Scottsdale is the Arizonian city of sunshine, located in the heart of the Sonoran desert. It’s best known for its nature spots, which feature over 200 miles of trails for hiking and biking, as well as its world-class golf courses.

The city is the gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, one of the largest urban land preserves in the country. Camelback Mountain offers hikers a more challenging terrain and is a rock climbers delight.

But it’s not just hiking and outdoor recreation that brings people to Scottsdale. There is a plethora of things to do in Scottsdale for any type of traveler, whether you’re looking for adrenaline or relaxation.

One of my favorite things about Scottsdale is its proximity to other amazing places in Arizona. You can easily take a day trip to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, or even Mexico!

No matter what time of year you visit or what your interests are, Scottsdale is sure to have something for you. But if you’re not sure what to do in Scottsdale, then read on to see the best Scottsdale attractions.

The Top Things to Do in Scottsdale

If you’re only visiting Scottsdale for a short time, or visiting for a stopover on a Southwest road trip, these are the attractions you can’t miss!

The Top Thing to Do in Scottsdale
The Top Thing to Do in Scottsdale

Visit the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Hike through the Sonoran Preserve and experience the desert like never before.

The Most Romantic Thing to Do in Scottsdale
The Most Romantic Thing to Do in Scottsdale

Ride in a Sunset Hot Air Balloon over the Desert

Enjoy an evening with your loved one as you float high above the desert landscape in a hot air balloon.

Best Day Trip in Scottsdale
Best Day Trip in Scottsdale

Spend a day exploring the Grand Canyon

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is a must-see for anyone visiting Scottsdale.

Most Unique Thing to Do in Scottsdale
Most Unique Thing to Do in Scottsdale

Learn about the Chocolates of Scottsdale

Indulge your sweet tooth and sample some of Scottsdale’s best chocolate shops.

Best Free Thing to do in Scottsdale
Best Free Thing to do in Scottsdale

Walk the streets of Old Town Scottsdale

Stroll down Main Street and take in the Western atmosphere of Old Town Scottsdale.

1. Visit the Mcdowell Sonoran Preserve

Visit the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The Mcdowell Sonoran Preserve is one of the largest urban land preserves in the United States. As one of the main attractions to Scottsdale the preserve offers over 60 miles of trails to explore and welcomes visitors year-round.

The preserve is home to a variety of desert plants and animals, making it a perfect place to go for a hike or even just a picnic, don’t forget the water, it can be blistering in the summer.

The views from the top of the trails are breathtaking, and on a clear day, you can see for miles. You can join a guided hike led by a ranger, or take one of the many self-guided hikes available.

There are also options for mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping in the preserve. Most of the trails are accessible for all skill levels, making it a great activity for the whole family.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is one of the best things to do in Scottsdale and should not be missed.

  • Entrance: Free
  • Hours: 7 AM – 6 PM
  • Address: 18333 N Thompson Peak Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85255

2. Explore Old Town Scottsdale

Walk the streets of Old Town Scottsdale

If you’re backpacking the USA and you’re looking for something free to do, then exploring Old Town Scottsdale is the perfect activity.

It’s the historic center of the city and feels like a different world compared to the desert landscape that surrounds it. The area is filled with boutique shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

You can stroll down Main Street and window shop, or walk along the Scottsdale Waterfront to see some of the city’s best views. There are also a number of museums in Old Town Scottsdale, including the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

Old Town Scottsdale is also home to a number of events throughout the year, including the Scottsdale Fashion Week and the Scottsdale Culinary Festival. Be sure to check the event calendar before your visit to see what’s going on during your stay.

  • Entrance: Free
  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. Scottsdale, AZ 85251

3. Set Sail on a Hot Air Balloon over the Desert

Ride in a Sunset Hot Air Balloon over the Desert

This is the most romantic thing to do in Scottsdale, and it’s also one of the most unique. You can set sail on a hot air balloon as the sun sets over the desert. Have your breath taken away as you watch the colors change in the sky, and enjoy a champagne toast to celebrate your experience.

The experience is unlike any other, and you’ll get to see the desert in a whole new light. The balloons are decorated with colorful lights, making them even more beautiful as they float through the night sky.

This was definitely a highlight of my trip, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for something special to do in Scottsdale.

  • Entrance: $179
  • Hours: 7 AM – 6 PM
  • Address: 715 E Covey Ln #100, Phoenix, AZ 85024
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4. Stay in Scottsdale’s Most Unique Hotel Saguaro Scottsdale

The Saguaro Scottsdale

The Saguaro Scottsdale is a hotel like no other and I am sure you have seen it all over Instagram. Known for its colorful pool chairs and funky bathrooms this desert oasis is the perfect place to escape the heat.

