Home » Exploring Scottsdale, Arizona: Pleasure in the Desert

Exploring Scottsdale, Arizona: Pleasure in the Desert

by Jimmy Im
Business in Scottsdale, Arizona sign

Activities here are endless: from guided hikes and jeep tours to fine-art gallery hopping to sky diving, Scottsdale has more to offer than one would imagine. And nothing can beat the weather, with year-round daytime temperatures rarely going below 70.

Jimmy Im

When most people visit Scottsdale, they’re exposed to stars in one-way or another. In a literal sense, the stars in our heavens are vivid and surreal here. Thanks to the desert city’s low-rise buildings and little if any pollution, the clarity of the night sky is astounding. Stars also come in the form of Hollywood celebrities. Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner got married here at Hotel Valley Ho in 1956. Other A-listers like Marilyn Monroe and Rock Hudson made Scottsdale their home away from home, and it continues to be a haven for the rich and famous. There’s something to be said for this city’s Sonora Desert location, with its dynamic backdrop of flat land topped by the mountains. Five stars come to mind when considering the option for hotel stays. Everyone from Four Seasons to Fairmont have set up camp, amping the allure for well-heeled travelers.

One thing that isn’t often associated with Scottsdale is business, but things are changing, thanks to the wealth of opportunities for business travelers. Plenty of ideal meeting spaces abound, in addition to top restaurants suited for power lunches, terrific attractions, and a nightlife scene that makes doing business a pleasure. Activities here are endless: from guided hikes and jeep tours to fine-art gallery hopping to sky diving, Scottsdale has more to offer than one would imagine. And nothing can beat the weather, with year-round daytime temperatures rarely going below 70.

Public Art in Scottsdale, Arizona

“Love” by Robert Indiana

Only 220,000 people reside in Scottsdale, which is served by Phoenix International Airport, only fifteen minutes away. The city is detached from the rest of the world, though it still feels very cosmopolitan. While there’s little of a gay scene (that would be found in Phoenix) LGBT travelers are more than welcome here. In fact, Rick Kidder of Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce is openly gay, as is a new lesbian council member. Former mayor Mary Manross stays active in the LGBT community and her role in the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee ensures a diversity plan. With gay people in power, they make the gay scene present and appreciated. And the gay community continues to come, finding much to do in Scottsdale, whether living it up at luxury resorts, exploring the burgeoning culinary scene, discovering great art, or participating in exciting outdoor adventures.

Immersing yourself completely in the desert is a must, and most visitors find the time to explore. In fact, you can bring your entire staff with you, thanks to Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA), the premiere adventure tour company that produces corporate team building events. Myriad activities span a number of locations, from the iconic Superstition Mountains to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and McDowell Regional Park, with programs that psych your staff up for success. If you’re not team building, they still challenge individuals with outdoor excursions you can book without your company, like mountain biking. One of the most popular routes is McDowell Regional Park, where you’ll cruise across single-track trails through the diverse wildlife.

Eventually, you’ll head back to the city where a plethora of attractions await. I made a beeline to the Musical Instrument Museum, a rather fascinating center celebrating world music and musical instruments. Opened in 2010, it spans 200,000 square feet and just had an expansion of gallery space. Plenty of private events are booked here thanks to their theater and outdoor courtyards, should you need to have a meeting in a cultural environment. You’ll be thrilled to find a number of special instruments throughout the exhibit, including the piano John Lennon used to compose “Imagine” and memorabilia from Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton and even Taylor Swift.

City sign in Old Town Scottsdale

City sign in Old Town

Downtown Scottsdale is a blend of new and old and best explored with the free trolley that commenced in 1994. It’s so popular, it even has a name: Ollie. Yep, Ollie the Trolley. He (or she) will bring you close to SouthBridge, a three-acre retail, dining, and cultural center. This $41-million district also hosts events throughout the year.

Make sure to also check out Scottsdale Waterfront, which sprawls 1.1-million square feet with public space, an open amphitheater, and public art, like The Doors, a three-story, walk-in kaleidoscopic structure that brings tons of color to the desert.

Speaking of art, the Soleri Bridge and Plaza unveiled in 2010, was the work of famous Italian designer Paolo Soleri and marks solar events produced by the sun’s shadow. It’s definitely worth musing over. Art is a city highlight, thanks to the Scottsdale Public Art Program that exhibits a collection of 70 permanent and 30 temporary artworks, ultimately envisioning the city as one huge outdoor gallery. Scottsdale’s iconic Arts District is home to 500 one-of-a-kind specialty shops and boutiques with galleries inside historic structures. Browse everything from handcrafted art, apparel, and limited edition prints, many embracing Native American themes. I suggest participating in Scottsdale ArtWalk, a 30-year-old tradition that takes place every Thursday from 7 to 9 P.M. through 100 galleries.

