With fantastic dining, luxury resorts, tons of outdoor activities and great weather all year round (more than 330 sunny days per year!), there are endless things to do in Scottsdale and beyond–heck, you can even road trip up to the Grand Canyon from here.
Popular with golf enthusiasts, bachelorette parties, baseball fans, snowbirds and sun-seekers alike, this city just 20 minutes east of Phoenix checks all the boxes for a fun-filled getaway in the desert.
From adrenaline-fuelled adventures to bucket list experiences, here are 20 fun things to do in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Explore Old Town Scottsdale
Charming Old Town Scottsdale is the heart of the city, consisting of blocks-worth of boutiques, restaurants, public art, lively bars and saloons with an old-time feel.
Wander along the palm-fringed waterfront bordering the Arizona Canal and main plaza, where you can admire some of the city’s best art installations like ‘The Doors’ which mimics a kaleidoscope and the Bronze Horse Fountain created by local gallery owner Bob Parks.
Join the Thursday night ArtWalk through the arts district, go shopping along Fifth Avenue, and drop into the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
A walking food tour is a great way to explore the local eateries, and this one includes stops at a wine bar and tea shop while this tour samples everything from English pastries to French macarons to tequila and tacos.
Need to satisfy your sweet tooth? Head to Sugar Bowl ice cream parlour, which has been dishing up grilled sandwiches, burgers, shakes, floats and sundaes since the 1950s.
Old Town really comes alive at night, when revelers descend on the western-themed bars. One of the top group activities in Scottsdale is booking a raucous party bike pub crawl, where up to 14 people pedal to three different bars–expect plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’!
Book a tour through Old Town Scottsdale:
Pose with the famous LOVE statue
Take a selfie with your sweetie in front of the iconic “LOVE” sculpture in the Old Town, designed by artist Robert Indiana. The image initially started as a card that he sent around to friends, and then in 1965 a canvas variation of the LOVE image was used on the Museum of Modern Art’s annual Christmas card.
It ended up being the most popular card the museum has ever sold, and shortly after Indiana created a sculpture version that has since become one of the art world’s most recognizable pieces.
Similar statues are found all around the world and across the USA, including in Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, London and Tokyo. The vivid red and blue letters create a striking scene in Scottsdale’s Civic Center park, and is just across from city hall surrounded by 21 acres of lush lawns.
Admire Taliesin West
Design and architecture buffs won’t want to miss a visit to Taliesin West, the so-called desert laboratory of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Situated in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains about 20 minutes north of Old Town, this hideaway is where Wright designed some of the world’s most iconic buildings including Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum.
Hour-long audio and guided tours are available to explore each room of the 1930s property, and see where Wright and his apprentices created their famed masterpieces. Learn about the organic architecture practices that were integrated, like gathering rocks and sand from the desert to ensure it was kept in balance with its scenic surroundings.
Taliesin West is a National Historic Landmark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of eight Wright sites on the UNESCO list.
Soar over Scottsdale during a hot air balloon ride
One of the most bucket list-worthy experiences and best things to do in Scottsdale is taking a sunrise hot air balloon ride high above the Sonoran desert.
After a pre-dawn meetup, watch as crews inflate the massive, colourful balloons right before your eyes. Once everyone hops into the basket, it’s up, up and away.
Watching the sunrise over the Sonoran Desert while floating peacefully about 5,000 feet above ground is pure magic, and depending on the flight path guests enjoy views of the so-called Valley of the Sun and mountain ranges including Four Peaks, the Bradshaws and Daisy Mountain.
The ride itself lasts about an hour, and once the basket lands safely back on ground everyone celebrates with a champagne toast and breakfast.
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See sunrise from Camelback Mountain
Another unforgettable way to greet the day—and get in a workout while everyone else is still sleeping—is to head up Camelback Mountain at sunrise.
While waking up at the crack of dawn on vacation might not sound like anyone’s idea of fun, the payoff is worth it to watch the cotton-candy sky come alive overhead with the city lights spread out below. Arizona truly gets some of the world’s best sunrises and sunsets.
With an elevation of 2,704 feet the Camelback Mountain is relatively short and sweet, but definitely a bit of a grind up. There are two trails: Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla, which both take about two to three hours round trip.
Note that the parking lot can get pretty full as the day goes on, so it’s best to be early to this one to beat the heat and crowds.
Globe Guide tip: If you’re lucky enough to stay at The Phoenician, one of the trailheads is conveniently located right behind the resort.
