Matt York  /  AP file
A saguaro cactus is silhouetted as the sun sets over the Southwestern desert in Picacho Peak, Ariz.
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updated 7/10/2006 1:27:12 PM ET 2006-07-10T17:27:12

Why is everyone and their grandmother choosing Phoenix and its suburb Scottsdale as the place to retire? Because the Valley of the Sun, or just “the Valley” as locals call it, has all the civilized pleasures that make older life so much fun. Great restaurants by the score, world-class shopping, a sophisticated museum and gallery scene and literally hundreds of golf courses are luring thousands to move here each year. Phoenix is now no longer the small-time cowboy town it once was; it’s a sprawling, bustling metropolis, the sixth largest in the US.  In just one day, with the itinerary below, you can get a taste of Phoenix’ good life…and you may just find yourself adding on a second day to shop for your own retirement abode. 

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: There’s something about the smiling service and shabby/chic New Orleans-ish décor at Mimi’s Café that starts the day off just right. Breakfast here is simply a delight, whether you’re tucking into a plate of fiery Cajun chicken sausage with eggs, their sinfully rich blue crab cake benedict or a chipotle breakfast burrito. Whichever you pick, be sure to ask for an accompanying pumpkin muffin, an outstanding addition to any breakfast.

9:30 a.m. - 11 a.m.:  Make your way to Taliesin West , the former home and architectural school of the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright, considered by many to be his most outstanding work. To see it, you’ll have to sign up for a tour. I recommend the “Insights” tour which gives an overview of the campus and Wright’s remarkable ability to incorporate the materials and shapes of the desert into his buildings. As well, it takes you through the newly restored personal quarters, an area that hasn’t been open to the public for years. You’ll sit in Wright-designed chairs, learn about the school that was founded here and still exists today, and get a small sense of what it must have been like to live in this place of extreme beauty when the architect himself was in residence.

You’ll have to start early, especially if you’re trying to escape the blazing heat of midday, but even in summer you’ll find enthusiasts with clubs and balls swinging and putting away the morning on one of the area’s many golf courses. And when I say many” golf courses, I mean it: this is a golf mecca with over 200 courses to choose from, some world class. If money is no object, make a reservation far in advance for the Boulders , one of the most spectacularly scenic and tricky courses anywhere. Gold Canyon Golf Resort is an excellent and much less pricey alternative, considered by many to be the finest public course in Arizona.

Noon-2 p.m.: Whether you choose golf or Taliesin, you’ll have left downtown Phoenix for the suburb of Scottsdale---so why not dine there as well? Carlsbad Tavern is making a name for itself with its creative New Mexican cooking. Most meat courses are grilled over pecan wood, giving them an unusually fresh smokiness; and the chef is liberal with his chiles, so let him know ahead of time if you can’t take too much heat. If you decide to skip all of my afternoon suggestions in favor of a siesta, try one of their killer margaritas blended with your choice of 35 tequilas.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Head to the town of Coolidge, not far from Florence (you may have to have a quick lunch) for a visit to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument , site of the most important native American ruins in the state and the country’s first archaeological preserve. Literally a ‘big house”, it was built of caliche mud  by the Hohokam in the mid-13th century. If it’s too hot to tour the ruins, make your way instead to the Heard Museum , one of the finest Native American art museums in the nation, housing treasures from the pre-Columbian era up through today.

The desert has long been considered a place for curing illness and Phoenix responded by taking in a number of tubercular patients, starting in the 1880’s. Somehow these sanitoriums morphed into spas,  with the Golden Door emerging as one of the most celebrated spa in the nation. If you don’t want to travel out of town (it’s not in Phoenix or Scottsdale, but just outside), choose a closer, and just as relaxing alternative, such as the Spa at Camelback Inn where heated basalt stones, a Native American therapy, are used in massages guaranteed to eradicate muscle tension.

5:30-7 p.m.: Catch an early dinner at the ultra-romantic T. Cooks , which recently received a multi-million dollar facelift, restoring the classic good looks of the Mediterranean-style resort (one of the oldest in the city). You may find yourself wanting to linger over drinks at the outdoor fireplace when it’s cool, or among the gorgeous bouganvilleas of the garden when the weather’s hotter---and I encourage you to do so if you decide to ditch the evening activities below. If not, head inside for a Continental feast featuring such delicacies as tenderloin with truffles, cannelloni spiked with lobster, and foie gras every which way.

7 p.m. - 10 or 11 p.m.: Catch a game. Phoenix is one of the few cities in the US to have four major league teams, and the city goes nuts when they have a home game . Spring is a particularly fine time for sports fans, as the Cactus League, better known as Spring Training (for a number of top teams),  is held here. Played in intimate stadiums, baseball fans can get much closer to their idols at these games, paying just $5 to $24 for a seat.

10 p.m. on: Head back out to Scottsdale, which is where the most happening dance clubs tend to be. I’d recommend Barcelona , which pays homage to that party city. A chic supper club, it transforms into a dance club at 10 p.m. with the help of the most beat-happy DJs in the Southwest.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

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Mimi’s Café, 10214 North Metro Parkway, Phoenix; telephone 602/997-1299; open daily 7a.m. - 11 p.m.;

Taliesin West, 12621 Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, Scottsdale; telephone 480/860-8810; open daily, Nov-Apr 9 a.m. - 4:15 p.m. and May-Oct daily 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.; for more info go to Advanced reservations for the tours (which cost $14-$18 depending on which you choose) are highly recommended.

The Boulders at North Scottsdale Road and Carefree Highway in Carefree; 800/553-1717. As I mentioned, the costs can be outrageous going up to $290 for a round in spring (you’ll pay on average $195-$220 the rest of the year).

Gold Canyon Golf Resortis at 6100 S. Kings Ranch Road in Gold Canyon, so it’s a bit of a drive from Phoenix (but worth it) ; telephone 800/827-5821. Green fees range from $42 to $187, depending on which course you choose and the season.

Carlsbad Tavern, 3313 N. Hayden Rd, Scottsdale; telephone 480/970-8164; open Mon-Sat 11 a.m. - 1 a.m., Sun 1 p.m. - 1 a.m.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, 1100 Ruins Drive—take Arizona 87 one mile north of Coolidge; 520/723-3172; admission $3, open daily 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.;

Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Avenue; telephone 602/252-8848. Open daily (except for major holidays) between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., the admission is $7 adults, $6 seniors. Go to for more information.

The Golden Door Spa at the Boulders, 34631 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree; telephone 800/553-1717;

Spa at Camelback Inn, 5402 E. Lincoln Dr, Scottsdale; 800/922-2635;

T. Cooks, 5200 E. Camelback Road at the Royal Palms Resort and Spa; telephone 602/808-0766 and make a reservation as you won’t get in here without one;

For info on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ season go to; for info on the Phoenix Suns go to; for info on the Arizona Cardinals, go to; and for info on the Phoenix Coyotes go to

To get a schedule for the Cactus League games go to or call 866/705-4816. Games do sell out, especially on weekends, so get your tickets in advance.

Barcelona, 15440 Greenway-Hayden Loop; telephone 480/603-0370; some nights there’s no cover, other nights a fee of $10 may apply (call in advance for full information).

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

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