36 Hours in Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona
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It’s funny how when people ask you where in the world you’d like to travel, more often than not, we choose someplace on the opposite end of the earth. Suffice it to say, it’s easy to just blatantly forget about the destinations that are closest to us when it comes to planning out trips.
For me, this is absolutely true. In fact, I didn’t even really start appreciating all that there was to see and do in California until the past few years. What’s worse? There are some beaches and hikes I didn’t discover in Hawaii (my freaking home state) until after I left for college and started coming back during holiday breaks as a “tourist”! I had a bad rap for being blind to what was right in front of me. But “new” me is setting out to change all of that, and the latest installment of my quest to see it all–near and far–takes us to Scottsdale, Arizona, a one-hour flight (or six-hour drive) from Los Angeles.
Now, you may not immediately think of Scottsdale when you think of iconic places in the US. I definitely didn’t. In fact, I had always assumed that Scottsdale was sort of just some boring desert suburb with a T.J.Maxx, a couple Walmarts, and the occasional outlet mall sitting just outside of Phoenix. I thought that “downtown Phoenix” is where all the action would be. I was so, so wrong. Fortunately, one of my best friends, who lives in Scottsdale, was there to open my eyes to everything this not-so-sleepy Arizona town had to offer. I only had just under 36 hours in Scottsdale, but there’s so much that can be done!
Where to Stay
If you only have a weekend or one night in Scottsdale, you’ll want to stay where the action is, and the Saguaro is pretty much as close as it gets. Nestled right smack in the heart of old town Scottsdale, the Saguaro is a color-lover’s dream come true. Originally, I had planned to spend the entire weekend posted up in my friend’s house, but she had different plans. As soon as I landed in Phoenix, she surprised me with a fun girls’ weekend that she booked at the Saguaro, and I was beyond ecstatic, to say the least! This hotel is renowned for its fun and festivaly vibe in Palm Springs, so I was literally beside myself to know we’d be staying at the second location here in Scottsdale.
Colorfully vibrant decor, a pool + bar + lounge area to suit all your photo-worthy afternoon-spent-tanning needs, and a location that puts you within an arm’s length of the heart of old town checks all the boxes in my book. Just note that the walls aren’t the most soundproof, so you can hear when neighbors are opening/closing their doors in the mornings if you’re trying to sleep in. That was my only gripe for an otherwise very hip hotel.
The Sanctuary Resort at Camelback Mountain
Though I didn’t stay at the Sanctuary Resort, I’ve heard nothing but good things about this desert oasis nestled just a short drive from all the bars and restaurants in Scottsdale. In addition to having a few friends who’ve stayed here, to my surprise, one of my favorite bloggers Lisa Linh recently wrote a dedicated post about it, and believe me when I say her photos of the resort are to die for. If you want to stay close to, but not directly in, the downtown area, and you have a little more cash to spend, the Sanctuary seems like the place to be.
Where to Eat + Drink
Cien Agave’s: My friend dubs this place “the best margarita” in Scottsdale, and I really can’t argue with that.
Grimaldi's Pizzeria: I know this is a chain, so it's not "unique" to Scottsdale per se, but it was my first time experiencing it. Neopolitan pizza so thin, deliciously seasoned, and perfectly foldable that I couldn’t help myself. We took home leftovers to share, and after my friend fell asleep, I ate everything. Her slice and mine.
RnR: Not the best brunch food, but definitely a must if you’re looking for day drinking in the form of a mimosa or a pre-noon beer.
Entertainment District: An entire city block filled with bar after bar after giant, jam-packed, overwhelming bar. These are the kind of sweaty places that you really have to be in the mood to dance around in a crowded space for, but that will still somehow inspire you to keep moving and grooving the night away anyhow.
My friend dubs this area the "Vortex," because you can't just go to one bar–you get sucked into them all somehow, in some way, and you don't leave until last call. On Saturday night, we went to The District, which was one of the places in the area that was absolutely packed.
We also went to Whiskey Row, another packed bar slash country club that was absolutely buzzing until last call. I’m not one for country clubs, but something about being in a country club in Scottsdale just felt necessary. We closed out our night here lost amongst the crowd and the DJ set that alternated between top 40 and country hits. And as wild as it sounds, I have to say – it was a blast.
What to Do
Obviously, you can be as classy or as not-so-classy as you want here, but it seems like old town Scottsdale was really set up to be a day drinker’s paradise. Whether you’re hoping to bar hop or spend the day sitting at a rooftop cocktail lounge people-watching with your friends, the town’s walkability and abundance of good places to grab a drink are really the perfect equation no matter how you slice it. In addition to the places I mentioned above, Second Story, Craft 64, and any of the town’s many wineries came highly recommended, even though I didn’t get to personally check them out myself.
Lounge By the Pool
There’s really nothing like lounging around in the desert. Something about the dry, crisp air and unrelenting sunshine that really makes you want to lay out and do a whole lot of nothing. And, if you’re staying at a hotel downtown like we did, you can just walk back to your hotel after you’re over the restaurants and shops, and laze the afternoon away poolside. Which is exactly what we did after a morning of mimosas and sightseeing.
Shop for Souvenirs
Because of Arizona’s geographic location, history, and proximity to Indian reservations, the abundance of Indian craftsmanship is everywhere you look. My friend recommended that I not leave Arizona without a turquoise ring, so that’s exactly what I got. In addition to all things turquoise, you can also find lots of places to buy Native American-inspired home decor, jewelry, and clothing. Besides that, if you want your own pair of cowboy boots because Stagecoach is coming up, there’s shops for that, too.
Walk Down the Waterfront
On my last morning here, we walked down the Waterfront, which is a cute little area filled with people, shops, and restaurants. When we went, there was a vegan food festival in town, and the sidewalks were packed with food vendors, music, and entertainment–all not-too-uncommon to be found at the Waterfront on any given day.
Visit the Desert Botanical Garden
The Sonoran Desert is a ridiculously diverse desert ecosystem, so you can’t leave Scottsdale without getting a quintessential taste of all things cacti. That’s why the Desert Botanical Garden makes for a perfect last stop (especially since it’s located only 10 minutes away from the airport). The Botanical Garden is a huge property filled with every possible desert plant you could possibly imagine, along with butterfly and bee enclosures, art installations, and educational nuggets about wildlife preservation you get to learn along the way.
For a little taste of western desert charm coupled with an undeniably classy food and drink scene, Scottsdale has all the makings for a perfect weekend getaway. But don’t take my word for it. Go see what Scottsdale has to offer for yourself. I promise, it’s much more than T.J.Maxx, Walmart, and an outlet mall.
Have you ever been to Scottsdale? Tell me below!