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Travel: Winter Warm-up

by Jeanne Cooper

When winter storms start to appear on weather maps, Scottsdale and the Sonoran Desert in Arizona pop up on the Bay Area’s travel radar, too.

Some schedule their trips around San Francisco Giants games in the Cactus League, currently slated to begin February 26 — Major League Baseball labor negotiations permitting. (The Oakland A’s play in nearby Mesa, with the two Bay Area teams scheduled to square off a couple of times.) Others immerse themselves in the more sybaritic pleasures of the region’s renowned spas and Southwestern cuisine, or simply plan to soak up as much sun amid the saguaros as possible.

Fans of Frank Lloyd Wright and Dale Chihuly have additional inspiration to travel to Arizona this season, thanks to Chihuly in the Desert, a pair of exhibitions on view now through June 19. At Taliesin West, Wright’s desert-inspired residence and architecture school in Scottsdale, a daytime guided walking tour, In a New Light, explores the connections between the iconoclastic architect and the Seattle-based artist, represented by six glass installations at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chihuly Nights, a self-guided, grounds-only evening tour, allows Taliesin West visitors to admire his artworks illuminated against the desert sky.

At Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, numerous large-scale Chihuly installations along the trails complement some 50,000 cacti, trees and flowering plants among the red Papago Buttes in Papago Park, only 4 miles from Old Town Scottsdale. More of Chihuly’s luminous pieces — some never seen before — are on exhibit in the garden’s Dorrance Hall.

In peak snowbird/rainbird season, tour and exhibition tickets (chihulyinthedesert.org) are likely to go fast. And whatever your motivation for a desert idyll, don’t forget to book lodgings soon, too. These three new or notably improved oases merit consideration.

At the Well & Being Spa, the pool epitomizes relaxation.

North Scottsdale

The 65-acre Fairmont Scottsdale Princess ( fairmont.com, from $600) made quite the splash when it opened in 1987 with six heated swimming pools, not to mention clusters of Spanish Colonial– style buildings around plazas and gardens that now boast 750 guest rooms and five restaurants and bars. Renovations that wrapped up in 2019 brought a more modern look to the rooms, including oversized walk-in showers, while a remodel of the signature Princess Pool added cabanas, whirlpools and more expansive views of the McDowell Mountains.

Sisley Spa Paris, an intimate “spa within a spa” at the resort’s 44,000-square-foot Well & Being Spa, debuted last July with six treatment rooms, a private lounge and a boutique offering post-treatment refreshments. Facials and massages feature the essential oils and other plant-sourced products of Sisley-Paris, a family-owned French cosmetics company. Sisley clientele can also indulge in the larger spa’s amenities, among them a waterfall grotto and inviting rooftop pool. Next door, La Hacienda serves impeccable modern Mexican cuisine, including four delectable varieties of guacamole and lobster tacos.

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Old Town Scottsdale

The neighborhood’s newest hotel in more than a decade, Canopy by Hilton Scottsdale Old Town (hilton.com, from $415) stands across from Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Both are worth a visit. Head up to the Outrider Rooftop Lounge atop the seven-story, 177-room hotel for broad vistas of Camelback Mountain, local beers, artisan cocktails and casual fare like roasted Sonoran shrimp tacos and bison sloppy Joe sliders. Hotel guests enjoy access to the equally Instagrammable rooftop pool.
Midcentury modern aficionados will appreciate the Southwestern inflections — including local stone and desert hues — in the hotel’s light-filled lobby, home to Cobre Kitchen + Cocktails. Within a short stroll lie 28 galleries that participate in Scottsdale ArtWalk. The long-running Thursday night event includes Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Don’t miss the latter’s recently opened Light and Legacy: The Art and Techniques of Edward S. Curtis, a major exhibition highlighting the early-20th-century photographer who documented the lives of Native Americans.
The 125-acre JW Marriott includes outdoor amenities aplenty.

Paradise Valley

Opened just over 85 years ago between Camelback and Mummy mountains, the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa (marriott.com, from $499) is commonly known as the Camelback Inn, its name when a certain J. Willard Marriott first vacationed there in the 1940s. It became Marriott Hotels’ first resort when he acquired it in 1967, and his son, Marriott International Executive Chairman Bill Marriott, still makes annual visits to what he dubs his second home.

But despite its entryway slogan, “Where Time Stands Still,” the 125-acre resort, with 36 holes of golf, two heated pools and seven restaurants and bars, has made numerous improvements over the years. Most recent: a $17 million renovation of 453 guest casitas, including seven suites with private pools. Tumbleweed patterns, cracked earth textures and desert tones inspired the new design, which preserved the much-loved log ceiling beams.

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