Ahh, Arizona, what a welcome escape from the February frigid I was experiencing in South Carolina. 80 degree temps, sunshine, and no humidity. Now I understand why vacationing in Phoenix during February and March is considered a high season! I decided to to a “Best Of List” for Phoenix to give you a taste of all the fun activities, restaurants, hotels, and adventures. The only problem you’ll have is finding enough time to fit it all in!
My husband and I were in Phoenix for 4 days, and I had them JAM PACKED. So my ratings are based on the fact that we were without kids and getting to do things as a couple. (What a novel idea!)
Disclosure: Although for some of these I received a discounted rate or comped experiences, I promise you that my review of them is totally honest. I would have ranked them on my Best of Phoenix list regardless!
8 Best Things to Do in Phoenix and Scottsdale
Best Outdoor Activity: Hot Air Expeditions
This ranks as my favorite activity we did while in Arizona. It’s also the most uplifting! Hot Air Expeditions is the number on ballooning company in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, and when you take a flight with them, you’ll understand why. Hint: it’s thanks to the fun, friendly staff; highest safety standards; delicious gourmet breakfast; and a one of a kind experience.
Up, up and away! The amazing thing is that it is so calm and peaceful, and there is absolutely no wind. How is that possible? Because you travel WITH the wind. We reached almost 5,000 feet during our hour long flight. Our balloonist Tommy told us that they keep the balloons below 6,000 feet to avoid commercial planes. While airborne, you can see for miles. Try to spot animals like coyote, deer, or roadrunners. It is absolutely breathtaking!
Post flight, tables magically appeared at our landing spot, complete with a delicious breakfast. Catered by Vincent’s on Camelback, an acclaimed local restaurant with French and Southwestern influences, we feasted on Southwestern Vegetable Quiche, warm croissants, cheese, and apple slices. The highlight: champagne and mimosas!
Everyone received certificates commemorating our launch and inducting us into the Ballooning Society with the “Certificate d’Ascension En Machine Aerostatique.” What a bucket list experience!
Best Hotel: Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass
What a welcome respite from the frenetic pace of the outside world. Escape to the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, located on protected tribal lands of the Gila River Indian Community. Two tribes, the Pima and Maricopa, own the land and have an arrangement with Sheraton to manage the resort. Oh, what a partnership it is!
Every little nuance has been thoughtfully impacted by the Indian influences. From the stunning murals in the lobby, the names of the restaurants, spa, and pool, or the references to basketmaking and pottery (the tribe’s chief talents), the “sophistical tribal” theming as I like to call it carries throughout the resort.
Highlights include: a Prickly Pear margarita poolside; spending the afternoon at Aji spa enjoying the spa amenities; and the “gasp out loud” grandeur of the sunsets!
Best Way to Spend a Day Activity: Pink Jeep Tours
Get ready for a “wind in your hair, just don’t care” kind of day with Pink Jeep Tours. We chose the Sonoran Desert tour, and we hit the trails and the waters for some education and relaxation. Our guide, Cory thoroughly entertained and taught us things about the plants, animals, and history of this area known as the second most diverse biosphere in the world.
Did you ever wonder why you never see a sideways or knocked over cactus? It’s because they are aerodynamic! Their shape creates a vortex that repels and then redirects the wind around the cactus.
Our tour included a bag lunch catered by Paradise Bakery and a 90 minute boat tour of Saguaro Lake courtesy of Desert Belle Cruises. Although it lasts approximately 7 hours, you won’t want the adventure to end!
Best Restaurant: Kai
Kai at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass ranks as the best fine dining restaurant experience I’ve ever had. Yes, it reaches that level of praise. The food is sublime, and the service is impeccable.
No surprise that Kai has earned highest accolades as the only restaurant in all of Arizona that has the AAA Five Diamond Award. Also recipient of the Forbes Five-Star Award and ranked as the number 3 in the country on Open Table list of 100 Best Restaurants in America 2015.
Kai, meaning “seed” in the Pima language, pays homage to its Native American roots by incorporating locally farmed ingredients. Dishes tantalize the palate: Grilled Tenderloin of Tribal Buffalo Smoked Corn Puree, Cholla Buds, Chorizo and Scarlet Runner Bean Chile, and Saguaro Blossom Syrup and Bellota Iberico Llomo Wrapped High Country Elk Loin Fossil Creek Chevre Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, Natural Jus & Truffle Emulsion are just two of the offerings.
