City Guide
Scottsdale, Arizona (The Rocks)

Discover Scottsdale: A Family Travel Guide to the Perfect Vacation

GoForth Team
May 29, 2024

Table of contents

The History of Scottsdale: From Desert Settlement to Modern Luxury

Scottsdale, Arizona, has a rich history beginning with its original inhabitants, the Hohokam people. In 1888, U.S. Army Chaplain Winfield Scott purchased 640 acres, laying the foundation for the city. Early settlers, attracted by the favorable climate and irrigation possibilities, established Scottsdale’s first schools and cultural activities.

During the 20th century, Scottsdale grew from a small market town into a modern city. Key developments included the construction of the Granite Reef and Roosevelt Dams, the establishment of Taliesin West by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the founding of Motorola's plant. Scottsdale's expansion continued, with significant population and land growth through the decades, transforming it into a major tourist destination known for its luxury resorts, cultural attractions, and events like the Parada del Sol and the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.

Scottsdale's heritage is celebrated through its motto, "The West's Most Western Town," and its preservation efforts, including the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Today, Scottsdale blends its Old West charm with modern amenities, attracting millions of visitors annually.

For a detailed history of Scottsdale, visit the official Scottsdale history page.

Scottsdale Cultural Attractions: A Hub of Art and Events

Scottsdale, Arizona, is a vibrant cultural hub boasting over 100 art galleries, museums, and theaters. This city offers a rich tapestry of cultural attractions and annual events that attract visitors from around the globe. Notable events include the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, a premier equestrian event, and the Scottsdale Arts Festival, which features renowned artists and interactive exhibits.

Art Galleries and Museums

  • Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art: Showcases modern art, architecture, and design.
  • Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West: Celebrates the art, history, and culture of the American West.

Theaters and Performing Arts

  • Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts: Hosts a variety of performances, including music, dance, and theater.
  • Desert Stages Theatre: Offers community theater productions.

Annual Events

  • Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show: A premier event featuring world-class Arabian horses.
  • Scottsdale Arts Festival: An annual event with art displays, live music, and food vendors.

For a comprehensive guide to Scottsdale's cultural attractions, visit Experience Scottsdale.

Best Time to Visit Scottsdale





Family Activities in Scottsdale

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

  • McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
  • Guide: McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a delightful destination for families, offering a nostalgic journey through railroad history. The park features a variety of attractions, including train rides on the Paradise & Pacific Railroad and the Scottsdale Charros Carousel. Children can explore multiple playgrounds, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely afternoon. The park also houses a museum with a fascinating collection of antique railroad cars and memorabilia. For a relaxing break, families can enjoy a picnic in the shaded areas or visit Hartley’s General Store for a treat.

OdySea Aquarium

  • OdySea Aquarium
  • Guide: OdySea Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Southwest, offering over 2 million gallons of aquatic exhibits. This state-of-the-art facility features interactive experiences such as the "Underwater Ocean Walkway," "Escalator Shark Exhibit," and the "Deep Ocean 3D Theater." Kids and adults alike will be captivated by the diverse marine life, including sharks, rays, and sea turtles. The aquarium also offers live animal encounters, where visitors can touch stingrays and feed sea lions. Educational programs and presentations are available, making it a perfect blend of fun and learning.

Butterfly Wonderland

  • Butterfly Wonderland
  • Guide: Located adjacent to OdySea Aquarium, Butterfly Wonderland is a tropical paradise home to thousands of butterflies from around the world. The main atrium simulates a rainforest environment, allowing visitors to walk among free-flying butterflies. The experience is enhanced by educational exhibits such as the Butterfly Emergence Gallery, where visitors can observe the metamorphosis process. Additional attractions include a 3D theater showcasing the migration of monarch butterflies and interactive exhibits featuring other rainforest inhabitants like reptiles and amphibians. Butterfly Wonderland offers a magical and educational experience for all ages.

