Scottsdale, Arizona is well-known for its beautiful desert landscape, thriving arts scene, high-end shopping, and lively nightlife. Nicknamed “The West’s Most Western Town,” Scottsdale offers visitors an authentic taste of the Old West with a modern twist. Whether you are looking for outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or relaxing escapes, Scottsdale has something for you. Here are some of the best things to do in Scottsdale that you should not miss.
From exploring the rugged Sonoran Desert to experiencing the vibrancy of Old Town, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Scottsdale. This ultimate guide covers the 24 best things to do in Scottsdale to help you make the most of your visit in 2024.
Best Things to Do in Scottsdale
Explore the Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden is a 140-acre oasis that showcases the beauty and diversity of desert plants from around the world. You can stroll along the trails, admire the colorful flowers, learn about the history and ecology of the desert, and enjoy the art and events that the garden hosts throughout the year. The garden is also home to many birds, butterflies, and other wildlife that you can observe and appreciate.
Visit the Musical Instrument Museum
The Musical Instrument Museum is a unique and fascinating museum that displays more than 8,000 instruments from over 200 countries and territories. You can see, hear, and even play some of the instruments, and learn about their cultural and historical significance. The museum also features a concert hall, a theater, a library, and a cafe, making it a perfect destination for music lovers.
Experience the Old Town Scottsdale
The Old Town Scottsdale is the historic and cultural heart of the city, where you can find a mix of old and new. You can explore the art galleries, museums, shops, restaurants, and bars that line the streets, and discover the charm and character of the old west. You can also enjoy the nightlife, festivals, and events that the Old Town Scottsdale offers throughout the year.
Hike Pinnacle Peak Park
For picture-perfect views, hike the 1.75 mile trail leading up to the summit of Pinnacle Peak, an iconic Scottsdale landmark. Gaze out at sweeping vistas of the McDowell Mountains as you climb over 300 feet to the rugged summit. Just be sure to wear sturdy shoes as the trail has rocky and uneven terrain in parts.
Bask in Desert Scenery on a Hot Air Balloon Ride
See Scottsdale from new heights by booking an early morning hot air balloon adventure. Float high above the Sonoran Desert for breathtaking sunrise views of cacti-dotted landscapes set against towering mountains. Early morning hot air balloon rides are extremely popular, so reserve your spot well in advance.
Tour Taliesin West Architecture School
Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed Taliesin West to blend seamlessly with the surrounding desert. Tour this National Historic Landmark to see the winter home and architecture school Wright built in 1937 using local rocks and sand. Check the tour calendar as certain areas are only open on select days.
Step Back in Time in Old Town Scottsdale
With its wooden sidewalks, antique stores, and original adobe buildings, Old Town embodies Scottsdale’s western roots and heritage. Spend a day wandering past art galleries and souvenir shops while imagining stagecoaches rumbling down unpaved roads. Don’t miss these highlights when visiting Old Town:
Catch a Show at the Scottsdale Rusty Spur Saloon
Dine on grub like thick burgers and slow-smoked ribs while tapping your feet to live country music at this rustic cowboy saloon in the heart of Old Town. Show up early to grab a seat for the free nightly entertainment from both local bands and touring musicians.
Browse for Native American Art & Crafts
Many talented Native American artisans sell their one-of-a-kind jewelry, pottery, paintings, and carvings in Old Town’s boutiques and galleries. Peruse wool rugs woven with traditional Hopi patterns or buy handmade Oaxacan-style painted animals crafted by Huichol families.
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Go Back in Time on the Old Town Trolley Tour
Discover Scottsdale’s early days on the cheery Old Town Trolley Tour. Costumed guides entertain you with stories of saloon shootouts and stagecoach holdups as you view historic sites via this open-air tram. Tours depart every 30 minutes from a route along Main Street and Craftsman Court.
Find Thrills in the Great Outdoors
From rock climbing sheer cliff faces to galloping on horseback through desert trails, Scottsdale offers heart-pounding outdoor adventures. Adrenaline junkies can get their fix at these can’t-miss attractions.
Scale Desert Towers on a Rock Climbing Tour
Feel the burn in your forearms and calves while ascending the McDowell Mountains’ soaring sandstone pinnacles on an expert-led climbing tour. Even beginners as young as 5 years old can rappel safely back down with the aid of experienced guides.
Zip Through Desert Foothills on an ATV Tour
Hold on tight while you ride powerful all-terrain vehicles over dips and bumps on a backcountry trail tour. Drive past the skeletal remains of a real cowboy town movie set and gaze upward at an abandoned mine tunnel drilled deep inside a rocky peak.
Horseback Ride Through Rugged Landscapes
Saddle up Western-style for a true cowboy adventure on trails with spectacular desert vistas at MacDonald’s Ranch. Both novice and experienced riders can enjoy scenic guided trail rides atop gentle horses suitable for all skill levels. Don’t forget your cowboy hat!
