If your Scottsdale vacation is a family affair, get ready to create some wonderful new memories with these kid-tested (and parent-approved) activities that are great fun for all ages.
Scottsdale’s Sonoran Desert is a scenic natural playground that’s just waiting to be explored. Jeep tours, guided hikes, horseback rides, kayaking trips and river floats are just some of ways you can experience the desert. The Bajada Nature Trail at the Gateway Trailhead in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a perfect introduction to the Sonoran Desert. Interpretive displays along the trail introduce young explorers to a variety of plants and animals that call the desert home. This trail also is stroller-friendly, making it ideal for families with small children.
One of Scottsdale’s most popular attractions for families, the Musical Instrument Museum showcases unique instruments and music from around the world. High-tech headphones and multi-media displays immerse you in global musical traditions, while the hands-on Experience Gallery lets kids of all ages try their hand at instruments like guitars, gongs and gamelans. Don’t miss the Collier STEM Gallery, which explores the science behind your favorite instruments and how humans experience sound.
The desert comes alive along the Desert Botanical Garden’s five themed trails, which explore topics like Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert, Desert Wildflowers and Desert Living. Twice each year (spring and fall), the Garden’s Butterfly Pavilion welcomes guests to mingle with more than 2,000 butterflies that are native to the Southwestern United States. Special events and activities geared toward families also are offered through the year – be sure to check the Desert Botanical Garden’s website for updates!
Feed a giraffe. Touch a stingray. Ride a camel. It’s all in a day’s play at the Phoenix Zoo! The zoo is home to more than 3,000 animals from nearly 400 different species and is one of the largest non-profit zoos in the country. If this is your first visit, start with a 25-minute tour on the Safari Cruiser for a fun, fully narrated excursion past many of the Zoo’s most popular animals, encounters and experiences. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Endangered Species Carousel for your chance to ride a lion, elephant, rhino or sea dragon!
The Southwest’s largest aquarium takes you on a one-of-a-kind voyage through the rivers and oceans of the world. You’ll see thousands of sea creatures, including sharks, penguins, sea turtles and exotic fish. This state-of-the-art aquarium includes touch pools, SeaTrek™ underwater ocean walking, and the OdySea Voyager, an interactive experience in the world’s only revolving aquarium.
Saddle-up, friends! It’s time to explore the Sonoran Desert like the cowboys did – from the back of a trusty steed! MacDonald’s Ranch offers horseback rides for first-time and experienced riders alike. Ranch guests also can enjoy stagecoach rides, a petting zoo, yard games and pony rides for buckaroos 10 and younger. For the full cowboy experience, check out the Ranch’s seasonal cookouts, which include a horseback ride or hayride followed by a sunset dinner, bonfire and live entertainment..
No trip to Old Town Scottsdale is complete without a visit to the Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor & Restaurant. Since 1958 the Sugar Bowl has been serving up classic American comfort food and cool ice cream treats form its bubblegum-pink storefront on Scottsdale Road. Stop by for a cheeseburger or classic PB&J and finish off your meal with one of the Sugar Bowl’s decadent desserts like the classic Tin Roof Sundae. Don’t miss the original drawings from Family Circus creator Bil Keane that adorn the restaurant’s walls.
When it comes to fun things to do with young kids in Scottsdale, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park ranks as one of the best! The kiddos will love riding the 1/12-scale Paradise and Pacific Railroad along its one-mile track. The park also offers playgrounds, picnic areas, model railroad exhibits and an old-fashioned carousel. And if you happen to be in town over the holidays, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park turns into a winter wonderland of lights and displays.
Have any budding artists in your family? Swing by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) and spend some time exploring compelling art and design exhibitions from around the world. Eye-catching, and frequently interactive, exhibits stimulate the imagination and encourage creativity in artists of all ages. Be sure to stop by James Turrell’s “Kight Rise” skyspace installation at SMoCA for a unique view of the desert sky and ever-changing light.
Rounding out our list of fun activities for kids is Butterfly Wonderland, one of the city’s most popular places for families to visit. Thousands of colorful butterflies fly free in the lush rainforest environs of the Conservatory – the largest of its kind in the nation! You’ll be captivated by the 3D movie “Flight of the Monarchs,” as well as the Emergence Gallery, where new butterflies emerge from the chrysalis. Other live-nature exhibits include honeybee hives, a stingray touch tack and rainforest reptiles.
Looking for more ideas? Check out the Scottsdale Kids’ List as well as this story on the Top Things for Teens to do in Scottsdale. And when all this exploring works up an appetite – don’t miss these great places to eat with kids!