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Don’t Look Now! Guests are Coming…

Local celebrities share their ideas on what to do with your out-of-town visitors

By Robert Danielson

Don’t you just love the fall? That first cool breeze after a long hot summer. The farmer’s markets re-open. Garden sections at Home Depot are once again full of blooming inventory. A kick in your step.

But as mother nature ushers in the beautiful weather, something else is on its way. Your out-of-town house guests. Time to spritz up the guest room.

Rick Phillips, a colorful New York transplant who owns Biltmore’s Mercbar and is an event producer here in the valley, said hosting guests can “go either way. Either you are very excited to see them and show them the sights, or the other way – dread!” That’s why he suggests to make sure to do things that you like to do. “That way you can’t lose.”

For Rick, this means socializing over drinks and dinner. He bows to local Pizza God Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco. “The genius of his food is in its simplicity. But don’t be fooled. There is nothing simple about what goes into the process, just the ingredients which render this other-worldly pie.”

Rick Phillips

Phillips also likes hitting the Sanctuary Resort and Spa, pulling up to the plush Jade Bar to enjoy and the views, and ordering a hot cup of Americano with the best bagel and salmon in town. Or, later in the day, he turns up the heat on some of the best pasta in town with the buzzing hot restaurant scene at the Fat Ox.

After all that delicious food, your guests might need a workout.  Scottsdale City Councilwoman Solange Whitehead heads to the hills in the beautiful McDowell Sonoran Preserve or Scottsdale’s Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt with mountain bikes in tow. “Arizona is a mountain biking mecca. We have beautiful wilderness all in the midst of bustling cities. Visitors can experience world class trails by day, and relax over craft beers in Scottsdale’s vibrant downtown by night.” She said seeing the desert delights on a mountain bike is about more than just recreation. Arizonans enjoy wild neighbors such as mountain lions, eagles, rattlesnakes, javelinas and the large, graceful mule deer.

Solange Whitehead

While we’re working up a sweat, guests of former Valley news anchor Catherine Anaya takes her guests on a hike of Camelback Mountain or to a heated bootcamp workout or pilates at TruFusion in Scottsdale. But after the workout, she can be found with a bowl of Pasta Alex (“amazing”) at Ristorante Guiseppe, or later in the night at the downstairs bar at Rokerij. “It’s cozy and dimly lit with a fireplace that makes us feel we’re in a cool ski lodge.” For some dancing, she brings her visitors to Old Town Scottsdale’s Kazimierz Wine and Whisky Bar. “Live music and great wine? Yes, please.”

Catherine Anaya

Nick Ciletti, morning anchor at ABC15 Arizona, also puts his visitors to the test with a hike. He said, “Avoid the crowds at Camelback and hike Piestewa instead. It’s still a great workout with the same great but views, but I think it’s a little easier and quicker than Camelback. Don’t forget the water!” After the hike, chocolate chip pancakes are in order with breakfast at Snooze, where they also serve what he thinks are the best hash browns he’s ever had. Margaritas are a must at the Taco Guild or Blanco, and “ceviche and sushi at SumoMaya!”

Nick Ciletti

I asked some experts on the subject of playing tour guide. I met Jolie and Ronny of RoJo Tours when they took us on a private guided tour to Sedona. With these two, you not only get knowledgeable guides, but also a musical duo that can jam! One of their favorite places is the Lake Pleasant Cruises on The Phoenix, especially the sunset dinner cruise. While north of Phoenix they also enjoy horseback rides at Cave Creek Trail Rides – a sunset tour followed by dinner at El Encanto. One of their tour specialties features wine tours, and they particularly enjoy taking friends to Javelina Leap. Owner Lucas Reed tells great stories about how prohibition affected Arizona’s wine industry, and while we there, the couple pulled out the guitar and did an impromptu unplugged concert beneath the trees and mountain skies. Just magical.

