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Spring 2008 | The Valley of the Sun

Spring 2008 | The Valley of the Sun

Arizona's burgeoning neighbor cities of energetic Phoenix and luxe Scottsdale are turning lavender

From a diffuse swath of depressing sprawl, Arizona's largest city has over the past decade revamped its image with new hotels, restaurants, and cultural venues, including the Phoenix Metropolitan Opera, which debuted in December. Urban pioneers, including plenty of gays and lesbians, have snapped up genteel, palm-shaded bungalows in historic neighborhoods like Coronado and Willo. And gay visitors will find more to see and do than ever before.

Meanwhile, neighboring old-money Scottsdale is rapidly shedding its fussy Cadillac-and-caviar image. Yeah, it's a resort town -- a carpet of neatly manicured golf courses punctuated by low-slung yet very high-profile hotels and spas -- but youthful glam properties, including the poseur-ish Mondrian and, opening in February, the W Scottsdale, are all the rage of late. Most of the region's gay clubs are in Phoenix, but Scottsdale offers lounge lizards and gourmands a stylish, pansexual milieu for hobnobbing, sunbathing, gallery gazing, and dining.

Arizona's conservative political reputation notwithstanding, metro Phoenix has a sizable, visible, politically active gay contingent, and the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau maintains an extensive gay section on its Web site at Gay Phoenicians support their local taverns, and the city has among the highest number of gay bars per capita in the nation. As red states go, Arizona leans libertarian, in the tradition of local political folk hero and latter-day supporter of gay rights Barry Goldwater. In 2006 the state became the first in the country to vote down an amendment forbidding the legal recognition of same-sex marriages or
civil unions.

Vacations in Phoenix invariably revolve around leisurely pursuits. It's easy to pass the days happily relaxing on a massage table, zipping around a golf course, lazing by a pool, or dashing across a tennis court. Summers are unbearably hot, but temps don't generally climb above the 100-degree mark until June or so. Until then, the Valley of the Sun makes for a pleasing, gay-friendly getaway.

Day 1
AM Spend the morning gaining a full sense of how downtown Phoenix has, like a…phoenix, risen from the ashes of dull sprawl to become a dynamic urban core. Much of the buzz centers around Copper Square, a 90-block tract of restaurants, sports and music venues, bars, and museums, but you'll find a gayer and more artsy vibe in adjacent Roosevelt Row, a formerly blighted district that's now home to artists' studios, offbeat cafés, and the fabulous bakery Tammie Coe Cakes (610 E. Roosevelt St.; 602-253-0829), where you can devour a mammoth chocolate chip cookie or a slice of spongy lemon vanilla cake. Walk or drive a mile to the Phoenix Art Museum (1625 N. Central Ave.; 602-257-1222) to peruse galleries of classic and contemporary works as well as its well-regarded fashion design collection, featuring drop-dead gorgeous Bob Mackie and Chanel gowns. Grab lunch at the museum's Arcadia Farms Café, where the kitchen uses local organic ingredients to whip up fresh, creative salads and grills. Continue just up Central Avenue to the Heard Museum (2301 N. Central Ave.; 602-252-8848), one of the world's premier repositories of Native American art and culture.  PM Start the evening sipping pinot noir and noshing on Camembert at the understatedly elegant Cheuvront Wine and Cheese Café (1326 N. Central Ave.; 602-307-0022), owned by openly gay state representative Ken Cheuvront. More substantial options, such as pan-seared halibut or pesto and chevret pizza, make this an appealing -- and not terribly expensive -- dinner option. From here it's a short walk to the city's hippest gay nightspot, Amsterdam (718 N. Central Ave.; 602-258-6122), a clubby, high-ceilinged lounge with a mixed gay and lesbian following. Head for the airy patio for the best people-watching.

Day 2
AM During the winter and spring months, Phoenix offers perfectly mild weather and stunning scenery for outdoorsy pursuits. Spend your morning enjoying a quintessentially Arizona activity, perhaps horseback riding through the stunning Gila River wilderness at the Koli Equestrian Center, adjacent to the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort (5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler; 602-225-0100), or navigating the world-class golf links at the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North (10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr., Scottsdale; 480-515-5700). Each of these luxe resorts have myriad enticing lunch options as well as unparalleled spa facilities, so plan to pamper yourself in the afternoon. At Wild Horse Pass's Aji Spa, opt for the invigorating Ho'dai Gila River rock massage. The tranquil Four Seasons spa is most famous for its Ayurvedic rebalancing ritual. PM Don your most flattering threads for dinner at Scottsdale's sexy Asia de Cuba, the white-on-white Nuevo Latino–meets–Pan Asian restaurant at the swish Mondrian hotel (7353 E. Indian School Rd., Scottsdale; 480-308-1131). Move on to the dapper video bar BS West (7125 E. 5th Ave., Scottsdale; 480-945-9028), Scottsdale's lone gay bar, before graduating to more serious clubbing at Phoenix's preeminent gay party venues:Karamba (1724 E. McDowell Rd.; 602-254-0231) for guys or Club Vibe (3031 E. Indian School Rd.; 602-224-9977) for women. If you're hankering for post-clubbing sustenance, take a seat at the blue-lit community table at postmodern Delux (3146 E. Camelback Rd.; 602-522-2288), which serves unbelievably tasty grain-fed burgers along with decadent red velvet cupcakes till 2 A.M. nightly -- a Scottsdale branch is scheduled to open by March 2008.

