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Trip List by ockerman

A Taste of Tempe and Paradise Valley: a 5-day Trip Report

27 Mar 2010  Mother (47) and Daughter (19) take a brief break to relax, reconnect, and enjoy the springtime sun in lovely Arizona
4.5 of 5 stars based on 5 votes

Our getaway included spas, fine-dining, and time in the beautiful outdoors.

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Tempe, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley
  • Category: Recent trip
  • Traveler type: Sightseeing, Active/Outdoors, Never been before
  • Appeals to: Couples/romantics, Singles, Families with teenagers, Tourists
  • Seasons: Spring
  • 1. On Our Way

    Lots of cities have direct flights to sunny AZ; unfortunately ours didn't have one that worked for us so we arrived at Sky Harbor around 4pm. Remember that AZ time during March is the same as Pacific time so most travelers will gain some time. There are regular shuttles to the large car rental center where we picked up our vehicle and headed for Tempe. Phoenix traffic can be a mess so avoid rush hour if possible. Luckily we had less than 10 miles to travel and after only one wrong turn found our way to the hotel.

  • 2. Hampton Inn & Suites Phoenix Tempe - ASU
    Red Lion Inn & Suites Tempe, Tempe
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    Avg price: $173

    This larger than average property (2 pools, multiple buildings, tennis courts) is on Scottsdale Road, a busy North/South artery, and is located conveniently close to ASU and Papago Park. There is a grocery store just a few blocks north for anything you might have forgotten. The hotel offers complimentary airport shuttles as well as area shuttles within 5 miles so a rental car is not essential. We chose to spend 2 nights of our 4 night trip here to 1)see sights in this part of town 2)enjoy a convenient, complimentary breakfast and 3) stay within our lodging budget. As Hilton Honors members we were upgraded to a 2-room suite including a kitchenette - no view to speak of but much appreciated comfort and quiet.

  • 3. Mill Avenue District
    http://millavenue.com/

    The hotel shuttle driver dropped us off just a few miles south of the hotel in the heart of this area filled with shops and restaurants. You can view or walk up "A" mountain, take in a show at The Gammadge or local theaters or visit the Thursday night market. We wandered the shops (many open till 8 or 9pm) and enjoyed a meal.

  • 4. Phoenicia Cafe
    Phoenicia Cafe, Tempe

    This casual Greek/Mediterranean cafe had intriguing music and enticing smells drifting from the open door. For $25 we had more food than we could eat including a very refreshing tabouli and excellent creamy hummus. An adjacent shop is filled with groceries and sundries for the local Mediterranean population and we couldn't resist some unusual and delicious smelling spice blends.

  • 5. Phoenix Zoo
    Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix

    We woke up to a light rain (!) but that didn't dampen our enthusiasm for a day outdoors, and , in fact, the sun was shining by noon. We arrived shortly after opening when the animals were being fed and are more active. The zoo (located in nearby Papago Park, open 9am-5pm, free parking, Adults $16, Children $7) was fairly uncrowded and we spent about 5 hours on a leisurely tour - our favorite exhibits included the Arizona Trail and the Monkey Village. Lunch options are limited so you may want to bring a picnic. Our order at the Savannah Grill was delayed so we were treated to complimentary Mango Icepops and a bag of Kettle Corn.

  • 6. Desert Botanical Garden
    Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

    Just a little further into the park, this is a wonderful introduction to desert flora and just a lovely place to walk around (open 8am-8pm, Adults $15, Students $7.50, Children $5). Not all trails are available at night but it would still be a neat time to visit. Artwork is scattered throughout and adds to the experience and in the spring there is a Butterfly Exhibit ($3.50) that we enjoyed. A true gardener would get inspiration and probably benefit from one of the free tours but we just wandered on our own. Dining options are better than the zoo and there is a nice gift shop as well.

  • 7. Old Town Scottsdale
    Old Town Scottsdale, Scottsdale

    About 5 miles north on Scottsdale Road is an area filled with galleries, shops and restaurants. We arrived 2 hours prior to our dinner reservation intending to browse but unfortunately most of the shops closed by 6pm. We enjoyed looking in windows and walking about and wound up up on the north side of the area buying books at a Borders.

  • 8. Dinner at FnB
    http://fnbrestaurant.com/

    We read about this small, new restaurant (located on Stetson next to the popular Cowboy Ciao) on the Chowhound website where it was well-reviewed and those good reviews are well-deserved! Every seat was taken at 7:30 on a Tuesday night when we sat down at our table so the word is out. Take a glance at the link for the menu but that can't describe the warm and expert service you will receive. Frankly, we were so intrigued by the vegetable dishes that we shared and made a meal of them; fresh crusty bread, marinated citrus olives, pickled beets with pistachios and ricotta crostini, fried green tomatoes with green goddess dressing and feta, braised leeks with fresh mozzarella and mustard breadcrumbs, fennel salad, and (maybe our favorite) grilled brocolli with Meyer lemon aioli and crispy onions - add some Arizona wine and dessert and it was a 2 1/2 hour memorable feast and we didn't even get to the entrees.

  • 9. Spa at Camelback Inn
    Spa at Camelback Inn, Scottsdale

    Trip Advisor destination experts helped narrow our spa choices to two including this renovated classic resort spa in Paradise Valley. Because we chose more expensive spas we selected fewer services and just savored our time in the beautiful facilities. You may want to checkout arizonaspagirls.com to look for discounts.
    The Spa at Camelback was an easy 9 mile drive from our hotel and at the very back of the resort property nestled up against Mummy Mountain. We arrived 30 minutes prior to our 9:15 massage appointment for tour and check-in. We each had a lovely 60-minute massage, changed into our suits and enjoyed the beautiful pooldeck with its great views of the mountains and attentive service. It was never too busy during our visit - it was a weekday - and at 1:00 we enjoyed a poolside lunch (see below). We used the steam room and shower area before our 3:00 pedicures and then rested on the women's sun area while our polish dried.
    It was a lovely visit, expensive but memorable (2 massages, 2 pedicures, lunch and tips for $500).

