Getting to Know Scottsdale Inside and Out
From its celebrated hiking trails, to charming Old Town’s shops and galleries, to the world-class resorts and spas, there’s a lot to love about Scottsdale. Perhaps the most lovable aspect, though, is that this artsy (and often downright fancy) city embraces its western roots.
As we approach the very best season to visit, it’s time to get thoroughly acquainted with Scottsdale—the poshest spot in the southwest. Read on for 8 ways to experience this chic desert city, inside and out (yes, literally).
Explore Old Town
While it's not exactly a secret, Old Town is a can't-miss on any Scottsdale itinerary. This part of town—made up nine small districts—is filled to the brim with charm that showcases the now-upscale city's Old West beginnings. You can spend an entire day perusing the boutiques and art galleries, snapping photos of the public art installations, sampling spirits in local watering holes (Blue Clover Distillery is a stylish place for this), and spotting buildings that date back to the early 1900s. If you're short on time, join a guided tour with the experts at JoyRidesAZ, where you'll be whisked around to see the top sights by golf cart.
Head Out on a Hike
With more than 400 miles of trails snaking through the saguaro-dotted landscape, it's no wonder that National Geographic named this Arizona city one of the top 15 hiking destinations in the U.S. Whatever your level of ability, fitness or outdoor aptitude, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve has a trail to suit. It features paths that are perfect for families, some trails that are ADA accessible, and treks fit for the enthusiasts (plus everything in between). If you're an experienced hiker looking for a city view with a side of intense cardio, try Camelback Mountain’s Cholla and Echo Canyon summit trails.
Laze at a Resort
In the greater Phoenix area, Scottsdale is the spot where you're most likely to find outposts for your favorite luxury hotel brands—like Four Seasons, where an onsite stargazing specialist can help you brush up on your planetary geology, or Westin Kierland, where a bagpiper greets every evening with a tune. Several independently-owned hotels also call the city home; in this category, we love mid-century darling Hotel Valley Ho—a former favorite of Bing Crosby—and The Scott Resort with its Old Havana-style decor. If you're seeking a resort with a seriously luxurious spa we recommend The Phoenician or Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa both of which were named as top resorts in the southwest by Condé Nast Traveler readers in 2019. With more than 70 hotels and resorts in the city limits, you'll have plenty of properties to choose from.
Get Outside of Your Box
Thanks to its everlasting outdoor season, Scottsdale offers activities aplenty. In a single day, you could take morning horseback ride through the desert, go kayaking or rafting in the Salt River in the afternoon, and cap the day with a relaxing hot air balloon ride for a different perspective on the Sonoran sunset. The fall and winter months are the best times of the year to get in a full day's worth of fun thanks to mild, dry weather.
Appreciate the Arts
Scottsdale's relationship with art dates back centuries, when the land was occupied by Native American tribes. Prominent expression changed through the 19th and 20th centuries when Anglo settlers fostered burgeoning artists and writers. Today, the city remains rich with art and culture, boasting more than 100 professional art galleries and studios (one of the highest per-capita in the nation). In addition to the many galleries you'll find sprinkled throughout town—particularly in Old Town—there are a number of art museums. One of our favorites is Wonderspaces Arizona, where you'll find immersive exhibits like a Sewing Machine Orchestra. See Native American and Western works at Western Sprit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Architecture lovers can visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West—a UNESCO-designated site nestled the McDowell Mountains' foothills. Taliesin served as Wright's winter home and is considered one of his most personal creations.
Perfect Your Golf Swing
When the rest of the country's season has long ended, Scottsdale is teeing up for the best time of year to golf. Average winter temperatures may be in the low 70s, but be forewarned, your scores may not be that low—12 of the top 25 courses on Golf Digest's best of Arizona are located in Scottsdale, including the Troon North Golf Club. You can literally walk in the footsteps of the pros if you tee off at the famed par-3 16th hole on TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course, home of the PGA Tour's annual Phoenix Open. Pro tip: save a few bucks for drinks at the clubhouse, by taking a later tee time (many greens fees are reduced for late-morning or early-afternoon tee times).
Dine In, Outside
Foodies rejoice: the culinary scene is on point here. A great place to dive in is ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho, where brunch is served daily (yes, please). Also check out FnB Restaurant whose chef, Charleen Badman, earned a James Beard Award in 2019; it's not too late to stop in and applaud the accomplishment. While there, dine alfresco off the seasonally-curated, new American menu. Along with FnB, many Scottsdale faves have set up outdoor shop in order to safely accommodate guests, including a James Beard semi-finalist from 2020: Citizen Public House. For a large patio that's perfectly heated on those chilly desert nights, visit Old Town Tortilla Factory (their Chorizo Fundido is a must).
Get in the Holiday Spirit
If you can sneak in a trip before 2021, Scottsdale goes all out for the holidays. You'll find outdoor light displays at the Desert Botanical Gardens and the Phoenix Zoo. Give ice skating a whirl at the Fairmont Princess Resort before warming up by the fire with s'mores.