Having just come back from my trip to Arizona, I’ve been looking through my photos and reflecting on what a unique area it is. I’m someone who’s always been a beach or city girl so visiting the desert was totally new to me. Billy and I went for his son Skylar’s high school graduation. My parents met us there because my dad travels to Arizona a lot for business. Billy needed to return to Los Angeles after a few days and I stayed on with my parents and did a lot of sightseeing (although there were still so many places I didn’t get to see). My favorites were visiting Jerome (an old mining town with a wild history), shopping in Old Town Scottsdale, and cooling off in The Oasis Water Park with a lazy river and a wave pool. Here are my trip highlights, and if you’re ever in the Phoenix / Scottsdale area, I highly recommend these places.
Where to Stay…
We stayed at The Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in Phoenix which is an all suite (or villa) type resort that’s connected to a water park. Upon check-in we were handed a paper with everything that would be going on during our stay, from yoga, spinning, and pilates classes, to a DJ hosted dance party, and family friendly activities. The resort is so enormous that when we got to our building it took us a little while to locate our rooms. In fact, it seemed like each building had two of its own pools. Once we arrived I fell in love with the layout and decor. I’ve stayed at so many hotels with a dreary dark wood finish, but this one was an oak wood with white cabinetry, and blue accents. It reminded me of a seaside inn even though we were in the desert. One of my favorite things about staying at a resort is the minibar, and this one didn’t disappoint. After my family would go to bed at night, I’d stay up late and eat snacks like Torn Ranch Cashews, Chocolate Covered Almonds, and Gummy Bears.
I’d begin my day by either ordering room service (Multi-Grain Pancakes with Chocolate Chips, or French Toast with Raspberry Cream), or walking over to the Marketplace Cafe for a bagel or a muffin, and then I’d head to one of the pools by my building. I was up and ready before everyone else so I’d layout while reading a book and listening to my poolside playlist. About an hour later we would meet up and walk over to the water park for a fun-filled day in the sun.
When it came to restaurants and bars, there was no shortage of options. The resort has six of them, featuring a vast selection of cuisines spread out throughout the property. I loved Aunt Chilada’s Mexican faire with my favorite dishes being the street corn, the taco salad, and deep fried ice cream. When it came to drinks, this place is known for its Tequila (it has over 50 different kinds) so it was only fitting I tasted a few of them. My favorites were the Ginger Loca (Corralejo Silver, Ginger Infused Agave, Pineapple & Candied Ginger), Aunt Chilada’s Margarita (Patrón Silver, Patrón Citrónage Liqueur & Margarita Lime), and Sangria Rita (Hornitos Blanco, Sangria, Peach Schnapps & Margarita Lime).
We also went to a classic Arizona tourist spot, Rustler’s Roost which sits on top of a mountain. My parents had previously dined here (where my dad tried the rattlesnake). Once inside it reminded me of an old western saloon. The menu features steakhouse entrées but being a vegetarian there was still plenty to choose from. I ordered The Impossible Burger which came with the restaurants award-winning vegetarian chili, and it was delicious. For dessert, I got the Nine Layer Chocolate Cake which I’m still thinking about. The 360 degree view that looks over the city is stunning. In fact, it’s a known spot where tourists head to, to capture the sunset.
I’m hoping during my next trip, I’ll be able to stay at the Arizona Grand again. I want to take advantage of the full-service spa and 20,000 square foot athletic club. I was so busy trying to fit everything in and enjoying my days at the water park, that I didn’t have time to get a massage or facial or use the gym.
Here’s a view of the grounds from a drone.
The living room
The resort lit up at night
Where to Cool Off…
The Oasis Water Park is attached to the resort and it’s considered one of the top water parks in the United States. This seven acre tropical paradise has three water slides for adrenaline junkies, a lazy river that reminded me of Typhoon Lagoon, a 25 person hot tub, and a relaxing warm water wave pool. Spending time here was one of my favorite parts of my trip. I learned that normally temperatures are in the triple digits during the month of June, but luckily during my stay it was around an ideal 80 degrees.
During Memorial Day Weekend, the water park hosted an outside buffet and served up comfort food like mac and cheese, tater tots, french fries, steaks, chicken, lobster, salads, and deserts. For those three days the park was super crowded, but after the holiday weekend ended the crowds thinned out making it a relaxing atmosphere.
