Things to do in Scottsdale, Arizona: the green heart of the Sonoran Desert

Scottsdale, the lush and plush part of the stirring Sonoran Desert, defies the typical traits of a desert. Find out why this oasis is a must visit and what are the top things to do in Scottsdale.

In the winters of 1929, the revolutionary 20th-century architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, gets hit by the deadly bout of pneumonia. His doctor gives an ultimatum to Wright's wife:

In Wisconsin, he may not survive even for two months but he can live for another 20-year, if he listens to me

Wright agreed and went on to outlive promised 20-year. No, his doctor didn’t give him an Aladdin’s lamp. He just advised him to change his winter abode from Wisconsin to Scottsdale - an oasis in the blooming desert of Sonoran in central Arizona. Not only his health improved but the blooming desert inspired him to leave a legacy behind - Taliesin West - a studio, home and a campus for Architecture studies.

Taliesin West, Scottsdale. Pic credit: Experience Scottsdale

Taliesin West, Scottsdale. Pic credit: Experience Scottsdale

Frank Lloyd wasn’t the first or the last man whose life changed after shifting to Scottsdale. Scottsdale is rated as one of the best cities to live and retire in the US. I was completely bowled over by the City of the Spas and Resort. Here are the top 5 things to do in Scottsdale:

 

1.     YEAR-ROUND SUNLIT WEATHER

When the entire United States is gripped by the cold wave, Scottsdale enjoys a perfect sunny weather. You can always take your convertible out without the fear of a snow storm. Sunny Scottsdale was such a welcome change from the shivering San Francisco in April. Applying sunscreen is way better than drowning in multiple layers. Every Scottsdale season has its charms. And with 330 days of sunshine every year and plenty of outdoor playtimes, any season is a great time to visit!

Seasons of Scottsdale, Central Arizona

Seasons of Scottsdale, Central Arizona

 

2.     TOP DINING DESTINATION

Scottsdale may be in a desert, but stellar restaurants sprout up all the time. World-class restaurants are not restricted to swanky five-star hotels, resorts or chains. Independent restaurants rule Scottsdale food scene. Scottsdale’s thriving food scene encompasses nearly 800 restaurants in a setting of glorious weather and the Sonoran Desert vistas. No wonder even non-foodies become foodies in this Mecca of Dining.

Independent Restaurant

FnB Restaurant, the crowning jewel of Scottsdale food scene, is run by Charleen Badman and Pavle Milic. Badman is a three-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef. The James Beard Awards are to food scene what the Oscars are to the movie world. Badman, nicknamed as the “Veggie Whisperer”, is lauded for her globally inspired menu and focus on Arizona-grown ingredients. With her magic touch, she coaxes unimaginable flavors out of veggies that you might discard as bland and boring.

The salad of beets, oranges, strawberries, olives, glacier lettuce, hazelnuts and goat cheese was the best concoctions of flavors one could ever relish. I am not a big fan of Broccoli but the grilled spicy broccoli made with tangerine aioli and pistachios made me its fan. The food, the drinks, the ambiance and the service at FnB were extraordinary.

Dinner at FnB Restaurant, Scottsdale

Dinner at FnB Restaurant, Scottsdale

Resort Restaurant

And it wasn’t just FnB that impressed me. Prado, the signature award-winning restaurant at Omni Scottsdale Resorts was equally amazing. As I entered the picturesque resort, I felt I was transported to the gorgeous Mediterranean world. The wood-fired tapas display kitchen, soothing mood lighting, indoor and outdoor sitting arrangement with the views of Camelback Mountain under full moon night made the whole scene look dreamy. The food and drinks were a soothing riot of flavors and colors.

Dinner at Prado, Scottsdale. Pic credit: Mike Shubic

Dinner at Prado, Scottsdale. Pic credit: Mike Shubic

Other places that I loved eating at were AZ88, Farm & Craft, Gertrude’s at Desert Botanical Garden, Scott’s Grill at the Scott Resort and the Mission.

 

3.     DESERT PLAYGROUND FOR OUTDOOR FUN

Scottsdale may be renowned for its culinary and cultural scene but being the beating heart of the Sonoran Desert, it is a desert playground for outdoor fun. The natural beauty of the blooming and diverse desert is jaw dropping.

