Most of us trip plan by reviewing the highlights of those who made the trek before us. We scroll through Instagram geo-tags or pore through TripAdvisor’s compilations of the best attractions in our destination based off the average number of stars each attraction earned. But star-studded reviews and highly saturated photos don’t always tell the full story.
After all, the people whose photos you now admire once sat in your place, wondering where to go or what to do during their Scottsdale vacation. And like you, they searched and scrolled until they found awe-inspiring photos and glowing reviews that they felt were worth replicating. But if all you do during your Scottsdale getaway is walk in the footsteps of other travelers as new to the area as you are, you’ll miss a huge piece of the Scottsdale experience.
That piece is the Scottsdale attractions that don’t always make it on the list. It’s the sightseeing instead of spring training, the Scottsdale outdoor activities travelers miss but locals love, the sights, sounds, and flavors you won’t find anywhere other than Scottsdale, Arizona, that remain unexplored. Pave your own vacation trail with these five under-the-radar things to do that’ll make your getaway yours.
Old Town Scottsdale is on the must-see list for many, and it should stay there. With a robust calendar of events and a wide array of bars, lounges, and clubs, Old Town Scottsdale stands out as a top Arizona destination. Stop by the many jewelry and art boutiques as well as the weekly Art Walk and you’ll discover why Old Town Scottsdale is a must-visit for many.
Take your experience to the next level on the Scottsdale Wine Trail. Four Arizona wineries have tasting rooms in downtown Scottsdale, giving exposure to classic Arizona varietals. The Wine Trail’s Passport makes it easy to keep track of which wineries you’ve hit and which are still to come. Participating wineries include LDV Winery, Salvatore Vineyards, Carlson Creek Tasting Room, and Aridus Wine Company.
The Desert Botanical Garden makes an appearance on most comprehensive list of things to do in Scottsdale. We’d put it there, too. Scottsdale is rife with Saguaro cacti, but they’re also one of the easier desert plants to identify. Rather than leave the rest up to guesswork, the Desert Botanical Garden allows you to get up close and personal with the full range of desert flora and fauna.
But what’s lesser known about the Desert Botanical Garden is their crowded calendar of events and the mesmerizing Electric Desert show. Running every day through May beginning at 6 p.m., the Electric Desert is a light and sound spectacular that reimagines nighttime in the desert. Journey through the garden accompanied by original lighting and music concepts designed to enhance seven specific locations through the Desert Botanical Garden.
No, it’s not what you’re thinking. Though Camelback Mountain quickly rose to Instagram fame for its incredible overlook of the city of Scottsdale, there are more peaks to summit in Scottsdale than that one. Unlike Camelback Mountain, many of Scottsdale’s other parks meander through the Sonoran Desert or provide equally inspiring exposure to Arizona’s southwest climate.
Pinnacle Peak Park, for example, spans 150 acres of quintessential Sonoran Desert where visitors can spend a true day in the outdoors. Pack a picnic, too, as the park offers multiple spaces to enjoy a lunch. Another lesser known option for outdoor adventures is the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a 30,580 acre conservancy that offers 215 miles of trails. The conservancy also offers guided hikes and educational opportunities.
The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is not only unique to other parks in Arizona, but also to other parks throughout the country. Covering nearly 30 acres and operated by Scottsdale’s Parks & Recreation Department, the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a pristine showcase of railroad history.
The park includes model railroads and a railroad museum, as well as spacious playgrounds for kids to burn off their afternoon energy. Though entrance to the park itself is free, the park also offers rides on the Paradise & Pacific Railroad or the Charros Carousel for just $2 each. Amid the train tracks, the park also has different types of train cars on display, like the Pullman Car or a Boxcar, along with a quaint western town themed portion of the park.
Street art comes to life at Roosevelt Row, located in downtown Phoenix. This walkable art district is home to colorful murals and award-winning galleries, each enhancing Phoenix’s street art identity. Along the way, you’ll discover local restaurants and popular boutiques, each with their own unique flare.
What makes Roosevelt Row such an intriguing destination is that this Artists’ District also bridges the gap between downtown Phoenix and other historic neighborhoods like Garfield, Evans Churchill, Grand Avenue, and more. This district is quickly becoming one of Phoenix’s most dynamic blocks, and yet it’s still relatively unknown to out-of-towners. Be among the first to add this to your list of places to shop, dine, and immerse yourself in Phoenix’s local art scene.
Fun things to do in Scottsdale are plenty. From the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art to the unique Museum of the West to the many pools and golf courses in the greater Scottsdale area, you’ll be hard pressed to vacation here without at least a little play. But don’t just plan your vacation around other people’s highlights. Make your own. You’ll discover a new side of the city others have yet to see, while creating memories worth looking back on.