Cosmetics mogul Elizabeth Arden put Phoenix (and sister city, Scottsdale) on the wellness map in 1946 when she opened the Maine Chance Spa on Camelback Mountain. The spa drew celebrities (Ava Gardner, Judy Garland), European royalty, and the well-heeled, who came for the sun and palms, and Arden’s popular treatment at the time — lowering clients into a tub of hot wax to moisturize the skin. Other wellness gurus soon followed and today Phoenix is not only a thriving spa-and-wellness mecca, it’s a buzzy contemporary desert city fuelled by incredible art exhibits, a resurgence of creative chefs, and plenty of historic sites and nature spots.
Where to Stay
Recently renovated, the historic and chic Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, eloquently retains its Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced architecture and style. Set on 39 tranquil acres spilling with desert blooms, saguaro cacti, and orange trees, the hotel features seven swimming pools including its original ‘Catalina Pool,’ (once famed for diving competitions and glimpses of Marilyn Monroe) and a divine desert-chic spa. Rooms and cottages come with plush beds, a modern palette (creams, blues, and whites), generous seating, and mindful touches like coffee table books on desert architecture and potted cacti. Meet for cocktails at the new outdoor (Insta-worthy) Spire Bar before heading to Renata’s Hearth for smokey Latin flavors.
Boulders Resort and Spa
For a Sonoran Desert wellness immersion, Boulders Resort and Spa is known for its stand-alone villas, featuring southwestern décor, wood-burning fireplaces, beamed ceilings, and natural stone showers. Sip morning coffee (or green tea) on the patio, keeping an eye for the wild boar-like Javelina roaming about before heading to the spa for treatments.
Hotel Valley Ho
A more retro stay awaits at this preserved mid-century modern hotel. Meticulously renovated, Hotel Valley Ho offers a glimpse into Arden’s bygone era but with a contemporary twist. Expect popping-with-color rooms, mid-century-modern furnishings, a groovy bar area, and vintage chaises by the pool. Added bonus: the hotel is pet friendly.
The Hermosa Inn
Famed ‘Cowboy Artist’, Lon Megargee created The Hermosa Inn in the 1930s as his personal escape. Today, this Valley of the Sun gem offers 43 hacienda-style casitas with beehive fireplaces, white oak floors, vaulted ceilings, skylights, canopy beds, locally crafted mesquite tables, and dressers, and rugs with Southwest patterns. Dine alfresco in front of outdoor adobe fireplaces or rally the troops for an intimate dinner (up to 12) to the inn’s rustic wine cellar. A must-do while here: a self-guided ‘art walk’ —past bougainvillea and flourishing gardens —to see original works by the former owner and famed cowboy artist.
What to Do
Hot Air Ballooning
If hot air ballooning is on your bucket list, floating over the Sonoran Desert, with a bottle of bubbly, is the perfect introduction. A number of hot air balloon companies operate throughout the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas and hotel concierges will happily orchestrate.
Desert Botanical Museum
There’s just so much to love about this 149-acre outdoor exhibit of over 50,000 plants. Walk the meditative labyrinth in the Contemplation garden, then continue the calming vibe by the reflective water feature mirroring the image of the surrounding cactus. Hike the desert wildflower trail and from now through June 19, 2022, enjoy Chihuly in the Desert, showcasing Dale Chihuly’s stunning, large-scale installations.
Flower and spa lovers, take note. This flower alchemy service is life-changing. I first met Lotus Wei founder, Katie Hess, when she was a one-woman show, conducting flower readings and hand-mixing potent flower essences at a Scottsdale spa. Today, she operates out of her own brick-and-mortar dwelling (services are also offered virtually). Book a flower reading essence consultation, which includes a customized, take-home regimen; opt for a botanical treatment of eucalyptus, fresh flowers, flower essences, and aromatherapy; or try an ancient smoke ceremony to remove obstacles from your life. You’re welcome.
No trip to Phoenix is complete without a hike to the top of Camelback Mountain’s famed red rocks. The view, of the city and desert below, is spectacular, but do wear proper hiking boots, unlike this writer who, in places, had to slide her way down hiney style, due to slippery sneaker soles.
Home to the Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo, Papago Park, is also known for its exceptional hiking and jogging paths. Make your way to Hole-in-the-Rock to watch the sunset over the city.
Internationally acclaimed, the Heard Museum is dedicated solely to Native American Art. Stories of American Indian people are told from a first-person perspective; while exhibitions showcase the beauty and vitality of both traditional and contemporary art.
Goldfield Ghost Town
For a fun day trip and to step back in time, visit this once-thriving 1890s gold-mining town. By the 1920s, the town was abandoned; leaving behind three salons, a general store, a blacksmith shop, a brewery, a meat market, and a school house. Meander the town, tour the historic Mammoth Gold Mine and Goldfield Museum and even pan for gold.
Vincent on Camelback
For a blend of classic French with southwestern ingredients, head to the award-winning Vincent on Camelback. Chef Vincent is the only classically trained French chef in Arizona.
Kai, which means ‘seed,’ in the Pima language, features upscale Native American cuisine. Chef Ryan Swanson incorporates the essence of the Pima and Maricopa tribes and locally farmed ingredients from the Gila River Indian Community.
Chef-owned and operated Sel Restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale is widely known for its fresh and seasonal ingredients. Chef Branden Levine, offers small-and-big plate options and five-course, prices-fixe, tasting menus including one for vegetarians.
For a taste of Mexico in the American southwest, Barrio Café serves Mexican regional dishes originating from places like Yucatan, Puebla, and Oaxaca.