My Unofficial, Semi-Definitive Guide to Scottsdale

Today’s Culture with Travel post is by Jayson Goetz

So, you’ve just arrived at Sky Harbor airport for the weekend, and are noting the Native American designs that we have along the walls of our freeways. Welcome! If the wheels on your suitcase haven’t already melted off then you’re in great shape.

All blistering hot jokes aside, Scottsdale is a great place. Yes, we are the “fancy shmancy” sister to Phoenix but in a way we take pride in that. Besides applying sunscreen and taking care of lush green lawns amid a desert, there is a surprising amount to do in Scottsdale. I’ve lived here for over 20 years so I think you’ll be glad to know that you are in good, tan hands.

For the most part this will be more of a breakdown of my favorite areas in Scottsdale as well as some of the things that I think you should definitely try out. This is a vacation of DOING and you want to do stuff while you’re traveling right?

Hike Camelback Mountain

You will see a lot of mountains while in Scottsdale. Many of them are far away from you but some of them will be close. One of my favorite close mountains (and hikes) is Camelback Mountain. On Christmas day and Thanksgiving you would think that they were giving away cash prizes at the top. It really is remarkable how much of an attraction it becomes. But on every other day, I would highly recommend it (and to go early to beat the heat). I once saw someone get airlifted out via helicopter. Don’t worry, though! It’s only about a mile each way and it can be as difficult or leisurely as you’d like. At the top, there’s a small mesa that has incredible views and provides a feeling of distinct accomplishment.

camelback mountain scottsdale

Grab a Drink in Old Town

Old Town Scottsdale is really a jack of all trades for Scottsdale. It has bars, restaurants, shops, and even some nightclubs. There are sections that feel as though you’ve been transported back in time around 100 years. It still has its modern or more contemporary attractions however. It’s strange because you can buy snakeskin boots on one corner, walk down the street and eat at a Mexican/Polynesian fusion restaurant, and then get some cocktails next door. During the day it has sort of small town vibe but at nights (especially weekends) it picks up and has a nice energy to it. Personally, I’m a big fan.

Shop at the Scottsdale Quarter or Fashion Square

The Scottsdale Quarter is a relatively new outdoor shopping mall off of Scottsdale road. Fashion square is more of an indoor center but has much more upscale options. When you think of trendy people living in Scottsdale, these places are the epicenter. For good reason though. Both Fashion square and the Scottsdale quarter offer unique and fashionable shopping experiences that are limited to only what Scottsdale can provide. We also have Scottsdale Fashion Week which serves as a point of pride for these locales.  Although not something that I personally attend, it gives Scottsdale a sort of badge of honor and recognition in the fashion world.

golf in scottsdale

Play Some Golf

Even if you don’t play golf regularly, I would recommend checking out a desert course. They really are beautiful. I used to work at Grayhawk Golf Course, and highly recommend playing there. It’s a professional-grade course that’s smack dab in the middle of the desert of DC Ranch (a neighborhood in North Scottsdale).

For something a little less pricey, I would recommend Papago or McCormick Ranch Golf Course. You don’t need to bring clubs with you on your trip, almost all courses allow you to rent clubs for your round. I know this might be more of a niche thing, but I really do recommend it because of how unique our courses are.

Hit the Casino (if that’s your style)

Technically, this is on the Indian reservation but it’s literally feet away from what is still considered Scottsdale. It’s no Vegas strip, but the casinos on the reservation have everything you would need (blackjack, poker, roulette, etc). My grandparents are from Hawaii and they seem to spend more time there than with us when they visit. Talking Stick has a pretty nice pool that you could visit for some sort of day rate. There’s also a Top Golf right next door which is a fun group activity if you’re looking to kill some time (sorry about all the golf references but Top Golf really is fun).

Seasonal Picks – Spring Training Baseball/Zoo Lights

If you’re visiting in the spring, I recommend checking out the Salt River Fields spring training facility. We have teams from across the country that play here during this time. There’s almost always a game going on while baseball is still in pre-season. You can grab some lawn seats for cheap (around $10) and it serves as a great hangout. I’m lucky enough to be within the distance of a bike ride and if you can do the same it’s a great all day event.

If you’re visiting we have these Lime Bikes that are all around town and just require downloading an app to rent them for a really cheap rate. You’ll see them occasionally while just driving down the street and are a great way to get around.

Zoo Lights is an interesting one. It’s difficult to explain but it’s a sort of Christmas light fusion with the Phoenix Zoo. It has animal themed lights and shows that are perfect for a date night or something to do with kids. They run from November all the way through January every year.

There’s more to the city than just what I have listed but I think for the most part my list is pretty local and has things that I personally do when a friend comes to visit or even just on a weekend. One thing that I would also recommend would be to check the Scottsdale Groupon page. I’ve gotten many deals for restaurants in Old Town specifically as well as an Uber discount once or twice from there. It also serves as a kind of idea generator of what to do if you’re feeling stuck.

I really do hope that you consider visiting Scottsdale! We might not have the appeal of say San Francisco or New York, but we have a unique culture and experience that I really don’t see anywhere else.

Jayson Goetz is a Scottsdale, Arizona native and writer.

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