25 Best Things to Do in Scottsdale — Museums, Outdoors, Sports, For Families, Day Trips in 2023
The desert city of Scottsdale, Arizona is known for a few things, including golf courses, spas, and retirees. However, don’t think that you need to be a member of the over-50 crowd to enjoy a trip here. Scottsdale offers a little bit of everything with something for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a budget traveler, luxury traveler, family, young couple or anything in between there’s something to do.
Ready to discover all there is to do and see in and around Scottsdale? Here are our 20 favorite things to do in what’s called “The West’s Most Western Town.” Plus find five fun day trips you can take during a Scottsdale vacation.
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Museums and Cultural Attractions in Scottsdale
Don’t think a desert locale like Scottsdale would have world-class museums and galleries? You couldn’t be more wrong. Check out these museums to learn more about Scottsdale and the Southwest in general.
1. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Scottsdale’s Museum of Contemporary Art is not only a great space to find artwork from your favorite contemporary artists. It’s also an excellent choice for those who want to learn a little bit more about Arizona’s art scene in general. The museum features galleries that focus on regional and local artists.
2. The Museum of the West
In The West’s Most Western Town, you’ve gotta have a museum dedicated to the history and culture of the West, right? The Museum of the West is just that. It features not only artwork but also artifacts. The museum educates visitors on the various people who would’ve called the West their home over the centuries, from Native Americans to cowboys.
3. Musical Instruments Museum
The Musical Instruments Museum is truly one of a kind, and while you might think that it’s for kids, it’s not. However, families are more than welcome and kids will have a great time there. Learn all about music, instruments, their history, and the science behind sound. Anyone who loves music will love this museum.
4. Taliesin West
Architecture and history lovers will enjoy a trip to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home. The beautiful architecture perfectly complements the desert surroundings. Daily guided tours give you a more in-depth glimpse into Wright’s life, as well as all the interesting facts surrounding the home.
A truly unique arts attraction, Wonderspaces is constantly changing up what’s on tap. However, you can always expect eye-catching art installations from edgy artists that are giving art lovers new ways to connect with their work. The art is always interactive and ranges from art installations that create music to digital art that you help create with your body movements.
6. Scottsdale Public Art
The Scottsdale Public Art organization offers amazing tours in Old Town Scottsdale. You don’t even need to buy a ticket or make a reservation to take one, either. Just download the Scottsdale Public Art Walking Tour map and then follow it around Old Town to discover 10 works of publicly displayed art.
7. Scottsdale Historical Museum
The Scottsdale Historical Museum is interesting both inside and out. Situated within a 1909 schoolhouse, the museum follows the city’s history through a series of exhibits on Scottsdale in the 1800s and 1900s.
8. Scottsdale House of Broadcasting
The Scottsdale House of Broadcasting is a must-visit for anyone interested in broadcast journalism. Learn the ins and outs of the broadcast industry. After that, check out exhibits on the behind-the-scenes tools used to make a broadcast happen, as well as exhibits filled with television and radio memorabilia. The best part? This museum is free to visit.
Outdoor Activities in Scottsdale
Sure, it may be hot in Scottsdale, but that’s no excuse to not enjoy the beautiful desert landscapes. Here are the best places to do just that.
9. McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve offers you plenty of places to walk or hike. There are more than 200 trails in total. Whether you want something super-easy or something a little more advanced, you’ll find it. Whatever challenge you choose, easy or difficult, you can expect beautiful desert surroundings filled with cacti. Just remember to bring a bottle (or two) of water and to wear that sunscreen! One of the best parts? The preserve is free to visit. Similarly, you might also consider a Half-Day Sonoran Desert Hiking Tour or a Guided ATV Adventure.
10. Chaparral Park
At Chaparral Park, you’ll find the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden, a National Wildlife Federation-Certified Wildlife Habitat. For the garden’s small size (just under 6 acres), it certainly packs a big punch, squeezing in more than 7,000 plants. In addition to learning about the native flora, visitors can also learn about the sustainable gardening practices that the park uses to create its oasis in the desert.
11. Old Town Scottsdale
Up for some outdoor shopping? Old Town Scottsdale is the perfect place for a stroll, whether you’re just window shopping or looking for something particular. Stop in one of the restaurants, if you’re so inclined, and keep your eyes peeled for the neighborhood’s abundance of public art. And if you really want to explore Old Town Scottsdale, consider a Party Bike Pub Crawl or an Arizona Food Tour.
12. Pinnacle Peak Park
For a quick mountain climb, try Pinnacle Peak Park, where, in just 2 miles, you can climb 1,300 feet to the top of the pinnacle’s peak. From there, you’ll be treated to lovely views of not only the golf course beyond but also Scottsdale. Just be sure to get there early for your short hike. The park (or, at least its lot) fills up quickly.
Sports Activities in Scottsdale
Scottsdale may not be able to claim any major league teams of its own, but sports-lovers will still have plenty to enjoy in the city nonetheless.
13. Penske Racing Museum
For any racing fans out there, the Penske Racing Museum covers nearly 10,000 square feet with racing memorabilia. You’ll see tons of racing replicas, NASCAR cars, and more. Even for non-racing fans, anyone who can appreciate a beautiful piece of machinery will enjoy a trip to this museum.
