As someone who spent 50% of 2019 traipsing around the globe, staying home for most of 2020 has been a rude awakening for me. Gone are the days of keeping a bag packed for spur-of-the-moment trips, collecting stamps in my passport, and being in a perpetual state of jet lag recovery (though I don't miss that part as much). But a silver lining of the pandemic is that it has encouraged me to explore dreamy destinations a little closer to home. My most recent COVID road trip adventure took me to Scottsdale, Arizona, and it's a place I'd be happy to revisit over and over again.
I've been to Scottsdale a couple times before, but this was my first time road tripping there, which offered an entirely new way to see the city. I picked Scottsdale as my road trip destination because, while it's a city adjacent to a larger city (Phoenix), there are so many opportunities to participate in very socially distant activities. It's also considered the spa capital of the country, and after an extremely stressful few months, I knew that a little R&R was exactly what I needed. A road trip to Scottsdale made for a pretty perfect weekend escape.
One of the coolest parts about the road trip to Scottsdale was the route. There are a few different scenic stops between Los Angeles and Scottsdale that I recommend taking. The windmill farm in Palm Springs always makes for a beautiful photo opportunity, and I can't say enough good things about the landscape in Joshua Tree National Park (especially this secluded spot pictured above).
But, in my opinion, the absolute best stop is this tiny place called Pioneertown. It's a working Western movie set in the middle of the desert that you can walk through at any time (provided there isn't a shoot happening). As you walk down Mane Street, it really feels like you're walking through a rootin' tootin' Western movie, ready to slam open swinging saloon doors at any given moment. I got dressed up in full cowgirl gear for the #content — suede fringe jacket and all — but regardless of whether or not you go all out, it's a road trip stop you'll never forget.
Where To Stay In Scottsdale
While the beauty of a road trip often lies in the journey, the destination is equally as important for me — especially when the final stop is as incredible as Scottsdale. I've had the chance to stay at a few different hotels through my various trips to Scottsdale, and one that I will always go back to is the Four Seasons Troon North. It's slightly out of the center of the city — making for great social distancing — and is backdropped by the beautiful boulders and cacti that surround Pinnacle Peak.
The buildings are inspired by Southwestern adobe architecture and the property is completely secluded, so you feel completely transported to a serene, meditative environment. There are a ton of activities to enjoy on and around the property, but it's also the perfect place to go to unwind, unplug, and completely veg out (which is exactly what I needed).
Outdoorsy Activities In Scottsdale
I've been to 42 of the 50 states and can safely say that the Sonoran Desert and surrounding landscape is one of the most beautiful places in the whole country. Every time I go to Arizona, I always feel compelled to spend time in nature, and luckily, there's an endless number of activities to try out in the Scottsdale area.
In past trips, I've gone hot air ballooning and kayaking on the Salt River (both of which were incredible experiences), so I knew I wanted to spend some time outdoors during this return visit. I ended up kayaking on Saguaro Lake with Saguaro Lake Ranch and taking an ATV ride through the desert with Stellar Adventures.
Kayaking on a lake is always more chill than a river because there's no current to worry about. I loved that this kayaking excursion was so lax and peaceful, especially because I went early in the morning. It was a free paddle so I didn't have to worry about keeping up with a guide and could just sunbathe whenever my arms got a little tired. The lake's water is impossibly blue, and it's completely surrounded by towering cliffs and of course, hundreds of giant cacti.
This was my first ATV riding experience and I don't think it could have been in a more beautiful setting. The rocky trails, scenic plateaus, and thrill of going up to 50 miles an hour on a dirt road was something I know I'll never forget. Since the trails are a little tricky to navigate and there are some tight spots with cliff drop-offs, I'm happy that I chose to take a tour with an experienced guide who knew the area super well. Plus, the tour was semi-private (the group only had six people in it, including me and my friend), and we all had masks on to protect ourselves from the dust, so it felt extremely COVID-safe.
Spa Time In Scottsdale
Naturally, I couldn't pass up a chance to indulge in a spa treatment while I was in the spa capital of the country. The spa I chose to visit was The Phoenician, which is the only Forbes Five-Star spa in Scottsdale, so I knew that whatever I did there would be incredible.
I was actually a little reluctant to go to a spa and spend an extended amount of time in such close quarters with a stranger, but The Phoenician really alleviated all of my worries. Masks were required throughout the entire spa — including in the jacuzzi, sauna, and treatment room — and they were operating at reduced capacity to ensure that all guests were able to stay socially-distanced.
The treatment I opted for was the Phoenix Rising Scrub & Massage, which included a magnesium body scrub and a full-body massage using shea butter and coconut oil. I don't think I could have melted further into the massage bed; my therapist even commented that he could tell how much I needed the treatment based on how tight my muscles were. I left with the softest skin and the most relaxed shoulders of my life.
If other spas are operating similarly to how The Phoenician is, I'd definitely be comfortable going back in for another treatment.
Road Trips Are The Way To Travel During The Pandemic
I'm definitely going through some major wanderlust withdrawals, but I love that the pandemic has forced me to get a little creative in the ways that I see the world — or rather, places close to my backyard. If you're thinking of taking a small adventure, here are some of my top tips for road tripping during the pandemic.
Go somewhere close. Something that I loved about road tripping to Scottsdale is that I was able to get there on one tank of gas, which meant I didn't have to stop on the way over or the way back. I also packed snacks to munch on while driving so I didn't have to stop for food, either.
Go somewhere with tons of outdoor activity options. I definitely wouldn't have been comfortable participating in any activities — or even staying in a hotel — had they not been outside in wide open spaces. The Four Seasons was perfect for distancing because the entire property is outdoors, and I only booked excursions that were private or semi-private so that I could maintain as close to zero contact as possible.
As someone who has worked in the tourism industry for some time now, I know firsthand how much these businesses are suffering because of the pandemic. I know that traveling is scary right now, and you shouldn't do it unless you feel 100% confident, but if you plan carefully and make good decisions along the way, it's possible to have a really amazing trip. Bon voyage!