February 18, 2015
Like much of Phoenix and its surrounding cities, Scottsdale started as a small farming community in the late 1800s. What was once a modest citrus-producing outpost is now one of Arizona‘s most popular destinations, drawing travellers to the city with its line-up of plush hotels, chef-driven restaurants and glitzy nightlife.
You’ll find most of the action in downtown Scottsdale: more than 80 bars and nightclubs, 100+ restaurants and 30,000 visitors on any given weekend night during high season – all wrapped up in 1-square-mile. Sure, that’s a lot of must-sees packed into one area. But, downtown Scottsdale is pedestrian-friendly and easy to navigate. That being said, there are some spots that you absolutely can’t miss; here are just a few.
There’s a reason Scottsdale is known as “The West’s Most Western Town” and the city’s newest art-scene addition, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West pays homage to its cowboy culture with five galleries of paintings, sculptures and interactive exhibits. Displays offer a more modern perspective at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (it’s free on Thursdays) while the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts brings dance, musical and theatre acts from across the globe. You can even take in some of downtown’s best art and architectural landmarks without so much as opening your wallet. The 80-year-old Mexican-style Old Adobe Mission, Paolo Soleri’s famed Soleri Bridge & Plaza, and Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture are just some of the pieces on display for you to enjoy at no charge.
Downtown Scottsdale is home to many of Greater Phoenix’s dining greats: Cowboy Ciao and its ever-popular Stetson Chopped Salad; freshly made margaritas and spicy pork tacos at Barrio Queen; and an ever-changing menu of veggie-forward dishes that you’ll actually crave and homemade wine at FnB. And let’s not forget two other lovely luminaries, Virtu Honest Craft‘s handmade pastas and the food-as-improv Posh, where a multi-course menu is prepped just for you based on seasonal goods and inspiration. There are plenty of places to sit and sip, too. Oenophiles must visit Lawrence Dunham Vineyards Wine Gallery for all-Arizona tasting flights or Kazimierz World Wine Bar for a more international experience. Prefer craft cocktails? Visit The Second Story, ZuZu or Citizen Public House.
Scottsdale really heats up after sunset. Maya Day and Nightclub made a splash as the area’s first high-end beach club. This is where to go if you’re looking for beautiful people, pulse-thumping music and a VIP experience. Its floating stage often plays host to international DJs and live music. Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row is a slightly more low-key experience; though the 1920s-style saloon can still get pretty raucous, especially when local and national country acts take the stage. Two of the newest nightlife offerings on the scene are Bottled Blonde Pizzeria and Beer Garden – a mash-up of Italian cuisine and a modern German bier garden setting – and Derby Public House, a vintage-inspired American gastropub with old-timey board games, track betting and skee ball.
A city that counts among its nicknames “The Beverly Hills of the Southwest” carries with it a certain set of expectations. And thankfully, Scottsdale does not disappoint on the retail front. Nearly every lux fashion label under the sun has a station at Scottsdale Fashion Square, the region’s largest shopping mall. We’re talking Barney’s New York, Louis Vuitton and Bottega Veneta, to name just a few. But it’s not just about big name brands. This is the American West, after all, and they’re fiercely supportive of independent businesses. On the shopping front, that means specialty gifts and garb at places like Saba’s Western Wear, JAM, and the collection of shops in the SouthBridge and Old Town districts.
Scottsdale got its start as a resort destination and there are plenty of sprawling properties all around, but the downtown Scottsdale scene is more about the boutique-style hotel. W Scottsdale is popular with the trendy, club-going crowd while Hotel Valley Ho brings to mind retro 1960s fun with its Mad Men-esque vibe and mid-century architecture. (It’s a bit of a local favourite – definitely take the expert-led architectural tour while you’re here!) The Saguaro brings a desert sunset to life with its vibrant colour palette and the two newcomers, El Dorado Scottsdale and BeSpoke Inn, Café & Bicycles, buck the big-brand trend. They’re both independently owned and completely charming. At FireSky Resort & Spa, you can enjoy resort amenities and a close proximity to downtown.
Still looking for an excuse to explore Arizona? Here’s one really good reason: Scottsdale’s social calendar. With a long line-up of events, there’s something happening practically any time of year. But the best events take place when the weather is at its finest. In downtown Scottsdale, there’s Major League Baseball’s Cactus League Spring Training in March and the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, which brings together local and celebrity chefs in the name of fundraising for the arts, every April. Smaller, free happenings like Native Trails, a series of Native American song and dance festivals, and the weekly Scottsdale ArtWalk are all about local flavour. Speaking of flavour, the Saturday night Food Truck Caravan is one of those year-round gatherings that you must experience.
Header Image: The Old Adobe Mission, built by hand in the late 1910s. © Experience Scottsdale
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Have you been to downtown Scottsdale? Where are your favourites places to visit? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Katarina Kovacevic