Located in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and surrounded by breathtaking mountain views, Scottsdale is a stunning town filled with endless opportunities for fun and relaxation.
It is best known for its vibrant nightlife, luxurious resorts and spas, trendy boutiques, and renowned golf courses, making it a desert paradise for travelers. But what if you want to experience a little more than just the typical vacation activities?
The ‘Valley of the Sun’ is also home to some of the best things to do in Arizona. From outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and stargazing to cultural attractions such as art galleries, museums, and wine tasting, you’ll never run out of exciting activities to fill your day.
So here are 39 exciting ideas to shake things up on your next visit to Scottsdale.
1. Stroll Historic Old Town Scottsdale
Old West meets New West in Scottsdale’s lively old town. You’ll find everything from Old West–themed boutiques and art venues to nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and galleries here.
The heart of the center is a grassy 21-acre Scottsdale Civic Center Park with an amphitheater, flower gardens, and fountains.
Even if you’re not into shopping, the amphitheater often hosts free live music events of singing cowboys on horseback and Native American performers. This makes for a fun ‘Arizona-style’ experience.
You can also see Robert Indiana’s iconic Love sculpture on the lawn and other public artworks. If you want to explore Old Town in an unconventional way, hop on a guided segway tour.
The tour includes an exploration of historic landmarks like Rusty Spur Saloon and Old Adobe Mission, stunning natural views of Camelback Mountain, and the Scottsdale Waterfront.
2. Dive into Scottsdale Cultural Scene at ArtWalk
Every Thursday evening from 7 – 9 pm, the Scottsdale ArtWalk takes place in the Art District along Main Street.
You can wander into galleries and enjoy dramatic statues, fountains, tree-covered courtyards, restaurants, and live music. All ArtWalk cultural activities are free.
For an extra dose of fun, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, golf cart, or trolley ride to explore the Art District.
3. Float in the Sky with Hot Air Balloon Ride
You will need to be prepared to wake up very early, especially during the summer months, but the payoff of watching the sunrise from the sky is more than worth the effort.
Hot Air Expeditions is a wonderful company that takes care of all your needs from pickup to drop off. One of the pilots, Tommy, has been with the company for 20 years and masterfully guides the balloon through the Arizona skies.
It’s exciting to watch the balloon being filled and even more exciting to scramble into the basket for takeoff. Afterward, you are treated to a champagne toast and light breakfast before the tour ends.
4. Sip Your Way Through Scottsdale Wine Trail
The Scottsdale Wine Trail includes seven wineries:
- Arizona Stronghold Vineyards
- Aridus Wine Company
- Carlson Creek
- LDV Winery
- Merkin Vineyards
- Salvatore Vineyards
- The Wine Collective of Scottsdale.
Visitors can purchase the passport for $5.00 at any of the participating wineries. Passport holders will receive $2.00 off a wine tasting at each location.
What is interesting about wineries in Arizona is that many of them have tasting rooms in larger cities like Scottsdale. You can easily walk to several wineries and sample their wines without having to get into a car.
Wineries like Merkin Vineyards have a restaurant in Scottsdale so that you can enjoy wine pairings with delicious food. Arizona wine may not be as well known as Napa wine, but the industry is thriving, and the wines are fantastic.
James Beard award-winning restaurant FnB is a proud supporter of Arizona wine, and the majority of its wine list is dedicated to the state’s vintages. My personal favorites are from Los Millics Vineyard, Dos Cabeazas WineWorks, and Arizona Stronghold.
5. Kayak the Lower Salt River
A quick drive out of Scottsdale leads you to a completely different landscape, but one you will want to spend a few hours in! The Salt River is an absolute refuge from the heat, and kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, or tubing is the perfect way to cool off.
I did a private tour with Andrew from REI Co-op, and it was a relaxing way to spend a few hours away from the urban city. It feels like an entirely different part of Arizona when you are out on the river. I was lucky enough to spot some wild horses during my tour, but there is plenty of wildlife and vegetation to discover along the way.
The tour includes the kayak rental, life jacket, bottled water, snacks, dry bag, and national forest entry fees.
6. Spend the Night Stargazing at the Four Seasons
When visiting Scottsdale, staying at the impressive Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale is always a good idea. The resort is located 30 minutes north of Old Town Scottsdale and is surprisingly intimate. Hotel guests are treated to many different options on the guest activity calendar, but one of the best options, in my opinion, is the Stargazing evening.
