If you want to thaw out this winter, head to Arizona's Valley of the Sun, where you can still enjoy a great vacation without breaking the bank.
With more than 300 sunny days a year, the Phoenix-Scottsdale area has long been a favorite winter escape. And even though winter is considered high season, many of the top resorts, spas, golf courses and restaurants offer some great deals to entice travelers during difficult economic times.
The Phoenix-Scottsdale area has dozens of top-rated hotels and resorts to choose from, and this economy can benefit savvy travelers searching for deals because hotels are scrambling to stay competitive.
Look for some money-saving specials at three of the area's newest resorts that are working to drum up business. Arizona's first W hotel opened in September, the impressive 1,000-room Sheraton Phoenix Downtown hotel opened in October and the Intercontinental Montelucia Resort & Spa opened in November. Other good bets include the newly renovated Camelback Inn, the JW Marriott Desert Ridge, Hyatt Gainey Ranch and the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa.
The Phoenician is a luxury resort, in Scottsdale.
Photo Courtesy: The Phoenician
For a land-locked state smack in the middle of the desert, it's amazing how many top-rated seafood and sushi restaurants you'll find around Phoenix and Scottsdale. One new kid on the block worth checking out is Pearl Sushi and Raw Bar in Old Town Scottsdale. Pearl is run by the same people who created another hip local sushi hot spot called Blue Wasabi, in D.C. Ranch, in North Scottsdale. Next door to Blue Wasabi is the swanky Eddie V's. This is a favorite happy-hour spot, where you can find all kinds of great deals. Don't miss trying the crab cakes and oysters on the half shell.
If you're more of a meat-and-potatoes person looking for a thick juicy steak, head over to either Donovan's or Drinkwater's. Both of these restaurants have a traditional steakhouse feel and continue to find new ways to impress. A new hot-shot destination, just across from Fashion Square Mall, is Olive and Ivy Marketplace, which dish up a hip and trendy eclectic Mediterranean menu. Insider tip: Go early on weekends, as this place gets packed by 7 p.m.
Looking for something with a more authentic feel? The Mexican restaurant Barrio Cafe is a cozy favorite that the locals love. The mole sauce is to die for, and you'll find a great selection of Mexican wines. Barrio Cafe is tiny and popular but always worth the wait. The Sunday brunch here also brings in a crowd. For a splurge, try the Sunday brunch at the Phoenician. It's worth every penny.
The new Tournament Players Club Golf Course, in Scottsdale.
Photo Courtesy: TPC Golf Course
Besides having wonderful winter weather and amazing resorts and restaurants, the Phoenix-Scottsdale area is known as a golf and spa mecca. This powerful combination brings thousands of visitors here every year, and some decide to never go home! With more than 200 golf courses in the metro area, you can always find a tee time, even during the busiest months. But to play some of the top courses during the winter, try to cash in on some last-minute specials and look into the latest stay-and-play hotel packages, where a round of golf is included in your price.
Two of Arizona's top golf courses have recently undergone some impressive changes and upgrades. The Tournament Player Club opened its new 18-hole Champions Course just across the street from the famed Stadium Course that hosts the PGA Tour's FBR Open. And the two-year renovation at the award-winning 36-hole Troon North Golf Club is finally complete, giving you an entirely different playing experience as you play the holes in a different order. There are dozens of public courses to try, but if you're looking for luxury golf, hit any of the top golf resorts. You won't be disappointed.
You can pamper yourself at the Alvadora Spa at the Royal Palms, Phoenix.
Photo Courtesy: Royal Palms Resort & Spa
Regardless of whether your taste is simple or chic, there's a fluffy bathrobe with your name on it just waiting for you in this desert retreat. Head over to the Center for Well-Being at the Phoenician and lose yourself in the 80-minute Accusage, which combines a therapeutic massage with acupuncture and works the tension right out of your body.
To put your best face forward, try the Caviar Facial and Stone Face Massage. You'll leave feeling 10 years younger. Need some inner balance? Try the Avania Spa featuring different snacks, music and treatments at various times of day. Special massages for golfers are offered at the Four Seasons Spa, where warmed golf balls are used to help get the tension out of your tight muscles.
If you want to try out one of the cutting-edge new spa treatments, sign up for the Rollersage body treatment at the Agave Spa or try the Turquoise Massage at the Revive Spa, where actual Arizona turquoise is used.
Hikers climbing Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale.
Photo Courtesy: Scottsdale CVB
One of the best ways to get a bird's-eye view of the Phoenix area is to hit the hills for a little hiking -- and the best part is, it's free Follow the locals and check out 2,889-foot Pinnacle Peak for a moderately difficult hike in North Scottsdale. Advanced hikers will want to check out the 2,700-foot Camelback Mountain, because this popular trek has a steep and tricky 1.16-mile summit trail. A favorite with families is the 2,608 foot Piestewa Peak, with its moderate 1.2-mile summit trail. But go early, because it gets crowded on the weekends.
Just when you thought this destination couldn't get any better, remember that designer shops continue to move into this area in record numbers. With names like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Tiffany's, Cartier, Hugo Boss, Juicy Couture, Burberry, Coach, Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade and Ferragamo, the list goes on and on. Fashion Square in Scottsdale has all the above mentioned shops and dozens more. For outdoor boutique jewelry and clothing shops and restaurants, check out D.C.Ranch Marketplace, the Borgota, the Biltmore Fashion Park or Kierland Commons, and have your credit cards ready.
As a destination that's constantly updating and upgrading itself, there's one thing you can count on. The Phoenix-Scottsdale area continues to move full speed into the future, making this one desert oasis you'll want to keep an eye on. For more on desert deals in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area check out Karen Schaler's Travel Therapy Web site at www.traveltherapytrips.com.