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3 great getaways in Arizona

Soak in one of the hot springs as you vacation in luxury at Castle Hot Springs resort. Photo courtesy Castle Hot Springs

With Arizona’s year-round sunshine, jaw-dropping scenery, and ritzy resorts, vacations here often involve poolside lounging punctuated with rounds of golf. But the Copper State has more to offer than ever with its burgeoning restaurant scene, vibrant arts and culture, and rustic-chic lodging ideal for outdoor enthusiasts. Get inspired to plan the ultimate desert escape with these 3 distinctive options.

For outdoors lovers: Castle Hot Springs

Castle Hot Springs communal firepit beside a row of cabins.

Castle Hot Springs guests can wind down around a firepit. Photo courtesy Castle Hot Springs

Nestled on 1,100 acres set against the saguaro-covered Bradshaw Mountains about 60 miles north of Phoenix, this resort is a gateway for adventurous excursions just steps from your private bungalow.

Guests are invited to explore the scenery by e-bike, channel their inner lumberjacks with axe-throwing, or hit one of many hiking trails, including a guided sunrise trek that yields breathtaking views. Whatever adventure you choose, make sure to follow it up with a steamy dip in one of the hot springs pools.

Someone on the via ferrata adventure course.

An aerial walkway on the via ferrata course at Castle Hot Springs. Photo courtesy Castle Hot Springs

The resort’s marquee activity is the via ferrata adventure course ($250 per person), one of the few winter-friendly via ferrata routes in the U.S. Participants ascend the surrounding mountains using rock-affixed ladders, rungs, and steel cables, and traverse a 200-foot-long aerial walkway high above the canyon floor. 

Paddleboard yoga session in the water.

Paddleboard yoga is among the many activities at Castle Hot Springs. Photo courtesy Castle Hot Springs

You can also partake in paddleboard yoga, pickleball, and sound bath sessions, as well as tour the impressive on-site sustainable farm that produces more than 150 different seasonal crops, showcased daily at the resort’s restaurant and bar.

Only registered guests of Castle Hot Springs have access to the property, which has 30 luxe private bungalows and cabins. Most activities are complimentary, along with 24-hour access to the hot springs and all meals—including a nightly 5-course farm-to-table dinner at its Harvest restaurant. Rates start at $1,650 with double occupancy.

For art enthusiasts: Tucson

Over the past few centuries, Mexican, Spanish, and Anglo influences have blended with ancient Indigenous traditions to shape Tucson’s diverse culture. Case in point is the city's vibrant art scene—with major museums, more than 30 independent galleries, and chic boutiques showcasing artists’ wares.

“We have this incredible mix of heritage, culture, and history, and they converge in really unique ways here,” says Norah Diedrich, the Jon and Linda Ender Director and CEO of the Tucson Museum of Art. “It affects all of Tucson. The visual-arts scene is really strong.”

Abstract sculpture outside the Tucson Museum of Art.

 The Tucson Museum of Art. Photo courtesy Tucson Museum of Art

The Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block houses a massive mix of permanent collections featuring Southwestern, Asian, Latin American, and Indigenous art. A new community-curated exhibition, “Southwest Art: Contemporary Conversations,” explores the concepts of identities, perspectives, and land to highlight the region’s multicultural character.

The more compact Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson focuses on often edgy exhibitions meant to ignite critical thinking through a variety of media.

You’ll find an array of genres at the University of Arizona Museum of Art. Among its artworks is Willem de Kooning’s Woman-Ochre, a piece that was returned to the museum after it was famously and brazenly stolen off its walls in 1985. Also on campus is the Center for Creative Photography, which draws from its 270 archival collections, including that of Ansel Adams, for its exhibitions.

Glass art pieces displayed on pedastals inside a gallery.

The Philabaum Glass Gallery. Photo by Steven Meckler

The historic Barrio Viejo neighborhood—home to colorful Sonoran adobe row houses dating to the mid-1800s—is now an enclave of fine art galleries and studios. Browse the Philabaum Glass Gallery, one of the country’s few all-glass art galleries, filled with Technicolor works from 65 artists.

