When it’s cold and foggy in San Francisco, I dream of being in the desert sunshine. The desert sunshine for me waits in Arizona. From the magic and mystic of Sedona, to the wide open spaces of Phoenix, and every bit in-between. So, I spent a long weekend visiting Mesa and Phoenix and discovered how incredible Spring is in the Southwest. This weekend getaway in Arizona delivered everything I needed; from delicious paddock-to-plate fare, hiking and yoga in the desert and many more wonderfully unique Arizona experiences.
A Weekend Getaway in Arizona
Getting to Phoenix
I flew directly from San Francisco International Airport into the Phoenix Airport, Phoenix is easily accessible from any direction and the airport is manageable and easy to navigate. Search flights to Phoenix. Depending on your itinerary and plans, I recommend renting a car. Some of my favourite places are on long stretches of desert road and the drive to them is part of the magic.
Where to Stay in Phoenix
Scottsdale, one of the many suburbs of Phoenix, is a beautiful place to stay especially if you book a room at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale. The hotel, set to the backdrop of the McDowell Mountains, is an impeccable example of modern Frank Lloyd Write inspired architecture juxtaposed with the desert flora of cacti, wild flowers, green lawns and palm trees. It is indeed a desert oasis.
My suite, one of 493 rooms, included a luxurious king-size bed, roomy and modern bathroom with rain shower, small sitting area, and a sunny balcony with a view of the property’s lake and palm trees to add privacy and dappled shade. I loved the sunrise light that filtered in and the sound of the Gondolero paddling by at night. It was also the perfect spot to sit and catch my breath each day.
The property boasts ten pools, several of which are for swimming, and it was fun to explore the personality of each. The two main pools sit side-by-side, separated into an adult-only experience with a pool bar and a more family friendly option with wading pools and even a water slide. There is a miniature golf area, a climbing wall and plenty of pool-side beach in the family pool area with plenty to do for each person in the family. From the adult pool you have a beautiful view of the lake that surrounds the property, and just beyond it is a 27-hole championship golf course.
I loved the open-air courtyard joining the pools to the property, with tall palms and plenty of lounging and al fresco dining options. Foodies will not be disappointed with a stay or visit to this property, there are three restaurant experiences available. SWB has a menu full of authentic Southwest flavours, NOH serves Japanese dishes and Alto Ristorante is an Italian restaurant. The Center Stage Bar serves handcrafted cocktails and just beyond it you can catch local musicians almost nightly on stage adding to the cozy ambience of the grand space.
Spa Avania is the spa located on property and it is a sanctuary of its own. I enjoyed a traditional massage and spent the afternoon lounging in the private pool areas complete with hot tub and cold dipping pool as well as a cozy fireplace and sauna. This oasis is tucked away from the main property and feels remote and intimate, it was the perfect spot to catch my breath.
A total treat during my stay was the gondola ride. Professional gondola rowers and singers take guests around the lake a few times each day. I loved my ride and I also loved hearing the singers row past my balcony each night. I also wandered into the Native American Museum located just off the lobby, this museum is a collaboration and labor of love between the Hyatt Regency staff and local tribe members – the spirit of these people can be found here and it was a nice surprise to find their culture and history celebrated and honoured in this way.
Things to do in Phoenix and Mesa
My Arizona itinerary for Mesa and Phoenix revolved around the Five C’s of Arizona: copper, cotton, citrus, cattle, and climate, and it included a few unique Arizona experiences.
A trip to Mesa during spring time must include a visit to Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs spring training camp. I was lucky to catch the Cubs play the Oakland A’s when I visited. This stadium, which opened in 2014, is the largest and newest Major League Baseball training stadium. Fans flock here to watch the Cubs, on average the park hosts more than 15,000 fans per game. And, because it’s the home of the Cubs, many iconic features have been added including Chicago Dogs and Deep-Dish Pizza. I was a happy Midwesterner in my element, and the Cubs won the game.
Schnepf Farms is a must-see if desert glamping and good old-fashion peach picking is on your list. This fourth-generation family owned homestead spans 5,000 acres and is dedicated to preserving the legacy of family farming in the area; it is the largest organic peach grower in Arizona celebrating over 50 years.
