A Chihuly installation at the Desert Botanical Garden.

It's not what you think! Dusty? Nope. Barren? Nope. Unbearably hot and parched? Not at all.

Phoenix and the surrounding area is not what you might think. While it is located in a desert, Phoenix is thriving, filled with plants and flowers and in some areas, shady with lush green trees. Home to 250 of Arizona’s 300 golf courses, filled with art, music and shopping, Phoenix is little more than a two­hour plane ride from Houston. We spent a long weekend hitting the highlights of Phoenix, Chandler and Tempe, Arizona.

Magnificent palms are a signature at the Phoenician’s Golf Course.


We checked into Phoenix's beautiful Phoenician, renowned for its history, luxurious resort amenities and its top­ notch service. The Phoenician is cool, understated and elegant – with incredible views. We loved the pools and the patios, where fire pits and good wine warm the evenings. Once a private home, the Phoenician has evolved to become a luxury, five­star boutique hotel nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain. Featured are three restaurants, tennis courts, swimming pools, the Centre for Well Being (their delightful spa where I had a memorable massage) and an extensive art collection. Playing the golf course was a highlight! Contoured out of the beauty of the spectacular Sonoran Desert in Scottsdale, Arizona, The Phoenician features a 27­hole championship golf course that inspires your spirit of adventure. Designed by Ted Robinson, Sr. and Homer Flint, the Phoenician’s three diverse nine­hole courses create 18 ­hole combinations for the challenge and fun you crave. The Phoenician offers fractional ownership of lovely, on­site residences, extraordinary meeting space and dinner at The Phoenician's Terrazzo was exceptional.

Self­ acclaimed as 'The Greatest Neighborhood Restaurant,' The Henry lives up to its name. On their menu you’ll find unique dishes like Black Truffle Lasagna and Buttermilk Fried Chicken, to name a few. This upscale, casual dining option is a must­try offering superior service, an outstanding atmosphere and delectable dishes.

Gorgeous blooming cactus.

To Do
Prepare to be both educated and amazed at the Desert Botanical Garden. Specializing in arid­land plants found in deserts across the globe, the Desert Botanical Garden features more than 50,000 plants. Along the trail stop to see succulents and dramatic cacti at the Ottosen Entry Garden or wander over to the Wildlife Loop and feast your eyes on brightly blooming wildflowers. I was fortunate to be there during a Chihulyinstallation – quite a vivid and memorable contrast. The Phoenix Art Museum is airy, accessible and hosts popular exhibits such as the upcoming Andy Warhol Portraits; free after 3 on Wednesdays. Visited by more than a quarter million last year, it is the largest museum in the Southwest. For more information on the many offerings of this city, visit visitphoenix.com.

Dragon boaters practice on Tempe’s Town Lake.

Our quick stop in Phoenix was followed by a nice stay in Chandler, a prominent suburb to the east, and excursions into nearby Tempe. Computer chip manufacturer Intel has an influential role in Chandler's growth and today there are a number of high­tech businesses located here, so many that the city's Price Road is nicknamed the Silicon Valley of Arizona. There are numerous properties in the town of Chandler which are considered to be historical and have been included either in the National Register of Historic Places or listed as such by the Chandler Historical Society. Chandler

We checked into the award­ winning Hilton Phoenix Chandler; proud owner of its third Hilton Connie Award, given for the highest customer scores in loyalty, service, condition and cleanliness. Then we spent the next two days exploring these two inviting cities.

Downtown Chandler has a great buzz. The crowd moves from the cute, locally owned boutiques and charming restaurants during the day to wine lounges and upscale eateries at night. One favorite is the Barrelhouse American Kitchen & Cocktails. On the menu, you find all sorts of creative cocktails and unique menu items like Sonoran chorizo sliders or lobster baked chile relleno that will keep your taste buds on their toes. Try the funky­yet­friendly BLD (stands for breakfast, lunch and dinner) for great food, an interesting menu and some stand­out comfort food like pancakes, toast, hatch hash, huevos rancheros, four distinct styles of eggs Benedict and more.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the ASU Gammage.

To Do
There aren't too many museums that evoke an emotional response from me. Appreciation? Sure. But deep empathy, sentimentality, awe – not too often for me. But the Zelma Basha Salmari Gallery of Western and American Indian Art collection, tucked away in a nondescript one­story building in Chandler, is stunning. The private collection of the Basha grocery store chain's owner, the West in all its splendor, dust, triumph, desperation and sorrow can be found here. Oil paintings, pen­and­ink drawings and magnificent sculptures fill the space. A stunning collection of Indian woven baskets – so well orchestrated that visitors are enveloped in this intricate, yet simple, presence of baskets – is poignant. Golfers, don't miss Ocotillo Golf Resort. This four­star facility, surrounded by stunning mansions, has been named by Golf Digest Magazine as a “Must Place to Play.” At Ocotillo you’ll find a full service clubhouse, driving range, putting green and chipping green, an on­site restaurant and bar, private and group lessons and club rentals. Ocotillo has nothing but accolades from every social media site and golf review to be found. Nearly every hole at the resort features water and the lush landscape is covered in swaying palm trees, flowerbeds overflowing with color and cascading waterfalls. The Chandler Fashion Center is a luxurious shopping destination with valet parking, outdoor patios, a movie theater and great restaurants. Visit Chandler.com has a ton of information about visiting their city.

We spent some time in Tempe, home to the great Arizona State University. The college town feel dominates downtown where local restaurants and shops are lively and bike racks are filled all around the area. Tempe

A trip to the House of Tricks is delightful. Patrons fill the porch tables and as you walk into the 1920s cottage, the lush landscape greets you. Mature trees shade the patio and flowers are found at every turn. The best part is that the food is every bit as spectacular as the scenery. Come for the food, stay for the view at the Top of the Rock at the Phoenix Marriott Tempe at the Buttes. You’ll find one of the most amazing views in the valley. This is a special­ occasion restaurant – a circular glass building perching in the rocks. The menu is thoughtful with many locally sourced foods, all enjoyed as you take in the glimmering city lights and rolling hills. They have a fantastic happy hour – order a $5 drink special and watch the sun set. Wow.

To Do
The Salt River has been shaped to create Tempe Town Lake. Visitors can kayak, sail, row, jog, skate, picnic or rent a boat. Tempe Boat Rentals offers kayaks, pedal boats, hydro bikes, electric boats and stand­up paddleboards. We spent a very pleasant morning out on this cool blue lake. Perhaps it isn’t action you seek but art; if so, head on over to the ASU Art Museum. The collection at the ASU Art Museum is made up of contemporary pieces as well as a large collection of Cuban art. Admission is free and the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday. ASU Gammage is among the largest university based presenters of performing arts in the world. It is the home theater of the Desert Schools Broadway Across America ­ Arizona and the Beyond series. This historic, 3,000-­seat hall was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and celebrated its 50th anniversary celebration in 2014. If you bring the family, be sure to visit the SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium. Experience close encounters with a variety of sea creatures as you explore the underwater world. Get up close and personal with animals ranging from the small sea horse to the large shark. 

Check out tempetourism.com for complete information.

Nearly every hole at the Ocotillo Golf Resort features water.

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