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Scottsdale, Arizona: Attractions in Old Town, the Art District and in the Surroundings

May 31, 2021 /
thinsg to do in Scottsdale Arizona

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

Welcome to Central Arizona. The city of Scottsdale, located in a breathtaking desert – where the outdoors can be enjoyed in many forms, on two or four wheels or simply on foot – also has a strong art culture. All these features put together make Scottsdale a particularly interesting place to visit.

We’re in the Salt River Valley, also known as the Valley of the Sun, surrounded by the Salt River and the 2707 ft-high Camelback Mountain, whose shape resembles the hump and head of a kneeling camel. Scottsdale is located in Maricopa County, one of two counties in the metropolitan area of Phoenix, the capital of Arizona. Scottsdale takes its name from its founder Winfield Scottsdale and has just over 273,000 inhabitants.

If you are planning your trip to Arizona, Scottsdale is a good place to go if you want to visit some of the most important attractions of the south-central area of the state.

Directions

where is scottsdaleIf you don’t like cold weather, you’ve come to the right place. Here in Scottsdale, the winter is mild and summer is very hot but pleasant and dry. Rainfall is infrequent and it mostly rains between April and June. It is easy to get to Scottsdale from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (3400 E.Sky Harbor Blvd.), which is about thirty minutes from our destination. When we flew to Phoenix, this modern airport surprised us, but we like it; it is unique because of its collection of contemporary art located within the various terminals in order to give visitors a warm and pleasant welcome.

We suggest renting a car to get around freely. If you prefer public transportation, you can take the Scottsdale Trolley, a free bus that covers the nine blocks of Downtown Scottsdale, as well as the southernmost part of the city and surrounding areas.

Things to Do in Scottsdale

Here are the most interesting places to visit in Scottsdale’s major neighborhoods.

Old Town Scottsdale

Scottsdale things to doWhen one thinks of Arizona, the first thing that comes to mind is the legendary Far West and rightly so, but present-day Scottsdale has so much more to offer. It has magnificent natural landscapes in its surroundings and attractions for young and old alike, not to mention the city is also a center for the arts.

Old Town (N.Brown Ave., E.Main, E.1st St., N.Scottsdale Rd.) is the most popular spot in town in Downtown Scottsdale; it’s located in what was once the heart of Scottsdale. People like this area both for its buildings that are reminiscent of the Far West era and modern aspects. The traces of the past are evident, but there are also art galleries, restaurants, and nightlife. I definitely recommend a stroll along the wooden walkways and visiting the general stores.

One of the stops on your walk through Old Town is to admire the Old Adobe Mission (3817 N.Brown Ave.) and its stained glass windows. This church was built in 1933 by Mexicans who settled in Scottsdale using adobe (a mixture of earth and organic materials). Another place in the downtown area where it’s nice to stroll is along the Salt River Waterfront (7135 E. Camelback Rd.). Here, among the fountains, sculptures, trees, and flowers, you’ll see elegant residential buildings, offices, and restaurants.

The Art District and Scottsdale’s Cultural Attractions

places to visit in scottsdaleArt lovers must go to the Art District, enclosed by Main St., 1st Ave., Scottsdale Rd. and 69th St., where the art galleries are concentrated and organize weekly evening events to attract the attention of visitors. Works of contemporary and modern art as well as architecture and design are on display at SMoCA, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (7374 E.2nd St.).

The museum shop sells creative items from around the world. The building opens at noon and is closed on Mondays and on major holidays. While I am on the subject of museums, here are a few others that I want to mention. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (3830 N. Marshall Way) celebrates the art, history, culture and stories of the American Far West through events and exhibits.

Taliesin West (12621 N.Frank Wright Blvd.), on the other hand, was the residence and winter studio of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who fell in love with Scottsdale in the early part of the last century. Now Taliesin West serves as an architecture school and design studio. This unique 240-acre complex, nestled in a hilly desert area at the foot of McDowell Mountain, is open to the public and offers 90-minute tours. There is a cost for the tours and I strongly suggest you book ahead in time. Those who are interested can stop by the gift shop in this unusual building.

But there’s another place about 4 miles west of Taliesin West that deserves to be mentioned and visited. I am talking about the Cosanti Foundation, founded by architect Paolo Soleri, a student of Wright, to pursue his studies of “arcology,” a mixture of architecture and ecology designed to create new urban habitats. Inside it houses its famous wind chimes and bronze sculptures.

