When The New York Times’ once described Scottsdale as being “a desert version of Miami’s South Beach” it forgot to mention that the town is best known for being “The West’s Most Western Town”, too. Scottsdale is only 31 miles long and 11 miles wide, but it has certainly managed to fill that space with some amazing attractions in the form of parks, museums, shopping areas and concert halls, to name but a few. Its population of 230,500, as of 2014, has been keeping busy with all of them, so let’s find out what’s going on!
1. McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a large, permanently protected, sustainable desert habitat offering some amazing hikes for the whole family. There is a very generous amount of different hikes, too, at various degrees of competency and fitness level. For example, the Gateway Loop is very rocky so remember to wear your hiking boots and bring poles! Alternatively, Browns Ranch is a lot easier and a chance to enjoy the desert scenery in greater depth as you won’t have to look down all the time! Or what about the Bell Pass, the Sunrise, or the Wingate? The list continues! There really is a trail for anyone who wants to get out and enjoy desert nature at its finest.
2. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
If the family enjoys mini-train rides, a lovely park with concessions, and model railroading, make sure you stop in at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park. Kids (and dads!) of every age will adore the huge 15 in. gauge railroad, Magma Arizona Railroad locomotive, a railroad museum and much, much more. There are hundreds of square feet of meticulously constructed dioramas with every gauge of model train running around, together with interactive buttons that allow you to activate various equipment, sound and light parts! The generously sized park has several play areas, a carousel and a gift shop to purchase snacks and souvenirs.
3. Butterfly Wonderland
If you’re looking for a casual family place for a fun day out, head for Butterfly Wonderland. Its remarkable state of the art facility is home to an incredible glass atrium that provides the perfect tropical rainforest habitat for thousands of butterflies from all over the world that fly around freely. There is an educational “Flight of the Butterflies” 3D movie to see, and of particular interest to the kids, I’m sure, an interactive insect exhibits. There is also a café serving tasty refreshments as well as a gift shop. And don’t forget to bring the zoom camera!
4. Old Town Scottsdale
Take the family for a leisurely stroll through historic Old Town to get a real taste of Scottsdale. The area is conveniently situated downtown, within an easily walkable neighborhood filled to the brim with award winning restaurants, fine art galleries, souvenir outlets, jewelry shops and unusual stores. As you walk past the Little Red Schoolhouse, Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop and Rusty Spur Saloon, you’ll easily feel transported back in time. There are some nice cafes around too, if you just want to sit for a while and watch the world go by.
5. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
This fascinating museum, situated in Scottsdale Old Town, covers information about all 19 western states, from Texas to the Dakotas (including Hawaii and Alaska) and is, basically, 35,000 sq. ft. of captivating facts, painting and artifacts for everyone. The museum regularly features changing exhibitions, gallery tours and activities that bring to exciting life its Western heritage. One of the museum’s most current shows includes the Cowboy Artists of America, incorporating contributions of its 77 artists to western culture and fine arts. (Nov 7, 2015 – May 31, 2016). The museum’s helpful staff are happy to answer questions, and there is also a gift shop selling high quality merchandise.
6. House of Broadcasting
For any budding show business stars in the family or simply those members interested in Arizona’s broadcast history, a visit to this museum should certainly be on the cards! This is truly a gem of a museum, housing original TV cameras, radio equipment and movie history memorabilia also donated from other states, and includes a fabulous collection of historic wardrobes. As you walk through the museum you will be able to enjoy lots of photos and pictures taken through these early broadcasting years. Admission is free but as the museum is non-profit, donations are naturally welcome!
7. Penske Racing Museum
A perfect visit for all car aficionados of the family. Situated within the Penske Automotive Group car dealerships (nestled between Bentley, BMW and Jaguar car dealers) sits Mr Penske’s 9,000 sq ft, two story museum which is open to the public (and free of charge), showcasing an astonishing collection of cars and trophies, as well as some fascinating racing memorabilia. In fact, many of the actual racing cars that have produced signature wins for Penske Racing over the years are on display, enabling the museum-goers to learn about the history of each of these amazing machines. As you enter the museum you will be greeted by the Miller Lite Dodge stock car that Rusty Wallace raced to his 37th and final victory with the team in 2004!
8. Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
This center is home every year to more than 1,000 performances, both indoor and outdoor, plus festivals and learning programs. Its educational and outreach programs involve more than 20,000 adults and children each year too. Perhaps that is why the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is known best as one of the Western United States performing arts halls. There is an interesting gift shop selling unusual items on site as well as several restaurants offering al fresco dining situated nearby, together with the city’s modern art museum. All in all, a visit here would provide an interesting time for everyone.
9. Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center
A visit to the SWCC is a marvelous way to get the kids involved in learning all about wild animal rescue. The Conservation Center is neither a zoo nor an animal park; but a sanctuary dedicated to the rescue of wild animals found abandoned, injured or orphaned. Whenever possible, the animals are rehabilitated and then released back into the wild, and those who are not able will instead live out their lives in safety at the sanctuary. The kids will love meeting the residents, with dedicated staff happy to share their knowledge about what the facility is doing. Donations are always appreciated.
10. MacDonald’s Ranch
Spend a family day at MacDonald’s Ranch, Scottsdale’s premier horseback riding stable. There are loads of fun things to do here, from guided horseback rides to hayrides and cowboy cookouts, with the Sonoran Desert acting as the stunning backdrop. Whatever the family’s experience, the ranch’s expert guides make sure that all riders, whatever level, experience no danger. The ranch’s horses are affable and obedient, too. Enjoy a casual ride through the area and a chance to get to know some of the area’s wildlife and flora and fauna.
11. Arizona Cowboy College
If you’ve ever fancied being a cowboy or cowgirl for the day, here’s your chance! Arizona Cowboy College has been in business in Scottsdale since 1969 and its senior instructor, Rocco Wachman, was famous over the years for his roles in Country Music Television’s Original Cowboy Series. Well, you couldn’t get more cowboy than that, I don’t think! The courses have been designed in a serious attempt to teach its guests horsemanship skills and ranching techniques, and area always taught with the utmost of patience. This is a lovely family experience and suitable for all ages too.
12. Scottsdale Fashion Square
This luxury shopping center is home to the best names in the business! From Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus to Gucci and Louis Vuitton, this upscale shopping mall is approximately 2 million square feet of opulent retail opportunities. The mall is actually Arizona’s largest and among the top 30 largest malls in the country. So get your comfortable walking shoes on! You will also find helpful and courteous staff on hand throughout the shopping center. Though the shops are high-end you might also be lucky enough to pick up a few bargains at some anchor stores such as Macys!
13. Arizona Outdoor Fun
To see Scottsdale and its surrounds through expert eyes, why not take a guided tour? ATV/UTV tours will take you on a desert tour to the stunning Bradshaw Mountains with spectacular view of the desert and all of its stunning colors. As you travel through deep canyons and cross over the Agua Fria River to explore the remaining Indian ruins, you’re bound to feel as one with this beautiful location. Or visit the old silver mining town of Tip Top, settled in 1876 and now deserted. You will also learn how to survive in the desert by eating the cacti meat! Safety and fun are of upmost importance to the guides.
14. For a chocolicious experience – take the Chocolate Tour of Scottsdale
A sweet time is guaranteed for all the family when you take this Chocolate Tour! You will be visiting some of Scottsdale best chocolatiers, made up of six bakeries and chocolatiers, and sampling some of the yummiest delicatessen chocolates ever! You can indulge in chocolates of every form, from truffles to cup cakes and more, while at the same time finding out more about the area itself as you walk through Scottsdale’s Old Town. And, if you find you’re not able to eat all your goodies at once, you will be provided with a doggie bag in which to take home all your choccy treasures.
15. Desert Splash Adventures
A seaplane experience sounds just the ticket for a fun day out! Up to eight guests can choose from these exciting destinations: Lake Powell, Sedona, Flagstaff, Roosevelt Lake, and the awesome Grand Canyon. Desert Splash Adventures is, in fact, the only Amphibious Seaplane experience available in Arizona and you can join the trip from Scottsdale itself. As you swoop across the terrain in your Cessna Caravan, your family will certainly be able to appreciate the wild wonder of this amazing state. A light lunch is also provided.
16. Singh Farms
For a Saturday morning family treat, drop by Singh Farms between 9 am and 1 pm to indulge in some delicious fresh produce such as home baked whole grain breads and organic fruit and vegetables, all loving grown and tended within this lush farm. Just east of the 101 freeway in Scottsdale, it’s an easy find. The farm is very popular with locals, who have been known to refer to it as “an oasis in the desert”. Some of the mouth watering fresh goodies include tasty muffins, cinnamon buns and all types of preserves too. Enjoy watching the pizza being made as you sip on some of their tasty kale and bean soup.