At Carly Quinn Designs, you’ll find decorative hand-glazed tiles that are used to create coasters, decorative home addresses, large-scale murals, and more.

New to downtown’s art scene is the nonprofit Blue Lotus Artists’ Collective, which showcases the works of Black artists and hosts community block parties complete with DJs and food trucks.

Art hung on the wall inside the Sun Museum DeGrazia Gallery.

The DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum. Photo courtesy Visit Tucson

Drive 12 miles to the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum and tour the 10-acre, self-built compound of the late Ted DeGrazia, one of the most reproduced artists of all time thanks to his painting Los Niños, which appeared on UNICEF’s 1960 holiday card. The gallery displays hundreds of the 15,000 original pieces in its collection, from watercolors to ceramics.

Where to stay

The Leo Kent Hotel opened in 2023 in Tucson’s tallest skyscraper with rooms featuring vintage Southwestern accents and local art. Its primo downtown location puts it close to museums and galleries, Tucson’s free streetcar, and plenty of restaurants. Rates start at $195; AAA discount available.

You may also like: 3 perfect days in Tucson, Arizona

For foodies: Phoenix

Pizzeria Bianco exterior, with 2 groups dining outside.

Pizzeria Bianco at Heritage Square in Phoenix. Photo by An Pham

James Beard Award winner Chris Bianco’s mini empire of pizza-centric restaurants may have put Phoenix on the food map, but competition is rising with a host of notable newcomers that bring even more international flavors to the table.

“Part of the reason for our culinary scene’s recent growth is the increasing appreciation for new and diverse types of cuisine, and trying things outside the traditional box,” says Christina Barrueta, the Arizona-based author of the book Phoenix Cooks.

“One thing people often don’t realize is our agricultural riches. We have farms. We have local wine, craft beer, and distillers. We have farmers markets and we have 2 growing seasons, so in December we can be picking tomatoes,” Barrueta adds.

Lom Wong serves regional Thai fare made with hard-to-find ingredients from villages across Thailand, including where owner Yotaka “Sunny” Martin grew up. Martin opened the restaurant in 2022 with the help of her husband, Alex; together, their labor of love translates to hand-squeezed coconut milk and hand-pounded curry paste in dishes like sea bass curry with coconut cream, and beef shank with eggplant.

New contemporary Pan-African spot Latha (Swahili for “flavor”) lives up to its name in a big way. Its eclectic menu blends staples from Brazil, the Caribbean, Africa, and the American South. Think watermelon and avocado salad over a punchy whipped feta, and rich shakshouka made with oxtail.

Bacanora elote, Mexican corn on the cob, served on a plate.

Elote at Bacanora. Photo by Paul Dedewo

At Sonoran-style restaurant Bacanora, everything on the menu gets flame-licked over the wood-fired Santa Maria grill. Subtle smoky flavors rule in dishes such as the crema-slathered elote served on the cob and the colossal tomahawk steaks—and even in cocktails like the Oaxacan Old Fashioned, crafted with mezcal and chocolate bitters.

Buck & Rider defies the notion that stellar seafood is best consumed on the coast with its uber-fresh raw bar that highlights delicacies like Sea of Cortez wild shrimp and Peruvian scallops on the half shell. Locals pack the place for its daily selection of fresh fish and killer cocktails amid a bar scene that doesn’t quit.

Pizza cooking inside a wood-fired oven.

Pizzeria Bianco’s wood-fired pies helped put Phoenix on the foodie map. Photo by Michael McNamara

For those in pursuit of the perfect pizza, a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Phoenix’s modern food scene is a must. Since its 1997 inception, Pizzeria Bianco (which now also has a location in L.A.) has served the original lineup of 6 now-iconic wood-fired pies, including the Wiseguy, with house-smoked mozzarella, roasted onions, and fennel sausage.

Where to stay

Located near Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, Mountain Shadows was rebuilt in 2017 with 183 stylish guest rooms and 34 residences that give a nod to the property’s midcentury roots. Signature restaurant Hearth ’61 offers a menu of creative modern American fare. Rates start at $599, plus a daily $42 resort fee.

After moving to L.A. from New Jersey, writer Lizbeth Scordo fell in love with the deserts of California and the Southwest.

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