My first trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., took me quite by surprise.
Somehow I imagined Scottsdale as a predominantly golf and spa mecca, surrounded by miles of luxury resorts and lush greens with dramatic mountain backdrops. To be sure, that image stands true and is an important part of Scottsdale's appeal.
What I didn't realize is that this decidedly hip and romantic city can be easily enjoyed without a car, and so many of the city's charming venues can be accessed on foot or with clean and efficient public transportation.
My husband and I chose Scottsdale for a much-needed getaway, since it is less than an hour's flight from San Diego and was a part of the Phoenix area we had never explored. Since we aren't golfers, we decided to check out the urban scene, having discovered that downtown Scottsdale boasts nine walkable neighborhoods within a square mile.
It sounded inviting to avoid the stress of standing in long lines at the car rental and negotiating our route via cellphone to guide us along unfamiliar freeways and streets. But could we really get the most out of our mini-vacation without a car?
We agreed to give it a try.
We booked three nights at the W Scottsdale not only because of its positive reviews, but mostly because of its prime location right in the heart of downtown, in the middle of the burgeoning entertainment district. While the hotel can arrange for paid shuttle service from Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, we opted to make the 11-mile ride to the hotel using Uber, for a fee of $22.
Our first adventure that afternoon was an urban wine-tasting at LDV Winery and Carlson Creek Tasting room, both located within walking distance of our hotel. Of all the things Arizona is known for, wine might not be the first thing that comes to mind. To our surprise (one of many during our stay), we learned that Arizona now has more than 100 wineries with award-winning vintages, thanks to the varietals that flourish in the high altitude regions of the state.
Our hotel concierge had recommended we visit the Scottsdale Waterfront that evening to enjoy the Canal Convergence, an annual, free event that showcases large-scale interactive artworks by local and international artists. We arrived just at sunset, and our first view of Scottsdale's historic Arizona canal and waterfront area couldn't have been more dramatic. The vibrant lights illuminating the walkways and the artistic balloons swaying above the canal created an almost surreal image of this chic and architecturally innovative area of downtown.
We enjoyed dinner just steps away, at Cowboy Ciao -- a Scottsdale icon famous for its Stetson chopped salad and pancetta mac and cheese -- as well as for a full menu of eclectic entrees and an outstanding wine selection.