Amid my hectic work schedule and family life where there’s nary a moment to spare, let alone full weeks (or more) to take extended trips, I’ve become a master of the “micro-vacations”—those long weekend getaways that strike just the right balance of relaxation, adventure and indulgence to satisfy my wanderlust.
A recent micro-jaunt took me to Phoenix, Arizona, America’s sixth-largest city, where cowboys continue to roam and the red rock-laden topography is peppered with the kind of cactus some only see in cartoons. The city’s enduring Southwestern backdrop is not only a draw for me, but also for 16 million other leisure visitors who trek to Greater Phoenix each year for some fun in the Sonoran Desert sun.
To ease and expedite the travel scheduling of other micro-vacationers, the good folks at Visit Phoenix—a non-profit that promotes the virtues of Phoenix as a prime travel destination, have devised the sure-fire, tried-and-true long weekend (3-night, 4-day) itinerary below that’s chock-full of fun and fabulosity.
At the center of this incredible itinerary is the Boulders Resort & Spa, which is located just north of Phoenix in the quaint town of Carefree. The property just completed a multi-million dollar renovation to its Casita accommodations as well as to multiple common areas, including its Main Lodge, Discovery Lounge, Latilla Ballroom and several of its on-site eateries. According to June Chun, lead designer for DiLeonardo—the firm responsible for the transformation–the rejuvenated resort environment embraces and respects indigenous inspirations of the Old West, with the scale, pattern and colors from the Native American heritage influencing the architectural detailing, carpet patterns and rich colors utilized throughout. I agree with Chun’s avowal that the result is a rich, organic sense that truly brings the indoors and outdoors together beautifully.
For your traveling pleasure, here’s the stupendous schedule. Just plan it, print it and go live it!
Arrive in Phoenix – secure ground transportation
Gertrude’s is known for its seasonally inspired cooking that combines American favorites with classic cooking techniques and flavors from around the globe. Under the direction of Executive Chef Matthew Taylor, Gertrude’s seasonal menus celebrate Arizona’s growers and producers while offering a sophisticated culinary experience in a reserved oasis setting. Fresh herbs and vegetables from Gertrude’s patio and the community garden located on property at the Desert Botanical Garden are found in most everything that is served.
A “Phoenix Point of Pride,” the Desert Botanical Garden is one of only a few botanical gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums. Desert Botanical Garden offers the world’s finest collection of arid-land plants from deserts around the world in a unique outdoor setting.
Check into the Boulders Resort & Spa
One of the world’s most celebrated hideaways, Boulders Resort & Spa is named for the 12-million-year-old granite boulders that dot the landscape. The resort’s newly renovated guest casitas and villas are shaped into the natural terrain, many bordering the two 18-hole championship golf courses designed by Jay Morrish, Arizona’s only Platinum Medal award winner. This special desert hideaway has eight tennis courts, six distinctive onsite restaurants and a 33,000 sq. ft. Spa. The Boulders also offers outdoor adventure activities that begin right on the resort grounds–from rock climbing, the new waterfall rappel, horseback rides, hikes, bicycling and desert fly-fishing to hot air balloon rides, private helicopter tours and desert photo tours.
* NOTE: The newly renovated private Casita accommodations, with their expansive stone-laden bathrooms and a host of creature comforts, also have dedicated patios and wood-burning fireplaces. It’s the only resort in Scottsdale where guests can burn wood in their rooms. The furnished patios overlook breathtaking scenery—all set amidst boulder rock formations estimated to be 12 million years old. In fact, the resort encompasses 1,300 acres of pristine, lush land in the high Sonoran desert that’s a true nature lover’s paradise.
Dinner at the Boulders’ on-site Palo Verde Restaurant – Resort casual attire
Great pleasure awaits at the newly renovated Palo Verde, the resort’s signature restaurant. Chef Brian Archibald offers a new Contemporary Southwestern Cuisine that respects the integrity of the region and incorporates local Arizona ingredients and freshly foraged products from the resort’s Organic Garden. Relax and enjoy a sublime dining experience on the outdoor patio with glorious views of the scenic duck pond with grassy knolls where Gambel’s quail and newborn rabbits scamper.
