The Best Things to Do in Phoenix and Scottsdale

You want to know what’s hot? This corner of Arizona, that’s what. Phoenix and Scottsdale inhabit a fascinating landscape that merges rugged mountains and manicured fairways. Visitors can tap into a booming food scene, desert gardens, luxury hotels, and a rich local culture.

6106 S 32nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85042, USA
An oasis sits under a canopy of pecan trees in the heart of Phoenix: the Farm at South Mountain. Arrive for a home-style breakfast at the farm’s Morning Glory Café, and hang around all day until it’s time for a rustic, farm-to-table dinner of locally sourced produce, meat, and wine at the on-site restaurant, Quiessence. In between, you can meander the gardens, greenhouse, and pecan groves, making stops at Botanica for modern home accessories or Mi Tierra Healing Arts & Aromatherapy for a massage or energy reading. The farm is a Phoenix mainstay; its naturally rich soil was first cultivated by Dwight Heard (founder of the Heard Museum) in 1927.
Scottsdale, AZ, USA
Arizona wine is quickly making a name for itself, and downtown Scottsdale highlights this trend with four tasting rooms. LDV Winery focuses on the southern Arizona region of Willcox, with bottles of syrah, grenache, and viognier, which you can savor at leisure on one of two shaded patios. Aridus Wine Company, also out of Willcox, offers several varietals in its Scottsdale tasting room. Salvatore Vineyards is small and family-owned, known for its pinot grigio rosé, malvasia bianca, and agave wines. Carlson Creek is the newest kid on the block and features a sprawling 2,300-square-foot space where it regularly hosts winemaking seminars and special Arizona-focused dinners.
5757 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013, USA
Open every Wednesday and Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon, the Uptown Farmers Market is part market and part community gathering. Residents come from all over the Valley of the Sun to shop 160 vendors, whose goods include everything from Arizona-grown produce and microgreens to local eggs, dairy, ice cream, and even small-batch cocktail mixers. It’s a good market to hit up if you’re renting a room or a house and want to cook some of your own meals with local flavors, but snacking on items you buy as you browse the stands can count as a standing picnic! Depending on the season, the market sometimes hosts live music and other special activities.
10320 E Dynamite Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85262, USA
In a destination renowned for its tee-time offerings, Scottsdale’s Troon North Golf Club is among the best. The wonderfully scenic desert club has two 18-hole courses laid out in the shadows of Pinnacle Peak Mountain. Both courses—Monument and Pinnacle—were designed by British Open champion Tom Weiskopf and consistently rank at the top of the list in Golfweek, Golf Magazine, and Golf Digest. Reserve your tee time and include an appointment at the on-site Callaway Performance Center to get your swing analyzed with the same technology used by the pros. Allot time to stop at Dynamite Grille for burgers and beers.
26601 S Val Vista Dr, Gilbert, AZ 85298, USA
…because, why not? The goat yoga class started as a complete coincidence and is now officially a thing, thanks to a slew of local and national media placements. The silly and sweet goats used to roam the grounds during the farm’s guided yoga sessions and eventually decided to join in on the fun—and Arizona Goat Yoga was born. Attendees say it’s a form of meditation, with the creatures often providing therapeutic laugh-out-loud entertainment. (Pet therapy has been shown to relieve stress and release endorphins.) If that’s not enough motivation to try it, do it for the bragging rights. Where else can you say you did a sun salutation alongside a four-legged farm animal?
915 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA
The red brick building that houses DeSoto Central Market has lived many lives over the course of its 90-plus years—first as a car dealership, then an antiques shop, and at one point, an advertising firm. Today, the sprawling structure is a market and gathering space where locals go for oysters, burgers, Mexican-Asian fusion spreads, community events, and more. DeSoto is both a retail beacon to the modern-day consumer (there’s a cold-pressed juice bar and a kiosk selling ethically sourced stone jewelry, for instance) as well as a stunning reflection of Phoenix history, complete with exposed brick walls and rustic beams overhead.
12621 N Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85259, USA
The city’s most famous snowbird, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, spent winters at his home and architecture school in the Sonoran Desert. Taliesin West brings the horizontal lines and organic materials of Prairie School design to the desert landscape in low, skylighted buildings. Behind-the-scenes tours visit the pop-up structures that students have designed as living spaces amid the barrel cactus and paloverde trees.
