The ultimate Scottsdale itinerary will provide you with the best way to spend your desert vacation.
You can’t just walk off your flight without knowing what to do first. Not when your vacation clock is ticking, ticking, ticking.
But that’s where we can help by giving you tips to maximize your time and pleasure in the lovely, relaxing oasis that is Scottsdale.
We won’t give you a minute-by-minute strict schedule. Rather, we’ll provide you with the best of Scottsdale in a list you can customize to fit your interests.
First, though, you need to get here. If you plan to fly, figure on landing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
This is a major airport in the southwest US, so you should be able to find a convenient and reasonably priced flight.
You can also bring or rent an RV and make one of the tranquil campgrounds your base as you explore Scottsdale.
As for other types of accommodations, Scottsdale has got you covered. The city is famous for its luxurious hotels, resorts, and spas.
If you’re looking for something more private, check out some of the many homes and condos available for short-term stays.
After you have your vacation foundation laid, take a look at some of the activities and suggested itineraries below.
With a little planning, you can relax knowing all the big stuff is taken care of. So how do you pull off the ultimate Scottsdale itinerary?
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4 Day Itinerary, Scottsdale, AZ
Four days in Scottsdale is a good amount of time to experience the town and surroundings.
If you have more time, then great! Add some more of our suggested activities. If you only have a day or three, then boo.
Kidding. Just make plans to return soon! But for now, here’s our four-day Scottsdale itinerary.
Best Things to Do For a Four Day itinerary for Scottsdale, AZ
On your first day, you need to relax after a day or so of traveling. Hang out by the pool today and get your bearings.
The Sonesta Suites Scottsdale Gainey Ranch is a luxury all-suite property within walking distance to many of Scottsdale’s famous restaurants and boutiques.
This elegant hotel is perfect for couples. They offer a complimentary happy hour and the pool area (with shade trees!) is divine.
It’s rated a 4.6 out of possible 5 stars on Google.
For dinner, walk over to Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana for authentic Italian dishes like gramigna boscaiola, a local favorite, and the Neopolitan pizza.
Reservations are recommended as this is a popular neighborhood eatery. Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana rates 4.5 out of 5 possible stars on Google.
While we’re on our favorite subject (food), Hash Kitchen is a fantastic brunch spot.
They have build-your-own bloody marys and delicious french toast in a hip atmosphere–great for young couples.
You may have a bit of a wait on weekends and the rock music blares all morning, but it’s a local favorite and the service is warm and friendly.
Your second day should begin with a hike in the surrounding Sonoran Desert.
Hiking is one of the best Scottsdale outdoor activities to do because of the great weather and the availability of easy trails.
Still, you do want to get started early in the morning to avoid high temps, especially in the summer months.
Pinnacle Peak Park has an easy trail that’s 1.75 miles each way. Once you get to the end, you’ll have incredible views.
There’s plenty of parking close to the trailhead and restrooms are available. It won’t take you too long to complete.
But make sure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen with you. The park is a beloved and beautiful feature of Scottsdale.
Meaning the trail can get crowded on weekends. If you’re looking for something more private and guided, try a bike tour.
There’s a three-hour neighborhood bike cruise with a knowledgeable tour guide available to point out the native plants that make Scottsdale so unique.
Scottsdale is lined with paved bike paths and this is a casual way to get to know the town and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.
Bike, safety gear, bottled water, snacks, and a guide are included. This kind of tour is also one of the best things to do in Scottsdale with kids.
Spend the rest of the day grabbing a relaxing lunch, cooling off in the hotel pool, or enjoying a fabulous dinner.
For an exceptionally romantic dinner, try Cafe Monarch. This may be the best restaurant in Scottsdale.
Diners raved about the sea bass and filet entrees, the top-notch service, and overall magical experience. It’s also expensive so this will be your special night out!
Reservations are recommended. Cafe Monarch is rated a 4.8 out of 5 possible stars on Google.
Day three is a good day to visit Sedona for sightseeing, shopping, dining, and wine-tasting.
For carefree touring, get picked up from your hotel for a drive through the Black Canyon Hills and the Sonoran Desert to Sedona.
