Desert Flower in Bloom: Where to Travel in Arizona This Spring

4:50 PM 5/1/2018

by Rebecca Kleinman

Beyond its notoriously high temperatures, Arizona is heating up for its hospitality, culture and natural beauty.

Arizona Story - Mountain Shadows - The Short Course - EMBED 2018
Courtesy of Dave Sansom Photography

Mountain Shadows

Long before Harvey Weinstein fled Tinseltown for Arizona, the saguaro-spotted state already was gaining visibility among high-end travelers. Its raw natural beauty and frontier spirit were certainly on the minds of Proenza Schouler designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, who named their first fragrance Arizona. Their road trips in the state inspired its white cactus flower note and artistic bottle sculpted like a slot canyon.

There's also something to be said for the population explosion as more people are moving to Phoenix's Maricopa County than any other county in the U.S. Locals joke the sprawling suburbs of strip malls are really just an extension of Los Angeles. Here are some better reasons for Angelenos to hop over for a semi-staycation.

  • Mountain Shadows

    Mountain Shadows, a Fifties-era Hollywood hideout in Paradise Valley, was totally rebuilt to the tune of $100 million. Breeze block, an 18-hole, par 3 golf course and photos of Bob Hope and Lucille Ball are among the old school vestiges at the 183-room boutique hotel. (Reserve the Garden category for high ceilings and desert patios, or the Camelback suite for dead-on views of its namesake natural wonder).

    The moniker for the onsite restaurant, Hearth ’61, combines its signature cooking technique and the town’s birth year. In addition to mains like Southeast Asian-style chicken from Two Wash Ranch, its menu’s “roast of the day” rotates from venison to veggies.

    The fitness center passes the test with flying colors according to a West Hollywood gym bunny, while a local gallerist curates the lobby’s artworks for sale. Guests who really feel at home can purchase from the pool of 42 fully furnished resort condos next door. 5445 East Lincoln Drive; (480) 624-5400;

  • Roland’s Café Market Bar

    Chris Bianco, the state’s most celebrated creative for Italian cuisine, is making Mexican. The chef-owner of Pizzeria Bianco, Pane Bianco and Tratto, who counts Jimmy Kimmel among his fans-turned-friends, teamed up with the cute couple behind Taco Chiwas for Roland’s Café Market Bar in downtown Phoenix.

    The trio’s affordable lunch menu has traces of Bianco, such as a citrus salad, craveable bread for sandwiches—even if they’re stuffed with pollo asado and carnitas—and mortadella, which also surprises in a quesadilla. But mostly it’s about simple street tacos and burritos like a gut buster of Niman Ranch pork, chile Colorado and refried beans. Dinner debuts soon, and hold on to your tortilla: Pizzeria Bianco’s L.A. expansion is due by summer’s end. 1505 East Van Buren Street; (602) 441-4749;   


  • Phoenix Art Museum

    Phoenix Art Museum is the last U.S. stop for “Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion.” The Dutch designer’s 3-D printed fashions have been on a multi-city tour through a collaboration by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands. Along with 45 ensembles and Kiss-level footwear dating from 2008 to 2015, PAM’s iteration adds a futuristic, flesh-colored dress from 2014’s Biopiracy collection. The acquisition commemorates the Arizona Costume Institute’s 50th anniversary. Catch the exhibition by May 13, before it heads to Toronto. 1625 North Central Avenue; (602) 257-1880;

  • The Royal Palms

    Resorts statewide are in makeover mode. The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain reopens in fall, but the Phoenician, Little America, Hermosa Inn and Royal Palms recently completed renovations.

    Now part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection, the 119-room Royal Palms celebrates 70 years of hospitality after transitioning from a mogul’s estate to an inn and spa. The presidential suite truly lives up to its name, having hosted four U.S. presidents, and other celebrities from Katy Perry to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, have sought the property’s privacy.

    Its Hollywood history stretches far back. Groucho Marx, Howard Hughes and at least one Gabor sister have slept in its Mediterranean-Revival casitas, and Frank Sinatra crooned in the current home of T. Cook’s restaurant. Gavin DeGraw, Alessia Cara and LANY have all performed at the Royal Palms.

    The Mix Up Bar’s prickly penicillin cures most ailments, especially with a heaping bowl of truffled popcorn. Tireless hummingbirds dive-bomb flowers in the labyrinth of garden rooms, where, ironically, a lone royal palm has held on through the years. 5200 East Camelback Road; 602.283.1234;

  • Stateside Presents Concerts

    Thanks to Stateside Presents, Arizona is a haven for live music. The concert promotion powerhouse also owns three venues in Phoenix: the Van Buren, Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar (sized Papa, Mama and Baby Bear, respectively).

    Instead of fighting crowds and sold-out shows back home, it’s well worth the short flight for a relaxing experience with great food from I-10 nachos to bbq jackfruit sliders. The Van Buren, the latest location in a historic, former Buick and Chevrolet dealership, features original wood beams and exposed brick. Franz Ferdinand, Phantogram and the Yardbirds perform in spring. 401 West Van Buren Street;;

  • Starlite BBQ

    After cooking for Malibu’s Calamigos Ranch to chef’s chef Gunter Seeger, Walter Sterling shows some love for his hometown of Phoenix. The chef-owner still keeps one foot in Venice Beach and commutes for Ocotillo, his farm-to-table eatery with a Southwestern slant here. Alicia Keys, Dierks Bentley and Craig Robinson have come in, while the Los Angeles Lakers like having their meals delivered straight to the locker room or jet after playing the Phoenix Suns.

    For his brand-new Starlite BBQ in Scottsdale, Sterling convinced Brad Twigg, a former mixologist at the Roger Room in West Hollywood, to brave the desert heat as a partner. Twigg stays cool on 100+degree days with Whiskey River, his cocktail recipe with spicy watermelon juice. Pair it with brisket and ribs, along with more unusual, decadent dishes like meatloaf, smoked over pecan and mesquite woods. Take that Texas. 7620 East Indian School Road; 480.553.9330;

  • Pine Canyon

    Spare everyone the family truckster saga à la the Griswolds and fly to the Grand Canyon. American Airlines reinstates its seasonal, nonstop flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Flagstaff in early May. A second nonstop to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport launches in June.

    Avoid any moldy tents, too, by staying in new rental cabins at Pine Canyon, a luxury golf community in Flagstaff. The only catch is guests are required to take a property tour through its Discovery Visit program arranged by the onsite real estate sales team. 1201 East John Wesley Powell Boulevard; 928.779.5700; Rates starting at $1,050 for two-night packages.