Fun Activities in Scottsdale… for Everyone!

fun things to do in scottsdaleMoving on, the complex called Arizona Boardwalk (9500 E.Via de Ventura) was created for the enjoyment of young and old alike and consists of three buildings, namely, Odysea Aquarium, Dolphinaris and Butterfly Wonderland. Odysea Aquarium is an aquarium with penguins, otters, carp, trout and sharks, where you can also pet stingrays. Don’t miss the opportunity to go on an underwater dive lasting about an hour following a specific route, then a walk through a covered tunnel where you can admire the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. You can also watch a film about humpback whales.

At Dolphinaris, you can have an educational yet fun experience. Here you can swim with dolphins, meet them up close and watch the experts take care of them. Butterfly Wonderworld is the largest indoor butterfly house in the United States; it is a habitat that replicates a tropical forest where butterflies from all over the world fly freely. To complete the visit, there is a 3D movie you can watch.

For families with children, we recommend the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park (7301 E.Indian Rd.), an amusement park with a playground, a model railway, the train museum, and train rides. There are also shops and a general store. For those who want to take advantage of the vacation to play golf, we recommend the Westin Kirkland Golf Club (15363 N. Clubgate Dr.), one of the best golf courses in the area. But one of the newest and hottest attractions at the moment is Segway Scottsdale Tours (4140 N.Miller Rd.), which takes you on group tours to discover Scottsdale on fast and comfortable segways, which also give you a great sense of freedom.

Plan your Segway tour

Best Nature Parks in Scottsdale

best parks in Scottsdale ArizonaFor nature lovers, we recommend two nature attractions in the Sonora Desert. The first is the McDowell Sonoran Preserve (7447 E. Indian School Rd.), a protected area in the Sonora Desert with saguaro cactus and organ pipes. Here you’ll find 290 miles of trails ideal for hiking, climbing, biking, and mini-jeep tours. One of the most famous trails is Tom’s Thumb Trail, a moderately difficult 6.5-mile route among rocks, wildflowers, and hawks’ nests. Its name thumb comes from a similarly shaped rock that reaches 1352 ft.

Pinnacle Peak Park (26802 N. 102nd Way) is the other natural wonder I was talking about. Along a scenic 2-mile route you can climb rocks, encounter desert tortoises, coyotes, gray foxes, bobcats, and cougars.

For those who do not enjoy these adventurous activities and don’t like climbing cliffs or venturing into the desert, there is a ranch where people can still feel immersed in the Far West. We recommend MacDonald Ranch (26540 N. Scottsdale Rd.), in the Sonora Desert, which offers activities for everyone, such as horseback riding, stagecoach rides, outdoor cooking for groups, and the possibility to see farm animals. In October, the garden is filled with pumpkins ready for Halloween. This is a great place for parties, events, and birthdays.

Scottsdale Events

Scottsdale eventsIt wouldn’t be a bad idea to combine a visit to Scottsdale and the surrounding area with an event. In February there is the Scottsdale Arabian Show (16601 N.Pima Rd. – Westworld of Scottsdale) which consists of competitions, shows, seminars and gala parties related to the world of beautiful Arabian horses.

For those who are into fashion, Scottsdale Fashion Week takes place in March. There are presentations by national and international luxury brands and music performances. The Scottsdale Culinary Festival is held for six days in April at the Civic Center (7375 E.2nd St.). The program activities range from fine dining experiences to preparing cocktails, and there’s also a picnic with demonstrations by a talented chef.

In late October, you can attend the Spooktacular Hot Air Baloon Festival (7555 N.Pima Rd.), a Halloween themed festival with guided hot air balloon tours. At this event you will also find live music, fireworks, haunted trails, and food. In December, both you and your dogs can enjoy the Holiday Pet Festival (16601 N.Pima Rd. – Westworld of Scottsdale) with lots of fun activities ranging from a contest for the best “four-legged friend” costume to photos with Santa. There’s no shortage of veterinarians ready to answer any questions.

Shopping in Scottsdale

shopping in scottsdaleIt’s always nice to bring home a souvenir of your trip and in Old Town you’ll find Southwestern products, artisan boutiques as well as luxury shops. Jewelry stores with jewelry made with local stones abound in Fifth Avenue Shops. Here you will have a great shopping experience and you can also admire a unique fountain with horses. There’s also The Promenade (Frank Lloyd Wright and N. Scottsdale Rd.), a shopping mall whose exterior features the Spire, a triangular-shaped sculpture that lights up at night.

