With the long winter nearly over and baseball season around the corner, itchy Giants fans can head to Scottsdale for the weekend to see a spring training game, indulge in the spa treatments the town is known for, and explore a burgeoning food and drink scene. Nonstop flights from SFO to Phoenix Sky Harbor airport abound, as do Priceline rental cars. You won’t find deep discounts during March, Scottsdale’s busiest month, but if you’ve always wanted to combine your Giants mania with a girlfriends’ or romantic spa weekend, this is the way to do it.
If you’re going luxe, base yourself at the Royal Palms, a sprawling and serene Spanish-style resort at the base of an outcropping of red rock known as Camelback Mountain. The arched walkways and tile roofs invoke a five-star California mission. Take advantage of Scottsdale’s pitch-perfect 80-degree weather and spend the day relaxing by the pool, or walk a few steps to Alvadora Spa and indulge in a treatment. You’ll hear birds singing and palm trees rustling from the open-air massage areas and the eucalyptus steam room will clear out the last of that winter congestion. Then have dinner in T. Cooks, consistently rated one of the area’s top restaurants. The Mediterranean menu has old-school underpinnings (think lobster, duck, and stellar service). Start with pork belly garnished with escargot, then move on to whole wheat pappardelle in wild boar ragu and finish off with the restaurant’s signature crème-brulee-cheesecake combo.
A more economical option (though still not cheap) is the Saguaro, a modern property located within walking distance of Scottsdale Stadium. SF-based JDV took over the hotel last year, infusing it with eye-popping primary colors and a mix of midcentury and traditional Mexican furniture. Iron Chef Jose Garces oversees its onsite eatery, Distrito, elevating Mexican street food to the level of Berkshire Farms pork, Black Angus beef, and tasting menus. You’ll see lots of fellow Giants fans here, fueling up on huevos rancheros with asparagus and roasted tomatoes before the game; afterwards you’ll find them next door in Old Town Whiskey, Garces’ saloon, where whiskey flights are served alongside delicious homemade tater tots.
As for the main event, AT&T Park-goers will find Scottsdale Stadium practically miniature, but the good news is how close you can get to the field. We had first-row seats near third base for $70 a piece, the usual price of an upper-deck seat at AT&T. You’ll be watching Bruce Bochy rotate through his second and third strings and test out new players—keep an eye on newcomer Melky Cabrera, a recent arrival from the Kansas City Royals—but you’ll still get to see Aubrey Huff (currently in the outfield) up close and watch golden child Buster Posey get back into catcher’s position as he returns from last year’s devastating fibula break. The food’s decent at the stadium too—Gordon Biersch is on hand with its garlic fries, so no one has to go without. Take note: Most of the seats are in the Arizona sun for the entire game. Bring plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat. You’re also allowed to bring one plastic bottle of water per person into the stadium.
Another fine post-game hangout is O.H.S.O., a spacious, concrete-and-wood “nanobrewery” (don’t ask) with lots of sitting room and a big patio out back. The excellent selection of beers includes not just the usual testosteronic IPAS but some actual female-friendly varieties, the most impressive being a white chocolate ale that’s nearly addictive. It’s also one of the few brewpubs outside our 21st Amendment where you’ll find another watermelon wheat.
Sam Fox is the Southwest’s reigning restaurant king, with more than dozen well-regarded eateries dotting the Phoenix area. He calls his most recent, North, a “fattoria.” That simply means “wine farm” in Italian, but it also invokes the feeling you’ll experience after feasting on grilled bread with warmed cheese and tomato jam, a chef’s board of housemade salumi featuring a red-hot Calabrese number, and all arancini you can handle. The must-eat pastas here are gnocchi studded with short ribs, arugula, horseradish and bread crumbs; and a toothsome raviolini filled with pork and roasted mushrooms.
The culinary highlight of the weekend, though, will no doubt be FnB, a newish gastropub (it stands for “food and beverage,” but hold off judgment on the name until you eat here). You could plop the intimate, open-kitchen setup straight down on Valencia and 18th, then sit back and watch the lines form. Chef Charleen Badman builds her changing menu of small plates around seasonal, local meat and produce. Highlights include pillowy falafel imbued with Swiss chard and garnished with a creamy radish sauce; perfectly charred grouper adorned with Meyer lemon relish; and a roasted Jidori chicken over homemade spaetzle that goes out to nearly every table. Food & Wine named FnB’s braised leeks one of its 10 best dishes in 2010 for good reason—the creamy gratin, layered with mozzarella and mustard-infused breadcrumbs and topped with a perfectly fried egg, is revelatory. Badman’s wine list is all sourced from Arizona. It turns out the state’s varying elevations and dry Mediterranean climate produce vintages just as good as the ones from Sonora across the border—the PR machine simply hasn’t caught up yet. But Badman and her co-owner Pavle Milic are working on that with their AZ Wine Merchants, located a few blocks from the FnB, where you can buy the bottles they serve in the restaurant, and with an adjacent wine bar called Baratin and a small market called Bodega, where Badman sells the local specialties—produce, eggs, poultry, bread, and such—that she uses in the restaurant. Summer weather, spa treatments, serious food, and baseball—what more could an SF girl ask for?