How to Take the Ultimate Vacation in Scottsdale, Arizona

Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the perfect journeys to recharge, rediscover yourself and your relationships, and reengage with the world. We’ll cover shopping stops, great bars, restaurants worth your money, photo ops, memorable rides and experiences, and other important details you need before you book.

Below, we talk to Caroline Bologna, Senior Travel and Culture Reporter at HuffPost, about why you’ll want to put Scottsdale, Arizona, on your to-do list.

What drew you to Scottsdale as a place to visit or explore?

When people started coming out of the pandemic lockdown and traveling again, I noticed a lot of people on my Instagram feed heading to Arizona. I had never visited the state, but all of the gorgeous art photos and stunning cactus-studded mountain scenery piqued my interest.

So when my partner had to travel to Scottsdale for work in November, I jumped at the chance to go with him – and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I enjoyed my stay there so much that I took the opportunity to make a short return visit during the summer when hotel rates were low.

What are the best times of year to visit?

Fall and spring are popular times to visit Scottsdale due to the temperate weather, especially if you enjoy hiking. But I also had a great time when I visited in early summer.

Sure, it was hot, but it wasn’t unbearable. And between the spas, museums, shops, and restaurants, there were plenty of air-conditioned activities to occupy my time. Plus, summer hotel rates are quite attractive if you want to experience luxury accommodation without paying high prices.

What’s your best advice for getting there? How to make the trip as stress-free as possible?

A short drive from Scottsdale, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the United States. Flight options are therefore not lacking. While getting around the metro area is easy with ridesharing apps, you could also consider renting a car and making Scottsdale part of a longer Arizona road trip.

From left to right: a Rainbow Ryders hot air balloon, the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa in Montelucia and the Canal Club.

Caroline Bologna/HuffPost

From left to right: a Rainbow Ryders hot air balloon, the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa in Montelucia and the Canal Club.

Where do you recommend staying when you go?

On my first visit, I stayed at Scottsdale Marriott Old Townwhich was great as it was walking distance to countless restaurants, bars and shops.

For my second trip, I stayed at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa in Montelucia. Although I wasn’t as close to the action, I had the classic desert resort experience with scenic grounds, multiple pools, and spa time.

This whole area is full of nice accommodations, including the luxurious Camelback Mountain Sanctuary (where Jay-Z and Beyonce spent their honeymoon). I also heard a lot of good things about JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa and Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows.

What are your favorite restaurants or foods during your stay?

I was pleasantly surprised with all of the amazing dining options in Scottsdale. For breakfast or brunch, I’m a fan of Farm and Craft and Hash cooking.

The mission in the old town serves amazing tacos, guac and other Latin dishes in a really cool space. Thumbs up for the mashed white bean side and pumpkin bread pudding dessert. The Montauk is also a great place for daytime meals.

If you are looking for a restaurant with a trendy atmosphere and delicious food, I recommend Toca Madeira. I also heard a lot about beef fat, Sumo Maya, ETFs and Elements.

As for dessert, I loved it. Sugar ― a historic ice cream parlor with adorable decor and tasty delicacies. Last time I was in Scottsdale, I also had the opportunity to cool off with a old town gelato tour with JoyRidesAz.

What bars or entertainment venues do you make sure to visit? What’s good to drink there or what else should people know?

Scottsdale has become a top destination for bachelorette parties, so there are plenty of clubs and pool parties in town.

However, I tend to prefer the cocktail bar scene, so I hit places like Second floor liquor bar and The Canal Club. On my first trip to Scottsdale, I went to a party bar called from Giligin for a quiz night.

Left to right: Cocktail at Second Story Liquor Bar, Strawberry candy at Sugar Bowl, and Pumpkin Bread Pudding at The Mission.

Caroline Bologna/HuffPost

Left to right: Cocktail at Second Story Liquor Bar, Strawberry candy at Sugar Bowl, and Pumpkin Bread Pudding at The Mission.

What are your favorite shops and what do you look for when you are there?

Fashion Square has just about every popular chain you can imagine, but I enjoyed browsing local stores in Scottsdale. I found lots of cute clothes and accessories at Carmen, rolling stand and Iron Rose. Vintage by Misty also has some great finds.

As mentioned, Scottsdale is a great destination for bachelorette parties, so I’ve noticed that many stores have leaned into the “cowgirl disco” theme that has become popular.

Where is your favorite place to take photos and why?

Don’t miss the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) . The James Turrell Skyspace alone is worth a visit, and there are always great temporary exhibits. If you’re a Turrell fan, consider checking out the Skyspace at Arizona State University in nearby Tempe as well.

Scottsdale is also home to the first permanent wonders location. It’s an interactive art experience with lots of interesting pieces.

Which tourist attraction should people avoid and what should they do instead?

Hiking Camelback Mountain is a popular activity, but it can also be very strenuous and even dangerous if you are unprepared for the heat and altitude. If you still want to hike without exceeding your limits, I recommend McDowell Sonoran Reserve. It’s much flatter and still very scenic.

Where do you feel most relaxed, calm or happy?

Although hiking Camelback Mountain hasn’t been on the cards for me on my past visits, I’ve achieved peak bliss (no pun intended) relaxing by the Omni’s pool and enjoying the magnificent mountain view. Many hotels and spas in the area offer similar views, so I highly recommend that you schedule some down time to enjoy this scenery.

What scenic spots do you recommend visiting?

If you have the slightest interest in architecture, you must visit Taliesin West. This was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and studio for over 20 years and is one of the most unique and beautiful spaces I have ever seen.

Another scenic experience is to take a hot air balloon ride over the desert. I went for a sunrise ride with Rainbow Rydersand it was such a special experience.

From left to right: SMoCA, Taliesin West and Wonderspaces.

Caroline Bologna/HuffPost

From left to right: SMoCA, Taliesin West and Wonderspaces.

What is the thing that you make sure to take with you if you go and why?

Don’t forget to bring comfortable walking shoes. Even if you don’t plan on hiking, downtown Scottsdale is very walkable, so you’ll want to be able to explore and shop in the area without hurting your feet. Plus, a refillable water bottle is essential for staying hydrated in the desert.

What specific planning tips do you need to know before you go so you don’t get stressed out?

Plan your outfits to create layers. Even in summer there is quite a range of temperatures so you will want to be prepared to cover up in the evening and early morning. I found myself suffocating during the day but shivering at night without a sweater.

What surprised you in Scottsdale on your first visit?

I was skeptical when I read that Arizona had a top notch wine scene, but the local wine was surprisingly good. Although most of the wineries are in the southern part of the state, Scottsdale has a number of great tasting rooms where you can sample their wines. I was a big fan of merkin and LDV Vineyard.

Anything else visitors should know?

Don’t try to create too rigid an itinerary for your trip. Part of the fun of Scottsdale is wandering around neighborhoods like Old Town and Fashion Square and discovering interesting shops, restaurants, and activities that you may not have read about online.

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