Are you staying in Scottsdale for a day or two and wondering what to do while you’re there? If so, this list will cover all of the fun activities you can try out in Scottsdale during your stay.
Scottsdale is a fun place to stay, described by the New York Times as the ‘desert version of Miami’s South Beach.’
While it may not be as popular for tourists as Arizona’s capital Phoenix, the town is home to many tourist attractions, shopping malls, and parks. And while Arizona is commonly associated with warm weather, your time here shouldn’t be limited to summer activities only.
From visiting breweries to enjoying your time at award-winning spas, there are many things to do in Scottsdale. In this guide, we’ll outline all the best things to do in Scottsdale, whether you’re in town for just a day or for a longer stay.
Fun Things to Do in Scottsdale, AZ
Here are some of the best things to do in Scottsdale.
1. Taliesin West
If you’re into architecture, visit Taliesin West, where the famous architect Frank Lloyd spent his winters. Today, it serves as the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s headquarters.
Taliesin West has worked actively to preserve its historic feel and appearance, allowing visitors to get the full experience of the architect’s genius work.
The best way to experience this house is by taking one of the guided tours. You won’t regret spending a lovely afternoon with the attentive Taliesin West tour guides as they provide interesting details and insights into the space.
While this space is open for tourists to explore the building’s iconic architecture, it also continues to operate as a winter campus for architecture students. It’s not unusual to see students sitting at the drafting table during the winter months during a visit.
Students at Taliesin West also participate in a fun tradition, where they create their own dwelling for themselves to stay in during the winter months. These dwellings will populate the sparse grounds surrounding the home and are an interesting sight in themselves.
2. Musical Instrument Museum
If your musical interests are more pronounced than singing in the shower, you might fancy visiting the Musical Instrument Museum. Located 25 minutes away from Scottsdale in the Phoenix area, this is the largest musical museum in the world, with a collection of over 15,000 items.
This museum is truly fascinating, and it’s a must-visit destination for all the music lovers out there. It features some of music’s most iconic instruments played by artists like John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and Taylor Swift.
This museum also does a great job of showcasing music from around the globe, categorizing different instruments and music styles based on countries for display purposes. You can also watch hands-on demonstrations in the Experience Gallery or visit the Artist Gallery to learn more about world-famous musicians.
Once you’ve finished a day of exploring, you can sit back and refuel at the museum’s Allegro Cafe. Here you can relax on a lovely patio, enjoying a lunch made with locally grown, Arizona ingredients.
In addition to the permanent museum displays, the Musical Instrument Museum holds concerts and other events for guests to enjoy. If you want to catch one, check the calendar on the museum’s website before visiting.
There’s a ton to see and do in this museum, so travelers would do well to book a room close by. Luckily, there are great hotel deals to be found on sites like Kayak, including accommodations at the Four Seasons Resorts Scottsdale at Troon North which is a mere 20 minutes away from the museum.
3. Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
We have another great addition to this list for all the museum fans out there. If you want to learn more about Mexican culture and the western states, you’ve got to head to the Scottsdale Museum of the West.
The museum contains informational exhibits of 19 states in the west, some Mexican states, and a couple of Canadian provinces. On the inside, two floors are occupied by art memorabilia and interesting displays showing western culture.
Most tourists visit the acclaimed cowboy movie posters and Hopi pottery. If you’re keener on sculptures, there’s an assortment of them in the museum’s central courtyard, making it one of the most fun things to do indoors in Scottsdale.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Mesa, Arizona
4. Chocolate Tour of Scottsdale
While you may not find a Priority Pass or City Pass for Scottsdale, the local tours are as amazing as it gets. If you have a sweet tooth, take the two-hour Chocolate Tour, which goes through the best cake shops and chocolatiers in town.
It’s hands-down one of the best things to do in old Scottsdale since it’s an informational-cum-appetizing tour. While munching on cake truffles or enjoying creme brulees, your tour guide will tell you all about the region’s history and anecdotes about local sculptures.
