You’ve planned 24 hours in Scottsdale, Arizona, and you’re vacationing with kids. Whether you want to play indoors, outdoors or a bit of both, there are a lot of things you can do in Scottsdale and nearby. Here’s how to spend a day in Scottsdale, with my tips on things to do, kid-friendly hotels and restaurants. Scroll to the end for a sample Scottsdale one-day itinerary.
Disclosure: I was hosted by Experience Scottsdale for a portion of my trip, and some of the places I visited were during Bloghouse Scottsdale. Some meals and admission were comped; while others were out of pocket. This post contains affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to readers, if you click the link and make a purchase, I receive a small fee to compensate for the recommendation.
Where to stay in Scottsdale
Scottsdale, “The West’s Most Western Town,” is the fifth largest city in Arizona. Being near the state capitol, Phoenix, the choices of hotels can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve stayed in two different hotels (and toured another) and each would appeal to a different type of family.
Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows is a luxury resort featuring bungalows and a gorgeous main pool (plus a few other pools). They have dine-in movies at the pool on Saturday nights.
There are lawn games scattered throughout the property, as well. From certain parts of the property, you can see Camelback Mountain.
This hotel appeals to an art-loving family. The design is artful throughout (there’s even an Instagram guided walk there).
They also feature works by local artists from Cattle Track Arts + Preservation include items used in the restaurant, artwork in the lobby, and occasional art-making sessions for guests of the hotel.
Plus, it’s also a pet-friendly hotel.
The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch makes it hard for kids to want to leave. The pool area alone is noteworthy (they’ve dubbed it the “water playground). There’s a slide, sandy beach area, and the Fun Zone with a climbing wall and giant games. There are free bicycles to ride, including kids bikes, as well as gondola rides for an additional fee.
The resort offers Camp Hyatt, a children’s program for ages 3-12, that teaches kids about the region’s flora, fauna, culture and geography of the area. And, my favorite program of the hotel (that will also fascinate kids) is the naural way the hotel rids the hotel of pesky birds: They have a live hawk or falcon on the resort to deter the pest birds from hanging around.
There are several restaurants, but SWB stands out with its southwestern cuisine. I had a superb “Wine Me, Dine Me” dinner there, though I’d say it’s the kind of experience is best for adults. SWB is family-friendly. While I was there, they were advertising a kids-eat-free promo.
The Phoenician is a high-end luxury resort that’s alluring to families with a big travel budget. It has a kid’s program, pools, splash garden and a treehouse (with a waterslide). While I was on a tour there one night, they were playing a movie on a big screen at one of the pools.
Things to do in Scottsdale with kids
The big draws to this desert city include spas, golf and fine dining. I don’t know about yours, but those aren’t exactly big draws for my kids. Being Midwestern folk, we wanted to see the Sonoran Desert!
If you’re visiting during the summer, start your day early when it’s “coolest.” I recommend kayaking the Lower Salt River, which is close to Scottsdale. This picturesque river is easy to navigate and calm, so it’s enjoyable for all ages.
I kayaked with Arizona Outback Adventures, and would recommend their guides. We saw wild horses crossing the river and our guide pointed out a ton of birds.
Tip: Get an early start to your kayak trip to avoid loud crowds of tubers on the river, especially on the weekend.
Other outdoor activities in Scottsdale include: Hiking, go on a bike ride or horseback ride, or take a hot air balloon ride. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy is a popular place to go for hiking and biking (and rock climbing if you’re that kind of family). It’s the largest city-owned preserve in the U.S.
Just outside of Scottsdale is the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. It’s gorgeous. Saturdays in the summer they have flashlight tours in the evening.
Scottsdale and its neighboring cities have quite a few other water activities families will enjoy. Probably the biggie for families is the Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Phoenix waterpark located in nearby Glendale, Ariz.
Kid-friendly indoor things to do in Scottsdale
On my recent trip to Scottsdale, I only visited one museum, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. I highly recommend a visit there, especially if you can visit by mid-October to see the three temporary exhibitions.
My favorite of the exhibitions was “Mutual Reality: Art on the Edge of Technology,” which ends Oct. 6, 2019. It’s highly engaging and most likely to appeal to younger museum goers. I loved interacting with exhibit pieces.
OdySea in the Desert is a large collection of attractions in Scottsdale that probably could take a day to explore with kids. It includes the OdySea Aquarium, Butterfly Wonderland, Laser + Mirror Maze, Paradise Earth, Pangaea: Land of the Dinosaurs, and the temporary exhibit “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.”
If you’ve got a car and your kids are younger than 10, you could spend the afternoon at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. My kids loved it there, especially the large climber and the Noodle Forest.
Where to eat in Scottsdale with kids
Head to the vibrant Old Town Scottsdale for an abundance of family-friendly restaurant choices, plus cute shops and photo opportunities.
Farm & Craft is a darling restaurant focused on sustainable, healthy food. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and there is a kid’s menu. This is the place to go for fresh food.
The Mission is a restaurant that would be good for families for lunch or brunch (though no kid’s menu); kids may be out of place at dinnertime with the candle-lit tables. Their menu is modern Latin cuisine. Order the guacamole – it’s made tableside.
Hula’s Modern Tiki is another Old Town Scottsdale restaurant to keep on your radar, especially if you’re traveling with older kids. While, there is no kid’s menu, you can order tacos or sandwiches to be shared. And, don’t skip dessert. The key lime pie was tasty.
Hula’s is near the popular ice cream shop, Sugar Bowl, which has been around since 1958. You can’t miss it – it’s in a pink building.
Hash Kitchen has four restaurants in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area, and I went to one located near the Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch. While its claim to fame is having the largest bloody mary bar in Arizona, it’s a family-friendly place for breakfast or brunch. They do have a kid’s menu.
Culinary Dropout has several locations including one in Scottsdale. It’s a fun place especially if you have older kids. We went for lunch at the Farmer Arts District and played games like cornhole in the Yard Area. It’s got a cool vibe, but keep in mind that after 6 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays, the gaming area is open only for the 21 and older crowd.
If you’re prepared to travel for food, drive to Phoenix to dine at Rustler’s Rooste Steakhouse. Sure, it’s a pure tourist magnet that’s big on atmosphere and not so much fine dining…but kids will love it. Where else are you going to get the option of using a slide instead of stairs to get to the dining room? Be sure to order some fried rattlesnake for an appetizer.
Sample one-day Scottsdale itinerary for families
Breakfast – Be one of the first for breakfast at your hotel or Hash Kitchen, which opens at 7 a.m.
Morning – Kayak the Lower Salt River with Arizona Outback Adventures. See huge Saguaro cacti, a variety of birds, and, with some luck, wild horses. Bring towels, as you’ll want to play and cool off in the water.
Lunch – After paddling, we asked AOA to drop us off at a restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale. You’ll want to pick one you’ll feel comfortable smelling like the river. We went to Farm & Craft.
Afternoon – Shop and look around Old Town Scottsdale before heading back to your hotel for an afternoon at the pool.
Dinner – You may be tired from your day, so consider dinner at your hotel, if there is a restaurant. SWB at the Hyatt Regency is a good option. No hotel restaurant? Go somewhere fun like Rustler’s Rooste Steakhouse.
Want to explore more of Arizona?
Check out this guide to Tucson with kids! You’ll find tips on good hiking trails, as well as adventurous options like a zip line experience.
I’ve got an entire Pinterest board dedicated to Arizona family vacation inspiration, too.