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35 Amazing Thing to Do in Scottsdale, Arizona

Imagine a place where the sun setting on the horizon casts a golden hue over a vibrant urban city surrounded by the tranquility of nature. Can you picture it? Welcome to Scottsdale, Arizona — a city calling to you from the heart of the Sonoran Desert.

Explore the city's traditional Southwestern architecture seamlessly blended with modern design — a storied, cultural past meeting a forward-thinking spirit.

Every corner of Scottsdale tells a story. From Old Town's bustling streets where past meets present to the serene landscapes of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, there's an allure of adventure waiting for you.

If you're an art lover, you'll enjoy Scottsdale's many museums and galleries, which feature the talents of local and international artists. Consider yourself a foodie? Go on a culinary journey and taste your way through gourmet restaurants that offer everything from authentic Southwestern flavors to global cuisines.

If your visit is for a little R & R, rest and relax your body and mind in any one of Scottsdale's world-class resorts and spas. You'll discover the perfect escape, with many spas offering traditional, time-honored treatments inspired by Native American healing practices. And if shopping is your therapy, Scottsdale's shopping districts offer an eclectic mix of high-end boutiques, unique local shops, artisan markets, and more.

But Scottsdale isn't just about the arts or other modern leisure activities and luxuries. It's a city that celebrates its natural beauty. Whether hiking the trails, playing golf on its manicured courses, or simply contemplating life as you take in the desert views, you can sense the city's deep connection to the land.


01 Stroll through the charms of Old Town Scottsdale

Old Town Scottsdale, or Downtown, is a fabulous destination for a night out. Here, you'll find clubs, bars, and restaurants, plus art galleries, museums, and plenty of shopping. Head to Old Town Trading for stunning southwestern-style jewelry. Kids love the treats offered at Old Town Candy & Toys. For an afternoon of art appreciation, stop by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Afterward, grab a bite at Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row, then head over to Casablanca Rooftop Lounge for cocktails and live music.

Old Town Scottsdale DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

02 Enjoy the outdoors at Pinnacle Peak Park

Pinnacle Peak Park is northeast of downtown Scottsdale. It's a great place to get out and enjoy nature without traveling too far out of the city. You'll find a range of diverse activities to enjoy here, too. Take a moderate hike down the Sonoran Desert trail or, for something more adventurous, go rock climbing. Go for a bike ride, enjoy a picnic, or simply kick back, relax, and watch others enjoying the fresh air. The scenery is gorgeous, so don't forget to take some pics to commemorate your visit.

Pinnacle Peak Park pdpetersonphoto / Getty Images

03 Explore the revitalized Arizona Canal

One of Scottsdale's many unique features is the Arizona Canal. It was built in the late 1880s to bring water from the Salt River to central Arizona for agricultural and municipal use. It stretches nearly 40 miles through various neighborhoods, including several affluent Phoenix suburbs. Scottsdale's Waterfront Project revitalized the section running through the city, adding a pedestrian suspension bridge, art installations, public spaces, and a trail for walking and jogging. Visitors can enjoy eateries, galleries, bars, and Scottsdale Fashion Square.

Arizona Canal Trip BCFC / Getty Images

04 Tour an architectural wonder at Taliesin West

Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home in Scottsdale is more than just a work of art. Taliesin West, which overlooks Paradise Valley from the foothills of the McDowell Range, was also a seasonal campus for Wright's architecture school. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is open to the public by purchasing an informative tour. Remember to stop at the Frank Lloyd Wright Store for books, artwork, or home decor inspired by his work.

05 Encounter wildlife up close at the Phoenix Zoo

The 125-acre Phoenix Zoo is the country's most extensive non-profit, privately-owned zoo and it's just southeast of Scottsdale. You'll find more than 1,400 animals here, including African lions, Andean bears, flamingos, gray wolves, ostriches, giraffes, and otters. The zoo has four main sections, or "trails": Arizona Trail, Africa Trail, Tropics Trail, and Children's Trail, which even has a petting zoo. The Phoenix Zoo has focused on conservation since it opened in 1962 and is a sanctuary for unwanted or endangered animals.

Phoenix Zoo Scottsdale florencemcginn / Getty Images

06 Kayak the Salt River from the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch

Man kayaks down the river

For those seeking a refreshing escape from the desert heat, kayaking the scenic Lower Salt River offers an extraordinary experience. Tucked away in the Tonto National Forest, the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch provides adventurers the unique opportunity to paddle along towering cliffs and the iconic saguaros of the Sonoran Desert. As you glide through the serene waters, be alert for the region's diverse wildlife, including wild horses, river otters, and majestic great blue herons.

