Scottsdale, Arizona Travel Guide

November 26, 2019
Scottsdale Travel Guide: What To Do in Scottsdale, Arizona

Check out this travel guide for where to stay, eat, and explore in Scottsdale, Arizona.  

Growing up just a few miles east of Phoenix, I always knew Scottsdale as the town of high-end resorts, too-green-for-the-desert golf courses, and multi million homes surrounded by palm trees.  

And it was kind of planned that way.

Scottsdale is the fifth largest city in Arizona and just 15 minutes away from the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. The city’s origins date back to the 1880s. Developer Winfield Scott wanted to master plan an affluent community with multi-acre lots covered in orange groves, and originally called his town Orangedale. The name later changed to Scottsdale (after Winfield Scott), and the town really hit its boom in the 1950s. Scottsdale was vying to be the best luxury desert getaway, in competition with places like Palm Springs, California.

Scottsdale leaned hard into tourism and dubbed itself the “West’s Most Western Town.” Visitors could walk the main streets of downtown and peruse Native American and western-themed art to take back home.  

The Mission in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona

With some of the best restaurants, entertainment, places to stay, plus 299 days of sunshine a year, Scottsdale is an amazing place to visit *almost* all year round. I’ve spent plenty of time in Scottsdale throughout my years growing up, but had a fun time rediscovering the city during our recent stay. We spent three days in Scottsdale this November hiking my favorite trails, checking out new restaurants, and soaking up sun from the pool of our rental home.  

Check out this Scottsdale travel guide for where to stay, what to eat, and the best things to do in Scottsdale, Arizona.  

When to Visit Scottsdale

 The best time to visit Scottsdale is October through April. Anytime during those seven months, you’ll most likely have pleasantly warm, sunny weather.  

Starting in May, the temperatures start heating up. As in 100°F+ heating up, with highs peaking in the 110°Fs in the middle of the summer. I lived in Arizona for the first 21 years of my life, and that means 21 long, hot summers. Arizonans try to caveat the scorching temperatures by saying it’s a dry heat, but no matter the lack of humidity, it’s still really hot. Summer is the time to get a good deal on a hotel or vacation home. Whatever you do, make sure the place you’re staying has a pool, because you’ll probably want to spend any time outside fully submerged.  

Where to Stay in Scottsdale

We stayed just a few minutes from downtown Scottsdale in a beautiful vacation home managed by GoodNight Stay. GoodNight Stay is a premium vacation rental management company. This means if you own a vacation home, they’ll fully manage the rental process for you. And if you’re renting, it means that you can count on a company that has lot of experience in the rental business, a comfortably furnished and tastefully decorated home, plus a reliable concierge service should you need anything during your stay.

Our personal concierge reached out to us before our stay just to see if we needed anything. We’re pretty good at planning our own trips, but it was just nice to have someone there if we had any questions about the home or the area.

Scottsdale Rental Home - Where to Stay in Scottsdale

Our rental home (called the Chic Old Town Home) was beautifully decorated (I seriously wanted to order half of the furniture for my own home), and I loved that there was so much common space, so it was comfortable to spend time together with my family that came to join me in the home. The kids had lots of room to play, and we loved all the features that allowed us to enjoy the warm fall weather, including lots of outdoor seating, a fireplace, grill, and a heated pool and jacuzzi.  

Scottsdale Rental Home

Where to Stay in Scottsdale Arizona

Scottsdale Rental Home

GoodNight Stay has homes available in Scottsdale, Nashville, Austin and Orlando, with new locations like Palms Springs and Chicago opening soon.  

Check out the GoodNight Stay website to find a home and book your stay. For 20% off your stay through December 31, 2019, use code NMB20 (no exclusions!). For 5% off your stay through December 31, 2020, use code NMB5.  GoodNight Stay Website

Where to stay in Scottsdale, Arizona

Where (and What) to Eat

You’re in Arizona, which means you can’t skimp on the tacos. I know I’m biased, but I think Arizona has some of the best Mexican food outside of Mexico (it obviously helps that it’s the next country over). So, when you’re in Scottsdale, try one of these places and make at least one night taco night!

