When one thinks of a warm winter getaway, the Caribbean or South America may come to mind. But how about vacationing in the United States, where you don’t have to worry about money exchange or international cell charges? You can enjoy breathtaking views of the gorgeous Sonoran desert and take in unmatched sunsets that bring on a sky full of hues of orange, red, pink and blue. That place is the beautiful state of Arizona. Divided into a few regions, I’d suggest renting a car and exploring the various parts of the state, as each one offers gems of their own, and are only a few hours apart. There are so many incredible places to stay and things to see and do in the valley of the sun. Below are some of my favorites. You can do everything from becoming a farmer and rancher to pampering yourself at a five diamond resort.
1) Become a farmer for a day in Yuma with the Field of Feast tour and a visit to Martha’s Date Farm. The field of feast tour gives you a hands- on farming lesson in conjunction with the agricultural experts from the University of Arizona. With your hairnets, lettuce knives, and a recipe card in tow, you’ll pick produce to take both with you and to give to the Arizona Western College culinary students, who will prepare a fabulously healthy lunch from the produce you picked from the field. At the Martha Garden date farm, you’ll get to learn about and try the healthy Medjool date in either a shake, macaroon, or prepared with pecans, walnuts, and coconut. The date was introduced to Yuma is 1944 and the region is now the world’s largest producer because of the favorable microclimate along the Colorado River.
2) In the morning, take a leisurely canoe ride down the Colorado River with the City of Yuma Parks and Recreation Department. For lunch, stop into Lute’s Casino. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time as soon as you step into this restaurant and bar, which has been family owned since the 1920’s. Learn the history, listen to nostalgic piano music, and see all the cool memorabilia on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.
3) Explore Mesa by picking your own oranges at the Orange Patch, having lunch at Joe’s Farm Grill next to the family farm, Agritopia, and enjoying “udder delights,” the homemade icecream at Superstition Dairy Farm. The Orange Patch is one of Mesa’s original citrus growers and guests can watch the picking and production process before tasting their delicious freshly squeezed orange juice. Lines form around the block at “Joe’s Farm Grill” from locals and visitors alike. Created in 1966, they pride themselves on “making common food uncommonly well.” At Superstition Farms, take a tour, learn modern dairy operation, make friends at the petting zoo, and go home with something from their Moo-tique.
4) Visit the Queen Creek Olive Mill, Arizona’s only family-owned and operated working olive mill and farm, just east of Mesa. Learn the process of making extra virgin olive oil and sample a wide variety of infused oils. My favorite oils were the chocolate and bacon (not together in one!) You can enjoy fresh gourmet foods at their eatery, Del Piero, and be sure to try the olive oil cupcakes!
5) Get married in a barn at the Windmill Winery in historic Florence. If you’re looking for a beautiful and unique setting for a wedding, this is it! The gorgeous mountains and beautiful sunset make the perfect backdrop as you ride in on horseback down the stone pathways. If you’re not planning a wedding, you can still visit the wine bar and tasting room, open to the public Thursday through Saturday. Once a month, they host themed dinners in the barn. I sampled the food and can tell you it’s better than any wedding food I’ve ever had!
6) Enjoy some great Mexican food at places like La Fonda Restaurant and Tortilla Factory in Yuma, where they make their own corn tortillas on premise every morning. In Tucson, stop for some good Mexican fast food at El Guero Canelo, and in Gilbert, Joyride Taco offers slow roasted meats in house-made tortillas. While not Mexican, a great breakfast stop is T.C. Eggington’s Brunchery in Mesa. Their menu is healthy and fresh, including egg white omelets piled high with local veggies and fresh smoothies.
7) Get your gambling fix at the Casino del Sol Resort, Spa and Conference Center in Southwest Tucson. This new resort owned by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe is more than just a casino. This AAA four diamond property features the phenomenal award winning PY steakhouse and bar. The bar features a wine list of over 1000 labels and their own reserve of tequila and bourbon. The creative mixologist will prepare drinks for every taste bud using only the freshest of ingredients. In the morning, visit the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. In this outdoor nature park (most of the museum is outdoors), you’ll learn all about the plants indigenous to the Sonoran Desert and come close to animals like the mountain lion and prairie dog.
8) Eat your way through Old Town Scottsdale and learn the history with the Taste of Scottsdale tour. Stay at the brightly multicolored Saguaro Hotel, which is in the perfect location for exploring Downtown Scottsdale. You can borrow one of their bikes and explore the local area or relax by their pool and spa. Also, while in Scottsdale, be sure to check out the Musical Instrument Museum. This is no ordinary museum! See instruments and taped performances from all around the world. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time!
9) Take a hot air balloon ride and drink champagne in the desert with Hot Air Expeditions. They will pick you up at your hotel and you’ll watch as they blow up the balloons and ignite the flame. Step into the large basket and soar up to 7500 feet off the ground and capture the mountain and desert scenery. Upon landing, they will have a champagne brunch or dinner waiting for you. They offer a sunrise and sunset tour in the winter months and just a sunrise one in the summertime.
10) Pamper yourself at one of the amazing spa resorts in Scottsdale. The five diamond Fairmont Princess in the northern part of Scottsdale is a true gem. If you are traveling on your own, this is the perfect retreat for your body and soul. At the Well and Being at Willow Stream Spa, enjoy the modern fitness center or one of their many classes including aerial yoga and dance, crossfit, and TRX. Meet with an exercise physiologist and get your body fat tested in the state of the art, “bod pod,” said to be one of the most accurate measures of lean muscle and body fat. The spa offers a huge list of options, including the “Havasupai Falls Rejuvenation,” which incorporates a body scrub, full body massage, and ends with hot oil being dripped on your forehead and into your hair with a scalp massage. It is truly heavenly. When not in the spa, sit by the lake, watch the ducks and read a good book. La Hacienda offers some terrific Mexican food and the bar offers over 240 varieties of tequila! You can also perfect your golf game at the 18-hole championship courses-one of which is home to the annual PGA Phoenix Open.
As you can see, Arizona is a state booming with a huge variety of activities and places to eat to satisfy everyone’s cravings. For the latest events and activities, you can visit www.arizonaguide.com. Don’t forget your sunscreen!