3000 E Ray Rd, Gilbert, AZ 85296, USA
Barnone, a bustling collective of makers, is housed in a Quonset hut built with steel reclaimed from WWII planes. The skills of the artists and craftspeople who live here run the gamut of creativity—a woodworker and a florist and a hairstylist; a machinist who designs and fabricates kitchen tools; and a printmaker who runs a shop with cute and quirky letterpress goods and signage. Phoenicians love Barnone’s pair of local-focused restaurants: Fire & Brimstone for hearth-cooked pizza and the Uprooted Kitchen for vegan dishes made from produce grown just outside. You can also enjoy a pint of small-batch beer at 12 West Brewing and buy from an experimental winemaker at Garage-East.
Mesa, AZ, USA
Farming roots in Arizona’s third-largest city run deep, and the Fresh Foodie Trail highlights this history. Participants get a hands-on (and delicious) learning experience with pasta-making courses that use ancient grains, foraging excursions, and visits to some of the area’s best farmers markets, food trucks, and farm-to-table eateries. The farms surrounding Mesa—including those in neighboring towns like Gilbert and Queen Creek—produce a dazzling seasonal bounty: citrus in January, peaches in May, olives in October, and heirloom wheat during the winter months. The tour is an appetizing way to learn why your food choices matter.

Scottsdale, AZ, USA
Float Balloon Tours designs its outings in a way that keeps attendance numbers low and the experience an intimate one for guests. Balloons fly over the open Sonoran Desert, north of Phoenix and Scottsdale, above the craggy Bradshaw Mountains and across sprawling Lake Pleasant, floating peacefully above lush paloverde trees and towering saguaro cacti. Instead of signaling an ending to the proceedings, the balloon’s landing starts a celebration—first a toast to the ride with sparkling wine from an Arizona vineyard and then an alfresco breakfast or dinner made by a chef with local produce.
Cattle Track Arts Compound, 6105 N Cattletrack Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85250, USA
Cattle Track is one of Scottsdale’s best-kept secrets. This clutch of 1930s adobe structures may be located in a typical residential neighborhood, but Cattle Track’s story as an artist colony is extraordinary. Fritz Scholder, an influential Native American painter, lived and worked here. So did sculptor Louise Nevelson. Philip C. Curtis, Cattle Track’s most famous artist-in-residence, went on to found the Phoenix Art Museum and was regarded as the dean of arts in Arizona. Today, artists of all types—painters, dancers, photographers, and even blacksmiths—set up working studios that can be toured for free Monday through Saturday.

6433 E Doubletree Ranch Rd, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253, USA
Italian-born architect, artist, philosopher, and ceramicist Paolo Soleri originally came to Arizona to study with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. His legacy is seen all over Scottsdale, notably at the Soleri Bridge and Plaza in downtown, which spotlights his signature hand-casted ceramic and bronze wind bells. The bells are still hand-poured at Cosanti, Soleri’s studio and former home, where bells of all shapes and sizes can be bought.
34631 N Tom Darlington Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85262, USA
Nature may have spent 12 million years creating the rock formation that is the centerpiece of this 1,300-acre Hilton Curio Collection resort in the foothills of the Sonoran Desert, but late-coming humans have done a commendable job of adding the finishing touches. Although the Boulders, with its casita accommodations blending into the landscape, its championship golf courses, and its upscale shops, is as luxurious as any resort in the Scottsdale area, it’s also where guests are most likely to feel they are truly in the desert. An early-morning walk along groomed paths, when the first rays of light are turning the landscape golden, is as likely to produce the sounds of woodpeckers or owls calling from their nests in saguaro cacti as it is the whack of a ball against club or racket.
1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008, USA
There are few places where you can better learn about the beauty and complexity of desert ecology than the Desert Botanical Garden, not far from downtown Phoenix. Check out the Desert Discovery Loop Trail for a look at local flora, go for a flashlight tour or cooking class (using plants found in the region, of course), or catch one of the musical performances that are part of the garden’s concert series. Make a point to visit the Desert Terrace Garden for the best views of the surrounding buttes and desert.
7500 E Doubletree Ranch Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85258, USA
The idea that your body has an internal clock forever synchronized with natural time is the premise behind everything at Spa Avania at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort. The spa uses music, time-specific treatments, and a selection of specially brewed teas to balance your biological rhythm. Also key to this wellness theory is the need for natural light; happily, architect Vernon Swaback, who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the spa with a focus on light and with a sun-drenched palette.
18333 N Thompson Peak Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85255, USA
In 1995, Scottsdale residents voted to set aside a large parcel of undeveloped city land as protected open space. Today, the roughly 30,000-acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve provides an opportunity for adventure. Hike, bike, and rock climb, or take to the trails with local guides from Arizona Outback Adventures and learn all about the desert along the way. Because most of the creatures that live in this desert habitat are more active at night, the best time to view animals is on early morning or evening hikes.
