Before Dubai, there was Phoenix, an oasis rising from the Sonoran Desert, beckoning to Hollywood stars in need of escape from the Prohibition restrictions of the studio era.
Before commercial aviation, Phoenix was as exotic to most Americans as Dubai is today. A territory until 1912, Arizona was the last contiguous state admitted to the U.S., home to less than a million people through 1950.
A desert playground for the rich and famous, Phoenix became a sanctuary for celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, whose favorite swimming pool was the Catalina Pool at the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Arizona Biltmore, the same pool where Irving Berlin composed "White Christmas" in 1942.
The nation's fifth-largest city, Phoenix encompasses nearly 520 square miles in what is termed the Valley of the Sun, where nearly every Phoenician will remark upon the fact of 300 days of annual sunshine. As part of Greater Phoenix, Scottsdale bears the sobriquet Beverly Hills of the Desert and boasts more destination spas per capita than anywhere else in the States, many of which provide spacious, socially distanced settings.
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess offers six unique swimming pools, including one with its own white-sand beach.
Amid the desert heat, oases are mandatory, and one of the more luxurious is the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which offers six unique swimming pools, including one with 9,000 square feet of white sand. Nestled in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, the lushly landscaped property is situated on 65 acres in the heart of the desert where brilliant desert flowers bloom alongside lagoons and fountains frequented by the property's neotropical avian population. In addition, two ballrooms spill onto the resort's outdoor plazas and manicured lawns. Health guidelines are maintained throughout the property.
The resort's falconry-based bird abatement program includes indigenous Harris' hawks, kestrels, great-horned and barn owls and a gyr falcon. Two championship golf courses are complemented by two fitness centers and the Well & Being Spa with its own private rooftop pool. Dining options include Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak and Richard Sandoval's La Hacienda with more than 240 varieties of tequila. To ensure the safety of all guests, the Fairmont adheres to Accor's All Safe and Well protocols from arrival to departure.
Bordering Scottsdale to the south is Tempe, which became the first and the largest American city with an elected gay mayor when Neil Giuliano served from 1994 to 2004. As the home to Arizona State University, Tempe houses one of the nation's largest student populations with approximately 80,000 students, which explains why the city is a hotbed of craft breweries, cocktail lounges and red-hot restaurants such as Culinary Dropout, a 700-person warehouse retrofitted for kick-ass music, food, and drink. As for accommodations, you can beat the chill vibe at the Moxy Tempe. In keeping with the city's reputation for recreation and health, Tempe developed its signature Tempe's Travel Safely Checklist.
Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden is a 140-acre oasis with more than 50,000 plants.
Apart from the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed ASU Gammage (a performing arts center on the university campus), Greater Phoenix's cultural landmarks include the Tempe Center for the Arts and the interactive Musical Instrument Museum, which displays instruments from icons such as Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Johnny Cash. For a brilliant perspective on the desert's resplendent beauty, few locales feature as much eye candy as Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden, a 140-acre oasis with more than 50,000 plants, many of which redefine the outer limits of fantastical and surreal.
Given the city's welcoming embrace of Hollywood stars, perhaps it's not surprising that Phoenix has proven equally alluring for the LGBTQ community. For nearly 40 years, Phoenix has hosted one of the nation's largest annual Pride celebrations, with a two-day April festival and parade that ushers in Pride season (it remains on the schedule for April 10 and 11). Downtown Phoenix is home to the Melrose District, also known as the "gayborhood." It's home to two rainbow crosswalks and numerous LGBTQ businesses, including Charlie's, a favorite for nearly 30 years, complete with two-stepping, line-dancing local cowboys, some of whom also appear at the annual Arizona Gay Rodeo, an event originally scheduled for February was now canceled due to the pandemic. In October, Phoenix Pride hosts the annual Rainbows Festival, a two-day celebration billed as "Arizona's Greatest Street Fair," with more than 150 exhibitors and 25,000 participants.
A pool and deck at the Phoenician in Scottsdale.
Amid Phoenix's many temptations, overindulgence is a risk, hence the ubiquity of destination spas. Located a short drive from Frank Lloyd Wright's desert masterpiece Taliesin West, Civana focuses on well-being in a setting that shares Wright's appreciation for the desert's natural beauty. Similarly, the Phoenician's brand-new luxury spa promises a new lease on life. For in Phoenix, rebirth is not just mythical: it's a reality.