by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
Weekends aren't just for roadtrips anymore. So instead of packing your bags and heading somewhere familiar, try the unfamiliar. Just over two hours by plane will deliver you to the sun-soaked, precious little city of Scottsdale. Adjacent to both Phoenix and Tempe, this Southwestern escape promises year-'round warm temperatures and convenient excursions such as the Grand Canyon, aside from knockout Tex-Mex cuisine, an emerging arts scene, and resorts embedded in lush desert settings. Downtown Scottsdale, an easy 10-minute drive or cab ride from Sky Harbor International Airport, is a great spot to anchor your weekend getaway because you can walk to dozens of restaurants, bars, art galleries, local markets, and even to city hall. Scottsdale has one Gay bar, the longstanding BS West (www.bswest.com), that is centrally located, otherwise you'll have to journey to Phoenix to get your party on. Visit either www.scottsdalecvb.com/scottsdale/glbt or www.scottsdaledowntown.com to plan your trip. Here's how I recommend spending a sun-cation in Scottsdale.
Hotel Valley Ho
Smack dab in the heart of Scottsdale is the nostalgic Hotel Valley Ho, a retro chic property within walking distance of city shopping and active nightlife. It opened its doors in 1956 and became an instant hit with Hollywood's elite, such as Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood (who held a private wedding reception on the premises), Zsa Zsa Gabor (who rode horses around the hotel with her daughter Jessica), and even Tinseltown's leading men, from Bing Crosby to Tony Curtis. These days, Hotel Valley Ho remains an A-list magnet with a list of recent guests that includes Jessica Lange, Ryan Reynolds, Katy Perry, Elizabeth Olsen, Hugh Jackman, Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, Giovanni Ribisi, rock bands Vampire Weekend and 311, NFL star Matt Leinart, and Broadway divas Bebe Neuwirth, Chita Rivera, and Christine Baranski. Want more? Luke Wilson, Eddie Van Halen, Melissa Gilbert, Aaron Carter, Gabrielle Union, Kal Penn, Joan Allen, and Flo Rida are a few other celebrities who have stayed and played here.
Of the 235 rooms at Hotel Valley Ho, 193 are in the main complex and 42 in a separate building called The Tower. Rooms are generous in size, contemporary in décor, and come with the expected amenities - 32-inch flatscreen TVs, firm beds, coffeemakers, separate shower and commodes, and the botanically-based Red Flower line of bathroom products that smell like the inside of a floral shop cooler. I loved Valley Ho's confident use of color - my room had turquoise walls with mustard-colored drapes and a pea green cube-shaped stool. Outside, an orange and red-striped padded lawn chair was angled perfectly on the patio that also provided a small round table and two wire basket-style chairs. The lone oddity was my bathtub, placed also at an angle in the center of my room - it was beautiful to look at, but easy to bump into. The hotel lobby is inviting, and sometimes offers quick and complimentary chair massages for guests. For a lengthier experience, the VH Spa provides a terrific assortment of treatments for those in need. If a workout is more your thing, try the outdoor OH Pool or the hotel's well-equipped fitness center, and do make time for the wet and dry saunas in each of the gender-specific changing and relaxation areas. Lastly, don't leave Hotel Valley Ho without dropping by ZuZu, its vibrant and hip restaurant-lounge. Aside from the eye candy (primarily the bartenders and waiters), you'll also find scrumptious takes on American favorites, like the signature ZuZu burger (Virginia bacon, stewed onions, Maytag blue cheese) that tasted as awesome as it sounds. ZuZu was easily one of my picks for Best Bars/Lounges in our 'Best of Travel 2011' for its food and personal service, and for those damn cute bartenders.
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA)
Although it's small, the SMOCA (Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art) is worth an hour of your stay. Situated in downtown Scottsdale with an alleyway entrance, the mirror-like futuristic exterior of the building certainly accentuates the modernity of this museum. Inside, the exhibits are anything but traditional. While they change frequently, the works are usually from well-known or up-and-coming young artists with imaginative, wildly creative minds - the People's Biennial, which ended a three-month run in January, showcased a set of eye-popping art pieces crafted entirely from computer scraps. Be sure to check out SMOCA's online calendar for its 'Lunchtime Lecture' series, free admission days, and its social events that draw many of the city's hipsters. Hotel Valley Ho guests receive free admission to SMOCA by showing their room key at the ticket counter.
Old Town Farmers Market
Brown & 1st Street parking lot
Every city has a farmers market, where you'll come across local produce and specialty items that you can't get anywhere else. In Old Town Scottsdale, a 10-minute walk from Hotel Valley Ho, there's a teeny yet abundantly stocked outdoor market open each Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. You name it, they've got it. From homemade tamales and pastries to organic soup and artisan bread to handcrafted goat cheese and regionally grown vegetables, this farmers market is well worth the fresh air on a warm morning. The prices here are beyond reasonable - for $3.50 I had fresh-roasted coffee, a raspberry crumble muffin, and a large chocolate-dipped macaroon, all from local businesses. And it didn't stop there. Mexican posole, BBQ pork sandwiches, pies, jams and honeys, biscotti, and even healthy doggie treats were also available for purchase. Vendors selling non-edible goods, from clothing to Native American jewelry, are here every Saturday, too. The market also has a small seating area where you can rest, eat, and people-watch.
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Should you happen to be in Scottsdale or the Phoenix area on business, the downtown-nestled performing arts center offers a variety of entertainment that includes concerts, live theater productions, dance workshops, and book lectures, usually in the after-work hours. The Grammy-winning Blind Boys of Alabama were in town on the weekend I visited, and appearances by Jane Krakowski, Sarah Vowell, and Dianne Reeves are scheduled for the coming weeks. The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is across the alleyway from SMOCA.
Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)
Even a non-museum buff is going to love this place. The MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) will soon celebrate its second anniversary and has already attracted thousands of visitors, from well-known artists to your average music nerd. Laid out on 190,000 square feet in the outskirts of Phoenix a mere 15 minutes from downtown Scottsdale, this newish attraction currently holds 15,000 instruments on two levels of gallery space. With nearly all countries of the world represented, these instruments symbolize the important role that music plays in every culture. You won't have time to view every single item at MIM, but don't leave without seeing the Artist Gallery for authentic Elvis Presley memorabilia and the Experience Gallery for interactive, hands-on fun, plus enjoy a great light or hearty meal in The Cafe. Complete the visit by purchasing unique knickknacks in the museum's gift shop. The MIM is literally music to your ears.
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