The original farm has now expanded to include a complete complex for hosting yearly festivals of all kinds (including the most popular Peach Festival), a family adventure park and the newest addition of glamping in vintage Airstream trailers. Carrie Schnepf has lovingly devoted her time to finding and restoring the four Airstreams, two Spartans and two Silver Streaks, which now make up a unique overnight guest experience on the property called “The Cozy Peach.”
Each trailer is a suite on wheels with a theme of its own and both vintage and modern amenities that make you smile and feel right at home. You can book your very own Airstream for one night or several and find yourself under the stars in the desert with full service attention which is the best of both worlds.
Unique to the Mesa area is Agritopia, a project where rural and urban influences mix. This “urban farm” complex celebrates the rural setting of the desert and all of its abundance while creatively expanding opportunities to share the abundance and experience with a community. The Agritopia community is a tight one, not only does the community include housing and co-op farming, but it also provides opportunities for local business-owners, crafts people, and other partners to share in the ethos of building community and blending organic farming with intentional urban experiences. I loved seeing the new, “urban” projects living in harmony with the 100-year-old trees and how the original family homestead ranch-style, slump block home has been repurposed into a modern 60’s era mid-century diner called Joe’s Farm Grill. This project has been named the leading “agri-hood” in the country by New York Times and the diner has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
Within the Agritopia complex you can find a glass of delicious local wine at Garage East Farm Winery, where Brian Ruffentine will leave you with a lasting impression of his passion for desert wine; he is the owner of this micro-winery showcasing the local wine of wine makers Todd and Kelly Bostock. Garage East Farm Winery is one of 12 resident craft brands that inhabit Barnone, Arizona’s newest Craftsman Community located inside a rustic Quonset hut built with metal from WWII planes that served the nearby Air Force base. This innovative artesian collective is located on the urban agriculture campus and is a must-visit for supporting a variety of local, small brands.
Goat Yoga wasn’t something I ever thought I would have on my list to try, but it was a whimsical experience that proved to be a great reminder to loosen up while connecting with animals. The yoga of this experience is about letting go, and about ahimsa. Sarah Williams, a 20-year old yoga instructor created Arizona Goat Yoga on a whim combining two things she loves: yoga and goats, and it is now a popular activity for both locals and visitors. The experience includes a guided group yoga class outdoors while the goats are free to interact with students if and as they wish, it is impossible to be unhappy or too rigid in your practice while you are sharing it with these happy, gentle creatures.
Hiking in the Sonora Desert
Hiking in the Sonora Desert is a popular activity in Arizona with many, many options for all levels of hikers. I hiked the Usery Mountain Wind Cave Trail one morning during this visit which provides breathtaking views from an elevation of 2,840 feet. The trail is an easy one with a short climb to the top of the tunnel in just a few hours. This park spans 3,648 acres and it is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The key to this hike, and many others, is an early start to avoid the heat, and the reward is an incredible view in all directions of the desert flora and beautiful natural skyline of the valley below.
Horseback Riding in the Desert
Maybe the sixth “C” in Arizona should belong to the cowboys, because many of them call this state home and nothing beats meeting a real one for an authentic Arizona experience. Fort McDowell Adventures provides just that. Horseback riding in the desert, guided by a local cowboy, is a must-do when you visit the area – I felt like I was riding in a postcard the experience was so beautiful. If you’d rather have a more modern experience, the ranch also provides Segway tours. I opted for the old-fashion adventure which included riding Ajax, a sweet old horse and crossing a belly high river along with listening to tales from our guide.
Where to Eat in Arizona
Food in the Southwest is full of flavour, both in taste and in variety. With a focus on local flavours, organic ingredients and farm-to-table concepts, I made my way through this trip discovering the many, many options for delicious dining.
Dine under the stars at Cloth and Flame
There’s something magical about a secret location, under the stars, in the desert, for cocktails and dinner. Find yourself at a Cloth and Flame immersive dining experience next time you visit the Phoenix area. Their events range from intimate events for small groups, to corporate events for hundreds. Our intimate table was set when we arrived and accompanied by a small bar serving handcrafted cocktails with fresh herb garnish. Arriving at the location and walking into the open-air dining experience felt like a fairy tale. Fresh courses of organic and locally sourced ingredients were served by an attentive staff as we watch the sunset sky turn sorbet colours and the nearly full moon and stars take its place. Off in the distance we could see hot air balloons and the surrounding mountain backdrop. The dinner ended with dessert under twinkle lights strung above and around our table; the entire experience was picture perfect and delicious from start to finish.