Lower part of the Salt River, Scottsdale

Lower part of the Salt River, Scottsdale

Ride the River

Expect the unexpected in Scottsdale. In a desert where every drop of water is precious like gold, Scottsdale is truly blessed. Two snowmelt-fed rivers and a ring of turquoise lakes make it an ideal destination for water sports like rafting, SUPing, kayaking, and tubing. I loved Kayaking with Arizona Outback Adventures on the lower Salt River, which has national forest on one side and Native American land on the other side. Floating along the towering sandstone cliffs, lush shoreline embellished with Mesquite trees and inhabited by wild horses, turkey vultures, ducks and other desert wildlife was an experience to remember.

Kayaking on the Salt River, Scottsdale

Kayaking on the Salt River, Scottsdale

Soar over the Sonoran Desert

After marveling the lush desertscape overland, I decided to admire it from 5,000 feet up in the air as the sun wrapped the landscape in molten gold. Winds played a spoilsport on day 1 but on day 2 my flight took off smoothly. From the hot air balloon, I soaked up views of the vast expanse of the Sonoran Desert, rock formations, and the tantalizing blue of Lake Pleasant. Captain John and the crew members of Hot Air Expeditions were both entertaining as well as highly skilled. The icing on the cake was the champagne celebration at the end of the smooth flight.

Balloon ride over the Sonoran Desert, Scottsdale

Balloon ride over the Sonoran Desert, Scottsdale

In Scottsdale, there's never a shortage of outdoor activities. You can go for a morning hike at 150-acre Pinnacle Peak park, choose from self-guided hiking, guided hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, bird watching, horseback riding, and wildflower viewing at Saguaro-studded 30,000-acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve or see the world’s largest collection of desert plants at the Desert Botanical Garden.

Most importantly don’t miss capturing the can’t-believe-the-color sunsets.

 

4.     FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S ORGANIC ARCHITECTURE

He landed in the Sonoran Desert battling against death in 1929 but he infused a new life in the American architecture and went on to create one of the greatest architectural legacies of the 20th century. In the final but remarkable stage of his career, he built Taliesin West - his winter home, studio and school of architecture. It was here, he invented some of the most influential and inspirational pieces of architecture in America — including New York City’s Guggenheim Museum. If you are a fan of Ayn Rand, you cannot miss visiting this landmark as the famous character of Howard Rork in the novel "The Fountainhead" was modeled on Frank Lloyd Wright.

Taliesin West Performance Hall, Scottsdale

Taliesin West Performance Hall, Scottsdale, Pic credit: Experience Scottsdale

When I saw Taliesin West, my eyes popped out with admiration. The Taliesin West spanning across 600 acres offered a fascinating peek into Wright’s revolutionary thinking. The organic architecture was seamlessly woven into the rugged terrain of the Sonoran Desert. The shapes, structures, and materials used were sourced locally and complimented the geography of the area.

5.     UPSCALE DESERT LIVING

Scottsdale is amongst the top city to live and retire in the US. Despite an expensive cost of living (122 as compared to the American average of 100) it still attracts people from around the world for its upscale desert living. Its lively-meets-laidback character can be seen in its outstanding art galleries and museums, exceptional shopping and dining options, a plethora of golf courses and abundant recreational activities.

HiFi corner, Scottsdale Downtown

HiFi corner, Scottsdale Downtown. Pic credit: Experience Scottsdale

Spa + Wellness

Scottsdale is the Spa Capital of the US with the most resort spas per capita, and six Forbes Four Star spas. It’s a crime to visit Scottsdale and not experience its legendary pampering spas. Joya Spa at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa is the best thing you can ask for after the exhausting activities of the Sonoran Desert.

Joya Spa at Omni Scottsdale Resort

Joya Spa at Omni Scottsdale Resort, Pic credit: Joya Spa

Downtown

The high-end spa and resort experience at Omni was balanced by the eclectic vibrancy of the Scottsdale’s Old Town. A fusion of the Native American crafts and Western-themed bars and restaurants can be seen here in every street. A great walking spot, brimming with boutiques, galleries, art installations, restaurants, nightclubs, and other attractions. The best way to enjoy this spot is to grab a glass of wine and roam through the wide array of galleries.

