When I arranged my short stay at Tucson’s Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa, I expected to find comfortable rooms and excellent recreational facilities. What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d also chew a mesquite bean, slurp a cactus fruit, and learn how to find my way if I were ever lost in the desert.
Resort History and Facilities
Built in 1912, the original adobe-style building at the Westward Look was once a private home. When William and Maria Watson constructed their estate on remote land overlooking the Santa Catalina Mountains, it was a long 10 miles from the fledgling city center.
Today, shopping centers and suburban neighborhoods surround the 80-acre resort property, as the city has grow up around it. The Watson’s original living room, with thick exposed ceiling beams, is now a sitting room adjacent to the hotel lobby.
This main building also includes the hotel’s three restaurants: the upscale, modern American GOLD, the laid-back Lookout Bar & Grille, and the Monsoon Café, which offers light breakfasts and Starbucks coffee.
Over the years, new owners continued to add to the property, which has grown to 241 rooms and suites, some set in stocky low-rise room blocks and others in newer “casitas” around the grounds.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
The rooms feel corporate-contemporary with some southwestern touches, and all have either a balcony or patio. Rooms also have 42-inch plasma TVs, coffee makers, and in-room safes.
The “casita junior suites” (pictured above) are quite spacious, averaging 650 square feet, with sitting and sleeping areas, a work desk, and a large bathroom/dressing area combination.
Room rates in the summer low season (mid-May through mid-September) start at $139-$149 for a standard double room and $154-179 for a junior suite, and periodic specials bring the prices even lower. In the winter high season, expect rates from $209-279 for the standard rooms and $224-309 for the junior suites.
On top of the room charges, a mandatory $20 resort fee covers parking (self or valet), Wi-Fi, and use of the various recreational facilities.
Active guests will find plenty to do at the Westward Look. The resort has three pools — the main pool adjacent to the lobby, a lap pool next to the fitness center, and a smaller pool on the other side of the grounds.
The fitness center is large, well-equipped, and (mercifully) air-conditioned.
Tennis fans can play on one of the eight courses. Staff will match you with a partner and also offer lessons and clinics for both adults and kids.
The resort rents bikes ($50 for two hours or $60 per day) and offers both half-day guided bike tours ($100-150 per person) and hikes ($80-130).
Horseback riding is also available for adults and children ages 7 and up. Trail rides of one to 2 1/2 hours cost $40-75 per person.
The “Chef’s Garden Tour”
It’s not all play at the Westward Look. A highlight for me was the fascinating “Chef’s Garden Tour,” that the resort’s Landscape Manager Raymundo Ocampo leads on request most mornings at 7 am.
Raymundo takes you to the property’s organic garden, where staff grow a variety of fruits and vegetables that supply the restaurants. There are pomegranate and Asian pear trees, vegetables ranging from artichokes to zucchini, and herbs like basil and chocolate mint.
Raymundo is wealth of knowledge about the local desert plants, too. He seems intimately acquainted with all 200+ different plants around the hotel grounds.
As we wandered the property in the cool early morning, he pointed out a jojoba plant, explaining that the Native Americans traditionally roasted jojoba nuts to make a coffee-like beverage.
I knew mesquite as a wood that’s often used for grilling. Raymundo showed me the tree’s bean pods and gave me a mesquite bean to sample. Its taste was surprisingly nutty and earthy.
If you’re ever lost in Arizona, Raymundo told me, you should look for the barrel cactus (pictured above). The plant always leans to the south, providing a natural navigational aid.
He pulled a piece of the bright yellow fruit from the cactus top and said, “Here. Try it.”
The fruit was tart and creamy, not at all what you’d expect from the plant’s prickly exterior.
If you do stay at the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort, make sure you wake up for Raymundo’s tour. It may not be what you’d expect at an urban resort hotel, but you never know when you’ll need to find your way in the desert. Check rates at Hotels.com and Priceline.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the books, Moon Handbooks: Ontario and Living Abroad in Canada. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. The Westward Look Wyndham Grand, in conjunction with the Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Arizona Office of Tourism, hosted my stay for review purposes.