  • 10. Sprouts Restaurant
    Sprouts Restaurant, Scottsdale

    Lovely lunch option with dining at tables poolside or inside. Daughter enjoyed a spa smoothie and I had a Bloody Mary. The food was tasty and thoughtfully presented; we recommend the Painter's Palette to share. I enjoyed the Crab stuffed avocado and my daughter loved the Mediterranean salad and creme brulee.

  • 11. InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa
    Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia, Paradise Valley
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    Avg price: $560

    Just a half-mile west was our next hotel; a sprawling, Spanish and Moroccan themed resort. We self-parked in the garage and, with help, found our way to the reception desk. Our room was in building 12 at the back of the resort; Camelback mountain looms to the south and we enjoyed the lovely landscaping. The bathroom was especially luxiorious. After getting settled in our room we returned to the Mbar for Happy Hour and made the dates and antipasti platter our dinner. It was fun to sit outside next to a warm brazier, listen to the music and watch the people. We were too relaxed after our spa day to drive anywhere :) and we watched a pay per view comedy in our room before bed.

  • 12. Camelback Mountain
    Camelback Mountain, Phoenix

    I was up early and enjoyed reading on our patio but my daughter slept in too late for the morning yoga class. Instead we got a map from reception to the Echo Canyon trail. We had protein bars, water, and oranges in our packs and my daughter enjoyed a peach smoothie from Crave on our 1/2 mile walk to the trailhead. The cars were backed up waiting to park in the small lot and we were glad to have walked. The trail was rugged, involved some boulder climbing and was very busy (!) even on a weekday morning. We went up about halfway, snacked and enjoyed the view before heading down.

  • 13. Joya Spa at InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa
    Joya Spa at Montelucia Resort & Spa, Paradise Valley

    Our reservation at Joya and been mistakenly entered but we were satisfied with 2 Happy Hour massages at 4:00. In the meantime we enjoyed lounging on the spa pooldeck and ordered lunch which is provided by the hotel's poolside restaurant, ROQ. The dining options couldn't compare with Sprouts (they promote their 9 types of french fries but that wasn't our idea of spa food) so we each had a Southwestern Salad. The pool felt cold but refreshing after our hike and time lounging in the sun. There were less visitors to this spa but since the pool area is smaller it felt a bit less private.
    I really liked the decor of this spa facility especially the candlelit relaxation room with
    soft cozy beds you could enclose with gauzy curtains - it felt like a seraglio! We used the whirlpool and cold water deluge before showering and waiting for our massages in the relaxation room. I had an excellent masseuse and our treatments were a bargain during their Thursday Happy Hour promotion; $210 with tip for 2 massages and use of the facilities as long as we wished.
    There were things I preferred about Camelback (dining, pool-deck) and things I preferred about Joya (electronic lockers, wet-spa facilities) but I would unhesitatingly recommend both.
    We had hoped to follow up with a visit to the Joya Salon but they had a no reservation policy during the happy hour promotion (shampoo, blowdry styling, petite manicure, and make-up) and though I put our names on the list about 3:30 by the time we returned there was only one opening left. We decided to do it ourselves back at the room.

  • 14. Mbar at the Montelucia
    http://www.icmontelucia.com/dining/signature_bar/

    We returned to the Mbar for Happy Hour including Spanish guitar and Flamenco dancing - lots of fun - especially watching the enthusiastic Spanish guests!

  • 15. BLT Steak
    BLT Steak, Scottsdale

    We wanted to have a grand steak dinner on our trip and thought this would be the place - only 1/2 a mile away back at the Camelback. We had decided on the Pris Fixe menu in advance but upon arrival found out that the website choices weren't current, however, we were happy with what was available. We dined outside and enjoyed: country pate, garlic cheese popovers, tomato and mozzarella salad, spaetzle, mac and cheese, rib-eyes with morels, bacon and green onions, and dessert...way too much food! We packed up the leftovers for lunch the next day.
    The food and service were good though we preferred FnB. I would give this the award for best dessert of the trip; I had a strawberry-rhubarb pastry with rhubarb sorbet, and my daughter had cinnamon panne cotta with marmalade and cinnamon pastries.

  • 16. Farm at South Mountain
    Farm at South Mountain, Phoenix

    Time to go home! We left Paradise Valley after the rush hour and drove to this organic farm and restaurant site just south of the airport for one last al fresco meal. I would recommend it to anyone who has time in their flight schedule. Great food and a last view of the mountains and greenery (complete with roosters crowing in the morning!) before getting on the plane. We shared a veggie omelette with goat cheese and salsa verde, home fries, fruit and biscuit - delicious. We also found lovely souveniers in the Country cottage which has artists's consignments. And when it was time to go the car rental center was only a 15 minute drive away.

  • 17. The Bottom Line

    For the last 15 years we have taken a long spring break as a family of four but this year my college freshman and I enjoyed a shorter trip packed with activities that we loved and with lots of time together. This itinerary would work for a couple as well and really maximizes the opportunity for a short visit. With another day we would have added Sedona or perhaps another spa...but we thoroughly enjoyed the trip.