The ranch offers various kayaking trips tailored to different preferences. Whether you opt for the two-hour Salt River/Foxtail trip or the more extended Salt River/Granite Reef journey, you're guaranteed a memorable adventure. Plus, the ranch now offers paddleboarding for those who crave a different water experience. Sit, stand, or kneel — the choice is yours as you navigate the tranquil waters surrounded by Arizona's natural beauty.

While the experience is primarily scenic, be prepared for swift water sections where tipping is possible. Early morning expeditions are recommended for optimal wildlife viewing and a quieter river experience. If you have any questions or need to make a reservation, don't hesitate to contact the friendly staff at the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch at 480-984-2194.


07 See historic Scottsdale at the Old Adobe Mission

Located in the heart of Old Town, the Old Adobe Mission was built by Mexican settlers in the early 1900s. Established initially as Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, the building features Spanish Colonial architecture. Each of the 14,000 hand-placed adobe bricks is made of clay, sand, straw, silt, dung, and water and weighs 50 pounds. The Mission church is small and charmingly simple, but its 15 gorgeous stained-glass windows lend an ethereal touch. The church was named a historic site in 2001, and restorations began in 2002.

Old Adobe Mission desertsolitaire / Getty Images

08 Sailing, sightseeing, and more at Saguaro Lake

Sunset Reflection off of Saguaro Lake with a Silhouette of a Saguaro Cactus in Mesa, Arizona

Saguaro Lake is located northeast of Scottsdale in the Tonto National Forest. Created upon completion of the Stewart Mountain Dam in 1930, it's the last reservoir on the Salt River. This lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline to enjoy, and it's perfect for sailing, boating, or kayaking. Try out your sea legs on a jet ski, or kick back for a weekend of camping and fishing. Either way, it's an outstanding sightseeing area. Grab lunch at Lakeshore Restaurant for a breathtaking view of the lake, Bulldog Cliffs, and the Goldfield Mountains, and then take a ride around the lake on the Desert Belle tour boat.


09 Find Scottsdale's sweet spot on a chocolate tour

Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona

You can choose from countless outstanding restaurants and bars in downtown Scottsdale, but one of the best ways to experience the deliciousness is to take a chocolate tour. Official tours are available from various businesses, or you can visit some of the best sweets shops in the city on your own. Enjoy a latte and some fine confections at Sugar & Spro, sample the Sonoran Desert White Chocolate at Zak's Chocolate, or indulge in a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cake sundae at Caketini. If you have a sweet tooth, Scottsdale is more than satisfying.


10 Biking, hiking, and horseback riding at McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Take a bike ride, walk your dog, or travel on horseback at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. With over 30,000 acres of permanently protected desert habitat, it includes over 225 miles of trails accessible from various trailhead locations. There are ten in all, including the short Lost God Wash Trail with easier, kid-friendly terrain, or the more challenging but scenic Sunrise Trail and its amazing views. Be mindful of the temperature, use plenty of sunscreen, and bring more water than you think you'll need.

Lost Dog Wash Trail Paul Belliveau / Getty Images

11 Saddle up for Old West fun at MacDonald's Ranch

Arizona Cowboy

Head out of town and discover the fun awaiting you at MacDonald's Ranch in North Scottsdale. Their guided horseback rides offer a unique way to experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and a little bit of the Old West. Take your pick of activities at the ranch, including horse or mule-pulled hayrides, pony rides, and a petting zoo. In the fall, the ranch hosts a pumpkin patch, hay maze, train ride, and fun games for kids to enjoy. It's perfect for private events, too. Schedule a western barbecue set in Old West Town and even a stagecoach robbery re-enactment for entertainment.


12 Explore the season's festivals at Papago Park

Brittlebush by the Buttes, taken at Papago Park

Papago Park is just south of Scottsdale and one of the most beautiful outdoor destinations this close to the city. As you meander through the park, you'll enjoy the most extensive outdoor collection of desert plants. There's always something going on at Papago Park, including seasonal festivals and other activities throughout the year, like Sunset Yoga & Sound Bath. Plan a visit in the spring for the best opportunity to appreciate the park's colorful wildflower displays.


13 Hike to breathtaking views on Tom's Thumb Trail

At about a five-mile round trip, the hike to Tom's Thumb is moderately challenging — but your efforts are rewarded with stunning views. The smooth, gravelly path ascends at a steady incline and gains almost 1,400 feet in elevation when you reach the rock formation that gives the trail its name. A shaded area near the trailhead has restrooms and informational kiosks, perfect for road trippers. However, there's a good chance you won't be the only one getting a workout.

The peak of Tom's Thumb in the McDowell Mountain Range Scottsdale, Arizona. SmithMade / Getty Images

14 Heed the all aboard at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

The McCormick Stillman Railroad Park features various exhibits from days gone by, including a railway museum, four model railroads, and historic engines. Its main attraction is The Paradise & Pacific Railroad, a miniature railway that's been running since the park's opening in 1975. Rides on the railroad and the vintage Scottsdale Charros Carousel run every 30 minutes. If you're visiting on the weekend, catch a ride on the miniature Arboretum Railroad. This ten-minute-long loop through the park's two-acre desert arboretum is a unique experience for the whole family.

