Super Scottsdale: 5 musts if you're going for Super Bowl or any time

  • The McDowell Sonoran Preserve near Scottsdale, Ariz., has a trail for every fitness level. The Gateway Loop is among the easiest.

    The McDowell Sonoran Preserve near Scottsdale, Ariz., has a trail for every fitness level. The Gateway Loop is among the easiest. Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

  • The hot air balloon crew checks the balloon as it is inflated on the desert floor near Scottsdale, Ariz.

    The hot air balloon crew checks the balloon as it is inflated on the desert floor near Scottsdale, Ariz. Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

  • Taliesin West, the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright near Scottsdale, Ariz., is open for tours. The buildings also house his prestigious architecture school.

    Taliesin West, the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright near Scottsdale, Ariz., is open for tours. The buildings also house his prestigious architecture school. Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

 
By Katherine Rodeghier
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted1/11/2015 7:00 AM

Eyes will be on Arizona on Feb. 1, especially local eyes if the Green Bay Packers make it to the 49th Super Bowl, which kicks off in Glendale. But nearby Scottsdale will be party central for fans. And TV cameras will be trained on Scottsdale's Southbridge entertainment area just as they were in 2008 when the big game also came to the Valley of the Sun.

Among the Scottsdale events planned for the 72,000 Super Bowl Fans in the days before the big game are block parties, a food truck caravan, Arizona Indian Festival, The Big Game Art Walk, Taste of the NFL, Fan Fest Scottsdale, and 1st and Ten Kickoff Concert and Party.

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If that were not enough excitement, two other major annual events will be taking place in Scottsdale during Super Bowl week: the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament and the Arizona Sun Circuit Quarter Horse Show.

But even if you aren't heading down for a sporting event, you'll find plenty of reasons to play in this lively resort community year-round.

Five not to miss

Desert experiences

For an unusual perspective of the Sonoran Desert, ride in a hot-air balloon. Hot Air Expeditions picks ups passengers from Scottsdale resorts for sunrise and sunset flights. You'll drive into the desert to watch the balloons unpacked and inflated, then climb into a handcrafted wicker basket to lift off.

Actual flying time is 45 to 60 minutes with an altitude averaging 3,200 feet to 3,400 feet. The chase van meets the balloon at its landing site where the crew sets up breakfast or evening hors d'oeuvres. Of course there's champagne, a hot-air ballooning tradition.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Would you rather have your feet on the ground? Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve covers 27,800 acres along the McDowell Mountains for hiking as well as mountain biking and horseback riding. Hike the 4.5-mile Gateway Loop for views of those giants of the desert, the saguaro cactus.

Shutterbugs who stay at The Boulders Resort can book a Photo Desert Tour with nature photographer Linda Covey. As she leads you on a hike over 12 million-year-old granite boulders, Covey points out desert plants and critters while dispensing insider photo tips.

Admiring architecture

Of all the snowbirds who have wintered in Scottsdale, perhaps the most famous is Frank Lloyd Wright. He bought 640 acres on what were the outskirts of town for his winter home and architectural school, Taliesin West. When he arrived in 1937, Wright set about designing the buildings using quartzite rock he had his apprentices bring down from the surrounding McDowell Mountains. Though he stayed true to his idea that architecture should fit into natural surroundings, using natural materials, he made an exception by putting in a grass lawn to give children a place to play. The white-haired gent could be seen here in a lawn chair gazing out at the desert view.

Visitors have the same view -- though with a few more buildings and power lines -- on tours of this National Historic Landmark. Of the half-dozen tours offered at Taliesin West, the most popular is the 90-minute Insights Tour that includes the Garden Room where he'd entertain guests on the piano. The tour also takes in bedrooms and other private living quarters kept as they were when he died in 1959 at age 91.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For another look at Scottsdale architecture, book one of the Arizona Architecture Tours. A 90-minute tour of the Hotel Valley Ho focuses on its abundance of midcentury architecture and furnishings. Scottsdale's only historically designated hotel was built in 1956 and restored in 2005 in a retro-chic style that may leave you expecting to see Frank Sinatra walk through the lobby with Elvis.

The oldest rooms opened onto a courtyard so the only way to get from room to room without going outside was to turn the panels separating balconies. With flight attendants, baseball players in spring training and Hollywood types as guests, "those swiveling panels could tell some stories," says tour guide and hotel concierge Ace Bailey.