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5. Octane Raceway
If you’re a bit of an adventurous soul, you’ll have a grand time at North America’s only outdoor and indoor racing track that’s operational 365 days a year. The raceway has a ⅓-mile racing track where you can experience the thrill of racing in 45+ mph karts.
The karts can be adjusted to different body types, so there’s a fun opportunity for everyone. Plus, the raceway features a ton of other activities, including VR gaming, ax throwing, and a full arcade. There’s something for nearly every thrill-seeker at Octane Raceway.
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6. OdySea Mirror Maze
If you want to experience a fun family adventure, explore the Lazer + Mirror Maze. This activity is great for kids and families, and it’s a go-to destination for Scottsdale visitors.
Here you can take on the challenge of trying to escape a mind-bending mirror maze that takes place in the jungle, traversing rickety bridges and false passages as you try to work your way out. Once you’ve beaten the hall of mirrors, the fun doesn’t have to stop.
Next, you can try to navigate a trick laser maze, straight out of a spy movie.
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7. OdySea Aquarium
OdySea Aquarium is considered one of the biggest aquariums in the southwest United States, located just off the 101 in Scottsdale. It holds more than 2,000,000 gallons of water and spans over 200,000 square feet, offering a ton of things to see and do once inside.
This aquarium is home to over 6,000 animals, a number that spans 370 different species across the aquarium’s 65 exhibits. You’ll get to explore a multitude of different enclosures to see tropical fish and water-loving animals like otters and penguins. This aquarium is also home to interactive touch exhibits, including stingrays, tide pools, and the world’s only Russian Sturgeon touch exhibit.
That’s not all, though. OdySea is also home to Voyager, a stadium-seating-style theater that allows guests to journey through the ocean in the world’s only revolving aquarium. You can also get up close and personal with different fish if you’re brave enough to try a SeaTREK, an experience where guests can don a wetsuit and helmet and get into the water with sea creatures.
This museum is an amazing destination for kids and families, as you can easily spend an entire day taking in all this aquarium has to offer. Anyone visiting Scottsdale would do well to visit here.
8. Scottsdale Historical Museum
The Scottsdale Historical Museum is housed in the Little Red Schoolhouse in Old Town near Scottsdale. Unfortunately, the Little Red Schoolhouse is closed until further notice (with plans to re-open in early 2023). Additionally, the Scottsdale Historical Museum is also on limited availability and is closed in June, July, and August.
When the Scottsdale Historical Museum is open, however, you can learn about the area’s rich history through photos and exhibits.
9. Butterfly Wonderland
If you want a one-of-a-kind experience, then Butterfly Wonderland might be what you’re seeking. It’s an indoor, interactive rainforest habitat that houses thousands of butterflies.
Located on the Arizona Boardwalk, Butterfly Wonderland is the perfect attraction for kids and families looking for a gentle afternoon. You can stroll through the conservatory space, taking in the thousands of friendly butterflies from around the world that fill the space.
There are over 70 different species of butterflies to see that live among the lush tropical foliage inside the conservatory. You can even visit a butterfly emergence gallery to watch as the butterflies exhibit their chrysalises for the first time.
Along with the butterflies, guests also get to see colorful koi fish and the tropical finches that call the conservatory home. Guests can enjoy other activities, too, including a 3D movie theater, a reptile exhibit, insect viewing areas, aquarium tanks, a cafe, and a gift shop.
10. Golf Courses Around Scottsdale
If you’re a golf lover, you’ll be pleased by the number of options you have around Scottsdale. Here you’ll find a number of golf courses in the area suitable for any budget and skill level.
TPC Scottsdale and Troon North are considered good options. Troon North is a Tom Weiskopf design and has two golf courses. Featuring rolling hills, ravines, and granite boulders, these courses are a sight for any golf lover’s sore eyes.
Reserve a room at the Four Seasons Resort since the hotel offers free shuttles to Troon North. Plus, you’ll get special rates for the golf course if you book a room at the resort.
On the other hand, TPC Scottsdale is a dream come true for golfers, since it’s the place where many professionals have competed. It also has two golf courses: The Champions and The Stadium.
