The Phoenix area has quietly become a rival to South Florida in attracting visitors from the Northeast who are looking for a respite from cold weather. What I found intriguing about Phoenix is how its diverse lodging properties can truly shape a getaway.
As Queens residents are fully aware, the days of having to travel for the privilege of gambling in a casino are in the past. The executives at the Talking Stick Casino, located in ritzy Scottsdale, realize this as they entice visitors not just with slots and card games, but also with reasonable room rates, Vegas-style entertainment, and very good food. Most casino buffets that I have sampled throughout the country offer quantity at the expense of quality. The Talking Stick’s Wandering Horse Buffet cooks nearly everything from scratch and its $9.95 breakfast can fill you up for the entire day and is very popular with the locals. You can’t help but feel good taking a dip after taking a dip at the Talking Stick’s outdoor pool and relaxing in the hot tub with mighty Red Mountain in the background. The Talking Stick’s sizable collection of southwest Native American artwork and artifacts rivals that of downtown Phoenix’s Heard Museum.
The JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort, located a few miles away on the North Phoenix-Scottsdale border, has everything a vacationer can desire. The Desert Ridge’s Wildfire Golf Club features two championship golf courses that were designed by PGA legends Nick Faldo and Arnold Palmer respectively. The Wildfire is a terrific place to either learn the game or brush up on it as its instructors are certified by the sport’s publishing bible, Golf Digest.
The Desert Ridge Resort will certainly satisfy your epicurean desires. The Tuscany restaurant offers modern Italian cuisine; Roy’s specializes in both seafood and Polynesian dishes; Meritage is a terrific steakhouse that is arguably the Valley of the Sun’s answer to Peter Luger; and finally, the Blue Sage Restaurant offers hearty American fare and its breakfasts are quite popular. Make sure to sample the prickly pear cactus juice.
The Desert Ridge is located a mile away from Phoenix’s newest attraction, the Musical Instrument Museum. Yes, there are guitars from Elvis, Carlos Santana, and Forest Hills’ own Paul Simon on display but what makes this place special is the number of instruments from around the world that are not only on display but visitors are encouraged to play as well including a baby grand piano that came from Steinway’s Queens factory.
Scottsdale was the longtime winter home of arguably the most famous architect in history, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s home, Taliesin West, is now used as a school of architecture and is open to the public.
Make sure to visit the lush green Scottsdale Mall that was inspired by the Washington Mall in D.C. While there is no Capitol or major monuments here, nearly every local civic institution has its office building here. Make sure to stop by the Scottsdale Historical Museum. The admission is free and a highlight is legendary western sculptor Frederic Remington’s famous “Bronco Buster” statue.
The Hermosa Inn, situated in upscale Paradise Valley consists of 34 single-story hacienda-style rooms. Combine the Hermosa’s architecture with the cholla and other cactus that are integral parts of its landscaping and you feel like you are living in the Arizona of Barry Goldwater’s childhood. (2012 incidentally marks the centennial of Arizona being admitted as our 48th state.) The rooms all have canopy beds so it’s best to enjoy the Hermosa Inn with that special someone.
LON’s is the Hermosa’s signature restaurant, and an outdoor dinner under the starry sky is a truly memorable experience. Many of the fruits and vegetables served here are grown on the premises.
Papago Park, which is home to both the highly regarded Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, is a fifteen-minute drive from the Hermosa Inn.
Downtown Phoenix, which was until recently a very sleepy area home to faceless government office buildings, has been transformed by the recently constructed Phoenix Convention Center and by professional sports. Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks play at Chase Field while the NBA’s Phoenix Suns play across the street at the US Airways Center.
The 31-story Sheraton Phoenix Downtown opened a couple of years ago and it has over 1,000 rooms making it Arizona’s largest hotel. With that kind of available occupancy, leisure travelers can get great deals, particularly on weekends. The Sheraton’s main restaurant, District, has become popular for its happy hour. If you want to blend in with the locals, stop by after 5 PM and enjoy sloppy joe sliders, Tepary bean hummus, and a cold glass of white peach sangria.
If you are looking for value, the city of Mesa is to Phoenix what Queens is to Manhattan. Mesa has a lot of terrific Mexican restaurants such as Rancho de Tia Rosa and its hotels have lower rates than almost any other town in the Valley of the Sun. You can easily get to downtown Phoenix by taking its relatively new and inexpensive light rail line. The Mesa Arts Center is greater Phoenix’s answer to Lincoln Center. Mesa is the spring training home to the Chicago Cubs; it’s also located near most of the other stadiums used by other major league teams who spend March in Arizona.
Forest Hills’ own JetBlue offers two daily flights from JFK to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. Not only does JetBlue offer great fares but all of its flights you can watch DIRECTV at your seat. It seemed as if every passenger was cheering on the Giants on my flight back to New York.
For more information call the Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau at (877) CALLPHX or log onto www.visitphoenix.com.