Luxury, Leisure, and Fun in the Valley of the Sun

Fly into Phoenix and then escape into the desert

Cactus at The Boulders in Carefree, Arizona

The Valley of the Sun enjoys abundant days of sunshine and a temperate climate to central Arizona. Encompassing the cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Mesa, this huge outdoor playground spans hundreds of miles across the Sonoran Desert. Offering luxurious accommodations, diverse attractions, and culinary sensations, this is one travel trifecta that should be on everyones bucket list.

Polmelo Restaurant

Ron Stern

If you arrive by plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and have an appetite, then head to The Orchard, a nearby dining oasis set in a local neighborhood. Surrounded by a lush environment with native trees, a splash pad for kids, and two restaurants, this is the place to go for quality food in a relaxed atmosphere. Pomelo, built around a territorial adobe house with a lovely green and softwood interior, is one of the restaurants in this little refuge. Be sure to try their signature French dip sandwich made with prime beef on an in-house sourdough hoagie and topped with provolone.

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

Ron Stern

To begin your luxury exploration of the Greater Phoenix Area, the northern community of Scottsdale is where you will find the AAA Five Diamond Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. For a really indulgent hotel within a hotel experience, book a reservation with Fairmont Gold. Start by checking in at the exclusive Gold Lounge where you will be offered a special Taste of Arizona cocktail. Daily complimentary deluxe continental breakfast, hors-d'oeuvres, and spa admission are also included.

Each of the 69 junior suites is tastefully decorated in a Southwestern-inspired motif with a cream palette, comfortable furnishings, separate large tub and shower, and private balconies.Electrical outlets are conveniently located throughout the suite. Additionally, each Gold Suite comes with an Alexa unit that you can use to play music and ask questions related to hotel services.

The property itself sits on 65 pristinely manicured acres with pathways bordered by green turf grass, native plants, colorful flowers, and shady palm trees. Lagoons dot the landscape, many adorned with water lilies and fountains that turn into flames at night. Kids will be in heaven here as the water is also stocked with a variety of fish, and tackle and bait are available from Ranger Rick.

There are six pools on-site, complete with misters for the hotter, summer days; pool floats; and an attentive wait staff for food and beverages. One of the pools even has a white sand beach --  imported from Florida.

Six restaurants and bars on-site mean that you never have to leave the property. Leading the way is Richard Sandoval’s highly acclaimed La Hacienda. Voted the #1 Mexican Restaurant in Arizona seven years running, it serves modern Mexican fare. If you have trouble choosing from among the 200 tequilas, chat with the resident tequila goddess, Katie Schurr, who considers herself the equivalent of a sommelier for tequila. Schurr is certified by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila and will guide you on the road to a tequila adventure.

The 44,000-square-foot Well and Being Spa is an entire complex dedicated to health and beauty. Float fit yoga, singing bowl therapy, and skin treatments such as their deep cleansing facial using natural remedies are all part of the Fairmont experience.

Located only a couple miles from the Fairmont is a large desert-colored building dedicated to the world of music. The Museum of Musical Instruments has various floors displaying all things melodic. This includes an artist gallery of famous musicians and their instruments; an experience section where you can try out drums, bongos, and guitars; and a mechanical gallery featuring the 25 foot Apollonia organ.

Like its namesake bird that rose from the ashes, the city of Phoenix reinvented itself following the recession and is now buzzing with all sorts of entertainment, eateries, and exciting venues.

For a grand day out, have lunch at the downtown PaLa Kitchen. With fresh, organic ingredients and seafood, the owner uses his wood-fired oven and Mediterranean flavors to create small plates packed with flavor.

Dinner plans should include a restaurant with an unusual name: The Gladly Restaurant and Whiskey Bar. Situated on the ground floor of an office building in Central Phoenix, the name derives from their sincere desire to gladly serve you. The food is amazing with their most popular item being the Original Chopped Salad made with smoked salmon, Israeli couscous, arugula, pumpkin seeds, Asiago cheese, and sweet corn. They mix this tableside and top it off with a buttermilk herb dressing.

No evening would be complete without a concert at the Phoenix Symphony Hall. They have crowd-pleasing performances throughout the year with some of the top musicians in the industry. Recent concerts included the music from Star Wars and Star Trek as well as the work of John Williams.