You’ll get a city tour of Sedona, a stunning town with a New Age vibe and upscale dining and shopping.
The sights include Bell Rock Vista, Chapel of the Holy Cross, Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, and Uptown.
Before the return to Scottsdale, you’ll stop at a winery in Verde Valley to taste some of the award-winning wines produced in this emerging wine country.
Day four, already? You can’t leave Scottsdale without doing one of their famous hot air balloon rides.
Depending on the time of year and when you’ll be departing, you can choose either the sunrise or sunset ride. But wouldn’t sunrise be amazing?
Upon your arrival at the meeting spot, you’re recruited to help inflate the balloon. Please take pictures of this because when will you ever get to do this again?
Then time to hop in for your float across Phoenix and incredible views of the desert and far away mountains.
After a gentle plop to earth, a crew will take you back to the meeting point for your flight certificate and champagne toast celebrating your mastery of the skies.
Another can’t miss of things to do in Scottsdale is pedestrian-friendly Old Town. Find a lunch spot and plot out your visit.
Try Rehab Burger for lunch, because you’ll need some food therapy to help you get over your eminent return to reality. Burgers and sweet potato tots should do it.
Spend the rest of your day shopping for jewelry and special fashion designs.
One of the best things to do in Scottsdale Old Town is wandering through the history museums and art galleries.
History buffs and kids will love the Western Spirit, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
Learn about Western and Native American culture and arts in this Smithsonian affiliated museum.
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Best Things to Do in Scottsdale With Kids
Our Scottsdale itinerary can be easily modified to include more things to do for families with young kids or teens.
There are even fun things to do in old town Scottsdale with kids like getting a delicious ice cream and taking a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Budding artists will love participating in their Thursday ArtWalks and visiting all the galleries.
Best for Scottsdale Outdoor Activities
Spend a relaxing morning on the Lower Salt River on a guided kayak tour. This waterway is famous for its gentle current and wild horses that graze the banks.
If you have smaller children, you can do the same type of tour in a river raft that your guide will paddle as they point out the river’s unique plants and wildlife.
Your teens will enjoy a half-day guided stand-up paddleboard tour on Saguaro Lake where the whole family will see Superstition Mountain and Four Peaks.
For water fun in an amusement park setting, check out Big Surf in Tempe–where the campus of Arizona State University is located.
The world’s first wave pool is here along with a variety of water slides to accommodate all ages.
For the biggest thrills, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor is in nearby Glendale and has more than 30 slides and other attractions.
Another full-day, amusement park option is Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa.
They have a giant wave pool, a watercoaster, and enough slides to keep your family occupied for hours.
They also offer several mini-golf courses, bumper cars, a game arcade, and other options for family fun.
More mini-golf can be played at night–perhaps between dinner and dessert? Try Glow Putt in Scottsdale with glow-in-the-dark balls and holes.
The winner gets to be first in line for ice cream afterward.
Scottsdale also has a smaller splash park with enough water to make a hot afternoon pretty cool for a reasonable price.
McDowell Mountain Ranch Aquatic Center has a long, winding waterslide, a lazy river and great pool space right in town.
Back in the desert, a full-day tour of the Apache Trail combined with a cruise on Canyon Lake will allow you to visit an Old West ghost town.
Your little history buffs will love to see the old buildings and witness shoot-outs between outlaws with nothing to lose.
There are also some kid-friendly hikes you can do as an introduction to the Sonoran Desert. The Bajada Nature Trail is an easy, interactive hike.
It’s short and flat and has exhibits along the way so the whole family can learn about the plants and animals that live here.
For the train fans in your family, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a favorite. They have playgrounds, a ride-on train, a carousel, and plenty of picnic areas.
One of the more unique Scottsdale outdoor activities fun for couples and families is to go watch spring training for one of the many MLB teams.
See where the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, and other teams from around the US train for the upcoming season.
And in Arizona, you’re not likely to get a rained-out ball game, so try and catch one if you can.
Kids can race their parents in go-carts at Octane Raceway. This is another good option for your teens.
There are also video games to play, laser tag, and bowling at their mini-lanes.
