Boasting high end resorts, historic buildings, and a charming Old Town quarter, the city of Scottsdale, Arizona is one of the most popular destinations in the Southwest.
Located just outside of Phoenix, Scottsdale feels entirely separate from the sprawl of the Arizona state capital. In Scottsdale, you’ll find boutique gift shops, art galleries and gourmet restaurants minutes away from trailheads and stunning desert panoramas.
Award winning, expert-rated golf courses will keep any athlete busy while the city’s luxury spas invite guests to relax and reset. When in Scottsdale, you’re guaranteed to spend as much time enjoying the outdoors as you do getting to know the city’s indoor attractions.
Along with local hikes, there are plenty of day-trip destinations in the area for adventurers and history buffs alike. A small town atmosphere, coupled with the cultural vibrancy of any large city, make Scottsdale the perfect middle ground.
Ready to get started? Here are 19 of our favorite things to do in Scottsdale AZ.
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN SCOTTSDALE AZ
- Best Family Friendly Resort: Situated at the base of beautiful Camelback Mountain, Scottsdale Camelback Resort is a family-friendly resort that features tennis lessons and a movie theater. It is 5 minutes’ drive from Old Town Scottsdale. Dining is available at The Grille which serves traditional American cuisine.
- Best in Old Town Scottsdale: Featuring an outdoor swimming pool and a hot tub, Hyatt House Scottsdale Old Town also features a hot breakfast buffet served daily. The hotel is located within the center of Old Town Scottsdale.
- Best Bungalows: Located in Scottsdale in the Arizona Region, Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows Resort & Spa, boasts a year-round outdoor pool and hot tub. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant. Stay in one of their art-inspired bungalows!
PINNACLE PEAK PARK
Even if you’ve never visited the Scottsdale area before, you’ll know Pinnacle Peak when you see it; its memorable name fits this jagged, pointy mountain top like a glove. A popular weekend activity, the out and back hike around Pinnacle Peak totals about two miles one way; expect a four mile round trip.
Rated moderate, the trail has relatively little ascent but plenty of expansive views of McDowell and Camelback Mountains. Sonoran flora and fauna accompany you as you make your way to just below the peak. The hike does not reach the official summit of Pinnacle Peak, which is reserved for experienced rock climbers.
This hike is located within Pinnacle Peak Park, about a 30- minute drive from Downtown Scottsdale.
Hidden at the base of the McDowell Mountains, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is an ode to a slice of Sonoran Desert the architect once called home. A former residence and studio, the complex features furniture designed by Wright, among other touches that merge the creative and the functional.
Taliesin West and its many outdoor spaces were built by Wright and his team, making the home a historical artifact as much as it is an art piece. Natural light, low- lying roofs and redwood interiors match the rustic hues of the landscape surrounding the home.
After a guided tour, settle in to a sunset Happy Hour or outdoor movie night. The site is a 20- minute drive north of Downtown Scottsdale.
MCCORMICK STILLMAN RAILROAD PARK
Perfect for kids and train aficionados, Scottsdale’s McCormick- Stillman Railroad Park is an ideal spot to take a breather while out in the city. Three rides, a museum and model railroad building take you back to the locomotive era, while two playgrounds keep the little ones busy. The Scottsdale Railroad Museum’s rotating schedule of exhibitions highlights decades of train history and memorabilia.
Park rides include the Paradise & Pacific Railroad, Arboretum Train and the treasured Scottsdale Charros Carousel, which features 30 antique horses. Entrance to the park and museum is free, and Hartley’s General Store is open for all your family’s ice cream and hot dog needs while you stroll the grounds. You’ll also find picnic areas here. It’s the perfect family friendly place to visit in Scottsdale.
Read more: Over 25 of the Best Things to do in Scottsdale with Kids
OLD TOWN SCOTTSDALE
Downtown Scottsdale is often referred to as Old Town Scottsdale, since many historical buildings remain from the Old West days. Scottsdale’s Old Town is best seen on foot; walking the district’s nine neighborhoods is the best way to make sure you don’t miss a single local gem. Western history, merged with the latest in gourmet dining, shopping, and art exhibits make this area of downtown Scottsdale a uniquely Southwestern city center.
While taking the area in, look out for permanent public art installations that brighten up Old Town’s streets, as well as exhibition spaces like the American Indian Art Gallery. Catch a performance at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Boutiques specializing in everything from Native American handiwork to leather goods guarantee a souvenir or two before you stop for lunch.
