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SUN, SAND, AND SERIOUS EATS IN SCOTTSDALE

April 25, 2018

A beautiful and luxurious desert oasis, Scottsdale is brimming with great restaurants, five star hotels, and adventurous activities. While weekend trips to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and Tucson can be easily arranged, you won’t find the need to leave this Southwestern splendor. Hot days and cool evenings provide the perfect climate to lounge by the pool when the sun’s out, and bar hop in downtown when day reaches night. With more than 330 days of sunshine a year, it’s a bright idea to schedule a trip to this exclusive pocket of Arizona. 

 

Day 1 (Saturday):

We arrived late at night into the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport on a JetBlue flight from Boston. We picked up our rental car from EZ Rent-a-Car, where we were given a free upgrade from a Toyota Camry to a Toyota Rav4. The price for the rental was $235 for 9 full days. We drove to the Sheraton PHX Tempe hotel, where we stayed for free, redeeming 3,000 SPG points.

 

Day 2 (Sunday): 

After working out in the fitness center and getting ready, we checked out of the Sheraton and drove to St. Francis in Phoenix for Sunday brunch. St. Francis is a modern, industrial open-air restaurant that has great food and a live jazz band. We ordered the farmer's breakfast, spinach scramble, and crispy, rosemary potatoes.

 

 

 After brunch, we drove to the Sheraton Desert Oasis, where we would be spending the next seven nights. Check-in was seamless, and we spent some time exploring the property and relaxing in the spacious 1-bedroom unit. For dinner that night, we stayed local and tried out Fat Ox, a sleek, new restaurant in the area, owned by a locals' favorite, chef Matt Carter. If you don’t mind stepping out with your wallet a little lighter, this is a great spot. The restaurant is uber chic and the dishes are a very creative spin on traditional Italian options. We ordered Rigatoni Lamb Verde, the Gigli, and Rosso Crest di Gallo. Our favorite was the Gigli, simple garlicky, red sauce pasta. 

 

Day 3 (Monday): 

We woke up early in the morning to take on our first hike. Pinnacle peak is a heavily trafficked 3.5 miles in-and-out trail that is very moderate, with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. It offers beautiful views of mansion dotted gold courses.

 

 

After we finished the two hour hike, we were on a carb hunt, so we drove to the famous pizza spot, Pizzeria Blanco, in Phoenix. We devoured the bread and olive oil, the seasonal mozzarella tomato salad, Pasta Bolognese, the Wiseguy and Margherita pizzas. For dessert we melted from pure ecstasy while eating the vanilla bean rice pudding and flourless chocolate cake. We basically rolled out of the pizzeria feeling like mounds of dough, but it was so worth it.

 

 

After lunch, we drove to downtown Scottsdale where we walked around before heading into Berdena’s for coffee. Berdena’s is a sunlight filled, petite sized barista shop. It became our go-to spot for coffee during our trip.

 

 

Since Scottsdale can get rather stifling in the mid-afternoon, we headed back to our room at the Sheraton to cool off and snooze off the carb-loading. In the evening, we drove a mere five minutes to the Scottsdale Quarters shopping area, which is like a mini city. It’s beyond any strip mall, as thousands of shining string lights illuminate the central plaza. For dinner we ate at True Food Kitchen, a healthy restaurant chain from Fox Restaurant Concepts.

 

 

Day 4 (Tuesday): 

We woke up early again, and drove to the Gateway Trailhead in the McDowell Mountain Preserve and trekked the Gateway Loop, a 4.2 mile moderately trafficked trail. The elevation gain is about 700 feet.

 

 

We rushed to finish the hike so we would make breakfast by 11 AM at New Wave Market in downtown Scottsdale. The super cute spot is adjoined to the pastry shop, Super Chunk. We ordered the egg sandwich on a challah roll, a smoked salmon bagel, and the classic breakfast. The café has many local goods and desert themed items if you’re looking to return home with gifts.

 

 

After breakfast, we walked over to Berdena’s for iced lavender honey lattes. We perused more of downtown, walking over to the shops and cafes on 1st Ave. There is a micro coffee shop called Fourtillfour, that serves a good cup of Joe and buttery, cinnamon bread out of a renovated garage, to go with its classic automobile vibes.