Tackle one of the best hikes in Scottsdale
Up for even more of an adventure? Hit the trails that wind through the rugged Sonoran Desert, beloved for its craggy mountain peaks dotted with cacti, yucca, prickly pear, pristine lakes and big skies.
230 miles of trails wind through 30,000 acres of untouched land in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve which is America’s largest urban preserve and home to critters like coyotes, roadrunners, jackrabbits, tortoises and yes, rattlesnakes.
There’s also horseback riding, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking and rafting on the Salt River.
Some of the best Scottsdale hikes are:
- Gateway Trailhead: Located just 15 minutes from Scottsdale landmarks like the Fairmont Princess and Taliesin West, this easily-access trail boasts multiple loops including the Bajada Nature Trail (easy and ideal for families), the Gateway Loop (moderate, with glorious vistas as you pass over the Gateway Saddle), Windgate and Bell Pass loops (difficult with steep inclines and rugged terrain)
- Tom’s Thumb Trailhead: Head here for dramatic views of the Mesquite Canyon, McDowell Mountains and the iconic 90-foot vertical granite crag this trail is named after, which is a Scottsdale landmark.
- Lost Dog Wash Trailhead: The gateway to the preserve’s southern regions, the lush vegetation means you might spot animals like a bobcat or mule deer. Head up to the Taliesin Overlook for views of north Scottsdale and Phoenix, or Sunrise Peak which has magnificent views of the desert landscape.
Another option is to head out to the Tonto National Forest or Lost Dutchman State Park, which hosts Usery Mountain Regional Park and the Superstition Mountains about 40 minutes east of the city.
Popular trails there are:
- Wind Cave Trail: This trail winds through Usery Mountain Regional Park high up to the side of a mountain, where high winds have carved out a section of the caves.
- Pass Mountain Trail: A cacti-filled forest lines this seven-mile pathway through Usery, with plenty of opportunities to see the Sonoran Desert’s stately saguaros.
- Flat Iron Summit: Guaranteed to give you a good workout, and the burn is worth it for the gorgeous views of surrounding Lost Dutchman State Park.
With trails for all skill levels it’s simple enough to head out on your own (keeping these important safety tips in mind), and there are also guided hikes available like half-day trips with REI and these ones out to Tom’s Thumb and the Superstition Mountains:
Relax at one of the Scottsdale spas
After all that exercise, a spa day is well-deserved and Scottsdale is one of the top places in the country for some R&R.
For an off-grid experience head an hour north up to Castle Hot Springs, where there are natural, thermal waters surrounded by a desert oasis. Scottsdale is also renowned for its wellness resorts like Civana Wellness Resort & Spa, Royal Palms Resort and Spa and the Omni Scottsdale, or chill out with an aerial yoga session and sound healing at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain.
One of the most incredible spas in Scottsdale is The Phoenician Spa, a serene, swish space that’s everything a spa should be thanks to private, cushy loungers to unwind in pre-or-post treatment, vitality tubs and a tranquility suite with delights like chocolate-dipped strawberries.
The airy space features a sauna, steam room, fireplace lounge and even a rooftop pool. Treatments are inspired by the mythical Phoenix, and include a wide variety of massages, detoxifying wraps, facials and rejuvenating scrubs sure to leave your body in a state of bliss.
Signature offerings include a Himalayan Salt Stone Ritual where warm, hand-carved salt stones with 84 essential nutrients and minerals are used to massage the body, and the Fire & Ice Massage combining the warmth of hot oil with the cooling relief of a zen cream for pain relief and reducing inflammation.
The Well & Being Spa at the Fairmont Princess is also a sight to behold, with a eucalyptus inhalation room, steam, Swedish dry sauna, whirlpool and cold plunge, Swiss shower, rooftop adults-only pool and a grotto waterfall.
Sound bowl therapy, aerial yoga and acupuncture are on offer, alongside detoxifying body wraps, aromatherapy scrubs, massages and reflexology.
The crown jewel is the Sisley-Paris Spa, a brand renowned for its skincare know-how blending science and natural botanicals.
The spa is one of only a handful in the USA, and is like a spa-within-a-spa since Sisley-Paris guests enjoy a private check-in desk and lounge complete with champagne and nibbles, white-glove attaché experience and six private treatment facilities.
Treatments also include all-day access to the Well & Being Spa, with champagne top-ups.
Hit the links during a golf getaway
Scottsdale is one of America’s premiere golf destinations, boasting more than 200 area courses.
