Like a paparazzi’s flashbulb, the gray desert sky lit up, followed several anticipated seconds later by a crackling roar a little too loud for a 5 a.m. wine-and-scotch hangover. For about the dozenth time in the last 24 hours, the heavens broke and rain fell to earth with great velocity. The air hovered around 70 degrees as I sipped my Keurig-made coffee and savored the morning bizzarrities. I would later learn that it had never rained on this date in Scottsdale’s recorded history, which, granted, is a relatively limited amount of time in the big scheme of things.
And while this exotic landscape might seem like a world away from the staid June Gloom of L.A., the truth is that it is a mere five-hour drive (with yours truly behind the wheel, it should be noted). As an itinerant writer, I have for years been preaching the virtues of the weekend getaway (and the weekday getaway, for that matter). Drawing radial lines out from L.A., there are, within a reasonable drive, dozens of oases to be explored. Among those is the Copper State jewel of Scottsdale.
The road trip to Vegas is so well-trod a path that you’re probably familiar with every alien jerky billboard between the giant thermometer and Whisky Pete’s. So why not trek elsewhere this summer? Rates are ridiculously cheap during the heat and there are myriad deals to be had. With that in mind, I set out with my better half and my faithful pooch, Auggie, for a wife-friendly, dog-friendly adventure in my namesake town.
At its heart, this is a resort destination renowned for its golf. With that in mind, I came to experience its links. Perhaps the most beautiful course I’ve ever bogeyed my way through, TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, home of the Phoenix Open, is a golf lover’s paradise. The prickly Sonoran Desert plays the role of antagonist in your epic quest to achieve a red number. Proceed with the knowledge that the mythic 19th hole is none other than Toro — a Latin restaurant/rum bar. And with more than 150 varieties of rum, finding a good Mai Tai is as easy as finding the front bunker on 13 if you don’t club up properly.
Abutting the tricky 4th green turn into the 5th tee box is your stay of choice for this course, the Fairmont Princess. The resort recently wrapped up a $60 million renovation and is currently undergoing a 100-room expansion but you’d never know it — the construction is being done at a far end of the 64-acre property and they’ve stopped booking rooms in the vicinity. Thoughtful, right? Speaking of thoughtful, the staff went to lengths to see that the Augster felt right at home and that the wife didn’t: doggie accoutrement for him; Well & Being Spa treatments and poolside cocktails for her. Hard to say who more thoroughly enjoyed the fine Mexican cuisine at Richard Sandoval’s La Hacienda.
Meanwhile, the ancient sport of golf has undergone a modernization effort in an attempt to woo a younger generation (read: Millennials) of enthusiasts at the Westin Kierland. The resort’s three courses can be played in the traditional manner, or, for the daring, there’s the golf board. What, you ask, is that? Think of it as a cross between a Segway and a skateboard, which also holds your clubs. What you get is land-surfing. It’s almost a shame to put the ball in the middle of the fairway given the joy of cruising around on the board. There’s even a cup holder for your beer, so fear not.
And if you enjoy the surfing experience, the FlowRider, at the Kierland’s Adventure Pool is an ideal way for a Southern Californian to beat the summer heat. And when you’re done hanging ten, there’s a lazy river, water slide and the usual family-friendly resort stuff. Follow a day at the pool with some ceviche and Million Dollar Tacos at Deseo, which specializes in South American-style cuisine and finish your day of getaway with a tasting at the Scotch Library, where a Scotch ambassador will guide you to a libation vacation among more than 200 labels, including a few rare gems.
Oenophiles, too, will find comfort despite a climate that seems terribly inhospitable to the grape. Lawrence Dunham Vineyards produces California-quality estate-grown wines from its 40-acre vineyards high in the Chiricahua Foothills. Dunham has a tasting room and retail shop in downtown Scottsdale, where you can enjoy wines and nibbles on the patio.
Afterward, check out the charm of the pedestrian-friendly shops and restaurants of historic Craftsman Court. And if you want some dine with your wine, hit up FnB, described by Food & Wine Magazine as “the epicenter of creative Arizona cuisine,” where co-owner Pavle Milic keeps a curated collection of AZ wines and other goodies in a charming bodega and where Beard-nominated chef/co-owner Charleen Badman sources local fare for seasonal menus.
Finally, see the desert in a whole new perspective: from above. Capt. Craig Kennedy is a second-generation balloonist and when you take to the skies with him at Hot Air Expeditions, you get more than an insightful tour of the local flora and fauna, you also get a little inspired. When you set down on the desert floor, the crew sets up a breakfast spread topped off with mimosas aplenty. If there’s a better way to start a day, I’m all ears.
A few days in Scottsdale spent poolside, on the links, in the air and at the dining table, and you’ll be right as rain. Here’s hoping you get some of that, too, this summer.
Scott Bridges is an L.A.-based journalist who has worked as a police-beat reporter, a community newspaper editor, and a food and travel writer. He currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to The Huffington Post and Bizjournals.com, among other sites. He is a native Californian who lives on the Westside.
All photos courtesy of Scott Bridges.