Heading to Scottsdale? I am jealous. A weekend getaway with our friends Jenn and Bob was all it took for us to fall in love with this desert city. We discovered so much to see, do, and eat and today I am summing it all up in my guide of what to do in Scottsdale.
Scottsdale is the place to turn to if you are growing increasingly impatient while waiting for Spring to arrive. Nestled in Arizona’s desert just beside Phoenix, Scottsdale is a playground in paradise, filled with luxury resorts and a wide variety of activities to keep you busy.
We balanced our time between lounging at our hotel’s incredible pool and exploring some of the varied attractions that Scottsdale has to offer. Scottsdale may be known as a destination for golfers, but there is so much to do beyond golf, which is perfect for me since I am the world’s worst golfer.
What to do in Scottsdale
We kicked things off with a trip to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, a small museum with three exhibition galleries and an art installation. The museum is an ideal place to escape the midday heat.
I love the way that the Luis Alfonso Villalobos exhibition titled Today’s Norms Are Tomorrow’s Luxuries combined painting, video, and installation art to create an immersive experience.
The smoca lounge was painted by James Marshall and it has spun chairs which were way to fun to spin around in.
The museum’s small size makes it even more appealing – you can see everything in a short amount of time. When you leave you don’t feel like you missed anything – which is how I usually feel when I visit big museums and don’t have time to see everything.
I love going to a botanical garden, and Scottsdale’s Desert Botanical Gardens is the place to learn about the desert landscape. I know, you might be thinking Desert? Botanical Garden? how does that work out? Trust me – it just does.
We were surprised to learn that the desert is home to 50,000 arid-land plants. The cacti and wildflowers were beautiful, and it seemed like everything was in full bloom. It was so refreshing to see such bright and colorful wildlife, considering the fact that it has been winter in Chicago for what seems like 37 months.
I especially liked that the garden is divided into five themed trails so that you can pick just a couple to walk through, or you can see them all. They have managed to pack a lot into short easy to walk trails – we were able to see so much in a short time.
Charles loved the Desert Botanical Garden – so much so that he wandering off to excitedly explore on his own. His favorite thing was the butterfly enclosure – who knew the man has a soft spot for butterflies?
Scottsdale’s Old Town cannot be missed! The area looks like it came out of a wild west movie and is filled with restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques.
There are also dozens sculptures and art installations throughout Old Town, including this sculpture called The Yearlings. The most well known sculpture is probably Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture – here is an interactive map of all of the permanent art and temporary art in Old Town.
If you need to get around, you can use the city’s Lime Bike system to rent a bike to pedal from place to place.
We had booked a hot air balloon ride – something that I have always wanted to do – but the weather wouldn’t cooperate and it didn’t work out. If you want to go for a hot air balloon ride, be aware that it is weather permitting. I recommend booking the ride for the first day of your trip so that you can reschedule for another day if your original booking is cancelled.
We didn’t have time to explore all that Scottsdale has to offer, but my future trips to the city will be filled with hikes, hot air balloon rides, bike rides, horseback riding, and kayaking. And maybe golfing if I get better at it.
Where to Eat in Scottsdale
Lunch at Diego Pops
After the museum we headed to Diego Pops, a Mexican spot in Old Town that received many recommendations from my Instagram connections. A large bar divides the restaurants indoor and outdoor spaces, and it is decorated with neon pineapple wallpaper. The food is seriously good, but the décor is kitschy, fun, and anything but serious.
My friend Jocelyn specifically recommended the Brussels Sprout Nachos, and we know to listen to Jocelyn. I am on a mission to recreate these nachos at home, they were so outstanding and it would be expensive and logistically complicated to run to Scottsdale every time I wanted to eat them. Hopefully, sometime soon I will be sharing a recipe for these nachos comprised of house made tortilla chips topped with queso oaxaca, fresno chilis, pickled onion, corn, charred brussels sprouts, a sunny side up egg, and a roasted garlic and beet crema. Jocelyn was right, the nachos are a must order item.
Speaking of that roasted garlic and beet crema, it is one of six house sauces that come to your table when you order. The serrano ranch as a special spot in my heart too. I definitely considered smuggling it out of Diego Pops and back to Chicago. The other sauces include guajillo chile, salsa verde, chipotle mayo, and a spicy habanero diablo. You can use them to enhance any tacos, salads, or burritos that you order.
While the brussels sprouts nachos were the most memorable thing that we tasted, the tacos were wonderful too. I had the Beef Machaca with a side of rice and beans and it was just enough food considering the fact that I had a large breakfast that morning. I was happy to see that you order tacos individually so that you can have just one, or opt to try a variety of different tacos. (I am always shocked by restaurants that don’t let you mix and match tacos and make you order three of the same, that just isn’t as fun).
Brunch at Hash Kitchen
Hash Kitchen is known for their build their own bloody mary bar with over 40 toppings – and it is one of the places to get brunch in Scottsdale. Charles and I both ordered the huevos rancheros hash – and loved it! It came with black beans, hash browned potatoes, cotija cheese, a crispy tortilla, fried eggs, avocado, and charred carne aside topped with a red chili sauce and cilantro – and a homemade biscuit on the side.
And we all shared an order of lemon ricotta pancakes and they were fantastic. I love getting a side of pancakes at brunch so that I can have both sweet and savory.
This tiny café and bake shop with white décor with rose gold accents couldn’t be more darling.
The bakery is owned by a mother/daughter team and it is known for their boba teas which come topped with cotton candy and their creative and playful flavors of macarons.
I had a cookie butter chai boba tea, and it was as wonderful as you might imagine.
Other Restaurant Recommendations
I received so many restaurant recommendations through Instagram – it turns out that many of my online connections have been to Scottsdale! Here is what they had to say: The Mission received lots of recommendations for dinner, El Chorro for happy hour or dinner and a gorgeous view, Citizen Public House has an amazing chopped salad, and Farm & Craft is the place to eat healthy. Plus, Taco Chiwas, Barrio Queen, The House Brasserie, New Wave Market, Super Chunk Sweets & Treats, Pizzeria Bianco, and Elements at the Sanctuary were all recommended. Next time I go to Scottsdale, I know where to eat!
What to Pack
Is it a bit obvious to say that the desert is hot? The afternoons can be HOT, so you do want to pack light breezy outfits, and some extra clothing. I found myself changing out of sweaty clothing halfway through the day. It does cool at night, and you may want a long sleeved shirt after dark. And sunscreen of course!
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia – and I loved it so much that I wrote a blog post all about it. Look for that next week.
This trip was sponsored by Experience Scottsdale, as always, the opinions expressed are my own. Charles, Bob, and Jenn took the photos that I am in – I didn’t really take note of who took what but I am very appreciative for the help!