We would have devoured this chocolate soufflé they gave us for our anniversary if we hadn’t already stuffed ourselves with first plates of trout and lobster and main courses of elk and buffalo.
I loved watching the servers coordinated precision in serving the other tables because they made it look effortless. If you are anywhere near Phoenix or Scottsdale, you MUST make the drive to Chandler to dine at Kai. It’s divine! (Note: recommended for guests over the age of 13.)
Best Museum: Musical Instrument Museum
I was in a musician’s heaven at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). Not surprising that the MIM is rated the number one Phoenix attraction. The museum’s collection includes nearly 16,000 instruments! Of those, roughly 6,500 are on exhibit at a time and from more than 200 countries and territories around the world.
After a while, I started to feel overwhelmed by the number of instruments and likewise amazed at how few I had actually ever heard of before. It is humbling and awe-inspiring all at once!
Highlights of my visit to the MIM included:
The Mechanical Music Gallery: make sure you catch one of the performances of the two-ton Apollonia dance organ.
The Artist Gallery highlighting musicians and groups we all know and love. My daughter would have geeked out seeing Taylor Swift’s piano and dresses on display.
Watching school kids hands on with the instruments in the Experience Gallery.
Stradivarius exhibit (separately ticketed; available through June 5, 2016) showcasing the famous instruments, how they are made, what they sound like, and comparing and contrasting them with other violins. As a girl who grew up playing the violin, I was honored to be up close and personal with this epic instruments.
Best Bar: Bitter and Twisted
Bitter and Twisted sounds like the perfect bar name, doesn’t it? You don’t have to be either to totally dig the cool, funky vibe of this “cocktail parlour.” With a drink list to rival most restaurants, it’s definitely a place to try a signature concoction.
Ask the bartender for recommendations and let them know what you like. They will steer you to the right drinks for sure. I selected the “Lime and the Coconut” which was a combo of agave tequila, house made limoncello, lime juice, and pineapple syrup with a “hat of coconut foam.” It was dang delicious!
Best Nature Activity: Desert Botanical Garden
Let’s be honest: I’m no green thumb. I struggle to keep plants alive at my house. That being said, I made a point of going to see the Desert Botanical Garden, and I am so thankful I did. From the diverse plants to the Saguaro cacti to the red rock formations, I felt a sense of peace while strolling through this massive garden
To maximize what you learn, take one of their daily guided tours. Additionally, docents host Garden Discovery Stations throughout the garden. With 5 distinct trails, you could easily spend all day here! And for a special treat, make sure to visit by May 8, 2016 to enjoy Bruce Munro Sonoran Light exhibit. Incorporating 8 large-scale, light-based installations that are a fusion of materials and glowing fiber optics, this exhibit illuminates the DBG from 6-11 PM and is a special ticketed event.
Best Spa: Alvadora Spa, Royal Palms Resort and Spa
The Royal Palms Resort and Spa has a killer spa, called the Alvadora Spa. Named “Alvadora” as a nod to the Mediterranean belief that the natural environment could rejuvenate the body and spirit with therapeutic qualities, and the start of each day brings an opportunity to naturally improve your well being. I love that there is meaning behind the spa’s name, and the spa really delivers.
I chose the Citrus Ritual, the spa’s signature treatment. Described as a “full body exfoliation and gentle massage followed by a relaxing soak and shower in our indoor-outdoor private patio, and a moisturizing citrus lotion application.”
The spa’s Acqua Dolce Suite has stone walls, side-by-side custom stone heated treatment tables with Vichy showers, an oversized soaking tub, an outdoor Watsu pool (being repaired during my visit), an 8-foot waterfall shower, an outdoor raindrop shower, a private garden patio, and a Italian villa-style fireplace. Sounded like heaven to me! I couldn’t wait to reap the benefits of exfoliation and massage.
Water is the common thread throughout this invigorating treatment. Three Vichy showers constantly cascade water while you are exfoliated with scrub and loofah, followed by a rinse off under the waterfall shower, then soaking your cares away in the soaking tub.
The Citrus Ritual is a truly zen 80 minute experience that forces you to slow down. At first, I thought, there is no way I am going to be able to chill out for 20 minutes in between the exfoliation and the moisturizing sessions. Boy, was I wrong!
Laying on the chaise lounge in front of the roaring fire underneath an abundant orange tree, I was blissed out! The other remarkable thing was the total privacy and tranquility. I was at total peace, which as a mom of two busy kids hardly EVER happens!
Disclosure: Some of these experiences, I received a discounted/media rate or complimentary passes. However, I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in my reviews.
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