Citrus part of agritourism

Ron Stern


Heading southeast of Phoenix will bring you to Mesa, Arizona, and the Fresh Foodie Trail. Agritourism has been a staple of this area for decades and includes family farms, roadside stands, and funky eateries.

If you are a barbecue aficionado, then your first stop should be Jalapeño Bucks. This family business started out providing burritos to friends, and later, Duane Burden told his wife, Dianne, “Im gonna build you a restaurant.” A year later, Duane converted a cargo container into a roadside sensation serving burritos, ribs, and mouth-watering brisket and pork sandwiches. People have driven from as far as California to eat here, and the Arizona-style barbecue has lines extending out to the road during peak times.

Joes Farm Grill in Gilbert turned a 1966 family residence into an inside-outside restaurant set on 12 acres of farmland. Most of the organic produce from the farm known as Agritopia is used for the restaurant, whose motto is Common food done uncommonly well. Try their Thai chicken salad— packed with nutrition and fresh taste.

Also located on the property is a small local craftsman community called Barnone, which is housed in Quonset huts constructed from WWII era airplanes. Here, you can sample wines at Garage-East Farm Winery and stroll among 12 other interesting shops.

While you are in Gilbert, stop by Udder Delights for homemade ice cream made from locally-sourced milk with no BHT. The owner, who also owns Superstition Farms, makes his cool creations the old-fashioned way, using only five ingredients for his base. The No. 1 seller is Superstition Farm with chocolate, hazelnut, and Nutella.

Queen Creek is another destination along the Fresh Foodie Trail, and the size of the parking lot at Queen Creek Olive Mill tells you that this is an agritainment hotspot. Situated on 100 acres with 7,000 olive trees, what started out as a small family business has turned into a full-fledged foodie venture. They have a huge farm market with every sort of olive oil, bath and spa products, a restaurant, and tours. Here, even the cupcakes are made with olive oil.

Also located nearby in Queen Creek is The Pork Shop, who has been providing top-quality bacon, sausages, and other pork products to the local community for 39 years. Schnepf Farms features an organic u-pick garden, freshly made pastries, and pies, and festivals held throughout the year. Hayden Flour Mills has been harvesting minimally processed heritage grains and turning them into flour for generations. They offer tours of their milling facility, explaining how your food comes from farm to table.

The Boulders in Carefree

Ron Stern

What better way to end your visit than with another luxurious property? Named The Best Hotel in Arizona by Travel + Leisure and the #1 Best Wellness Resort in the Southeast by Sunset Magazine, The Boulders is a spectacular resort nestled in the town of Carefree. Casitas, villas, and haciendas blend in with the desert terrain among gigantic boulders, saguaro and other cacti, and native trees and flowers. Tranquil and serene, this award-winning resort is where you should come for the ultimate vacation paradise.

Each of the 550-square-foot stone-colored casitas are clean and bright with exposed wood ceiling beams and comfy leather furniture. Full baths, showers, flat screen TVs, and patios are standard.

The Boulders has two championship golf courses and a 33,000 square foot spa with everything you need for mind and body indulgence. Here, you can find everything from a desert rose body treatment to an organic blueberry detox wrap. To combat the dry desert air, try their organic signature facial. This starts with an evaluation of your skin by their aesthetician followed by treatment with a variety of nutrient-dense serums and natural oils to replenish and hydrate your skin.

The fitness center offers Pilates, yoga, body conditioning, and cycling. Or, you can just chill at any of the four swimming pools around the property.

There are several restaurants, lounges, and cafes on-site, most of which have views of the desert landscaping or lush golf courses.

The Spotted Donkey Cantina offers casual Mexican cuisine as well as the double barrel award-winning tequila Herradura. The restaurant’s most popular entrée is their roasted pork tenderloin with green chili bacon atop macaroni and cheese and drizzled with a bourbon ancho chili sauce ($19).

The Valley of The Sun is so much more than most people realize. Here, you can find great restaurants; plush, upscale accommodations; and casual to fine dining restaurants. The people here are as warm as the summer sun, and you will find that the proprietors are eager to serve you and provide you with an exceptional vacation experience.

For more information:

Visit Phoenix

All of the travel expenses, accommodations, meals, and attractions were provided at no cost for this review. All of the opinions are the author's.

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