 

 

Another cute spot on the street is Arcadia Farms Café for a garden patio inspired brunch, or its sister marketplace next door, offering fresh to-go items. Later that day, after spending time in the room, we drove to Flower Child for healthy options. The order-at-the-counter café has a beautiful and fun aesthetic, as do most restaurants from Fox Restaurant Concepts, a restaurant group with a major presence in the Phoenix metro area.

 

 

After a light afternoon meal, we drove to Kierland Commons for some shopping. Much like neighboring Scottsdale Quarters, Kierland Commons is a charming strip mall with great stores. We really liked the store Sundance, founded by actor, Robert Redford. The store is kind of like a mix between Anthropologie and Free People, but with a rustic, SouthWest vibe. There are a handful of stores around the country, but it has yet to make its way to New England. 

 

 

For dinner, we opted for Sugar Bowl, a novelty ice cream parlor in Old Town Scottsdale. Entering the parlor doors feels like a journey through a time tunnel, direct to the animated intro of Bewitched. We fell victim to the spell that is the hot fudge sundae.

 

 

Day 5 (Wednesday): 

Dreaming of ice cream and broomsticks, we woke up early and drove to the more remote Tom’s Thumb Trailhead in the McDowell Mountain Preserve. Tom’s Thumb trail is a challenging four mile out and back hike that features a 1230 feet elevation gain. This was the third hike of our trip, and we all agreed that all the trails are super clean and easy to navigate, and the trailheads are incredibly beautiful and well equipped with bathrooms, maps, and seating areas. The steep climb up offers great views of the valley below. On our way down, we encountered a rattlesnake mid-lunch on a mouse, plopped right in the middle of the trail. We had been forewarned online of these desert creatures in reviews of the trail, but didn’t think we’d actually see one, let alone be held up by one. One of us actually tried to stealthily creep around the snake, but ended up falling over by accident. Inches away from the venomous snake, we were thankful it was preoccupied. It slithered away to the shade of a nearby bush, a poor mouse in its jaws, and we were finally able to finish our hike.

 

 

 

 

After the close encounter with wildlife, we drove to downtown Scottsdale for an early lunch. We sat outside at Culinary Dropout, another member of the Fox group, and ordered the homemade potato chips with onion dip, burger, and a spring salad.

 

 

We walked around the area a bit afterwards, and found ourselves back at our favorite coffee spot, Berdena’s. In addition to our coffee, we ordered a rose & raspberry cake that was perfectly sweet and light as air.

 

 

We then walked around downtown, stopping into some resort chic boutiques. This time we made our way further into Old Town, and checked out the Old Scottsdale Schoolhouse, a free museum. Make sure to stop into Saba’s, a mecca for cowboy boots.

 

 

In the later afternoon, we walked from the Sheraton to the Fairmont, where we explored the resort’s beautiful grounds and boutiques. For dinner, we returned to Flower Child for a wholesome meal.

 

 

Day 6 (Thursday): 

This was our day off from hiking. We woke up later, went for a run around the area, and enjoyed the rest of the morning lounging by the hotel’s pool. For lunch, we drove back to Pizzeria Blanco where we dined al fresco on the caprese, artisanal spaghetti with tomato sauce, the Rosa and Margherita pizzas, and flourless chocolate cake with vanilla bean frothed cream. There’s a reason this pizza place ranks as a top 10 pizza joint in the country. The crust is spectacular, and the ingredients are simple, local, and fresh.

 

 

 

 

The rest of the day was reserved for lounging by the pool again and reading out on our room’s balcony. For dinner, we drove to Whole Foods Market for kombucha and snacks. We love kombucha, especially when trying out local options on our travels. The Arizona based, Wild Tonic Jun Kombucha, quickly became a favorite on our trip.

 

Day 7 (Friday): 

Camelback Mountain is the one hike you must do when in Scottsdale. It’s busy, it’s challenging, and we’ve never finished it before. This was our second attempt at ascending the Cholla trail, and for some reason (hello, narrow pathways), we seem to consecutively turn back before the summit. Climbing up any portion of this trail, however, will give you amazing views of downtown Scottsdale, Phoenix, and the whole valley. So even if you don’t make it to the top, like us, it’s worth conquering a portion of. The last time we stayed in Scottsdale, when we attempted Camelback for the first time, we walked over from our hotel, The Phoenician, another SPG property, and a luxurious one at that. If you’ve got points to burn through, or simply feel like splurging, The Phoenician is totally worth the indulgence. If not, a drink in the lounge will have you leave you feeling posh all over. After the hike, we drove to Berdena’s for our daily lattes, and then walked over to Virtu Honest Craft restaurant, an award-winning bistro in the Bespoke Inn. The outdoor setting is intimately charming and the menu features delicious Mediterranean inspired dishes. From the fresh springs of rosemary they tuck into your napkins, everything at Virtu smells and tastes divine. We ordered the char grilled octopus and chickpea entrée, French toast with vanilla bean whip and berry compote, and the chimichurri scrambled eggs with potatoes.

