There is more to Scottsdale than golf, spa visits, and baseball spring training, although even if there weren’t Scottsdale Arizona would still attract a number of visitors. This upscale city sits to the east of its sister city of Phoenix. Phoenix is the 5th largest city in the U.S. by population, so it can be easy to overlook the other cities in the geographic area. This article will give you some reasons why you shouldn’t.
I will break up my suggestions into three groups, but you may want to mix and match your activities.
- A Weekend in Scottsdale with Kids – fun and whimsy
- A Weekend in Scottsdale with Adults – culture, art, and history
- A Girl’s Weekend in Scottsdale – drinks and shopping
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A Weekend in Scottsdale with Kids
If you think that just because Scottsdale is a bit more upscale than Phoenix, it doesn’t offer great activities for families then think again.
Musical Instrument Museum (Phoenix)
The Musical Instrument Museum, also known as MIM, is located in north Phoenix and is one of the largest music museums in the world. The museum boasts a collection of more than 15,000 musical instruments and objects from all over the world.
The second floor of the museum has exhibits organized into 10 different geographical regions and visitors can explore the history and culture of music in each area. In addition to viewing the exhibits, visitors can listen to audio and watch video recordings of performances by musicians from each region. I was surprised by little things like how many different countries have a type of bagpipes.
The museum also offers a variety of interactive experiences, including a hands-on instrument gallery where visitors can play various instruments and a live performance space where musicians from around the world perform throughout the year. Plan to spend more time in this area if you are coming with kids.
On the first floor, you can find the artist gallery with instruments from well-known artists from many genres. This includes guitars from Carlos Santana and Joan Baez. It includes instruments from Elvis, Buddy Rich, and the Flecktones. Honestly, if this was the whole of the museum it would still be a popular museum.
It also has an unusual gallery of mechanical music players like player pianos. Would you believe that someone invented a player trumpet?
The Musical Instrument Museum is not only a museum but also an educational and cultural center. The museum offers a variety of programs and events for visitors of all ages, including lectures, workshops, and concerts.
- Hours: Daily 9 am – 5 pm
- Admission: Adults $20, Teens $15, Children (ages 4–12) $10, Children (ages 3 and under) Free
Restaurant – Barrio Queen
If you are traveling with kids and want a good taco lunch I would recommend Barrio Queen. There is one in downtown Scottsdale and another one just the other side of the highway from the Musical Instrument Museum. The menu has tacos, burritos, enchiladas as well as other Mexican specialties
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park features a large-scale model train exhibit, a historical museum, a carousel, and a small vintage train you can ride on. The park also features a large playground, and picnic area.
The park features a 10,000 square-foot model railroad building that houses four model railroad clubs, three layouts, and a variety of exhibits and hands-on amenities. The building is designed with contemporary architecture and recalls the style of 19th-century train sheds. Each club has 1,280 square feet of exhibit space that is viewable on all four sides, and the built-in ramps allow small children and people in wheelchairs to view the layouts without a step or lift.
The park’s museum is another popular attraction that features exhibits and artifacts that highlight the history of railroads in the United States. Visitors can explore the museum’s collection of railroad memorabilia, including vintage train cars, photographs, and other artifacts that date back to the early days of the railroad industry.
- Hours: 8 am – 1 pm in summer, 9 am – 5 pm much of the rest of the year
- The Historical Railroad Museum is closed in summer
- Admission: Free, tickets for carousel and train $3 (children 2 and under free)
Desert Botanical Garden (Pheonix)
If your kids did not grow up in the desert a trip to the Desert Botanical Garden in western Phoenix can be a great stop. The 55-acre park offers an introduction into 4,482 different plant species. It focuses on the plants of the Sonoran Desert.
One thing that stands out to me from the photos I took at the gardens is the blooms on various desert plans. If you think cactuses are boring then you have not seen them in bloom.
When my kids were school-age, they particularly enjoyed the cactus garden and the butterfly garden.
