Nomad’s Land: The Smart Traveler’s Guide to Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona is not a cultural destination on par with Paris or even Pittsburgh, yet for adults of a certain age and disposition it is an inviting place to hang one’s golf cap and Vibram soles when autumnal chill turns into frosty winter woe. At which point nearly all of northwest Canada evacuates south to the greater Phoenix area, alongside domestic second- and third-home owners who divvy up the calendar year according to the season. Must be nice.

Said influx of free-spending snowbirds—combined with Scottsdale’s well-heeled locals—has resulted in a controlled explosion of enough good grub, world-class resorts and championship golf to keep visitors happy for weeks on end, or whenever the old vacation budget comes crashing down. Fret not: Cheap outdoor thrills are in abundance for those of you silly enough to walk (bike, zipline, etc.) without golf clubs in tow. I like birds, but much prefer birdies, and can hunt such game at one of nearly 200 courses in the area.

Bourgeois amenities aside, what most appeals to me about Scottsdale are the stubborn remnants of the not-so-distant Wild West, especially those in now-buzzing Old Town. At the end of the 19th century, saloons from Tombstone to Yuma were filled with miners, gamblers and outlaws, and were succeeded some five decades later by the arrival of modern-day desperadoes like Joe Bonanno and Sammy “the Bull” Gravano. Think 1930s Chicago with 296 days of sun and you have a perfect place to be relocated by the Feds after ratting out your former “associates.” It gives the area a little whiff of Vegas without the garish neon or fake volcanoes.

CHOW NOW: The House Brasserie is in an old converted home, its front patio a classy place to enjoy the house-cured pastrami or Scottish Salmon. Foodies flock to nearby FnB for expertly sourced exotica like French-fried squash blossoms or pasta in a parmesan broth with green garlic. Barrio Queen is higher-end Mexican cuisine—the beyond-tender cochinita pibil kills, as does an upscale take on the Sonoran hot dog. The venerable Don & Charlie’sis a vibrant, sports-themed steakhouse and was authentically old-school long before the category even existed. And the Sunday brunch at Elements—within the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa—is equally noteworthy for its eggs benedict and its bountiful views of the entire Paradise Valley. Bring extra film for the Instamatic.

By David Weiss


(September 21, 2015)