The hotel features a number of pools and cabanas for those days you want to relax and enjoy the Arizona sun. You can also spend some time at the poolside bar and restaurant. I recommend the margarita… it is so refreshing on a hot day!

The Saguaro Scottsdale is located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, making it the perfect base for exploring all that the city has to offer.

  • Entrance: Starting at $100 a night
  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: 4000 N Drinkwater Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

5. Grab Your Spurs and Visit Scottsdale’s Museum of the West

Scottsdale Museum of the West
Photo: edwardhblake (Flickr)

If you are a fan of the Wild West, then this is the place for you. The Scottsdale Museum of the West is one of the best things to do in Scottsdale for history buffs.

The museum features a number of exhibits on the culture and history of the American West. You can see artifacts from famous figures such as Wyatt Earp and Geronimo, and learn about the Native American tribes that once inhabited the area. The museum does a great job of bringing the history of the West to life.

There is also a section of the museum dedicated to the art of the West, with works by famous artists such as Frederic Remington on display.

  • Entrance: $20
  • Hours: 9:30 AM – 5 PM
  • Address: 3830 N Marshall Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85251, United States

6. Take a Day Trip to The Grand Canyon

Spend a day exploring the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and for good reason. The canyon is absolutely massive and it is truly a sight to behold. There are a number of different ways to explore the canyon and many different tours that leave from Scottsdale.

Whether you want to hike to the bottom or take a helicopter tour, the Grand Canyon is a must-see when you are in Arizona. It is about a four-hour drive from Scottsdale, so it makes for a great day trip.

Just make sure to give yourself enough time to explore if you choose to go on your own. You want to be able to enjoy all that the canyon has to offer without rushing back.

  • Entrance: $200
  • Hours: 24 Hours
  • Address: S Entrance Rd, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023
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7. Explore the Hidden Gem of Salt River

One of the best things to do in Scottsdale is to explore and float down Salt River. This hidden gem is a beautiful spot for hiking, picnicking, and bird watching.

The Salt River, which runs through the city of Scottsdale is the perfect place to cool off in the summer. The area is home to a variety of wildlife, including ducks, geese, and herons. You might even see a coyote or two!

In the springtime, the fields are blanketed with wildflowers, making it the perfect place for a scenic walk. Arrive at Salt River early to have the opportunity to see the remarkable Salt River wild horses. These horses are wild and cannot be approached, but it is an incredible experience to see them in their natural habitat.

The best way to explore Salt River is by renting a kayak or paddleboard from one of the many companies that offer tours in the area. This is a great activity for all ages and a great way to spend a day in Scottsdale.

  • Entrance: Free
  • Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM
  • Address: 8000 N Hayden Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85258

8. Get Sandy and Explore the Desert by Jeep

Get Sandy and Explore the Desert by Jeep

When in Scottsdale, you cannot miss going into the desert, but you can change up how you do it! One of the most popular ways is to go explore the desert by jeep.

A jeep allows you to get deep into the Sonoran desert, where you can see cacti and other native plants, as well as wildlife such as coyotes, jackrabbits, and lizards.

You’ll also get to experience the desert in a unique way by riding through sand dunes and washes. This is a great activity for thrill seekers and adventure seekers. It’s also a great way to see parts of Scottsdale that you wouldn’t be able to see from the city.

  • Entrance: $130
  • Hours: 10 AM – 7 PM
  • Address: Meeting point at Village At Pinnacle Peak 8711 E Pinnacle Peak Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85255

9. Take a trip into the past at the Scottsdale Historical Museum

The Scottsdale Historical Museum is the perfect place to learn about the history of Scottsdale and the American West. The museum is located in an old schoolhouse that was built in 1896. It has been restored to look like it did when it was first built and it is full of interesting exhibits.

Some of the highlights of the museum include the old schoolhouse, a pioneer cabin, and a blacksmith shop. The museum also has a variety of interactive exhibits, including a stagecoach that you can sit in and a horse that you can brush.

The Scottsdale Historical Museum is a great place to take the family, especially if you have kids. It’s a perfect way to spend an afternoon in Scottsdale.

  • Entrance: Free
  • Hours: 10 AM – 4 PM (Closed until 2023)
  • Address: 7333 E Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

10. Enjoy a day at Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland is one of the most unique places to visit in Scottsdale and it truly is a wonderland. It is an indoor rainforest that is home to over 3,000 butterflies from all over the world.

