A street sign for Old Town Scottsdale with a cowboy logo is mounted on a wooden post. Below the sign, there's a clear blue sky, a multi-story reddish-brown brick building, green trees, traffic lights, and a Café Zumbra! sign on the left side of the image.

Top Things to Do in Scottsdale: Your Must-See Guide to Arizona’s Desert Gem

Need engaging things to do in Scottsdale? Skip the guesswork with this straight-to-the-point guide packed with must-try activities that cater to every taste and interest – from exploring unique desert landscapes to indulging in local culture and cuisine. Start planning your ideal Scottsdale itinerary right here.

Key Takeaways

  • Old Town Scottsdale combines the charm of the Wild West with modern luxury, offering diverse experiences from farm-to-table dining to local wineries.
  • McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the Desert Botanical Garden showcase the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert, providing ample opportunities for outdoor adventure and botanical exploration.
  • Scottsdale’s rich cultural offerings include architectural wonders like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, cutting-edge art at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and a deep dive into the past at the Museum of the West.

Explore the Vibrant Old Town Scottsdale

downtown, scottsdale, arizona

Strolling through Old Town Scottsdale, you’re instantly enveloped in a world where the Wild West meets modern sophistication. The town’s heartbeat is its unique shops, bustling art galleries, and decadent restaurants that stand as modern-day tributes to Scottsdale’s ranching and agricultural history that began in the late 1880s. You might find yourself at the town farmers market or:

  • Relishing innovative farm-to-table meals at FnB Restaurant
  • Sipping on tropical cocktails at HULA’s Modern Tiki
  • Indulging in the rich Latin flavors of The Mission’s cuisine.

The artistic soul of the city is on full display as you wander past high-end designer boutiques and local art galleries, where the handmade and indigenous artwork captivate your senses. And for the oenophiles, nothing compares to the local wineries like LDV Winery and Merkin Vineyards, where you can toast to the day’s adventures with a glass of Arizona’s finest.

Old Town Scottsdale is a tapestry of experiences, each thread more vibrant than the last.

Experience the Beauty of McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Scenic McDowell Sonoran Preserve with desert landscapes

As the morning sun paints the sky in hues of orange and pink, there’s no better place to be than amidst the natural splendor of McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This vast expanse of wilderness, known as the ‘People’s Preserve,’ stretches over 30,500 acres and offers a sanctuary for both wildlife and nature lovers alike. With 225 miles of trails, there’s a path for every adventurer, whether you’re taking a leisurely walk on the Bajada Nature Trail or seeking the thrill of the Sunrise Peak summit trail.

As you traverse the preserve, keep your eyes peeled for the local inhabitants, like the Gambel’s quail and jackrabbits, that call this slice of the Sonoran Desert home. And the best part? You can immerse yourself in this outdoor paradise from sunrise to sunset without spending a dime, thanks to the free admission and easily accessible trailheads that dot the city’s perimeter. In Scottsdale, the great outdoors is always open.

Discover Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West

Nestled in the desert foothills stands Taliesin West, a testament to the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright and a UNESCO World Heritage site that continues to inspire visitors with its innovative design and sustainable architecture. Here, you’ll witness the ingenuity of Wright’s use of natural light and local materials, as the home and studio are masterfully constructed from the rocks and sand that surround it.

As you follow the guided tours along the paths made of gravel and concrete, you’ll step into Wright’s vision, experiencing the intimacy of the indoor and outdoor spaces he so harmoniously integrated. Accessibility is a hallmark of Taliesin West, with accommodations such as ramps and service animal allowances ensuring everyone can appreciate Wright’s architectural marvel. It’s a place where history and innovation meet under the Arizona sun.

Embrace Nature at the Desert Botanical Garden

Captivating Desert Botanical Garden with thematic trails

The Desert Botanical Garden is an oasis where the desert’s botanical richness unfolds before your eyes. Across 140 acres, this living museum preserves the native desert plants that thrive in Arizona’s unique climate. Wander along the thematic trails, like the Sonoran Desert Nature Trail or the Desert Discovery Trail, and let each path reveal the secrets of desert flora.

With general admission, you gain access to a world where the desert comes to life, and soon, the Christensen Family Desert Oasis will add a new dimension to the garden with its bridge and water features, set to open on May 12, 2024. Whether you’re a local or visiting Scottsdale, the Desert Botanical Garden is a testament to the beauty that thrives in the harshest of environments, a reminder of nature’s resilience and wonder.

Dive into Art at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

For those with an appetite for the avant-garde, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is a feast for the senses. Here, the exhibits challenge and enchant, such as Carolina Aranibar-Fernández’s ‘Oleaje’ which reflects on global trade impacts through large-scale installations. And for classic American art enthusiasts, Dorothy Fratt’s ‘Color Mirage’ offers a celebration of vibrant hues in her first major museum exhibition.

