurateur Karl Kopp’s vision and $5 million restoration project. Hanny’s, a former department store and architectural gem dating back to 1947, is now a trendy bar and restaurant serving food till 1 am – a rare find in the Valley.  The menu offers a spattering of well-executed sandwiches, salads and pizzas but what they really excel at is their unique cocktail menu featuring 1940’s classics like an Old Fashioned alongside modern ones like Absent Minded made with Absinthe, St.Germain, and Ricard.

40 N. 1st Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Where to Stay:

Royal Palms Resort & Spa

Speaking of historical preservation, the Royal Palms Resort & Spa was originally a mansion built in 1929 for a wealthy New Yorker looking for a retreat from city life. Most of the original property remains and is deemed as one of the Historic Hotels of America. Old world charm with arched walkways, mosaic-tiled fountains, and stone fireplaces give the resort an ambience of luxury and mystique. Royal Palms even has a Director of Romance to help you plan a special stay filled with rose petal turndowns, bubble baths with champagne, couples spa treatments and many other surprises your honey will surely be impressed by.

With over 119 rooms, there is definitely one suited to your needs. The Montavista rooms, newest to the collection, offer views of the tranquil reflecting pool and Camelback Mountain. Decorated in calming neutral colors, the rooms have spacious living rooms, a steam shower and Aveda toiletries.  In winter, you can sit on your balcony under the desert sky and listen to Spanish guitar players softly serenade you.

After you enjoyed lounging at the pool, try alone or with a partner, a Bontanica Ritual at the Alvarado, Royal Palms’ European inspired spa. The ritual begins with a body exfoliation lying on heated stone tables while water rinses you from above like a tropical waterfall. Next is a soak in an herbal whirlpool bath of eucalyptus, pine, wild flowers or chamomile essences with views of the garden followed by an aromatherapy massage.

5200 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85018
Reservations (800) 672-6011
Lanee Lee Written by:

Lanee Lee is a Los Angeles based writer who uses her craft to pursue her passions - travel, artisanal food/spirits and maximizing quality of life. Lanee has traveled extensively - always in search of those golden moments of bliss. When she's not gallivanting the globe, she enjoys learning french cooking from her boyfriend and emulating Grace Kelly style. You can follow her latest adventures:, @wanderlushdiary on twitter.