Scottsdale Travel Guide


Once a simple farm community and now one of the largest cities in Arizona, Scottsdale values a high quality of life centered on a relaxed environment. It is also a city that continually reinvests in itself. An updated streetscape on Scottsdale Road provides a more pedestrian-friendly path through the city. The Scottsdale Waterfront has shops, fine-dining restaurants and luxury condos all stretched along the city's canal areas. SouthBridge is on the south bank of the canals and functions as Scottsdale's version of New York's SoHo.

Compared to most U.S. cities, Scottsdale is young. Although archaeologists have uncovered evidence that hunters lived in the area as far back as 8,000 years ago, Scottsdale wasn't incorporated until 1951, when it served no more than 2,000 citizens in a 1-sq-mi/2-sq-km radius.

But don't be put off by its youth. The best characteristics of youthfulness—energy, vigor, expectation, optimism, potential and forward-thinking—have long been its strengths. The forefathers developed a city that not only continues to celebrate its western roots (wearing jeans to fine-dining establishments is the norm in most cases), but also isn't afraid to embrace the urbanism that comes with a growing imported population. Today, millions live within the 184 sq mi/476 sq km that make up The West's Most Western Town.

Clean air, year-round warm weather, open spaces, great nightlife and the arts attract more than 7 million visitors annually. They visit to play golf, hike, climb mountains, relax at spas, shop at world-class stores and take part in the many outdoor festivals held there. As it continues its journey from dusty western town to modern metropolis, Scottsdale is not likely to lose its attractive lure.


Scottsdale is located in the Salt River Valley (also known as The Valley of the Sun) surrounded by mountains and big blue sky. The McDowell Mountain range can be seen on the northeastern edge of town and is home to the area's most significant wildlife habitat. Camelback Mountain is in the center of town, west of Scottsdale Road.

On its western border are Phoenix and Paradise Valley. The town of Carefree is located to the north, and Tempe is to the south. Fountain Hills and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community are located east of Scottsdale.

Set up in a grid pattern, the city is easy to navigate by car. Scottsdale Road, the main corridor, runs north-south. From there, visitors can easily find any destination in any direction. The original part of town, called Old Town, is located downtown near the southern end of Scottsdale Road. The main freeway in Scottsdale, Loop 101, runs north-south as well.


The Hohokam were the first known settlers in this part of the Sonoran Desert. They arrived as early as 8,000 years ago, leaving or disappearing around the time that the gold-seeking Spaniards came with their horses. The Hohokam may have been wiped out because of massive flooding, or they may have left because of drought. Whatever the reason, they left behind evidence of a sophisticated irrigation system that stretched across what is sometimes referred to as the Salt River Valley. The Arizona Canal, which runs through Scottsdale and was built in 1883, is part of that system.

Historical artifacts on display at local museums show that the Hohokam crafted jewelry, arrowheads, blankets, baskets and other utilitarian items. They also etched petroglyphs on mountain faces, illustrating how they lived as hunters and farmers. They possibly used this rock art for ceremonial purposes, but it now serves as a lovely mystery for archaeologists and visitors to ponder. The Pima Indians followed and lived a similar lifestyle. Believed to be direct descendants of the Hohokam, the Pima still live there.

After the Spaniards arrived seeking gold, miners arrived next in search of copper, and the Cavalry soon followed to protect American interests. U.S. Army Chaplain Winfield Scott decided this territory would be a good spot to start a farm. In the late 1800s, he lured the first settlers there and started the town that was eventually named after him in 1884. The community grew and prospered quickly on these vast open stretches of desert land. The first school opened in 1896, and the first post office a year later. In 1901, the population was more than 200. In 1917, cotton farming attracted Mexican immigrant families, who were sponsored to come and work in the fields.

The town gained further notoriety after World War II, attracting many more families to taste the open spaces and warmer weather themselves. In 1940, Elizabeth Arden of cosmetic fame opened the Maine Chance Spa, the first of many retreats for society women, celebrities and royalty. Scottsdale and its neighboring cities have since become inviting places to live and to visit.


Although most visitors might prefer to spend the bulk of their time enjoying the great outdoors, Scottsdale is more than spacious vistas and indigo skies. There are scores of art galleries and museums worth exploring, including the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

No visitor to Scottsdale should miss an opportunity to tour Taliesin West, architect Frank Lloyd Wright's winter retreat.


Downtown Scottsdale has dozens of bars and clubs frequented by twenty- and thirtysomething hipsters. Most of these nightspots are within walking distance of each other. College students and young urban professionals frequent the downtown area, but it also appeals to a variety of other tastes.

You'll find trendy spots where you can enjoy a martini and cigar, dance floors small and large, live mariachis, country music, DJs and live bands, places to see and be seen—but not heard, because the music's so loud. There are also quiet getaways for those looking for a mellower evening.

Drive farther north for a more sedate atmosphere that includes piano bars, upscale sports bars, and nightclubs and restaurants that appeal to those 40 and older.


Native American, southwestern, Mexican and mesquite-grilled cuisines feature prominently on menus in Scottsdale, as they should. But the city is also home to a variety of ethnic restaurants, including Italian, French, Chinese, Indian and Thai.

Old Town and Main Street Scottsdale offer particularly rich pickings, and the area surrounding the Scottsdale Airpark has become a huge attraction for dining establishments that cater to upscale, casual diners. From seafood and choice cuts of beef to delectable desserts, visitors and residents alike will find what they're looking for.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines for a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$15; $$ = US$15-$25; $$$ = US$26-$50; and $$$$ = more than US$50.

Want to read the full Scottsdale travel42 Destination Guide?
Visit or call 1.866.566.8136 for a free trial.
Powered by Travel 24

From Our Partners

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI