Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.
Today, I’m happy to introduce you to Dena Roché, who lives in Scottsdale and works as a luxury wellness travel consultant and journalist. She’s one of the interviewees for my upcoming Colorado + Arizona guide. And the below is just part of what you’ll get in the full book.
First, tell us about you.
I grew up in Milwaukee, which is a great city, but cold! I came to Scottsdale, where I’ve lived for 17 years, to warm up.
I work as a luxury wellness travel consultant and journalist. I write for luxury lifestyle publications and help brands learn how to play in the lucrative luxury wellness travel space. In my spare time, you can find me on the hiking trail, at events around town, or sipping a glass of wine with friends at one of the city’s numerous happy hour hot spots.
I’m also the editor of The Travel Diet—a website that brings readers the best in luxury travel with a wellness twist.
What should a first-time visitor see and do in Phoenix and Scottsdale?
If you like museums, go to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). It’s so unique. Same with the Heard Museum or Taliesin West.
People often come to soak up the sun and relax and I’d argue that Scottsdale has the best concentration of spas anywhere. I particularly like the Joya Spa and Fairmont Well & Being for a spa day (seriously, go. And invite me to tag along).
For those who have been to Phoenix before, what are some of the more hidden gems?
For foodies, tour Arizona’s only olive mill, Queen Creek Olive Mill, check out the downtown Phoenix Public Market, or do a day trip to the Verde Valley and visit the wineries up there. Outdoor lovers will enjoy renting a bike and cycling the 100- mile canal network.
What neighborhoods or areas do you recommend staying in?
For a resort experience, there are great five-star properties in Scottsdale. For someone wanting more of a city escape, I suggest the new Camby in the Biltmore area.
Let’s talk about day trips. If someone wants to get out of the city for a day, where should they go?
The Grand Canyon is obvious, but I actually like Sedona a bit more for anyone who has already seen the canyon. It is truly God’s country. The red rocks are stunning and the area is great for hiking, doing a jeep tour, or simply finding out if what they say about all the energy vortexes in the area is true. If you want to spend the night, choose Enchantment Resort or L’Auberge.
What are your favorite hiking or walking paths in the area?
In town, my favorite hike is the Gateway Loop Trail. It’s about four miles and is a moderate hike. For a challenge, hike Tom’s Thumb or Camelback.
Let’s talk about food. What dishes should we try while in Phoenix and what are your favorite bars and restaurants?
Most people enjoy trying Mexican or Southwestern food, but I have to admit this isn’t my favorite cuisine. If it’s yours, I suggest Barrio Café (2814 N. 16th Street; phone: 602.636.0240).
Drink-wise, people like trying a prickly pear margarita. Other than that, Arizona food isn’t about one type of cuisine. The food scene here has elevated in the last five years, so it’s more about choosing great restaurants instead of seeking out the best burrito.
Some local favorites include FnB (7125 E. 5th Avenue, #31; phone: 480.284.4777), Cowboy Ciao (7133 E. Stetson Drive; phone: 480.946.3111), Crudo (3603 E. Indian School Road; phone: 602.358.8666), and Beckett’s Table (3717 E. Indian School Road; phone: 602.954.1700).
My own favorite restaurant, Binkley’s, is re-opening up in midtown later this year (2320 E. Osborn Road; phone: 602.388.4874). That is the splurge restaurant not to miss.
Other favorites include Virtu (3701 N. Marshall Way; phone: 480.946.3477). Esquire named it a top table and the octopus appetizer is the best in the city. Reservations highly recommended.
Do you have any budget tips for us?
If you don’t mind the heat, come in summer. $500 hotel rooms can be had for about $150 – 200 and you’ll find some great discounts on golf, as well.
There are also lots of great happy hours in the area. If you’re like me and not a big eater, they can be a money-saving approach to dinner.
Where are the best places in town to take a great photo?
The Valley of the Sun serves up some great Instagramable sunrises and sunsets and the best vantage points for these are on top of a mountain. Pick a hike you like, bring your camera, and time it right and you’ll have an Ansel Adams-worthy picture to post.
Anything else to add?
The stat that always blows people’s mind is that Phoenix is the 6th largest city in the country and they’re always surprised that Scottsdale is more L.A.-style than wild wild west.
Want more? My full-sized Colorado + Arizona guide (with 99 more of these interviews and Dena’s full recommendations) comes out later this year. Jump on my mailing list and be the first to know when it’s ready.