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When you think of Scottsdale, what comes to mind? Golf and spa resorts where you can practice your swing or enjoy a massage, right? Me too. At least, that’s what I thought of Scottsdale before I spent a weekend in Scottsdale!
Neighboring Phoenix, Scottsdale has long drawn a crowd with refined tastes to enjoy those fantastic fairways and splurge-worthy spas. But it turns out there’s so much more to Scottsdale than that. It’s an easy flight from most West Coast cities to Scottsdale – it’s two hours or less from Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, or San Francisco!
So if you’re looking for a new weekend destination or are visiting the greater Phoenix area for Spring Training, consider spending a weekend in Scottsdale too. Delicious food, modern museums, and the great outdoors compliment those conventional Scottsdale activities like tee-times and massage appointments. Why not do them all? Here’s how when you have just 3 days in Scottsdale.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Mvskoke (Muscogee) people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in July 2019, and was updated in July 2021.
The Best Things to Do in Scottsdale for a Weekend
Scottsdale is a perfect weekend destination because it’s totally possible to sample the best the city of Scottsdale has to offer in a 2.5- to 3-day trip. Below I’ve highlighted what I recommend doing during your weekend in Scottsdale; then I suggest how to put it all together in a Scottsdale weekend itinerary.
1. Explore Old Town Scottsdale
When you walk out onto the hot sidewalks of Old Town you might think you’ve stepped into the Wild West. The heart of Scottsdale, Old Town has both modern stores and restaurants and some Scottsdale institutions. For this reason, the whole area is one of the popular attractions in Scottsdale.
While the Arizona sun can make walking around Old Town insanely warm, this part of the city is totally walkable and a perfect place to stay to base yourself for any other adventures in Scottsdale and the surrounding desert.
2. Enjoy Desert-Inspired Food & Drink
Scottsdale is full of amazing restaurants and some truly unique foods and drinks – but all of my favorite ones are inspired by the surrounding desert and the flavors you can find there.
Seek out house-made guacamole (Barrio Queen) and chorizo elote (Grenada) before noshing on grilled pineapple tacos (Diego Pops) and paired with a prickly pear margarita (Four Seasons Resort at Troon North). For dessert, try a mesquite chocolate chip cookie (Super Chunk) or prickly pear macarons (Růže Cake House). Eating food made from or inspired by the Southwest and Mexico will help you get a better sense for what makes Scottsdale special.
I have an entire list of must-try foods at the end of this post, so be sure to check it out if your mouth is watering now!
3. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Is taking a hot air balloon ride on your bucket list? If so, Scottsdale is a great place to do it! During my trip, I woke up super early one morning to go hot air ballooning with Hot Air Expeditions. This is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Scottsdale.
Our balloon roared with fire and rose above the desert, floating quietly over the hills, saguaro cactus, and homes in an area near Scottsdale called Carefree Valley. The desert changed from greyscale to a sandy color palette as the sun came up, and we ended the ride with champagne and breakfast in the desert near our landing site.
4. Go Museum-Hopping
If you love museums, you might be surprised by Scottsdale’s museum scene. Air-conditioned museums offer a respite from the heat and a great chance to see art by local artists. Here are some of the ones I visited and a few others to add to your itinerary:
- Museum of Contemporary Art – As the name suggests, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art has several galleries; they almost always feature local (Arizona/Southwest) artists and contemporary styles and mediums. There’s also the Turrell Skyspace, an open space piece of art by one of my favorite artists.
- Wonderspaces – Located in Fashion Square, Wonderspaces is a temporary exhibit I had a chance to visit during my time in Scottsdale. It was filled with compelling art and exhibits that challenge you to actually interact with it. This is a temporary exhibit but it’s expected to change into another modern gallery space once Wonderspaces ends.
- Museum of the West – The Museum of the West celebrates life in the American Southwest, from cowboys and sheriffs to fur trappers and indigenous art.
- Musical Instruments Museum – The Musical Instruments Museum is technically located in Phoenix, but it’s a unique enough museum to merit a spot on the list. Whether you love music or just want to learn more about the instruments that make it, this is a good one. It’s also great for families!
5. Hike Among the Cacti
With close proximity to mountains and the Sonoran Desert, there are some good hikes of every difficulty near Scottsdale. It’s actually a perfect spot for nature lovers looking for outdoor activities to enjoy.
Whether you want a short, flat stroll through the desert (Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve – ½ mile) or accept a greater challenge (Pinnacle Peak Summit Trail in Pinnacle Peak park – 3½ miles with 1,300ft in elevation), there are plenty of options. Experience Scottsdale has two great resources on easy hikes and more adventurous ones if you have your heart set on hiking near Scottsdale.
As you plan your hike, don’t forget: it gets insanely hot in the Arizona desert! To combat this, hike early in the day or late (approaching sunset). Also always bring extra water so you don’t get dehydrated – the desert will really dry you out if you’re not careful!
If hiking isn’t your style, you could also opt for horseback riding or visit the Desert Botanical Garden to enjoy the outdoors without exploring the desert on your own two feet.
