On a recent trip to Tucson, I was amazed to learn that the Sonoran Desert, which laps at the city’s doorstep, is second only to the Amazon for its diversity of plants and animals. Who knew? I was also excited to discover the iconic Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa—which underwent $35 million in renovations to its guestrooms, public spaces, and pools in 2013—has partnered with Tucson’s excellent Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to inspire and educate guests, and bring the incredible surroundings to light.
While it’s easy to be satisfied with the property’s golden location alone—on a Santa Catalina Mountain slope ideal for surveying the valley and Saguaro cactus-studded scape, we also like that the resort celebrates a sense of place in a real, integrated, and intelligent way. Installations, information stations, desert plantings such as agaves and Palo Verde trees, and even signage for roadrunner crossings, line walkways and dot the resort grounds. It’s the area’s first partnership of its kind, and a fresh approach to deepening visitors’ appreciation of this unique corner of the world.
This all dovetails nicely with Westin’s conscientious approach to development and green living, which even extends to its award-winning restaurant. Chef Russell Michel makes the most of the desert farm-to-table ethos at AZul Restaurant. The Southwestern-inspired menu is chock full of local products, from baby yellow beets and guajillo chilis to house-made chorizo. And there's a cellar full of Arizona wines. Again, who knew?
The resort is offering a special rate of $99 coinciding with this weekend's Iron Chef Tucson competition—with demonstrations, tastings, and firey kitchen antics—and throughout the summer and as part of its poolside BBQ series.
Adrien Glover is deputy digital editor at Travel + Leisure.