You really can’t go wrong with any of them; standout spots include Troon North which has two 18-hole courses (Monument and Pinnacle) where towering saguaro cacti and granite boulders line the fairways, and the TPC Scottsdale alongside the Fairmont Princess which hosts the fun-filled Waste Management Phoenix Open.
There’s also a Topgolf location which is one of the top things to do in Scottsdale for groups, where there are climate-controlled hitting bays, a sports bar and restaurant spread over three floors.
Perfect your form at Putting World; its 18-hole course changes daily, and form analysis and coaching are also available.
Saddle up for a horseback ride in the desert
Channel your inner cowpoke at MacDonald’s Ranch, which first opened to the public way back in 1970.
Found a 30 minute drive north of Old Town Scottsdale near the Cave Buttes Recreation Area, it’s a fun, quick escape from the city that feels like you’re way out in the desert.
One and two hour trail rides are offered for all skill levels, including sunset and moonlight rides past the prickly cacti. Keep an eye out for those wily coyotes, who tend to slink around the property.
There’s also a petting zoo for the kids, stagecoach rides, games, and a life-size replica of a western town which makes this a popular spot for corporate events.
I also recommend riding out at the scenic Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch, which is about 45 minutes east of the city near Lost Dutchman State Park.
Bordering the shimmering Salt River, the Bulldog Cliffs loom in the distance as you ride with an experienced wrangler along cactus-spotted ridges and hillsides overlooking the lake.
Desert Botanical Garden
If you still haven’t gotten your cactus fix, check out the Desert Botanical Garden where 50-thousand plants are nestled among the Papago Buttes.
There are five themed trails to stroll around, with interpretive signs sharing details of the wildflowers, succulents and cacti found in the Sonoran Desert.
The garden also hosts lectures, workshops, concerts and seasonal events, including the enchanting Las Noches de las Luminarias during Christmas time.
Sip on Arizona wines
The Scottsdale Wine Trail is made up of seven tasting rooms in Old Town Scottsdale, all conveniently within walking distance so no designated driver is required!
One of its members is Merkin Vineyards, founded by Maynard James Keenan from the rock band Tool (be prepared for the heavy metal rock blasting in the tasting room). The winery’s mission is to showcase an authentic Arizona experience, and all of their grapes are grown in the Verde Valley, Willcox region or by local farmers.
Slide up to the bar and sample a tasting flight paired with a wood-fired pizza—their Caduceau Anubis which blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Aglianico is my fave.
The nearby Wine Collective of Scottsdale was created to showcase Arizona’s wine scene and support small area wineries that otherwise wouldn’t have tasting rooms. Located in Old Town, there’s a pet-friendly outdoor patio, tasting flights and charcuterie, along with a bottle room to find the perfect bottle to bring home.
A great idea for a bachelorette in Scottsdale is to book a wine tasting tour: this one includes sightseeing, vortex energy and vineyard visits, while this one includes everything you need for a great party like a stylish ride, games, photo props, mimosas, a picnic lunch and sweet treats.
Book a Scottsdale wine tasting tour:
Shopping in Scottsdale
Shop ‘til you drop at Fashion Square, a luxury mall in the heart of Scottsdale with more than 200 stores. Browse major department stores like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, or spoil yourself at luxury retailers like Gucci, Versace, Bulgari, Cartier and Prada.
The mall also hosts exhibits and curated experiences like Fashionable Luxury: The Story. The Style. The Spirit which kicks off with a red-carpet welcome and champagne, a private shopping experience inside three high-end stores, and learning about the history of luxury fashions and the latest runway trends from industry experts.
Another great shopping spot is Kierland Commons, an open-air retail centre with great restaurants, events like an art & wine festival, clothing and home stores including Crate&Barrel, Arhaus and Pottery Barn.
Visit the Scottsdale museums
Sometimes the best way to beat to the heat is to head inside, and Scottsdale has some fantastic museums worth checking out.
The exhibits in Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West focus on the history of the old west, while the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art focuses on art and design with rotating exhibitions, concerts and events.
Other popular museums in Scottsdale are:
- Wonderspaces, an immersive art experience worthy of your Instagram feed. Located inside Fashion Square mall, grab a cocktail from the bar then admire the mesmerizing immersive light installations all around.
- The Musical Instrument Museum highlighting musical heritage, ceremonies and culture from all around the globe. There are a staggering 7500 instruments on display from more than 200 countries and territories, which guests learn about through demonstrations, concerts, videos and hands-on exhibits.