4725 E Mayo Blvd, Phoenix, AZ 85050, USA
Don a headset, approach an exhibit, and wirelessly listen to African thumb piano or Mongolian throat singing at the vast Musical Instrument Museum. Besides browsing some 15,000 artifacts that represent different musical genres, visitors can catch a concert, take a drumming class, or recharge at the café, which serves global fare made from local products.
Old Town Scottsdale, Scottsdale, AZ, USA
Who says nothing grows in the desert? Local flavor is fresh and on display Saturday mornings during cooler weather at the Old Town Scottsdale Farmers Market, where Arizona-grown oranges and peppers are sold alongside homemade tamales and mozzarella. There are food trucks, artisanal ice cream, and cooking demonstrations from local chefs. Head to the Singh Farms stand to view the harvest of organic peaches, tomatoes, figs, peppers, and more, along with fresh-baked bread, herb butter, honey, and eggs. Most weeks, a local chef dishes out breakfast from the outdoor café on-site.
1625 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA
The largest art museum in the Southwest, the Phoenix Art Museum contains more than 17,000 works of all sorts—American, Asian, modern and contemporary, European, Latin American, and Western American. There’s even a popular exhibit dedicated entirely to fashion design. Don’t miss the Thorne Miniature Rooms—scale replicas (one inch to the foot) of famous U.S. rooms and architectural designs—or the Museum Store, a source for distinctive and bespoke gifts. Lunch at Palette café, with its farm-fresh lineup of Southwestern-inspired bites, is also a must. The Phoenix Art Museum hosts a number of national and international exhibits throughout the year; check the website for the most updated information.
7374 E 2nd St, Scottsdale, AZ 85251, USA
The museum’s collection and calendar of exhibits is a little more daring than you might imagine, but the permanent installation of James Turrell’s Knight Rise presents visitors with the biggest art jolt of all. The work, open to the public for free, consists of a circular bench beneath a luminous domed ceiling. An elliptical hole cut into the top of the dome contains a glimpse of sky. When observed in this manner, even the clearest desert sky seems to shift and pulse and fill the window with pure exuberant color. Come at dawn or sunset for the best (and often most solitary) viewing.
18200 E Toh Vee Cir, Fort McDowell, AZ 85264, USA
We-Ko-Pa, one of Scottsdale’s most challenging golf courses, is also one of its most scenic. From here, you can spot the McDowell Mountains, which turn a deep shade of purple at sunset, as well as Red Mountain, Four Peaks, and, in the distance, the Superstition Mountains. We-Ko-Pa also lies on land owned by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, so it’s nearly untouched by development and provides a stunning display of the Sonoran Desert’s brilliance.
Scottsdale, AZ, USA
It may be counterintuitive, but you can find some serious aquatic adventure in this desert. Arizona Outback Adventures leads relaxing Class I kayak floats down the Salt River, a body of water bound by four different mountain ranges. The Lower Salt River flows down from Northern Arizona and makes its way through four dams in the Phoenix area. Moving through picturesque scenery along your float journey, you’ll have a great chance of spotting animals including wild mustangs, great blue herons, and even bald eagles. It’s a leisurely ride, so no prior paddling experience is required.
7575 E Princess Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85255, USA
Well & Being, one of Scottsdale’s most popular spas, is really a total mind and body retreat. Clients come here for a professional nutritional consultation, for acupuncture and cupping therapies, or even a personalized integrative health assessment. Another perk? Well & Being’s robust fitness programming. Activities include guided mountain biking, aerial yoga, and indoor surfing-core classes. The spa treatments are luxurious and tranquil—of particular note, the Alpine Arnica Deep Tissue Massage relieves stiff joints and sore muscles, and the Desert Serenity Body Wrap is infused with essences of wild chaparral and canyon pine.
Scottsdale, AZ, USA
Downtown Scottsdale has a burgeoning brewery scene, and you can taste the best local craft beers by following a go-your-own-pace Ale Trail. Start around lunchtime at Craft 64, and partake in the rotating selection of 30-plus regional beers (and great wood-fired pizza), then head to Sip Coffee & Beer House to catch live music and sample the products of Scottsdale’s own Papago Brewing. Just next door, Goldwater Brewing pours everything from pilsners to stouts. Finish up the afternoon at Bad Water Brewing for its flagship saison beer and a cheese board. Getting hungry? Head to dinner at Two Brothers Tap House and Brewery, a family-run transplant from the Midwest that serves seasonal brews and Southwest-flavored pub food in a sprawling space.
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