Old Town, Scottsdale

Old Town, Scottsdale

Museums

Scottsdale Museum of the West, Central Arizona

My interest in Native American culture took me to the Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. I got a crash course on Native American Culture by the soft spoken but extremely knowledgeable Rebecca Heller. I didn't realize when almost half of the day went past admiring the outstanding permanent and rotating exhibits, rare old west artifacts, and monumental installations. SMOW is unique in many ways - one of them is how the elements of Sonoran Desert are seamlessly integrated into the design of the museum. For example, the walls and flooring had the texture of the Saguaro cactus.

Key ongoing exhibitions:

  • Grand Canyon Grandeur (June 6 - December 31, 2017)
  • Of Spirit and Flame: John Coleman Bronzes (Ongoing; Opened June 6, 2017)
  • The Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History (June 20, 2017 - Sept 30, 2018)
  • Canvas of Clay: Hopi Pottery Masterworks (Sep 16, 2017)

These were my top five things to do in Scottsdale. There are hundreds of more things that you can do here. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned regular, Scottsdale will welcome you with open arms. Hope these things to do in Scottsdale inspire you to plan a trip shortly to green heart of the Sonoran Desert. Here are some insider tips to help you plan better.

10 travel tips to Experience Scottsdale

  1. Visit during the two flowering seasons of the Sonoran Desert (Spring and summer)
  2. Walk through the Scottsdale Civic Centre Park for iconic public art collection
  3. Stay hydrated and put ample sunscreen to evade the dry heat
  4. Always book a dinner table in advance
  5. Pose with the Downtown Scottsdale Cowboy sign
  6. Stay at a centrally located place like the Scott Resort
  7. Try the Mesquite cookies or go for mesquite spa treatments
  8. Visit the Farmers Market and relish the fresh produce
  9. Savor the homegrown wines and Kombucha
  10. Scottsdale is extremely pet-friendly. You can take your pooch paddling or dining

RELATED: The USA Travel – Things you should know before your visit

Inspired? Pin these to your Pinterest boards

Top 5 things to do in Scottsdale

Top 5 things to do in Scottsdale, Central Arizona

Seasons of Scottsdale

Four Seasons and things to do Scottsdale

Experience the Desert High living of Scottsdale

Experience the Desert High living of Scottsdale

 

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Disclaimer:

I was hosted by Experience Scottsdale but all the views expressed above are solely mine and based on my personal experiences. Many thanks to Experience Scottsdale, The Scott Resort, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the WestDesert Botanical GardenHot Air ExpeditionsArizona Outback Adventures Prado, and FnB Restaurant for the incredible experiences I had. Pictures posted above are either clicked by me or shared by Experience Scottsdale.

25 Comments

  • yukti says:

    Deserts of Scottsdale is so stunning and you have given detailed description of this place. Hot Air Ballooning over Sonoran deserts looks thrilling. As i live in desert area I can understand this place is sunny all year round. Kayaking in Salt River is also perfect for water and sports lovers.

  • Tatum says:

    I am OBSESSED with Arizona and everything it has to offer. I love the desert, the luxury spas and even sleeping under the stars there. I did a hot air balloon ride over Las Vegas which was amazing too. Great post.

  • jithin says:

    Hearing about Scottsdale first time. After reading, I feel like this place has became so familiar to me. You have included tonnes of information. The infograph about weather and activities to do on each period is quiet useful.
    Since the cost of living is comparably high, I doubt how Scottsdale is good for someone travelling in a much lesser budget.

  • Jamie says:

    I’ve heard of Scottsdale, but didn’t know much about it. It’s definitely somewhere I would consider traveling, especially since it’s the spa capital of the world! It also looks like wonderful scenery to photograph.

  • I have always been tempted to visit Arizona but never knew where I wanted to go. Thanks to your post I will check it out when I finally go. The desert looks beautiful and it seems like there is a lot to do there!

  • Amanda Tran says:

    Scottsdale is absolutely stunning. I am so gutted I didn’t know about when I was in Arizona last year!! Where was this post back then?! Haha. You had me at 330 days of sunshine – going back to the US asap!