Take an off-road adventure
Rev up your trip to Scottsdale with a high-octane adventure through the desert on an off-road vehicle.
A fun way to immerse yourself in the rugged scenery is during a guided ATV, sand buggy or Hummer excursion that rips through the Tonto National Forest. Expect water crossings, rock gardens and desert washes, along with insight into the area’s history, flora and fauna.
Sunset Jeep tours are particularly memorable, with rides through the forest and Pinnacle Peak Park capped off with a spellbinding Arizona sunset.
Book with Viator:
Climb among the red rocks
Looking for even more of an adrenaline rush? A memorable way to get outside and explore the red rock canyons is during a rappelling or canyoneering excursion.
This day-long adventure will see you scampering over pools of water and slipping down slides carved from the rock, along with some short hikes and plenty of scenic photo-ops.
If you’re good with heights, book this rappelling tour where you’ll be suspended over three different rock faces and rappel down while soaking in the birds-eye view.
Go e-biking in and around Scottsdale
A fun way to see Scottsdale is on two wheels, so grab a bike and hit one of the nearby trails.
Epic mountain biking is found in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, especially along the Granite Mountain from 136th Street Trail and Corral Loop at Brown’s Ranch (both best for beginners).
Advanced riders can take on the Desert Park Trail to Gateway Loop at the base of the McDowell Mountains, and the challenging terrain along the South and North Diablo Trails at Brown’s Ranch which has slick drops among the giant boulders.
For a more chill experience, hop on an e-bike and ride along the waterfront or Scottsdale Greenbelt, cruising past sights like Tempe Town Lake and Papago Park.
Book a guided cycling tour:
Head out on a day trip
With so many things to do in Scottsdale AZ there’s no need to venture beyond—that said, the city makes a great base for exploring some of Arizona’s other top destinations.
The highlight is of course Grand Canyon National Park, which is about 3.5 hours north. While that’s a lot of driving in a single day, it’s worth it to see one of the world’s most breathtaking natural wonders and peer down at the geological formations and deep gorges from the canyon’s South Rim.
Some organized tours combine the trip with a stop in Sedona to help break up the trip, where guests also get to explore the dramatic red rocks and wander around the city’s uptown district.
Photographers love the swirling, wave-like formations inside Lower Antelope Canyon, and the view from Horseshoe Bend, an Instagram-favourite.
Both stops are included on this tour, which is a fantastic way to see them since a permit is required to visit the canyon and this guarantees a way in. The full-day excursion includes a tour led by a Navajo guide, the opportunity to walk through the slot canyons, and a self-guided hike above the famous horseshoe-shaped curve that was carved out by the flow of the Colorado River. Click here to book
Book a tour to Sedona and the Grand Canyon:
Dine in the desert
Fabulous food, inspired settings and community connection combine at the incredible long table dinners organized by Cloth & Flame, making their events one of the best things to do in Scottsdale at night.
The dining series takes place in various locations around town, like lunches served up with a backdrop of vineyards or orchards, and multi-course meals enjoyed under twinkling lights and moonlit sky in the Superstition Mountains or Sonoran Desert.
Menus are prepared with locally-sourced ingredients, expertly paired with feature cocktails and free-flowing wine, making this elevated dining experience something that’s not to be missed.
Eat at the fantastic Scottsdale restaurants
It’s actually crazy how many great restaurants and bars there are in Scottsdale, from boozy brunch spots to swanky steakhouses to rooftop patios for happy hour. Some of my favourites are:
The Mission: Come for the Latin flavours, stay for the jaw-dropping decor.
The Mission has two locations in Scottsdale, including one in Kierland Commons which features dazzling chandeliers and a two-storey high cross inspired by the chef’s trip to Europe.
The perfect spot for a date night, The Mission features a cocktail list with creative spins on caipirinhas, margaritas, mojitos and mules, and an actual guacamole cart where it’s prepared table-side to your exact liking.
The menu is so delish you’ll want to order everything–be sure to try at least a few of the tacos in hand-pressed corn tortillas.
Postino: Don’t walk, run to this cute spot which serves up $6 glasses of wine until 5 pm every day.
Postino is known for pairing approachable wines with comfort foods like grilled cheese sandwiches, steaming tomato soup, and an inventive, rotating list of shareable bruschetta platters.
Their locations (around Arizona, including two in Scottsdale) are in restored, historic buildings and tend to incorporate upcycled items: for example, the Highland cafe is in a former mid century modern bank which was designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice, and features a wall decorated with matchstick boxes.