Outdoor Adventures in Scottsdale

Hiking in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

  • McDowell Sonoran Preserve
  • Guide: The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a haven for hiking enthusiasts, offering over 200 miles of scenic trails that cater to all skill levels. The preserve is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and features diverse desert landscapes, from rugged mountains to serene desert washes. Families will particularly enjoy the Gateway Loop Trail, a moderate 4.5-mile loop that provides stunning views of the surrounding desert. For those seeking a more challenging hike, the Tom's Thumb Trail offers a rigorous climb with rewarding panoramic vistas. The preserve is also a great spot for bird watching and photography, making it a comprehensive outdoor adventure destination.

Biking the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt

  • Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt
  • Guide: The Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt is an 11-mile stretch of lush parks, lakes, and golf courses that winds through Scottsdale. It's an ideal route for biking, offering a scenic and mostly flat terrain that’s suitable for cyclists of all ages and skill levels. The greenbelt connects several parks, including Vista del Camino, Eldorado, and Chaparral Park, each offering amenities like picnic areas, playgrounds, and fishing lakes. Cyclists can enjoy the vibrant greenery and tranquil water features while experiencing Scottsdale’s outdoor beauty. Additionally, the greenbelt is perfect for jogging, walking, and rollerblading.

Desert Jeep Tours

  • Desert Jeep Tours
  • Guide: For those seeking a more exhilarating outdoor adventure, Desert Jeep Tours provide an unforgettable experience of Scottsdale’s rugged desert terrain. These guided tours take visitors off the beaten path, exploring remote areas of the Sonoran Desert that are inaccessible by regular vehicles. Tour options range from mild scenic drives to adrenaline-pumping off-road adventures. Knowledgeable guides share insights into the desert’s flora, fauna, and history, enhancing the experience with interesting anecdotes and facts. Whether it’s a sunset tour, a stargazing trip, or a daytime exploration, desert jeep tours offer a thrilling way to experience Scottsdale’s natural beauty.

Family-Friendly Restaurants in Scottsdale

Joe’s Farm Grill

  • Joe’s Farm Grill
  • This casual eatery offers comfort foods made from locally sourced ingredients, with an outdoor seating area perfect for families and a kids’ menu with plenty of options.

The Vig

  • The Vig
  • With multiple locations, The Vig offers a relaxed atmosphere and a diverse menu. The outdoor patio often features live music, making it a fun dining experience for the whole family.

Oregano’s Pizza Bistro

  • Oregano’s Pizza Bistro
  • A local favorite, Oregano’s serves delicious pizzas, pastas, and salads, with quirky decor and friendly staff that make it a hit with kids and adults alike.

Day Trips from Scottsdale


  • Sedona, AZ
  • Just a two-hour drive away, Sedona is known for its stunning red rock formations and vibrant arts community, with the scenic drive alone being worth the trip.

Grand Canyon

  • Grand Canyon
  • Around a 3.5-hour drive, the Grand Canyon is a must-see, with breathtaking views and numerous hiking trails making it a fantastic day trip for the whole family.


  • Tucson, AZ
  • Located about two hours south, Tucson offers a mix of cultural and outdoor attractions, such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park.

Why Scottsdale is a Great Family Destination


Scottsdale offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and family-friendly amenities, making it an ideal vacation spot. From outdoor adventures to world-class dining, there’s something for everyone.

Final Tips

  • Explore Nature: Take advantage of Scottsdale's pristine natural surroundings by hiking the picturesque trails of the Sonoran Desert or enjoying a family picnic at one of the many parks.
  • Discover Arts and Culture: Explore Old Town Scottsdale's vibrant art galleries, showcasing everything from traditional Southwestern art to contemporary pieces.
  • Enjoy Family-Friendly Activities: From interactive museums like the Butterfly Wonderland to the thrill of hot air balloon rides over the desert, Scottsdale offers activities that will captivate visitors of all ages.
  • Dine Together: Experience Scottsdale's renowned dining scene, featuring family-friendly restaurants offering everything from casual Southwestern fare to international cuisine.
  • Seasonal Festivities: Check out Scottsdale’s calendar for seasonal events like the Scottsdale Arts Festival or the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, offering entertainment and experiences that the whole family can enjoy.

Scottsdale’s commitment to preserving its natural landscapes while fostering a vibrant cultural scene ensures that there’s always something new to discover. Whether hiking through the Sonoran Desert or exploring Old Town’s art galleries, Scottsdale promises a memorable experience for the whole family.

GoForth Team
11 Jan 2022