Arizona has always been more than the cacti and red rocks that first wow the eye. And it’s never been a better time to visit: innovative restaurants, cool art, and passionate locals are pumping new energy into the desert cities across the Grand Canyon State.
Don’t sleep on Arizona’s spring art scene. The Phoenix Art Museum has a couple of noteworthy exhibits to check out: The first, Farewell Photography, is open now through June and highlights the work of postwar Japanese photographers like Daido Moriyama, Masahisa Fukase, and Miyako Ishiuchi. It’s a steely, emotional expression of artists exploring a new approach to photography: “are-bure-boke,” translated as “rough, blurred, and out of focus.” Also worth scoping out is Legacy of Ceylon, which puts rare Sri Lankan artwork and photography on display now through April 24, much of it for the first time ever.
Thirty minutes east, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) is featuring over 70 paintings by lauded artist Beverly McIver, whose work appears in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian and in the Baltimore Museum of Art. Full Circle is a collection of portraits playing with themes of self-expression, stereotypes, and personal connection.
Seven years ago, Tucson made news as the first designated UNESCO City of Gastronomy, and it’s led as Arizona’s top food city ever since. Try Barrio Bread; baker Don Guerra was a semifinalist for Outstanding Baker in the 2020 James Beard Awards. Guerra uses locally grown heritage grains and mills his own flour. Taste the difference in his Heritage loaf (complete with a stenciled cactus ) or pain au levain. Last year, Guerra teamed up with fellow James Beard nominee Carlotta Flores to open Barrio Charro, where you can order their signature “tortamano” sandwiches. The Delta opened in January, serving Southern fare with local influences.
Also new to the neighborhood, James Beard semifinalist and Top Chef alum Maria Mazon’s Sona Tortillas de Maiz y Bodega. The bodega half of the concept houses local businesses offering coffee, tea, and other goods. The tortilleria half opened earlier this year with corn tortillas made from scratch by Mazon and her younger brother, Miguel.
In Phoenix, French cuisine is getting a revival. Francine was named Best French Restaurant in 2021 by Phoenix New Times. Chef and founder Laurent Halasz pulled inspiration from his childhood in the south of France, bringing the classics of the cuisine (bouillabaisse, steak frites) to the table. Sottise (from Restaurant Progress owners Esther Noh and TJ Culp) is serving up a lively, modern take on French cuisine inside the Roosevelt District’s historic Knipe House.
Arizona is welcoming a slate of new and refreshed hotels this year. The 10-room Citizen Hotel from winemakers Sarah Fox and Rob Hammelman posted up in downtown Tucson; it will double as a barreling and tasting room, offering guests wine-centric experiences to round out their stay. High Country Motor Lodge opens March 8 right in the center of Flagstaff. Just off historic Route 66, the boutique hotel embraces that retro charm and blends it with a modern mountain aesthetic. The property will also house the first Nordic spa concept in the state.
In Phoenix, the iconic Biltmore, hailed for its legendary architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright designs, completed a massive renovation last year. The new look maintains Wright’s influence with welcome additions—for instance, the original stained glass and mosaics inspired new bespoke Italian mosaics set along the bottom of the Saguaro Pool. Also added is an event lawn, stand-alone guest cottages, a restaurant, and an updated spa, Tierra Luna. Less than an hour outside of town, Castle Hot Springs was named Travel + Leisure’s top resort in the state; its hot spring pools, sky-view cabins, and “digital detox” approach give visitors a chance to be fully immersed in nature.
Sedona welcomed The Wilde Resort & Spa in late 2021. Located at the base of Thunder Mountain, the boutique resort offers plenty of nature-inspired elements for its visitors, including a healing garden, a labyrinth, a rooftop with panoramic views, and spa services. But the biggest news in Sedona is still to come—Ambiente, which bills itself as the continent’s first “landscape hotel,” is finally opening its doors in May. The adults-only property boasts 40 glass-enclosed rooms with luxury accommodations overlooking the lush wilderness and iconic red rocks of Coconino National Forest. The hotel’s concept is driven by sustainability, emphasizing low-impact design and architecture to harmoniously blend in with its natural surroundings.