A NASA Solar System Ambassador will guide you through 90 minutes of exploring the stars, galaxies, and, if you are lucky, a supernova. It is an evening full of education, and you will be mesmerized by what you discover.
The telescope is projected onto a computer screen which allows everyone to view the subjects easily, but it also allows them to be zoomed in for an incredible sight.
You must be a hotel guest to attend, but the accommodations and the stargazing are a magical combination.
7. Explore Modern Mid-Century Architecture at Hotel Valley Ho
Hotel Valley Ho in Old Town Scottsdale is full of history, and Ace Bailey, President of Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours, runs a fascinating tour of the hotel’s modern mid-century modern architecture. Hotel Valley Ho has been a Downtown Scottsdale landmark since 1956.
The tour starts in the lobby and progresses throughout the hotel as Ace shares some fascinating stories from the early days of the hotel and points out some key architectural features. The view from the roof is spectacular, and the second-floor walls are lined with celebrity memorabilia.
After your tour, enjoy brunch at Zuzu and people-watch at the main outdoor pool next to the patio!
8. Hike up Pinnacle Peak
Are you up for a hiking challenge? If so, then hike or bike up Pinnacle Peak for a 3½-mile moderately challenging round-trip hike. Allocate about 2 – 2.5 hrs with short breaks here and there because of steep sections.
The trail is well-maintained and has good signage. You’ll see plenty of towering saguaros on the way.
There’s no shade, so the best time to go is in the early morning or late afternoon when it’s cooler. Pack some water and snacks, put on a baseball cap, and you’re ready to go.
Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views. Take in the scenery before heading down.
If you are staying at the luxurious Four Seasons Resort, you can walk straight from your hotel room or go with a guide from the resort on the days it falls on the guest activity calendar.
9. Enjoy Arizona Fare at FnB
The James Beard award-winning restaurant, FnB, is a staple in Scottsdale, and you would be remiss to not visit at least once during your stay. The food is so good you won’t want to stop eating, and the wine list is full of Arizona wines. FnB supports local farmers and vineyards, and the chef is known for her delectable vegetable creations.
The restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday and will be closed July 7-31.
10. Go on a Shopping Spree at Scottsdale Fashion Square
When the heat hits, you can find a good refuge in the air-conditioned Fashion Square Mall.
Fashion Square Mall has over 200 stores to keep your hands and eyes busy.
You can find an impressive list of luxury boutiques, trendy shops, a movie theater, and plenty of food to keep you entertained for hours.
11. Hop on a Train at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Scottsdale with kids, head to McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
The main attraction is a train ride on a one-mile loop through a desert landscape of an arboretum.
The park also features a beautifully restored 1950s vintage carousel and multiple playgrounds.
After the ride, you can pop into a general store for a scoop of ice cream, browse the gift shop, visit the museum, or chill in the grass under the tree.
The Scottsdale railroad museum includes exhibits of antique engines and train cars, such as the Pullman car and the “Merci Train,” donated by France to thank Americans for their aid after World War II.
Visiting McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a fun activity for an entire family. Plus the ticket price is very reasonable.
12. Marvel at the Impressive Architecture of Taliesin West
Scottsdale’s artistic scene goes back to the 1930s when architect Frank Lloyd Wright built his winter home at Taliesin West. The home is an architectural masterpiece that blends Frank Lloyd Wright’s trademark techniques and design with the desert landscape.
Tour this UNESCO World Heritage and National Landmark, which is still a working architecture school and home to members of the Wright Foundation. Wright’s use of local sand, gravel, and stone creates the impression that the building emerged from the ground.
Taliesin West’s activities open to the public range from one-hour audio walking tours around the premises to various programs, film screenings, lectures, and signature experiences.
13. Horse Ride Through the Desert at MacDonald’s Ranch
Get a taste of Arizona’s authentic cowboy culture at MacDonald’s Ranch. The ranch has a long history of providing Western adventures since 1970. This family-run business offers between one and two-hour trail rides or guided dinner rides through the Sonoran desert foothills above Scottsdale.
The moonlight or sunset horseback rides are especially magical. Horses are beautiful and well looked after. The scenery is breathtaking, with exotic cacti and other desert plants. After your ride, you can check out the ranch’s petting zoo and a fun western-themed town setting to explore or take pictures.
If you happen to be in Scottsdale in Fall, you should definitely visit the Ranch’s pumpkin patch and enjoy other fun fall activities.