Jolie and Ronny of RoJo Tours

ABC’s Sonoran Living dedicates much of its morning show to uncover secret destinations in the desert, and its co-host Susan Casper has some favorites of her own. “It’s no surprise family and friends frequently come to visit. We are blessed to call the beautiful Grand Canyon State our home.” And to that order, taking their visitors to the Grand Canyon to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world tops her list. Closer to home, she gets a kick out of the panoramic view of the city from Dobbins Lookout at South Mountain Park. “The fun drive to the top of this popular perch is just as much fun as the birds-eye view itself.” When it comes to dinner, she loves our local restaurant scene and recommends Rustler’s Rooste’s western-themed vibe with impeccable views, country bands and scrumptious food.

Susan Casper

Jill Stein is not only one of the valley’s most talented designers and stylists, but she’s a huge jazz fan. When guests come to visit, she takes them to an outdoor jazz event at Arcosanti, the experimental town 70 miles north of Phoenix on I-17. And since you’re almost to Sedona, she takes her friends to a spa treatment at L’Auberge and dinner at Cress on Oak Creek. Here in the valley, she heads downtown, whether it’s for more jazz at The Nash, the famous roasted brussel sprouts pizza at Federal Pizza, or a flick and a brew at the Film Bar.

Jill Stein

For our final advice, who better to ask what should you do with tourists than the Director of the Arizona Office of Tourism Debbie Johnson.  She too loves taking her guests to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale with its 9,600 acres and 36 miles of trails to explore. If you have a 4×4 vehicle, and she stresses “ONLY IF,” she brings the dogs and the guests to the Vultee Arch Trail near Sedona. Her favorite town to bring guests is Bisbee. “It started out like many other Arizona mining towns, but today, Bisbee is unique, culturally rich and very welcoming.” She loves wandering through the many eclectic shops for one-of-a-kind treasures and gifts. Back home, she takes friends and family to the Different Point of View restaurant atop North Mountain for the spectacular valley views and the creations that come out of the kitchen.

Debbie Johnson

So there you have it. Next time your phone rings and you see on the Caller ID that it’s “that” mother-in-law or least favorite cousin, don’t despair. There is a nonstop list of incredible things to do in the desert. Just ask our local celebs. And, don’t forget the water.

More Desert Dirt

Now it’s my turn. Although we’ve only been here in Arizona for six months, I’ve got my tips for entertaining your guests.

  • Start at home. I like to fashion a gift basket with local Arizona products – a handmade moisturizing bar of soap with a local fragrance, some prickly pear hard candies, a cactus key chain with a copy of the house key, lip balm and moisturizers, a cactus golf tee, and some “Don’t be a Prick” hand towels or a t-shirt. An irreverent nod to the desert.
  • Brunch is big, and we like hitting the bottomless champagne weekend brunch (Saturdays or Sundays) at SumoMaya. A prickly pear mimosa. Seriously? For something a little fancier, make your reservations early for the lavish champagne brunch at the Wrigley Mansion.
  • I’m a purveyor of fresh markets around the world, and Old Town Scottsdale’s Market is one of the best. We go mid-morning, stroll through more than 100 vendors, eat a beignet or a flaky pastry, and top it off with lunch in Old Town. Also on Saturday’s, the French market at Vincent’s Restaurant on Camelback is small, but amazing. It has more crafts, but plenty of delicious food including crepes made by a young man who’s been creating these masterpieces since the age of nine! I did not realize that Vincent’s has a more casual bistro in the back that is open for lunch, Tuesday through Sunday. C’est magnifique!
  • Finally, check the calendars. Is there a game in town? What’s at the Herberger Theater, or the Museum of Musical Instruments?

In this town, there’s always something to do in the desert.

Robert Danielson is a 35-year career journalist, marketing and public relations expert. He joins us here at Phoenix Home and Garden Magazine as he explores the Valley as a newcomer to our region. Please welcome him by e-mailing him at


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