Desert Mouse, City Mouse

The two faces of Phoenix/Scottsdale are equally alluring

The most important decision one needs to make in planning a winter escape to greater Phoenix revolves around desert or city, and it’s purely a matter of taste. There are great comforts and few sacrifices to be had either way—you’ll find dry, clear air, delicious meals, golf, tennis, a massage, and copious pool time. But it’s on the margins where you need to choose.

Do you want an urbane holiday that includes serious shopping, fun dining, one of the nation’s premier cultural attractions, and baseball spring training in March? Or do you want to see the stars from a desert aerie, ride horses, gaze out at saguaro cacti and rock formations, and content yourself to a week without Starbucks and OpenTable?

Luckily, there’s no wrong answer.


The epicenter of the desert resort experience is in north Scottsdale, home to an incredible array of luxury residences and golf courses. In this neck of the woods, everything revolves around your resort, so choose carefully. My picks are the Four Seasons Scottsdale and the legendary Boulders resort. I’d select the former for folks who want to slip into the urban mix now and then, as it’s a fair measure closer to the center of the action. The Boulders is a true immersion resort getaway, not built for dinners in town and shopping excursions.

The Stay

The Four Seasons Scottsdale is a compact landscape of beautifully detailed desert casitas ringing a comfortable main lodge and lovely pool, all at the foot of Pinnacle Peak. The setting is quite stunning, as suburbia goes. The resort is adjacent to one of the top golf courses in the nation, and many of the guests arrive with golf in mind. Service is Four Seasons exhaustive, the facilities are beautifully kept, and a weekend here is glorious. Still, this is a modest resort, not grand or majestic like some Four Seasons properties, and it may strike some as an unsatisfactory compromise between a grand resort and an urban experience. 10600 Crescent Moon Dr. E., Scottsdale, 480-515-5700,
The Boulders, on the other hand, makes an impact. Isolated and architecturally striking, The Boulders was long the luxury leader among the region’s desert resorts, but it stands out now for the advantages of its size (1,300 acres) and setting. This is a grand resort in the true sense of the word: It’s spacious, with every activity one could imagine, from geology walks exploring the massive rocks that give the resort its name to photography excursions, tennis, two golf courses amid the boulders, rock climbing, and a Golden Door signature spa. There is even a small resort-run shopping nook with galleries, boutiques, and dining options. Lodging is comfortable but not opulent or over the top. 34631 Tom Darlington Dr. N., Carefree, 480-488-9009,

The Meal

Binkley’s (and its casual sister down the road, Café Bink) is the domain of Kevin Binkley, a nationally accomplished chef making art of seasonal, predominantly local fare in this isolated stretch of exurbia. Binkley’s is arguably the best restaurant in the entire Phoenix region, one of the rare places that eschews populist sensibilities in favor of a chef’s focused vision. Seek out Café Bink if you’re in the mood for a more informal experience. 6920 Cave Creek Rd. E., Cave Creek, binkleysrestaurant.
com; 36889 Tom Darlington Dr. N., Carefree, 480-488-9796,

The Cultural Connection

Taliesin West, the winter home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, always offers new insight, even for repeat visitors, who should investigate the calendar of winter arts and cultural offerings—from musical performances and lectures to art exhibits. This is an inspiring place to reconsider Wright’s principles of organic architecture and harmonious living. 12621 Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. N., North Scottsdale, 480-627-5340,