The museum’s collection is a kaleidoscope of creativity, from the immersive light experiences of Phillip K. Smith III’s ‘Three Parallels’ to the poignant ‘Language in Times of Miscommunication’, which delves into the social challenges of our time. Beyond the visual, the museum’s educational programs including art walks and workshops, enrich the cultural tapestry of Scottsdale, inviting you to not just observe art, but to live it.

Soar High on a Hot Air Balloon Ride

sky, hot air balloons, sunset

Imagine greeting the dawn suspended in the calm of the morning sky; a hot air balloon ride in Scottsdale offers an unparalleled view of the sprawling desert landscapes below. With the Sonoran Desert laid out like a living tapestry and the iconic Saguaro cacti standing as silent sentinels, the peacefulness of flight is an experience that stays with you long after you’ve returned to earth.

The journey, lasting approximately four hours, includes a safety briefing and a flight that promises between 45 to 60 minutes of pure awe. And as you gently touch down, a celebratory brunch and champagne toast await, along with a personalized flight certificate to commemorate your aerial adventure. It’s an experience that’s absolutely loved and often finds its way onto bucket lists for those visiting Scottsdale.

Indulge in a Spa Day Retreat

sunglasses, pool, recreation

Scottsdale beckons those seeking serenity and rejuvenation with its array of luxurious spas that promise a good spa day like no other. With unique treatments such as:

  • Joya Spa’s Hammam Experience
  • Spa Avania’s ‘time of day’ philosophy
  • Sonoran Sea Facial at Spa CIVANA
  • Rooftop pool at The Phoenician Spa

Your senses will be enveloped in bliss. Each spa offers its own special touch, ensuring a personalized path to relaxation.

Specialty amenities like Himalayan Salt Rooms and Eucalyptus Aromatherapy Rooms elevate the spa experience, providing holistic health benefits that soothe both mind and body. And for those who desire more than just a spa day, the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia offers an enriching retreat with its blend of culinary delights, fitness options, and the exclusive Joya Spa’s rooftop pool. It’s an indulgence that’s a must when visiting Scottsdale.

Savor the Flavors on a Downtown Scottsdale Food Tour

Downtown Scottsdale food tour with signature dishes

The essence of Scottsdale’s culinary landscape unfolds on the downtown food tour, a journey that’s as much about flavors as it is about the city’s storied past. Over three hours, you’ll savor signature dishes from local favorites, each bite a piece of Scottsdale’s history, possibly including the pork shoulder tacos at The Mission or the artisanal gelato at Gelato Cimmino.

With most dietary needs accommodated, the tour ensures a comfortable and enjoyable experience for all who partake. And as you gather in front of the Old Adobe Mission Church, with its convenient free parking, your adventure through Scottsdale’s diverse dining options begins. It’s an experience that fills not only the stomach but also the soul, making it a highlight for any food lover visiting Scottsdale.

Tee Off at Scottsdale’s Premier Golf Courses

Golf aficionados will find their perfect destination in Scottsdale, a city that’s as synonymous with golf as it is with the desert sun. The area boasts over 200 courses, with iconic names like Troon North Golf Club and TPC Scottsdale offering lush fairways and exceptional amenities. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or new to the game, there’s a course here that will challenge and delight you.

For those seeking the luxury resort experience with their golf, options like The Phoenician or The Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale offer panoramic views and additional amenities that cater to every need. After a day on the greens, you can retire to a spa, dine in fine restaurants, or simply relax in the Arizona heat. It’s a golfer’s paradise, and in Scottsdale, every swing comes with a view.

Unwind at Luxury Resorts and Hotels

When it comes to hospitality, Scottsdale’s luxury resorts and hotels stand unparalleled, each offering a unique charm and a promise of relaxation. You could find yourself wrapped in the Mediterranean-style elegance of Royal Palms Resort & Spa or mingling with celebrities at the ultra-plush Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain. These havens provide not just a bed to rest in, but a world to get lost in.

The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess and Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia take the resort experience further, with the latter drawing inspiration from Spain’s Andalusian region for its romantic ambiance. Meanwhile, Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North offers casita-style living that invites tranquility, and The Hermosa Inn enchants with its hacienda-style luxury. It’s the perfect destination to unwind after a day of exploring Scottsdale’s wonders.

Experience the Rich History at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West

Travel back in time at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, where the spirit of the American frontier comes vividly to life. Step into replicas of an Old West Town and a cowboy camp, and you’ll feel as if you’ve walked onto the set of a classic Western film. The museum’s exhibits, including stories of the Anza Expedition and displays of historical firearms, offer a window into the trials and triumphs of the West.

