Scottsdale Travel Guide

Hi Friends! You all have been asking me what to do during your next trip to Scottsdale/Phoenix so I’m finally writing down all my favorite activities, places to eat, and scenic day trips.

Like any city, there are so many things to do! So I’ve narrowed down my recommendations to the things I’ve done and would do over and over again. Just note… these are the top things on my list. There really is so much more and I definitely recommend doing a little google search prior to your visit.

With that being said, here are the Top 10 Things To Do In Scottsdale!

1) Old Town Scottsdale:
Old Town is one of the most popular spots for vacationers. It’s a pretty large area filled with art galleries, souvenir shops, native american and cowboy themed stores, restaurants, and bars. Each area/street is categorized similarly so there’s a few blocks full of art galleries, a few blocks full of shops, a few blocks full of fancy restaurants and a few blocks full of wild bars. You get it… I’m just trying to say that “Going to Old Town” is like “Going Downtown”, it’s a large area and depending where you are, you will have a different experience so be sure to look up a few places you’d like to visit, and go from there!

A few places we enjoy taking guests to in Old Town are: The Sugar Bowl, Tortilla Factory, Barrio Queen, Rusty Spur, Brat Haus, Ruze Cake House, Farm & Craft, and Diego Pops.

In full disclosure – you’ll hear lots of people who visit for Bachelor or Bachelorette parties say they are going to “Old Town” to party. They are really going to “The Scottsdale Entertainment District” (that has HiFi, Bottled Blonde, Derks Bently Whiskey Row Bar, etc). This is a huge party scene, very wild, and full of tipsy people. Just be mindful of your surrounding if you decide to wonder this way! The clubs and crowds of people can be questionable just like the Vegas strip or Mardi Gras.

2) Soak Up the Sunshine and Vitamin D:
Phoenix is known for its’ sunshine. It’s rarely cloudy and almost always warm. Find a hotel or rent a house with a pool OR get a day pass to use a local resorts’ pool!

3) Shopping:
You could spend days or even weeks shopping here! It’s a shopaholic’s dream come true! There are so many malls but these are my top go-to’s!

  1. Fashion Square: Large indoor mall with large department stores, luxury brands, and all the affordable well-known brands.
  2. Kierland / Scottsdale Quarter: A beautiful outdoor mall to walk around on a nice day! Definitely my favorite of them all! Scottsdale Rd. splits this mall into two parts 1) Kierland and 2) The Scottsdale Quarter. It’s all one big outdoor mall but you’ll hear people reference it by two names because you have to use a crosswalk on Scottsdale Rd. (Near the Cheesecake Factory & Apple Store) to get to the other shops. Both sides are different and unique and definitely worth the walk!
  3. Biltmore Shopping Center in Arcadia: Another outdoor mall that’s a bit smaller than #1 and #2 that has a mix of boutiques, well-known brands and department stores.

4) Spa Day:
Scottsdale/Phoenix/Paradise Valley has some of the best spas in the nation! Truly – they are breathtaking! If you enjoy the finer things in life, I definitely suggest spending a Half day – Full day at one of the resort spas.

The OMNI Montelucia Joya Spa is unbelievable! With any spa treatment purchase, you receive a full-day pass to their facilities and terrace pool that has a spectacular view of Camelback Mountain. If you want to feel like a Queen and fully embrace Arizona’s desert vibes, I highly suggest coming here. You won’t regret it!

5) Hiking:
If you’re an outdoorsy person, there’s plenty of trails for you to enjoy! Be sure to pack your own water, sunscreen, a snack, and shoes with harder soles that you aren’t afraid to get dirty! The desert is a dry place so water is key!!! Do not “share” a water with your significant other no matter how short or long the hike is. You absolutely need your own! Here’s a list of my favorite trails but there’s many more!

  1. Camelback Mountain: Probably the most popular trail for visitors. Take an Uber because parking is limited. There are two main trails 1) Cholla and 2) Echo Canyon. I prefer Echo Canyon because it’s a little shorter and steeper, but oddly I feel safer because there’s fencing and poles to help you up. If you have bad balance or get scared of heights, I really don’t suggest this mountain for you but… you can always go up it 50% of the way, enjoy some views and crawl back down with no problem! (People take their toddlers and dogs up it all the time – no problem.) I would also only do this trail if you’re going with a group less than 6 people because the trail can get narrow and crowded. Just harder to travel with larger groups! This is a workout and you’ll probably be sore the next day! You need to be able to use both legs and arms so be sure to take a backpack with your belongings (you can’t leisurely hold a bottled water – I’ve made this mistake before and it went flying down the mountain) You absolutely need both hands to balance and climb over the boulders. I normally scoot my butt the entire way down because it’s steep and a little slippery with all the dust and sheet rock. Plan to spend a total of 2-3 hours (1 hour up and 1 hour down the Mt)
  2. Toms Thumb: This is probably one of my favorite trails because it’s pretty wide and gravel the entire way. It’s like walking on a treadmill at a super steep incline! So it’s a workout but you also feel safe! This area is full of prickly pear cactus that bloom in May and are SO PRETTY! Seriously when the cactus flowers bloom, they are so beautiful! The only downside of this trail is it’s the only trail I’ve ever seen rattle snakes on. I’ve only seen a few and they weren’t curled up and ready to bite like in the movies. They were just crossing the trail and minding their own business. Just FYI in case you’re someone who has a fear of snakes.
  3. Piestawa Peak / Squaw Peak Trail: This is a really good alternative to Camelback. It’s a another hard hike and a huge stair-stepper but not quite as scary as Camelback with the poles and fencing.
  4. Mcdowel Mt. Gateway Trail: Easy hike. Mostly flat with pretty views. A good place to take those that just want a leisurely walk in the desert. (My Grandma used to take guests here)
  5. Sugauro Lake Trail: Suguaro Lake is such a pretty place. It’s a bit of a drive but worth it. Super quiet and a fairly easy hike. Just lots a rocks that you need balance for.
  6. Nameless Hike: Ok I have no idea the trail name but…We like to do a hike by the starbucks @ 3165 E Lincoln Dr, Phoenix, AZ 85016. It’s uphill but not terribly hard and has a great view of downtown phoenix. 

