Horse at Goldfield Ghost Town, Apache Junction AZ

22 Unique Things To Do In Scottsdale AZ (2024)

Wondering what unique things there are to do around Scottsdale? You’re in the right place.

I used to live in Scottsdale for 3 years, and am here to share personal insight on the city’s top spots!

Scottsdale is a beautiful desert city at the foot of the McDowell mountains in the Sonoran desert. It has a charming old downtown, amazing restaurants, and scenic desert attractions.

To help you plan a memorable trip, I’ve put together this list of the most unique places and activities in Scottsdale. 

Here are 25 unique things to do in Scottsdale that you won’t want to miss. 

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25 Unique Things To Do In Scottsdale AZ

1. Hike Papago Park

Hole In The Rock, Papago Park
Hole In The Rock, Papago Park (Photo by: Ryan Beltz on Unsplash)

Papago Park is a scenic hiking haven with beautiful rock formations that’s just a few minutes South of downtown Scottsdale. It has picnic areas, biking trails, hiking trails, and fishing ponds.

You can hike a short trail to reach the famed hole-in-the-rock formation at the top. From the top, you’ll have great views of the desert oases, especially during sunset! 

625 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ. Admission is free. Open from 5am to 7pm. Trails open until 11pm. 

2. Visit The Desert Botanical Gardens

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Arizona
Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Arizona

Tucked along the red rocks, the Desert Botanical Gardens is a 140 acre botanical garden with over 50,000 desert plants.

The park is filled with vibrant desert plants and has a herb garden, butterfly exhibit, and gift shop.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Arizona
Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Arizona

The park has loops of garden trails, and you’ll get to spot lizards and beautiful birds as you walk around. When I visited, it took me over an hour to explore the place! 

It’s right next to Papago Park, just a few minutes from downtown Scottsdale.  

1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ. Open Sun-Thurs 8am to 8pm, Fri-Sat 8am to 4pm, 5:30-9:30pm. Entry costs $24.95 for adults (18+), $14.95 for children (3-17). Get tickets here.

3. Stroll Through Old Town

Old Town Scottsdale
Old Town Scottsdale (Photo by: Jeremy Alford)

Old Town Scottsdale is a charming rustic downtown area with unique gift shops, small boutiques, art galleries, museums, and more.

You can stroll around, or go on a segway tour to learn all about the area from a local. It also has many incredible restaurants and bars.

Daily Dose Bar & Grill is a go-to spot for breakfast, and Grimaldi’s pizzeria has some of the best pizza in the city

3200 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale. Most shops are open till 7 to 8pm.

4. Climb Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain (Photo by: Kyle Kempt)

Named after its unique rock formations resembling a kneeling camel, Camelback Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Scottsdale. It has two hiking trails (Echo Canyon and Cholla), that take between 2-3 hours to reach the top and back.

Both hikes are moderately challenging, but it has unbeatable views of Phoenix and the valley from the top!

Keep in mind that it’s a steep hike with rocky trails so you’ll want to bring comfortable hiking shoes, and lots of water.

The best time to hike is early in the morning to avoid crowds, and during the winter for ideal weather.

Parking: 5191 N Invergordon Rd, Paradise Valley, AZ, 85253, USA. Open from sunrise to sunset. Park on Invergon Road for free street parking. 

5. Sample Scottsdale’s Best Restaurants

Stroll the streets of Old Town and sample some of the best restaurants on a walking food tour.

You’ll get to sample over 4 different restaurants while learning about the downtown area from a local.

From street tacos to pizza and wine, foodies won’t want to miss this tour. The tours start at 2pm, and last around 2.5 hours. 

6. Go On A Scenic Sunset Jeep Tour

sonoran desert at sunset
Sonoran Desert (Photo by: Joe Cook on Unsplash)

Explore Scottsdale’s beautiful desert landscape on an off-roading jeep tour.

You’ll get to pass through the Tonto National Forest and Pinnacle Peak Park while getting spectacular views of the desert during sunset.

If you’re traveling to Arizona for the first time, this is a great way to learn about the desert and area from a local. 

7. Visit Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland
Butterfly Wonderland (Photo by: Shirley Cairns on Unsplash)

Butterfly Wonderland is a butterfly garden with between 3,000 to 4,000 butterflies, making it one of the largest indoor butterfly conservatories.

