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Freelance Travel Journalist | Travel Writing by Cynthia Dial

A Fresh Look at Phoenix: Arizona's Urban Heart

Nov. 6th, 2013 | Comments 0 | Make a Comment   
The Phoenician at the base of Camelback Mountain
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

As a Southern Californian I’ve visited Phoenix, AZ often, but it wasn’t until my last trip that I discovered even more about this great city. My holiday, like many times in the past, included a stay at The Phoenician, dinner at an eatery and a shopping stroll along Old Scottsdale’s Fifth Avenue—all favorites. However, this time was different because it included not only my tried-and-true, but also new choices which proved worthwhile and memorable. For those who have never been or are looking for ways to change things up, here’s an easy guide to Arizona’s Urban Heart.

Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Phoenix

Things are different in the desert: the sky seems bluer, the mountains sharper and the contrasts greater. Perhaps this best explains how, while Phoenix is the nation’s sixth largest city, it is anything but a hustle-and-bustle kind of town. Its lifestyle is relaxing, its scenery is radiant and its ambiance is reflective of the quiet serenity of the Southwest. You are never far from reminders that the desert lives within the city amidst arid landscapes, scattered cacti and architecture that blends into its surroundings. This region is known for its perpetual sunshine; and though civilization seems a world away, don’t mistake its quaint feel for a lack of sophistication.

 

Phoenix celebrates a plethora of perks: authentic cowboys, panoramic sunsets, fashion-forward shopping, baseball's spring training, championship golf courses and palm-tree lined resorts.

Photo Courtesy of The Phoenician

Accommodations

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the legendary Phoenician hotel located in Scottsdale is as inviting today as it was in its beginnings. The entrance remains lined with palm trees and its greeting is as warm as the day its doors first opened.

 

The resort’s long-time official ambassador James Meeks began his hotel career at the resort’s front gate, but the entrance line became so long with guests wanting to engage in lengthy conversations with him that he was transferred to the lobby. He’s a tall, imposing gentleman with a baritone voice that resonates throughout the luxurious foyer.

Photo Courtesy of The Phoenician

 

The AAA Five-Diamond property’s pleasures are plentiful: three eateries (Il Terrazzo, J&G Steakhouse, Relish Burger Bistro), plus an Ice Cream Parlor and an afternoon Tea Court; 27 holes of golf; 11 tennis courts; nine pools, some with private cabanas; and a full-service spa — all on 250 manicured acres at the base of Camelback Mountain.

 

It is no coincidence that luxury is the resort’s common denominator. In 1985, financier and developer Charles Keating envisioned an Arizona resort reflecting the elegance and sophistication of a fine European hotel. His vision became The Phoenician, complete with a white marble lobby with stone imported from Italy, a ceiling etched in 24-karat gold, 11 rare Steinway pianos scattered throughout and lush tropical landscaping created by island workers from the Kingdom of Tonga.

Photo Courtesy of The Phoenix Symphony

Downtown

Known only as the area’s central business district for years, today’s downtown is home to many sports venues including Chase Field (baseball), US Airways Arena (basketball and arena football), along with an array of businesses like The Phoenix Symphony, hip hotels, trendy eateries, urban residences and a light rail system. Nearby, Gold’s Gym features Cardio Cinema, the opportunity to work out on cardio equipment while watching full-length feature films. And don’t forget Yoga in the Park at Patriots Square, first Friday Art Walk (one of the country’s largest) and the seasonal ice rink.

Photo Courtesy of Hotel Palomar

 

The epicenter seems to be CityScape, the noted hub of dining, nightlife, shopping and business—all within walking distance of the athletic venues. Kimpton’s luxury boutique Hotel Palomar is known for its artistic décor, penchant for pampering and an open-air rooftop pool and bar serving up a 360 degree view of the city. On the hotel’s mezzanine level Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails prides itself on its gastro-lounge concept, the pairing of Chef Stephen Jones’ seasonal creations with artisanal wines, craft cocktails and local brews (tip: sample the Shrimp Toast). The trendy hotel/restaurant celebrated its one-year anniversary with a huge pillow fight.

Photo Courtesy of Heard Museum

Museums

Northeast of Scottsdale is a living memorial to the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. Designed and built by Wright, construction on this sprawling 600-acre complex began in 1937 as his personal winter home, studio and architectural campus. The site offers a broad range of guided public tours, allowing visitors an up-close-and-personal chance to experience Wright’s ingenious ability to integrate indoor and outdoor spaces.

 

Dedicating 130,000 square feet of space to Native American history, Heard Museum showcases artwork, pottery, books, textiles, and jewelry. A standout exhibit is the impressive grouping of Katsina dolls, many from Barry Goldwater’s collection. Furthermore, originally debuted as a temporary exhibit, the now-permanent Boarding School exposition is spellbinding. “No exhibit at the Heard has received such emotional comment as America's untold story of the U.S. government forcibly removing Indian children from their homes and transferring them to militaristic boarding schools,” states the Heard. Visit the Heard Store, where the fine quality of merchandise reflects the experience of Director of Sales Bruce McGee, who spent years working in trading posts. 

Photo Courtesy of The Musical Instrument Museum

 

The latest to Phoenix’s collection of museums is The Musical Instrument Museum from the vision of Robert J. Ulrich, chairman emeritus of Target Corporation. Complete with a 300-seat theater for world-class concerts and an Experience Room where you can play rare instruments from different cultures, what most captures attention is the wireless headset system which allows visitors approaching displays to hear the instruments being played, whether solo or as an ensemble. Among the museum’s prized treasures are John Lennon’s Model Z Steinway on which he composed Imagine, Toby Keith’s American flag guitar and a video of the country star singing Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue to the troops, and Taylor Swift’s red Gibson Les Paul electric guitar with her gold Robert Cavalli dress from the Speak Now World Tour.

Photo Courtesy of El Chorro

 Dining

The iconic eatery El Chorro has a rich regional history in Paradise Valley. Originally built as a girls’ school, the adobe structure was converted to a restaurant and lodge in the 1930s, attracting such celebs as Clark Gable, Milton Berle and David Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright). It was then significantly expanded and extended its hours to year-round (as opposed to closing in summer, which had been the tradition until 1990).

Photo Courtesy of El Chorro

 

Though known for both atmosphere and food, such as flash-fried lobster tails and buffalo burgers, the Valley’s pleasures of the palate go beyond El Chorro Lodge. Beckett’s Table, is commandeered by Chef Justin Beckett who presents a selection of hearty Americana favorites—typically with a fun flair. Think selections such as Deep Fried Deviled Eggs, Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings with Herbed Saffron Cream and Chocolate Dipped Bacon S’mores, and you’ve got a picture of this culinary scene.

 

In mythology a Phoenix is a long-lived bird that repeatedly regenerates itself. And in the Southwest, the city of Phoenix continues to reinvent itself again and again and again.

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