If you’re like me, a weekend in Scottsdale might surprise you.
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, and that Scottsdale was just where people lived.
Boy, was I SO wrong.
What I found when I arrived in Scottsdale was an eclectic mix of Wild West meets wellness, with lots of other surprises along the way. One of my best friends, who grew up in Scottsdale, showed me around and opened my eyes to this not-so-sleepy city and all my preconceived notions melted away (partly from the heat, but mostly from the fun).
If you’re planning a weekend in Scottsdale for yourself, prepare to have a good (and perhaps wild) time. Here are my recommendations for 2 days (or 36ish hours) in Greater Phoenix’s hippest neighborhood.
Where to Stay in Scottsdale
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. This hotel beams with personality and architectural inspirations from the Sonoran desert, and I found it to be a perfect extension of my whirlwind weekend in Scottsdale.
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!
Colorfully vibrant decor, a pool + bar + lounge area to suit all your photo-worthy afternoon tanning needs, and a location that puts you within an arm’s length of the heart of Old Town Scottsdale checks all the boxes in my book.
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 away from all the bars and restaurants in Scottsdale.
I’ve had many friends stay here and rave about the experience, so it’s high on my list the next time I’m in town. 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 and Drink in Scottsdale
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. Neapolitan 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.
Original ChopShop: A healthy and extremely affordable place to grab breakfast or lunch. Even more perfect if you need a juice or a smoothie to pick you back up after a night out (and you will).
Schmooze: A great place to meet up with people or work the day away. Lots of space, lots of outlets for charging your devices, and their avocado toast + side of potatoes is pretty good!
Cartel Coffee Lab: Great coffee, small shop feel, and friendly people.
Diego Pops: The cutest taco restaurant ever with great drinks and happy hour specials. Do not miss the brussel sprouts nachos (as bizarre as they sound) – they are legendary.
RnR: Not the best brunch food, but definitely a solid local bar if you’re looking for day drinking in the form of a mimosa or a pre-noon beer.
Wine Girl: A new, woman-owned boutique wine tasting room in Scottsdale. This spot is very Instagrammy and popular with birthday parties and bachelorette parties. Don’t miss a photo on the swing!
SumoMaya: A scene of a restaurant, with lively music and well-dressed diners galore. SumoMaya is a tapas-style restaurant known for its mix of Latin American-meets-Asian Fusion cuisine, and let me tell you, it is delish! Be sure to go for their famous bottomless brunch or for dinner and drinks. The dan dan noodles are to die for.
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.
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 on a Weekend in Scottsdale
Find a Classy Day Drink
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 wine, beer, and spirits enthusiasts’ paradise.
Whether you’re hoping to bar hop or spend the day sitting at cocktail lounge like Second Story and 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.
Consider yourself a serious wine connoisseur? Scottsdale even has its very own Wine Trail.
Lounge By the Pool
There’s really nothing like lounging around by a pool 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 through with the restaurants and shops, and laze the afternoon away poolside.
Not staying at a hotel? No problem. Scottsdale also has tons of hotels with day passes for non-guests to enjoy, as well frequent pool parties open to the public at hotspots like the Saguaro, the W Scottsdale, and the Hotel Valley Ho.
Shop Local and Support Indian Artisans
Because of Arizona’s geographic location, history, and proximity to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation, 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. One great place is the Native Art Market, a Native American owned and operated venue for Native Americans to sell their artwork directly to consumers.
In addition to Native American craftsmanship, you can also find local wares that symbolize America’s Wild West. Cowboy boots? Fringe? Cattleman hats? You can find all that and more, no problem.
Walk Down the Waterfront
On my last morning here, we walked down the Waterfront, which is a cute and often lively area filled with more 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. Apparently, events such as this are quite common at the Waterfront, so you never know what you might discover!
Go Shopping in Scottsdale
Scottsdale is known for its boutiques and higher-end shopping scene. Plan to spend some time at Scottsdale Fashion Square, Arizona’s largest mall, and check out the Wonderspaces Arizona exhibit in between your shopping haul!
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).
This botanical garden is a huge property filled with every possible desert plant you could imagine (and many you probably can’t), 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 wonders coupled with an undeniably hip food and drink scene, Scottsdale has all the makings for a perfect weekend getaway.
But don’t take my word for it. Go discover it for yourself!
How are you planning to spend your weekend in Scottsdale? Tell me below!
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