6. Indulge in a Spa Treatment
As I, ahem, get a bit older, I love to treat myself at the spa. Whether it’s a good well-earned massage (travel is tough on the body!) or a body scrub, I’ve become a budding connoisseur of taking care of my wellness this way.
Most of Scottsdale’s resorts also have spas, which is a great way to augment the rest of your trip. For example, book an afternoon massage at the Andaz after exploring Old Town or treat yo’ self with a tequila body scrub at the Agave Spa at the Westin Kierland. I did the latter and came away feeling pleasantly buzzed – not from any tequila, but from the salt scrub and agave-based lotions that left my skin the softest I’ve felt in years.
7. Go Golfing
I would be totally remiss to not mention Scottsdale’s #1 tourism draw: golf. There are some incredible golf courses in the Scottsdale area that cater to all skill levels. While I’m not a golfer myself, I can understand why people love golfing in the Scottsdale area: warm weather, consistently blue skies (no delayed tee times!), and world-class courses.
Here are a few of the popular courses to consider visiting:
- Troon North Golf Club
- McCormick Ranch Golf Club
- Kierland Golf Club
Fore! (Is that what you say??)
3 Days in Scottsdale: A Weekend Itinerary
Now that you’ve got some ideas for what to do, it’s time to put it all together. Based on my weekend in Scottsdale, here’s how I’d arrange my suggested activities in Scottsdale into a weekend trip.
I’m assuming you fly into Phoenix on Friday morning so you have from Friday afternoon through Sunday midday to explore Scottsdale. If you have longer, you can obviously take more time to enjoy the Old Town, add an extra round of golf, or take a longer hike. In the end, it’s up to you – these are just my suggestions.
Day 1: Arrive & Indulge
Don’t dawdle once you arrive in Scottsdale for the weekend – get checked into your resort, hotel, or Airbnb. You’re on a weekend trip! Start by heading out into Old Town to walk around and browse the shops a bit.
If it’s too hot, opt for wine tasting at Carlson Creek Vineyards, Merkin Vineyards, or one of the other tasting rooms in Old Town. These wineries usually serve Arizona wines, and I won’t spoil it by telling you the whole story of how (and where) they figured out how to grow grapes in the desert.
For dinner, head to Citizen Public House to enjoy the Original Chopped Salad followed by dessert from Super Chunk. I suggest the mesquite chocolate chip cookie; if you have enough room for it, make it an ice cream sandwich!
Day 2: Adventure, Relax & Savor
Start your only full day in Scottsdale bright and early – you might need to get up as early as 4am for your hot air balloon ride. (Note: you’ll need to book this in advance!) The actual wakeup/pickup time will depend on the time of year you visit and how early the sun rises.
After a peaceful ride over the desert landscape, you should be done and dropped back at your accommodation by around 9am. That gives you plenty of time for a round of golf or a short hike before the heat of the day totally kicks in.
Once it gets too hot to breathe, head indoors for a spa treatment. You can opt for one at your hotel or resort – or book one at a nearby property if you’re staying in an Airbnb. I highly recommend any of the tequila treatments at Agave, the Arizona Spa at the Westin Kierland.
For dinner, keep it light and fun with Brussel sprout nachos, tacos, or a Sonoran hot dog at Diego Pops. Snag a margarita or boozy sno-cone since it’s Saturday night!
Day 3: Museum Hopping, Dining & Departure
Sunday mornings are perfect for laid-back brunches and strolling through museums, don’t you think? Hula’s Modern Tiki offers tons of delicious Caribbean and Pacific Island-inspired dishes and opens at 10:30am; The Mission makes a mean guacamole and aguacate (avocado margarita) and opens at 11am.
The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art or Museum of the West are both great museum options to make the most of your last few hours in Scottsdale. Both are located in Old Town. If you’re up for a drive and traveling with young humans, the Museum of Musical Instruments is perfect for families.
Then it’s time to head to the airport or home, depending on your schedule!
What to Eat in Scottsdale
In the Southwestern USA, you’d expect to find foods that include avocado, tortilla chips, street corn, and chorizo. Would you be surprised to learn about foods with prickly pear or mesquite flavors? What about dishes with Brussel sprouts, pinto beans, and smoked salmon? If you’re planning a trip to Scottsdale, here’s what to eat in Scottsdale – and what to wash it down with!
Brussel Sprout Nachos
Where? Diego Pops
Okay, stick with me. I started with one of the boldest Scottsdale foods because if you can get on board with Brussel sprout nachos, everything else is going to seem tame.
Diego Pops is famous for this dish which is technically an appetizer. In addition to standard tortilla chips, these nachos are topped with street corn queso, queso Oaxaca, Fresno chili, pickled onion, roasted garlic beet crema, a fried egg, and Brussel sprouts. The first bite is funky, then your taste buds will realize that the combination of flavors is delicious.
