Educational adventure in Phoenix and Scottsdale.
Arizona History Escape
Credit: Courtesy of Pioneer Living History Museum

Countless restaurants, museums, and golf courses define Phoenix and Scottsdale, which are surrounded by cacti-dotted desert. In spite of their urban feel, both offer plenty for families interested in the American West. The best part: With temperatures often topping 100 degrees, they make a perfect pair, year-round.

The Farm at South Mountain

Development has gobbled up most of the old farmland in town, but not this tree-lined, 12-acre oasis, where the owners give a nod to the good old days by raising everything from turkeys to salad greens. Savor a leisurely breakfast at the on-property Morning Glory Café or lunch at the Farm Kitchen, but make a reservation for a garden-to-table dinner experience at the farm’s Quiessence Restaurant & Wine Bar. Its menu evolves constantly, depending on what’s locally in season. Dine outdoors by candlelight under giant pecan trees, but don’t count on a summertime feast: the café and Farm Kitchen shut down from June to September; Quiessence closes for the month of July only.

Tip: Check the Web site for a schedule of classes offered by the on-site yoga center, The Retreat ((480)326-0658); in good weather, they practice outdoors.

Maricopa Manor

Jeff Vadheim—the chatty, affable proprietor of this guesthouse—will tell you everything you need to know (and then some) about the history of the only official B&B in the city of Phoenix. He purchased the 1928 Arts and Crafts bungalow and adjacent buildings in 2000 and set about redecorating just about everything. The result is a mishmash of comfortable, unique rooms; some even include their own parking-garage space. The property includes a small pool and lovely courtyards with palm trees, citrus, and pots of petunias. Vadheim claims that the original proprietress was not a morning person, and he’s carried on her tradition of delivering breakfasts to guests in picnic baskets; typical offerings include homemade quiche, cereal, fruit, juice, your choice of a hot beverage, and muffins from a local bakery. The B&B sits on a gorgeous, quiet residential street with Spanish architecture, but it’s just around the corner from one of the busiest intersections in town.

Barrio Café

Founded in 2002, Phoenix's Barrio Cafe offers a taste of Mexico in both atmosphere and flavor. The menu is focused on southern Mexico cuisine, with a number of co-founder Silvana Salcido Esparza's own creations available. Guacamole is made fresh at your table, and diners can unwind with a selection from the cafe's list of more than 250 varieties of tequila, as well as an all-Mexican beer list, several varieties of wine, or a blend of coffee privately grown in Chiapas. Colorful murals and other artwork from the Phoenix artistic community are displayed prominently inside.

Pioneer Living History Village

Approximately ninety acres in size, this North Phoenix monument to the traditional, Old West way of living in 1800’s Arizona first opened in 1965, with the help of U.S. senators and Cabinet members. As a whole, the village represents the diversity of Arizona from the time of the Spanish Conquistadores to the inception of statehood in 1912. Attractions include a blacksmith, rifle port, ranch complex, and a sheriff’s office with a jail. Costumed interpreters, such as cowboys and Victorian ladies, are typically on hand to answer questions and make the experience more authentic.

Pinnacle Peak Patio Steakhouse and Microbrewery

Once a general store and rest stop, Pinnacle Peak restaurant now serves good "cowboy fare", like a two-pound porterhouse and mesquite-grilled ribs. More of an attraction for tourists and large parties, the venue has room for 1,800 people inside and another 2,000 on picnic tables outside (which is why Pinnacle Peak calls itself the world's largest western steakhouse). The restaurant features a faux western town, hayrides, a costumed old west photo opportunity, and microbrewery. There's even a saw-dust dance floor where patrons dance to live country bands.