Top 10 Things to See & Do in Scottsdale

By local contributor
JoAnne Zeterberg

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned regular, there are some quintessential Scottsdale experiences you simply shouldn’t miss. So, from our wide-open expanses of the breathtaking Sonoran Desert to the quaint streets of Old Town – and everywhere in between – here are our picks for the top 10 things to see and do in Scottsdale.

 


SCOTTSDALE’S MCDOWELL SONORAN PRESERVE

McDowell

This vast urban preserve – the largest of its kind in the nation – encompasses more than 30,500 acres and boasts 225+ miles of scenic shared-use trails in the McDowell Mountain foothills for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The Gateway, one of the Preserve’s 11 trailheads, is a great place to start your explorations. Here you’ll find trails for all skill levels, from the ADA accessible Bajada Nature Trail to the calorie-busting Windgate Pass Trail.

 


OLD TOWN SCOTTSDALE

Walkable Downtown Header

Old Town's nine walkable neighborhoods offer you a variety of experiences by day and night. Discover Scottsdale’s beginnings in Historic Old Town, browse the galleries of the Arts District during the weekly ArtWalk, shop along Fifth Avenue or discover the energy of Scottsdale after dark in the Entertainment District. You can easily explore the area on foot or call on JoyRidesAZ, who offers guided tours of Old Town on street-legal golf carts.

 


FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S TALIESIN WEST

Taliesin

Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright was so captivated by the Sonoran Desert’s natural beauty and sunny climate that he chose Scottsdale as the location for his winter home and architectural school, Taliesin West. A variety of daily tours at this UNESCO Heritage Site, originally constructed in the late 1930s, offer guests an insider’s look into Wright’s ingenious designs and his ability to seamlessly blend indoor and outdoor spaces. And now, Taliesin West is more accessible than ever, following several ADA-compliant upgrades, including retrofitting existing restrooms and the addition of ramps, handrails, and accessible surfacing around the site.

 


SCOTTSDALE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

Smoca

SMoCA, an ingenious renovation of an old movie theater by architect Will Bruder, celebrates the modern art, architecture and design of our time through thought-provoking, changing exhibitions. The museum also is home to Knight Rise, a public “skyspace” by acclaimed artist James Turrell (one of only a handful in the world!).

 


SONORAN DESERT ADVENTURES

Water Sports

We may be partial, but we think Scottsdale’s great outdoors is greater than most. Our sunny skies and lush Sonoran Desert create the perfect backdrop for outdoor adventures like hot air ballooning, horseback riding, off-road tours, river rafting and more. And thanks to our professional guides and outfitters, there’s no experience required to enjoy the best outdoor activities in Scottsdale!

 


WONDERSPACES ARIZONA

Wonderspaces

Wonderspaces AZ is a fascinating exploration of the idea that art is for everyone. The captivating, interactive displays allow you to experience art through sight, touch, sound, movement and even virtual reality. Exhibitions change frequently, so there’s always something new to explore at Wonderspaces!

 


WESTERN SPIRIT: SCOTTSDALE’S MUSEUM OF THE WEST

Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West

Have you ever dreamed of being a cowboy? If so, you’ll feel right at home inside this Old Town gem that celebrates the pioneer spirit of the American West through changing exhibitions of fine art, rare historic artifacts and cultural treasures. Don’t miss the Abe Hays Family Spirit of the West Collection, which features a Western-town ambiance and themes like Wild West shows, saloons, working cowboys, and outlaws and lawmen.

 


MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MUSEUM

MIM

Discover unique instruments and music from around the world at MIM, the world's only global musical instrument museum. High-tech headphones and multi-media displays immerse you in global musical traditions, while the hands-on Experience Gallery lets aspiring musicians of all ages try their hand at instruments like guitars, gongs and gamelans.

 


DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN

Desert Botanical Garden

The Garden’s five paved thematic trails introduce you to thousands of arid-land plants from around the world, as well as changing exhibits of large-scale art. Must-see events at the Garden include Las Noches de las Luminarias, the Music in the Garden concert series and summer Flashlight Nights. Be sure to browse the unique gifts at the Garden Shop and check out the seasonally inspired lunch and dinner options at Gertrude's.

 


SCOTTSDALE GOLF

Golf Diversity

Scottsdale is known as "The World's Finest Golf Destination," and it's easy to see why when you consider the city's roster of luxury resorts, 330 days of annual sunshine and high-caliber courses like TPC Scottsdale, Troon North and Grayhawk. Top it all off with stellar dining and nightlife scenes, exciting desert adventures and a boatload of top-notch attractions, and you'd be hard pressed to find a more welcoming place to enjoy the round of a lifetime.