The butterfly gardens are surrounded by beautiful plants, and it has a theater with 3D movies, aquarium, food court, and gift shop.

It’s just a 20 minute drive from Old Town, and it’s an amazing place to stroll around regardless of age. 

9500 East Vía de Ventura F100, Scottsdale, AZ 85256. Costs $29.95 per adults (12+), $19.95 for children (2-12). Open 9am to 5pm daily. Last entry at 4pm. 

8. Hike Tom’s Thumb

Tom’s Thumb is a unique rock formation that looks like a huge thumb, within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This is a moderately challenging hike that takes around 2 and a half hours to complete.

From the top, you’ll have breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains and Sonoran desert. 

There’s a visitor center where you can pick up a map for directions on the different hikes. 

23015 N 128th St, Scottsdale, AZ, 85255. Open from sunrise to sunset. 

9. Visit The Heard Museum

The Heard Museum is a wonderful non-profit museum that features American Indian Art. The museum has exhibits, art galleries, outdoor sculpture gardens, a cafe, and gift shop.

The museum is full of fascinating historical artifacts, and they offer free tours to learn more about Native American art. 

It’s located in downtown Phoenix, just a 25 minute drive from Scottsdale. 

2301 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004. Open 10am to 4pm daily. Entry costs $22.50 for adults (17+), $9 for children (6-17).  

10. Visit the Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo
Phoenix Zoo (Photo by: Brady Bellini on Unsplash)

The Phoenix Zoo is a large non-profit zoo that cares for over 3,000 animals.

This zoo has nearly 400 species of animals, with giraffe feeding exhibits, camel rides, stingray petting centers, and more.

This is a great zoo to take kids, and during December they have zoo lights at night with Christmas decorations and light shows.

It’s located right next to Papago Park, just 10 minutes from downtown Scottsdale. 

455 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008. Costs $37.95 for adults (14+), $27.95 for children (3-13). Zoo lights start from 5:30pm to 10:30pm in late November and December. 

11. Kayak Through Saguaro Lake

Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake, Apache Junction AZ
Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake is the fourth reservoir on the Salt River, and one of the most beautiful lakes near Scottsdale.

If you’re looking to go kayaking, horseback riding, or fishing, this is the place to go. It has picnic areas, campgrounds, a restaurant, and the Desert Belle boat cruise.

You can go on a guided kayaking tour or ride the Desert Belle cruise through the reservoir to see stunning rock formations and wildlife.

It’s 40 minutes from Scottsdale, off of State Route 87. 

Costs $25 per vehicle for a 7 day pass. Saguaro Lake, Arizona 85264. Get a day pass online

12. Hike Pinnacle Peak 

Pinnacle Peak is a mountain summit at an elevation of 3,169 feet, and one of the most popular hikes in Scottsdale.

It’s a moderately challenging 3.8 mile hike, but you’ll get spectacular panoramic views of the city from the top.

It’s much easier to hike than Camelback mountain but you’ll want to arrive early in the morning to avoid crowds. 

26802 N 102nd Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85262. Trailhead has restrooms and water fountains. Open 6:45am to 6:30pm daily. 

13. Visit Goldfield Ghost Town 

Horse at Goldfield Ghost Town, Apache Junction AZ
Goldfield Ghost Town

Nestled at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, Goldfield Ghost Town is a charming 1890s abandoned mining town.

This ghost town has a restaurant, gift shop, museum, chapel, and many unique small shops. It has an Old Western feel, and has spectacular views of the mountains.

It also has zip-lining, gun shows, historic gold mines, and train rides so it’s a wonderful place to take the whole family. It’s located in Apache Junction, 40 minutes from Scottsdale. 

4650 N Mammoth Mine Rd, Apache Junction, AZ 85119. Open 10am to 5pm daily. 

14. Visit The Musical Instrument Museum 

The Musical Instrument Museum is a fascinating museum that houses over 15,000 instruments from around the world.

It has interactive exhibits, displays from famous musicians, and tons of beautiful instruments throughout.

You’ll receive a headset to listen to different displays, and it takes around 4 hours to explore the entire museum.