For a more contemporary beat, head to Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts in the Old Town district. SMoCA is home to an eclectic range of modern and contemporary art, architecture, and design from around the globe that’s housed inside a minimalist building with a “sky space” created by artist James Turrell. The museum’s director Tim Rodgers ensures a fascinating experience. He’s also openly gay and a former professor of gay studies, including homosexuality in the 20th century. It’s no coincidence that the museum has become a haven for the LGBT community. Author and activist Tania Katan spearheads the programming and, believe me, you’ll get your money’s worth. “Whether it’s Arm Wrestling for Art or Lit Lounge, all the programs that are originating form the SMoCA Lounge consciously include wildly talented performers, as well as eager audience members, some of whom happen to be part of the LGBTQ community,” Katan says.

Exploring all the art could take days, which means you’ll work up an appetite. The cuisine is top notch in Scottsdale with a variety of tastes, from American to Tex-Mex. If you like to graze and sample, Arizona Food Tours offers A Taste of Old Town, a walking food and historical tour that visits various restaurants, including the new The House. Opened last fall, it’s inside the second oldest house in Old Town built in 1938 and serves as the trendy go-to spot for a fashionable crowd. Expect American cuisine with European influence, an outdoor patio with fireplace, and an extensive lunch menu for those power lunches. Just around the corner is Citizen Public House, opened in 2011 and a former Trader Vics. This public house has an extensive (and delicious!) craft cocktail menu with some hearty contemporary American cuisine. The drink to order is the Im-Port, which somehow creatively weaves beer and wine and even tobacco into its flavor. The atmosphere is lively here, especially if you head upstairs for their 32-seat, speakeasy-style cocktail lounge on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. It truly gives a spin to the nightlife, with the highlight on its innovative cocktail experience. For instance, they turn vodka into gin right at your table. Don’t ask, just go.

The gays naturally head to AZ 88, just across the way from the Scottsdale Contemporary Museum. Janice Leonard, who has a gay following, designs the sculptures and weekends here are undeniably as gay as it gets for Scottsdale nightlife thanks to the great cocktail scene. It’s also known to serve as the best people-watching bar in town.


If you’re a health nut, consider True Food Kitchen at Scottsdale Quarter. Fox Restaurant Concepts and Dr. Andrew Weill conceived the new eatery. The focus here is local, sustainable, and fresh ingredients in all their globally inspired dishes, with an emphasis on Asian and Mediterranean. Dishes like edamame dumplings and turkey lasagna are highlights, but they can really trick out an otherwise boring dish like hummus. I’ve never been impressed over hummus but TFK can work magic with chickpeas.

Frank Lloyd Wright Public Memorial in Scottsdale Arizona

Frank Lloyd Wright Public Memorial

Some of the best meals you’ll have are also inside some of the top resorts. I checked into Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which embraces Southwest decor with Spanish, colonial-style architecture, a number of plazas, and beautiful gardens. There are 649 rooms, five swimming pools, and five dining and bar options, including Richard Sandoval’s La Hacienda. The creative Mexican dishes are insanely good, and don’t think about leaving without trying the lobster tacos or mole poblano and sampling one of their 240 tequilas. Commemorating their 25th anniversary last December, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess celebrates this year with special events and offerings. The biggest news is the debut of their new spa concept at the 44,000-square-foot Well & Being Spa at Willow Stream, which has a water circuit (steam, sauna, aromatherapy room, plunge pools), tennis courts, a terrace pool, and some exciting treatments like the Myofascial Release Massage, which focuses on fascia, the tissue that needs to be fully relaxed for maximum benefit. If you’re a yogi, sign up for Aerial Yoga, also new and so in demand they added more classes. It offers more stretch than mat yoga considering you’re using body weight for stretches rather than muscle strength. Fairmont is also a popular option for meetings, thanks to their brand-new, $20-million, 52,000-square-foot Palomino Conference Center. This addition increases the resort’s total indoor/outdoor meeting and event space to 156,000 square-feet, making it the largest meetings hotel in the entire Fairmont Hotels & Resorts collection worldwide.

Where there’s a W, there’s a gay agenda. W Scottsdale is a gay traveler’s favorite, not only due to its reputation for being gay friendly but also because it’s where you’ll likely find your brothers and sisters, whether at their popular outdoor pool or at Sushi Roku, the signature restaurant that’s sleek and sophisticated with fresh sushi to boot, best washed down with a cold (or hot) glass of saki.

W Scottsdale includes 225 swanky guest rooms, 27 suites, and their recently unveiled VIP Suites come equipped with kitchen, separate living area, balcony, and separate entrance from the rest of the hotel. With a design theme that brings to mind all things cool, it’s truly an oasis in the desert. If you feel like you can’t ever leave, bring the meetings here aanx make use of their 3,500-square-foot ballroom, 2,000-square-foot terrace, and four meeting rooms.

LGBT travelers love the history and mid-century modern style of Hotel Valley Ho, opened in 1956 and the oldest running hotel in Scottsdale. Gays are known to crowd around the pool on hot days, and we’re not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that the pool is shaped like a martini glass. Why wouldn’t you come? The TAG approved, 191-room hotel’s ZuZu restaurant serves fresh farm-to-table fare, and is a retro kick. Charles Wiley is also quite the celebrity chef. He’s been named America’s “Ten Best New Chefs” by Food & Wine and one of “America’s Best Hotel Chefs” by the James Beard Foundation. Order the Beef Straganoff or Sweet Dijon Glazed Salmon, his specialties.

