Northside SF  

The Inquisitive Traveler
Chill out in the warm desert
By Patty Burness


If you’re feeling a little restless, the perfect solution is two hours away. Visit the Arizona desert for a relaxing getaway full of good food, culture and of course, a spa treatment or three. The greater Phoenix area (including Scottsdale) is an oasis of resorts where unwinding is the top priority.

The Jewel of the Desert, the Arizona Biltmore

First stop: The Arizona Biltmore. This “Jewel of the Desert,” as it’s known, is a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design built in 1929 (in collaboration with former student Albert Chase McArthur). The scenic property, nestled at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain Park, is situated on 39 acres with stunning views of Squaw Peak. Even though the hotel is called the playground of the rich and famous and every President since Herbert Hoover has stayed there, don’t worry, you’ll feel right at home at the Ocatilla. This intimate hotel experience within the larger property is named for a secluded camp for architects created by Frank Lloyd Wright. An exclusive lounge serves food and beverages throughout the day. Computers and flat screens abound. Concierge service is spot on. The luxe guest rooms have all the amenities (including French-press coffee) and a private patio opening on a separate pool for Ocatilla guests only.
Dinner was at Frank & Albert’s in the hotel. With its sleek interior, geometric patterns and distinctive lighting, it represents the style of the architects for which it was named. Classic home cooking is kicked up a notch with farm-fresh ingredients and contemporary influences. Try the Desert Flats (flatbreads) with a variety of interesting toppings like mole, shrimp, salmon, and pesto. Or the Coca Cola-roasted pork chops. Eat inside or on the outdoor patio — either way, it’s a culinary treat.


Miles of trails by saguaro cacti in Phoenix Mountain Park

A courtyard at the Heard Museum

We were up early the next morning for a hike to the top of Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountain Park. We got an up-close look at the cacti (saguaro, prickly pear, barrel, and jumping cholla) and native trees (palo verde, creosote and mesquite) as a panoramic view of Phoenix spread out before us. Then a visit to the farmers’ market with its beautiful array of locally grown ingredients and artisan products.

From there it was on to the Heard Museum, one of the world’s greatest collections of indigenous Native American art and culture. The Indian Boarding School exhibit is extraordinarily moving. It depicts the story of children taken from their families and shipped to boarding schools in an attempt to eliminate Indian culture. Opened in the Heard family’s original home, the museum has expanded its gallery space and includes pieces in beautiful outdoor courtyards.

The Phoenix Art Museum was next on our itinerary. The collection includes over 17,000 pieces of American, Asian, contemporary, European, and Latin American art plus a focus on fashion design and a historic collection of miniature interiors. We ate at Arcadia Farms, the museum cafe. The food is as artful and creative as the building in which it’s housed. Local purveyors get top billing and you won’t to miss the warm Brie with caramelized apples and the signature Strawberry Chicken Salad.

After all that activity, we sought peace and tranquility. We found it at the ultimate spa at the InterContinental Montelucia, a new luxury resort in Scottsdale’s Paradise Valley. The hotel’s Spanish influence (color, architecture, decor) comes alive against the magnificent Camelback Mountain. You’ll melt as you indulge at the opulent Joya Spa. Go for the authentic Hammam (bathing ritual), a swim in the rooftop pool, and any of the revitalizing treatments. After all of the pampering, you’ll be ready for dinner at the hotel’s Prado restaurant.


Stunning view at the Intercontinental Montelucia

Start with Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, olive oil, rustic bread, and a margarita. Then try blue prawns or steak grilled over a wood-burning fire (as done in Andalusia, southern Spain). Enjoy the food paired with an Albarino or Rioja as the glow from the setting sun spreads across the desert.
The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa, another Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired property was next. Set against the McDowell Mountains, this Hyatt features a huge water playground and sandy beach. It was alluring, but not enough to divert our attention from Spa Avania. A holistic approach blends personalized treatments with mineral water therapy in an indoor-outdoor oasis. The Aroma Soul Midday Massage is a heavenly way to soothe body and mind. And if the spirit needs a lift after all of the relaxation, try a margarita, salsa, guacamole, and grilled shrimp on the outdoor patio at SWB.

Willow Stream spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale

From there, it was not far to the Fairmont Scottsdale Resort. With another spectacular setting against the McDowell Mountains, this resort has pools, lush grounds and a golf course, but for us, Willow Stream was the draw. The serene setting of this expansive spa draws inspiration from Havasupai Falls, deep inside the Grand Canyon. As you descend into the treatment areas, it’s like going down through the layers of limestone and sandstone in the canyon itself. Sit outside under a waterfall, relax by the rooftop pool, and don’t miss the private misted cabanas. Renewal is an easy process here.

Overnight here was a part of the program, and my plush guest room was oversized and comfortable — blending Southwestern patterns, colors and ambience. But there was little time to kick back before dinner at the hotel’s LV Bistro. The mantra here is fresh American cuisine, and they deliver. Beginning with the garden cocktails (like basil and tomato-infused vodka on the rocks with club soda) to the organic salad greens and a cioppino that uses only sustainable seafood, it’s all fresh and high quality. Save room for dessert “shots” of Arizona rocky road, root beer float and more — no guilt and few calories when you eat just a little.

Dessert shots at the Fairmont Scottsdale’s LV Bistro

When it’s natural scenery, warm weather, and a chance to replenish your mind, body and spirit, head for the Arizona desert. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it feels great.


Getting There
Phoenix, Ariz.: It’s about a two-hour flight from San Francisco to Phoenix.;

Tourist Information:,,

Where to Stay, Eat & Spa
Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa: 2400 East Missouri, Phoenix, 800-950-0086, 602-955-6600,

Rooms from $189. Frank & Albert’s: 602-381-7632,
Desert Flats from $14, Arizona Comfort Food from $18, wines by the glass from $6.

The InterContinental Montelucia Resort:
4949 E. Lincoln Drive, Paradise Valley, 888-627-3010, 480-627-3200,

Joya Spa:

Prado Restaurant:
480-627-3004, Antipasti from $7, secondi from $28, wines by the glass from $9.

Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch:
7500 E. Doubletree Ranch Road, Scottsdale, 480-444-1234,

Spa Avania:
480-483-5558. SWB: Cocktails from $9, appetizers from $7.50.

The Fairmont Scottsdale, 7575 E. Princess Drive, Scottsdale, 866-540-4495, 480-585-2706, Rooms from $329.

Willow Stream Spa,
800-908-9540, 480-585-2732. LV Bistro: 480-585-4848. Cocktails $12, cold fresh starts from $9, entrees from $18, dessert shots $2.50.

Don’t Miss
Phoenix Mountain Park:
Phoenix Farmer’s Market:  721 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602-493-5231,

Heard Museum: 2301 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602-252-8848,
Phoenix Art Museum: 1625 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602-257-1222,
Arcadia Farms (in the Museum): 602-257-2191,
Starters from $7, salads from $9.

Must Try
Super Shuttle: Reservations and information: 800-258-3826, It’s a fast trip to the airport, especially if you’re the last to be picked up.

Lifetime Leather Tote:  $129.50, 800-505-8888, The bag really does get better with age. The doubled handled, zippered tote is secure, durable and always in style.

Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco. Her email is

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