Updated: Jan 20
WELCOME TO SCOTTSDALE!
There truly is not better place to be in the winter than Scottsdale, Arizona. I'm a native Arizonan, so I am slightly bias. As the majority of the country is shoveling snow, Scottsdale is sunny and cool, with temperatures around 60-70 degrees. This year, 2023, is jam packed with fun events in January and February that bring thousands of visitors to the valley. The Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction is January 21-29. The Waste Management Phoenix Open is February 6-12. The Super Bowl is Sunday February 12. Whatever brings you to the valley this winter, here is the perfect 3 day itinerary for North Scottsdale and Cave Creek that you're sure to enjoy.
Why North Scottsdale and Cave Creek?
If you're unfamiliar with Scottsdale, it runs vertically along the east side of the Phoenix metropolitan area. South Scottsdale or Old Town, is a great area for nightlife, singles, and shopping. I have definitely had some raucous nights in Old Town, but now that I'm older, I truly appreciate the more subdued, sophisticated scene in North Scottsdale. North Scottsdale is home to golf resorts and spas, great hiking, and lots of shopping and dining options. My favorite town, and the town I call home, is Cave Creek. It's beautiful! It's a small western town, unique to any other town in the valley. You can truly enjoy everything the southwest and the high Sonoran Desert has to offer in Cave Creek. Beautiful hiking, great food, bull riding, country bars, and art fairs, are just a few things that make Cave Creek so special.
Phoenix is home to Sky Harbor International Airport and flights from all over the country are easy to find. It's not very walking friendly, so you'll definitely want to rent a car, drive, or plan on using Uber or Lyft to get around.
Here are some drive times for reference:
Los Angeles to Scottsdale 6 Hours
San Diego to Scottsdale 5 hours 45 minutes
Palm Springs to Scottsdale 4 hours 30 minutes
Las Vegas to Scottsdale 4 hours 50 minutes
Albuquerque to Scottsdale 6 hours 30 minutes
Our Favorite Scottsdale Resorts and Hotels
We love a good staycation! There are so many great hotel and resort options, many of which have amazing spas and even tennis courts! Here are places we've stayed and absolutely love! All of these are close to the TPC and Westworld of Scottsdale.
PERFECT FOR A ROMANTIC WEEKEND + HIKING & GOLF
VIBE: PRIVATE LUXURY AWAY FROM THE PARTY SCENE
Whenever we visit a new city, I know that Four Seasons is a safe bet for excellent service and prime locations. Their Scottsdale location is tucked away near Pinnacle Peak to offer privacy and serenity. Beautifully decorated in a contemporary southwest style, It's the perfect mix of romantic getaway meets adventure.
PERFECT FOR ATTENDING THE WASTE MANAGEMENT OPEN
VIBE: FUN, FAMILIES, CLOSE TO THE SCENE
There's so much to love about the Scottsdale Princess! It's the perfect place for families and couples alike. They go all out for the holidays and have lots of activities for kids. We've been to all of the restaurants on the property and we especially love La Hacienda, and Bourbon Steak. Although I've never visited their spa, it looks heavenly and currently has lots of specials including an all new Sisley Massage using the luxury French cosmetics brand. The property connects directly to the TPC of Scottsdale where the Waste Management Open takes places. You'll have special access to entry and exit which is a luxury when admittance lines are super long.
PERFECT FOR FAMILIES. GOLF, SPA DAYS, & SHOPPING
VIBE: LUXURY, FAMILIES, FUN, WALK TO DINING & SHOPPING
We've had many staycations with and without our kids at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa. Their Adventure Water Park and pools are a big hit with kids. Agave The Arizona Spa & Salon is lovely, as is their fitness center and tennis court. Its award winning golf course is also beautiful! Make sure to ask for a golf course view. The best part about the Westin Kierland Resort is its close proximity to shopping and dining. Just a short walk is Kierland Commons and Scottsdale Quarter. Both are open air shopping centers with great shops like Crate & Barrel, Vuori, Anthropologie, Lululemon, Apple, and much more. Among the dining options are North Italia, The Mission, Dominicks Steak, and Etta.
TENNIS: This property has one hard court tennis court and portable pickle ball nets available.
PERFECT FOR COUPLES
VIBE: MODERN LUXURY, NEW, CONVENIENT LOCATION
This new modern hotel just opened and it's beautiful! My husband and I stayed in a suite that had never been used! Its desert contemporary design is simple yet stunning. It's conveniently located near the TPC, Westworld of Scottsdale, and tons of shopping and dining options. An all new restaurant PITCH is right next door and has amazing wood fired pizza and a great happy hour. No spa, tennis, or golf here, which makes it a great economical choice if you're just looking for a nice home base for your stay.