 

 

All the dishes were really good, but the beautiful setting made it all the more memorable. We enjoyed the rest of the day at the hotel pool, and having drinks at the Fairmont.

 

Day 8 (Saturday): 

We woke up early to venture up the 3.6 miles Sunrise trail from Sunrise Trailhead. The hike has 1100 feet of elevation, and the last .25 miles of the trail is more a rock scramble up to the peak. We really enjoyed getting in a challenging workout, as the trail has a decent amount of moderate incline. We only made it up about halfway from the .25 miles peak sign to the actual summit. Venturing beyond that point was a bit too rough and rocky for us. The trail has a good amount of foot traffic, so you’ll always hear a friendly ‘howdy’ every few minutes.

 

 

After driving back and getting ready in our hotel, we drove to Lon’s restaurant at the Hermosa Inn in neighboring Paradise Valley for brunch. The setting is truly idyllic and the portions are generous. We ordered the sizzling maple bacon, a showstopper, eggs benedict, club sandwich, and the farm omelet. Everything was great, especially the ambience.

 

 

 

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to lounging by the pool. We went to Fox’s Zinburger in Scottsdale Quarters for dinner. The casual atmosphere offers affordable and delicious Angus burgers, as well as various sides, salads, and milkshakes. Head there for happy hour, from 3-5 PM daily, and you can be treated to $5 burgers, $3 fries, onion rings, and milkshakes.

 

Day 9 (Sunday):

Before we got into our rental car, we were spooked to find a pig-like creature outside our door. We all rushed to a nearby housekeeper, pointing at the ominous creature, asking what it was and if it was dangerous. (We already dodged the strike of a rattlesnake, we didn’t want to have to outrun a wild boar in the hotel parking lot.) “Javelina,” she said, laughing, “it’s not a boar and it’s not dangerous”. So, we met our first rattlesnake, and we met something called a Javelina. Anything else you’d like to throw at us, desert? I forgot to mention that on our hike, a bee stung one of us. Our hike of the day was the Sunrise trail to Sunrise Peak, but from the Lost Dog trailhead in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This trail starts out on Lost Dog Wash Trail before verging onto Sunrise Trail. It is 5.8 miles out and back to Sunrise Peak. It is a more gradual and moderate ascent up to the peak than climbing up directly from the Sunrise trailhead.

 

 

Since Berdena’s is closed on Sundays, we went to Altitude Coffee Lab for a post-hike caffeine fix.

For lunch, we tried out Fox’s Doughbird, a pizzeria and rotisserie in Phoenix. The aesthetic of the eatery is very nice and inviting, and everything we ate was really good, especially the green, chile chicken soup.

 

 

After lunch, we checked-out from the Sheraton and checked-in to the Aloft in downtown Scottsdale, for the last night of our trip. Since we were in downtown, we explored more of the area for the rest of the afternoon. Dinner meant our last trip to Pizzeria Bianco, where we ordered all of our favorites: mozzarella salad, pizza Margherita, spaghetti with tomato sauce, and the flourless chocolate cake.

 

Day 10 (Monday):

Our flight back home was not until 11 PM, so we had the entire day at our disposal. We decided to revisit one of our previous hikes, choosing the popular Pinnacle Peak trail as our adieu to desert life. After we got ready at the Aloft, an SPG property, we went to Berdena’s for coffee, cinnamon buns, and raspberry jam cake.

 

 

We kicked time by exploring some malls in Scottsdale and Phoenix, such as the Biltmore mall. If you travel behind the mall to the Biltmore Hotel, a Waldorf Astoria property, you will find lavishly beautiful mansions on the road leading up to the hotel. Beautiful and expensive homes are a dime a dozen in the Scottsdale area, but these homes, technically in Phoenix, are very elegant. Time before the flight was creeping up on us, and we went to the used bookstore, Half Priced Books, to purchase some reading material for the flight home. We returned our car early and hung out at the gate, reflecting on our relaxing, outdoorsy, foodie filled trip in Scottsdale. 

 

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