The museum also has a theater, cafe, and gift shop. If you want to learn all about history and the role of music in different cultures, you won’t want to miss this place.

It’s located in downtown Phoenix, just 20 minutes from Old Town Scottsdale.

725 E Mayo Blvd, Phoenix, AZ. Open 9am to 5pm daily. Cafe open 11am to 2pm daily. Costs $20 for adults (12+), $15 for children (4-12). 

15. Explore The McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Sonoran Desert
Photo by: Emily Campbell

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a 35,000 acre nature preserve with many excellent hiking trails. The preserve has 11 main trailheads, with the Gateway Loop Trail being one of the best hikes.

The Gateway Loop is an easy 4.4 mile trail with scenic desert views throughout. This trailhead also has large restroom facilities, water, and free parking. 

18333 N Thompson Peak Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85255. Open sunrise to sunset. No entry free.

16. Do A Pub Crawl In Old Town 

Sample some of the best bars in Old Town by going on a bar crawl tour on a party bike.

You’ll get to pedal to 3 different bars with a group of up to 14 people, so it’s a fun activity for a group trip. 

17. Get A Banana Split From The Sugar Bowl

The Sugar Bowl is a charming 1950’s style ice cream parlor that serves old fashioned sundaes, banana splits, sodas, and more.

The shop has pink booths, an arcade room, and a fun, nostalgic atmosphere. 

4005 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. Open Sun-Thur 11am to 10pm, Fri-Sat 11am to 11pm. 

18. Visit Scottsdale’s Museum Of The West

Located in the heart of Old Town, Scottsdale’s Western Spirit Museum is a 43,000 square foot museum centered around the American west.

This museum has Native American artwork, cowboy memorabilia, old weapon displays, an outdoor sculpture garden, and a gift store.

If you love western culture, you won’t want to miss seeing this place.

3830 N Marshall Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. Closed Monday. Costs $25 for adults (17+), $12 for children (6-17). 

19. Visit Taliesin West

Taliesen West
Taliesen West (Photo by: Francesca Grima on Unsplash)

Formerly the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West is now a historical landmark that offers tours.

The complex has an old drafting studio, dining rooms, theaters, and old living quarters with furniture.

You can go on a self-guided audio tour or guided tour to learn all about the history of the place. 

12621 N Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85259. Open 10am to 5pm daily. 60 minute audio tours cost Adults $39-$44, Children $19-$22 (6-12). First tour begins at 11:20am, last tour begins at 4pm. 

20. Visit The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a unique 30 acre railroad park located in the heart of Scottsdale.

This park has a model railroad building, museum, train rides, and playgrounds so it’s the perfect place to take kids.

The park is completely free to visit, and they have a gift shop selling souvenirs and ice cream. 

7301 E Indian Bend Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85250. Open 9am to 5pm daily. No admission fee. Free parking. Costs $3 to ride the train. 

21. Ride A Hot Air Balloon Over Phoenix

If you’re up for an adventure, go on a morning hot air balloon ride.

You’ll get to enjoy a champagne breakfast, then ride in a peaceful hot air balloon with breathtaking views of Camelback Mountain and the Sonoran desert.

This tour begins in Phoenix, a 30 minute drive from Scottsdale. 

22. Take A Day Trip To Sedona

Cathedral Rock, Sedona
Cathedral Rock Hike, Sedona

If you’re traveling to Arizona for a limited time, going on a private tour is an excellent way to see some of Arizona’s most notable attractions.

You can go on a private van tour to see the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, and stop by the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for photos and lunch.

They provide transportation from accommodations in Scottsdale, and the full tour lasts around 13 hours.

If you prefer to visit on your own, Sedona is around a 2 hour drive from Scottsdale.

For tips on how to get there and what you’ll want to visit, read this article on how to plan the perfect weekend in Sedona.


Whether you want to go museum-hopping or hiking, Scottsdale has something for every taste.

Being within 30 minutes of Phoenix and Tempe, there’s many unique things to do in the neighboring cities as well.

If you have the time, I highly recommend you visit the red rocks in Sedona. The drive from Scottsdale to Sedona is around 2 hours, and it’s scenic throughout.

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