Things to do in Scottsdale

Scottsdale Things to Do

Located just east of Phoenix, Arizona, Scottsdale has earned itself a reputation as not only a great resort town but also as one of the best cities in the country to settle down, raise a family or even retire. Known as “The West’s Most Western Town,” Scottsdale covers about 185 square miles in the Sonoran Desert. This desert city offers beautiful scenery, warm temperatures, a variety of neighborhoods with quality communities, and a booming economy.

Scottsdale Attractions

One look around Scottsdale and a person might wonder why there would need to be anything other than the beautiful scenery to attract anyone to the city. Once the eyes start to get weary due to looking from a distance, plan a trip to get to the heart of the desert. Hot air balloon expeditions and jeep tours abound throughout the area to provide up close and personal views. If this gets too close, enjoy a weekend at the Arizona Balloon Festival in nearby Chandler. This annual event draws balloon enthusiasts from all over to the Arizona warmth in November.

A spot that cannot be missed is the Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin. At least half a day should be set aside to explore the outstanding premises. Visitors can learn about his design and philosophies while viewing his work first-hand.

Taliesin West Scottsdale
Taliesin West Scottsdale

For the adventure-minded, turn back the clock and step into the Wild West at the Rawhide Western Town, Arizona’s largest Western theme park. Rides and attractions can be found around every corner and visitors never know when a gunfight might erupt in the middle of town. Shoppers will find more than fifteen stores carrying items like rattler heads that are hard to buy for a person. The best part about Western Town – it’s free!

Rawhide Western Town
Rawhide Western Town – 4th of July by mirceagoia is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Old Town Scottsdale

Scottsdale boasts the slogan, “West’s Most Western Town”. It still has the Old West flavor in spots, but it has grown up. Full of contemporary amenities which makes it one of America’s favorite vacation destinations. Most people refer to all districts of downtown Scottsdale when they speak of the old town. Even if some of those districts like the Waterfront area are relatively new.

Old Town Scottsdale
Old Town Scottsdale by Phil Sexton is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Although many of the buildings that currently house boutiques, bars, and restaurants are of southwestern architecture, the real place to experience the true flavors of its old west roots is to tour the authentic “Old Town” area where wooden sidewalks and rustic traditions are preserved.

Take a self-guided tour of Old Town. It only takes an hour or so unless you patronize some older shops, tour the museum, have a brew, or just poke along. The tour should begin at the “Little Red School House” which was built in 1909 and now houses the Scottsdale Historical Museum. There are locations that will conjure up visions of the early days of farming and ranching days. The building that houses the landmark Rusty Spur Saloon was built in 1921.

Old Town Scottsdale AZ
Old Town Scottsdale by Prayitno is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you’re a fan of vintage and retro finds, make sure to check out Antique Trove. This massive antique store is home to over 140 vendors selling everything from mid-century modern furniture to vintage clothing and accessories. It’s a treasure trove of unique finds and a great place to spend an afternoon browsing.

Don’t miss out on the Scottsdale Historical Museum. This small museum is tucked away in a historic adobe home and provides a fascinating look at the city’s history, from its early days as a cattle town to its evolution into a popular tourist destination. Plus, admission is free, making it a budget-friendly option for history buffs and curious travelers alike.

Lesser-known hiking trails in Scottsdale

As one of the most beautiful cities in Arizona, Scottsdale is a paradise for hikers. From the famous Camelback Mountain to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, there are plenty of popular hiking trails to explore. However, if you want to avoid the crowds and discover hidden gems, there are also lesser-known hiking trails in Scottsdale that are worth exploring.

Sunrise Trail

One such trail is the Sunrise Trail. Located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, this trail offers stunning views of the city and the surrounding mountains. The trail is a bit challenging, with steep hills and rocky terrain, but the panoramic views make it all worth it.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve – Barrel cacti growing tenaciously by Al_HikesAZ is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Lost Dog Wash Trail

Another great option is the Lost Dog Wash Trail. This trail is also located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, but it’s less crowded than some of the more popular trails. The trail offers beautiful desert scenery, with cacti and wildflowers lining the path. It’s a relatively easy hike, making it perfect for families with children or beginners.

