Things to Do in Scottsdale: Live Like a Local and Uncover Hidden Gems

Discover the enchanting charm of Scottsdale, Arizona’s premier vacation haven! Experience luxury, culture, and nature in one unforgettable journey. Perfect for adventurers and leisure-seekers alike, uncover Scottsdale’s secrets for a trip filled with wonder and excitement.

Keep reading to uncover the best things to do in Scottsdale AZ.

Embrace the allure of Scottsdale, where captivating desert landscapes and a wealth of outdoor activities meet the luxurious vibrancy of Arizona’s premier vacation destination! As the West’s most western town, Scottsdale also offers a blend of thriving arts and culture that’s as grand as its sweeping vistas. For nature lovers, discover a world of adventure dotted with hiking trails leading to stunning views. Then, unwind in high-end resorts after a fulfilling journey.

So without further ado, here are the best things to do in Scottsdale for an unforgettable trip that truly captures its essence.

The Best Things to Do in Scottsdale Arizona

McDowell Sonoran Preserve

When considering things to do in Scottsdale AZ, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is not to be missed. Imagine yourself surrounded by towering Saguaro cacti, their spiny arms reaching towards the limitless sky, a vibrant carpet of wildflowers coloring the ground under your feet. This is the reality when you set foot in this 30,000-acre preserve. The dramatic mountain ranges that frame the horizon punctuate the untrammeled beauty of this vast wilderness.

Both mystical and humbling, the natural grandeur of the preserve makes it one of the best places to really understand and appreciate the spirit of Scottsdale. A visit to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is an invitation to immerse yourself in the nature and soul of the desert city, making it an experience you definitely won’t want to miss on your itinerary.

cacti and plants in the desert with mountains in background at sunset with clouds at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, USA
photo credit: Desert Botanical Garden via Facebook

Desert Botanical Gardens

Desert Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular and renowned botanical gardens in the United States, boasting over 50,000 cacti, trees, and other desert plants from around the world. If you’re fascinated by plants, especially desert ecosystems, you’ll be blown away by the diverse collections, from towering saguaro cacti to delicate desert flowers.

While exploring the beautifully landscaped gardens at Desert Botanical Gardens, you will also learn about the fascinating adaptations of desert plants to survive in harsh conditions and their vital role in the ecosystem. Kids will love exploring the trails, spotting desert animals, and participating in interactive exhibits. This is a can’t-miss on our list of things to do in Scottsdale AZ.

OdySea Aquarium

OdySea Aquarium is a world-class aquarium located in Scottsdale, Arizona, and it’s no surprise you’ve been seeing it pop up as a popular attraction! Here, you’ll find a massive marine aquarium boasting over 2 million gallons of water and 370+ species of animals from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

The exhibits at OdySea showcase diverse ecosystems, from vibrant coral reefs teeming with tropical fish to the mysterious depths of the Pacific Rim. Interactive experiences like touching certain marine life, underwater tunnel walks, and animal encounters add to the fun! It makes a great learning experience for kids, making this a popular family attraction in Scottsdale.

small boy in a blue and green hoodie leaning on the side of an aquarium gazing at bright coral and fish in an aquarium

Taliesin West

Designed and built by the acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright himself, Taliesin West is his winter home and studio, nestled in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains. It’s a living testament to Wright’s vision of organic architecture, seamlessly blending with the natural environment. Tours of Taliesin West go beyond simply viewing the architecture.

During the tour, you’ll gain insights into Wright’s life, work, and philosophy through guided narration and access to the house, studio, and gardens. It’s like stepping into a time capsule and experiencing Wright’s creative vision firsthand.

Hot Air Balloon Rides in Scottsdale

Scottsdale is considered one of the premier hot air ballooning destinations in the United States, thanks to its stunning desert landscapes, consistent weather conditions, and numerous experienced balloon operators.

Most balloon rides depart just before sunrise to capture the breathtaking desert sunrises and cooler temperatures. Hot air ballooning by Hot Air Expeditions is one the most popular operators in Scottsdale and Phoenix area. They organize hot air balloon tours with hotel transfers, whether you prefer to do a sunrise tour or an afternoon tour.

