Tours Through Time

Spending a day with local history | By Diana Elizabeth Steffen

As a passionate lover and appreciator of antiques and history, I often find myself chasing after any kind of nostalgia. Whether it’s watching television shows or movies, visiting historic spots while traveling, or antique shopping in hopes of bringing home a little history, I am fascinated by all that has been shaped in today’s world through a history of design and architecture.

If you have a love for the old, follow this itinerary for a day focused on history in the Phoenix area. The locations—all within close proximity to one another—will be sure to create an adventurous day dedicated to historic spots, views, food, and shopping.

Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home

Metro Phoenix is proud to have been the winter home base for well-known architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959). His designs can be seen throughout the city and include several homes, a hotel, an auditorium, and a church.

One of the most popular locations designed by Wright is Taliesin West, nestled in the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale. Established in 1937 as Wright’s winter home and the residence of his apprentices under the Taliesin Fellowship, it currently operates as the base for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin. 

You can explore the property during the guided Insights Tour. Reservations are highly recommended—all the tours had sold out on the day of my visit. Be prepared with sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, because part of the magnificent tour of the property is outdoors. Complimentary shade umbrellas are offered, which is a good idea depending on when you plan to visit.

Included in the 90-minute tour is a stop in Wright’s garden room, where you can sit on the furniture he designed—you may even find yourself sitting exactly where he sat! You will hear the story about the creation of the room’s corner window, designed by Wright himself. The built-in furniture was his attempt to prevent it from being moved. Every plant, pot, and piece of furniture is purposely placed—there is even a round section of window that was cut out to accommodate the location of a pot. Now that’s dedication to design.

Hotel Valley Ho, the Hollywood celebrity getaway in the 50s

After your morning Taliesin West tour, stop by Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale for brunch at ZuZu. The hotel grounds are well preserved and beautifully display the property’s mid-century modern details. This bright and stylish hotel opened in 1956 and attracted Hollywood celebrities as a retreat from the paparazzi. Today, it’s a local favorite for weddings, weekend pool parties, and dining. I’ve always loved the hotel for its fun, vibrant atmosphere—I’ve attended a wedding at the hotel, and friends and I recently rang in the New Year there.

As for what to order, the avocado toast, smoked salmon plate, and a frosty orange “Ho-J”—made with vanilla ice cream and freshly squeezed orange juice—certainly made my day. If you have room after your meal, be sure to ask what the dessert of the month is—my husband and I indulged in an over-the-top milkshake called the Elvis Presley that could be shared by the entire table.

Walk off your meal by exploring the hotel grounds. If you want a behind-the-scenes look at the hotel—including rooms, suites, and the rooftop view—call the concierge ahead of time to schedule the 90-minute Magical History Tour. The cost is $19.56 per person, priced as a nod to the year the hotel opened.

For a broader look at mid-century modern architecture throughout the Phoenix area, ask about the hotel’s Insider Mid-Century Tour, guided by a local expert. Among the stops is a tour of the hotel, a mid-century building that used to be a bank, and the Price House and Lykes House—both homes built by Frank Lloyd Wright. Tours are for groups of two to 10 people and by appointment only. 

Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park

Discover the history of the state of Arizona, starting from the very beginning, at Tempe’s Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park. The two-story museum is arranged in chronological order. As soon as you head up the stairs, your journey through time begins as you meet the natives, as well as the immigrants and Californians who saw Arizona as a place to settle that was ripe with business opportunities. Travel through the years as you make your way from display to display.

My favorite exhibit was a little white home that you can walk through to see videos and photos Arizona homes from the 50s and 60s. My husband and I proudly live in a brick home in Central Phoenix that was built in 1952 and sits on a former citrus grove. We enjoyed learning about the builders and developers who contributed to the urban development of the city.

Continue to walk through the post-WWII era to Arizona’s urban growth of today. While visitors will certainly enjoy this in-depth journey through Arizona’s past, I also highly recommend this museum for local Arizonans, especially those of us who live in the Phoenix area. It is quite fascinating to think about those who lived here before us—and to see images and vintage signs from popular spots we frequently visit today.

Other informational displays include rocks and minerals from the area and the Historical League Historymakers exhibit, which showcases photos and bios of individuals who have contributed to Arizona history. There’s also a great spot for kids to play with Legos while learning about the history of streets and highways.

Shopping at Antique Trove

After a day of admiring mid-century modern designs, what better way to continue to step back into history—or maybe experience a little nostalgia, depending on your finds—than by exploring an antique store? Antique Trove in Scottsdale, located in a former Fry’s grocery store, is an antique mall with 140 booths spread over 23,000 square feet of space. It will be celebrating its 30-year anniversary in June.

“We have one of everything, if you can find it,” says a sweet employee who has his own booth in the space. 

One could easily spend an entire day wandering the aisles—which have street names for easier navigation of the store—and looking at all the collectibles in each booth, some with unintentional themes based on the collector’s interests. Find booths with a little bit of everything, from glassware, Asian furnishings, and dolls to clothing, posters, and political campaign buttons. It’s a treasure hunt into the past!

As a huge fan of antiques and family heirlooms, I knew I had to bring home a treasure from the past. I found a beautiful hand-painted Oriental vase with gold details for our garden room.

Dinner at Old Town Tortilla Factory

After working up an appetite from all of the shopping, my husband and I were ready for dinner at Old Town Tortilla Factory. The restaurant is a popular spot in Old Town Scottsdale that I’ve been to several times with friends. It is known for excellent Southwestern food with a Mexican twist, including freshly made tortillas and a bar that serves more than 120 premium tequilas.

Enjoy your meal on the spacious 1,400-square-foot outdoor patio with a fountain view. Misters and heaters ensure patrons’ comfort year-round. Or find a table inside the former 75-year-old adobe house, where you’ll pass by a member of the kitchen staff creating the delicious handmade tortillas on the way to your seat.

The perfect meal for us to wrap up the day included the elote street corn—served hot on the cob—followed by the Old Town tacos and a green enchilada. 

After dinner, we headed home with happy bellies and nice memories of our packed day stepping back in history in the metro area we call home.

Having lived in Phoenix for more than a decade, it was delightful to discover new—but old—spots mixed with local favorites we share with friends. We are looking forward to bringing visiting friends and family to these treasured spots that have been places of enjoyment for decades and will continue to be for years to come.

Diana Elizabeth Steffen is an entrepreneur based in Phoenix. She is a full-time editorial photographer, marketing strategist, and lifestyle blogger. Her home, gardening, travel, and lifestyle blog can be found at dianaelizabethblog.com.