6) Sporting Events:
Phoenix is home to the Phoenix SUNS, Arizona Cardinals, Diamond Backs, Phoenix Open Golf Event, and Barrett Jackson Car Event. People fly in from all over to attend games, spring training, and these annual events. If you’re a person who enjoys watching sports, be sure to google these to see if tickets are available during your visit.

7) Lake Day:
If you enjoy being out on the water, are in need of a relaxed day, and want to enjoy views filled with cactus, desert mountains, and water, then Saguaro Lake is the place for you! It’s typically very quiet (not a rowdy party scene… except for holiday weekends) and it’s very family friendly. There’s only one old restaurant and Marina here – nothing else! So pack a cooler with snacks and drinks, and call the Marina ahead of time to rent a boat with some sheltered sun coverage for a half day (which is plenty of time)!

My family tries to make is out to the lake once a year and rents a pontoon for 4 hours. We typically take some floats and dip in on the super-hot 100+ degree days.

8) Drive Around – Take a Day Trip to Explore:
Sedona, Grand Canyon, and the Tonto Natural Bridge are the top three places I’d suggest driving to if you’re up for an adventure and want to get out of the city. The landscape in AZ drastically changes in its different regions. You can see palm trees, red dirt, mountains, cactus, waterfalls, pine trees and snow.

Out of the three, I’d suggest Sedona over them all because it’s only a 2-hour drive, the views are breathtaking, and there’s so many hikes, jeep tours, ATV adventures, hot air balloon rides, shops and restaurants to enjoy. The red dirt mountains are unlike anything you’ll ever see!

9) Golf:
If you’re a golfer than you’re visiting the right place! There are so many courses! I suggest doing a little research to find courses that appeal to you. For reference, one of my Dad’s favorite courses is Eagle Mountain.

10) Restaurants/Places to Eat:
This one is hard because I know everyone has different food preferences but here’s a list of my family’s favorite places to eat. Also – if you’re visiting anytime between December – April I highly suggest making reservations 3-5 days in advance. With all the snow-birds and spring-breakers, Scottsdale can get incredibly busy!

  1. El Chorro –  View of Camelback! Brunch, Lunch and Happy Hours are best! Dinner can be pricey but so romantic for special occasions.
  2. Isabellas – Views of North Scottsdale Golf Course and Mountains. All-American menu. The Debs Pasta and the Brisket Sandwich are our favorites. Get seated on the back patio and go for lunch or dinner (before sunset so you can enjoy the views)
  3. Chelsea’s Kitchen – People rave about the “week-day lunch chicken sandwich” and short rib tacos. Get seated in their back patio/courtyard on a nice day.
  4. North Italian – Great pastas! Go for dinner.
  5. The VIG – The McDowell Mountain location is our favorite. They have a large patio with yard games and open areas for little-ones to play. The Mac & Cheese is to die for!
  6. Grassroots – All-American food with a twist. Consistently good. A local favorite.
  7. Postinos – Wine bar with bruschetta, sandwiches, salads. Lunch or Dinner spot.
  8. Culinary Dropout – Live music (some nights) hipster place. Scottsdale Fashion square location or the Central Phoenix YARD location is our favorite. Get the Pretzel Bites with Cheese Fondue.
  9. Barrio Queen – Mexican food. Get the Guac. (it has pomegranate seeds) Go to the Old Town location.
  10. Houstons – A dim lit steakhouse. Great for dinner.
  11. OHSO – Patio, hipster vibes, all american food. Brunch is the best! Lunch is just Okay. 
  12. The Thumb BBQ – A very nice/clean gas station / restaurant / gift shop. Great BBQ. Go for lunch OR order take out for a family night in by the pool and under the patio. The “Smokehouse Tour” for $50 is so good and feeds 6!
  13. Tortilla Factory – Low-key patio with pretty lights. Mexican food.
  14. The Henry – A local favorite and Instagram-able entrance.
  15. Flower Child – This is a health-nut place. We like to order take out and eat it by the pool. 
  16. Modern Margarita – The Brisket/Pineapple Taco is amazing and the chips/salsa is really good! A bit rowdy and loud on Friday – Sunday nights. Lunch is our favorite time to go.
  17. Olive and Ivy  – Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Italian menu. At Fashion Square Mall by Nordstrom.
  18. Scramble – Brunch spot with just about everything. Order at front, seat yourself style. Brizza is gooooood.
  19. Sugar Bowl – The cutest old-fashioned PINK ice cream parlor in Old Town. Instagram-Worthy!
  20. Ruze Cake House – Bobba Teas, Sugar Cookies and Maccaroons. Another Instagram-able spot.

That’s it my friends! I hope this list helps you plan your next trip to the Valley of the Sun!


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