Restaurants like the Old Town Tortilla Factory draw from the cultural influences that have built Scottsdale’s identity over time, while craft breweries and wine bars invite you to unwind when the sun goes down.
If you just can’t get enough of Old Town, make it your headquarters for exploring the rest of the city; there are a number of luxurious hotels in the area for you to call home.
If you’re walking, don’t miss the Old Town Trolley; it runs on a loop and can get you to your next stop in minutes.
WESTERN SPIRIT: SCOTTSDALE’S MUSEUM OF THE WEST
As one of Old Town Scottsdale’s most visited museums, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West brings together visual artifacts of the area’s rich history. Exhibits focus on Native American culture, original items, and the true stories and legends of the Old West.
Guided tours are available along with audio tours. Traditional mediums are displayed alongside hand crafted objects like pottery and textiles, diversifying your viewing experience.
Wander into the Sculpture Courtyard to take in rotating three dimensional works set among Southwestern plants. What you see might even inspire your next purchase at the museum store, which carries gifts, decorative objects and souvenirs.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, the museum is located on the Downtown Scottsdale Trolley Line.
Located a few minutes east of Central Scottsdale, Butterfly Wonderland is the largest butterfly conservatory in the United States. Housing countless butterfly species in an indoor rainforest, expect to devote most of the day to the Wonderland and its various spaces to explore.
The Butterfly Emergence Gallery, 3D Theater, Honeybee Extravaganza and Tropical Waters sections are just some of the must- sees to experience during your visit. Catch a glimpse of chrysalis before they break out of their shells and become butterflies at the Emergence Gallery, or enjoy “Flight of the Butterflies ” in 3D at the theater.
The only conservatory of its size in the country, Butterfly Wonderland falls somewhere between a living exhibit, museum, and tropical garden. Make sure to stop by the Butterfly Treasures Gift Shop and Butterfly Wonderland Cafe on your way out.
MCDOWELL SONORAN PRESERVE
Spanning Scottsdale’s east side, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a protected natural area featuring over 200 miles of connecting trails. The Preserve is your go-to for untouched Sonoran Desert scenery, no matter your level of hiking experience.
Experience the trails via mountain bike, by horseback, or on foot; three trails are also designated as accessible. While some trails are shorter and less challenging, others allow you to hike the McDowell mountains and view neighboring peaks from above.
Whether you spend all day out on the trails, opt for a shorter sunset/sunrise hike, or try a different trail every day of your trip, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a hands-on introduction to the desert. As you walk among cactus forests, open desert and rugged slopes, it’ll be hard to believe you’re only a half hour drive away from Downtown Phoenix.
Featured Rental: E-Bike Rentals, perfect for the Preserve
TOM THUMB’S TRAILHEAD
If you’re planning to explore the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, start with Tom’s Thumb Trailhead for panoramic views of Phoenix and the McDowell Mountains’ south side. This popular four mile switchback trail starts at the trailhead and ends at an intersection with the neighboring Windgate Trail.
Rated difficult, this trail is best for experienced hikers used to changing grades. Named for a local rock climber and nature lover, Tom’s Thumb promises granite geological formations and a rewarding summit.
Bring plenty of water and arrive well rested, as the hike can be challenging, especially in the Arizona sun. The trailhead is a 40 minute drive from Downtown Scottsdale.
RUSTY SPUR SALOON
Once you’ve had enough outdoor fun and feel like letting loose, end your day at the Rusty Spur Saloon in the middle of Downtown Scottsdale. Featuring nightly live music, over 70 years of history and walls covered in memorabilia, the Saloon is all about having a good time, Old West style.
As the oldest bar in Scottsdale, The Rusty Spur space is a registered historical landmark. Reborn as the saloon in 1951, this former bank building retains unexpected elements like the original bank vault.
With a no- frills drink menu, Southwestern snacks and plenty of room for dancing, the Rusty Spur is as much a local hangout as it is a renowned venue; chances are you’ll feel right at home.
Located off of Highway 101, the OdySea Aquarium is one of Scottsdale’s favorite tourist attractions for curious kids and animal lovers. The aquarium merges interactive activities with educational exhibits, while introducing visitors to aquatic life.
Galleries include the Penguin Cove, the Bizarre and the Beautiful and Otter Banks, among others. Get hands-on with the aquarium’s Touch Pools, where you can experience marine environments up close, or sign up for a behind the scenes visit, like the Shark Tour.
