Rainbow Ryders, Phoenix, AZ

How to Have the Ultimate Phoenix Adventure

By: Nora Burba Trulsson

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October 3, 2017

Phoenix and Scottsdale offer a plethora of pleasures in the warm desert sun

About the author

Nora Burba Trulsson

Nora Burba Trulsson

Nora Burba Trulsson is a long-time Arizona resident and a freelance writer specializing in travel, food, lifestyle, architecture and design topics. Her articles have appeared in Sunset, Arizona Highways, Vegas Seven, Houzz.com, Valley Guide, Scottsdale Magazine, United Airlines Hemispheres, Westjet's Up!, Renovation Style, Beautiful Homes and other publications and websites. She can be reached through www.noraburbatrulsson.com.

When winter’s cold starts its creep into Canada – the rains start in Vancouver and the Toronto skies are frosted with snow flurries – it’s time to head to the desert sunshine of Phoenix and Scottsdale.

You’ll find an abundance of things to do and places to stay in Arizona’s largest metropolitan area. Not sure where to start? Use this guide to help you build the ultimate itinerary that will meet everyone’s interests and cover the best the Phoenix area has to offer.

Get outside

Vast stretches of the Sonoran Desert, emerald green golf courses, and sparkling pools will lure you outside to enjoy the mild winter climate with hiking, biking, golfing, and swimming. But there are other ways to explore the great outdoors.

Rainbow Ryders offers serene hot air balloon rides above the open desert in Deer Valley, located in north Phoenix. You can catch a sunrise tour all year-round in one of their colorful balloons or sign up for a sunset ride from November through March. Private rides are also available if you want to pick your own group. In any case, don’t forget to bring your camera or cell phone in the basket for Instagram-worthy shots.

Most Segway tours are urban adventures that weave you past city sights on roads and sidewalks. Adventures Out West takes Segways off road through the desert at Fort McDowell, located just outside Scottsdale. You’ll spend two hours gliding along on a guided tour, past saguaro and cholla cactus, with views of mountains and the banks of the Verde River. If you’re a novice rider, don’t worry, pre-ride training is included.

Seek some culture

Phoenix and Scottsdale have vibrant art scenes, with numerous theaters, venues, galleries, and must-see museums.

The Heard Museum is one of those won’t-find-it-elsewhere attractions. Founded in 1929, the institution is dedicated to American Indian art and culture. Tour Home: Native People in the Southwest, a permanent exhibit that showcases cultural objects from Arizona and New Mexico tribes; Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience, which explores recollections of Indian school alumni; or any of the many changing exhibits. A bookstore, museum shop, espresso counter, and restaurant make it easy to spend a whole day at the Heard.

For almost three decades now, big white tents in Scottsdale have signaled the annual winter Celebration of Fine Art, during which 100 artists from around the US set up studios where they create and sell their works. The artists, who work in a variety of styles and mediums, encourage you to watch their creative process and strike up conversations. This season’s celebration runs January 13 through March 25, 2018 and includes panel discussions on Friday afternoons, accompanied by wine and cheese.

Explore native offerings

Arizona is home to 22 American Indian tribes. Two of those tribal communities are within the Phoenix and Scottsdale metropolitan area, and offer visitors everything from casinos and spas to art collections and restaurants serving native-inspired cuisine.

At the edge of Scottsdale, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Talking Stick district is home to Talking Stick Resort, a luxe hotel, spa, and casino that also houses an impressive American Indian art collection, said to be the largest in the state outside of a museum. The resort overlooks 36 holes of championship golf, a Major League Baseball spring training facility, a go-cart racetrack, Topgolf, and an indoor sky-diving venue. Look for regularly scheduled native dance programs poolside as well. Wait, there’s more: Check out Butterfly Wonderland and the OdySea Aquarium, or shop and dine at the district’s various retailers and restaurants.

Just south of Phoenix, Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass district is home to the serene Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, where Kai restaurant continues to receive accolades for its native-inspired cuisine. Nearby, Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino is slick and sophisticated, offering gaming and big-name nightclub entertainment. Stay at either place and you can play golf at the Troon-managed Whirlwind Golf Club, have fun at Rawhide – ¬a replica Wild West town – enjoy a trail ride at Koli Equestrian Center, or shop at Phoenix Premium Outlets. Want something quieter? Take a short boat cruise on the recreated Gila River or hike the riverside interpretive trail.

Stay a while

You’ll have no problem finding a home base from which to explore Phoenix and Scottsdale’s many attractions. Lodging choices range from glamorous resorts and contemporary urban hotels to suite-style accommodations with kitchens and budget-friendly properties.

Located on 125 acres between Camelback and Mummy mountains, Scottsdale’s JW Marriott Camelback Inn is a resort and spa that celebrates its 1930s desert heritage with a warm Southwestern style and flower-lined, meandering walkways. Get a facial and a massage at the acclaimed, full-service spa, dig into a steak at Lincoln Restaurant or savor enchiladas at Rita’s Kitchen, and enjoy social hour at R Bar or Bar 1936. Go into relaxation mode with a round of golf, some tennis, or simply by lounging at one of the pools.

A sister property, JW Marriott Desert Ridge, is a luxe experience in north Phoenix, where tall palms and modern architecture flank amenities such as a family-friendly waterpark and the signature Wildfire Golf Club. Indulge yourself with treatments at the resort’s spa, have a cocktail at twenty6, and sample the Asian-fusion menu at Roy’s Pacific Rim or the fare at other on-site dining options. Bike rentals, tennis, group exercise classes, and fitness trails ensure that you keep endorphins pumping during your stay, while poolside lounging helps slow that heart rate down.

The Camby is a luxurious urban hotel that prides itself on being just a bit different. You’ll notice it in the traditional-meets-edgy decor of the hotel, located in the Biltmore district of Phoenix. The hotel features a rooftop pool and lounge, plus a spa that offers express services for busy guests. Sashay over to Artizen Crafted American Kitchen & Bar for noteworthy entrees. Feeling creative? You can check out a guitar free of charge or create your own beats thanks to turntables, headphones, and vinyl records in the lobby’s musical corner.

Gainey Suites Hotel in Scottsdale is a home away from home for those who like to spend a little more time in the desert. Offering studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens, these contemporary accommodations are perfect for families or for those who don’t want to eat out every meal. A complimentary breakfast buffet and happy hour are among the amenities, which also include complimentary shuttle service within eight kilometers. You can also avail yourself to the pool and fitness center, or stroll to nearby restaurants and shops.

BEST WESTERN® Hotels & Resorts is headquartered in Phoenix, so you’ll find plenty (14, to be exact) of these budget-friendly properties around town, putting you right where you need to be. Best of all? Complimentary breakfast and free high-speed Internet are always on the amenity list.

Want to stay much longer? Mattamy Homes, one of Canada’s most notable home builders, has new communities all over the metro area, including locations in Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Litchfield Park, and Peoria, with more coming soon. Perfect for relocation or as a vacation home, the communities offer a variety of single-family and condo home styles, floor plans, and amenities, plus a quick move-in option for homes that are ready to be occupied.

Whether you’re looking for culture, wellness, adventure, or excellent food, you’ll find the makings of the ultimate getaway in Phoenix. Start making your plans now.

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