  • Your pictures are just ahhhhmazing! What really caught my eye though was your food experience, just wow, you have so convinced me to go and visit Scottsdale just because of your food section lol. Aside from the food, there are so many outdoor activities that the city has to offer which also caught my attention!

  • Lydia Smith says:

    This is such a lovely city. It is a gem I have discovered thanks to you. I will be sure to explore like an adventurer I am. At least for attractions #2

  • Wow this post is quite informative. We’ve unfortunately not heard much about scottsdale, probably because we haven’t been to the region however this will have to change courtesy your post and the impact it has. Thanks for sharing

  • Mimi & Mitch says:

    A destination with lots of outdoor fun (or any) makes us happy! Riding the river would be something we would have to do, love it thanks for sharing this wonderful destination. Can’t wait to plan.

  • James says:

    I’ve never heard of Scottsdale, AZ. Next time I do a road trip through Arizona, I’ll make it one of my stops. The food at Prado looks mouth watering. The Taliesin West Performance Hall looks similar to the Rock Church in Oslo.

  • Thanks for the details on the weather….it is always good to know what to expect weather wise to pack appropriately. I would love to spend a day or so in the spa…whats a vacation without some relaxation! The hot air balloon will surely have some lovely views…I would love get a few good pics from up above!

  • Anna Schlaht says:

    A quick look at the map tells me that Scottsdale is super close to Phoenix; this said, I can’t believe I went to Arizona last year and missed Scottsdale entirely! What a bummer. The outdoor activities (hiking, mostly), delicious restaurants, and beautiful architecture are really enticing and look like such a fun time! Not to mention, the weather sounds like total bliss year round. We may have to move to Arizona in the future and experience it for ourselves. 😀 Thanks for sharing this great guide to Scottsdale with us. We’ll definitely use it in the future.

  • Scottsdale looks like such a must-see in Arizona. I had heard of it but this post really opened my eyes to what a beautiful place this is. As someone who just loves being in the outdoors, there is so much to see and do here. Will be looking to stop here for a while the next time I’m in the region.

  • Abigail Sinsona says:

    I’ve always been fascinated with Arizona, and it looks like Scottsdale is a must when in the state. I love that there is so much variety of things to see or do. The dining options are what caught my eye the most. They all look so amazingly good!

  • Mariella says:

    What a lovely part of the world. Amazing that you can cover so much in just few days. I would love to be able to visit and see this beautiful place one day. 🙂 Thank you for sharing. Safe travels. – Mariella

  • Susanna says:

    Wow, you really got a full on guide, I love it. It’s funny, I lived in Alaska for 26 years and now I wonder if the cold is going to bring me to an early death hahah JK. I loved seeing all the outdoor activities you could do there and the old town looks so cute and charming.

  • Ling Ge says:

    I’ve met many people that are moving to Scottsdale and they point out many of the things you can do there. It sure looks like a nice place if you enjoy the outdoors but I’m also surprised at the dining options available too. I’ll have to visit for a closer look if we pass by the area again

  • What an incredible travel guide, thanks so much for the information! I’m super digging the hot air balloon ride & river time… bucketlist items!

  • John Lenard says:

    What a fantastic write-up! I have heard Scottsdale was nice, but you sold me on it! I think my wife and I might just book a trip there next spring. Thanks Archana.

  • Abhinav Singh says:

    Wow. Who would have thought that this place has 800 restaurants. I am delighted to know that they have options for vegetarians like me. Unlike you, I am a huge fan of broccoli mainly for its texture and health benefits. This looks like a dish I would love. That hot air balloon festival must have been a memorable experience. I did hot air balloon once near Taj Mahal. It’s still once of my best experiences.

  • Jean says:

    Oh Scottsdale looks amazing! I always think of the big horse shows that are hosted here and never if fine dining and spa treatments. Maybe it is time to come over and combine both fun activities?

  • Janiel says:

    omg, I want a massage so bad after reading this. I didn’t realize that Scotsdale and so much to offer, I thought it was such a small town that it wasn’t even worth mentioning on the map, so I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you have exposed this city to me! PS – how do those Kayak’s hold up that are inflatable?

  • Annie B says:

    I’m heading to San Fran in March and one of my American friends said I needed to head to Scotsdale… I was like, what is so good about this place. Thanks to this we’re now gonna head there too!

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