Join a Penguin Encounter to get to know the animals, or try your hand at SeaTREK Helmet Diving to become one with the water. However you tour the aquarium, it’ll be far from your average museum day. Don’t miss the Lighthouse Cafe or OdySea Treasures Gift Shop as you wrap up your visit.
PENSKE RACING MUSEUM
Located near Scottsdale, the Penske Racing Museum is a unique opportunity to see a number of the racing world’s celebrity vehicles under one roof. Showcasing the history of the Penske professional racing team, the museum displays an impressive collection of Indianapolis 500 winning cars, trophies, photographs, and other original mementos.
If you’re in town on the 3rd Saturday of the month, drop by the museum for Cars & Coffee, where you can walk among relics while sipping a complimentary cup of joe.
The Penske Racing Museum is located within the Penske Automall and features an on-site cafe alongside exhibited vehicles.
SOUTHWEST WILDLIFE CONSERVATION CENTER
Located north of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center offers tours and education programs that introduce guests to the diverse Sonoran Desert habitat. All visits require advance scheduling, so plan ahead.
The Walk With Wildlife Tour takes you through the sanctuary as you meet its permanent residents, including mountain lions, gray wolves and black bears. This tour is perfect for older children and adults interested in a more in-depth experience than you would find at a local zoo; the sanctuary’s goal is to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals back into their native desert.
For a more individualized visit, book a tour with one of the sanctuary’s guiding professionals.
SCOTTSDALE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Along with an abundance of historical wealth, Scottsdale is also home to a lively contemporary art scene. Experience the latest at downtown Scottsdale’s Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA).
Focusing on young artists, recently acquired pieces, and work grounded in today’s issues and conversations, SMoCA is an inspiring glimpse into the direction modern art is taking, and what lies ahead. Local artists have a significant presence, along with international makers.
Visit the museum store for offbeat gifts, and check out the calendar for openings, artist panels, and Second Saturday events at the museum.
DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN
To take advantage of the Scottsdale climate, spend a lazy morning at the Desert Botanical Garden, located just north of the Phoenix Zoo. Get lost among the flora as you meander through the garden trails, galleries, butterfly area and gift shop.
Rotating art exhibits and educational workshops vary things up, and all special events are marked on the garden calendar. If you’re staying for lunch, Gertrude’s Restaurant is on site, featuring farm to table meals. The Patio Cafe is also open for a quick bite outdoors.
Keep in mind that the Desert Botanical Garden requires advance ticket reservations.
HORSEBACK RIDING WITH CAVE CREEK OUTFITTERS
Situated in between the McDowell and Mazatzal Mountains, Cave Creek Outfitters introduces you to the natural beauty gracing the Scottsdale landscape the traditional way — on horseback.
Your wrangler will help you get to know your horse as you embark on a ride through the property. Even complete beginners will feel comfortable enough to take control of the reins under the care of an expert guide.
Store your camera in your saddle bag and capture memories from your unique vantage point. Want to take your adventure to the next level? Take a look at Cave Creek’s Adventure Packages for cowboy games and cooking to go along with your ride. The ranch is also available for larger group events and cookouts in a serene, secluded setting.
XERISCAPE GARDEN AT CHAPARRAL PARK
The Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park is a place where you can not only see thousands of regional plants, but you can learn more about reducing outdoor water use.
The garden itself is located on top of a buried 5.5 million gallon reservoir from the adjacent Chaparral Water Treatment Plant. You’ll find 7,000 plants and 200 species here, and can learn more about desert landscapes and about plants and trees that use less water.
A visit to the garden is free.
DAY TRIPS FROM SCOTTSDALE
One of Scottsdale’s best features is its proximity to Arizona’s diverse natural treasures. An hour or two in the car can get you to cultural sites embedded in the desert, water adventures and pine forests.
TUBING ON THE SALT RIVER
Just 40 minutes from Scottsdale lies Arizona’s Salt River, where tubing is one of many water activities the river offers.
Open seasonally, Salt River Tubing trips include float time and a shuttle to the riverbank. The rental facility is located in Tonto National Forest, and the river rapids are as cool and exhilarating as the forest itself. You can make a single or group reservation seven days a week and choose from two to five hour trip blocks.
The river environment that surrounds you as you float strikes a surprising contrast with Scottsdale’s desertscape, leaving you invigorated and fascinated by the variety of the Arizona landscape.
WINE TASTING IN SEDONA
If you can fit in a 2.5-hour drive, Sedona’s vineyards and wineries await. Known for its otherworldly Red Rocks and buzzing downtown, Sedona offers rich local wineries lining the area’s Oak Creek.