Many of the butterflies are rare and endangered. As you walk through the rainforest, you will be surrounded by blue, orange, and multicolored butterflies.

In addition to the butterflies, Butterfly Wonderland is also home to a variety of other animals, including tortoises, iguanas, and birds. The best part of Butterfly Wonderland is the butterfly conservatory, where you can walk among the butterflies and even have one land on you!

This is a great place to visit, especially if you are interested in learning about butterflies and other rainforest animals.

  • Entrance: $24.95
  • Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM
  • Address: 9500 E Via de Ventura, Scottsdale, AZ 85256
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11. Make Your Way on Scottsdale’s Wine Trail

Scottsdale is all about relaxation and enjoyment, and what better way to relax and enjoy yourself than with a glass of wine.

Scottsdale is home to a number of wineries and vineyards, and there is even a wine trail that you can follow! The Scottsdale Wine Trail includes 12 different wineries, all of which are within a 30-minute drive of each other.

The wineries on the trail range from small family-owned businesses to large commercial operations. Many of the wineries offer tours and tastings, so you can learn about the wine-making process and try a variety of different wines.

If you love wine, then the Scottsdale Wine Trail is a great way to spend a day in Scottsdale. You can even make a weekend out of it and stay at one of the many hotels or resorts in the area.

  • Entrance: $5 for wine trail passport
  • Hours: 11 AM – 6 PM
  • Address: 4225 N Marshall Way Suite #2, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

12. Experiment at Wonderspaces Arizona

Wonderspaces Arizona

I love going to places that allow my imagination to run wild and that is exactly what Wonderspaces Arizona does. Wonderspaces is a temporary art exhibit that features a variety of interactive and immersive installations. The exhibits change regularly, so there is always something new to see.

Recent exhibits have included an installation where you can control the weather and another where you can walk among the stars. This is a great afternoon activity when you are trying to beat the Arizona heat and a nice way to experience art in a new and exciting way.

  • Entrance: $25
  • Hours: 10 AM – 8 PM
  • Address: 1535 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85014

13. Catch a Show at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Photo: Dru Bloomfield (Flickr)

One of my favorite ways to spend a Friday night in Scottsdale is by catching a show at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. It is one of the best places to see a show in Scottsdale.

The center hosts a variety of performances, including music, dance, theater, and more. There is something for everyone at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and it allows local artists to showcase their talent.

The center also has a number of educational programs, so you can learn about the arts and culture scene in Scottsdale. The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is a great place to spend an evening in Scottsdale.

  • Entrance: Varies by performance
  • Hours: Varies by performance
  • Address: 7380 E 2nd St, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

14. Learn How to Rope and Ride at Arizona Cowboy College

Have you ever wanted to learn how to rope and ride like a cowboy? Well, now you can at Arizona Cowboy College. This is a great place to learn about the cowboy lifestyle and see what it is really like.

The college offers a variety of courses, including roping, riding, and even cattle drives. You can stay for a weekend or even a week, and the college provides everything you need.

I thought I knew all there was to the cowboy lifestyle but Arizona Cowboy College taught me so much more and sharpened my more than rusty skills!

  • Entrance: Prices vary by course
  • Hours: 8 AM – 5 PM
  • Address: 1065 N 377th Ave, Wickenburg, AZ 85390
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You don’t come to Scottsdale and not golf… that is like going to Italy and not eating pizza. Scottsdale is home to more than 200 golf courses, so you definitely won’t be lacking in choices.

Some of the most popular courses include Troon North Golf Club, Grayhawk Golf Club, and We-Ko-Pa Golf Club. These courses are all world-renowned and offer some of the best places in the world to play golf.

If you are looking for a challenge, then I recommend trying out one of the many desert golf courses. These courses are located in the Sonoran Desert and offer breathtaking views. You can also find a number of resort courses, which are perfect if you are looking to relax and enjoy your time in Scottsdale.

No matter what kind of course you are looking for, Scottsdale has it. So, grab your clubs and hit the links!

  • Entrance: Prices vary by course
  • Hours: Varies by course
  • Address: Troon North Golf Club – 10320 E Dynamite Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85262, United States
    Grayhawk Golf Club – 8620 E Thompson Peak Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85255, United States
    We-Ko-Pa Golf Club – 18200 N 128th St, Fountain Hills, AZ 85268, United States

16. Try Your Luck at We-Ko-Pa Casino

Scottsdale resides near the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation reserve, which allows the We-Ko-Pa Casino to operate within city limits and for you and others to gamble legally. The We-Ko-Pa Casino is a great place to try your luck and see if you can win big.

