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Beauty Is More Than Skin Deep in Scottsdale

There’s no denying it: Scottsdale is one good-looking city, from the neon-ombré sunsets to the perpetually lush golf courses and gardens to the straight-out-of-a-Western desert landscape. If the United States were a high school, Scottsdale would be the blond cheerleader — perpetually sunny, always smiling, and always freshly coiffed.


During a perfectly temperate (in my Florida-born mind) May week when the temperatures were just inching past 90 degrees, I attended the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau’s 26th Annual Sunsational FAM, a three-day whirlwind tour of the destination’s preeminent group hotels, venues, and activities. After checking in at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa on Sunday afternoon, it was time to kick off our packed itinerary with a site tour of the sprawling, AAA Four-Diamond resort. Overlooking the rolling greens of the 18-hole Kierland Golf Club, the hotel grabs every opportunity to soak up views of the nearby mountain ranges from its plentiful grand windows, terraces, and balconies. And the 250-acre resort has numerous options for events — 183,000 square feet worth, to be exact — including ballroom and breakout spaces specially designed to accommodate large groups or multiple smaller groups at the same time.

Our first dinner at BLT Steak, at the just-as-sprawling JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, included a revolving array of steakhouse classics served family-style — perfect for our 25-person group that was just getting to know each other. The property has been a resort fixture in Scottsdale since 1936, and the casitastyle guest rooms — many featuring private patios — are set within a lovely meandering landscape filled with colorful flora and fauna and bronze sculptures of local historic figures.

Hotel properties with robust, colorful gardens, growing everything from cacti to bougainvillea, seem to be the fashion in Scottsdale, and the Zona Hotel & Suites Scottsdale is no exception. We enjoyed breakfast on our second day beneath a canopy of flowering trees and finished with a quick tour of the hotel’s versatile suites, which come with up to four bedrooms. After moving on to the 266-room Scottsdale Marriott at McDowell Mountains, which overlooks the 36-hole TPC Scottsdale Championship Course, our group spent an hour meeting with dozens of area venues, hotels, DMCs, and local recreational/entertainment companies in a trade-show-style event hosted by the Scottsdale CVB. Planner participants earned a stamp for every vendor they spoke with, and at the end of the event received a prize for their fully stamped card.

The highlight of the second day for many of us was Los Cedros USA, a horse-training facility on the grounds of a lavishly decorated Moroccan citadel. From the tranquil courtyards, ornate interiors, and stunning residents — a range of breeds from Arabian to Palomino — to the friendly and knowledgeable host, general manager Dawn Green, our group was truly captivated by the facility from start to finish. And a healthy, Moroccan-themed lunch from A and M Catering left us feeling refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the day. Before our afternoon break, we stopped off at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, where guests stay in adobe casitas nestled into the side of Pinnacle Peak and event spaces come with bird’s-eye views of the McDowell mountains.

That evening, at the Spanish-style Montelucia Resort & Spa, our group got a first-hand look at a corporate event enjoying a reception on the property’s 74,000 square feet of outdoor event space. The hotel’s terraces, patios, multiple lawns, and plazas all take advantage of the sunny climate (Scottsdale has 330 days of sunshine annually) as well as the close-up views of Camelback Mountain. For dinner, we ventured up to the impeccable Sanctuary Camelback Mountain resort, an AAA Four-Diamond property famous for its panoramic views and exquisite cuisine from Executive Chef Beau MacMillan — an Iron Chef America winner and Food Network star.

The next morning, the 493-room Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch offered a perfect example of the preeminent Scottsdale resort experience — expansive lobbies and public spaces that open up to grand views of the adjacent mountains or golf course, and a sprawling collection of on-site amenities and activities. But Scottsdale also has its share of properties ideal for associations with strict schedules or government groups on a budget, such as the Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center and DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Paradise Valley, which come without resort fees or have locations convenient to downtown.

Next in Old Town Scottsdale at FireSky Resort & Spa, A Scottsdale Hotel, our group oohed and aahed over the inviting Jurlique Spa, and oohed and aahed even more over lunch — featuring a custom salad bar and gelato bar. Creative F&B continued to be the day’s theme at the opulent Phoenician, Scottsdale’s only AAA Five-Diamond resort, where an around-the-world-themed reception included Chinese takeout and Mexican food stations.

That afternoon and evening, as our group enjoyed a margarita-making class at the new Saguaro Scottsdale, a champagne-and-painting class at The Art of Merlot in Old Town Scottsdale, and a comfort-food-inspired dinner on the tiki-lit rooftop of Hotel Valley Ho, we discovered a whole other side of the Scottsdale hotel scene, one with a campy, 50s-style vibe that defines retro chic. It’s just another reason why Scottsdale is, and always will be, the popular kid at school.

Jennifer N. Dienst

Contributing Editor Jennifer N. Dienst is a freelance writer based in Charleston, South Carolina.