Now that you know where to stay, here's a perfect itinerary for a great weekend!
12pm: Check in to your hotel and get settled.
1 pm: Walk around Kierland Commons or Scottsdale Quarter.
Both of these beautiful shopping areas are great places to people watch, pick up anything you may have forgotten, and get a feel for the vibe of North Scottsdale. You can also grab a light bite at North Italia, Zinc Bistro, Zinburger, Postino Wine Bar or Culinary Dropout. All are great restaurants with lovely patio seating where you can enjoy the weather.
4pm: Visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
"Every great architect is - necessarily - a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age." -Frank Lloyd Wright
If you're a fan of architecture, art, and/or history, you'll love visiting Taliesin West. You can explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and desert laboratory (a site inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List) in a variety of ways. From self guided audio tours, guided tours, or special events, there are lots of ways to see the famous American Architects work. *The tour does require walking through dirt paths, so I would recommend sneakers or the like. I wore a fancy pair of loafers to our tour, and felt a bit silly.
6pm: Happy Hour and Dinner at the Mission North Scottsdale
The second location of this iconic Scottsdale modern latin restaurant is in Kierland Commons. It's a beautiful two story restaurant with a lovely patio. If you're a fan of tequila, you'll love their extensive tequila menu and creative cocktails. I highly recommend the table side guacamole, and eloté for starters, and the roasted pork shoulder tacos for dinner. It's absolutely delicious!
8pm: Enjoy a nightcap fireside at your hotel.
One of the most incredible parts of north Scottsdale and Cave Creek is the night sky. Cave Creek in particular has strict building guidelines that preserve the dark sky. It can actually be quite hard to find some stores because large neon signs are not permitted. I remember when I first moved up to Cave Creek, it was so hard to find the Target! There is no better place to stargaze on a clear winter night.
8am: Morning hike at one of these great hiking trails:
I've hiked all of these and they're all pretty challenging, but very enjoyable with beautiful views. If you're an active person overall, you won't have any problems. It's one of the best ways to see the valley, shake any jet lag, and build up an appetite for amazing southwest cuisine!
Pinnacle Peak Trail 4 miles out and back
Gateway Loop Trail 4.5 miles / 650 ft. elevation gain
Toms Thumb Trail (Lookout Viewpoint) 5.1 miles / 1000 ft. elevation gain
10am: Post-hike breakfast/lunch at The Vig McDowell Mountain or Isabella's Kitchen
The Vig is one of my favorite spots for a post hike meal. The outdoor space is lovely on a nice day, and inside there are lots of TV's to catch the days sports. My favorite meal here, especially during the colder months is the Pozole. It's a red chili spiced Mexican soup with pork, hominy, avocado, radish, and more. It's amazing! Keep in mind it opens at 11am on the weekdays, and has great live music in the evenings.
Isabella's Kitchen is another great option for a post hike snack. It's part of the Grayhawk Golf Club and has a lively bar and outdoor patio perfect for watching sports. It's outdoor lounge area is such a great place to relax and enjoy the beautiful views. Fun, casual, and great food!
12pm: Enjoy some downtime poolside, or treat yourself to spa treatment at one of these great Spas:
4pm: Walk around Market Street at DC Ranch
This beautiful shopping area is part of the DC Ranch Community and is a favorite among locals. Filled with boutique shopping, fun restaurants, and modern architecture, Market Street is a popular spot with a great local vibe. A friend of mine owns iBoutiuqe, and she always has a great selection of fun bargains and splurges. Grab a pre dinner drink at The Living Room Wine Bar patio, or enjoy a cigar at Cedar Room Fine Cigars & Lounge before heading to dinner.
6pm: Dinner at Lamp Wood Oven Pizzeria
This small pizzeria is a favorite among locals. Their wood fired pizza is my absolute favorite! Its walk-ins only policy can be tricky, but if you don't want to wait, there are seats at the bar where you can order from the full menu.
8pm: Stargazing fireside, and rest up for a fun filled day in Cave Creek!
8am: Court time!
Burn off all that pizza on the court! If you're staying at Westin Kierland, Four Seasons Scottsdale, or another resort with tennis courts, schedule a couple of hours for tennis or pickle ball. There are also great public court options in the north Scottsdale area as well. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Thompson Peak Park 3 pickle ball courts
Grayhawk Park 2 tennis courts
11am: Grab a protein shake, coffee, or light breakfast from The Morning Joint at Grayhawk Golf Club.