Mesa’s Fresh Foodie Trail
Both Schnepf Farms and Agritopia are on Mesa’s Fresh Foodie Trail in addition to a dozen other delightful stops if you are interested in a food-driven road trip adventure that will wind you through Mesa and beyond giving you great stops for education and sampling along the way.
Fire & Brimstone located in the Agritopia Barnone building is a delicious stop for dinner with wood-fire selections utilising the fresh, organic ingredients grown on the property. I stopped at B&B Citrus Farms to taste oranges and see how they are sorted and packaged and while I was there I feasted on vegetarian BBQ options at Jalapeno Buck’s the neighbouring feasting spot.
Also on the Fresh Foodie Trail is Queen Creek Olive Mill, Arizona’s only working olive farm and mill. When I think of Arizona I do not think of olives, this was such a nice surprise to find and everything I experienced at Queen Creek Olive Mill was both beautiful and delicious. This family owned and operated 100-acre farm with over 7,000 olive trees is a true farm to table experience and a true family passion.
I was given a private tour of the soap making facility by owner Brenda, her passion for creating beauty products with the oil is now part of the experience at the Olive Spa. I loved the olive oil lip balm so much that I brought one home for each of my sisters – the lavender lip balm is incredible. Visitors can taste a mind-blowing selection of innovative extra virgin olive oils, in addition to balsamic vinegars, stuffed olives, and tapenades.
The café, coffee shop, bakery and ice cream counter are filled with goodness, it was so hard to choose. We enjoyed a spread of sandwiches including their incredibly delicious bruschetta, tasty fresh salads, and yummy cupcakes (definitely try the chocolate olive oil and cupcake made with it). If weather permits definitely sit outside in the open air dining area, the breeze is perfect and you are surrounded by olive trees, it feels almost like Tuscany.
If breakfast is serious business for you then a trip to T.C. Eggington’s Brunchery is in order where they scramble, fry, poach or gently fold into delicious omelettes over 8,000 eggs every week. The sheer magnitude of production I witnessed during my brunch here was dizzying, the place was a buzz and is a popular destination for both visitors and locals. Try their famous French Toast made with fresh-baked cinnamon bread dipped in custard-rich batter – it is to die for.
Two great stops in sweet Gilbert, Arizona just outside of Phoenix are Postino East Wine Bar and Liberty Market. With thirty-six unique, approachable wines and a whole menu of bruschetta to pair with them this is the perfect first course or feast on bruschetta place.
Liberty Market is an urban bistro nearby, housed in a 1930’s building that was once a grocery store. This bistro is Zagat rated and offers a diverse menu of salads, burgers, pasta and the most incredible house-made desserts; is a comfort food haven. Definitely try the Salt River Bar and the Chocolate Death Ray Cake, you’re welcome.
The Farm at South Mountain is a beautiful country oasis providing the quintessential farm to table experience and a break from city life in the desert. I fell in-love with the canopies of pecan trees and the wandering paths darting in and out of small gardens and shady resting spots. There are three restaurants on the property, all of which utilise the abundant gardens daily to create truly farm fresh to table menus. The property is a beautiful backdrop for weddings and picnics, I enjoyed a late-afternoon lunch of veggie sandwiches, salads and homemade cookies at a picnic table under a shade umbrella on one of the lawn areas, it was perfection.
I had one of the best vegetarian burgers of my life at True Food Kitchen in Scottsdale during this trip. This local chain has an open kitchen concept and a menu to delight any vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free eater. The burger is made with seventy ingredients, yes seventy, and it is impeccable. The “scratch bar” is brimming with a selection of wines, local beers and seasonal cocktails made using fresh pressed fruit and vegetable juices and organic spirits – making even the cocktails taste fresh and healthy.
This weekend getaway in Arizona was the perfect foreplay for Summer and the perfect tease into Spring for me; filled with fresh goodness and local surprises as well as quintessential desert favourites that have been happening for years, a visit to the Mesa and Phoenix area is a must if you are craving a desert escape and you want to experience the surprising and stunning Southwest.
Pat Bailey is a certified Bhakti Yoga Teacher, published poet, writer and entrepreneur with a passion for exploring the globe. Pat is also the founder of The Hell Yes Life, where she has created her own branding academy helping to elevate brands and students through authentic and intuitive coaching.