We don’t know of any destination wedding hotel in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area that doesn’t have a spa, and can think of only a few to which we haven’t immediately sworn lifelong devotion. But here are a handful of superb resort spas against which to measure the best: Given the Moroccan architectural style of its resort, it’s not surprising that the Joya Spa, at the Montelucia, has the feel of a hammam; the Spa at Sanctuary, on the side of Camelback Mountain, reveals its Asian influences through such touches as its zen meditation garden, reflecting pond, and Watsu pool; and the Spa at Camelback Inn specializes in making things simple and relaxing.
No doubt there will be golfers among your guests. This is Arizona, after all. And no doubt your resort will have either a course or an affiliation with one. But if guests want to get off on their own, here are three of the top area courses where the public can play: Troon North, at the base of Pinnacle Peak, is ranked by just about everyone as the top public course in Arizona; The Boulders, too, garners much of its acclaim from its setting, its South Course, especially, visually stunning; and as for drama, the eleventh hole of the Grayhawk Golf Club’s Talon course requires you to cross a swinging bridge to get to the back tee.
You might not want to take it to the extreme of those couples who have brought their entire wedding party aloft in a hot air balloon, and exchanged their vows there, but seeing the Sonoran Desert with Hot Air Expeditions from the height of a soaring hawk is about as unique an experience as your guests might have. Rides last about an hour and float above the landscape at anywhere from 400 to 3,000 feet. Often, they will see coyote, deer, and other desert animals, and they’ll always alight to a gourmet brunch or snack, served on china and crystal, amid the cacti.
Everybody’s favorite Phoenix/Scottsdale hike is the moderately strenuous climb up Camelback Mountain, which lies 20 minutes from Sky Harbor Airport. In fact, it is so popular that parking near the several trailheads is often nearly impossible. As an alternative, explore some 120 miles of desert mountain trails that lie within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The preserve, the largest of its type in the country, is within the city limits of Scottsdale, but feels a thousand miles away.
There’s the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, and the Heard Museum, nationally acclaimed for its focus on the art, heritage, and living cultures of Native Americans. But if you’ve spent the past six months worrying over wedding music you may very well appreciate the unique experience of a visit to The Musical Instruments Museum, which has a one-of-a-kind collection of thousands of musical instruments and musical recordings from nearly every country in the world – and they are saving space for North Korea. The MIM, as it is called, is very amenable to wedding events being held in a variety of spaces, and brides and grooms have even been known to share their first dance in front of the exhibit from the country of their origin.
If you are planning a destination wedding in the Phoenix Scottsdale area, you’d better be prepared with the names of some good Mexican restaurants to share with your guests. James Beard nominee Silvana Salcido Esparza, famous for her slow-roasted pork dish known as cochinita pibil, makes that easy with her three locations, in Phoenix at Barrio Cafe, in Scottsdale at Barrio Queen, and, for that last taste of Arizona, in Terminal 4, Gate D, at the Sky Harbor Airport.
Weddings naturally get you thinking about homes, of which there are few more interesting examples than Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, the Scottsdale winter home, studio, and architectural campus he built for himself in 1937. Tours, ranging from one to three hours, are available every day except some major holidays.
We don’t believe it is possible to visit the Phoenix/Scottsdale area without doing at least some shopping. Scottsdale in particular has world-class venues, such as the Fashion Square Mall, whose tenants include such upscale merchants as Jimmy Chu and Barneys New York. But to get a real sense of the Arizona vibe, whether it be from shopping, dining, or entertainment, your guests might spend an hour or two in the historic district of Old Town Scottsdale, where a visit to Saba’s Famous Texas Boots can fit you out in the height of cowgirl style, and you can decide for yourselves if the 1921 building housing the Rusty Spur Saloon is being put to better use than when it served as the Farmers State Bank of Scottsdale.
When it comes to drawing in leisure visitors, Downtown Phoenix lags behind Old Town Scottsdale. But a revitalization effort, anchored by a retail, dining, and entertainment district known as CityScape, is attempting to overcome that. If you want to see how they are progressing, stop by for a drink at Lustre, a rooftop garden lounge at the new Hotel Palomar. You’ll find yourself within steps of sport venues where the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and major league baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks play, as well as such arts offerings as the Herberger Theatre, the Orpheum Theatre, and Symphony Hall.
Out of Town
A favorite for guests with a day or two on their own is a day or overnight trip to Sedona, and, for the slightly more ambitious, the Grand Canyon. Sedona, which is essentially on the way to the Grand Canyon, is a two-hour drive from Phoenix. Shopping for art is one of the draws, along with fine dining, and some excellent hotels, such as Enchantment Resort. But the real attraction is the red-rock landscape. The Grand Canyon, a five-hour drive from Phoenix, is one of nature’s wonders, and worth the effort of getting there from Phoenix. If you don’t have time to drive, though, it is possible to arrange to arrange an air tour. Typically, it would include about an hour’s flight in a light plane from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, with a fly-over of the canyon and the possibility of several hours of ground touring.