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11. McCormick Stillman Railroad Park
Add the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park to your itinerary if you’re looking for fun things to do in Scottsdale in the summer. The main attraction here is the mini train, which goes on a track around the park.
The Allan Herschell-built carousel from the 1950s is another highlight of the park and a must-see while you visit. It plays music from the era, so you’ll have fun listening to classics while you’re surrounded by trains.
However, the most eye-catching part of the park is the impressive model railway building, which is 10,000 square feet in size. Here you can see four model railroad setups created by different model railroad clubs. Guests can interact with these impressive displays directly, pushing buttons to move trains and activate different lights.
Other activities include exploring the Scottsdale Railroad Museum building, playing in the playground, and exploring the Family Circus pavilion. When you’re done exploring the different exhibits and attractions, you can sit and have a quick bite to eat on the grassy grounds.
Although the entry is free, you’ll have to pay a modest fee to get on attractions like the train carousel or train ride. Most exhibits cost one ticket each, which can be purchased at $3.00 per ticket, $20 for a book of eight tickets, or $12 for an all-day wristband. There are also yearly membership options for frequent visitors.
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12. Desert Splash Adventures
If you’ve ever wanted to experience a seaplane adventure, you’ll love Desert Splash Adventures. Located near the Scottsdale airport, this experience lets you see Arizona in a totally unique way.
Visitors take off in an eight-person plane to see sights such as the Apache Trail, Sonoran Desert, Tonto Basin, and Grand Canyon. After taking in the sights from the air, you’ll get to experience an adrenaline-inducing landing on either Roosevelt Lake or Lake Powel in a signature water landing.
The best part of these trips is that they’re customizable. When planning your experience, you can choose a private hangar gathering, standup paddling, canyoneering, or even an island-side private wine tasting. Or you can choose to build your own custom charter from scratch.
13. Penske Racing Museum
Suppose you want to see a large collection of cars, trophies, and racing memorabilia. In that case, the Penske Racing Museum is an attraction you’ll want to include in your itinerary. Located just outside of Phoenix, this museum makes a great stop when exploring the Scottsdale area.
Penske Racing has over 50 years of racing experience, having won over 500 races during its history. Many of the brand’s most iconic pieces of history can be found in the Penske Museum, making it a great place for racing fans to explore.
Some highlights include a replica of the iconic 1963 Pontiac Catalina driven by Roger Penske in NASCAR, numerous Penske Racing trophies, and other 500-mile winning cars that drove for Penske Racing.
14. CrackerJax Family Fun and Sports Park
For a great variety of attractions, food, and sports suitable for the entire family, visit the CrackerJax Family Fun and Sports Park in Scottsdale. Here you’ll find a 28-acre park with go-karts, a driving range, bumper boats, an arcade, and much more.
The driving range has five target greens. There’s also an 18-hole putting course and two miniature golf courses. You also have the chance to play laser tag, practice in the batting cages, and visit the snack bar for a treat.
15. Arizona Cowboy College
Those who want to try their hand at being true American cowboys should visit Arizona Cowboy College. This family-owned and -operated business gives you the opportunity to experience life as an American cowboy, learning about everything from horsemanship to different ranching techniques.
Those who take classes here will walk away with ranching skills that they can take with them for the rest of their days. While you can sign up for a one-day session, a full five-day experience is recommended to get the most out of Cowboy Camp. No matter what, though, you’re sure to walk away having had a ton of fun.
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Things to Do in Old Town Scottsdale
Visiting Old Town in Scottsdale is one of the most popular family-friendly activities around, and it makes a great destination for a day when you have nothing planned. It has many interesting shops where you can buy art, trinkets, clothing, and much more.
Old Town Scottsdale is an especially good destination for art lovers. Here you can find high-end art galleries to explore in the area, which often hosts open houses during Scottsdale Artwalk on Thursdays. The public square hosts the Love Sculpture and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
There are other things to do besides exploring art. Old Town Scottsdale is located close to Civic Center Mall for some great shopping. It’s also home to a ton of praiseworthy restaurants, loved for their cozy patios and great street views.