While spending time at the water park we would have lunch under an umbrella at The Oasis Bar & Grill. The menu featured a vast selection of poolside favorites like french fries, onion rings, nachos, salads, burgers, hot dogs, ice cream and shakes. I ordered the Veggie Nachos, a Caesar Salad, and a Veggie Burger. For drinks I choose Strawberry Patrón-Rita, and a Grand Bloody Mary. While they were all flavorful, my favorites were the Nachos, and Margarita. They blended so well together and I have to say they were some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
If you’re in Arizona and looking for a place to cool off, you can purchase a resort pass which will allow you access to the water park without staying in the resort.
Cooling off with a Strawberry Margarita
I could live in this wave pool; so relaxing
Another view of the wave pool
Where to Dine…
Billy, my mom and dad, and myself met up with Billy’s mom Terry for dinner at Oregano’s Pizza Bistro in Scottsdale. It was great to see her since I hadn’t since she was in Los Angeles (about two years ago). We began with appetizers where I got the Zucchini Fries, and then for entrées, Billy and me split a mouthwatering thin crust Margherita Pizza. I also sampled my mom’s Mac and Cheese and made a mental note of ordering it next time. Before I left I had already decided that I wouldn’t limit myself with diet restrictions (which I normally go out the window when I’m traveling), so Billy and me split The Original Pizza Cookie—a warm, half-baked chocolate chip cookie inside a 6 inch pizza pan, topped with vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate chips. It was amazing...and so big that others at our table could share.
After spending a day shopping in Old Town Scottsdale, we stopped at Hand Cut Chop House for dinner. My mom and I split the Salt & Vinegar Fries while we waited for our plates. I ordered a Veggie Burger made with a black bean, corn, and zucchini patty. It came with tomatoes, pickled onions, and spouts, and then I requested that cheddar cheese be added. On the side was the house-made, sun-dried tomato mayo spread that blended everything together and melted into the brioche bun. It was so fulfilling and rich that I (almost) didn’t have room for desert. There were a few different options to choose from but since my mom and I were sharing it, we settled on the Salted Caramel Butter Cake, and I’m so glad we did. Words can’t express how unbelievably good it was; the next morning when I woke up it was the first thing that popped into my head. The cake was warm with a smooth caramel and butter taste (not overwhelming but plenty flavorful); on the side came slow-roasted peaches that had a hint of cinnamon to them. It was then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and when it slowly melted into the cake, the taste of the combination was heaven.
One our way back from visiting the town of Jerome, we drove through Sedona to look at the red rock formations. Starving from hardly eating anything all day we were looking to find a restaurant that was upscale and preferably Italian. We choose Dahl & DiLucca Ristorante Italiano for its ambience and 5 star reviews. The restaurant was packed, but we were lucky enough to score a table on the outdoor patio with a view of the mountains. First, bread was placed on the table. Normally I try to avoid it because of the empty calories and it makes me too full to enjoy my meal, but this one was so exquisite I kept reaching for piece after piece. When it came time to order, I chose the Gnocchi alla Vodka and a Pinot Grigio. The pasta was amazing and paired so well with the wine. My mom got the Luscious Lasagna and my dad got the Vitello Saltimbocca (sautéed scaloppini of veal with prosciutto, mozzarella, Marsala wine sauce). Since I don’t eat meat, I can’t comment on their dishes but they both said they enjoyed them.
This Margherita Pizza was delicious!
Believe or not, this was the first time I had deep fried ice cream
The Salted Caramel Butter Cake that I'm still dreaming about
Gnocchi alla Vodka
Where to Shop…
Before I arrived in Arizona, I knew where I wanted to shop and that was in Old Town, Scottsdale. The downtown streets are lined with independent boutiques, old fashion stores, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. It’s also home to a ton of art galleries and studios showcasing Native American, and western themed art, along with some contemporary. Deciding on an area to canvas, my mom and I choose Fifth Avenue, which is known more for it’s kitschy mementos than high fashion. We started at Leela Market where I purchased some cactus jewelry and an Anecdote Candle. Then we stopped in Carmen and I bought a few souvenirs (pins, stickers, and a cactus shot glass candle). Next was Sewell’s Indian Arts where I picked up a geode to add to my growing collection, a beaded bracelet, and Prickly Pear taffy. Since we were planning on going to Jermone the following day I was searching for a dress to wear. Before leaving for Arizona I had bought a few and ended up returning most of them. Down the street from where we were having dinner (at Hand Cut), I noticed an Urban Outfitters so I headed over there. I found a white sundress with a fruit print and bought a circle straw bag to go with it. Growing up in the 90s and being obsessed with that time period, I came across a book called That’s So 90s! A Pop-Cultural Guide To The Raddest Decade and Totally ‘90s Trivia Card Game. I had to get both and instantly thought how fun the card game will be playing it at the beach this summer with my family.