The casino offers a variety of games, including slots, table games, bingo, and more. Personally, I enjoy roulette and get way too excited if I even win a dollar or two.

There is also a hotel on site, so you can stay the night and make a weekend out of it. The We-Ko-Pa Casino is a great place to go if you are looking for some fun and excitement in Scottsdale.

  • Entrance: Free
  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Address: 10424 N Fort McDowell Rd, Fountain

17. Ride an ATV Around the Bradshaw Mountains

Bradshaw Mountains

The Bradshaw Mountains offer a great opportunity to get outside and explore the Arizona desert but sometimes by foot can be a bit boring.

So spice it up with some adventure. Spend the day riding an ATV around the Bradshaw Mountains and whipping through the desert like a BOSS!

This is a great way to explore the desert and see some of the amazing scenery that Arizona has to offer. You can get a guide or rent an ATV and go exploring on your own. Either way, you are sure to have a great time.

I recommend making a stop at an old gold mine, as it is a really cool place to explore.

  • Entrance: $300
  • Hours: 8 AM- 7 PM
  • Address:  2800 N Lynx Lake Dr, Prescott Valley, AZ 86314, United States

18. Visit the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center

The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center is a great place to learn about the local wildlife and see some of the animals up close.

The center offers a variety of tours, so you can choose which one best suits your interests. The Conservation Center has done a good job of rescuing and rehabilitating injured animals and releasing them back into the wild.

As I mentioned, the center is also home to a number of rescued animals, including bobcats, coyotes, and even a jaguar it is one of the most ethical ways to witness these incredible animals up close

  • Entrance: Prices vary by tour
  • Hours: 9 AM – 4 PM
  • Address: 27026 N 156th St, Scottsdale, AZ 85262

19. Stroll around the Penske Racing Museum

The Penske Racing Museum is a must-see for any racing fan. The museum houses a large collection of racing memorabilia, as well as a number of race cars on display. You can also learn about the history of Penske Racing and see how the team has evolved over the years.

The museum is located in downtown Scottsdale, so it is easy to get to. It is a great place to spend an afternoon if you are looking for something to do. Admission is fairly cheap, and the museum is well worth the price.

  • Entrance: $10
  • Hours: 10 AM – 4 PM
  • Address: 7125 E Chauncey Ln, Phoenix, AZ 85054

20. Enjoy the Thursday Art Walk

The Thursday Art Walk is my favorite way to explore the art and culture scene in Scottsdale. Every Thursday the downtown area comes alive with local artists, live music, and street performers.

Many local artists will set up booths, so you can purchase some unique art to take home with you or feel free to stroll around at your own pace and just take in the sights and sounds of the city.

The Art Walk is a great event for the whole family or a solo traveler as it is easy to meet others in the area. It is completely free to attend, and it is a great way to support local artists. I highly recommend checking it out if you are in Scottsdale on a Thursday evening.

  • Entrance: Free
  • Hours: 6 PM – 9 PM
  • Address: Main Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85251, United States

21. Eat at the Famous Chula Seafood

Scottsdale is quickly becoming a foodie haven and with all types of cuisines. Chula Seafood is one of the most popular seafood places in town and honestly my favorite. The restaurant has a casual atmosphere and is only open for lunch making it a great option after spending a morning out and about.

They are most famous for their incredibly fresh poke bowls but their confit tuna sandwich is one of my personal favorites. The menu is small but everything on it is absolutely amazing making it hard to choose just one thing. I wouldn’t judge you for going back more than once…

  • Entrance: Prices vary
  • Hours: 10 AM – 6 PM
  • Address: 8015 E Roosevelt St Scottsdale 85257

22. Spend an Afternoon at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Photo: Dru Bloomfield (Flickr)

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is a great place to spend an afternoon if you are looking for something a little more lowkey. The museum features a variety of modern and contemporary art from both local and international artists.

The museum has a variety of rotating exhibitions, so there is always something new to see. I would recommend checking out their website to see what art is being featured during you time in Scottsdale. They also often have events and talks going on, so it is a great place to learn about the local art scene.

  • Entrance: $12
  • Hours: 11 AM – 5 PM
  • Address: 7374 E 2nd St, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
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23. Explore all the Chocolate in the City

Chocolates

One of the best things to do in Scottsdale and probably the tastiest is to go chocolate tasting! You will get to visit some of the best chocolate shops in the city and sample a variety of delicious sweets.

As you walk around the many stops, you can see how many chocolates you can eat in 2 hours. It is often referred to as “The Amazing Race of Chocolate”.

You will get to try everything from truffles to chocolate-covered strawberries to delicious bonbons. You’ll also learn about the history of chocolate and how it’s made.