14. Find a Sense of Wonder at Butterfly Wonderland
Experience an exotic adventure without leaving town by visiting the rainforest-themed Butterfly Wonderland. Inside, you’ll be surrounded by more than a thousand free-flying colorful butterflies.
This largest butterfly pavilion in the United States allows you to have a close-up view of butterflies in a temperature-controlled rainforest environment.
Besides butterflies, the wonderland also has a honeybee exhibit, a reptile section, a live ant colony, and a 3-D theater.
15. Admire Exotic Cacti at Desert Botanical Garden
Visit the Desert Botanical Garden and marvel at thousands of cacti, agaves, shrubs, trees, and colorful wildflowers. It’s a great way to get familiar with the local desert plants.
Plan to come early in the day or late in the evening when the sunlight is at its best.
Visiting in springtime means all the wildflowers are in full bloom. Be sure to check out the butterfly exhibit.
There’s an on-site café and gift shop, and twice a year, the garden holds plant sales.
The Botanical Garden has a long history dating back to 1939. Since then, it has evolved beyond the world’s largest collection of desert plants to a popular tourist attraction in Phoenix.
It hosts many events ranging from spring concerts, flashlight nights to workshops and arts festivals throughout the year.
A popular event is the annual Las Noches de las Luminarias in the winter when the garden lights up with dozens of lights.
16. Get Active at McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a must-see place in Scottsdale. The preserve protects 21 400 acres of lush and mountainous desert.
There are many hikes to explore, but the Gateway Loop is the main hiking trail (4.4 miles). It’s a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, so it’s best to get there early. The parking lot tends to fill by 9 or 10 am in the cool months.
Also, the Gateway trail is quite rocky, so wear hiking shoes. You’ll work some sweat off, but the scenery is breathtaking, so definitely worth the effort.
Also, McDowell offers some of Arizona’s best mountain biking and climbing.
17. Explore Marine Life at OdySea Aquarium
If you want an entertaining indoor activity to cool off on a hot day, visit OdySea Aquarium. The aquarium is home to thousands of marine animals, including sea turtles, jellyfish, stingrays, sharks, otters, and more.
You can even have a close encounter with African penguins or sloths.
A highlight of this aquarium is the Voyager, a relaxing rotating theater. You can enjoy beautiful views of the sea life in their underwater escalator.
Kids love the section where you can touch stingrays.
18. Get Your Adrenaline Boost Go-Karting at Octane Raceway
Experience heart-pounding fun at the Octane Raceway. Octane offers exhilarating indoor and outdoor go-kart racing, with karts that can reach a speed of up to 45 mph.
Besides racing, you can try axe throwing, arcade, and velocity VR. After getting your adrenaline boost, refuel at their grill with Happy Hour.
19. Tune into the World of Music at Musical Instrument Museum
Exploring the Musical Instrument Museum is like embarking on a cultural adventure through the world of music. You can try a variety of musical instruments, admire iconic electric guitars, and enjoy a concert or workshop.
You’ll get a pair of wireless headphones that play the audio accompanying each display at entry.
As you approach each exhibit, your headphones play samples of ethnic, folk, and tribal music, from an African village celebration to a Chinese opera or an American jazz performance.
The exhibits feature everything from photographs, colorful clothing, and instruments with detailed musical history from 200 countries and territories. The impressive collection is packed with 15,000 instruments and historical artifacts, such as the Chinese paigu drum dating to 5000 BC.
It’s a truly visually and sonically pleasing experience.
There’s also a coffee shop for quick snacks and a museum shop filled with books, CDs, and instruments.
20. Watch the Art of Making Bells at Cosanti
Cosanti is the former home and workshop of Paolo Soleri, an Italian architect who moved to Scottsdale. Today Cosanti continues Soleri’s legacy as an art gallery and workshop, reflecting many of his environment-friendly design theories.
The main attraction is the bronze or ceramic wind chimes and bells displayed in Solari’s original subterranean Earth House. Guided tours are available. The guide will walk you through Paolo Soleri’s fascinating design studio and residential grounds.
You can even watch the artisans pour bronze bells in a bronze foundry using the original Cosanti techniques. If you like, you can buy the bells, which make for a perfect souvenir.
21. Take Cool Photos at Wonderspaces Arizona
Wonderspaces Arizona is an amazing place to get your creative juices flowing. Every art installation is immersive and interactive. The exhibits rotate, so you can visit the art shows multiple times and still experience something new.
It’s easy to lose track of time here because each piece is super captivating. So if you’re looking for unique things to do in Scottsdale, add Wonderspaces to your itinerary.