Marvel at Vibrant Public Art Displays
Splashes of colorful wall murals, thought-provoking sculptures, and creative installations transform Scottsdale into a living art museum. Many impressive works of public art are completely free to view at outdoor parks and public spaces across the city.
Have fun at the OdySea Aquarium:
The OdySea Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Southwest, and one of the most fun things to do in Scottsdale. The aquarium features more than 65 exhibits, 370 species, and 6,000 animals, including sharks, sea turtles, penguins, and otters. You can also experience the interactive attractions, such as the Living Sea Carousel, the SeaTREK Helmet Diving, and the Penguin Encounter, that the aquarium offers.
This is a tropical rainforest-themed attraction that houses thousands of butterflies from around the world. You can walk among the colorful creatures, and learn about their life cycle and behavior. You can also visit the other exhibits, such as the honeybee hive, the ant colony, and the aquarium.
Learn at the Musical Instrument Museum:
The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) is a unique and fascinating museum that celebrates the music and instruments of the world. The museum displays more than 7,000 instruments from over 200 countries and territories, and allows you to see, hear, and play them. You can also watch live performances, attend workshops, and join tours that the museum organizes.
Play at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park:
The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a family-friendly park that features a miniature railroad, a carousel, a playground, and a museum. You can ride the train, which runs on a one-mile loop around the park, and the carousel, which has hand-carved animals and a Wurlitzer organ. You can also visit the museum, which displays model trains, railroad artifacts, and historical photos.
Snap an Instagram Pic Beside the LOVE Mural
Spread a little love by posing in front of artist Laura Spalding Best’s 50-foot-wide LOVE letters mural displayed downtown. Painted rainbow colors with uplifting words like “hope” and “heal”, this bright installation aims to inspire human connection.
Stroll Through Civic Center Park
See over 100 innovative sculptures, paintings, fountains, and architecture spread throughout the lush Civic Center Park. This sprawling 37-acre downtown green space contains one of the world’s largest collections of public artworks like Her Secret is Patience, a massive outdoor sculpture by artist John Randall Nelson.
Tour the Cosanti Originals Gallery
Discover Paolo Soleri’s experimental bronze and ceramic windbells that produce melodic sounds when spun by natural desert breezes. You can view these one-of-a-kind artistic creations at the Cosanti Originals gallery located just 15 minutes from Old Town Scottsdale.
Find Paradise for Shoppers & Foodies
Home to over 250 restaurants and more than 100 shopping centers, Scottsdale offers retail therapy paired with fantastic eats. From sprawling luxury malls to quirky Old Town boutiques, shop then fuel up at these top spots.
Stroll & Spend on Upscale Fifth Avenue
Browse the chic boutiques and art galleries lining downtown Fifth Avenue, then indulge in a glass of fine wine on an open-air patio. Beyond high-fashion staples like Louis Vuitton and Dior, Fifth Avenue tempts visitors with one-of-a-kind items not found elsewhere.
Sample Sonoran Cuisine on Restaurant Row
Taste your way along Craftsmen Court on the eastern edge of Old Town, AKA Restaurant Row. Savor standouts like modern Mexican cuisine, award-winning barbecue, fresh seafood towers, and specialty bourbon cocktails as you feast al fresco under string lights.
Treasure Hunt Vintage Finds on Main Street
Hunt for rare vintage apparel, mid-century furniture, custom cowboy boots, Native American turquoise jewelry, and other classic treasures in Old Town’s eclectic antique emporiums on Main Street. Finish your visit with a scoop of creamy gelato as you window shop.
Dance the Night Away After Dark
When the sun sets, Scottsdale transforms into a glamorous scene of neon-lit cocktail lounges, buzzing nightclubs, and concerts under the stars. Make sure to experience the electric nightlife vibe at these hotspots:
Sip Craft Cocktails at a Hip Hotel Bar
Schmooze it up Hollywood-style alongside other well-dressed patrons over martinis and share plates in the swanky rooftop lounge at the Hotel Valley Ho. This mid-century modern hotel oozes Mad Men-era glamour with its palm-lined pool and fire pit cabanas.
Catch Live Music at the Coach House
Since opening in 1976, the Coach House has been a long-time local favorite nightlife venue thanks to its friendly dive bar atmosphere and roster of talented bands. Tickets sell out fast for the upcoming reggae, rock, punk and indie concerts held in their cozy concert hall.
Dance Into the Wee Hours at Maya Day + Nightclub
Voted Scottsdale’s top nightclub for three years running, Maya boasts lavish decor and rotating theme-night parties on their mega dance floors and open-air pool deck. Sip colorful cocktails and groove alongside celebrity guest DJs into the early morning hours.