Where? Citizen Public House
When is the last time your salad had its own Facebook page? Say hello (and give a like) to the Original Chopped Salad. You can find the Original Chopped Salad at several places around Scottsdale and Phoenix, but Citizen Public House is a good spot because it’s a stone’s throw from the place where the original Original Chopped Salad was born (a now-closed restaurant called Cowboy Ciao).
The Original Chopped Salad arrives as perfectly arranged rows of corn, couscous, smoked salmon, asiago, pepitas, tomatoes, arugula & currants. When it arrives, the server will douse it with buttermilk pesto and mix it up right at the table. It was one of the most interesting salad’s I’ve ever eaten, and I still dream about the way the flavors mix. Even if you’re not at Citizen Public House, order the Original Chopped Salad if you see it on the menu.
We all know elote is delicious, but you know what makes it even better? Chorizo aka the best sausage product in the world. At Grenada in the Embassy Suites in Scottsdale, chef Ken Arneson (who was on Chopped) does just that. In fact, he was so confident I would love this dish that the kitchen prepared it and sent it out before I even had a chance to order it.
Honestly, it takes elote to 11. I didn’t even think that was possible.
Bonus: Also pictured is the “Baja Holiday,” a margarita with Azunia Blanco tequila, lemon, lime, agave nectar, jalapeno, cilantro, and avocado. Avocado margaritas are always a good idea.
Sonoran Hot Dog
Where? Diego Pops
One last food item from Diego Pops, I promise! The Sonoran Hot Dog is actually available throughout Arizona, but I tried the one pictured at Diego Pops so that’s where I recommend you go to find it in Scottsdale.
A Sonoran Hot Dog is a bacon-wrapped hot dog smothered in salsa, pinto beans, Mexican crema, and avocado pico de gallo. It’s all kinds of southwestern flavors on a delicious dog, and it’s a great small entree.
When you think of wine destinations, Arizona might not pop into mind – especially not Scottsdale. And, to be fair, the Arizona wine you can sip at the tasting rooms around Old Town Scottsdale aren’t grown on the hills around Scottsdale. Instead, the vines are located elsewhere in Arizona… but yes, they’re growing grapes in the desert, and they’re making some interesting wines as a result.
The two tasting rooms I stopped by, Carlson Creek Vineyard and Merkin Vineyards, have totally different vibes, so there’s a wine experience for everyone if you’re willing to try a few. (Even if you don’t find the right tasting room for your style, you’ll have had some delicious wines!)
Where to Stay in Scottsdale
One last detail before you book your Scottsdale trip… where to stay! Here are my insights, based on where I stayed and other places I visited.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Scottsdale Resort
For my first two nights in Scottsdale, I stayed at the Embassy Suites Scottsdale Resort. The conservative exterior hides a delightful Spanish-style courtyard inside, as well as two pools and a hot tub.
The rooms at the Embassy Suites are massively spacious: I took full advantage of having a separate living room for work and bedroom for resting up between adventures.
Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows
For the remainder of my stay in Scottsdale, I was a guest at the Andaz. This millennial-focused luxury hotel is targeting young travelers and redefining whatever image of ‘Phoenix-area resorts’ you might have in your mind. They even have an Instagram tour of the property (hence the great photos I have from my stay)!
I stayed in one of their bungalow rooms; it was a throwback to mid-century style with plenty of modern amenities like a massive shower, ultra-comfy beds, and a little back patio where I enjoyed my coffee each morning. I didn’t get a chance to check out the pool or try the spa but it’s high on my list to get back for another stay and enjoy all they have to offer.
Other Accommodation Options
In addition to the above hotels, I also had a chance to visit The Phoenician, an insanely nice five-star resort with multiple pools and the nicest spa I’ve ever visited. It’s the blow-your-budget option. Rooms start from $229; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
I also briefly visited the Westin Kierland to visit Agave, the Arizona Spa for that tequila body scrub I mentioned earlier. This property is a golf-lovers dream and a perfect desert getaway. Rooms start from $159; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
V’s Suggested Airbnbs
Y’all know by now that I love recommending Airbnbs because they’re a good alternative for travelers on a budget or who want more flexibility than hotels afford. Here are the Scottsdale Airbnbs that catch my eye:
- The Fox, A Designer Condo near Old Town is Pinterest-inspired and perfect for 2. From $125/night; book on VRBO.
- The Old Town Omni Loft is right near Old Town and fits four at a great price. The balcony also looks perfect for margaritas and a good book (or good convos with friends) on a hot afternoon. From $90/night; book on VRBO.
- This Stylish Condo is perfect for a couple. It’s close to downtown Scottsdale and not far from Old Town and Fashion Square Mall. From $115/night; book on VRBO.
Okay, you’re all set – what to do, when to do it, and where to rest in between your Scottsdale adventures. Do you have other questions about spending a perfect weekend in Scottsdale? Let me know in the comments!
My trip to Scottsdale was possible thanks to Experience Scottsdale, the Embassy Suites Scottsdale Resort, the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows, and Bloghouse, a small mentor-based event for blogger professional development.