The confluence of genial geographic and meteorological conditions makes Phoenix an ideal place for outdoor enthusiasts. The city sits in an expansive river valley, bordered by serene lakes and red and black mountain ranges. The weather is gorgeous, with the sun typically shining down (or beating down, in the blistering mid-summer months) 325 days of the year, making it one of the sunniest places in the United States.
Weekend warriors rarely have to check a forecast before making plans to camp, hike, mountain bike, kayak, or golf. I love to do most of those things at times (still trying to develop a taste for golf; its allure still eludes me), but my favorite activity in Phoenix involves testing the limits of my ability to relax into a massage, to soak in a pool, or to steam until I just can't take it anymore. And I haven't hit that wall yet.
A sprawling desert tableau, golf course, and gargantuan fire pit (with bagpiper!) are visible from the balconies in each room of the serene Westin Kierland Resort and Spa (KierlandResort.com). Never mind the mix of Native American and Far Eastern influences on the Agave spa's menu of services -- the hot stones are still hot; tui'na still hurts so good. A 50-minute massage is $149.
The Phoenician in Scottsdale (ThePhoenecian.com) is a grand dame; the 250-acre resort set the standard for formal luxury when it was built in the 1980s. While the spa, called the Centre for Well-Being, could benefit from a little updating, the treatments menu is robust, and in addition to massage, body wraps, and even nutritional counseling, clients can schedule a private guided hike of Camelback Mountain, have a tarot reading, or try hypnotherapy. A 50-minute massage starts at $140.
The stylish and state-of-the-art Spa Avania at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch (Scottsdale.Hyatt.com) has a 2.5-acre water playground, a white sand beach, full amenities, showers with a dizzying array of jets, and an atmosphere that made my stay there seem all too brief. The attention to detail includes customizable music and massage-oil scents. A 60-minute massage starts at $165.
St. Francis Sexy waiters, projections of Julia Child over an outdoor fireplace, industrial-chic design, and seasonal wood-fired cuisine make this an invigorating, gay-popular dinner joint. 111 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, StFrancisAZ.com
House of Tricks A white-tablecloth oasis just off bustling Mill Avenue in Tempe near the Arizona State University campus, perfect for a leisurely al fresco lunch. Try the hot potatotini with bacon garnish. 114 E. Seventh St., Tempe, HouseOfTricks.com
BSWest Twenty-something crowd of boys and girls. Check the schedule for drag shows, go-go boys. 7125 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale, BSWest.com Charlie's Especially packed during the gay rodeo (next up in February 2012), this is the bar mentioned by every local. 727 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, CharliesPhoenix.com