22. Embrace Western Spirit at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
Scottsdale is full of cutting-edge museums, and Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is no exception. If you’re a fan of Western, Native American culture or anything Cowboy-related, you’ll love this museum.
At the entrance, you’ll receive a sheriff’s badge sticker to wear for your visit. They have tons of Western-themed exhibits divided into two floors and different sections.
The museum features various cowboy gear, from spurs, lassos, and saddles to chaps. The Native American sculptures and photos are also remarkable. So if you’re into the Wild West, this is your place to go.
23. Have a Round of Golf with Desert Vistas
If you’re an avid golfer, don’t miss the chance to tee off at one of Scottsdale’s golf courses.
Scottsdale is known for its world-class golf courses.
There are many options to choose from:
- Camelback Golf Club (18-hole)
- Grayhawk Golf Club (36-hole)
- Papago Golf Club (18-hole)
- Troon North Golf Club (2×18-hole)
These courses offer some of Scottsdale’s stunning desert landscapes and views, making for an enjoyable golf outing.
24. Check Out Racing Cars at Penske Racing Museum
Penske Racing Museum is a great option if you’re after free things to do in Scottsdale. The museum is located near the border between Phoenix and North Scottsdale.
Although the collection of racing cars is relatively small, the museum is very well designed. It showcases Indy, Nascar, and F1 race cars, engines, and other memorabilia.
You can also tour the adjacent high-end car dealership. So if you like luxury cars or just want to get a peak at a Bugatti, it’s a lot of fun.
25. Fill Up Your Belly at Old Town Farmers Market
The Scottsdale farmers market runs on Saturdays from 8 am to 1 pm.
You’ll find a wide variety of local produce, artisan bread, homemade products, cosmetics, new-age items, pet supplies, and much more here. So you definitely won’t leave empty-handed.
They also have food stalls for coffee, smoothies, and breakfast/lunch options. The atmosphere is vibrant with good music. It’s a great way to support local vendors while enjoying the weekend stroll in Old Town.
26. Experience Life as a Cowboy at Arizona Cowboy College
Scottsdale has a reputation as the “West’s Most Western Town.” That means plenty of dude ranches, cowboy-boot outfitters, horseback riding, and even a Cowboy College.
The college offers a cowboy school where you can learn all things cowboy.
The course studies are both theoretical and practical. During the 4-day retreat, you’ll get a chance to become a real ranch cowboy at a working cattle ranch. You’ll have the experience of a lifetime, eating and sleeping under the stars and learning the trade of a real cowboy.
The college also provides riding lessons, kids camp, and guided horseback rides.
27. Have a Blast at Arizona Boardwalk
Arizona Boardwalk is a great choice if you’re looking for fun things to do in Scottsdale with kids.
The boardwalk is the entertainment epicenter of Scottsdale. The area is packed with fun attractions for all ages, such as an aquarium, a dinosaur exhibit, and a mirror maze.
All the attractions are centered around a beautiful courtyard, an ideal place to hang out. You can shop, eat and play here all day long. There are also plenty of free events that take place. A popular one is a foam party.
28. Take a Jeep Ride in the Sonoran Desert
Join a jeep tour from Scottsdale and explore the wild landscapes of the Sonoran Desert. Your guide will take you off-road to amazing spots like Tonto National Forest and Pinnacle Peak Park.
The highlight of this tour is a panoramic sunset view over the Sonoran Desert. You’ll learn about the area’s wildlife and history and enjoy all the sights up close.
The tour begins in the afternoon and includes round-trip transportation from Scottsdale, making it a super convenient and fun adventure.
29. See a Sunset like Never Before at SMoCA
The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (SMoCA) is the city’s finest example of contemporary architecture. The museum specializes in modern art, architecture, and design, with installations changing every few months.
The permanent installation, Knight Rise, is a favorite place to watch a sunset. The round window in the ceiling creates an interesting visual effect of the sunset sky.
There’s also a nice museum store for unusual jewelry, stationery, posters, and art books.
30. Step Back in Time with Medieval Times Scottsdale
Looking for unique things to do in Scottsdale? How about watching a medieval tournament paired with a delicious dinner? You can experience what life was like in medieval times right here in Scottsdale.
Medieval Times Scottsdale will take you back to the days of knights, tournaments, and dinner feasts. You’ll witness a knighting ceremony, an authentic jousting tournament with brave knights and stunning horses.