* NOTE: All six of the Boulders’ on-site restaurants use ingredients from their 5,600 square foot organic garden or local farmers or purveyors, which ensures that guests experience the sights, scents and tastes of the region. And here’s a fun fact: In 2016 Chef Archibald competed on the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” competition and won! Not surprisingly, the conceptual dishes, expert preparation and gorgeous plating at this restaurant are second to none.
Get energized with a workout on your own, or sign up to join a group fitness class.
Breakfast at the resort’s on-site Spa Cafe
There is a special energy and spirit here–a peaceful environment where people interact in easy harmony with nature. Early mornings are magical, when the spectacular desert sunrise casts a warm golden glow on the 12-million-year old boulder formations. The Spa Café menu takes advantage of the ripe bounty from their own Organic Garden offering healthful yet delectable dishes that can be enjoyed indoors or the outdoor patio. The cuisine is prepared to ensure peak freshness.
* NOTE: Want to eat light post-workout? Try the Spa Eggs Benedict featuring a cast iron seared beefsteak tomato, oven roasted turkey, avocado and yellow pepper “hollandaise,” which you can order “on the side.” A tasty and healthy twist on a resort classic.
“Boulder Trek ” Guided Walk
This 50-minute adventure trek includes information about how 12 million years ago, a geologic eruption left a series of massive rock formations and also about the fascinating background on the topography, flora, fauna and historical sites with petroglyphs, solstice sightings and more.
* NOTE: Guests at the Boulders reportedly see more natural wildlife than at any other resort in Arizona—such as coyote, baby bobcats, quail families, roadrunners, Javalina, owls and many others darting out into the rough. There is a Desert Photography Tour offered by the property’s resident nature photographer that takes guests to areas where they can photography all the wildlife.
Check into the Spa at the Boulders
This 33,000 sq. foot facility is a full-service spa where guests find restoration, pampering and renewed energy. The facility incorporates the elements of feng shui and a Zen-like ambiance while staying true to the natural environs and Native American influences of the region. Its 24 treatment spaces are complemented by such signature elements as a labyrinth (path to tranquility), an authentic Tipi for guided meditation, private Watsu pool, Vichy treatments, Couples Spa Suites and a 5,600 sq. ft. Organic Garden. The spa offers a 2,000 square-foot fitness center, yoga studio, a Spa Café and sweeping views of either the awe-inspiring 12 million year-old boulder piles or Black Mountain in the distance. Contemplative settings include meditation areas, hydrotherapy, a circular tea room and an interior rock and sand garden.
“Couples Massage” Spa Service (50/80 minutes)
The Spa at The Boulders pampers couples with private spa suites. With 800 square-feet and private access, full-service amenities include private steam/showers, private patio, vanity area, outdoor shower, outdoor fireplace, Internet access, indoor and outdoor massage tables, data port and television) and an outdoor Jacuzzi with cascading waterfall. Internet access, television and butler service service from the Spa Cafe. The Suites are located in the more tranquil (East) wing. From the patio, the spa’s signature elements (a labyrinth (path to tranquility) and an authentic Tipi for guided meditation) are easily accessible. The suite also offers sweeping views of either the awe-inspiring 12 million year-old boulder piles or Black Mountain in the distance.
Signature Prescriptive Facial (50 minutes)
A skilled spa aesthetician will provide a thorough skin evaluation before customizing the perfect facial for the unique needs of your skin.
* NOTE: As the Spa at the Boulders incorporates the elements of the Native American influences for the region, another offering that’s particularly unique is the Native American Tipi. Spa guests use the Tipi for private meditation, soul readings or shamanic ceremonies. Guests may also choose to offer a meditation or “prayer bundle” before or after self-guided time. This is the only spa in Arizona that has an authentic Tipi; the structure stands 18 feet in diameter and 26 feet in height and accommodates up to 10 people and is used for guided meditation sessions.
Afternoon of leisure. Enjoy other fun and relaxing activities the resort has to offer.
Lounging poolside at your choice of (4) resort pools is always a great option, especially during the hotter months. Or, if you’re hankerin’ to get out on the gorgeous greens, play a round of golf on either of two championship golf courses. If you prefer to get the blood flowing, hit the tennis or pickleball courts for some friendly competition.