Whichever timeslot you choose, you will soar 2,000-5,000 feet in the air and feel the overwhelmingly humbling experience of taking in the views of the Sonoran Desert with an expert guide.

aerial view of hot air balloon over landscape with mountains and sun shining through clouds in Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) is more than just a collection of artworks! It’s a vibrant hub for exploring diverse contemporary art, engaging in stimulating experiences and connecting with the local community.

Prepare to be surprised! SMoCA constantly updates its exhibits, featuring a dynamic mix of regional and national artists working in various media. From immersive installations to thought-provoking paintings, every visit offers fresh perspectives and artistic discoveries. As such, don’t expect a singular focus. SMoCA tackles crucial questions and explores timely themes through its exhibitions. You might encounter topics like environmental concerns, social justice issues, or technological advancements, all interpreted through the lens of contemporary art.

Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament Scottsdale

Curious about what the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament Scottsdale is all about? The main attraction in this family-friendly Scottsdale activity is the exciting jousting tournament where knights on horseback compete for honor and the favor of the Queen. Expect stunts, sword fights, and dramatic displays of equestrian skill!

Enjoy a traditional “wench-served” four-course feast with options like roasted chicken, tomato soup, garlic bread, and a sweet pastry for dessert. You can order drinks as well, including flagons of “mead” and “ale.” Between courses, be entertained by falconry demonstrations, comedy routines from the court jester, and audience participation like cheering for your chosen knight.

Prince is Captured at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament Myrtle Beach - Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USAWonderspaces Arizona

When mapping out the best things to do in Scottsdale this weekend, don’t overlook Wonderspaces Arizona. This enthralling, immersive art experience fuels your imagination by teleporting you to different worlds, introducing you to extraordinary creatures, and even simulating the thrill of zero gravity with captivating virtual reality technology.

Every installation is a fusion of art and technology—essentially tailor-made for that perfect Instagram shot. It’s an escape from the ordinary, enveloping you in a realm of beauty and wonder. Trading the bustle of Scottsdale for an absolute visual treat at Wonderspaces is an itinerary swap you won’t regret.


Wondering why golfers always dream of heading to Scottsdale? Golfing is extremely popular in Scottsdale, earning it the nickname “The Most Western Town in the West with the Most Golf Courses in the East.” In fact, Scottsdale boasts over 200 world-class golf courses, offering diverse challenges and stunning desert scenery for players of all skill levels.

TPC Scottsdale is one of the highly-rated courses in town. It’s home to the iconic Waste Management Phoenix Open, featuring challenging holes, dramatic elevation changes, and breathtaking mountain views. But if you prefer resort courses, we recommend a trip to Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Talavera. Treat yourself to a picturesque course with mountain views, waterfalls, and signature holes, perfect for a luxurious golf experience.

Golf Club and Ball on The GreenOld Town Scottsdale

Seeking to explore the heart and history of the city? Look no further than Old Town Scottsdale. A treasure trove of cultural experiences, walking its charming streets lined with historic adobe buildings feels like stepping back in time. One of the main things to do in Scottsdale today is visit its art galleries that beautifully showcase diverse local and regional artists. From stunning sculptures and expressive paintings to handcrafted jewelry and pottery, every art enthusiast will find something for their taste and budget.

Old Town Scottsdale hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year, such as the Parada del Sol parade, music festivals, and the colorful art walks that serve as a season’s celebration. Check the calendar to see what’s happening during your visit. Even when no event is scheduled, a historical walking tour or a visit to the Civic Center Mall provides an enriching lesson about Scottsdale’s intriguing past.

Salt River Tubing & Kayaking

Complement your Scottsdale trip with an exhilarating experience at the Salt River! The Salt River flows through the Tonto National Forest, offering stunning desert landscapes with towering cliffs, vibrant cacti, and diverse wildlife. You’ll witness breathtaking views you won’t find anywhere else.