The medieval show lasts two hours, and the dinner menu includes garlic bread, tomato soup, roasted chicken, herb potatoes, dessert, coffee, and two rounds of select non-alcoholic drinks.
31. Go on an ATV Adventure
Venture out on an ATV tour and explore the Sonoran Desert. A knowledgeable guide will take you on the best ATV trails in the area. After a safety briefing and a short ATV driving lesson, you can enjoy the ride and make new friends. You can choose between a leisurely or extreme ride.
What a fun way to explore the vastness of the desert and all the desert fauna!
33. Pamper Yourself at Phoenician Spa
Not all things to do in Scottsdale need to be packed with action. In some cases, the perfect day can just be all about relaxation. If you need to unwind, treat yourself to a wellness ritual at the Phoenician Spa. It’s one of the best spas in Scottsdale.
The luxurious Phoenician Resort elevates your spa experience to another level.
You can try a variety of spa treatments available, such as scrubs, massages, wraps, Himalayan salt stone rituals, or facials. Spend a few hours pampering yourself and enjoy luxurious Phoenician amenities, including a spa rooftop pool and saunas.
The spa takes a holistic approach and uses a wide selection of essential oils to stimulate your senses.
34. Join a Legendary Party Bike on a Pub Crawl
Are you in the mood for a drink or two? Then join the legendary Party Bike Pub Crawl.
On this two-hour pub crawl, you can hop on board the party bike and cruise around the old town. The pub crawl includes visits to three bars – Rockbar Inc, Boondocks Patio & Grill, and Pattie’s First Avenue Lounge.
You’ll enjoy exclusive drink specials at each stop, making it an unforgettable night out in Scottsdale. Get ready for shots, flatbreads, happy hour drinks, and fun times.
With a few stories shared along the way, this pub crawl is perfect if you want to spice things up and try something new.
35. Venture out to Apache Trail and Superstition Mountains
Head for the hills on the guided Apache Trail hike, which leads through the fabled Superstition Mountains and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. Part of the experience is visiting Goldfield Ghost Mining Town, an authentic ghost town featured in many Western movies.
And yes, the snacks are included too.
36. Satisfy Your Sweettooth at Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor
Eating at the Sugar Bowl feels like stepping back in time to the nostalgic 1950s. This iconic ice cream shop is decorated with beautiful pink chairs and booths. And the best part is 75% of the menu is desserts!
The ice cream treats are a real deal. With so many flavors to choose from, you won’t be able to resist having a few scoops.
Try a classic banana split and signature sundaes. Have a shake, malt, or a refreshing float. You’ll also find savory options like sandwiches, salads, and soups.
So if you’re on the hunt for a treat in Scottsdale, the Sugar Bowl is definitely worth the visit.
37. Catch a Baseball Game at Scottsdale Stadium
If you’re a baseball fan, you can catch the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium battling one of the other MLB teams on the field, including the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, and hometown Arizona Diamondbacks.
If you’re in Scottsdale in October, you can watch the Scottsdale Scorpions take the field during the Arizona Fall League, which showcases the MLB’s top minor-league prospects.
38. Sample Local Delicacies with Arizona Food Tours
For food tours in Scottsdale, I recommend Arizona Food Tours. You’ll find yourself on a special culinary adventure that will take you to some of the city’s top restaurants and interesting local eateries.
You can choose between the Old Town lunch or the Happy Hour tour. You’ll savor delicious meals from 4-5 restaurants. The tour also includes some alcoholic beverages.
39. Say Hi to Animals at Southwest Wildlife Conservation
The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center is a must-visit destination for animal lovers. This non-profit wildlife rescue was created to help rehabilitate, protect, and conserve wildlife.
Most of the injured and orphaned animals are returned back to their natural habitat in the wild once they’re in good shape.
At the center, you can see animals such as wolves, bobcats, mountain lions, bears, coyotes, foxes, and more. They’re well looked after by the keepers. It’s a great educational experience and one of the best things to do in Scottsdale.
Final Thoughts on Fun Things to Do in Scottsdale
Scottsdale is a great place to visit, with plenty of fun activities for all ages.
Whether you’re looking for some family entertainment or want to explore the city’s history and culture, there are plenty of exciting things to do in Scottsdale.
Blend the exotic desert landscape with a warm climate and colorful cultural traditions, and you have a place where even locals live like they’re on a year-round vacation.
Continue reading to get some more inspiration for things to do in Arizona.
Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, FOX, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more. When she’s not traveling, she can be found at hockey arenas all over BC cheering on her two young sons.