15 Get into the western spirit at Scottsdale's Museum of the West

Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West in Old Town celebrates the legacy of the Old West and its role in the developing culture of the New West. Scan QR codes at each exhibit for detailed information, then visit the sculpture garden. The contemporary space features rotating exhibits and desert flora in a peaceful environment, and a lovely weeping wall collects rainwater and condensation from the HVAC system to irrigate the museum's landscaping.

16 Cool off in the underworld at OdySea Aquarium

If you need an escape from the heat, why not make it an educational, entertaining experience for the whole family? The OdySea Aquarium, one of the largest in the Southwestern United States, combines amusement park-style attractions with engaging aquatic exhibits to connect visitors to adventure and nature. Get up close and personal with marine life at "touch" exhibits, then make your way to some seats in the world's only revolving aquarium.

17 Discover the arts at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA)

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) features modern works of art, architecture, and design. The minimalist structure in a lush city park was renovated from an old movie theater by award-winning architect Will Bruder.

Inside the museum, the Knight Rise Skyspace, an original creation of James Turrell, gives guests a peek at the shifting shades and tones of the desert skyline. Permanent exhibits combine myriad works, from murals by the graffiti master Dalek to works by Russel Wright, Josef Albers, and Yves Klein. Living artworks by Kara Walker and William Wegman feature prominently among the 2,000 pieces in the gallery.

18 Uncover desert secrets at Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden

Truly unique among public garden designs, the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden stands on its own among public green spaces, proof that you can see more than cacti and succulents in the desert. The outdoor site highlights water preservation for desert homeowners and features plants appropriate for the region with minimal water requirements. The park is home to 7,000 plants and 200 plant species. Part of Chaparral Park, the 5.5-acre demo garden blends beautifully with the adjacent Chaparral Water Treatment Facility.

19 Sip and stroll along the Scottsdale Wine Trail

Starting on East Stetson Drive just north of East 5th Avenue and the Fifth Avenue Shopping District, extending south to Main Street, and from Main Street north on North Scottsdale Road, the Scottsdale Wine Trail gives you a chance to savor fine wines and engage in some retail therapy at the same time. Home to five wine-tasting rooms, the path leads to sites like the LDV Wine Gallery, which features local art, and the Aridus Wine Company on East Main Street.

Stroll farther along the Scottsdale Art Walk, and you'll find the tasting room for Carlson Creek Vineyards. A few blocks from Carlson Creek, Salvatore Vineyards spans part of East 5th Avenue. Head back on the trail to the Su Vino Gallery to complete your wine-tasting adventure.

20 Yeehaw like a real cowboy at Arizona Cowboy College

The Arizona Cowboy College offers visitors a chance to experience the cowboy way of life on a real working ranch. Private and group lessons are available in one-, three-, and five-day sessions. Most guests are new to horseback riding, but thanks to the college's instructors, they're riding confidently within a few days. Instructional trail rides and a Kids Camp are also available. Round 'em up!

21 Encounter T-Rex at Pangaea Land of the Dinosaurs

Have you ever wondered what it'd be like to come face-to-face with the titans of the prehistoric era? At Pangaea Land of the Dinosaurs, you'll wonder no more. This immersive experience transports you back millions of years, where you'll encounter the mighty T-Rex and other prehistoric creatures in a setting that brings the past to life. It's perfect for kids of all ages, and caters to groups, like school field trips and birthday parties.

22 Drive or hike the historic Apache Trail

For those with an adventurous spirit, the historic Apache Trail awaits. Whether you drive or hike, this former stagecoach route offers a journey through Arizona's rugged beauty. The 40-mile trail, officially known as Arizona State Route 88, is steeped in history and legend. Winding through the Superstition Mountains and Tonto National Forest, you'll appreciate the breathtaking vistas at every turn.

23 Navigate the labyrinth at the Laser and Mirror Maze

If you're up for a challenge, the Laser and Mirror Maze will test your agility and problem-solving skills. Navigate through a labyrinth of mirrors and lasers in a thrilling race against time. It's a fun-filled, adrenaline-pumping adventure that's perfect for all ages.

24 Experience extraordinary art at Wonderspaces Arizona

Art lovers will enjoy a memorable experience at Wonderspaces Arizona, located in the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall. This innovative art show features immersive exhibits and interactive installations that challenge perceptions and inspire wonder. It's a feast for the senses, where art and technology collide in extraordinary ways.

