Secluded, but close (by Arizona driving standards) to cute shops and restaurants
Free 24/7 golf cart "taxi service" around the property
Pool is on the small side, considering size of the resort
Daily resort fee (includes Wi-Fi)
Wildlife can include spiders and scorpions
45-minute drive from Phoenix International Airport (longer with traffic)
Nestled into the foothills of the Sonoran Desert, Boulders Resort & Spa is one of the most scenic resorts in the Southwest. The desert getaway is built to impress -- it has an exceptional spa and fitness center, two renowned golf courses, and several restaurants featuring organic cuisine grown on the grounds. The resort's pueblo-style buildings and their interiors harmonize seamlessly with the natural surroundings; the 215 casitas and villas feature flagstone flooring, wood-beamed ceilings, and wood-shuttered doors that open onto private patios. It's one of the best resorts in Phoenix, though the less-remote Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, close to swank restaurants and nightclubs in Scottsdale, could be an alternative.
Set within the Sonoran Desert splender, this upscale Hilton off-shoot is one of the best resorts in Phoenix
Boulders is a resort, in every sense. While many people find that the main pool is a tad small considering the resort's size, its spa remains one of the most impressive in the country, and its two golf courses, fitness center, and tennis facilities all vie for the title of best in Phoenix. But the grounds -- dotted with cacti, an organic citrus orchard, and the region's famous boulders -- are the resort's most impressive highlight. Guests have spotted coyotes, javelinas, deer, rabbits, quail, roadrunners, lizards, and other critters scurrying around the beautiful property (the hotel offers night-vision binoculars for viewing the many desert creatures that come out after dark). At the very least, the beauty and serenity found here is a distinct advantage over smaller hotels like the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain or the Four Seasons, and a considerable advantage over more central roadside hotels like FireSky. The main difference is that the enormous Boulders Resort feels largely detached from Scottsdale and Phoenix's suburban sprawl. Were it not for the two golf courses and the staff-driven golf carts ferrying guests around, you might feel entirely alone in the desert.
Just outside a quaint town, a little less than an hour from the airport
Detached from the Scottsdale suburbs, a little less than an hour from the airport, Boulders is actually in a quaint, somewhat kitschy suburban town called Carefree (established as a planned community in 1955). If you climb to the one of the highest hilltops on the property you can catch a glimpse of the Phoenix sprawl, but the property otherwise feels quiet and insulated (unlike at the FireSky hotel). A string of artsy shops and restaurants in what one might call "downtown" Carefree are about a five-minute drive to the north of the resort.
Eight-minute drive to El Pedregal Festival Marketplace, an upscale shopping village that hosts concerts and includes a number of outdoor cafes and restaurants, notably the Spotted Donkey Cantina
Nine-minute drive to Black Mountain
10-minute drive to Cave Creek Museum
13-minute drive to Cave Creek Regional Park
13-minute drive to Tonto National Forest
About a 45-minute drive to McDowell Mountain Regional Park
About a 45-minute drive to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Large Southwestern-style rooms with flagstone floors, wood-beamed ceilings, and wood-burning fireplaces
Guest rooms here are called Casitas, and are divided between several freestanding, house-like adobo structures. Standard rooms, all on the ground floor, start at a large 550 square feet and come with one king or two double-size beds. While most rooms overlook the golf course -- it covers a huge percentage of the resort's land -- some of the standard rooms have less desirable views (the spa's parking lot, for example).
In addition to one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas (with full kitchens and laundry facilities), the resort has a number of Haciendas that include stone driveways, garages, built-in rear patios with a fireplace and a separate barbecue, a large jetted tub in the master bathroom, and full kitchens with granite countertops. The five-bedroom Villa Retreat is the most impressive of them: It also includes an infinity pool, a fitness center, two full kitchens, an elevator, and a private Japanese soaking tub.
Excellent spa and tennis facilities, outdoor excursions, organic cuisine
Boulders' main pool is pretty small, considering the size of the resort, but there are other options: the Club Pool (small pool at the Club House for cooling off after a day in the sun or a workout on the tennis courts), and the Villa Pool (more secluded, closer to the private villas). The outdoor spa pool and whirlpool -- set against ancient boulders -- is often a quieter, less crowded alternative to the main pool.
Speaking of the spa, the 33,000-square-foot facility is one of the best in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area -- no small feat in one of the most spa-heavy towns in America. Its treatments and products derive, in part, from the desert environment, though its mammoth menu spans the globe: Japanese reiki, Hawaiian lomi lomi massages, Ayurvedic healing rituals. In addition to its signature "labyrinth," a stone-lined walking path inspired by ancient Hopi medicine wheels, the spa features an herb garden, meditation teepee, an organic cafe and tea room overlooking the desert, and a beauty salon with a full menu of hair, nail, and waxing services, plus pre-wedding packages. The spa also has its own pool (a shallow warm-water Watsu pool designed for "back-to-the-womb" massages), steam rooms, saunas, traditional Japanese baths, and a fitness center that's flooded with natural light and filled with LifeFitness equipment and free weights. The fitness center's movement studio offers Pilates, yoga, and tai chi classes for all skill levels. Various classes and workshops are available, such as digestive and nutritional counseling, weight and stress management programs, detoxification, and even memory enhancement. Fitness excursions include mountain biking, rock-climbing, and desert hiking. Top-notch tennis facilities include five hard courts and three clay; the resort provides 24-hour stringing and re-gripping services, round-robin tournaments, racquet rental, and private lessons and clinics.
Dedicated to providing organic, local, and seasonal ingredients -- part of the resort's holistic health focus -- the Boulders' on-site garden supplies its restaurants with organic lettuce, carrots, celery, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, edible flowers, and a variety of citrus fruits. Palo Verde serves a broad range of organic breakfast options and Southwestern-inspired dinners, while the Grill Restaurant & Bar, a small steak and seafood restaurant with outdoor dining, is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bakery Cafe offers coffee, smoothies, fresh-baked pastries, and salads for breakfast and lunch. The Pool Pavilion provides signature drinks and snacks, poolside, and Discovery Lounge, an on-site cocktail bar, is a great place to watch the boulders at sunset.
The resort fee includes valet parking, Wi-Fi, tipping (except at the restaurants), access to the spa facilities, and fitness classes.
Designed by Jay Morrish in 1984, the 36 holes at the Boulders have received numerous accolades. There are two challenging 18-hole courses -- North Course (6,811 yards, par 72, slope 137) and South Course (6,726 yards, par 72, slope 140) -- as well as a driving range, practice greens, and chipping bunkers. One-on-one or group instruction is available from The Boulders Golf Academy; lessons can include video analysis, on-course play, corporate clinics, and work with Donald Crawley of Golf Simplified fame.
Greens fees for resort guests (18 holes) depend on time of week (weekday or weekend) and season; HHonors points can be used for a round. Book a round early (they can fill up fast); resort guests can schedule tee times up to 90 days in advance. Note that the dress code requires soft spikes and collared shirts; no denim.
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