Tom’s Thumb Trail

For those who want a more challenging hike, the Tom’s Thumb Trail is a great option. This trail is located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains. The trail is steep and rocky, with some sections requiring scrambling, but the views at the top are breathtaking.

Amusement Parks in Scottsdale

Add a little fun to your stay in Scottsdale. Visit these parks, amusement centers, and theme parks for a day in the sun.

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park – Arizona

The heart and soul of Great Wolf Lodge Scottsdale is its gigantic indoor water park. Splashy rides such as Alberta Falls—a four-story double-raft water slide—and a zero-depth-entry wave pool with 3-foot swells surround the park’s iconic hub: a four-story treehouse with a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket. Younger kids will have a blast with the water slides and gentle spray features of Whooping Hollow and Cub Paw Pool.

Great Wolf Lodge Scottsdale Arizona by Margalit Francus is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The water park, which hovers around 84 degrees all year long, isn’t the resort’s only family-friendly activity. You’ll also find an arcade with more than 100 games and mini-bowling at Ten Paw Alley.

Pangaea Land of the Dinosaurs

If your little one loves dinosaurs, get ready, they’re coming to the Valley. Land of the Dinos is an indoor interactive exhibit and educational center located at OdySea in Scottsdale. Complete with realistic recreations of prehistoric habitats and more than 50 life-like robotic dinosaurs. There are 50 animatronic dinosaurs (roughly 25-30 different species) vividly surrounded by their habitats for you to enjoy – along with additional dinosaur-themed activities.

AR Creature Feature with Birds of Prey at Winter in July at the Phoenix Zoo by cseeman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo has approximately 1,200 animals on exhibit at our Zoo, including our collections of mammals, fish, invertebrates, birds, and reptiles.


Family-focused attractions at this thrill park include mini-golf, go-karts, volleyball & an arcade.

Rawhide at Wild Horse Pass

Chandler AZRawhide at Wild Horse Pass on the Gila River Indian Community is an authentic replica of an 1880s town.

Recreations & Leisure

The state of Arizona offers more than 300 golf courses. And, it is no secret that Scottsdale offers some of the best golfing in the country. Aside from the beautiful climate, many of the area courses are located in the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt. Considered an engineering wonder of the world, the greenbelt is one of the country’s most impressive flood-control projects, producing lush parklands. Additionally, these seven-and-a-half-mile area offers lakes, recreational facilities, parks, and an extensive path system for skating, biking, walking, and jogging.

Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt
Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt by Aaron Volkening is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Aside from its neighborhood parks, the city of Scottsdale offers over 40 parks, three community pools, an aquatic center, and 15 community centers. Each option offers nonstop recreation possibilities all year long. From intensive physical fitness to fishing to social functions, there is very little that Scottsdale cannot offer.

Sports enthusiasts have not been forgotten in this great city. A popular Scottsdale tournament is the Arizona Men’s Tennis Classic. Professional male tennis players compete head-on while the locals choose their favorites. A short drive into Phoenix can result in one of any number of professional sporting events including an Arizona Cardinals football game or a Phoenix Suns basketball game.

Arts in Scottsdale AZ

With over 125 at last count, Scottsdale has more art galleries per capita than any other city in the US. This means there is a little bit for every taste. For a sampling of the works of some of the southwest’s most exceptional artists, save Thursday evenings for the Scottsdale ArtWalk. For more than 20 years, downtown galleries have opened their doors to the public. Additional gallery opportunities are offered through the Summer Spectacular ArtWalk in July and the Western ArtWalk in December.

Scottsdale ArtWalk by Experience Scottsdale is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Fine arts are celebrated in Scottsdale every year with the arrival of the Celebration of Fine Arts Exhibit in the winter. This festival draws more than 100 artists and an estimated 50,000 buyers, making it one of the biggest art markets in the West. Shortly after its end in March, the Summer Concert Series at el Pedregal Festival Marketplace runs from mid-April through mid-September. These are just two of the 25 art and music festivals happening throughout the year.

Scottsdale’s art scene is not without its museums. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art takes a more sophisticated approach to its exhibits. An extensive collection of Native American artifacts can be found at the Heard Museum North. The museum’s collection has been internationally recognized for its appreciation of the Native American heritage.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Paolo Soleir Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Scottsdale AZ by bobistraveling is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For those looking for enjoyment from the performing arts, Scottsdale is an excellent place to start. The Center for Performing Arts sponsors numerous local venues from live performances to original productions. Those of all ages wishing to study the performing arts can find many outlets and opportunities for the novice to the experienced.

