Perfect for: Art aficionados, fitness freaks, cultured cowpokes and weekend clubbers
Past & Present
“The West’s Most Western Town” earned its nickname with its Old West origin story. In 1888, United States Army chaplain Winfield Scott scoped out the Salt River Valley and ponied up $1,600 to buy 640 acres for a large-scale farm. Other settlers followed to what was originally called Orangedale to pursue agricultural opportunities afforded by the new Arizona Canal. By 1894, Scottsdale was born. The heart of modern-day downtown Scottsdale, lovingly and widely referred to as Old Town, has seen many evolutions since then – from ag hub to art colony in the first part of the 20th century, to a tony resort, retail and entertainment destination in the 21st.
One Day in Old Town
First: Indulge in locally roasted coffee on Scottsdale’s Coffee Trail, nine indie coffeehouses/bakeries that form a U around Scottsdale Road. Berdena’s has a delectable lavender-honey latte, fresh pastries and Instagrammable décor.
Next: Brunch or lunch at New Wave Market (newwavemarket.com), a bright and breezy eatery attached to Super Chunk Sweets & Treats (superchunk.me). After one bite of chef Country Velador’s house-made bagels or schmaltz chicken salad sandwich, you’ll understand why New Wave was a 2020 James Beard Foundation semifinalist.
Then: Do a museum blitz: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (smoca.org), Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (scottsdalemuseumwest.org) and Old Town Scottsdale Rodeo Museum (facebook.com/scottsdalerodeomuseum). If you’re there on a Thursday, do a self-guided public art tour on the weekly Scottsdale ArtWalk (scottsdalegalleries.com).
Finally: Have dinner at FnB (fnbrestaurant.com) for a true taste of Arizona, from locally grown produce on James Beard Award-winning chef Charleen Badman’s ever-changing menu to wine wizard Pavle Milic’s pours of Arizona vino.
3 Things to Do
1. Hit the Scottsdale Wine Trail (scottsdalewinetrail.com), a cluster of tasting rooms from five Arizona wineries. A Wine Trail Passport ($5) gets you $2 off tastings of five wines at each location, a commemorative wine glass and other discounts.
2. Shop at beloved local boutiques like Carmen (facebook.com/carmenon5th) and Southwestern galleries like River Trading Post (rivertradingpost.com).
3. Sip locally distilled vodka and gin at Blue Clover Distillery (bluecloverdistillery.com), which has also been producing hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
3 Places to Eat
1. Citizen Public House (citizenpublichouse.com) is Old Town’s neighborhood restaurant, a polished yet comfy spot centered around chef Bernie Kantak’s upscale gastropub cuisine.
2. Craft 64 (craft64.com) boasts some of the Valley’s best pizza and one of the most renowned beer programs around, with 30 handles dedicated to Arizona craft brews. Great wine selection, too.
3. Sel (selrestaurant.com) is among the newer generation of Scottsdale fine dining spots, with a regularly changing menu inspired by seasonal produce and chef Branden Levine’s travels.
Bet You Didn’t Know
Winfield Scott himself planted the olive trees along Second Street – the namesake of Los Olivos Mexican Patio (losolivosrestaurants.com).
Parking is free and abundant. Look beyond the two- and three-hour spots lining the streets and hunker down in a public garage or lot.
Bring home a taste of the AZ Wine Trail with bottles from Merkin Vineyards and LDV Winery, and snack it up with Super Chunk Sweets & Treats artisanal popcorn.
Future Old Town
• The Merchantile of Scottsdale (themerchantileofscottsdale.com) recently took over the iconic Saba’s Western Wear building on Brown Avenue. The indoor marketplace features kiosks for local designers, artists and makers to have a physical retail space.
• At press time, controversy continued to swirl around the felled Southbridge II development and any future developments that would vertically increase Scottsdale’s density.
• A new era begins this fall with the departure of Mayor Jim Lane, who is facing term limits.
2020 Population: 253,800
2050 Population: 311,000 (est.)
Get Your Bearings
Starting at the northern extremity of Scottsdale Fashion Square, Old Town creeps south along Scottsdale Road roughly to Osborn Road.
5 Questions with Ace Bailey
With a name like hers, you’d expect Ace Bailey to be a gumshoe in a film noir. In reality, she’s a walking Scottsdale encyclopedia who runs Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours (ultimatearttours.com) and serves as concierge at Hotel Valley Ho (hotelvalleyho.com).
In normal times, how does your company run?
I work more with private groups and custom design art and cultural tours, so artists’ studio tours, gallery tours, museum tours… I do the historic architecture tour of the Hotel Valley Ho.
Do you have a tour guide philosophy?
I think everyone should be a visitor in their own town.
What makes Old Town different from other downtowns?
The public art. Also, it’s clean… People want to live here. They want to live in this urban core where they can bike and walk everywhere.
What are your favorite public art pieces?
The hidden gems that are in plain sight, I think are so great. Like Knight Rise, which is the [James] Turrell piece at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art… It’s this permanent installation, and it’s all concrete… and there’s an oculus in the ceiling that you just see the sky through… It’s almost a religious experience.
Any that are more hidden?
There’s one up on Indian School [Road] and 68th Street-ish, as you get to the canal pathway there, and it frames a view of Camelback Mountain… It’s this little innocuous, metal, cool-looking piece of art with a large circle in it… It’s taking a breath and taking your time to just really experience where you are in that moment.