Known as Mojo to the local crowd, I love stopping in here after tennis for a smoothie. My favorite is the B.O.C (Breakfast of Champions) which has Banana, Granola, Vanilla Bean Extract, Cinnamon, Plant Based Protein, Blended with Oat Milk. They have a wide variety of juices, breakfast bowls, burritos, pastries, and coffee.
12:30pm: Fun in Cave Creek
Cave Creek is always lively in the winter, especially on the weekends. Locals from all over the valley head up to spend the day in the Creek. You're likely to see motorcycle enthusiast on a weekend ride, vintage car club gatherings, hikers, mountain bikers, antique hunters, cowboys, artists, and kids enjoying the town. What you won't find, are national chain stores or restaurants. Every shop is individually owned, which makes Cave Creek so unique. Take home something uniquely Arizona from one of these great desert southwest stores:
Big Bronco Great art and home decor.
Retablo Mexican inspired furniture and folk art.
Mexican Rose Mexican inspired home decor
Indian Village Quirky southwestern toys for kids, Mexican blankets, Cave Creek shirts, and my favorite hidden Mexican food kitchen in the back! Try the Indian Fry Bread for a unique treat!
Cave Creek Cowboy Co. I bought my first real cowboy hat here!
2pm: Lunch at Local Johnnys Tavern & Cafe
One of my absolute favorite spots for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Cave Creek. For lunch, the burgers are great and the potato wedges are a must try! The staff is super cool and laid back. They also have some really great Cave Creek merchandise if you want to take home something special.
4pm: Regroup for more fun in the Creek.
Hopefully you picked up some great western pieces in the Creek. If you thought it was fun during the day, just wait! Cave Creek at night, especially on the weekends are the best! Leave the designer heels at home and opt for boots instead.
*If you don't have a DD, plan on taking an Uber or Lyft up to Cave Creek. The local Sheriffs office takes safety very seriously, so don't risk ruining such a fun night! Depending on your hotel, they may offer drop off/pick up services.
6pm: Dinner at Keeler's Neighborhood Steakhouse
This award winning steakhouse is family owned and operated and one of my favorite places for happy hour and dinner. Take a seat at the bar for a lively experience. The Bartenders are super cool and fun. For a more private dining experience, make a reservation ahead of time. The rooftop is open during the winter, and is a great spot to watch the sunset. The steak is always perfectly cooked and I highly recommend the scalloped potatoes. My husband and I love this for date night or special family dinners.
8pm: The Buffalo Chip Saloon for Country Dance Lessons and Bull Riding
Free dance lessons are every Tuesday and Sunday from 7-10pm. Bull Riding is every Wednesday and Friday, gates open at 6pm. This place is an absolute blast and it gets pretty lively after 10pm. Families with kids are welcome to watch bull riding; however, all minors must leave after 10pm. It turns into a real bar scene in the late hours, and tends to attract a younger crowd. Saturday mornings, kids can try mutton busting (riding sheep), which is super fun!
10pm: Walk next door to Harold's Cave Creek Corral for live music and dancing!
Harold's has been owned by the same family for over 80 years, and is THE place in Cave Creek. I've spent several birthdays dancing the night away with my friends at Harolds. The dirt parking lot is always full, the live music is always good, and the crowd is so fun!
More Cave Creek Favorites:
It's impossible to see all the great spots in Cave Creek in just a day or two. Here are more of my favorite spots and why I love them!
This is one of our favorite spots. We love a good Irish pub, regardless of where we are. The mountain views from the patio are breathtaking. It's a great spot to grab a pint, watch a game and enjoy live music on the weekends. I love the patty melt and hot wings!
This small wine bar is about 10 minutes east of Cave Creek, but worth the drive. They have great paninis, wine and live music.
This is exactly what a greasy spoon is all about! Housed in an old gas station, they have the best turkey burger I've ever had!
A great spot for breakfast and their bacon grilled cheese sandwich is amazing!
Janey's is a great spot for live music. They host local musicians nightly and locals love it!
STAYING ADDITIONAL DAYS:
Trail ride with Cave Creek Outfitters
Some girlfriends and I had the best time on a sunset ride with Cave Creek Outfitters.
Get a birds-eye view on a Hot Air Balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders
We took our daughter on an evening ride for her birthday!
The Gardens are so beautiful. We took our family photos there one year!
I hope you find yourself in the valley of the sun sooner than later. I hope that this guide gives you a different perspective of the beautiful Sonoran Desert. If you have any questions, suggestions, or just want to say "hi," you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love and Safe Travels,
Questions? Send me a message on Instagram @tenniscityguide