Unique local restaurants and cafes to try

Scottsdale is home to a vibrant culinary scene that offers a range of delectable dishes to satisfy even the most discerning foodie. While there are plenty of tourist-friendly dining options available, exploring the local restaurants and cafes can truly be a gastronomic adventure.

FnB Restaurant

One such gem is FnB Restaurant, located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale. Known for its locally-sourced ingredients and farm-to-table approach, FnB offers a seasonally-changing menu that showcases the best of Arizona’s agricultural industry. The restaurant also features a carefully curated wine list, with a focus on Arizona wines.

The Mission

For a taste of Scottsdale’s Latin cuisine, head over to The Mission. This upscale restaurant offers a modern take on traditional Latin dishes, using fresh, high-quality ingredients to create bold and flavorful dishes. The vibrant atmosphere and impressive tequila selection make The Mission the perfect spot for a night out with friends.

The Breakfast Club

For a more laid-back dining experience, check out The Breakfast Club. This cozy cafe serves up delicious breakfast and brunch dishes all day long, with a menu that offers something for everyone. The retro decor and friendly service make The Breakfast Club a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

Off-the-beaten-path shopping experiences in Scottsdale

Scottsdale is a shopper’s paradise, but beyond the popular malls and boutiques lie hidden gems that offer unique and authentic shopping experiences. Here are some off-the-beaten-path shopping experiences in Scottsdale that you should definitely check out:

Old Town Scottsdale

This historic district is home to many locally owned shops and galleries. You’ll find everything from Native American jewelry to Western wear, and everything in between. Take a stroll down Main Street and explore the many hidden alleyways and courtyards.

Cattle Track Arts Compound

This artist community is tucked away in a residential neighborhood and offers a variety of studios and galleries. You can watch artists at work and purchase one-of-a-kind pieces directly from them.

Fifth Avenue Shops

This charming street is lined with shops and restaurants that offer a unique shopping experience. You’ll find everything from handmade pottery to vintage clothing. Make sure to stop by the Sugar Bowl, a local institution that has been serving ice cream since 1958.

The Mecate Room

This store offers a curated collection of vintage and handmade clothing, jewelry, and accessories. The owner, a local artist, also offers workshops and classes.

Scottsdale Fashion Square Farmer’s Market

This weekly market offers fresh produce, handmade crafts, and artisanal food products. It’s a great place to stock up on local goodies and support small businesses.

Local events and festivals

One of the best ways to uncover the gems in Scottsdale beyond the usual tourist trail is by connecting with the local community through attending local events and festivals. This will give you a chance to experience the city’s culture, traditions, and local flavors in a unique way.

Scottsdale Arts Festival
Native American Jewelry – Ortega’s Turquoise Trail Trading Post – Sundial Cirle – Carefree Arizona by Al_HikesAZ is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Scottsdale hosts many events and festivals throughout the year, celebrating local art, music, food, and more. The annual Scottsdale Arts Festival, for example, showcases more than 170 artists from across the country and features live music, food and drink vendors, and hands-on activities for visitors of all ages. The Arizona Taco Festival is another popular event that brings together local taco vendors and chefs to compete for the title of the best taco in Arizona.

Explore beyond the typical tourist spots in Scottsdale.

In conclusion, Scottsdale is a city full of hidden gems that are waiting to be explored beyond the typical tourist spots. It’s easy to get caught up in the popular attractions and miss out on the authentic experiences that make Scottsdale truly unique.

We encourage you to step off the beaten path and explore the local neighborhoods, try the lesser-known restaurants, and discover the history and culture of the city. You may be surprised at what you find and the memories that you create.

We hope you enjoyed our guide to uncovering the gems beyond the tourist trail in Scottsdale. Scottsdale is a beautiful city in Arizona with many hidden treasures that often get overlooked by tourists. We’ve tried to highlight some of the best off-the-beaten-path spots to visit, and we are sure that these gems will make your trip to Scottsdale even more memorable. So, if you’re planning a trip to Scottsdale, make sure to add some of these places to your itinerary, and let us know your experience in the comments below!

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