Each vineyard is locally owned and operated, meaning your glass of red or white is handcrafted from the roots up. A vineyard tour or tasting can further introduce you to the varieties that thrive in Northern Arizona.
The desert can be full of surprises, and wines that rival the flavors of Napa are just one of them. Consider visiting The Secret Garden Cafe at Tlaquepaque, Winery 1912 and Page Springs Cellars.
And if you don’t feel like heading out of town, you’re in luck! Scottsdale itself is home to seven Arizona wine tasting rooms right in Old Town — no traveling required.
Read More: 17 PHENOMENAL THINGS TO DO IN SEDONA, ARIZONA
Surrounded by ponderosa pines, the town of Prescott offers a temperate mountain climate, wooded slopes and lakes, all only two hours north of Scottsdale. With forest scenery that feels worlds away from the Sonoran Desert, Prescott begs to be discovered, one trail at a time.
For the historian in you, Prescott is also a hotbed of local lore, hosting historic attractions like the Sharlot Hall Museum and Palatki Ruins. Whiskey Row, a craft brewery scene and local cooking have you covered after a busy day of gallery hopping or kayaking.
A busy nightlife scene rounds out your visit, especially if you’re planning to stay overnight. Choose from distilleries, breweries, bars and nightly live music to celebrate your jaunt to Prescott.
SEE MONTEZUMA CASTLE
A designated National Monument, Montezuma Castle sits about two hours north of Scottsdale, in between Camp Verde and Lake Montezuma. The site’s ancient limestone cliff dwellings are attributed to the Sinagua indigenous culture.
Preserved for thousands of years, Montezuma Castle is said to have been constructed over the span of 300 years. Surrounded by sycamore trees, the structure is a striking reminder of indigenous presence in the area; the monument includes adjacent stone and mud structures as well. Learn more at regular ranger programs and admire Beaver Creek via a short trail system.
Montezuma Castle is as much a national jewel as it is an Arizona treasure. Over 100 years of careful protection have made this marvel available to the public today, so don’t miss your chance to see it in person.
SCOTTSDALE AZ FAQ
What is Scottsdale best known for?
Scottsdale is known for its amazing outdoor recreation and family-friendly adventures…but it’s best known for its golf courses. Scottsdale is known as the u0022World’s Finest Golf Destinationu0022 and is home to TPC Scottsdale, Troon North and Grayhawk.
Why is Scottsdale so popular?
One reason Scottsdale is so popular is because of its amazing weather. You’ll find sunshine here almost all year (it averages 330 sunny days)! In addition to the sunshine, you’ll find luxury resorts, amazing golfing opportunities, and high-end shopping.
Is Scottsdale, Arizona worth visiting?
In a word: Yes! Scottsdale, Arizona is definitely worth visiting. Not only are there plenty of things to do in Scottsdale, you’ll also find it’s surrounded by other points of interest, just outside the city limits.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO ARIZONA
- YOUR ARIZONA VACATION
- ARIZONA RESORTS: 17 Top-Rated Arizona Resorts To Indulge In
- PHOENIX HIKING: 15+ Amazing Phoenix Hiking Trails with Awesome Views
- FLAGSTAFF: 15 Amazing Things To Do In Flagstaff For Year-Round Fun
- MESA: 18 Fun Things To Do In Mesa AZ Everyone Will Love
WHERE TO STAY IN SCOTTSDALE ARIZONA
Follow us here: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | YouTube | MSN | TripAdvisor | Flipboard
We make no guarantees of any price listed on our site. We are not responsible for content on external web sites linked from ours, including linked resources, an external blog post, any partner site, hotel property sites, or affiliate sites. We only write about places we love in an attempt to help you in your adventures, but we can’t guarantee you will love them, too.
Posts may contain affiliate links at no cost to you. Several of our trips are also compensated by the respective tourism boards for the city or state we are visiting. This never impacts how we share the destination with you – opinions are always our own and we pride ourselves on that. We do not sell links or accept unsolicited guest posts under any circumstances. Don’t even ask.
United States Copyright, 365 Atlanta Family, LLC
- 27 Phenomenal Things To Do In Cincinnati, Ohio - 05/09/2023
- 23+ Fun Things To Do in Madison WI You’ll Love - 03/30/2023
- 37+ Absolutely Phenomenal Things To Do in Oregon - 03/24/2023