  • Diego Pops – This trendy spot has fun, playful décor and some innovative tacos. Try the Brussel sprout taco! And they like to go against the norm and have Taco Monday, so just a heads up if you were planning on saving the tacos for Tuesday.
  • The Mission – This is another Old Town Scottsdale restaurant with excellent tacos. It’s located right next door to the Old Adobe Mission.
  • Barrio QueenEat here for delicious tacos and made-at-your-table guacamole!
Kids outside The Mission restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona
Mural at the Mission Restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona

For a quick, healthy lunch near Old Town Scottsdale, try the Original Chop Shop or the Herb Box.  

I probably cave into my sweet tooth a little too often, but I’d say the extra sugar is worth it at these Scottsdale bakeries and dessert shops.

  •  Růže Cake House – This little artisan bakeshop makes specialty cakes, but if you’re just stopping by you can choose from their rainbow of macarons, printed cookies, or boba tea topped with cotton candy. The brightly lit and beautifully decorated shop definitely feels like it was made with the ‘gram in mind.  
  • Super Chunk – The cookies here are so good. Super Chunk also serves ice cream and makes some amazing-looking specialty desserts.
  • Sugar Bowl vs Gelato Spot – The Sugar Bowl is the classic 1950s ice cream shop with pink walls located in downtown Scottsdale. While it looks really cute, I’d say the gelato at the nearby Gelato Spot is much better.
Ruze Cake House, a dessert shop in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona
Ruze Cake House, a dessert shop in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona
Ruze Cake House, a dessert shop in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona

Růže Cake House in downtown Scottsdale

If you’re going to venture a bit into Phoenix, I’d recommend Pizzeria Bianco, CiBo Urban Pizzeria, or Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana for pizza, and Little Miss BBQ for (obviously) barbecue.  

 Things To Do in Scottsdale 

1 Go on a hike

Scottsdale is in the middle of a major metropolitan area, but there’s still some great hiking trails.  

Camelback Mountain – Camelback (named because people think the humps of the mountain look like a camel) is one of the most popular hikes in the Phoenix metro area. There are two trails up the mountain. Both are rated difficult because it can be steep in parts with about 1,200 feet in elevation gain and some scrambling. But I think once you get to the top, you’ll agree that the views are 100% worth it.

The Cholla trail is 2.6 miles and considered the more scenic trail. Note that you can’t park (or drop off) at the trailhead on Cholla Lane. You have to use the free street parking on Invergordon Street. It does fill up, so it may be a bit of a walk from your car to the trailhead. 

The Echo Canyon trail is slightly shorter at 2.4 miles. There is a parking lot and bathrooms at the trailhead. 

Hiking Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona

These trails can be tough for younger kids because of how steep they are. I just imagine climbing stairs that are up to my waist and realize how much of a workout that’d be. I’ve finished this hike with Hudson when he was small enough to carry, but this last time we were short on time and Hudson was getting tired (plus is was pretty warm for November), so we only went about half way up. The views are still awesome just a ways up the trail, so check it out even if you don’t have time to do the full thing. 

Hiking season here is considered October through April. Because these trails are steep and in full sun, please be cautious of the temperature outside and bring plenty of water. Plan about 2-3 hours for both trails. 

View from Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona

Piestewa Peak – This 2.2 mile trail is pretty steep, but once again you’ll be rewarded with amazing views over the Valley of the Sun.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve – To really experience the desert, plan a day hiking out at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in north Scottsdale.  The Tom’s Thumb Trail, a 4 mile out and back trail, is one of the most popular in the park.  