Day 3
AM Recover from last night's revelry with a savory Sunday brunch (try the signature breakfast casserole of Italian sausage, poached eggs, and cheddar) at see-and-be-seen Café ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho (6850 E. Main St., Scottsdale; 480-248-2000), followed by a shopping mission through Scottsdale's bevy of high-end art galleries, boutiques, and shopping centers -- tony Scottsdale Fashion Square (7014 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale; 480-990-7800) offers Hugo Boss, Michael Kors, and Louis Vuitton boutiques. PM Frank Lloyd Wright spent the latter years of his life at his winter compound, Taliesin West (12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale; 480-860-2700), on the outskirts of Scottsdale. Design aficionados should be sure to set aside a few hours to tour this landmark school and museum of architecture. Continue the theme with dinner at Wright's, the fantastic contemporary American restaurant at the historic Arizona Biltmore Resort (2400 E. Missouri Ave.; 602-381-7632). The dining room recalls Wright's inimitable aesthetic with its distinctive geometric-patterned bricks precast from indigenous materials (known as “Biltmore Blocks”) and arts and crafts furniture. Finish the evening back at downtown Phoenix's Copper Square to experience the city's emerging performing arts scene. See a musical or dance performance at the state-of-the-art Herberger Theater Center (222 E. Monroe St.; 602-252-8497), or catch the Phoenix Symphony or the newly inaugurated Phoenix Metropolitan Opera at the magnificently restored Orpheum Theatre (203 W. Adams St.; 602-534-5600), which dates to 1929. Guided tours of the Orpheum are available during the day (602-262-6225). 

Don't miss the famously gay-amicable Kimpton group's sleek FireSky Resort and Spa (4925 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale; 800-528-7867), a pet-friendly compound whose airy rooms have spacious terraces with Adirondack chairs, or the Polynesian-chic Hotel Valley Ho (6850 E. Main St., Scottsdale; 866-882-4484), whose big, curvy rooms recall the Rat Pack aesthetic of the 1950s. A stately dowager dating back to the 1920s, the Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa (2400 E. Missouri Ave.; 800-950-2575) has the cushiest rooms in Phoenix. Book one of the swank villas, featuring full kitchens, gas fireplaces, and soaring ceilings. A classic that keeps getting better with age, the intimate Royal Palms Resort and Spa (5200 E. Camelback Rd.; 800-672-6011) feels like a colonial hacienda. Choose from 119 plush casitas or 27 chichi units in the brand-new Montavista spa wing. A modern, intimate option in Phoenix, the gay-owned Clarendon hotel (401 W. Clarendon Ave., Phoenix; 602-252-7363) ranks among the city's gay-friendliest lodging options, sporting spacious rooms outfitted with bold colors and angular furniture.

Modern, clean, and relatively efficient Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (602-273-3300) is a hub for both US Airways (800-428-4322) and the feel-good discount carrier Southwest Airlines (800-435-9792), with numerous direct domestic flights and international service to Mexico and Canada. Once here, you'll need a car to get around, and Sky Harbor has a hyperefficient, centralized car rental center. With the airport located just five miles southeast of downtown Phoenix and 10 miles southwest of downtown Scottsdale, getting around is a cinch -- but for the occasionally headache-inducing traffic.

“You have to climb Piestewa Peak [formerly Squaw Peak, in the Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreation Area]. It's located just east of Highway 51. It's the busiest hiking trail, and during the spring and summer you'll see lots of hot shirtless guys hiking or running up the trail.” -- Danny, via e-mail

Copper Square
Roosevelt Row
Tammie Coe Cakes
Phoenix Art Museum
Arcadia Farms Cafe
Heard Museum
Cheuvront Wine and Cheese Cafe
Koli Equestrian Center
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass
Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North
BS West
Club Vibe
FireSky Resort and Spa
Hotel Valley Ho
Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa
Royal Palms Resort and Spa
Scottsdale Fashion Square
Taliesin West
Herberger Theater Center
Orpheum Theatre
Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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