Here are a few more things you can explore in Old Town and around the Marshall Way Arts District:
16. Rusty Spur Saloon
Rusty Spur Saloon in Scottsdale is a historic saloon that offers live country music, 7 days a week. You get to experience authentic cowboy decor and hear some amazing local talent.
This restaurant features a delicious Tex-Mex American menu, served with classic Old West hospitality. It’s the perfect place to take a break from shopping and sightseeing in Old Town.
17. Scottsdale Wine Trail
The Wine Trail is one of the fun things to do in Scottsdale. Here, you’ll explore six wine-tasting rooms, allowing you to enjoy some of the award-winning wines Arizona is known for.
If you’re staying near Old Town, you can follow the trail to explore some amazing Arizona wineries, including Aridus Wine Company, Carlson Creek, Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Salvatore Vineyards, LDV Winery, and Merkin Vineyards.
PRO TIP: Get an SWT passport when you stop at the first tasting room. Get the passport stamped at every wine tasting to win prizes at the end. Even if only for this reason, the Scottsdale Wine Trail is among the best things to do in Old Scottsdale. Drinking wine and winning prizes for doing it? Count me in.
If these tipples have tickled your fancy, consider booking a wine tour from Scottsdale to the Verde Valley Vineyards and Sedona. You can discover more of Arizona’s wine country on this private tour from Scottsdale.
18. Arizona Taco Festival
The Mexican restaurants in Old Scottsdale aren’t the only places for you to find Mexican cuisine. In fact, the city hosts a grand festival dedicated to tacos.
The Arizona Taco Festival began in 2010 and had the honor of being the first festival of its kind in the world. Today, the festival attracts more than 40,000 attendees every year. It’s a two-day event where you can enjoy tacos from around 60 restaurants hoping to take the top taco award home.
Apart from the food, you can enjoy live bands, a Margarita competition, and a Tequila Expo with more than 100 tequila samples.
19. Historic Old Town Walking Tour
If you want to learn more about the history of the Old Town, then a walking tour is a great way to do it. There are Historic Old Town Walking Tours happening in Old Town, which can either be self-guided or guided by a local expert. Best of all, both of these options are completely free.
During a Historic Old Town Walking Tour, you can see sights such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s private living quarters, and then explore the city’s newest restaurants to discover all the flavors of Scottsdale.
20. Public Art Walking Tour
Another way to experience Old Town is by taking a self-guided Public Art Walking Tour. This tour explores 10 of Scottsdale’s most popular public artworks, including bronze states, installations, and gorgeous fountains. This is a self-guided tour, where you can follow a simple map to freely visit these different destinations.
The tour can be completed in just 60 minutes if you maintain a comfortable pace, making it a great activity to do if you’re looking for something quick to add to the itinerary. This way you can quickly take in some amazing public art, then get right back to exploring Old Town.
21. Scottsdale Fashion Square
Scottsdale also has an attraction for shopaholics – Fashion Square. This luxury shopping center houses top-notch fashion brands, including Louis Vuitton and Neiman Marcus.
It’s listed among the top 30 largest malls in the United States and is Arizona’s largest mall. Make sure you bring your credit card along and put on your comfy shoes because you’ll surely want to splurge on all the luxury items attracting you through the shop displays.
22. Old Town Farmers Market
Old Town Farmers Market in Scottsdale is all about food and farming. It features more than 100 local growers and specialty food producers.
You’ll find organic produce at the market and other fresh items, including flowers, natural pork, free-range eggs, cheese, freshly baked artisan bread, and so much more.
The Old Town Farmers Market is a family-friendly locale that also welcomes well-mannered pets.
23. Desert Botanical Garden
Visiting the Botanical Garden is among the best family-friendly things to do in Scottsdale, especially if you’re a nature-loving bunch. After catching breakfast at an Old Town Scottsdale eatery, take a drive to the nearby Desert Botanical Garden to be mesmerized by the lush plants and towering cacti.
The botanical gardens display all the beauty to be found in Arizona, including cacti, wildflowers, and a huge assortment of trees and succulents.
The garden also houses hummingbirds, woodpeckers, butterflies, and all sorts of birds. While the birds whiz past, you can enjoy the representations of different deserts, such as the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and Southwestern deserts, in the garden.
