Lifestyle, Things To Do, Travel

16 Fun Things to do in Scottsdale, Arizona (on a road trip from L.A.)

February 27, 2018 by Christina Champlin
taliesin west frank lloyd wright

Photo Credit: Christina Champlin / We Like L.A.

This article is part two of our three-part guide on a road trip to Scottsdale. In part one we provide an overview of the best times to go and where to stay. In part 2 we highlight fun things to do in Scottsdale. In part three we discuss great places to eat in Scottsdale.

Scottsdale really does offer something for everyone. Sports fans come for spring training, the Cactus Bowl and to golf at the many links. Year-round there are events and tours at a bucket-list of architectural and artistic spaces including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, and Arcosanti, an experimental micro-city built by Paolo Soleri. For the outdoorsy type, hikes in Scottsdale are picturesque, with towering saguaros dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see. If you’re more into shopping and digging for vintage treasures, the city is filled with antique stores and boutiques, not to mention a huge mall.


For whatever kind of adventure you’re looking for in Scottsdale, start with the list below and you can build your own itinerary that’s custom suited for your personal tastes and the time of year you’re visiting.

1. Taliesin West

A national historical landmark built by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin West is home to the FLW Foundation and SOAT, an architecture school. The headquarters of the Taliesin Fellowship established in 1937, Taliesin West was built by FLW and his apprentices on acres of isolated land in the middle of the desert where they created a community in balance with the surrounding environment. Today it is considered one of Wright’s masterpieces and the best example of personal architecture. Seven original apprentices still live there today, and students from all over the world come to study at the school each year. One of the most stunning examples of FLW’s work on the West Coast, the community is a must-visit for those interested in design and architecture. Taliesin West is open to the public for tours, and reservations are strongly recommended. –> More information

2. Cattle Track

Tucked away on a dirt road in a residential neighborhood is Cattle Track, an arts compound of great historical significance. Built in 1937 by engineer George Ellis, the community is comprised of workshops and homes to forward-thinking artists and craftsmen. A 501(c)(3) non-profit, Catttle Track provides students and artists a place to continue their work and explorations in their perspective fields. Past residents include sculptor Louise Nevelson, Native American painter Fritz Scholder and painter Philip C. Curtis, who went on to found the Phoenix Art Museum. Today, the studios of artists-in-residence can be toured for free Monday through Saturday. If you’re lucky, you might get artist and manager of the compound Mark McDowell to guide you. He’ll tell you all about the history of Cattle Track and introduce you to some of the artists and their work. –> More information

Photo Credit: Canal Convergence

3. Canal Convergence

View larger-than-life art installations over the Scottsdale Waterfront and canal during the annual Canal Convergence. Free and open to the public, guests can participate in workshops, interact with engaging art pieces and enjoy live performances. The 2018 Canal Convergence will take place February 23-24 and March 2-3. –> More information

4. Scottsdale ArtWalk

Every Thursday, the Arts District turns into the Scottsdale Artwalk. From 7 to 9 p.m., dozens of galleries open their doors to the public for a nighttime art-viewing party. A 40-year tradition, the ArtWalk is a great way to get to know the Scottsdale art scene, which includes Southwestern art, Russian Impressionist and contemporary. I suggest making a reservation at a nearby restaurant or planning a cocktail stop to make a full night out of the ArtWalk. –> More information 

mike mcdowell sonoran preserve

Photo Credit: Christina Champlin / We Like L.A.

5. Hike The McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve encompasses over 30,000 acres of permanently protected land for the public to enjoy. There are a handful of trailheads with varying levels of difficulty. We hiked the Gateway Trailhead, a 4.5 mile loop of easy-moderate difficultly with no shade, and gradual inclines and declines.  Here visitors can catch a view of thousands of towering Saguaro cacti, neon green palo verde trees and wildflowers. Additionally, the preserve provides a home for wildlife including roadrunners, desert birds and the javelina, an Old World pig found in the Southwestern parts of the United States. If you are looking for a fun and educational visit, consider hiking with Arizona Outback Adventures. A guide will pick you up from your hotel and take you on a tour on foot or by bike while providing water and snacks for the trip, as well as local knowledge of the plants, animals and general history of the area. You can take a look at all AOA’s services here. Finally, let me just offer another reminder that if you are in Scottsdale in the hotter months, plan your outdoor activities, such as hiking, in the early hours of the morning to avoid the desert heat, sunburn, and/or dehydration. –> More information

6. Vintage Shopping

Arizona has a plethora of vintage shops, but not all are created equal. Fashion by Robert Black is an upscale store organized by color that carries highly sought-after labels like Chanel and YSL. Vintage By Misty is also a hot spot for gently-used labels. If you are more of an antique mall type, head to Antique Trove and search through the many booths of goodies from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and beyond. Lastly, if you drove from L.A. to Scottsdale, you would have passed the city of Phoenix along the freeway and seen a Costco-sized building called Brass Armadillo. This is the biggest antique mall I personally have ever seen and it’s become one of my all-time favorite places to search for retro hidden treasures.

cosanti arizona

Photo Credit: Christina Champlin / We Like L.A.