- Hours: 8 am – 8 pm daily
- Admission Sept 5 – May 31: Adults $16.96- 29.95, Children 3 – 17 $14.95- $16.95, Children 2 and under free
- Admission June 1 – September 4: Admission $16.96, Children 2 and under free
Old Town Scottsdale – Historic Old Town
There are a number of different neighborhoods in Old Town Scottsdale. The one I would recommend with kids is the Historic Old Town. This is the part of downtown that is probably more touristy but also leans into the western history of Scottsdale. This is where you will find Scottsdale’s Rodeo Museum. You can grab a burger at the Rusty Spur Saloon, an ice cream at the Sugar Bowl, or shop at the Mexican Imports Shop.
Downloadable map from Experience Scottsdale.
Scottsdale Stadium – Spring Training on the Lawn
We have taken our kids when they were school-age to Spring Training for the San Francisco Giants a few times. One of the better experiences was just camping with the rest of the families out on the lawn behind the outfield wall. The kids had a bit more freedom to roam and since our kids were not glued to the game, this worked better for our family.
A Weekend in Scottsdale with Adults
Heard Museum (Phoenix)
You can base your weekend in Scottsdale but that doesn’t mean you have to ignore some of the attractions in Phoenix like the world-class Heard Museum. The Heard Museum is dedicated to the preservation, education, and celebration of Native American cultures and art. Founded in 1929, the museum has a collection of over 40,000 pieces of Native American art, including pottery, jewelry, textiles, and paintings.
The museum offers a variety of programs and events, including workshops, lectures, and performances, that aim to promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of Native American art and culture. The weekend I was there most recently, the museum was hosting the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest.
I loved the main exhibit that showed me artifacts and crafts from the various tribes and helped me to locate where each tribe originated, but I also recommend the exhibit about the dubious history of the Indian boarding schools which took kids from the reservations and raised them in the culture of the U.S. instead of their native culture.
Museum of the West
The Museum of the West is a world-class institution that is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the history and culture of the American West. With its collection of over 43,000 square feet of exhibits, the museum offers visitors an immersive and educational experience that explores the various aspects of Western history, from the Native American tribes to the frontier cowboys and cattle drives.
I could have listed the Museum of the West as a site for adults or for kids. The galleries with a collection of photos of American Indians by Edward S. Curtis and the collection of western art will probably appeal best to adults, but the collection of artifacts and cool facts from the west will appeal to kids.
Kids will appreciate little facts like how far the Apache could run (75 miles a day) and kid-like adults like me will appreciate that they served fine wine at the saloons by the OK Corral.
You can literally immerse yourself in the old west. My grandfather was a cowboy on the last round-up in Colorado and this museum helped me connect with an age that is only a few generations away from our own.
Old Town Scottsdale – Scottsdale Arts District
The neighborhood that I would recommend for adults in Old Town Scottsdale is the Scottsdale Arts District. That is where you will find the Museum of the West, but where you will also find a number of art galleries.
Cornish Pasty Co
For a great lunch after the Museum of the West, head 2 blocks west to the Cornish Pasty Co for a pasty. In addition to traditional pasties, you can get a variety of other fillings from their extensive menu. I had a greek chicken pasty with artichoke hearts, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. You can also get Cajun, Cuban, Mexican, Indian, and more.
Scottsdale Stadium – Giants Spring Training
For years, the only time of year I would come to Scottsdale was in March to watch San Francisco Giants Baseball for Spring Training. Spring is a special time of year when everyone’s team is in first place and every baseball fan thinks that maybe this could be their year.
I still love being in Scottsdale for Spring Training, but… the months before and after March still have some of the best weather and are not as expensive and crowded. The prices in summer are even cheaper, but Phoenix and Scottsdale get a bit too toasty hot for me that time of year.
Restaurant – The Mission
The Mission is a contemporary Latin American restaurant that serves up a unique fusion of Spanish, Mexican, and South American flavors. There are two locations in Scottsdale. One is downtown and the other is in north Scottsdale at Kierland Commons. Chef Matt Carter has created a menu focusing on presentation and taste.
I had the Tecate Creekstone Skirt Steak Tacos. You might get a larger taco elsewhere, but you are going to savor every bite at the Mission and you are going to want to save room for dessert. I had the Pumpkin Bread Pudding from their dessert menu.
