Head to Phoenix’s hip sister city for some R&R—or perhaps some A&A (art and architecture)—in a lively desert cultural hub where Frank Lloyd Wright and others have left their marks on the desert
November and December are the “secret season” in Scottsdale: high-20s weather and lower hotel rates then you’ll find in spring. Wright fanatics will want to stop at the Arizona Biltmore (which is actually in Phoenix), the 1929 desert-sand-block palace that’s one of the famous architect’s few hotel projects. Built by the Wrigley family and the backdrop where Irving Berlin wrote famous tunes like “White Christmas,” the hotel offers history tours three times a week ($10, or free for guests). Besides the Biltmore and the stops below, there are also seven private Wright-designed homes, an auditorium and a church in the greater Phoenix area, some with visitor tours. Wright died in Phoenix in 1959, and his legacy there is still strong.
1. Know where to stay
Andaz Scottsdale Resort & BungalowsThe resort action is in Scottsdale: stay at the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows, a cluster of sexy, low-slung, mid-century modern minimalist buildings. Snag one of the suites with its own walled private patio and outdoor shower, backing onto a poolside cabana. Dine inside the glass cube at the kitchen table at Warp & Weft, where shareable plates like crispy cauliflower and compressed watermelon salad, or mains like honey-brined chicken with enchilada sauce, might tempt you to skip dessert (don’t: you want the dense, dark mango chocolate chile cake). Order a Falling Water or Make it Wright cocktail to stay on-theme.
2. Admire some sharp public art
Scottsdale Public ArtThough designed for the state capitol in the 1950s, the 38-metre Frank Lloyd Wright Spire wasn’t built at the Scottsdale Promenade mall until 2004. It glows cool blue at night, so cruise by the intersection of Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. and Scottsdale Rd. for a look.
Beyond the tower, Scottsdale has an amazing public-art scene of more than 70 works: a fun way to see some of them (including a mega-version of Robert Indiana’s famed LOVE sculpture) is via a JoyRides AZ golf-cart tour of downtown. The stunning must-see piece: a rare James Turrell Skyspace, “Knight Rise,” at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA, in the parlance of locals): a meditative way to pass the golden hour at dusk, watching the space reframe the changing sky. Every Thursday night, an Art Walk of Old Town Scottsdale gives you an excuse to take in galleries, shops and epic artworks like the bright-white “One-Eyed Jack” bunny (at the corner of E Indian School Road and N Marshall Way, in front of Blue Clover Distillery).
3. Be inspired by local architecture
Facebook/ Frank Lloyd Wright FoundationThe local Postino group of restaurants are all located in revitalized architectural landmarks (the first was, of course, a post office). The funky Scottsdale outpost, a bank originally designed by FLW disciple Frank Henry, is surrounded by concrete pillars that show obvious Wright influence. Snack on bites like a board of seasonal bruschetta or kale and Brussels salad under the glow of a “Weird is Rad” golden neon sign and a quirky wall of matchbooks donated by nomadic patrons.
The real Wright mecca, however, is Taliesin West, the Scottsdale architectural school that FLW carved out of the desert in the 1930s, which was recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage SIte. Incorporating stones and sand from the site, as well as a spicy dose of his signature Cherokee Red, the campus is considered one of Wright’s masterpieces. Still a functioning architecture school, Taliesin hosts students who build and live in their own shelters as part of their learning experience: take the essential guided tour of the property, and stay for one of the grounds.
Next, see some next-level organic desert architecture at Cosanti, the former studio and residence of Wright disciple Paolo Soleri, who relocated from Italy in the 1930s to study with Wright. Inspired by Wright to use desert sand in earth to build architecture that seemed like part of the landscape, Soleri created the language of “arcology,” with forms that are curvy and skeletal, and graced all over by his famous bronze bells (time your visit correctly, and you can watch the liquid metal being poured daily). If you find Cosanti groovy, find the time to drive just over an hour north to Arcosanti, the futuristic, partially built desert hub that Soleri disciples continue to build and evolve to this day; watch for public workshops and performances there. Or just walk the striking metal Soleri Bridge in Old Town Scottsdale, a pedestrian bridge that the visionary architect calibrated to be a solar calendar, where light and shadows precisely align at the two annual equinoxes.
4. Feel the influence
Facebook/ Hotel Valley HoYou might glance at the circa-1956 Hotel Valley Ho and from its sculpted concrete fins, low angular buildings and bright modern colour scheme think it’s Wright stuff: it’s the work of one of his apprentices, Edward L Varney. It’s one of the best-preserved mid-century Modern hotels in the U.S., and even non-guests can take an architectural and history tour to learn about all the Hollywood stars, politicians and other celebs who colonized it, then and now. (The hotel also offers a mid-century architecture tour that gets you into the Wright-designed Price House and other landmarks.) The other reason to visit are the towering Show Stopper Shakes (flavours change monthly) at the hip Zuzu restaurant. A creamy milkshake that could be topped with anything from doughnuts to cookies to pastries is enough for a table to share (and ’Gram).