24. Scottsdale ArtWalk
While some people might think Scottsdale’s attractions consist solely of golf courses and the desert, there’s a lot of human-made art to be seen in the town. The Scottsdale ArtWalk is a celebration of the town’s historic art district.
On Thursdays, Scottsdale Gallery Association members host events showcasing certain exhibits in their spaces. You can wander the streets as you explore exhibits in different galleries to see some of the Southwest’s best artists. Plus, in between gallery viewings you can visit local restaurants, take carriage and trolley rides, and relax in the beautiful tree-covered courtyards in Old Town.
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25. Pinnacle Peak Park
The Pinnacle Peak, shaped like a cone, is a popular hiking and rock climbing spot in Scottsdale. This is a 1.75-mile trail that takes you up to 1,300 feet, where you’ll be amazed at the beautiful views below.
These stunning views include the sight of McDowell Mountains, Four Peaks, Granity Mountain, and the Four Seasons Resort at Troon North. The Grandview lookout also has stone benches, making it a good rest spot before heading back down the trail.
While on the hike, you’ll learn a lot about the region’s flora and fauna, since there are informational plaques all over the trail. Make sure to go there early in the morning if you want to find a parking space in the 90-space lot, as it fills up fast.
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26. McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is the perfect place for families that love to hike. The wildlife will mesmerize you, and the overall atmosphere of the preserve will make you feel closer to nature.
Depending on your fitness level, you can choose from many hiking options. If you choose the Gateway Loop trail, be sure to bring your poles and hiking boots along because it’s one hell of a rocky ride.
Alternatively, if you go on the Brown’s Ranch trail, you’ll find it much easier. Plus, you’ll come across scenic desert views that are just as majestic as they look in National Geographic.
Other trails include Wingate, Sunrise, and the Bell Pass. If you’re looking for accommodations nearby, there are plenty of great hotels to be found on Kayak. Consider the Bespoke Inn Scottsdale, or The Phoenician, both located just 25 minutes away from this preserve.
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27. Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain has an elevation of 2,704 feet and gives you one of the best opportunities for a hike or climb while visiting Arizona. This hike will take you about two to three hours on a round trip. It starts with a steep but well-marked trail that leads you to the railroad ties staircase, which then takes you upwards.
For a more manageable climb for beginners, consider the Cholla Trail up Camelback Mountain. This trail offers a much more gradual climb without so many large rock formations getting in the way.
28. Arizona Boardwalk (Free Events)
The Arizona Boardwalk is home to eight different attractions, including some that already made it on our list. It’s Scottsdale’s premier entertainment destination for things to do, amazing shopping, delicious food, and indoor family fun.
There are also plenty of free events that take place in the courtyard throughout the year, like the free summer foam parties for kids. Parking is free, and there’s no admission price to get onto the Arizona Boardwalk, making it a great place to visit and walk around to take in the sights.
29. Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor
The Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor is a great way to end any day trip. This retro Arizona ice cream parlor offers shakes, malts, and floats and serves sandwiches and salads. It has been in operation since 1958 and is a local favorite.
30. The Sonoran Desert in the Moonlight
The Sonoran Desert under moonlight showcases a beautiful and quiet landscape, and it makes for a spectacular view. This landscape has been beloved by artists and photographers for years due to the stunning natural beauty to be found here, especially as day turns to night.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you may also be able to see lizards, toads, and other nocturnal creatures in the desert. However, more dangerous creatures call this place home, too, so it’s best to explore the Sonoran Desert at night with a guide, rather than on your own.
You can opt for a privately arranged expedition or take a sunrise or sunset trip on a hot air balloon to enjoy this natural spectacle. For a more thrilling Scottsdale experience at night, book a nocturnal Jeep ride through the desert.
31. Watch a Live Performance at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Reserve your seats today to see a live performance at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Here you will find the best Broadway, classical, and dance artists strutting their stuff, making for an unforgettable night out.