I met one of the representatives from Tourism Scottsdale for dinner but I would recommend you go to The Mission with someone special for a romantic dinner, or given the dark dining room, maybe someone you don’t want to be seen with.
Restaurant – Persian Room
I met friends at the Persian Room in North Scottsdale for dinner. This restaurant is half an hour from their house but is worth the journey. It is Persian or Iranian cuisine. Think kabobs and saffron-scented basmati rice. If you have never had Persian food, you may discover a new favorite cuisine.
The Persian Room has been serving their cuisine for over 30 years. The restaurant’s interior is beautifully decorated with Persian rugs, ornate chandeliers, and intricate carvings, giving it a warm and inviting ambiance.
The menu at the Persian Room is diverse, with a wide range of traditional Persian dishes, including kabobs, stews, and rice dishes. Servings are large so order one meal for every two people or plan on taking some food back to your hotel room.
A Girl’s Weekend in Scottsdale
Downtown Scottsdale – 5th Avenenue Shopping District
It seemed to me that every third group that I saw in the 5th Avenue Shops area of Downtown Scottsdale was having a girl’s weekend. This is the area of town where a pedal bar is a common sight with up to 8 people pedaling a portable bar down the street. Whether that is your scene or you take one of the many tours available in and from Scottsdale, it seems like this area of bars, restaurants, and shops is where you will return.
Even if you are not on a girl’s weekend, this area has some of the best people-watching in the city in my opinion.
Arizona Stronghold Vineyards – Wine Tasting
Arizona Stronghold Vineyards has their vineyards in the high desert near Willcox Arizona on I10 east of Tuscon, but they have a tasting room in the 5th Avenenue Shopping District of Old Town Scottsdale. This is the largest winery in Arizona and is named for the historic “Cochise Stronghold” near their Bonita Springs Vineyard.
The winery is committed to sustainable agriculture and traditional winemaking techniques. The tasting room in Scottsdale is a small but inviting space, where visitors can sample the full range of Arizona Stronghold’s wines.
I tasted one of their two red flights which focuses on light to medium-bodied red wines. The wines I tasted tended towards light red wines, even some of the normally more medium-bodied wines. To me, these seemed like great starter wines for someone who likes white wines but is interested in trying red wines. They would probably also be more warm weather reds, drinkable in the hot Scottsdale summers.
The winery also has a newer offering which is their Float Tripper Sipper which is a canned wine-based drink like a spritzer.
Restaurant – Citizen Public House
Also in the 5th Avenue Shopping District, you can find a great restaurant for celebrating a special occasion at the Citizen Public House. The main courses at Citizen Public House include steak, seafood, ribs, and chicken. I had the French Dip Burger which is a hamburger that you dip au jus like a French Dip sandwich. While it was scrumptious… it is a bit messy and might not be what you order with a group that is judging how you eat… but who needs them anyway.
Emily from the Scottsdale Tourism board highly recommended the bacon fat popcorn as an appetizer from the bar menu. Yum. Always do what Emily suggests. I also tried the sweet corn grits but in retrospect, I should have skipped a side dish to save more room for the bread pudding I had for dessert.
Citizen Public House also has an extensive wine and liquor menu with a number of cocktails.
Ax Throwing and Go Cart Racing
If you are looking for a fun group activity in Scottsdale, may I recommend ax throwing and go-cart racing at Octane Raceway? Go-cart racing might seem like an activity that I would recommend for kids instead of adults but Octane has a minimum height of 4’6″ tall and a minimum age of 16. They do have a two-drink maximum before you can’t do the go-karts as they can get up to 45 mph. This is not bumper cars, contact between cars is highly discouraged.
This was the first place I tried ax throwing and it was fun… not that I developed any skill at it. They have a series of games that they can project onto the target area from simple targets to killing zombies. It is probably more fun in a group that doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
Acknowledgments and Conclusions
My thanks to the Scottsdale Tourism Board who not only provided me with great advice like ordering bacon fat popcorn but also paid for my museum entrances on this trip as well as dinner at Citizen Public House and The Mission. There are many wonderful hotels in the Scottsdale area… although I stayed in an airstream Airbnb on this particular trip… because I could.
I always enjoy getting back to Scottsdale and am surprised by how much more there is to see every time I come back.