Desert Mouse, City Mouse

The two faces of Phoenix/Scottsdale are equally alluring


Here is where it gets challenging. Too many great resorts, shops, and restaurants have created an embarrassment of riches in Phoenix's Camelback Corridor and Scottsdale's urbanized core, and the options can seem overwhelming. These are some of my current favorites

The Stay

Sanctuary Resort the former John Gardiner Tennis Ranch (for those of you old enough to remember), is now an array of modern townhouses and rustic contemporary casitas stacked up the side of Camelback Mountain. The tennis program remains among the area's best, but Sanctuary is now a chic, secluded getaway rising above the urban maelstrom, close to everything yet isolated from it all. Locals pack the award-winning restaurant, elements, to watch the sun set, while the Sunday pool parties with live music bring a bit of the fun in. 5700 McDonald Dr. E., Paradise Valley, 480-948-2100,

The Arizona Biltmore was an exurban desert resort when built (by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright), but it's now one of the rare large resorts within the confines of a major city neighborhood. The appeal is the historic 1929 architecture and proximity to everything. I'd strongly advise staying at Ocatilla, the Biltmore's serene upscale hotel within a hotel. Everything from room décor and amenities to service is of a high standard. 2400 Missouri Ave. E., Phoenix, 602-955-6600,

The Meals

Phoenix/Scottsdale is not one of America's premier food towns, but the food scene has centers of true excellence, largely among food-driven casual concepts and neighborhood bistros. Restaurants are uniformly relaxed and approachable, the food fresh and smart but rarely presented with the seriousness and gravity that typifies the Twin Cities dining scene. Locavore is still an insider term here.

To call it singularly America's best pizza is overstatement, but there's no denying that Pizzeria Bianco is a charming, delicious, and inexpensive stop that has been transformed this year by the addition of lunch hours, which not only tripled the number of customers that could be served but made unnecessary the hours-long waits that diners endured. 623 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-258-8300,

Fox Restaurant Concepts is the D'Amico Partners of Phoenix, pumping out inspired and generally excellent restaurants year after year. Zinburger is one of the best burger concepts I've seen nationwide. It's comfortable, the burgers are superbly beefy and perfectly cooked, and the shakes, fries, and salads are all yummy as well. Biltmore Fashion Park, 2502 Camelback Rd. E., Phoenix, 602-424-9500,

La Grande Orange is what you'd get if you merged Patina with a food-first counter service restaurant–an all-day combination gift boutique-pizzeria-gelateria-bakery-café. Its English muffins and incredible sandwiches are to die for. The me-me-me moneyed crowd can get a bit tedious at times, but there is so much excellence here that the place becomes addicting—I could eat its fried egg and avocado sandwich every morning I'm in town, and often do. 4410 N. 40th St., Phoenix, 602-840-7777,

Citizen Public House, in Scottsdale's Old Town, is a modern gastropub with a terrific New American menu and an extensive drinks program that fits with the current libations zeitgeist. 7111 5th Ave. E., Scottsdale, 480-398-4208,

The Shops

Scottsdale Quarter, a contemporary, high-design district of shops and restaurants, successfully layers an urban street vibe into an area of subdivisions and strip malls. The retail mix is national (West Elm, H&M) with a bit of local. Don't miss lunch at True Food Kitchen (with a menu co-designed by Dr. Andrew Weil), offering a rare seamless integration of great flavors and good intentions. 15279 Scottsdale Rd. N., Scottsdale,

The Cultural Connection

The Heard Museum is Phoenix's cultural epicenter. Globally recognized, it is more than just the nation's preeminent collection of Native American arts and cultural artifacts; it's also a community gathering place of beautiful spaces offering an unparalleled arts and performance schedule, an admired restaurant, and a singular museum shopping experience. Most first-time visitors arrive skeptical and leave enchanted. There's a North Scottsdale satellite location as well. 2301 Central Ave. N., Phoenix, 602-252-8840,

The Event

Baseball spring training in Arizona kicks the pants off Florida's version. There are no long haul city-to-city drives, few rainouts, and you can fit a game in between a round of golf and a nice dinner–try that in Fort Myers' choking traffic. Scottsdale Stadium in downtown Scottsdale is my favorite ballpark, with a great local vibe and tasty ballpark fare–plus, it's walking distance from restaurants and shops. The San Francisco Giants are based here, so odds are you'll see some pretty good ball as well. 7408 Osborn Rd. E., Scottsdale,