7. Cosanti

Located in Paradise Valley, Cosanti is a designated historical site designed by Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri. This studio and gallery feature experimental earth-formed concrete structures built by Soleri and his apprentices. This is also where Soleri’s famous bronze bells are cast every weekday morning; visitors are invited to observe the process in the foundry. The wind bells can be purchased and are seen hanging all over the outdoor gift shop and beyond. –> More information

8. Arcosanti

If you visit Cosanti, you will hear about Arcosanti, located in Mayer, Arizona about 1.5 hours away from Scottsdale. Paolo Soleri’s life’s work was to build a micro-community that wouldn’t negatively impact the environment. The space never fully took off, but Soleri’s vision lives on today. At Arcosanti, you’ll see students, artist, architects and the general public who come to experience life in this futuristic community. Open to the public for tours, Arcosanti is also a place you can stay at for next to nothing — as little as $30 a night. Guests are granted access to the in-ground pool (seasonal), nightly views of the Milky Way, complimentary breakfast in the café, and workshops where you work with Arcosanti residents and others. Just know it’s not a five-star resort, but more of a place to get in touch with nature and Soleri’s work as you live mindfully for a few days. –> More information 

9. Golfing Scottsdale

Arizona is a golfer’s dream. There are over 200 golf courses between Scottsdale and Phoenix, and each one offers unique layouts set on breathtaking landscapes and resorts. It’s hard to pick just one spot. My two suggestions are complete opposites of one another. Troon North in Scottsdale is considered the most scenic, with desert terrain weaved across the course and an unbeatable view of the vistas of Pinnacle Peak. McDowell Mountain Golf Club, tucked away in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, provides an eco-sensitive design featuring wetlands, mesquite and cactus on the course. –> More information 

10. Arizona Wine Tasting

It may come as a surprise to learn that Arizona has a wine scene, but go for a wine walk in Old Town Scottsdale and you’ll soon be sipping on chardonnay, merlot, grenache, syrah and more at one of their many tasting rooms. –> More information


Photo Credit: Christina Champlin / We Like L.A.

11. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) exhibits some of the coolest contemporary art in the world, as well as Arizona artists. I highly suggest paying a visit to the museum, especially to check out Knight Rise, artist James Turrell’s Skyspace located in the courtyard of SMoCA. Visitors can walk into the space to observe the ever-changing light of the desert sky and, of course, snap a few photos. –> More information

12. Scottsdale’s Museum of the West

Explore the history of the West at this award-winning museum. Scottsdale’s Museum of the West features exhibits of Hopi pottery, rare cowboys and Indians movie posters, and unique stores from the Greater Western region of America.

–> More information

13. Musical Instrument Museum

Music fans can check out the Musical Instrument Museum featuring instruments from around the world and special displays such as John Lennon’s piano and Jonny Cash’s guitar. For those looking to get more hands on, head to The Experience Gallery, where the public is encouraged to play a variety of instruments from the collection. –> More information

14. Spring Training

Baseball fans will want to head to Scottsdale during spring training to catch some of their favorite teams from around the United States play. The weather is perfect during the early spring, making this a great day out with sports-loving friends and family. –> More information 

15. Take a Walking Tour of Public Art

Explore Scottsdale’s public art collection by using an interactive map to discover 70 permanent and 30 temporary artworks that include George-Ann Tognoni’s famous bronzes, James Turrell’s Skyspace, Paolo Soleri’s Bridge and much more.  –> More information

16. Arizona Biltmore

If you’re a Frank Lloyd Wright fan then the Arizona Biltmore, while not technically in Scottsdale, is definitely worth the 30-minute drive. Opened in 1929, this legendary hotel became known as the “Jewel of the Desert.” Frank Lloyd Wright served as consulting architect on the project, which was led by Wright’s former student Albert Chase McArthur. The property sits on 39 acres of land and was regarded as a playground for the rich and famous in its earliest days. Today it’s considered an architectural landmark. Featuring an epic art deco pool with a waterfall, champion golf course, and AAA Four Diamond dining, the Arizona Biltmore is an all-around luxury getaway. –> More information  

Next up: Great Places to Eat in Scottsdale

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