14. Scottsdale Stadium
Scottsdale is a haven for baseball teams who need to practice somewhere warm over the late winter and early spring months. That means, for you and your family, if you’re visiting during spring training, you can catch your favorite teams playing, from the Cubs to the Dodgers, often for a very affordable price. Just head out to Scottsdale Stadium where, outside of spring training, you can also catch the Arizona League Giants.
While golfing may not be high on every traveler’s list of things to do in a destination, golf is one of Scottsdale’s top tourism drivers, so it needs to be included. There are several top popular spots to play around, including Troon North and TPC Scottsdale, the latter of which is a PGA Tour property. Ask your hotel about shuttle service to both or either.
When you’re traveling with the fam, you may have to adjust your itinerary just slightly, but that hardly means you won’t have a great time.
16. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
Kids love trains. It’s just a fact of childhood. The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park caters to every train-lovin’ kid with its model trains, steam trains, diesel trains, electric trains, miniature trains, train rides, and more. There’s a museum, lots of outdoor space and a carousel, too.
17. MacDonald’s Ranch
For the Wild West experience, visit MacDonald’s Ranch, a long-standing Scottsdale attraction for families. Take a horseback or stagecoach ride, or stick around for the cowboy cookout, and enjoy a potluck and bonfire under the bright desert stars. There are also pony rides (if you don’t think your child is quite old enough for the horse riding just yet), a petting zoo, and more.
18. OdySea Aquarium
The largest aquarium in Arizona, the OdySea Aquarium is an excellent place to take the family if you’re dying to get out of the heat. Even if you’re not, though, the aquarium still thrills with its nearly 70 exhibits and nearly 400 species. It’s also home to the only revolving aquarium experience in the world. Be sure to book your OdySea Aquarium tickets in advance.
19. Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center
If your children prefer their animals to be land-walking versus sea-dwelling, stop by the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, where they can view the animals that are sticking around for a little bit of extra care and love before being released into the wild. The center specializes in rehabilitating injured and disabled animals, only retaining about 30% of those that come into its care. Resident creatures range from mountain lions to wolves, bears to bobcats.
20. Butterfly Wonderland
Did you know that Scottsdale was home to the largest butterfly conservatory in the country? Butterfly Wonderland is its own rainforest in the middle of the desert and home to thousands of butterflies, in addition to other rainforest creatures. Walk inside and check out the plant life, water features, and, of course, the thousands of butterflies that fill the air. Be sure to book tickets in advance.
Day Trips from Scottsdale
Staying in Scottsdale for a while? Use one of your itinerary days for a day trip out to one of these nearby destinations.
21. The Apache Trail
This driving route will take you along a stagecoach road through the Superstition Mountains. Start your journey at nearby Apache Junction and then travel just under 50 miles, all the way to Roosevelt Lake. The scenic drive offers lots of rugged desert landscapes and you’ll have a difficult time not stopping every few minutes for another new photo op. In addition, if you do not want to drive yourself, Apache Trail Day Tours are readily available.
22. The Grand Canyon
Okay, if you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon before, if you’re in Scottsdale, go ahead and make the short-ish drive there. You can get to the canyon in just under four hours. So, head out early in the morning, to take in the most of Grand Canyon National Park possible before traveling back to your Scottsdale hotel or resort for the night. Another option is to relax and let a professional do all of the driving during a Private Grand Canyon Day Tour.
23. Montezuma Castle National Monument
If you’ve been to the Grand Canyon, you might want to check out another one of Arizona’s nationally significant sites, like Montezuma Castle National Monument. Explore the magnificent indigenous dwellings that date back to 1100 A.D. All it takes is a short hike (under a mile!). Another option is a Montezuma Castle, Jerome, and Sedona Day Tour From Scottsdale.
Sedona is a popular day trip for those visiting Scottsdale. Located near Flagstaff, Sedona is popular for its arts scene, with lots of galleries and shops in the Uptown neighborhood. It’s also popular for nature and outdoor activities, including hiking at Red Rock State Park. A Sedona Hiking & Wine Tasting Tour from Scottsdale is another great option.
25. Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden
If you only have a very little time for a quick trip outside of Scottsdale, head to one of nearby Phoenix’s can’t-miss spots, the Desert Botanical Garden. This garden is a gorgeous venue that allows visitors to get a look at the plant life that grows within various deserts. Separate gardens depict desert flora from around the Southwest, including the Sonoran, Mojave, and Great Basin Deserts. In addition to the flora, expect to see plenty of native birds and insects, too, all there to check out the plants.
If you want the most pleasant weather possible, visit Scottsdale during the winter months, November through March. The temperatures will hover around the 70s, keeping you warm, but not too warm.
The easiest way to get to Scottsdale is by flying into nearby Phoenix (PHX) and then driving a rental car from there, to Scottsdale. Most regional airports will have, if not a direct flight to Phoenix, at least a connecting flight.
Scottsdale is rather spread out, so you’ll likely want to rent a car while visiting. This is especially the case if you fly into Phoenix, as well as if you want to take any day trips out of Scottsdale. If you don’t want to rent a car, though, consider staying in Old Town Scottsdale, where you’ll have easier access to a lot of dining, shopping, and museums, without needing to take a ride share service or public transit. Old Town also offers bike and scooter rentals.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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