17. Octane Raceway
Have a fast and fun time at Octane Raceway, the only full time indoor and outdoor racing track in North America! The raceway’s 1/3mile track is a great choice for some competitive kart racing action for sure! If you’ve never experienced the thrill of this before, now is the time to enjoy speeding around in Octane Raceway’s 45+ mph karts. The family is sure to love it and, best of all, you are allowed a generous amount of lap time around the course too. The karts are fully adjustable to all body sizes and if there are any beginners in the family, there is also a safety video to watch.
18. Let you putting skills shine at Glow Putt!
Glow Putt Mini Golf is an indoor safari jungle themed miniature golf course that glows in the dark! And don’t be concerned that no one will be able to see your hole in one accomplishment – the 18 hole course is lit up with special UV lighting, and even the golf balls glow brightly every time they pass through one of the custom made charges. The course’s layout will keep all the family happy whatever skill level they are and the kids will have the time of their lives working through the course. Also, if anybody gets that illusive hole in one, they receive a prize at the end!
19. Xeriscape Garden
This fascinating garden is one of Scottsdale’s hidden secret desert oases. Packed with cacti, desert trees and colorful succulents, plenty of shady areas to walk within and interesting trails to climb, this is a lovely spot for the adults to chill, as well as super for kids to burn off some energy! The Xeiscape Garden’s message can be found within its over scaled and rusty steel water vessel; a symbol of abundance in an arid climate. Designed by landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck and inscribed with the reminder “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives”, the message was eagerly embraced by homeowners and encouraged by conservationists and city water utilities.
20. The Comedy Spot
Besides being the only comedy club in Scottsdale, the Comedy Spot, situated in the center of downtown Scottsdale, is the longest running comedy club in Arizona, and very popular with both locals and visitors. There are some great comedy acts to enjoy for the adults, so leave the kids at home with the relatives and come over to the Comedy Spot for a fun night out. There is no food available to order on site but you are most welcome to call a local number available who will then have it delivered to your seats!
21. Odysea Mirror Maze
This is a brainy attraction that will stretch everyone’s imagination! Hosting a cleverly constructed mirror maze as well as laser maze game, you will be kept busy trying to work out how to find the real path of escape as you make your way across a rickety bridge that overlooks a Central American rainforest, with the sounds of the jungle all around you. Will you be able to discover your truth path, and find your escape out of it? As you travel through a morass of jungle, false passages and even an ancient Mayan Temple there’ll be plenty of stories to relate after this fun experience.
22. Make Meaning
This is a perfect day out for mom and daughter(s) and plenty of time to bond as you get creative. There are pieces of pottery to paint, fashion candles or shape soaps, as well as many other crafts and special handmade gifts to create. The Make Meaning staff are very caring and attentive and on hand to help with any query or problem you might have. And, best of all, you get to keep your creation as a memento for a wonderful day out you will cherish forever.
23. CrackerJax Family Fun & Sports Park
How does a thrill park that has all the thrills the family love, all in one place, sound? Pretty good news I would think! The park is really family focused with very helpful staff, and there are so many fun attractions to choose from, too. From Bungee Dome and Bumper Boats to Alien Invasion Laser Tag and volley ball courts, as well as more sedate pastimes like video games and miniature golf, there is a game to please all members of the family, and at a pace you want to go!
24. Cosanti Foundation
The word “Cosanti” derives from two Italian words, ‘cosa and ‘anti’ which, when put together, literally mean ‘before (or against) things’. As you learn more about the owner and artist Paolo Soleri’s sculpture studios, you will see that Soleri’s anti-materialist stance is prominent throughout the building. Soleri and his students began work on the experimental buildings of Cosanti in the mid 1950’s, later to be designated an Arizona Historic Site. This landmark foundry is full of interesting features and a treat to watch the family working their magic on the renowned founding bells.
25. Taliesin West
This is Frank Lloyd Wright’s world famous home and architectural laboratory. Built in 1937 by the famous architect himself, it is now a National Historic Landmark. Constructed from the actual sand and stone of the surrounding Sonoran desert that sit at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, it really is a magnificent attraction for those interested in architecture, fans of Frank Lloyd Wright himself, or just as an engaging and relevant experience for the family. You have the choice of taking the 90 minute tour conducted by well trained, knowledgeable guides, or by making your own way through the house. The gift shop is well worth a visit too, with generously stocked artistic gifts for family & friends of all ages.