By Niki D’Andrea
Whether you’re a foodie, luxury-lover, recreationalist or wine connoisseur, there’s an Arizona destination for you
Sedona: For the luxury-lover
For luxury-lovers, the ultimate place to stay and play in Sedona is easily L’Auberge de Sedona. This four-star resort is located along the banks of Oak Creek, and guests can get cozy in a lodge room or kick back in one of the garden or creekside cottages (premiere cottages include outdoor cedar showers). All of the cottages were recently renovated, as was the bar (which has been transformed into Etch Kitchen & Bar, the more casual of L’Auberge’s two restaurants), and the lobby’s been decked with fetching art curated by the local Goldenstein Gallery. The lush, immaculately landscaped grounds teem with birds and butterflies, and guests can get up close with ducks on Duck Beach every morning at 8 a.m., when staff members fling fistfuls of feed on the shore.
The schooled hands at L’Auberge’s L’Apothecary Spa get guests all sorted out with a variety of treatments including Swedish and stone massage, cranial sacral holistic massage, and the signature “Feet in the Creek” package – a wade through the waters of Oak Creek followed by a creekside head, neck and shoulder massage capped off with reflexology and a foot rub. Guests can also participate in custom blending sessions to create their own bath salts and body scrubs.
An expansive outdoor patio recently opened at L’Auberge’s fine-dining destination, Cress on Oak Creek, and it’s the most romantic dinner setting in Sedona. The smell of a wood-burning fire lightly drifts through the air, mingling with the soft scents from the flowerbeds planted all around. While guests sip fine wines and whisper to each other over candlelight and the soft rush of the nearby creek, wait staff bring out gorgeous courses in a well-choreographed service. The most expensive single-serving cocktail in Sedona (maybe in all of Arizona) is Cress on Oak Creek’s $24 “Creekside Decadence”: saffron gin, Douglas fir liqueur, Cocchi Americano, Velvet Falernum, lemon juice and Champagne. The viscous drink is hard to describe, with bitter and brawny tones fading into sweet notes that leave a tangy aftertaste.
White Mountains: For recreation enthusiasts
The White Mountains area of Arizona offers some of the most stunning sylvan settings in the state, especially in the spring. Sprawling forests of ponderosa pine (part of the largest stand in the world) populated with elk and deer stretch for thousands of miles over mountains laced with more than 50 lakes. People come here to hunt, hike, fish, camp and enjoy cabin life.
Pinetop-Lakeside in particular is a perfect place for relaxation and recreation in nature. The town boasts a bevy of boutique shops, several spas, and a slew of superb restaurants in addition to horseback riding tours and ATV adventures.
Deemed “Best Cabin Region in the U.S.” by the readers of Cabin Life Magazine a couple years ago, Pinetop-Lakeside offers several rustic lodging options, including pet-friendly Lazy Oaks Resort (lazyoaks.com), located along Rainbow Lake, with its own fishing dock for stocking up on rainbow trout and largemouth bass. The 15 log cabins at Lazy Oak are equipped with modern comforts, from fireplaces to full kitchens, and the commons area has grills and a game of horseshoes.
For families, PVC at The Roundhouse Resort (tinyurl.com/n59st7a) is a comfortable, fun and affordable option. Several two-bedroom, two-bathroom cabins are spaced out around a mini-golf course and bocce ball pits, and guests can also make use of the nearby resort’s amenities, including the pool, hot tub and fitness facilities.
If you’re going to cook in your cabin, Eddie’s Country Store (facebook.com/eddiescountrystoreaz) has everything you need and more. This quaint outpost of the Bashas’ grocery empire has been there for decades and caters to locals with custom sauces and dips, a deluxe deli, and a huge selection of wine and craft beer (including many Arizona brands).
Tucson: For foodies
Tucson takes the lead when it comes to Mexican food. The Old Pueblo was deemed a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) City of Gastronomy in 2015 – the first city in the United States to receive the distinction. Tucson boasts the “Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food” in the entire country, and that’s not just marketing tinsel for tourists. It’s a fact.
There’s little doubt the chimichanga was invented in Arizona, but whether it was born in Phoenix or Tucson has been the subject of a decades-old debate. One story goes that in 1922, Monica Flin, founder of El Charro restaurant (which still thrives in Tucson), accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep-fat fryer. But Woody Johnson, founder of Macayo’s, claimed he created the chimichanga on purpose through experimentation at his Phoenix restaurant El Nido in 1946. Whatever version of events one chooses to believe, the chimichanga endures and seems to grow cheesier and meatier all over Tucson.
But it’s not just the chimichangas that charm the palate. It’s also the chilaquiles, the albondigas, the sopaipillas, the quesadillas, and so many other things that are almost as much fun to say as they are to eat. There are tons of restaurants to choose from, as well as a fleet of fantastic food trucks and street cart vendors selling Sonoran hot dogs and homemade tacos and tamales. Our top five: Primo, an upscale Italian restaurant embedded in JW Marriott at Starr Pass Resort; Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, which serves a combination of New American Cuisine and dishes with influences from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America; Café Poca Cosa, which has a Mexican food menu that changes twice a day, so visitors can be perpetually surprised; Elvira’s Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, a great place for social meals with friends and family; and The Coronet, a hip eatery located inside the Coronado Hotel that offers hearty but healthful fare including duck salad and roasted chicken with tomatillo.
Willcox: For wine enthusiasts
Willcox produces more than 70 percent of the wine grapes grown in Arizona. And while some of the growers have tasting rooms scattered across the Valley, Tucson and Northern Arizona, there is nothing quite like visiting the sources, including stops at Carlson Creek, a family-owned-and -operated 80-acre vineyard; Golden Rule, which opened its first tasting room in 2014 and focuses on zinfandel, sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz; and Sand-Reckoner, which has garnered national attention in recent years and is available by appointment only. – By Alison Bailin Batz