Pinnacle Peak – The Pinnacle Peak Trail is a 3.5 mile out and back hike that takes you around Pinnacle Peak, but not up to the very top. Still, the desert is gorgeous and the views are great!
If you have time to explore further, then check out this post for my 5 favorite hikes near Mesa, Arizona

2 Go for a swim (or a soak in the hot tub)

The highs were still in the mid 80s while we were there in November, so it was warm enough for a swim (though we did appreciate the fact that the pool was heated). While that is a bit warm for the fall, you can expect temperatures at least in the 70s. And if you visit during summer, you’re definitely going to want a pool!

Swimming pool at a Scottsdale Rental Home

Swimming pool at a Scottsdale Rental Home
Swimming pool at a Scottsdale Rental Home

3 Visit the Desert Botanical Garden

I know I can see a lot of cacti and desert plants out on a hike in Scottsdale, but the variety at the  Desert Botanical Garden is incredible. The garden covers 140 acres with over 50,000 plants. Walk through the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail to learn more about the plants native to the area, or stroll the rest of the trails to find over 300 rare and endangered plants species.

I’ve spent a lot of time hiking around the Sonoran Desert, but I’ve seen so many cool plants and cacti here I’ve never come across along the trails. If you’re a cacti or succulent lover, then don’t miss these beautiful botanical gardens. General Admission is $24.95. Entrance is free on the second Tuesday of the month.

Scottsdale also has a few indoor museums you can learn more about the desert and the town’s history, including the Scottsdale Museum of the West and the newly opened Scottsdale Rodeo Museum.

The Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, Arizona

4 Catch the Sunset at Papago Park

Arizona has phenomenal sunsets, and the best place to catch them on a trip to Scottsdale is Papago Park. This area was designated as a national monument for about 16 years because of its unique geological formations. But, in 1930 it lost its status. It is thought that the Hohokam, a now extinct Native American tribe, used the area’s most famous landmark, Hole in the Rock, to track solstices. 

It’s a super short hike up to Hole in the Rock. Climb through the opening and find a great seat to watch the sun set over the Valley.

Hole in the Rock at Papago Park is a great place to watch the sunset near Scottsdale, Arizona

Hole in the Rock at Papago Park is a great place to watch the sunset near Scottsdale, Arizona

5 Check out some art

The SMoCA, or the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, is constantly updating its exhibits with new artists. The SMoCA also features a Turrell Skyspace called Knight Rise by Arizona-based artist James Turrell. The skyspace is a circular room with a concrete bench and a circular opening in the ceiling. It gives the feeling of the sky coming into the space, with a pretty dramatic effect at sunrise and sunset. Admission is $10 to the SMoCA, but it is free every Thursday.
To view more traditional art, walk the streets of Old Town Scottsdale. There are a lot of art galleries and shops in Old Town which feature Native American art and jewelry.

6 Things To Do with Kids in Scottsdale

Phoenix Zoo – I know this is Phoenix, but it’s an awesome zoo and was just 10 minutes away from our vacation home in Scottsdale. This zoo is home to over 3,000 animals and helps in both local and global animal conservation efforts. 

If you’re visiting around the holiday season, the zoo holds special Zoolights programs in the evening. 

Things to do in Phoenix with Kids - the Phoenix Zoo

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park – This park has your typical playgrounds, plus a 5:12 reproduction of a Colorado narrow gauge railroad you can ride and a beautiful 1950s carousel. 

Musical Instrument Museum –  If you have a child that’s interested in music, check out the Musical Instrument Museum which features over 7,000 instruments from all around the world. The museum has an experience gallery where visitors can make their own music. 

Arizona Science Center –  This is another great museum where kids can do hands-on experimenting, and also a nice spot to escape the heat on a hot day.

Have a wonderful time visiting Scottsdale, Arizona. Let us know if you have any questions below!

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Things to do in Scottsdale | Scottsdale, Arizona Travel Guide
Things to do in Scottsdale | Scottsdale, Arizona Travel Guide


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  • Reply Megan December 2, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    I love how you put together this post – it’s so informative! And all the spots you visited and stayed look so beautiful (and cute ☺️)

    • Reply nomanbefore December 3, 2019 at 12:03 am

      Hi Megan! So glad you found it helpful! This area is beautiful 🙂

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