Organizing a family vacation—especially for an extended family—can be a challenge: You need to keep in mind the needs of grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and more. Finding restaurants that will satisfy a kid who will only eat pizza and a teen committed to a vegan diet can be difficult. And picking places to eat is only the beginning. You then need to choose activities that will keep everyone engaged and grumbling to a minimum.
Scottsdale, however, makes the task less formidable. The city has an enviable selection of restaurants that will satisfy both fussy eaters and adventurous gourmets. Plus, attractions include museums that are perfect for a multigenerational group. At Butterfly Wonderland, for example, your youngest travelers may simply stare in amazement at the colorful sight of 3,000 butterflies floating through the air. Older kids will appreciate the insights into their life cycles. Other stops on this itinerary—including an aircraft museum, a rock-climbing studio, and a musical instrument museum—were similarly picked for their accessibility to travelers of all ages.
Perhaps best of all, Scottsdale enjoys some 300 days of sunshine a year, and just like you can count on warm days, you can expect that this trip will delight everyone in your family.
Itinerary / 5 DAYS
DAY 1Move into Your Scottsdale Home
Rentals in Scottsdale can be found on a number of sites: Casago, GoodNight Stay, Holiday Rental (which is focused solely on Scottsdale properties), and Parsons Villas (with a portfolio limited to Arizona properties) are good places to start your search. There’s an abundance of options: apartments in the heart of Old Town with shopping and dining within walking distance; homes in larger developments, with the amenities they offer; and some of Scottsdale’s most luxurious properties, if you want to stay in a house that looks like it belongs in the pages of a design magazine.
After everyone has picked out a room and you’ve explored your home in Scottsdale, head out to dinner tonight at Brat Haus. This urban beer garden features a menu of 25 different craft beers and is a perfect setting to enjoy a warm evening while eating pretzels, handmade sausages, and other German dishes. An aspect that it shares in common with its European inspirations is that it’s a decidedly family-friendly place. Patio games and a dogs-welcome policy add to the festive atmosphere.
DAY 2A Day of Butterflies and Rock Climbing
If butterflies produce eyerolls from any of your kids, they may be more interested in your next stop, Pangaea: Land of the Dinosaurs (located within the same Odysea in the Desert complex as Butterfly Wonderland). Life-size recreations of dinosaurs include the tank-like Ankylosaurus; the enormous Quetzalcoatlus, with its 35- to 40-foot wingspan; and the giant Diplodocus, which was around 90 feet long. Informative displays and fossil dig stations give an educational spin to the attraction, introducing topics related to paleontology in an engaging, kid-friendly way.
You can have lunch at Odysea, but be sure to leave some room for a snack at Sweet Republic, where handcrafted ice cream is made with fresh, local ingredients. Having to choose between unique flavors like Earl Grey Tea and Honey Lavendar may be the toughest decision you have to make all day.
In the afternoon, AZ on the Rocks offers a chance for everyone in the family to learn a new skill: rock climbing. The 14,000-square-foot facility includes climbing walls and terrains designed both for beginners and more advanced climbers. No experience is necessary, and the staff will guide you through everything you need to know before attempting an ascent. If parents want to skip the climbing, kids can join a summer camp program while the adults attend a yoga class—several different ones are offered throughout the day.
Eat an early dinner tonight at Craft 64. This pub in Downtown Scottsdale is known both for its pizzas, cooked in a wood-fired oven, and its long menu of Arizona-brewed craft beers. The selection changes regularly, but you can typically expect around 30 of the state’s best ales, lagers, and other beers to be available.
After dinner, see a Broadway musical or other show at the Desert Stages Theatre inside Scottsdale Fashion Square. This theater company has a mission of introducing young actors, and audiences, to the magic of theater. New shows debut regularly, and with four different performance spaces, you’ll often have a selection to choose from on your night out. If you have an aspiring young thespian in your family, a night here is a must; and if you don’t, the performance may spark a new interest.
DAY 3Military and Medieval Highlights
In the afternoon, a tour of the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum offers the opportunity for some cross-generational bonding—especially if parents or grandparents served in the military and can provide some personal anecdotes along with the exhibits. That said, this museum ends up being fascinating for all visitors. Located at Falcon Field Airport, the museum includes a working hangar where visitors can see mechanics restoring vintage engines. Exhibits cover the evolution of military aircraft from World War I to the present day, and the aircraft on display range from vintage biplanes to rare bombers. It’s even possible to climb inside the cockpits of some of them.
After an afternoon immersed in military history, this evening you’ll travel back in time to an earlier era with dinner at Medieval Times, a new addition to Scottsdale’s family offerings. It’s located within Scottsdale Castle, the first new fortress erected in the city in, well, perhaps ever. The two-hour feast is best enjoyed eating roast chicken and corn on the cob with your hands, medieval-style. As you have your dinner, six knights will face off in a spirited jousting tournament.
DAY 4Hit Some High Notes
Tacos surely rank up there with pizza and burgers as foods that every kid, and adult, loves. Given the number of excellent Mexican restaurants in Scottsdale, it would be wrong to not include at least one meal of tacos on your itinerary. You’ll have lunch today at Los Sombreros, which serves both soft and crisp ones in a cantina-inspired space that feels like a bit of old Mexico. In addition to tacos, the lunch menu also includes chilaquiles, enchiladas, and tamales. After lunch, explore the bustle of activity in Old Town Scottsdale.
Depending on where you’re from, you may not be familiar with splash pads. These popular play areas are an ideal way to beat the heat in Scottsdale, with their gurgling nozzles spraying water up from the ground. Think of them as either miniature water parks or big interactive fountains that kids are encouraged to run through. Scottsdale Quarter, located in north Scottsdale, has one that can be your base for part of this afternoon. The adults can take turns watching the kids while others head off to explore the shopping, dining, and entertainment offerings at this luxury shopping center.
While at the Scottsdale Quarter, enjoy your final dinner of the trip at Zinburger. This popular burger spot is guaranteed to please everyone in the family. Kids will most likely opt for the classics—like a cheeseburger and double-chocolate shake—but parents and grandparents may want to try some of the more gourmet options on the menu, like truffle fries or the Zinburger, with Manchego cheese and zinfandel-braised onions. The menu also includes salads and poke bowls for anyone not in the mood for a burger, and there’s a cocktail menu if you want something stronger than the salted caramel shake.
DAY 5Say Goodbye, for Now, to Scottsdale
Before you hit the road, have one last sweet treat at the Gelato Spot. This Old Town restaurant has a full menu of Italian fare, so enjoy lunch before you order a dessert of gelato, its specialty. There are typically more than two dozen flavors to choose from, both traditional ones like stracciatella and tiramisu, as well as more daring ones like Captain Crunch and yellow cake batter. It’s an experience that—much like your trip to Scottsdale—you’ll remember long after you’ve gone home.