BEST FUNKY WEEKEND GETAWAY 2005 | Francisco Grande Resort | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
With an $8 million overhaul, the main tower of the Francisco Grande Resort has been returned to its swingin' modernist splendor, circa 1961. Once the haunt of the likes of John Wayne and Willie Mays, Francisco Grande, about 40 miles south of Phoenix, went through several decades of slow decay before its recent restoration.

It was a structure worth saving. There are few places in the West where you can so thoroughly dive into the architecture and decor and high-flying resort sensibilities of the swanky '60s. Heck, get a penthouse suite and drive down with a group of friends and a trunk full of martini fixings, cocktail wear and '60s hipster albums. It will be the party of a lifetime. One caveat: Make sure you get a room in the renovated tower. The courtyard rooms have not been updated. Rooms, even with a round of golf, can be had for less than $100.

We've learned the hard way that boutique hotel does not always equal luxury hotel. Don't be sucked in by a fancy lobby and a ritzy bar -- it doesn't mean your room will be up to par. When we're looking for luxury in an intimate setting, we head up the mountain to Sanctuary, which offers a great view of the Praying Monk and makes the most of its location with a hilly climb (or golf cart ride) up to a beautiful casita, where you'll find more gorgeous views and a setting hip enough for Paris Hilton. The restaurant, elements, is lovely, and the spa offers delights like an in-room Swedish or Thai massage.

Now this is boutique-ing at its best!

The Valley's own Four Seasons is perhaps best known for its location, snuggled up against Pinnacle Peak, with beautiful views of the landscape, the perfect home base for a serious hike. But if you're serious about relaxing, this is also the place for you. We recently checked in and checked out -- that is, passed out, in a king-size bed in our beautifully decorated (read: no pinks and blues, just subtle whites and browns) room, shutters closed against the beating sun. We held tight to the remote control and slid around the bed, finally understanding what everyone's talking about when they mention high-thread-count sheets. The honor bar was stocked with everything from Diet Coke to Dean & Deluca goodies, and the bathroom products were all by L'Occitane en Provence.

In the morning, we ate a continental breakfast truly fit for someone on any continent, and washed off the sticky pecan rolls in the enormous bathtub, then tried out the glass shower, just for fun.

We requested a late checkout (granted) and finally emerged, blinking, into the hot sun. At the same time, another couple reluctantly left their room. Before she got in the car, the woman gave a wistful little wave and said, "Bye, room!"

She must have liked it, too.

Every year, we try new spas in this town (it's hard to keep up with the craze), and every year, we rush back to the comforts of the spa at the Camelback Inn. From the thick white robes to the cushy pool chaises, we're relaxed and happy, sipping the spa's signature tea, swiping on its own special lotion. We've never had a better pedicure in this town, nor a better hot rock massage, and the recent remodel is holding up nicely, with a beautiful sauna and Jacuzzi area.

We ate by the pool on a recent visit, and particularly enjoyed the Two Twists Gazpacho, featuring a golden tomato blend next to a mix of Granny Smith apple/cucumber. Then we slipped into the pool and relaxed the afternoon away -- until our next appointment.


The male staffers -- excuse us, "experience coordinators" -- at the five-diamond Fairmont's elegant Willow Stream spa are pleased as prickly pear punch when another guy shows up to check out the 44,000-square-foot multilevel pampering place. Willow Stream was recently essayed in the New York Times as one of the West's foremost examples of the new male-friendly resort spa, and the proof is in the upscale handyman details: cool, polished stone borders running through the hallways; trendy Venetian finish on one wall; and dry-stacked Sedona sandstone bricks lining most of the others. Heck, there's even a small TV screen on each of the Lifecycles. Willow Stream is paradise for women, too, but it's the men who love touches like the waterfall-lined stairwell leading down from the negative-edge rooftop pool to the centerpiece hot tub that's warmed by triple cascades of falling water, each set at its own distinct water pressure. More spa power!
The best resort pools are the wet dreams you can still sneak into without springing for a room card key; where a casual flip of a wrought-iron fence latch and a confident "been here since Thursday" attitude is enough to keep security from tapping you on the shoulder, even if you have just wandered in from your sun-baked Honda. In that regard, the rambling, two-and-a-half-acre water playground at the Scottsdale Hyatt Regency is just old enough to allow access without passing through a Homeland Security-like system, dabbled with a dizzying array of pools, puddles, Jacuzzis and waterfall springs to keep you hopping without arousing attention. For 10 bucks apiece, a couple can even cap off the day with a romantic sunset gondola ride around the lagoon circling the pools, serenaded by a friendly guide versed in Italian opera who won't bother to ask you what room you're staying in.
Sipping chilled martinis poolside, draped across a whitewashed deck chair, the breezy air whispering over you as beads of sweat gather beneath the rim of a shady sun hat, you stir. Squint a little and, because you're at the San Carlos Hotel, you can almost imagine Mae West basking beside you. Given a time machine and a little luck, this scene might be possible, because this historic downtown landmark once attracted poolside visits from famous folks like West and Cary Grant. The pool, three stories in the air, is as past-era perfect as the hotel itself, which features celebrity suites named for the legends who once slept in them. A night's snooze starts at $115 and, while prices vary with the season, a dip in this historically glamorous swimming hole is always gratis.
If knocking down 3,000 meters an hour sounds like fun, then this is the pool where you'll want to do your flip turns. The outdoor facility features a very fast eight-lane, 50-meter Olympic pool that is 25 yards wide, allowing for both short-course and long-course training. The six-foot-deep pool is equipped with wave-absorbing gutters that keep the water smooth as glass. And did we mention that that water is always crystal clear?

Named after the late Mona Plummer, who coached the ASU women's swim team to greatness in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the facility also features a world-class diving pool with one-meter and three-meter springboards and five-meter, seven-and-a-half-meter and 10-meter diving platforms.

Mona Plummer is home to Sun Devil Aquatics, an age-group swimming team. It also hosts an age-group water polo club, a competitive diving program, and Sun Devil Masters, a competitive swimming program for adults. Swimmers, take your mark . . .

Here in the Best of Phoenix, we won't tell you where to get a boob job or a nose job; we don't even want to recommend our favorite tattoo artist. And we certainly won't tell you where to board your best friend, man. But we do feel comfortable saying that Applewood Pet Resort has the coolest pool around -- 30 feet long and shaped like a giant dog biscuit. The très chic swimming hole features a water fountain, aerating sprays, and even a doggy deep end for larger (or more daring) breeds.

We just have one more thing to say: Hot dog!

A dog's version of the Holy Grail, or should we say Growl, this greenbelt oasis provides canines of all shapes and sizes a sweet outdoor locale to sniff and be sniffed. At sunrise and sunset, the pups (and, alas, their owners) convene on what sometimes serves as a soccer field for the daily meet and greet. Miss Jack Russell terrier, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Great Dane. And you over there, Ms. Boxer. This is your distant cousin, Mrs. Pug. Sniff, sniff. The City of Phoenix keeps a box filled with plastic garbage bags and a little scooper to keep things civilized. For dogs, this space is the cat's meow.

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