The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts was built in 1975, and it’s known for showcasing talent from around the world. It has hosted over 1,000 indoor and outdoor performances and has been used for festivals, educational programs, and other private events in Scottsdale. Located near the Old Town and gallery district, this space is a hub for the arts, serving nearly 250,000 guests a year.
Fans of the arts will love visiting this space and taking in the artistic showcases. Be sure to check the event calendar to see what’s happening on stage during your stay.
32. Wonderspaces Arizona
After a day of exploring and shopping, visit Wonderspaces, located inside Scottsdale Fashion Square.
It has a lineup of 15 art installations and offers signature cocktails for you to enjoy with friends and family. The exhibits constantly evolve, so you never see the same thing twice when visiting.
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Where to Stay While Visiting Scottsdale
Looking for a great place to lay your head between exploring everything this historic city offers? We have the following recommendations:
Top Budget Hotel: Graduate Tempe
Those looking for an enjoyable stay at a more modest price point will enjoy the Graduate Tempe. This hotel is in a great location next to Arizona State University, with close proximity to activities like the Phoenix Zoo.
Amenities found here include dry cleaning/laundry services, a multilingual staff, 24-hour front desk service, a fitness center, an outdoor pool, and much more.
Top Mid Range Hotel: Canopy by Hilton Scottsdale Old Town
Canopy by Hilton Scottsdale is an amazing Scottsdale hotel and promises a lovely stay. This hotel is located super close to Old Town, providing easy access to amenities including the Scottsdale Historical Museum, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and tons of different wineries and private art galleries.
This hotel also features an outdoor rooftop pool, a fitness center, valet parking, and other amenities for guests to enjoy.
If you’d prefer to stay in a more luxurious setting, it doesn’t get much better than The Canyon Suites at The Phoenician. The Phoenician is one of Scottsdale’s premier hotels, as a certified Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond hotel.
This hotel was designed to complement the stunning nature of the surrounding Sonoran Desert, with gorgeous architecture and desert views. This hotel also has plenty of luxurious amenities, including outdoor patios and pool spaces, room service, bike rentals, basketball courts, a fitness center, restaurant and bar lounges, on-site golf, and much more.
Best Resort: Four Seasons Resorts Scottsdale at Troon North
The Four Seasons Resorts Scottsdale at Troon North is an amazing resort option for those staying in Scottsdale. Here you’ll find comfortable hotel accommodations and amenities like outdoor pools, restaurants, tennis courts, and a full spa and wellness center to enjoy during your stay.
This hotel is also fairly close to popular Scottsdale tourist attractions, like the Penske Racing Museum and Taliesin West.
Budget Resort: The Scottsdale Plaza Resort & Villas
If you want the resort experience at a slightly lower price point, consider a stay at The Scottsdale Plaza Resort & Villas. Just a five-minute drive from Old Town and Scottsdale Fashion Square, this is a great place to stay if you’re planning to explore the Scottsdale area.
This is a sprawling resort with a ton of amenities, including outdoor pools, fitness centers, tennis courts, bike rentals, and a full spa and wellness center.
Best Rental: Relaxing desert oasis in Old Town Scottsdale awaits
Choosing to spend your Scottsdale stay in a rental is a great idea for those staying in the area long-term, those in large groups, or those who dislike hotels and would rather be somewhere more like home. If you’re looking for a large, accommodating rental space, this one is a great choice.
This is an open house that can sleep 10, located within walking distance of Old Town Scottsdale. Here you can relax, enjoying the house’s outdoor pool and hot tub, while taking in some stunning views of the Arizona skies.
Budget Rental: Frontdesk Old Town Apts Scottsdale
This rental is great accommodation for people who want to save some money on rental costs, without compromising on quality. This rental comes at a lower price point, but it still provides a stunning, clean place to stay.
These apartments are just a few minutes away from Old Town, Scottsdale Fashion Square, and other fun attractions. Here you can enjoy Arizona city and mountain views, all while using the apartment pool and balconies and having easy access to explore the city.
Want accommodations even more exciting? Book at the Talking Stick Resort and Casino. You can experience the best Arizona casinos have to offer while also visiting another top destination in Scottsdale.