Visiting Scottsdale, AZ with Kids | What to See and Do

Scottsdale, Arizona is a favorite travel destination for our family. Not only did I live there for 9 years — but we travel there each spring to visit grandparents. And I often get down there once or twice a year to visit friends. What’s not to love about the land of sunshine, palm trees, golf courses, mountains and desert delight?!

I often get asked by friends about the must see’s with kids — so I decided to put my suggestions together in one easy to find spot!

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Family Friendly Activities and Adventures

Arizona Boardwalk features an array of shops and restaurants at this entertainment complex – along with the following:

Top Golf: An entertainment venue with a high-tech driving range & lounge with drinks & games.

iFLY Indoor Flight Experience: iFLY offers fully immersive virtual reality experiences.

Phoenix Zoo: This is one of our favorite zoos! The Phoenix Zoo is also the largest privately owned, non-profit zoo in the United States.

Animal Safari at Wildlife World: (west of Scottsdale in Litchfield Park) The area includes a new African lion habitat and a variety of African birds. Visitors can walk around the safari park and take an optional tram ride through several animal exhibits.

Horseback Riding at MacDonald’s Ranch: MacDonald’s Ranch is located on 1280 acres of pristine Sonoran desert – and has family friendly horseback riding.

Desert Botanical Gardens: Desert Botanical Garden is a 140-acre botanical garden located in Papago Park – with over 50,000 desert plants nestled amid the red rocks of the Papago Buttes.

McCormick Ranch Railroad Park: McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a 40-acre railroad park featuring a 15 in gauge railroad, a Magma Arizona Railroad locomotive, a railroad museum, three model railroad clubs and a 7 ¹⁄₂ in gauge live steam railroad. There is also a park to relax.

Cactus League (Spring Training): The Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers all call Arizona their spring training home. With 10 facilities hosting 15 teams — my personal favorite is Sloan Park (home of the Chicago Cubs) in Mesa. But many are very family friendly! If you can’t catch a game – practices can be fun to watch, too!

Picnic at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills: (east of Scottsdale) At its full height of 560 feet, the fountain in the center of Fountain Hills is higher than the Washington Monument. It is 10 feet taller than Notre Dame Cathedral, 110 feet higher than the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt and three times as high as Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park. It runs every hour on the hour, for 15 minutes (from 9am – 9pm). It’s surrounded by green space, a park, splash pad and we love taking picnics here and sitting on the lawn while the fountain goes.

Arizona State University Campus: (south of Scottsdale in Tempe) This is my former stomping grads (fork ’em Devils!) and we always love walking up and down Palm Walk – which cuts right through campus and usually make a stop at the Bookstore. While you are down there – you can stroll Mill Avenue — Tempe’s equivalent to State Street in Madison, WI.

Museums

  • Musical Instrument Museum
  • The Children’s Museum of Phoenix
  • Arizona Museum of Natural History
  • Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Arizona Science Center
  • Hall of Flame Fire Fighter Museum

Old Town Scottsdale

Located in south central Scottsdale, Old Town offers boutique shopping featuring souvenirs, jewelry and art with a Southwestern flair; as well as Fashion Square Mall — a definite favorite! There are lots of bars, lounges, restaurants and clubs within short distance of each other. The Scottsdale Civic Center Mall is also in Old Town — with a beautiful outdoor space full of whimsical sculptures, flower-filled gardens and fountains. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale Public Library and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts are also located here.

Shopping

There are SO many places to shop in the Valley of the Sun, but my personal favorites are:

  • Scottsdale Quarter (has splash pad)
  • Kierland Commons (has splash pad)
  • Desert Ridge Marketplace (has splash pad)
  • Tempe Marketplace (has splash pad)
  • Scottsdale Fashion Square

Hikes

Camelback Mountain is probably the most popular place to hike in the Phoenix area. It has two sides (difficult and really difficult). So it’s not the best for inexperienced hikers or young families. We enjoy Scottsdale’s McDowell Mountain Preserve and you can park at Gateway Trailhead (where there are also public restrooms and maps).

Papago Park overlooks Tempe and offers beautiful views. There are 6 trails — five of them rated as ‘easy’ and one is ‘moderate’ difficulty.

A few to mention

  • Pinnacle Peak 
  • Wind Cave Hike at Usery Park (Mesa)
  • Wave Cave Hike (Mesa)

Favorite Dining and Treats

  • Oregano’s (Italian) **get the pizookie for dessert!
  • Diego Pops (Mexican) **the Brussel sprouts nachos are on my mind ALL the time.
  • Salty Senorita (Mexican)
  • Rehab Burger Therapy (American/burger)
  • Culinary Dropout (American)
  • Roka Akor (sushi)
  • Ra Sushi (sushi)
  • Eddie V’s (seafood)
  • Postino Winebar (wine bar)
  • Craft 64 (wine bar/pizza)
  • Virtu (Mediterranean)
  • Pita Jungle (Mediterranean)
  • Chelsea’s Kitchen (American)
  • Snooze an AM (breakfast)
  • Daily Dose (breakfast)
  • True Food Kitchen (lunch)
  • Flower Child (lunch)
  • The Original Chophouse (lunch)
  • Farm and Craft (lunch)
  • Sugar Bowl (dessert)
  • Sprinkles Cupcakes (dessert)
  • Gelato Spot (dessert)

Family Photos 

Since Arizona is such a special destination for our family, I wanted to get family photos taken while we were down there. I was SO happy with how they turned out – so if this is something you are considering, I highly recommend Stacey from Dream Photography Studio. She monitored the weather and recommended a last minute location change (it was 100 degrees during these photos!) and I’m so glad she did… it was the perfect spot.

Family photo taken at Papago Park by Dream Photography Studio

7 Must Have Activities for Traveling with Kids

Alisa Sleep
Alisa was born and raised in Iowa before attending Arizona State University. She then lived in Chicago, Georgia and Florida before settling in Madison. From her nomadic lifestyle grew a love for the beach, as well as a fondness for spicy food, sushi, white wine, southern charm, Diamondbacks baseball and idyllic ocean sunsets. Alisa and her husband, Joe, are parents to Ava Mae (August 2012) and twins, Nora & Jacob (March 2014). Alisa is a work-from-home mompreneur with a passion for business, fashion, fitness, community and all things mom. When she’s not enjoying time at home with her family, you can find her sweating it out on the tennis court, training for the next big race, pinning her heart out on Pinterest and exploring Madison with her little ones (and sweet Boston Terrier, Peaches) in tow.

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