25 Journey through time at the Arizona Museum of Natural History

a dinosaur breaking through the walls of the Arizona Museum of Natural History

The Arizona Museum of Natural History is an extraordinary collection of objects representing the Southwest's rich natural and cultural history. From the origins of life in the seas to the rise of the dinosaurs and the development of ancient civilizations, the museum offers a journey through time. The exhibits are interactive and engaging, making the museum a perfect destination for families. The Dinosaur Mountain, which features animated dinosaurs, is a crowd favorite. The museum also houses a replica of a gold mine, showcasing Arizona's mining history.


26 Immerse yourself at the Mesa Arts Center

The Mesa Arts Center is a vibrant hub for the arts and culture in Mesa. It houses four theaters, five art galleries, and 14 art studios, offering a variety of performances, exhibitions, classes, and exhibits. The center is known for its contemporary architecture, which is a work of art itself. Whether you're interested in visual arts, performing arts, or an uncommon cultural experience, the Mesa Arts Center has something for everyone.

27 Immerse yourself in the wonders of nature at Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The park offers over 29 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails, with trails suitable for all skill levels. The Wind Cave Trail, which leads to a cave formed by wind erosion, offers stunning views of the valley. The park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including desert tortoises and Gila monsters. Its beautiful desert landscape and diverse recreational opportunities make Usery Mountain Regional Park a must-visit.

28 i.d.e.a. Museum

The i.d.e.a. Museum in Mesa is a center of opportunity where children and their families can explore art, science, and technology through hands-on, interactive exhibits. The museum encourages creativity and curiosity with exhibits that change regularly to provide new experiences. From building structures in the Design Zone to creating digital art in the Tech Table, the i.d.e.a. Museum offers a fun, educational experience for kids of all ages.​

29 Paddle, fish, and relax at Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake is a reservoir located in the heart of Tempe. It offers a mix of fun water activities, including kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing. Parks and trails surround the lake, making it an excellent place for a picnic or a leisurely walk. The view of the city skyline reflecting off the water is particularly stunning at sunset. Tempe Town Lake has something to offer whether you're an adventure seeker or you're just seeking a peaceful retreat.

Sunset over the Tempe Town Lake in Tempe, Arizona. Adrian Velez / Getty Images

30 Experience the ultimate LEGO fun at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Arizona

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Arizona is a paradise for LEGO enthusiasts of all ages. The center offers a variety of entertaining exhibits, including a LEGO factory tour, a 4D cinema, and several LEGO-themed rides. Visitors can also participate in a LEGO building class or explore MINILAND, a miniature city built from over 1.5 million LEGO bricks. With its combination of fun and creativity, LEGOLAND Discovery Center Arizona offers a unique and memorable experience.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Lukasz Sadlowski /

31 Explore the depths at SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium

SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium in Tempe is an underwater world that houses thousands of fascinating aquatic creatures. The aquarium features a 360-degree ocean tunnel, providing a panoramic view of sharks, rays, and colorful fish. Interactive touch pools let visitors get up close and personal with starfish and sea anemones. The aquarium is committed to conservation and offers educational talks and feeding demonstrations throughout the day.

32 Appreciate history at the AZ Heritage Center at Papago Park

The AZ Heritage Center at Papago Park in Phoenix is dedicated to preserving Arizona's history. The center features exhibits on the state's natural environment, indigenous cultures, and modern development. Highlights include a replica of a territorial street, a hands-on mining exhibit, and a gallery dedicated to Arizona's role in World War II. Bring your camera to capture the stunning views of the iconic Papago Buttes. A visit to the AZ Heritage Center provides a deeper understanding of Arizona's past, present, and future.

33 Step back in time at the Petersen House Museum

The Petersen House Museum in Tempe is a beautifully preserved Victorian home that offers a glimpse into the life of a middle-class family in the late 19th century. The house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features the Petersen family's original furnishings and personal items. Guided tours provide insights into the Victorian era's architecture, social customs, and daily life. The Petersen House Museum is not just a house but a time capsule that takes you back to a bygone era.

34 Grab a pint at Four Peaks Brewing Company

beer at four peaks

Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe is a popular destination for beer lovers. The brewery offers a selection of delightful craft beers, from their award-winning Kilt Lifter Scottish-style ale to their refreshing Peach Ale. Visitors can tour the brewery to learn about brew craft or relax in the taproom and enjoy a pint. The brewery also serves a menu of pub-style food, perfect for a casual meal.


35 Become a bean and leaf expert at Infusion Coffee & Tea Crafters

Infusion Coffee & Tea Crafters in Tempe is more than just a coffee shop. It's a place where coffee and tea are an art form. The shop sources high-quality beans and leaves from around the world and brews them carefully to bring out their best flavors. In addition to serving delicious beverages, Infusion offers coffee and tea brewing classes. Whether you're a coffee connoisseur, a tea enthusiast, or someone just looking for the cozy atmosphere of a café, Infusion Coffee & Tea Crafters is the spot.


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