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Things to Do in Scottsdale, Arizona If You Only Have a Day to Explore

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Scottsdale is a luxury town on the rise—partially because the Southern California crowd wanted a new Palm Springs hideaway where they wouldn’t run into everyone they knew. Scottsdale really does have serious Palm Springs vibes, from the desert hiking to the craft cocktail scene and the artistic hype. But being more removed from the major California cities, and in fact, equally accessible from the middle of the country, it’s actually become one of the most flown-to private jet destinations of 2020. And most of the private jet travelers flocking to Scottsdale (50% to be exact) are going for pleasure, completely separate from the business travelers jetting to Phoenix. Where once travelers might pop by as an afterthought to a business trip, they are now coming in droves—either for the longest continuously running ArtWalk in the U.S., or because Beyoncé and Jay-Z honeymooned here, in a villa overlooking Paradise Valley. From sampling the wares of culinary and mixology talent who fled LA for the desert, to exploring Old Town Scottsdale, here’s how you can spend a memorable 24 hours in Scottsdale, Arizona.

9 a.m.: Every good mini-break starts with perfectly brewed coffee and artisanal donuts—that’s just a fact. You’ll find one of the best cups o’ joe at Cartel Coffee Lab, where they’re ethically sourcing and fresh roasting high-end coffee beans. Though Cartel is best known for their coffee, they do have local beers on tap (if you want to stop by later in the day) and often work on collaborations with well-touted brewers like California’s Modern Times. Not far from Cartel, find Sweet Dees, also in Old Town Scottsdale. Styled after a French boulangerie, Sweet Dees has excellent pastries (including vegan and gluten-free offerings), but we’re partial to their rotating donut menu, which changes daily.

10 a.m.: Head to the city’s Art District, which is a different part of downtown, separate from Old Town. Here, browse galleries featuring the work of local artists on Main Street—where you’ll find Scottsdale ArtWalk on Thursday nights, which has been running for more than 40 years. For some of our favorite upscale art galleries, peek into Marshall Gallery of Fine Art or Amery Bohling Fine Art. And to understand the tradition of art in Scottsdale from a wide-angle lens, visit the city's Museum of Contemporary Art downtown.

12 p.m.: What goes hand-in-hand with the art of Scottsdale? The architecture. Namely, an awe-inspiring Frank Lloyd Wright house: Taliesin West, which this year was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sitting in front of the McDowell Mountains, Taliesin West is a labor of love Wright created in 1937. Considered his “desert laboratory” and described by Wright as “a look over the rim of the world,” the interiors—in classic FLW fashion—exalt the outside views while featuring eclectic décor and deliberately surprising pops of color.

1 p.m.: For a Latin American-inspired lunch, sit on the patio The Mission in Old Town Scottsdale. Don’t skip the roasted pork shoulder for two, served with a pineapple-habanero glaze, it melts in your mouth and is served alongside house-made tortillas. Pairing it with a mezcal margarita wouldn’t be the worst idea, either.

Related: The Most Scenic Desert Escapes in the U.S.

2:30 p.m.: On the Scottsdale Waterfront, you’ll find architecture from one of Wright’s students: Paolo Soleri. Make sure Soleri Bridge, a modern architectural landmark in Scottsdale, is part of your self-guided waterfront tour. And if you’re particularly keen on the architectural teachings of Frank Lloyd Wright that were passed on to Soleri, you can visit Cosanti in Paradise Valley, which features high-concept design and a glimpse into Soleri’s creative philosophy. While on the Scottsdale waterfront, don’t miss shopping at locally owned boutiques nearby. Vintage by Misty has vintage designer clothes (think: Gucci, Versace, and Prada) sourced from all over the world. You’ll also want to shop the chic accessories at The Mercantile of Scottsdale and browse for luxe décor pieces at Leela Market.

4 p.m.: McDowell Preserve, with 30,500 acres of land (that’s the equivalent of 36 Central Parks), is a perfect spot for hike if you’re able to start earlier in the day (perhaps forgoing one of the more artistically inclined activities). If you’re hiking within McDowell Sonoran Preserve, take the Gateway Trail Loop or Tom’s Thumb, both of which are about four miles. If you prefer a leisurely sunset hike, find a gorgeous, well-groomed walking path within Scottsdale’s Green Belt, which is an old flood plain turned public green space.

7 p.m.: You’re doing dinner and drinks back at your five-star hotel (Sanctuary Camelback Mountain) tonight, so first, check in to the hotel and take a load off. Take a breath, and freshen up. Then, you’re off to Jade Bar, a farm-to-table bar concept that’s integrating the seasonal and farm-fresh components of the adjacent restaurant, Elements, into their cocktail programming. To execute on the goal of marrying the Elements menu with an exceptional cocktail program, Jade Bar recently brought in Christiaan Röllich, author of “Bar Chef” who built the bar programs at the once impossible-to-reserve (now closed) Los Angeles restaurant Lucques and West Hollywood-chic A.O.C. Röllich, who just came to Jade Bar this fall, uses rare spirits and integrates fresh fruits and vegetables (think: harissa and passion fruit) into his game-changing cocktails.

8 p.m.: Delve deeper into the farm-to-table scene of Scottsdale next door (best not to have to walk far after Röllich’s cocktails) at Elements, which boasts a seasonally inspired pan-Asian menu. One of the poshest dining experiences in Scottsdale, dine al fresco at Elements overlooking the Sanctuary hotel pool and Mummy Mountain. Alternatively, if you want to venture into Old Town for dinner,

Where to Stay

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, isn’t on the foothills of Camelback mountain—it’s built directly into the mountain. From the mountain-face perch, guests can see Paradise Valley and Scottsdale below. Beyond the over-the-top pool, Sanctuary is home to a luxurious spa and a number of tennis and pickleball courts. The most opulent offering at Sanctuary, however, is their villas. Running from $2,900 to $4,400 per night, their villas have hosted a long list of celebrity guests, including Jay-Z and Beyoncé on their honeymoon, and Britney Speakers when she’s previously escaped LA for a desert wellness retreat in Scottsdale. Book the four-bedroom Villa Roca, with a private pool and four pristine bedrooms, or Villa Del Sol, where you can enjoy private yoga classes and wellness retreats.


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