Cultural programs like traditional Navajo pottery making provide a hands-on connection to the history and artistry of the region’s indigenous peoples. It’s a place where the legends of the West aren’t just told; they’re experienced. And as you leave the museum, you carry with you a deeper understanding of the enduring legacy of the American West.

Adventure Awaits: Outdoor Activities in Scottsdale

binoculars, child, magnification

Adventure beckons in Scottsdale Arizona, with the Sonoran Desert serving as the ultimate playground for those who thrive on outdoor activities. Hike or bike the trails at Pinnacle Peak Park and feel the rush of the wind and the warmth of the Arizona sun on your skin. For an adrenaline boost, an ATV tour across the desert’s rugged terrain offers an exhilarating perspective on the surrounding area.

If tranquility is what you seek, the serene landscapes of McDowell Mountain Regional Park provide a perfect backdrop for camping or horseback riding. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or a nature lover, Scottsdale’s outdoor activities offer a chance to connect with the environment in a way that’s both invigorating and inspiring.

Shop ’til You Drop at Scottsdale Fashion Square

Retail therapy in Scottsdale reaches new heights at Scottsdale Fashion Square, where luxury shopping is an experience unto itself. Designer boutiques and flagship stores, including Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, beckon with the latest styles and exclusive collections. And with special services such as VIP Welcome Bags and insights from fashion industry experts, shopping becomes an event to remember.

The mall’s concierge service takes the luxury experience further, assisting with everything from coordinating your shopping spree to making dining reservations at eateries like Kona Grill and Yard House. For those who prefer to arrive in style, the black-car service ensures a seamless journey to and from the mall, making it a must-visit destination for any fashion enthusiast in town.

Take a Day Trip to the Grand Canyon

backpacker, grand canyon, horseshoe bend

No visit to Arizona is complete without witnessing the majestic grandeur of the Grand Canyon, a natural wonder that’s just a few hours’ drive from Scottsdale. Whether you drive yourself or join a guided day trip, the South Rim’s shuttle bus service and accessible trails, like the Rim Trail, make exploring the canyon’s breathtaking vistas a breeze.

Adventurous souls can experience the Grand Canyon in the following ways:

  • Descend into the canyon on trails like the Bright Angel, South Kaibab, and Echo Canyon Trail
  • Take mule rides along the rim for a unique vantage point
  • Enjoy the spectacular sunsets from spots like Pima Point and Lipan Point

These activities offer a memorable and unforgettable experience at the Grand Canyon.

Enjoy a Wide Rang of Sporting Events

Scottsdale’s sporting events cater to fans of all stripes, including:

  • Spring training baseball
  • Professional basketball
  • Football
  • Hockey

Whether you’re cheering on the Phoenix Suns at an NBA game or rooting for the Arizona Cardinals from the stands, the city’s vibrant sports scene is a testament to its active outdoor lifestyle.

These events offer a chance to mingle with locals and visitors alike, all united by a love of competition and community. It’s a slice of Scottsdale that shouldn’t be missed, especially for those who appreciate the energy and passion that sports bring to the city.


From the historic streets of Old Town to the awe-inspiring vistas of the Grand Canyon, Scottsdale offers a kaleidoscope of experiences that cater to every taste and passion. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or cultural enrichment, this desert oasis provides it all with a grace and charm that’s uniquely Arizonan. As you plan your visit, let this guide be your compass to the wonders of Scottsdale, a city where every moment is an opportunity to create memories that last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Scottsdale best known for?

Scottsdale is best known for its luxurious golf courses, upscale charm, vibrant arts scene, and luxurious lifestyle. Whether it’s the high-caliber golf courses or the stylish Old Town district, Scottsdale offers a unique blend of opportunities and experiences.

Can you do a day trip to Sedona from Scottsdale?

Yes, you can do a day trip to Sedona from Scottsdale, as the drive time is around two hours. It’s a good idea to plan to arrive in Sedona around 8:00 am or even 7:00 am, giving you time to rest and explore the city in a day.

Is Scottsdale fun for couples?

Yes, Scottsdale offers a variety of fun activities for couples, including guided desert tours and off-roading adventures in the beautiful Bradshaw Mountains. It’s a great destination for couples looking for exciting experiences together.

Is downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale better?

It ultimately depends on your preference – if you prefer upscale, resort-like vibes, Scottsdale may be the ideal choice. However, if you prefer a more diverse, budget-friendly living option with a mix of laid-back and energetic social scenes, downtown Phoenix might be a better fit for you.

What’s the best time of year to visit Scottsdale for outdoor activities?

The best time to visit Scottsdale for outdoor activities is generally from November to April when the temperatures are cooler and ideal for hiking, biking, and desert exploration. Enjoy!

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