Indulge in Local Food & Drink Favorites
Taste the flavors of Scottsdale by sampling some quintessential local specialties from steaks seared over open flames to fruit-infused local craft brews. These iconic foods and drinks offer a true taste of Scottsdale’s culinary soul.
Bite Into an Arizona-Style Burrito
Massive breakfast burritos stuffed with cheese, potatoes, bacon or machaca beef are a Scottsdale specialty served all day long. Tackle the legendary “Hubcap” burrito for your best shot at finishing one of these enormous specialty wraps.
Chow Down on Authentic Sonoran Tacos
Crunchy tacos layered with shredded citrus-marinated beef or succulent carne asada steak are menu staples at taco shops across Scottsdale. Top yours with lime-infused onions, fresh cilantro, and various salsas for the full experience.
Sip a Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita
Cool off from the desert heat with a sweet and tangy prickly pear margarita, made from fruit pulp harvested from local cacti. Multiple restaurants create their own unique prickly pear-infused tequila cocktails.
Nibble Sweet Honey Mesquite Pods
Chew on crunchy dried honey mesquite pods just like ancient native cultures once did. These sweet tree pods have been a traditional Native American snack food harvested sustainably from the Sonoran Desert for centuries.
Final Tips for Visiting Scottsdale
With spectacular scenery, rich heritage, vibrant culture, thrilling adventures, fantastic shopping and dining all packed into one city, Scottsdale offers something to excite every type of traveler. Use these final Scottsdale travel tips to make sure your upcoming trip goes smoothly:
Avoid the Summer Heat
Scottsdale boasts over 300 days of sunshine per year, but summertime temps exceeding 110°F limit outdoor activities. For comfortable weather ideal for sightseeing, visit during the fall, winter or early spring months.
Rent a Car for Flexible Exploration
While Old Town is walkable and hotels offer shuttles, having your own set of rental car wheels makes venturing out to national parks, music venues, art galleries and more a breeze.
Pack Appropriate Attire & Essentials
Dress in layers you can peel off as temperatures climb. Choose lightweight, breathable fabrics along with a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen. Carry extra water to stay hydrated in the dry desert air.
Enjoy the McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a natural preserve that covers more than 30,000 acres of pristine desert land. You can hike, bike, horseback ride, or simply enjoy the scenery and wildlife that the preserve offers. You can also join guided tours, educational programs, and volunteer opportunities that the preserve organizes to enhance your experience and knowledge of the desert environment.
Relax at the Scottsdale Spa and Holistic Massage Therapy
The Scottsdale Spa and Holistic Massage Therapy is a spa that provides a range of services and treatments to help you relax and rejuvenate. You can choose from massages, facials, body wraps, aromatherapy, and more, and enjoy the soothing atmosphere and professional staff that the spa offers. The spa also offers packages, specials, and gift cards that you can use or share with your loved ones.
Fun things to do in Scottsdale for kids
Some of the fun things to do in Scottsdale for kids are:
- Visiting the Butterfly Wonderland, which is the largest indoor butterfly pavilion in America, and features thousands of butterflies, a rainforest atrium, and a 3D theater.
- Exploring the Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, which showcases the art, history, and culture of the American West, and offers interactive exhibits, guided tours, and educational programs for kids.
- Having a blast at the CrackerJax Family Fun and Sports Park, which has mini golf, go-karts, bumper boats, batting cages, arcade games, and more.
These are some of the best things to do in Scottsdale that you should not miss. Scottsdale is a city that has something for everyone, whether you are looking for adventure, culture, or relaxation. You will surely have a memorable and enjoyable time in Scottsdale.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the best time to visit Scottsdale?
A: The best time to visit Scottsdale is from October to May, when the weather is mild and sunny, and the city hosts many events and festivals. The summer months are very hot and dry, and may not be suitable for outdoor activities.
Q: How far is Scottsdale from Phoenix?
A: Scottsdale is about 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Phoenix, and it takes about 20 minutes to drive between the two cities. You can also take public transportation, such as buses or light rail, to travel between Scottsdale and Phoenix.
Q: What are some of the best restaurants in Scottsdale?
A: Some of the best restaurants in Scottsdale are:
- FnB: A cozy and award-winning restaurant that serves seasonal and local cuisine, with a focus on vegetables and wine.
- The Mission: A stylish and elegant restaurant that serves modern Latin cuisine, with a fusion of Spanish, Mexican, and South American flavors.
- Citizen Public House: A gastropub that serves contemporary American cuisine, with a twist of humor and creativity.
- Virtu Honest Craft: A chic and intimate restaurant that serves Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, with a touch of artistry and sophistication.
- Cafe Monarch: A romantic and luxurious restaurant that serves a four-course prix fixe menu, with a changing selection of dishes and wines.