Plan a Visit to Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona is a part of the greater Phoenix area. Phoenix is, in fact, directly to the west of Scottsdale. To the north is the Tonto National Forest and Tempe is south. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is to the east. This interesting location influences Scottsdale and plays a part in all the things there are to see and do there. Not only will you find access to delicious dining, trendy bars, and fancy hotels but also trails, lakes, parks, and even a canal.


01Old Town Scottsdale

Old Town Scottsdale DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

Old Town Scottsdale is also known as Downtown. If you are looking for a great place for a night out, this is it. Here, you will find clubs, bars, and restaurants as well as art galleries, museums, and plenty of shopping. Head to Old Town Trading for interesting southwestern-style jewelry. Take the kids to Old Town Candy & Toys for a treat. For a date night, stop by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Then, grab a drink at Dierks Whiskey Row. Or, head to Casablanca Rooftop Lounge for some live music.


02Pinnacle Peak Park

Pinnacle Peak Park pdpetersonphoto / Getty Images

Pinnacle Peak Park is northeast of downtown Scottsdale. It is a great place to get out and enjoy nature without having to travel too far out of the city. There is 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. Take a bike ride. Or, relax and enjoy a picnic. The scenery is beautiful so bring your camera, no matter what you choose to do.


03Arizona Canal

Arizona Canal Trip BCFC / Getty Images

One of the most unique things about Scottsdale is the Arizona Canal. It was built in the late 1880s to collect runoff from flood irrigation and runs through a lot of the wealthier suburbs around Phoenix. Scottsdale developed the section running through town, revitalizing the area with the Waterfront Project. It includes a pedestrian suspension bridge and a trail for walking and jogging. The canal system is about 50 miles long in all and seems to go on forever. Visitors can enjoy eateries, galleries, bars, and Scottsdale Fashion Square.


04Taliesin 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 his school of architecture. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is open to the public with the purchase of an informative tour. Don't forget to stop at the Frank Lloyd Wright Store for books, artwork, or home decor inspired by his work.


05Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo Scottsdale florencemcginn / Getty Images

Just southeast of Scottsdale is the Phoenix Zoo. At 125 acres, it is the largest non-profit privately owned zoo in the country. There are more than 1,400 animals on display here, like African lions, Andean bears, flamingos, gray wolves, ostriches, giraffes, and otters. The zoo is divided into four main sections: the Arizona Trail, Africa Trail, Tropics Trail, and Children's Trail, complete with a petting zoo. The Phoenix Zoo has been focused on conservation since it first opened in 1962 and also acts as a sanctuary for unwanted or endangered animals.


06Old Adobe Mission

Old Adobe Mission desertsolitaire / Getty Images

Located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, the Old Adobe Mission was built by Mexicans that settled the area in the early 1900s. It originated as Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church and was designed in a Spanish Colonial style. Each of the 14,000 adobe bricks used to construct the missions is made using clay, sand, straw, silt, dung, and water. They weigh 50 pounds each, and every single one was placed by hand. There are gorgeous 15 stained-glass windows, too. The church was named a historic site in 2001 and restored starting in 2002.


07Saguaro 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. It was formed when the Stewart Mountain Dam was completed in 1930 and is the last reservoir on the Salt River. This lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline to enjoy. Here, you can go sailing, boating, or kayaking, try your hand a jet skiing, or relax for a weekend of camping and fishing. It is a great place for sightseeing, too. Grab a bite to eat at Lakeshore Restaurant for a breathtaking view of the lake, Bulldog Cliffs, and the Goldfield Mountains. Then, take a ride around the lake on the Desert Belle tour boat.


08Chocolate Tour of Scottsdale

Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona

There are a lot of great restaurants and bars in downtown Scottsdale, but one of the best ways to experience the deliciousness this town has to offer is to take a chocolate tour. Official tours are available from various businesses, or you can visit some of the best sweet 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 have a mocha or chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cake sundae at Caketini. If you have a sweet tooth, Scottsdale knows how to satisfy it.


09McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Lost Dog Wash Trail Paul Belliveau / Getty Images

Go for a bike ride, take your dog for a walk, or journey out on horseback at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This is 30,000 acres of permanently protected desert habitat that includes more than 120 different trails that can be accessed from various trailhead locations. There are ten in all, including Lost God Wash Trail, a shorter trail with easier terrain that is kid-friendly and the more challenging Sunrise Trail where amazing scenic views. Mind the temperature, use plenty of sunscreen, and take a lot of water with you if you head outdoors.


10MacDonald's Ranch

Arizona Cowboy

MacDonald's Ranch is located in northern 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. There are plenty of things to do at the ranch, including horse or mule-pulled hayrides, pony rides, and a petting zoo. In the fall, they host a pumpkin patch with a hay maze, train ride, and fun games for kids to enjoy. This is also a great place for private events. Guests can schedule a western barbecue set in Old West Town and can even request a stagecoach robbery re-enactment for entertainment.


11Papago Park

Brittlebush by the Buttes, taken at Papago Park

Papago Park is just southwest of Scottsdale and one of the most beautiful outdoor destinations this close to the city. Here you will find the largest outdoor collection of desert plants as you take a meandering walk. There is always something to do at Papago Park, including seasonal festivals and other activities throughout the year. For the best view of the colorful wildflowers, plan to visit in the spring.


12Tom's Thumb Trail

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

At about five miles round trip, the hike to Tom's Thumb is moderately challenging but returns the favor with some stunning views. The gravelly path ascends at a steady incline, gaining almost 1,400 feet in elevation to the rock formation that gives the trail its name. A shaded area near the trailhead has restrooms and informational kiosks, perfect for road trippers but, there's a good chance you won't be the only one getting a workout.


13McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

The McCormick Stillman Railroad Park features various exhibits, 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 its 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 2-acre desert arboretum is a unique experience for the whole family.


14Western Spirit: 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 fauna in a peaceful environment as well as a weeping wall. The water feature uses recycled water to irrigate desert landscaping throughout the museum campus.


15OdySea Aquarium

If you need an escape from the heat, try to make it an educational and 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 better connect visitors with nature. Get up close and personal with marine life at touch exhibits, then find seats at the theater or the world's only revolving aquarium.


16Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA)

Located at 7374 East Second Street in Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art comfortably rests among a lush city park showing off fonts and sculptures created by architect Will Bruder. Inside the minimalist structure, the Knight Rise Skyspace, an original creation of James Turrell, gives guests a peek of the shifting shades and tones of the desert skyline.

Permanent exhibits displayed in the museum combine a myriad of 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.


17Scottsdale 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. Not following a template design, the outdoor site highlights water preservation for the desert homeowner and features plants that hardily meet the rigors of a desert environment. The park is home to 7,000 plants, derived from 200 plant species. Part of Chaparral Park, the 5.5-acre demo garden seamlessly blends with the adjacent Chaparral Water Treatment Facility.


18Scottsdale Wine Trail

Located between Goldwater Boulevard and Scottsdale, and adjacent to the Fifth Avenue Shopping District, 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 testing rooms, the path leads to featured sites, such as the LDV Wine Gallery, which displays the works of local artists, and the Aridus Wine Company on East Main Street.

Stroll farther up the walk and you will come upon the tasting room for Carlson Creek Vineyards, located along the Scottsdale Art Walk. A few blocks from Carlson Creek, Salvatore Vineyards spans part of Fifth Street. Circle back on the trail to the Su Vino Gallery to complete your wine-tasting holiday.


19Arizona Cowboy College

The Arizona Cowboy College gives visitors the chance to experience the cowboy way of life for the day. The site features horse boarding, horse lessons, and trail rides for travelers. Most of the guests who take the college's 90-minute trail ride are new to horseback riding.


20Pinnacle Peak Park

If you love to hike or take nature trails, make Pinnacle Peak Park a go-to destination on your travel itinerary. The park, which highlights a 3.5-mile out-and-back trail, runs through Arizoná's Sonoran Desert. The highest elevation in the park is just under 2,890 feet. You can trail-walk, rock climb, or picnic at the facility. Before embarking on your trek, visit the trailhead office to learn more about the park's featured out-and-back granite trail. You can also read interpretative displays dotting the well-traveled pathway. Learn more about nature and get your exercise at the same time. The 150-acre park is about 30 minutes from Old Town Scottsdale.