The Scottsdale-Paradise Valley area in greater Phoenix is having its day in the sun — again.
In the last few years, multimillion-dollar resort renovations that were put on hold in the wake of the Great Recession have been completed, reenergizing the tourism industry and offering travelers nifty new options to stay and play at the northern end of Arizona's Valley of the Sun.
It's hard to top the surrounding setting. The timeless, stark beauty of the Southwestern desert and towering Camelback Mountain are reason enough to visit.
During two recent trips, my husband and I stayed at a couple of resorts, explored several others and sampled the local cuisine. Here's what we discovered.
Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows
“This was essentially a tear-down,” said the front-desk staffer who offered to take us on a tour of the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows on the grounds of the former Cottonwoods resort. “It’s been completely re-imagined.”
Hats off to the imaginative designers: The Andaz’s 34 bungalows, scattered across 23 acres, house 187 guestrooms and are a Midcentury Modern treat for the eyes. The bungalows and suites were stripped down and completely redone during the $75-million overhaul; they have patios or private terraces and oversized bathrooms and showers.
Rooms feature such artsy furnishings as Eero Saarinen-inspired lounge chairs as well as works by artists from the Cattle Track Arts Compound, a local collective of studios that includes potters and blacksmiths.
The completely new main building is open-plan (lobby, restaurant, bar) and pops with designer touches. I particularly liked the whimsical hanging screen constructed from balls of felt. The bar/dining area is a trendy mix of brick, wood and glass and overlooks the pool and Camelback Mountain.
Info: Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows, 6114 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, Ariz.; (480) 368-1234
Mountain Shadows resort opened in 1959 and was a favorite of local bigwigs and Hollywood stars. The new Mountain Shadows pays homage with black-and-white photos and historic postcards from those heady days, but make no mistake: This $60-million project (with a $40-million outlay for condos) is a new offering that replaced the original in 2017.
The Paradise Valley resort takes advantage of its striking Camelback and Mummy mountains backdrop, but note: Not all of the 183 guest rooms have a mountain view. Our second-floor room had a golf course and mountain view if you angled your chair just right on the balcony. The room design is a nod to Midcentury Modernism and featured a glass-enclosed see-through shower.
I particularly liked the huge pool area: A pair of 75-foot pools is connected by an “overwater walkway.” There's a nice fitness center at one end; the other end leads to the bar. Golfers will appreciate the Short Course, a par-3 that won't leave you baking in the desert sun.
Info: Mountain Shadows, 5445 E. Lincoln Drive, Paradise Valley, Ariz.; (855) 485-1417.
It's hard to believe that the Phoenician needed a makeover. After all, when the $300-million over-the-top resort opened in 1988, it looked as though a Saudi prince had dropped a wad on a second home, um, palace: Carrara marble, ceilings etched in 24-karat gold, Steinway pianos, workers from Tonga imported to create a tropical landscape in the desert and more.
The entire resort has been thoroughly redone in the last three years. In 2016, the 60 guestrooms in the Canyon Suites, a boutique hotel within the resort, were redesigned as was its pool area and lobby. Also that year, the Phoenician’s main building was renovated, 557 rooms total.
Most of the public areas got a face-lift in 2017, and 2018 brought a new three-story spa that features a rooftop pool as well as a fresh golf course and athletic club.
It's fun just to wander the Phoenician's sprawling 250 acres at the base of Camelback Mountain, then hang out in the gorgeous lobby. Or head straight to one of the outdoor patios to take in the view and/or a cocktail or two.
Info: The Phoenician, 6000 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, Ariz.; (480) 941-8200
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
When I asked the front-desk receptionist what was new at the resort, she whipped out a map and started marking the ongoing “rolling renovation,” which was “hard to keep up with.”
Tops on her list of favorites was the pool at Sunset Beach, which features a sandy beach (sand in the desert, imagine that), and the relocated and refreshed Copper Canyon, an Old West town that has a pair of saloons, outdoor stage and dance floor, town “jail” and more.
She was so enthusiastic about those that she almost neglected to mention the 102 new Sunset Beach guest rooms surrounding the pool, renovated casitas elsewhere on the grounds, and the just-completed redo of the 69 Fairmont Gold rooms and suites on the other end of the sprawling property. Gold guests get golden treatment in a private lounge serving free breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres.