* NOTE: When poolside, be sure to order the “Bobby Slayer Steak Torta” sandwich, which is what Chef Archibald prepared to take the win over Bobby Flay. It’s loaded with savory skirt steak, Oaxacan chiles, crispy chicken skin, cabbage—all doused with rich avocado crema. Yum!
Dinner and evening activities at the nearby town of Carefree Cave Creek
Located in the foothills north of Phoenix, Cave Creek and Carefree Arizona are adjacent towns with a unique natural environment in common but with contrasting personalities. The air is cooler and cleaner than in the city, and the location is ideal for day trips south to Phoenix or north to Sedona, Prescott, Jerome and Flagstaff. With so much going for them, it’s hardly surprising that these sister communities have been capturing the hearts and imaginations of countless visitors for well over a century.
Get energized with a workout on your own or sign up to join a group fitness class.
Breakfast at the resort’s on-site Bakery Cafe
Grab your morning coffee, some sweet and savory pastries or a quick breakfast-to-go in this cozy Bakery Café. Inspired by classic pâtisseries, this charming bakery offers freshly baked breads, refreshingly crisp salads and delightful confections. Treat yourself to a delicious muffin, silky-smooth espresso or other mouthwatering treats.
Shopping and horseback riding at the nearby town of Carefree Cave Creek
Day trip to Butterfly Wonderland
Butterfly Wonderland is Scottsdale’s newest destination attraction and the largest glass-enclosed butterfly conservatory in America. It features a magnificent glass atrium that brings a tropical rainforest environment to the Arizona desert, as well as educational laboratories and interactive exhibits, a 3D movie theater, gift shop and a café-style dining area.
Day trip continues to OdySea Aquarium
OdySea Aquarium offers an entertaining, educational and interactive experience for guests of all ages by combining theme-park-style amusement with highly engaging presentations of aquatic life like no other in the industry. The facility includes a 3D theater, SeaTREK™ underwater ocean walking and a one-of-a-kind voyage through the “Living Sea Carousel.” Unparalleled features include massive aquatic orbs suspended from the lobby ceiling and filled with colorful schools of fish, and a giant submerged escalator allowing guests to descend deep into the ocean while surrounded by thousands of seas creatures. Even the restrooms have viewing windows into the shark habitat so guests won’t miss a thing when they need to take a break. It is located adjacent to Butterfly Wonderland.
Dinner at the resort’s on-site Spotted Donkey Cantina
Fresh, lively, and energetic, the resort’s Spotted Donkey Cantina embraces Arizona’s southwestern influences with “cantina-style” dishes and western flavors in a relaxing atmosphere. Great pleasure awaits patrons where “Modern Mexican” creative cuisine is a mix of regional flavors, top-notch artisanal ingredients and locally sourced foods.
* NOTE: Atmosphere here is super lively. My personal favorite dish among the many enjoyed (including the Mexican Shrimp Ceviche appetizer) was the Chimayo Chile Filete de Puerco. This oven- roasted pork tenderloin is cooked to tender perfection and topped with a rich, perfectly reduced bourbon ancho chili sauce. The sliced medallions are served atop green chili bacon, large noodle “mac and cheese.” Enough said.
Breakfast at Palo Verde Restaurant
* NOTE: Breakfast here is just as impressive as dinner service. The Short Rib Hash with Yukon potato, rajas and guajillo chile sauce topped with a sunny side up egg and served with three flour tortillas is a memorable way to start the day as your brief southwestern sabbatical draws to a close.
By 11:00 a.m.
Depart from the Boulders Resort & Spa
Sadly all good things must come to an end. But given that Phoenix boasts more than 450 hotels with more than 62,000 guest rooms—including over 40 luxury resorts—your next marvelous micro-vacation awaits. However, given how much there is to do and see at The Boulders Resort & Spa and the caliber of its hospitality, repeat visits to this relaxing nature-laden retreat are certainly warranted. With this city’s dependably warm temperatures that make outdoor activities a way of life year-round, any time is a great time to visit “The Valley of the Sun.”