Get pampered, get healthy

You can't travel around the Scottsdale area without stumbling over a spa. This is a place where folks want to look good and feel good and don't hesitate to indulge themselves. All the spas offer the usual treatments, but a couple stand out for the unusual: The Waldorf Astoria Spa has a resident shaman who helps spa guests discover the relationship between the natural and spirit worlds with their own emotional, physical, mental and spiritual life. For meditation, it has an American Indian tepee. Classes in neurobics, brain fitness, are designed to help reduce cognitive loss because of aging.

Wellness is the byword at the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Princess. Its medically guided Well & Being program was introduced a year ago. A medical doctor, nutritionist and integrative medicine practitioner on staff take a holistic approach to healthy living by helping a guest create a customized wellness plan. It might include diagnostic tests, acupuncture, targeted exercises or aromatherapy. Fitness studio spaces are dedicated to tai chi, meditation and seven types of yoga, including an aerial hammock class using suspended cloth slings.

Eat and drink

Scottsdale is a foodie town with more places to eat per capita than Manhattan. Among its 600-plus restaurants, one of the hottest is FnB (think food and beverage) a cozy gastropub that specializes in comfort foods made with organic ingredients from Arizona farms. Even the wine list shines the spotlight on Arizona vintages. While the menu changes with the season, it almost always includes a favorite named by Food & Wine magazine as a top 10 restaurant dish: braised leeks with mozzarella, fried egg and mustard bread crumbs.

While Bourbon Steak serves American Kobe and all-natural Angus beef, one of its most popular dishes comes from the ocean. Lobster potpie has big chunks of lobster, some still in the shell, with vegetables and a cream sauce in a puff pastry the size of a saucepan. Served tableside, the waitstaff does the heavy lifting, opening the steaming dish for you.

Want just a taste of culinary Scottsdale? Arizona Food Tours has combined Scottsdale history and culture with samples at six restaurants or food emporiums. You won't go hungry.

The craft cocktail craze has washed over Scottsdale, especially in its resort bars. Hotel Valley Ho plays up its 1950s Rat Pack theme in its Zuzu lounge where drinks are named for Hollywood stars of the era. Do you fancy yourself a Liz Taylor (tequila, cucumber, cilantro), a Marilyn Monroe (gin, prosecco, grapefruit) or would you rather have a Lucille Balltini (tequila, strawberries, basil)?

Over at the Fairmont Princess, "libation master" Chad Elsner's creations use citrus from the resort's own grove and produce from a local organic farm. His dozen craft cocktails come in three categories: irreverent (twists on a classic), irresponsible (heavy drinks) and impertinent (taking a science and gastronomic approach). Of course, you can pull up a chair by a fire pit in the outdoor Plaza Bar and order a standard cocktail, but be prepared, says Elsner. "We make a Manhattan, but it's not your father's Manhattan."

Lots of shops

Bring an extra suitcase to this mecca for shopping in the Southwest.

Downtown Scottsdale has more than 500 specialty shops, restaurants, bars, galleries and museums in four interconnected districts. Old Town Scottsdale has the Native American handicrafts you expect to find in Arizona along with western-wear shops such as Saba's that's been making handcrafted leather cowboy boots for more than 85 years.

Next door, the four-block Scottsdale Arts District is one of the most concentrated neighborhoods of galleries in the country. Since 1975 it and the adjoining Marshall Way Arts District have been playing host to ArtWalk on Thursday nights. Check out the gallery receptions, artists demos and live music. At some point you'll end up at the Fifth Avenue Arts District with more than 60 shops. You'll know you've found it when you come across sculptor Bob Park's Horse Fountain, a Scottsdale landmark.

Cross the Arizona Canal and its waterfront shops to the biggest shopping destination in the Southwest, Scottsdale Fashion Square. This giant indoor mall has upscale shops such as Prada, Barneys New York, Armani Exchange, Bottega Veneta, Bulgari and Jimmy Choo. An expansion in 2010 brought the total number of businesses to more than 250, including kate spade, Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo.

So leave your football fan to watch the Super Bowl and spend your day in retail therapy.

Information for this article was gathered during a research trip sponsored by the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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