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  • Emily Woods Wellness

Arizona, 2019



My family and I just got back from our fourth Christmas trip to Scottsdale, AZ and I’m still as obsessed with the area as I was the first time I visited. 



We don’t go to AZ to visit family or for anything in particular, mainly we just have the goal of getting away from the daily stuff that plagues time off at home (i.e. laundry, dishes, household chores, etc.).  I truly place so much value on uninterrupted time away from it all; it’s refreshing for the body and mind and it is so necessary.

This AZ tradition started once my sister and I were in middle school and high school, out of the ‘Santa phase’ and without the need for any large spread of presents under the tree.  We have a bit of a non-traditional approach to the holidays these days: we just do whatever the heck we want.

For several years, this meant going on a trip over Christmas in lieu of the pile of Christmas gifts.  This year, we spent Christmas day at home, cooked a delicious brunch, exchanged a few gifts, and jetted off to the desert on the 26th. 


[[ This trip was much more of a family vacation than the big sleep-in-the-car adventures that my fiancé and I get up to, so keep that in mind. ]]


Day 1


We woke up at Civana, a new wellness-style resort in Carefree, AZ, about 35 minutes outside Scottsdale.  This is a little different for us as we usually stay right in the heart of Scottsdale, and the drive in every day was a bit of a hassle.  If you’re on vacation purely to relax, go to the spa, exercise, and eat curated health food, Civana is honestly the spot for you.  My family, who loves to hike, eat, shop, and do some relaxing, found this resort to be a tad far removed from our favorite restaurants and shopping spots.


One thing that my sister and I LOVED about Civana was the multitude of workout classes offered at the resort gym.  Over the course of the week, we only ended up participating in circuit training and spin classes, but there were also tons of yoga, meditation, and pilates classes on the schedule.  Today, it was a circuit class followed by a breakfast burrito and a juice at Café Meto, the coffee shop/eatery at the resort.

We try to hike every day that we’re out west because the trails and scenery are literally unmatched; today, however, it was cold and rainy. 


SO. Naturally, I drug everyone to the 2 biggest thrift stores of my life.  Sounds strange, but the best thrifting is where wealthy people  live and donate their clothes.  Scottsdale, home of the wealthy retiree, is a goldmine. 



We spent the rest of the day eating snacks from our major Trader Joe’s haul and driving around town.  Dinner was at a phenomenal Italian place, ???,  and we follow up every dinner in AZ with a cup of the best gelato outside of Europe from Frost.

Day 2

I vlogged all of a super fun Day 2 in AZ, watch it here ~

Day 3

After a late night the day prior, we slept in and I hit the gym for a quick arm workout before  heading to brunch in the dining room at Civana.  Unfortunately,  brunch was a bust (nothing worse than an overpriced array of cold food) . 






This day was much sunnier, albeit not much warmer, so I sat myself by the pool with a book and soaked up the downtime.






Later in the afternoon, we took a baking class in the kitchen of the resort.  We made gluten free cheddar thyme muffins; I’ll include the recipe here:


Gluten Free Cheddar Thyme Muffins

yield 4 muffins


1/4c rice flour

5 tbsp sorghum flour

1 1/2 tbsp tapioca flour

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

1/8 tsp xanthum gum

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1 1/2 tbsp egg

1/3 c buttermilk

1 tbsp agave

1/8 c vegetable oil

1/4 c shredded cheese

1tsp thyme


whisk and bake at 350 for 10/12 min.


We were ready to get out for a little bit by this point in the day, so we hoped in the rental car and headed off to a classic stop on any trip: TJ Maxx. Don’t laugh, TJs are different in every city AND the inventory is so so SO much better in a bigger city than at home. 



We did a casual meal at California Pizza Kitchen this evening.  Several of our favorite places to eat in Scottsdale are located at Biltmore Fashion Park, an outdoor shopping center without the craziness of the bigger indoor malls.

Day 4


My fourth and final day in the west before heading to Mobile to ring in the new year.  We headed out for an awesome 6 mile hike on the Go John Train in Cave Creek Regional Park.  This hike was a bit more strenuous  with patches of very rocky terrain and a decent amount of elevation gain; nothing too crazy, absolutely would recommend for something a little more remote with far fewer people along the way.

With a leisurely morning and a longer hike to start the day, we were running into the afternoon when we whipped into In-n-Out for a classic protein style burger and fries.  11/10. We soaked up one last visit to Trader Joe’s (we don’t have one at home) and then had dinner at Hillstone, a Houston’s-owned restaurant with phenomenal sushi. … I love a little trip guide like this, they’re fun to photograph, hopefully enjoyable to read, and full of ideas from me to you.

My travel Takeaways:


        -I am never checking a bag again.  While it allowed me to shop freely (good or bad? Idk.), it is SUCH  a hassle to deal with at the airport and  always ALWAYS leads me to overpack.

        -As far as Civana goes, I would personally recommend that you stay closer to the inner workings of Scottsdale unless your goal is to be on complete retreat. 

        -I read more on this trip than I have in YEARS and I absolutely loved it.  Stay tuned for my book club on the blog!!



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