W Meeting Room in Scottsdale, Arizona

W WOW Suite

If you need to be comfortably removed, check in to Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, a half hour drive from downtown. Right in the foothills of Pinnacle Peak (expect grand views and tons of hiking if desired), the AAA, Five-Diamond property has 210 spacious casitas and suites, most of which have stellar views of the landscape. It’s here where the stars truly align. Set on 40 acres of desert blooms, Four Seasons Scottsdale has a full-service spa with 14 treatment rooms, two outdoor pools (adults and kids) and the Proof restaurant, an American Canteen that serves up home-style comfort fare, inspired by the chef’s road trips. You can’t have a bad meal here, and everything is American nostalgic like double-cut pork chops, bite-size pretzel bread with Vermont cheddar cheese, and meatloaf that puts your mom’s to shame.


Scottsdale CVB is the official tourism and travel site of Scottsdale. Visit their website for great resources and GLBT recommendations. www.experiencescottsdale.com

Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA), 16447 North 91st St., Tel: 480-945-2881. The premiere adventure tour operator in Scottsdale for hiking, mountain biking, river rafting and more. www.aoa-adventures.com

Ollie the Trolley, 1680 North 74th St., Tel: 480-970-8130. Explore Scottsdale’s Downtown District with this free, fun ride. www.olliethetrolley.net

Scottsdale Waterfront The $250 million district sprawls more than a million acres with condos, restaurants, boutiques, art and public spaces.

Soleri Bridge and Plaza Famed Italian designer Paolo Soleri built this eye-catching bridge, the second pedestrian-only bridge to connect Scottsdale Waterfront and downtown Scottsdale. www.soleribridge.com

SouthBridge A cultural center that embraces no-chains-allowed mentality.

Well & Being Spa at Willow Stream at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. 7575 East Princess Dr. Tel: 480-585-2706. This brand new spa concept amps up the health and wellness program. www.scottsdaleprincess.com

Arts District. Find more than 500 specialty shops, galleries, restaurants and more while strolling through Historic Old Town. www.scottsdalegalleries.com

ArtWalk. For more than 30 years, this tradition takes place every Thursday from 8 to 9 pm, when visitors can stroll on their own pace to discover local art. www.scottsdalegalleries.com

Musical Instrument Museum. 4725 East Mayo Boulevard, Tel: 480-478-6000. A fascinating modern museum that celebrates music and musical instruments from around the world. www.mim.org

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. 7374 East 2nd St., Tel: 480-874-4666. This contemporary museum is spearheaded by mostly gay staff, and has a gay following, not to mention great art. www.smoca.org

Scottsdale Public Art Program, Started in 1985, the Public Art Program has created a diverse collection of 70 permanent and 30 temporary artworks in the city.

AZ 88, 7353 Scottsdale Mall, Tel: 480-994-5576. This contemporary restaurant is a vibrant social center for the gay community. www.az88.com

Citizen Public House, 7111 East 5th St. Tel: 480-398-4208. The region’s Best New Restaurant in 2011 serves hearty American cuisine with a cocktail scene to boot. www.citizenpublichouse.com

La Hacienda, 7575 East Princess Dr. Tel: 480-585-2706. Inside Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Richard Sandoval’s innovative restaurant delivers fantastic Mexican cuisine. www.scottsdaleprincess.com

Proof, 10600 East Crescent Moon Dr. Tel: 480-513-5049. The new, road-trip inspired restaurant at Four Seasons Scottsdale offers homestyle comfort fare. www.fourseasons.com/scottsdsale

Sushi Roku, 7277 E. Camelback Rd. Tel: 480-970-2121. W Scottsdale’s Sushi Roku offers rare and exotic Japanese. www.sushiroku.com

The House, 6936 E. Main St. Tel: 480-634-1600. The owners of top restaurant The Mission debuted their new restaurant last year, and it’s all the buzz. www.thehousebrasserie.com

True Food Kitchen, 15191 N Scottsdale Rd. Tel: 480-751-2191. Featuring a globally inspired menu, TFK is all about quality and local ingredients. www.foxrc.com

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, 7575 East Princess Dr. Tel: 480-585-2706. Celebrating 25 years, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is a resort that seems to have it all, including massive spa and an even bigger conference center. Rooms from $169. www.scottsdaleprincess.com

Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, 10600 East Crescent Moon Dr. Tel: 480-513-5049. It’s at this 40-acre, luxury resort where stars truly align. The night sky is unreal. Rooms from $229 per night. www.fourseasons.com/scottsdale

Hotel Valley Ho, 6850 East Main St. Tel: 480-248-2000. The luxury boutique hotel in downtown Scottsdale has been wooing gay travelers (and celebrities!) for decades. Rooms from $169 per night. www.hotelvalleyho.com

W Scottsdale, 7277 E. Camelback Road, Tel: 480-970-2100. The W Scottsdale features the gayest pool scene in the city, not to mention new VIP Suites, Sushi Roku and 3,500-square-foot ballroom. Rooms from $149. www.whotels.com/scottsdale

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