When planning a visit to Scottsdale, it can be difficult to narrow down your list of must-see destinations and attractions in a city that has such a wide range of activities to offer! These are our top five picks for what spots to add to your list to get an authentic glimpse of the best in the area. There’s a little bit of something for everyone, from shopping, to museums, to outdoor activities.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is one of the most popular and beautiful areas to hike in Scottsdale. This preserve borders the town of Scottsdale to the northeast, and has fantastic hiking trails all with varying lengths and difficulty levels. The trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve are multi-use, meaning you can hike on them, but they are also open to mountain biking and horseback riding. There typically aren’t many horses out on the trails, but be on the lookout for mountain bikers if you are hiking on foot!
The preserve has many different trailheads, so plan which route you want to hike before you head out! On the south side of the preserve you will find the most popular trail in the preserve, Sunrise Peak, a 4.3 mile out and back trail that overlooks Fountain Hills.
The Lost Dog trailhead is another great place to start your hike, as there are several different trail options from this parking lot. If you want to hike on the north side of the preserve, check out Tom’s Thumb. It is a harder hike that is over five miles long, but you get to hike to the actual Tom’s Thumb mountain, a landmark in the Scottsdale skyline. There is no fee to enter the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, and the trails are open from sunrise to sunset each day.
Old Town Scottsdale
Old Town Scottsdale is truly the heart of the city, and acts as the central hub for a lot of the nightlife, restaurants, and cultural events that take place in Scottsdale. It is a fun neighborhood that offers a lot of activities, whether you visit during the day or want to visit after dark to participate in the nightlife scene.
If you visit during the day, plan to get breakfast or lunch at one of the many local restaurants, and then spend some time walking around exploring the Scottsdale Waterfront. In this area you will find tons of small boutique shops, art galleries, and Western inspired shopping areas.
The Old Town neighborhood embodies the old Western town ambience that many people expect to find in Scottsdale, nicknamed The West’s Most Western Town. If you are hungry after you finish your shopping trip, make sure to visit The Sugar Bowl, a vintage ice cream parlor that has been open since 1958. If you are craving some true mall shopping, Old Town Scottsdale is also home to Scottsdale’s premium mall, Scottsdale Fashion Square.
If you visit at night, be ready to participate in the lively nightlife scene! Start your evening by dining at a quintessential Scottsdale restaurant The Mission in Old Town where you can try delicious modern latin cuisine. From there, take your pick of all the nightlife options in the surrounding blocks!There are so many bars to choose from in Old Town, but some stand outs include Dierks Bentley’s Whisky Row, Beverly on Main, or Bottled Blonde.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West
Something many people are surprised to learn when visiting Scottsdale is that the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright called Arizona home at the end of his career. Frank Lloyd Wright built his winter home Taliesin West nestled right up against the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, and operated it as an architectural school and his headquarters until his death. Currently the house is open to the public for tours, and it is still an active architectural school.
It is absolutely worth a visit while in Scottsdale even if you are not super familiar with Frank Llyod Wright’s work, as the home has incredible views and has been preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The home was built out of natural desert materials, and was designed to incorporate as many local elements as possible. Wright was passionate about nature conservation and it is incredible to tour the home and see all the details he put into making Taliesin West come to life.
Scottsdale Museum of the West
If you are a first time visitor in the Valley, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is a great place to spend a morning learning about the history of the Southwest. This museum is conveniently located in Old Town Scottsdale a few blocks from the main shopping and art gallery streets, so it’s easy to tack onto a larger outing to the Old Town area.
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is fairly new, opening its doors in 2015 in the spot where the old Loloma Transit Station was located. It is a massive two-story space that covers a lot of different topics, with everything from the art to the history of the Southwest.
The exhibits change several times a year, so the experience inside the museum is always a little different. Inside you will find Western and Native American art and rare artifacts. Currently if you visit you can expect to see their feature exhibit Light and Legacy, all about the art of Edward S. Curtis. This will be in the museum until April 2023.
The museum is closed on Mondays, and costs $20 for adults, and $9 for children 6-17. There is plenty of free street parking surrounding the area.The museum recommends blocking two hours to enjoy the full museum experience when you visit. On your way out, stop at the museum gift shop to pick up some Western themed attire to bring home!
Golfing is more than a pastime in Scottsdale, it is part of the lifestyle! Thanks to the constant sunshine and warm winters, Scottsdale has become a golf lovers paradise.
Golfing in Scottsdale will cost you anywhere from $150 and up for a desirable tee time during the peak season of the year. If you want to visit and get a better deal, you are better off visiting during the summer and playing earlier in the morning.
There are so many golf courses in Scottsdale that it can be difficult to narrow down which are the best. TPC Scottsdale is one of the most well-known courses in the Valley, and it is consistently rated as one of the best in the area.
If you are a big fan of the Phoenix Open, it is a fun one to see and get to experience in real life. Another great course that is very centrally located in the Valley is the Gainey Ranch Golf Club. This golf course has beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, and is located on the stunning grounds of the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort.
If you only have a few days to spend in Scottsdale, these would be our top recommendations on how to spend your days. You’ll get a great taste for the culture in the city of Scottsdale, and will get to have a great time doing it!