This whimsical creation is the work of the aforementioned architect Frank Llyod Wright. Kirkland Commons (15205 N. Kirkland Blvd.) is an open-air shopping mall. Lovers of luxury brands can head to Scottsdale Fashion Square (7014 E.Camelback Rd.) to find upscale designer items.

Where to Eat in Scottsdale

A trip isn’t complete without tasting local cuisine. Bandera Restaurant (3821 N.Scottsdale Rd.-Old Town) offers a casual atmosphere and specializes in American and Southwestern dishes accompanied by great cocktail margaritas. At Café Monarch (6934 E.1st Ave. – Old Town), an award-winning restaurant, you can enjoy a dining experience that is both romantic to extravagant in a very pleasant setting. The menu features dishes with seasonal and local ingredients combined with a good wine list.  Those looking for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes can easily find options here.

Modern Latin cuisine can be enjoyed at The Mission (3815 N.Brown Ave. – Old town). At this elegant restaurant with romantic candlelight charm, you can choose to eat inside or outside under the warmth of the fire. Japanese cuisine is served at Kyoto Scottsdale at the Waterfront (7170 E. Stetson Dr.). This restaurant serves sushi and food cooked on a large stovetop using the teppanyaki method. But you can’t leave Scottsdale without visiting the Rusty Spur Saloon (7245 E.Main St.), a country icon in Old Town that’s also frequented by celebrities from the entertainment and movie industries.

Where to Stay in Scottsdale

where to stay in scottsdaleScottsdale is very popular. There are various options to stay overnight, but generally, the hotel prices are quite high (however, they vary depending on the time of year). Starting from the more expensive accommodations, we recommend the Scottsdale Marriot Suites Old Town (7325 E.3rd Ave.) where guests stay in suites with a sitting area and balcony. The hotel has an outdoor pool, fitness center, and outdoor patio. Try its restaurant, the 3rd Avenue Grill, with Southwestern cuisine.

In the Art District, you can stay at the Bespoke Inn (3701 N.Marshall Way), where each room has a different style and decor. The property features a private patio, a beautiful courtyard, and a rooftop pool. There are free bicycles available to guests, plus there is a restaurant conveniently located on the property.

Not far from Old Town Scottsdale, it is worth it to consider the Hyatt House Scottsdale (4245 N.Drinkwater Blvd.), located 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It offers an outdoor pool, hot tub, free Wi-Fi in all rooms as well as a breakfast buffet.

For those who prefer in a less urban location in the middle of nature, we recommend the Four Peaks B&B (29424 N.138th St.), which has a Southwestern interior design in its rooms and suites. Breakfast can be served in your room or on the patio. There is a swimming pool. Dogs are welcome.

Even the normally more affordable hotel chains (Days Inn, Extended Stay, Country Inn & Suites) are not as cheap in this city, but you can search for deals via search engines or you can opt for accommodations a few miles outside of Scottsdale.

Find a hotel in Scottsdale

Things to Do Near Scottsdale

Scottsdale offers entertainment, attractions, culture and many nature attractions, so all visitors will find something to enjoy. We also recommend you visit Scottsdale in combination with other cities and towns around it. There is still more natural beauty, culture, and art to discover past Scottsdale’s city limits. If you don’t plan to rent a car, you can ride the Valley Metro buses, which also runs services to and from Scottsdale. Tempe (we recommend you visit Papago Park in Tempe), Mesa (here we recommend the scenic cruise on Saguaro Lake), Chandler and Glendale are about 15-30 minutes from Scottsdale and can be visited on day trips.

In Phoenix, the capital of Arizona, there is so much to see, starting with the famous car show at Penske Racing Museum, the original Musical Instrument Museum, the art and science museums, the inside of the State Capitol, the Romanesque St. Mary’s Basilica, the historic Heritage Square, the zoo, and the botanical gardens. Basketball fans can enjoy watching the Phoenix Suns play in the NBA championship.

Day Tours in Phoenix and Scottsdale

And if you haven’t already visited the Grand Canyon (4.5 hours away) or the red rocks in Sedona (2 hours away), you should add these two destinations to your trip to Scottsdale. Remember that Arizona is full of surprises and even the lesser-known destinations are stunning. Like the early explorers and pioneers, do your own exploration, by walking around neighborhoods and interacting with locals, so that you can better understand the place you are visiting.


Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Marianna Licia e Paolo

There are two passions that we share: photography and traveling, especially in the United States.

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