This is a great activity for couples or groups of friends, and it’s the perfect way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

  • Entrance: $49 per person
  • Hours: 10 AM – 5 PM
  • Address: 6990 E Shea Blvd Sweet 116, Scottsdale, AZ 85254

24. Hike Pinnacle Peak Park

Pinnacle Peak Park is one of the most popular hiking trails in Arizona. The trail is relatively easy and it is a great option if you are looking for an outdoor activity that any skill level can enjoy.

The hike takes you to the top of Pinnacle Peak where you are rewarded with incredible views of the city. It is a moderate hike that should take about one to two hours to complete. Make sure to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water, as it can get pretty hot in Arizona.

  • Entrance: $6 per vehicle
  • Hours: 5 AM – 7 PM
  • Address: 24930 N Alma School Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85255

25. Go Shopping at Scottsdale Fashion Square

Scottsdale Fashion Square is the biggest shopping mall in Arizona and it is a great place to spend an afternoon if you are looking for some retail therapy. The mall features a variety of high-end stores as well as more affordable options.

It is very easy to spend a whole afternoon, not only is the mall just massive in size but there are many cafes and restaurants to spend an hour or two in. If you are visiting during the summer, make sure to go early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the heat.

  • Entrance: Free
  • Hours: 10 AM – 9 PM
  • Address: 7014 E Camelback Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Where to Stay in Scottsdale

Scottsdale is a thriving city that attracts thousands of visitors each year. As such, you can find plenty of places to stay if you know where to look.

These are my top recommendations for where to stay in Scottsdale. Whether you’re looking for a guest house or Airbnb, these are all the best places to stay in the city.

Best Motel in Scottsdale – Motel 6 Old Town

Motel 6 Old Town

When you need an affordable place to stay, you won’t find anywhere as cheap or as comfortable (for the price) as a motel. Motel 6 is located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale in Fashion Square and features comfortable air-conditioned rooms with private bathrooms. There’s an outdoor swimming pool, free parking, and laundry facilities – perfect for those visiting on a road trip.

Best Airbnb in Scottsdale – Old Town Condo

Old Town Condo

This vacation rental located in the Old Town of Scottsdale is perfect for your stay. The condo is close to all the best bars and restaurants in Old Town and it is also a short walk from Fashion Square Mall. Due to the high amount of visitors to Scottsdale over the last few years, prices of BnBs as well as hotels has been on the rise. This is the perfect option for those who aren’t wanting to break the bank but don’t want to give up on luxuries such as location and aesthetics.

Best Hotel in Scottsdale – Orange Tree Resort

Orange Tree Resort

Orange Tree Resort is one of my favorite places to stay in Scottsdale. The adobe-styled resort is perfect for those who are wanting to relax, and enjoy a glass of wine by the fire pit and an early morning round of golf all for a reasonable price. While the resort isn’t right in Old Town, it is only a ten-minute drive which I don’t mind because it is so much more peaceful and calm than being right in the heart of all the action.

Some Additional Tips for Visiting Scottsdale

Before you go buying flight tickets and booking accommodation, I have just a few more tips for visiting Scottsdale…

  • Invest in travel insurance! You never know what may happen on the road.
  • Drink a lot of water. Scottsdale is incredibly hot during the summer months and it is very easy to become dehydrated.
  • Bring a good water bottle with you and avoid buying single-use plastic ones!
  • Wear sturdy shoes. Be ready for a lot of walking, there is no shortage of things to do in Scottsdale and you will find yourself walking a lot more than you may be used to.
  • Prepare to spend cash. Scottsdale isn’t the cheapest place, and the high-end restaurants and stores have given it the name “snotsdale” because of the number of wealthy people who live here. Don’t worry, people are friendly, it’s just a nickname.
  • Check out the art galleries. There are more than 125 art galleries in Scottsdale, so art lovers… get exploring!
  • Plan your visit for the spring season. If you want to explore the best weather and you’re not fussy about when you visit, try to visit during the spring when the weather is at its most temperate.

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Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Scottsdale

Scottsdale is a beautiful city with so much to offer its visitors. From hiking and biking in the Sonoran desert to playing a round of golf at one of the many world-class courses, there is something for everyone in this vibrant city.

You can also explore the arts and culture scene, or take a day trip to one of the national parks and nature attractions outside the city. No matter what you choose to do, Scottsdale is sure to provide a memorable experience!

And while you’re planning your visit, it’s a good idea to think about some travel insurance. You never know what might happen on the road, so it’s always a good idea to get covered for peace of mind.


Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀

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