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Where to Stay, What to Eat, and What to Do in Scottsdale, Arizona

The increasingly popular, Phoenix-adjacent suburb offers a surprisingly rich roster of culture, adventure, and culinary delights
Aerial view of popular travel destination Scottsdale, Arizona at sunset
Courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

It seems like Scottsdale is the place to be these days—my friends and acquaintances appear to be constantly en route there for bachelorette parties, spa getaways, even guys’ golfing trips. I never really understood why. It’s just a suburb of Phoenix, right? What do people do there all day?

Like any intrepid journalist, I took it upon myself to find out with a two-day getaway in the area.

Exterior and pool at the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows a popular travel destination in Arizona
Courtesy of Hyatt

Best Hotels to Visit in Scottsdale

First point in Scottsdale’s favor: There are fantastic places to stay, like Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows. The mid-century modern resort is on a busy commercial drive but feels like an enclave, tucked away amid 23 acres of gardens. Each of the 185 bungalows, suites, and villas has a private entrance and patio and is decorated with designer furniture and tasteful local art. Wandering around the property felt like exploring a charming neighborhood, with hammocks, giant Connect 4 games, and plenty of dogs sprinkled among the three pools, fitness center, and spa. There’s also a poolside restaurant and bar and Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen, a Mediterranean eatery with creative cocktails and a curated wine library.

A hotel with a more downtown feel is Hotel Valley Ho, which originally opened in 1956 and has been recently restored. It was once a hideaway for Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Zsa Zsa Gabor and now has suites, a spa, a pool, and seasonal American cuisine at ZuZu and the ZuZu Lounge.

Hot air balloon rides from Hot Air Expeditions in Scottsdale a popular travel destination and fun thing to do in Arizona
Courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

Fun Things to Do in Scottsdale

And, yes, there are things to do. Of course, there’s golf, spas, and shopping—the typical Arizona resort activities. But outdoor adventurers can also stretch their legs with a run or ride along the Indian Bend Wash – Greenbelt bike path or a hike around the 4.5-mile Gateway Loop Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. 

Stellar Adventures will take you roaring through the desert landscape in an open-air Hummer or ATV (adrenaline junkies can book an “advanced” Hummer tour to experience a car that can climb walls). Go at night for sights of nocturnal wildlife and a staggering number of stars. 

If you want a romantic jaunt, Hot Air Expeditions offers sunrise hot air balloon rides through the Sonoran Desert. Take in views of desert terrain and mountain ranges from up to 5,000 feet in the air. 

Interior of an exhibit at the Western Spirit Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona
Courtesy of Expedia
The Western Spirit Museum

For tamer (but no less interesting) endeavors, try Wonderspaces, a year-round, evolving art show, or the Western Spirit museum, the Desert Botanical Garden, and Butterfly Wonderland, a conservatory on the Arizona boardwalk home to thousands of the winged critters. 

You can also explore Scottsdale’s Downtown Arts District, filled with specialty shops and boutiques, art galleries, and museums. Wander through Old Town’s unique districts, including Historic Old Town, with stalwart establishments such as the Rusty Spur Saloon and Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop; the Fifth Avenue Shopping District (for Southwest and Native American arts and crafts); and the Arts District (for handmade apparel and art prints).

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art featuring art exhibits including the Knight Rise by James Turrell
Courtesy of Scottsdale Public Art

Also check out Scottsdale’s Public Art Program, which includes a self-guided walking tour of 70 permanent and 30 temporary artworks. You can see traditional bronzes, such as George-Ann Tognoni’s trio of galloping horses, as well as contemporary and experiential works, like James Turrell’s SkySpace at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. The city has 50 additional works in various stages of design and construction. 

For retail therapy, stop by the boutiques Carmen, Vintage by Misty, Fashion by Robert Black, and Leela Market. Then hit The Merchantile of Scottsdale, an indoor marketplace located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, and the Native American Market, where indigenous Arizonans sell their artwork directly to consumers. And, while it may seem absurd to go to the mall on vacation, Scottsdale Fashion Square really is a great mall. There are all the top brands—Neiman Marcus, Prada, Gucci, Kate Spade New York, Tory Burch, Tiffany & Co., Salvatore Ferragamo—plus plenty of smaller shops and dining options. 

Courtesy of The Herb Box

Must-Try Restaurants & Bars in Scottsdale

There are also endless options for eating in Scottsdale—far beyond the laundry list of chain restaurants you might expect from a suburb. Try The Herb Box in Old Town for brunch. At lunchtime, there’s The Thumb, a BBQ joint and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives favorite, or Diego Pops, a chic taco joint. In the evening, try The Mission’s Old Town location, where numerous chandeliers cast a romantic glow over the sight of your server whipping up tableside guacamole. Also check out Beginner’s Luck, an intimate spot with cocktails and comforting dishes.

Craving a pint or a glass of red? Try Goldwater Brewing Co., Fate Brewing Company, Sip Coffee & Beer, Aridus Wine Company Tasting Room, Arizona Stronghold, Carlson Creek Vineyards, LDV Winery, Los Milics Vineyards, Merkin Vineyards, Salvatore Vineyards, and The Wine Collective of Scottsdale.

By the end of my visit, I stood corrected. There was more to do in Scottsdale than I could fit into a two-day trip. I can’t wait to go back… probably the next time a friend throws a bachelorette.

By Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser has been writing for San Diego Magazine for 10 years. She also is a reporter at KPBS and writes for The New York Times, National Geographic, Marie Claire, Elle and Runner's World.

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