It’s been called “The Beverly Hills of the Southwest” and “a desert version of Miami’s South Beach.” Scottsdale is fancy, yes. It’s also stimulating, creative, and rugged. The area’s singular beauty is why Frank Lloyd Wright set up shop here in 1937. It’s the same reason artists have been flocking to the city ever since—for inspiration. And most of it comes from the Sonoran Desert, one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Urban sunset over downtown Scottsdale Arizona

Photo Courtesy of The Boulders


When’s the best time to go to Scottsdale?

While much of the rest of the country is battling cold weather, people in Scottsdale are outside, hiking the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, or enjoying lunch in the open air. January through April is the most beautiful time to visit, but it’s also the most expensive. Summertime brings up to 60 percent off high-season rates at some of the city’s top hotels and resorts. September through December you can still find decent prices without the outrageous heat.

How to get around Scottsdale

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is only about a 20-minute drive from downtown. You can also fly into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, where many of the country’s discount carriers land—though it’s a longer ride into Scottsdale.

You need a car. The Valley Metro Light Rail doesn’t connect into Scottsdale, and Greater Phoenix’s bus system, as a whole, is unreliable. In downtown Scottsdale, a free trolley runs every 10 minutes from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., daily.

Can’t miss things to do in Scottsdale

Anything outdoorsy. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve, 32,000+ acres of desert playground, has open space for hiking, biking, mountain climbing, and horseback riding. When finished, the preserve will encompass more than 34,000 acres of permanently protected land. Camelback Mountain is a challenge best limited to experienced climbers, but locals like to hike Tom’s Thumb or Pinnacle Peak for the views.

Food and drink to try in Scottsdale

Scottsdale is a hotbed for talented chefs—you’ll find culinary stars like Charleen Badman (FnB), Matt Carter (The Mission, Zinc Bistro, Fat Ox), Beau MacMillan (elements at Sanctuary). No matter where they come from, Scottsdale’s chefs are among the best in the country—leading an independent, locavore movement that celebrates dynamic cuisine.

Culture in Scottsdale

Scottsdale ArtWalk is the country’s longest-running event of its kind. Every Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m., the free block party keeps the art district’s galleries open late with live demonstrations, complimentary drinks and bites, and other forms of entertainment. Nearby, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (also free on Thursdays!) is a five-gallery minimalist building designed by award-winning architect Will Bruder. It’s right next door to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, a premier concert hall nationally recognized for its diverse programming. At the Musical Instrument Museum, you can see 15,000 different instruments from around the world and even drop into a drum class. And between museum hopping, don’t forget to take in the city’s public art program, which includes 50 permanent pieces from the likes of Robert Indiana and Donald Lipski.

Winter and early spring are busy with events. Things kick off in January with a series of international auto auctions and then roll right into the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, aka “The Greatest Show on Grass” and one wild party. In March, Cactus League spring training takes over the town and appeals just as much to sunbathers as to baseball lovers.

Local travel tips for Scottsdale

It really is a dry heat. Yes, 100-degree temperatures can be daunting, but when you’re sitting poolside with an ice-cold drink, it’s easy to forget about it. That being said, you don’t want to attempt a hike in the middle of a summer’s day. Just save most of your activity—golf, wandering downtown’s streets—for the early morning or evening. No matter what time of year it is, pack plenty of sunscreen and drink more water than you’re used to. It is the desert, after all.

Guide Editor

Katarina Kovacevic is a freelance writer and blogger from the Arizona desert by way of the Croatian coast. She’s the author of The Food Lovers’ Guide to Phoenix & Scottsdale and contributor to Veria Living, Travel + Leisure online, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons and the New York Post. Follow her travels on Twitter @Little_K.

Read Before You Go
From lobby bars to rooftop lounges, these are the hotel bars Afar editors love checking out when they’re checking in.
With their firepits and comfort-minded interiors, these are the best hideaways where you can embrace the chill this season.
2020 shows no sign of slowing down when it comes to luxury hotel openings. Here are 6 openings that I am especially excited about, plus a rundown of what other important brands are up to, highlighted at ILTM Cannes this month.
Resources to help plan your trip
While other cities are shoveling snow, Scottsdale heads outdoors for sun and fun.
It’s easy to lose count of the days in Scottsdale with so many things to choose from, so if you’re limited to three days, don’t waste a second of it. Scottsdale is the perfect place to explore the inspiring Arizona landscape. Here’s what to do if you only have 3 days: Visit the home of world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and take in the breathtaking views of Scottsdale and Camelback Mountain. When you need an energy boost after a sunny day, take advantage of the many culinary hotspots.
It’s not only the brilliant glow of orange and red in the display of beautiful sandstone formations that makes a trip to Sedona worth the 125 mile journey from Scottsdale. The array of top restaurants, hotels and stunning landmarks make it one of the best stops on any Arizona road trip. Often named one of the most beautiful places in America, Sedona is the perfect combination of breathtaking outdoor backdrops and pampered luxury. The best of Sedona includes hiking beautiful views.
Well-mixed drinks in a city where bartenders are as celebrated as our great chefs
Whether you’re looking for laid-back two-steppin’ or a splashy night out, you’ll be in good company in Scottsdale.
With an estimated 125 galleries full of arts, crafts, and edgier stuff, Scottsdale is one of the Southwest’s best cultural destinations.
From an evening stroll along the Arizona Canal through popular districts—Scottsdale Waterfront and Southbridge—to jumping straight into the saddle on a one or three day adventure at the Arizona Cowboy College, Scottsdale lassos you in with its western charm. This scorching and captivating city founded back in the late 1800’s was once home to the Hohokam Indians. Here are 12 must-do experiences in the city that is building a reputation for luxurious spas, desert architecture & outdoor sports.
Scottsdale has been a resort destination since the 1920s when painter Jessie Benton Evans turned her adobe home into a tearoom and guesthouse known as the Jokake Inn. You’ll find many of the world’s big-name brands here, along with a collection of smaller, independently owned properties.
Celebrity chefs, award-winning eats, a surprising history of agriculture, and local specialties all conspire to create a terrific and booming food scene.
5 Ways to Get Hotel Valley Ho’s Midcentury Vibe
Wandering Chef: Jose Garces in Scottsdale
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.