12 Best Things to Do in Scottsdale, AZ (with Photos)

As it is one of the wealthier parts of the Greater Phoenix Area, Scottsdale is often referred to as ‘The Beverly Hills of the Desert’. With countless high-end hotels, gourmet restaurants and golf courses, the city has much more going for it and is a popular destination thanks to its year-round warm weather and wealth of tourist attractions.

Billing itself as ‘The West’s Most Western Town’, it has various museums, ranches and historic parks relating to its American West identity, as well as an atmospheric, if touristy, Old Town. In addition to its excellent art galleries and interesting architectural marvels, there is also some superb upscale shopping, dining and nightlife to be had in the city.

On top of all of these things to do in Scottsdale, the sublime scenery and landscapes of the Sonoran Desert lie on its northern outskirts, should you want to escape the center of town for a bit and enjoy the great outdoors.

12. Penske Racing Museum

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Home to an incredible collection of shiny cars, trophies and racing memorabilia, the phenomenal Penske Racing Museum lies just twenty minutes’ drive north of downtown. Its artifacts and exhibits offer a fascinating look into the origins, evolution and achievements of one of the most successful sporting dynasties around.

Opened in 2002, its amazing set of twenty or so cars, innumerable engines and pieces of equipment occupy a sparkling showroom that is part of a colossal complex of car dealerships. Here you can delve into Team Penske’s more than fifty years of racing experience, which impressively includes over 500 major race wins and forty hard-fought championships.

Besides seeing its historic winning cars, you can also peruse artworks and exhibits on the team or buy some merchandise from its store.

11. Cosanti

Cosanti© dreamstime

Nestled away in Paradise Valley you can find the utterly unique and imaginative concrete structures of Cosanti; the former gallery, studio and home of renowned architect Paolo Soleri. The unusual yet intriguing architecture acted as the prototype for the experimental Arcosanti village he later created in the desolate high desert to the north of Scottsdale.

The former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Soleri first started testing his innovative ‘earth-casting’ technique in 1956 alongside other hand-crafted works of art. At the sprawling Cosanti site, guests can explore his delightfully designed buildings and learn about the philosophy and practices behind his work.

Hanging up are hundreds of his distinctive bronze and ceramic bells with tours taking you around the original ‘Earth House’ and its surrounding outdoor studios, performance spaces and pool.

10. MacDonald’s Ranch

MacDonald's Ranch© dreamstime

If you’re after the great outdoors and horseback riding, then you’ll certainly want to head to MacDonald’s Ranch. Situated in the Sonoran Desert, just to the north of Scottsdale, the sizeable stable has all kinds of fun ‘Wild West’ experiences and cowboy-related activities for visitors to enjoy.

Since first opening to the public in 1970, the ranch has been wildly popular with families, thanks to its epic horseback rides through the scenic desert. Nowadays, it also offers relaxing hayrides and thrilling stagecoach rides, while its delicious cowboy cookouts have tasty steaks and succulent corn on the cob. Young ones can explore its pumpkin patch and petting zoo or pan for gold and play on the pedal cars.

9. OdySea Aquarium

OdySea Aquarium© dreamstime

The largest aquarium in the southwest, OdySea boasts a staggering array of sea creatures with huge shoals of shimmering fish also on display. Located just ten minutes’ drive north of the center, it has a whole host of enormous aquaria and interesting educational exhibits to check out with interactive animal encounters also on offer.

In total, more than 6,000 animals reside within its tanks and pools with the state-of-the-art aquarium only having opened in 2016. Among its 370 species are sharks and stingrays, otters and penguins with even two-toed sloths and tropical birds being on show.

Besides seeing amazing marine animals from all around the globe, you can meet playful penguins and stroke peaceful rays or try out the unforgettable Voyager – ‘the world’s only rotating aquarium experience’.

8. Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland© dreamstime

Just around the corner from the aquarium is yet another of the city’s major tourist attractions: the idyllic and aptly-named Butterfly Wonderland. Also set on the land of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, its extensive indoor rainforest contains thousands of beautiful butterflies as well as steamy sections dedicated to insects, reptiles and tropical fish.

Impressively enough, it is the largest butterfly conservatory in the country with more than seventy species to be spotted sipping nectar, basking in the sun or fluttering about among the lush foliage and dense vegetation. At the site, guests can learn all about the colorful creatures, see them emerge from their cocoons and watch a magical ‘Flight of the Butterflies’ film in its 3D theater.

7. Museum of the West

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Lying right in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, the Museum of the West celebrates and showcases the rich history, culture and nature of the American West. A fascinating place to explore, its galleries are jam-packed with awe-inspiring artifacts, artworks and exhibits that shine a light on the heritage of nineteen different states, including both Alaska and Hawaii.