Bourbon Steak: For a celebratory night out in Scottsdale, get a table at this swish spot in the Fairmont Princess, created by James Beard award-winning Chef Michael Mina.
As someone from Alberta (which has some of the best beef in the world) I usually make it a rule not to order it anywhere else, but Bourbon Steak is an exception: the juicy filet mignon I had was melt-in-your-mouth, cooked to perfection.
Paired with sides like black truffle Mac & Cheese, crispy brussels sprouts, Maine lobster and an extensive wine list, it’s easy to see why this restaurant gets all the accolades.
Prep & Pastry: The next best thing to a Parisian cafe, Prep & Pastry is an adorable spot for a leisurely brunch just steps from the waterfront in Old Town Scottsdale.
Sip on a prickly pear mimosa, then tuck into crowd-pleasers like millennial-favourite Avo & Herb Toast, signature dishes like Cast Iron Duck Confit and Smoked Salmon Hash, or southern classics like biscuits and gravy or a platter of french toast topped with fried chicken.
Get into the festive spirit
Even without a sprinkling of snow on the ground, the spirit of the season comes alive during Christmas time when the city does its best to transform into a winter wonderland.
Sparkling lights, bright displays and plenty of Christmas cheer are found around town, and festivities kick off in mid-November by lighting a 40-foot-tall tree in Old Town Scottsdale.
Some of the best places to celebrate the holidays in Scottsdale are:
- Fairmont Scottsdale Princess: More than 300-thousand people visit the resort each year for Christmas at the Princess, an annual extravaganza complete with 7.5 million sparkling lights, a skating rink, holiday train, amusement park, ice bar, cozy fire pits and light shows.
- Las Noches de las Luminarias: The Desert Botanical Garden is one of the most romantic spots to celebrate the holidays, where winding trails, succulents and cacti are illuminated by the soft glow of lanterns. Enjoy the outdoor fire pits, sip on Christmas cocktails and gather around for one of the musical performances
- Scottsdazzle: This free event runs all month long in Old Town, where the main plaza and surrounding streets are all lit up with twinkling lights and holiday decor. There’s live entertainment, events like dueling pianos, whiskey tastings and cookie decorating, and plenty of Santa selfies.
- Enchant Christmas: The Salt River Fields baseball stadium plays hosts to this seasonal spectacle, featuring holiday shopping, a towering tree and a light maze.
Where to stay in Scottsdale, AZ
Hotel Valley Ho: Oh the stories this place could tell.
Hotel Valley Ho is a Scottsdale icon dating back to 1956, and was once a favourite hideout of celebs like Bing Crosby, Janet Leigh and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
The mid century modern vibe features funky furniture, sunshine-yellow kitchens, spacious private patios and freestanding tubs.
Elevate your stay by borrowing a vinyl record player, calling room service for some sweet treats (they kindly surprised me with the BIGGEST cake I’ve ever seen when I happened to be staying there during my birthday) or renting a poolside cabana.
There’s also a spa, fitness centre, fantastic restaurant (don’t sleep on the spicy Hawaiian ahi tuna at ZuZu), pools and hot tubs. We loved everything about our stay here, especially that it’s also just a quick walk to Old Town Scottsdale. Click here to book
The Phoenician: This luxe resort is one of my favourite places to stay in Scottsdale thanks to its gorgeous rooms, stunning pools, incredible spa and fantastic location at the base of Camelback Mountain.
Great dining, attentive service and a world-class golf course await at this posh property, which has won the AAA Five Diamond award for a decade straight.
There are about 600 guest rooms including free-standing casitas, The Phoenician Residences, and the highly acclaimed Canyon Suites with features like floor-to-ceiling windows, private balconies, modernist finishings, Italian linens, marble bathrooms and walk-in closets.
The sprawling pool complex features plush loungers, private cabanas, multiple pools, an eatery and the Kids Zone complete with a waterslide, splash area and treehouse. Click here to book
Fairmont Princess: One of the most iconic properties in Scottsdale, the Fairmont Princess fits the bill whether you’re looking for a family vacation, golf getaway, or time to reconnect with your partner.
The resort is situated on 65 acres in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, with about 750 guestrooms, a conference centre, five restaurants and lounges, a superb spa and boutiques.
Relax around one of the six pools (there’s even one with sand that was imported from Florida, and waterslides for the kids), reserve a private cabana or hit the gym or tennis courts. The resort hosts special activities all year round, with the most popular one being Christmas at the Fairmont lasting for over a month (admission included for hotel guests). Click here to book
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