Where to Take Photos…
Heading to Jerome from Phoenix, we went on I-17 N which lead us on a scenic drive through the desert. The two-hour trip took us through Paradise Valley, Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, New River, Black Canyon City, Bumble Bee, Cordes Lakes, Camp Verde, Cottonwood, and Clarkdale. I got to see first-hand what the desert looks like and observe the giant cacti, and mountains alongside the freeway.
About an hour into our ride we stopped at Sunset Point Rest Stop in Black Canyon. The elevation is 3,400 ft with breathtaking views of the valley down below. We also stopped here on our way back to Phoenix and this time I noticed a sign that read “Poisonous snakes and insects inhabit the area”— no thank you! I have a huge fear of spiders and because it was dark, I decided I would wait in the car.
Before you enter the town of Jerome, you make your way up a windy road with twists and turns. This leads to the mountains, where the temperature drops significantly due to the high altitude. Then, you go down the mountain to enter the old mining town. Living in a city that’s loud with sirens, music, and car horns—it felt great to have a day filled with nature and serenity. We took route 89A and stopped at Mingus Mountain in The Prescott National Forest and observed the views of the Verde Valley, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness and the towns of Cottonwood, Clarkdale, and Jerome.
One of my biggest fears...
Where to Take a Day Trip...
We were looking for something to do outside the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. My mom suggested the town of Jerome so we took a day trip there. It’s about 2 hours (100 miles North of Phoenix), and totally worth the drive. I loved being able to travel through the desert and take in the beauty of Arizona.
Jerome is near the top of Cleopatra Hill, between Prescott and Flagstaff and sits more than 5,000 feet above sea level (which makes for spectacular views). Before the Great Depression Jerome was a thriving oil mining town and known for its gold, silver, and copper. Years later in 1967, the town was named a National Historic Landmark which helped turn it into a tourist destination. Filled with art galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars — artists, writers, musicians, and hippies call this colorful place their home. It has a fun atmosphere and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
I kept hearing how the town is “haunted,” especially the Jerome Grand Hotel. Constructed in 1926, as the United Verde Hospital it was recognized as state-of-the-art medical facility. In 1950, after the decline of the mining town the hospital closed and sat idle for 44 years. In 1996 it started operating as a hotel and according to some guests, they experienced odd noises, smells, and shadows, while seeing things roll across the floor, lights getting unplugged, TV sets turning on and off and other strange occurrences. Some have also seen a child run on the 3rd floor, felt the presence of a “spirit cat”, and seen the ghost of Claude Harvey—a man rumored to have been murdered on the grounds.
We started by exploring the New State Motor Building and viewing at the work of local artists. Then we stopped in the little boutiques along the streets to check out the merchandise often created by Jerome residents. One of my favorite shops was the old fashion Rickeldoris Candy & Popcorn Company where I stocked up on sweets. I found out that Maynard James Keenan (vocalist for Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer) owns the winery Caduceus Cellars and Puscifer; a shop that sells band merch, coffee, art, and records. Even though the town is very small, we still didn’t get to see everything it has to offer, so I’d love to visit it again on my next trip to Arizona.
Unique collectables and antiques
Loving all these pretty colors
I had a fantastic time during my trip to Arizona and can’t wait to go back. I arrived home excited to see Billy and felt refreshed. One of my favorite aspects of this vacation was driving back from Sedona/Jerome and seeing how clear the sky was—I could see thousands of stars along with some planets. To me, that was something new. Growing up in Massachusetts, and now living in Los Angeles, I’d never seen anything like it. It made me appreciate even more so the little things in life and while I wish my phone could have captured the beauty (unfortunately it couldn’t); instead I sat back, put my phone away and marveled at the nighttime sky.