The Princess has 750 rooms overall on 65 acres overlooking the McDowell Mountains on the northern end of Scottsdale, so you'll have to drive a bit to reach Scottsdale’s Old Town and the arts district.
Info: Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, 7575 E. Princess Drive, Scottsdale, Ariz.; (480) 585-4848
Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch
The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, built in 1976, got a $10-million touch-up in 2015 that included a nicely redone main pool, lobby and public areas, new restaurants and several enhanced guest rooms.
The touch-up is subtle, and the resort retains its solid old-school architectural vibe with heavy wood, stone and tile. Our renovated room in the main building was spacious, quiet and clean but felt somewhat antiquated despite the “new” artwork, furnishings and paint. (Our desk lamp still had a dial-up modem connection in its base.) The marble bathroom and separate vanity were the best features, and the dual closet was a plus.
The resort, surrounded by a golf course, feels pleasantly cut off from the rest of the world, and that's a good thing. If you want flashy, go elsewhere.
Info: Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, 7700 E. McCormick Parkway, Scottsdale, Ariz.; (480) 991-9000
More hotel renovations
These hotels also received a sprucing up:
The historic, artsy Hermosa Inn's casitas got an update, and the bar and patio area were expanded.
The former Scottsdale Inn reopened as Hotel Adeline in 2017 after a multimillion-dollar revamp
The Hotel Valley Ho, a downtown Scottsdale classic built in 1956, redid rooms and suites in the Tower with “midcentury inspired” elements.
Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa upped its game with renovations to its spa casitas and spa suites in 2017, and to the spa itself in 2018.
The Scott Resort & Spa's new owners completed a $15-million renovation in October.
And there's at least one big dog on the way: A 20-acre Ritz-Carlton resort is to open in 2020.
There are scores of solid eateries in the Scottsdale-Paradise Valley area offering a variety of dishes at different price points. Here’s a sampler platter to whet your appetite; the first three are new restaurants at some of the hotels above:
The glass walls at Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen in the Andaz make this a great place to watch the sun set. The Midcentury Modern venue and adjacent lobby feature interesting artwork; in winter, the patio’s fire pits are a welcome option.
Chow down: Breakfast — chilaquiles, blue corn pancakes, lavender croissants and chia seed pudding — was a delight.
Info: (480) 214-4622
Mowry & Cotton opened in the tony Phoenician in 2017. The resort’s more casual-dining option is nevertheless a handsome, stylish space. Picture windows overlooking the resort and pools let in the light, and the bar scene is lively.
Chow down: Smoked brisket, smoked spareribs and buttermilk buns are must-haves.
Info: (480) 423-2530
Hearth ’61, in the Mountain Shadows resort, features a roast of the day — from venison to veggies — from its stone oven. The sleek restaurant has an open kitchen, overlooks the hotel’s pools and offers excellent daytime mountain views.
Chow down: The short rib agnolotti with horseradish crème fraîche and toasted breadcrumbs is a highlight.
Info: (855) 485-1417
And this trio had me at hello:
AZ88 is an eye-popping, art-filled treat with high ceilings and giant glass doors and windows. Its bohemian ambience is fun, and the fabulous bathrooms are worth a visit in themselves. There’s a DJ some nights, and it is open late for night owls.
Chow down: The burgers and sandwiches are great, and the cocktail pours are so generous that our waitress had to do a high-wire balancing act to keep them from spilling.
Info: 7353 Scottsdale Mall; (480) 994-576
Roaring Fork, hidden in an office building, has a laid-back Old West meets Old East Coast steakhouse vibe with lots of wood and stone (plus the random antler chandelier and steer skull). Leave time for a cocktail at the convivial bar.
Chow down: Wood-grilled steaks are a specialty; comfort food dishes (buttermilk fried chicken, braised short ribs and killer mashed potatoes) are equally good.
Info: 4800 N. Scottsdale Road, No. 1700; (480) 947-0795
Rehab Burger Therapy in Old Town Scottsdale is the ideal palate cleanser. Kick back in a relaxed bar setting that looks like a beach shack in the desert: Surfboards and skateboards adorn the walls, and bicycles and more hang from the ceiling.
Chow down: Salads and pastas are on the menu, but the burgers are best with more than a dozen choices ranging from basic to a spicy mac ’n’ cheese concoction.