Best for Winter Fun Activities in Scottsdale
Most people think the only winter fun in Scottsdale is limited to golf. While the golf is stellar all year round, you can find some snow for your young skiers or boarders.
Arizona’s ski resorts bring the best of both the sun and ski worlds. The Arizona Snowbowl is on Mount Humphreys which is a volcano near Flagstaff.
How cool is that? The Snowbowl also offers long runs and fantastic views of even more volcanos out on the high plains.
Flagstaff is less than three hours from Scottsdale, so you can literally go from sunny poolside to powder paradise in a single day.
If cross-country skiing or snowshoeing is more your speed, visit the Arizona Nordic Village in the Coconino National Forest.
This winter wonderland is only two hours from Scottsdale and you can rent equipment at the center.
Cabin and yurt rentals are also available.
Best for Visiting Family Friendly Museums
Start with a visit to the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall and wander through the gardens and fountains.
From there, you can visit the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art or take in a performance at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
The public library is accessible from the mall too if you’d like to browse their large children’s section.
Your elementary school-aged children will love the Arizona Science Center and the opportunity of exploring more than 300 exhibits and demonstrations.
They also have a huge planetarium where they can learn about planets and solar systems.
At the Arizona Boardwalk, sea creatures like stingrays and sharks live in the tranquil 200,000 square feet OdySea Aquarium.
Kids will love the touch pools and watching penguins play. You can even watch the sharks while washing your hands at the restroom sinks. Just wow!
This is a great afternoon alternative to being out in the heat and the swimming pool.
There’s more to explore at the Boardwalk too, like bumper boats and other entertainment.
For a look at the history of musical art and culture from around the world, visit The Musical Instrument Museum (4725 East Mayo Boulevard).
They offer live events and classes and provide headphones so visitors can hear how the different and unusual instruments sound.
The Arizona Museum of Natural History is in nearby Mesa. Tell your kiddos they can lock the parents up in jail cells and watch them dissolve into giggles.
There’s so much for kids here, from exploring a Native American village to panning for gold to spotting dinosaurs.
Parents, you’ll have to peel them out of this place when it’s time to leave.
The Children’s Museum of Phoenix is also great for your ten and under crowd and is all about the art of playing.
There’s lots to do and touch and many of their exhibits and rooms are designed for sensory play.
Another option for your sensory-sensitive loved ones is the smallish (read: quiet and manageable) Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary.
Part of the sanctuary is outside which is great to reduce potential overload, but the best part is the reptiles on display that you can touch with permission.
There’s a video tour you can watch ahead of time so everyone knows what to expect.
Another cool place for sensitive kids is Butterfly Wonderland.
It’s not too big or loud and everyone in the family who’s up for it will love getting a butterfly kiss or two.
If that seems too much, wear black and the butterflies will go on by. Sweet and easy.
If your kids can’t get enough of animals, one of the best zoos in the US is in Phoenix. The animal exhibits they have are world-class.
Besides the African regulars of giraffes, apes, and elephants, you can also see southwestern residents like wolves and mountain lions.
They also have a petting zoo, carousel, splash areas, animal feedings, and playgrounds.
After your zoo visit, turn the corner for a stroll along the paths of the Desert Botanical Garden.
There, you’ll see a variety of cactus, succulents, and other desert flowers. They also offer exhibits and onsite dining.
From mid-May to mid-October, they have an evening light and sound show called the Electric Desert.
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Best Dog Friendly Activities in Scottsdale
All are welcome in Scottsdale. Modify our Scottsdale itinerary to include your doggo.
Chaparral Park (5401 N. Hayden Rd), at four acres, has separate areas for passive and active dogs, regardless of size.
It has giant lawn areas and you’re welcome to bring chairs so you can relax while watching your furry pal make new vacation friends.
If your dog is chill, bring him to AZ 88 (7353 Scottsdale Mall) which calls itself a modern saloon serving craft cocktails and classic dishes.
Dogs are welcome with their owners to enjoy the beautiful weather on the patio. It’s a good idea to call ahead to check capacity.
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park also welcomes dogs to romp on their lawns. It’s a great park for the whole family.
You don’t have to leave your dog out of great desert hikes either. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve has a variety of trails to fit you and your dog.