Scottsdale Is the Perfect Desert Destination — And Not Just Because Palm Springs Is Packed

A historic mansion, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and Marilyn Monroe’s favorite pool await

February 10, 2023 6:00 am
Exterior of the Arizona Biltmore
Exterior of the Arizona Biltmore
Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort

The Arizona Biltmore is a formidable building. Pure mid-century ethos, both stately and delicate at the same time, it sits a ways back from Camelback road, the main drag connecting Scottsdale and Phoenix. The Biltmore is tucked in on all sides, surrounded by palatial residences and a sprawling golf course, so that by the time you arrive at the hotel itself, it feels like you’re in another, older world.

Built in the late 1920s by the enterprising McArthur brothers — who saw the potential of turning Arizona’s stunning desert landscape into a tourist destination — the Biltmore bears a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence, but was actually designed by Albert Chase McArthur. The two architects infamously fell out after Wright sold McArthur his block design patent for $10,000…except it turned out Wright didn’t own the patent to the design at all. Luckily, none of that bad blood soured the rest of the world on this historic desert oasis, which has been hosting socialites, dignitaries and presidents during the 100 or so years that it’s been standing.

Though the amenities and grounds of the 29-acre estate have been updated since the hotel opened its doors, a pronounced sense of elegance and history remains. That sense of place is one of the many reasons to plan a trip to Scottsdale this winter, as a mass exodus of remote workers to outposts in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs has led to overcrowding in the Coachella Valley. If you’re feeling like Palm Desert has become a little played out, at least for now, then a trip over to the Sonoran Desert might be in the cards. 

The adults-only pool at the Arizona Biltmore
The adults-only pool at the Arizona Biltmore
Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort

Considering Scottsdale was long used as a haven for Hollywood stars and other celebrities looking to escape the paparazzi, it just might work for those who want to avoid “digital nomads” and aspiring influencers who want to turn every pool and plate they see into content. The Biltmore is one of the oldest resorts in Scottsdale, so they took a beat during the pandemic to make some long-awaited updates to their grounds, including a brand new adults-only pool, which serves a full menu of lunch and snacks, alcoholic drinks and some delicious NA cocktails in case you’ve joined the sober-curious movement. 

Other highlights for this truly enormous resort include the fact that adults-only pool aside, there are seven total pools on-site, meaning the children splashing in the Paradise Pool  waterslide never even make their way to the historic Catalina Pool (which was allegedly Marilyn Monroe’s favorite). With two other sit-down restaurants, the more casual McArthur’s (named for the brother who built the place) and the modern Latin flavors at Renata’s Hearth, there’s really no need to leave the property once you’re here. Especially if you venture into the Tierra Luna Spa, where chakra massages and a very zen private garden with plunge pools adds another level of exclusivity to your stay.

Then again, local favorites like Citizen Public House in Old Town Scottsdale are only about a 15-minute drive if you want to go exploring. Other restaurant recommendations include The Mission Old Town, which features chef Matt Carter reinventing his classic French training on cuisine from all over Latin America, or The Americano, an upscale steakhouse where the ribeye is cooked to such perfection it will make you cry — and boozy cocktails in coupe glasses grace almost every table. Just like California, none of Scottsdale’s restaurants demand any sort of strict dress code, so keeping the casual vacation vibes going is welcomed just as much as getting a little fancy.

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Just in case historic hotels aren’t your thing, the area is host to plenty of other resorts, including the almost-brand-new Adero Scottsdale, a new-build property that officially opened its doors in fall 2020. Perched on a cliff with gorgeous mountain views of Four Peaks and the McDowell mountain range, the Adero is also located within the only Dark Sky Zone in the Sonoran Desert. Leaning into the natural beauty that surrounds the hotel, the Adero offers floor-to-ceiling windows almost at every turn, and even supplies select rooms with access to their own telescopes to take full advantage of the night sky.

With two pools to its name, a fully-equipped game room and the on-site restaurant Cielo, the Adero is another place where getting settled on property and staying put for several days would be a great escape. Then again, if you make it all the way out to Arizona, even locals would recommend visiting the historic desert home of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. The pandemic helped usher along a digital tour of the grounds, with an iPhone app and even snippets of Wright’s own observations folded into the recordings. But, if you’re watchful, a lingering guide might be persuaded to give you some juicier, off-the-record tidbits about Wright’s personal life, which included three wives, an affair and a homicidal butler.

Another great tour option is to hit up the hard-working couple behind Joyrides AZ, a golf cart tour operator who will let you design any route or focus you might want, including gelato, happy hour stops or even an art tour — the perfect way to see the sights throughout this historic desert town without fully melting in the heat. As mentioned, the tour company is locally owned by Kirk and Monica Nicodemus, and plenty of tour routes are pre-set, but they’re also customizable if need be. So whether you opt to see Old Town Scottsdale and get an art fix, or simply hang out by the pool all day, the Sonoran Desert is one of those places it’s hard to visit just once.

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