Since opening in 2015, the museum has attracted droves of visitors thanks to its sleek design, well-presented displays and comprehensive collection of everything to do with the West. You can see fantastic Hopi pottery and historic paintings and photos laid out next to cowboy hats, saddles, spurs and lassos.

In addition, there is also a courtyard full of superb sculptures to see and a multi-sensory, multimedia theatre that puts on shows and performances by Western artists.

6. McDowell Sonoran Preserve

McDowell Sonoran Preserve© dreamstime

After having learnt all there is to know about the American West, you will almost certainly want to venture out and explore some of its famously harsh and unforgiving landscapes yourself. One of the best places to visit is the magnificent McDowell Sonoran Preserve that lies on the northeastern outskirts of the city, just half an hour’s drive from the center.

The largest urban nature reserve in the States, it sprawls across a huge area with its desolate desert environment encompassing rugged rock formations, low-lying mountains and vast tracts of prickly cacti. In total, it remarkably has nearly 180 miles of tantalizing trails to hike, bike or horseback ride along with running, rock climbing and wildlife watching also being popular pastimes.

5. Fashion Square

Fashion Square© dreamstime

Consistently ranked among the biggest and best malls in the country, the enormous, upscale Fashion Square can be found right in the city center. One of the best spots to shop, dine and go out in town, it has over 240 specialty stores and restaurants for you to try out with a massive movie theater also being located on-site.

Very popular with locals and tourists alike, Arizona’s largest shopping center was first opened back in 1961 with numerous expansions and renovations having taken place over the years. Anchored by Nordstrum, Neiman Marcus and Macy’s, among others, its sleekly designed shops sell everything you could ever want, from home decor items and beauty products to high fashion, phones and footwear.

After having shopped til you drop, you can stop off for a coffee or meal at one of its cafes and restaurants or stroll past the exquisite murals and sculptures of its Art Walk.

4. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park© dreamstime

Just five minutes’ drive further north from Fashion Square you can find the fun and family-friendly McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park. Aside from its interactive museum and working gauge railway, it has playgrounds, picnic areas and lovely green spaces, with everything relating to trains, tracks and transportation.

Originally called the ‘Paradise & Pacific Railroad’, its narrow gauge railway replica was first opened up to guests in 1971 with many more attractions and exhibits springing up in the following decades. While riding on vintage steam locomotives is still the park’s main highlight, it also has massive model railway sets and all kinds of old trains, artifacts and displays on the history of the railroad to check out.

3. Pinnacle Peak Park

Pinnacle Peak Park© dreamstime

Home to stunning landscapes, Pinnacle Peak rises up dramatically above the Sonoran Desert. Now protected as part of a park, the mighty mount lies half an hour’s drive north of downtown. Its rugged, rocky confines offer up some outstanding outdoor activities and divine views over Scottsdale.

Reaching 3,169 feet in height, the conical-shaped peak has numerous trails to hike along that weave their way here and there about the boulder-strewn mountainside. While navigating the steepish, sun-scorched paths, keep an eye out for local wildlife; coyotes, mountain lions, snakes and reptiles all reside within the park. Besides rock climbing and rappelling up and down its craggy cliff face, visitors can stop off for a picnic or bask in the breathtaking panoramas from its summit.

2. Taliesin West

Taliesin West© dreamstime

Once the winter home, studio and even school of Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin West provides an excellent insight into the genius of the renowned architect. Now a National Historical Monument, the captivating complex of buildings is situated in a scenic spot amid the foothills of the McDowell Range, surrounded by the desolate Sonoran Desert.

Built between 1937 and 1940, the sprawling campus and the distinctive design of its buildings were inspired by their natural surroundings. A brilliant example of organic architecture, they incorporate lots of natural light and local materials, as well as shapes and structures found in the desert.

As it is still a working university and the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Taliesin West can only be visited as part of a tour around his private residence, the Music Pavilion and Cabaret Theater among other sites.

1. Old Town Scottsdale

Old Town Scottsdale© dreamstime

Packed with shops, restaurants, bars and art galleries, Old Town Scottsdale is certainly the heart and soul of life in the city. Located right in the center of town, the atmospheric Wild West-themed area has a lively yet laid back feel with its innumerable attractions and establishments almost certain to appeal to everyone.

While some interesting sights and historic buildings are dotted about, most of its saloons, souvenir shops and restaurants play on Scottsdale’s billing as ‘The West’s Most Western Town’. Besides all its cowboy-themed eateries and Native American art galleries, you can, however, find chic boutiques and trendy nightclubs with a fantastic weekly farmers’ market also taking place.

In addition, it hosts the delightful Scottsdale Artwalk with several sculptures and art installations being scattered about its bustling streets.

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