During the scorching summer months, the Salt River offers a refreshing escape from the scorching Arizona desert heat. Whether you prefer a lazy float on a tube or a more adventurous kayak trip, the Salt River caters to diverse preferences. Several stretches offer varying lengths and difficulty levels, from gentle meanders to exciting rapids.

man kayaking

Butterfly Wonderland

If Butterfly Wonderland sounds like a magical place, you’re absolutely right! This rainforest haven is filled with lush greenery, cascading waterfalls, and thousands of colorful butterflies fluttering all around you. It’s home to over 3,000 butterflies from all over the world, each adorned with dazzling colors and intricate patterns.

From the majestic Papilio blue swallowtail to the delicate Glasswing butterfly, they’re all there! You can wander through the rainforest canopy, feel the butterflies land on your fingers, and even witness the magical emergence of new butterflies from their chrysalises. It’s a chance to connect with these delicate creatures in a unique and awe-inspiring way.

Staycation and Spa Treatments

Ditch travel stress and swap it for luxury! Scottsdale is practically synonymous with luxury and pampering, which means it boasts a wealth of top-notch spas and luxurious hotels, offering a range of experiences to suit every taste.

Pamper yourself at Scottsdale’s top spa, melting away tension with deep massages and blissful facials. Come evening, the name of the game is cozying up in plush robes, ordering room service, and watching movies in our luxurious suite.

Our top picks for the ultimate staycation and much-needed pampering include Hilton Phoenix Resort at the Peak and DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Phoenix.

Close up of three women with sunglasses and red lips in hair towels and white robes at the spaSonoran Desert Jeep Tours

Buckle up for bumpy rides, dramatic climbs, and scenic vistas overlooking the stunning Sonoran Desert. Sonoran Desert jeep tours are an absolute blast! Several companies offer tours with different durations, routes, and themes, catering to diverse interests. You can choose sunset tours, wildlife spotting expeditions, or even ghost town adventures.

Explore hidden trails and rugged backcountry terrain inaccessible by car, getting a glimpse into the desert’s raw beauty and diverse ecosystem. Along the way, learn about the desert’s unique flora and fauna, geological formations, and historical significance from your knowledgeable guide.

McDowell Mountain Ranch Park & Aquatic Center

If Scottsdale’s hidden gems are what you’re looking for, it’s high time to check out the McDowell Mountain Ranch Park & Aquatic Center. Tucked away amongst the dramatic McDowell Mountains, this park offers an urban oasis replete with picturesque vistas, vivid cacti and the varied desert wildlife. Whether you’re a hiking, biking, or even rock climbing enthusiast, miles of scenic trails provide adventure opportunities at all skill levels amid eye-opening views.

After basking in Scottsdale’s natural splendor, take a plunge into the fun at the Aquatic Center. Water slides, multiple pools, a kid-friendly splash pad, and lively fitness classes cater to all water enthusiasts. And for those who fancy more terrestrial fun, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and even a skate park lie in wait for friendly matches and active escapades. Enjoying this slice of Scottsdale truly is immersing yourself in local living.

View of Downtown Phoenix at Dusk - Phoenix, Arizona, USAThings to Do in Scottsdale AZ: Vacation Packages

If the magic of Scottsdale and Phoenix is calling, answer it with the perfect Arizona vacation package on Tripster. This personally tailored package includes tickets to your choice of top attractions, immersive experiences, and exciting tours.

But that’s not all. It also includes accommodation in any hotel you desire, be it in the lively heart of Phoenix or a luxurious retreat in Scottsdale. This package ensures you truly live like a local, discovering all the hidden gems in these picturesque cities. With Tripster, your dream Scottsdale and Phoenix adventure is just a booking away. Plan your perfect getaway today!

What Did We Miss?

Do you have any things to do in Scottsdale AZ, to add to our list? Leave us a comment below!

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Written by Nicole King

There are only two things that make Nicole really happy–books and travel! When her head’s not buried in a book, she’s most likely...

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