Billy and me before Skylars graduation
Arizona mountains and palm trees
Exploring the streets of Jerome
The charming canals in Old Town
My mother and me before dinner
Some of my purchases
With Billy growing up in Arizona, his family being from there, my dad working there, and my mom constantly visiting, I asked them for their recommendations on the best places to eat, shop, and visit. Here they are:
- Top of the Rock Restaurant: world-class cuisine with stunning views.
- Flower Child: fast casual organic dishes made from scratch.
- Original Breakfast House: classic American breakfast dishes with a twist; try the Deep Fried Blackberry French Toast!
- Ramen Hood: best ramen in Scottsdale.
- Different Pointe of View: fine dining with a view of the desert and city below.
- Carlos O’Brien’s: casual Mexican dining with tons of one-of-a-kind entrées.
- La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop: gourmet “Tex-Mex” dishes with authentic Oaxacan cheese, and corn tortillas from imported from Mexico.
- George and Son Asian Cuisine: Chinese dishes inspired by Thailand and Vietnam.
- Wright’s at the Biltmore: fine dining that highlights Arizona’s heritage while paying homage to old and new cuisines.
- Tocaya Organica: fast casual healthy Mexican food.
- The Gelato Spot: sandwiches, salads, pizzas and gelato imported from Northern Italy or made from scratch (with vegan options).
- Little Miss BBQ: classic Texas style BBQ dishes.
- Afternoon Tea at the Biltmore: a variety of teas, pastries, and sandwiches in a luxurious setting.
- Elements at Sanctuary: spectacular views of Camelback Mountain and farm-fresh American cuisine with Asian accents.
- Pizzeria Bianco: “The best pizza in the world.”
- Rockbar Inc.: live music with one of the most popular rooftops in Scottsdale.
- The Well Bar: known as “the best dive bar in Phoenix”.
- Coach House: one of the oldest bars in Scottsdale.
- Wasted Grain: a laid-back vibe playing a variety of music genres.
- Sidecar Social Club: a dark ambiance with friendly bartenders.
- Beverly on Main: old school glamour with creative cocktails.
Things to Do:
- Fiesta Bowl Museum: a perfect place for football fans.
- Heard Museum: showcases the work of Native American artists while celebrating their culture.
- Musical Instrument Museum: “The world’s only global musical instrument museum.”
- Talking Stick Casino: hotel, casino, restaurants, spa, fitness center, four pools, and an outdoor concert area.
- Desert Botanical Garden: explore the trails of the Sonoran Desert while admiring cacti, succulents, wildflowers, and lush trees. PS: during April and May they have a seasonal butterfly exhibit!
- Taliesin West: a guided architectural tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter retreat and studio.
- Chocolate Tour of Scottsdale: learn fun facts about chocolate while you sample the treats on this walking tour.
- iFLY Indoor Skydiving: experience what it feels like to jump out of a plane (indoors).
- 360 Adventures: custom outdoor tour packages: mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, or backpacking.
- Well & Being Spa: a luxurious day spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
- Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art: dedicated to showcasing modern works of art, architecture, and design.
- Old Town Fifth Avenue: cute boutiques, specialty shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
- Scottsdale Fashion Square: a premier shopping experience featuring upscale stores and boutiques. (Indoor / outdoor?)
- Tempe Marketplace: an outdoors shopping mall featuring over 100 shops and restaurants.
- Scottsdale Quarter: a mix of restaurants, shops, and entertainment.
- Antique Trove: over 23,000 square feet, with 140 venders selling a vast selection collectables.
- Arizona Mills: the largest outdoor, climate controlled mall with over 185 stores and the largest IMAX in the state.
- Biltmore Fashion Park: known as the “crown jewel” because of its regal history, this outdoor mall has the states only Saks Fifth Avenue and offers some of the finest shopping in Arizona.
- Pinnacle Peak Park: a moderate hike with amazing views.
- Hole in the Rock: a natural geological formation with cavelike holes.
- South Mountain Park and Preserve: “largest municipal park in the United States, and one of the largest urban parks in North America and in the world.”
- Camelback Mountain: 1,200 feet in elevation that overlooks the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.
- Papago Park: home to the Desert Botanical Garden, Papago Ponds Fishing Lagoon, Park Baseball and Softball Complex, Papago Golf Course, and the Hall of Fame Museum.
Where to Stay:
- Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
- Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale
- Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
- Royal Palms Resort and Spa
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