Scottsdale, Arizona is a wonderful mix of desert, emerald green golf courses, luxury resorts, and high-end shopping centers, but it is so much more. There are endless restaurant options, interactive experiences, and unique attractions you can’t find anywhere else. Here’s what we loved about taking a trip to Scottsdale with teens.
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*We were guests of Experience Scottsdale for the purpose of this review. As always, opinions are 100% our own.
What to do in Scottsdale with Teens Based On Their Personality
Traveling with teenagers can be difficult if you don’t choose a multi-faceted destination. They like to be presented with options when they travel, especially choices that reflect things they enjoy or want to spend time doing. Thankfully, Scottsdale has something for all types of teens. So whether they are into art, architecture, food, the outdoors, or shopping, they are sure to enjoy spending time in this southwestern gem.
If your teen loves art
Scottsdale has been a haven for the arts for decades, with everything from the Arts District in Old Town with a weekly ArtWalk to its elaborate street murals. Come to think of it, the majority of Scottsdale’s restaurants have an Instagrammable vibe, so there’s literally art on every corner.
Musical Instrument Museum
If your teen wants to see one of the most unique museums in the Phoenix area, head to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). Upon entering, each visitor is given a headset, but this isn’t your typical tour. As you walk through the museum, your audio guide pairs up with the exhibit you’re standing in front of and begins telling you the story of what you’re seeing.
My teens were not too sure about an “instrument museum”, but I guarantee they were blown away and actively engaged with the exhibits. They loved the Artist Gallery which had artifacts and music from famous performers, as well as the rooms showcasing music from around the world. There’s even an Experience Gallery where anyone can play musical instruments in the room. Mine of course wanted to try the drums and bells.
Note – The MIM has a very good cafe on-site, Café Allegro, that serves global cuisine and rotates dishes on a regular basis. If you have time, we recommend grabbing a bite.
Should your teen prefer an interactive art experience, head to Scottsdale Fashion Square and their evolving art show called Wonderspaces. Since I grew up in the area, I remember this space as a movie theater, but today it is several different pieces (and rooms) of art. Each one is made to be interpreted by the visitor, and some require guest participation.
There is a bar available serving drinks, so you can take your time and truly immerse yourself in the space. Some of our favorite pieces were “Rules” by Paola Ibarra Llano, where guests selected different pieces of colorful tape and added them to the artwork created by others.
Another one we enjoyed was the “Before I Die” wall by Candy Chang, where you could read everyone’s list of things they want to accomplish during their lifetime.
If your teen loves architecture
Depending on where you live, you might be quite surprised by desert architecture. A lot of houses blend with the landscape, and there are many flat roofs, and adobe-like structures. Teens that are interested in architecture might simply enjoy driving through the neighborhoods, but if they want to see Scottsdale’s most famous home, then head to Taliesin West.
Taliesin West was the winter home and studio of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright from 1937 until his death in 1959. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a reminder of his organic architectural style that incorporated the landscape into the structure.
Tickets include an audio guide that allows visitors to learn about the man, the structures, and his school of architecture which closed in 2020. It’s a fascinating look at his life and work.
Other architectural landmarks in Scottsdale worth a visit are: Soleri Bridge and Plaza, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, and Cosanti.
If your teen loves food
If your teens love language is food, you’ve come to the right place. Scottsdale has endless options for delicious food, whether your teen wants a burger, a salad, or a giant burrito, there’s a place for them. Here are some of our restaurant suggestions and what to order:
- The Herb Box – Delicious menu that changes with the season. Try the Pear and Gorgonzola Flatbread, Sweet Potato Avocado Baja Bowl, or the Market Street Short Rib Mini Tacos. They are all good!
- Diego Pops – Trendy Mexican food restaurant serving classical favorites with a twist. Try the California burrito, Sonoran Hot Dog, or Braised Pineapple Pork bowl. Be sure to try the paletas or churros for dessert.
- Hula’s Modern Tiki – A modern tiki bar meets restaurant, serving up delicious cocktails (and mocktails) with island favorites. Don’t miss the Jawaiian Jerk Chicken Plate, Island Style Poke, and Hula’s Baja Fish Tacos. This was one of our favorite spots in Scottsdale.
- Postino – there are several locations throughout the Valley, and they all have a fun vibe. They have amazing make-your-own bruschetta boards (or you can order one of theirs), paninis, soups, and salads. Be sure to try their housemade lemonade, particularly the prickly pear.
- Hash Kitchen – If you want to impress your teens, head to Hash Kitchen. This popular breakfast spot serves up amazingly creative dishes while a DJ provides the entertainment. Don’t miss the cannoli donuts, banana split brioche, or Maso’s breakfast potato tacos.
- Farm & Craft – This restaurant focuses on healthy and sustainable food. For breakfast and lunch it is counter service, but dinner is fully serviced. We recommend the Salmon Poke, Wild Mushroom Flatbread, and the California Burger.
If your teen loves the outdoors
Adventure-loving teens are in luck when they visit Scottsdale. There are endless hiking options, from leisurely walks through Desert Botanical Garden to heart-pumping climbs at Camelback Mountain. No matter the level of activity your teen is seeking, you are sure to find it here.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
This is a protected desert habitat that covers more than 30,000 acres. It is maintained by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy in partnership with the City of Scottsdale. There are all levels of groomed hiking trails throughout the park which is open from sunrise to sunset.
We took a hike with REI Co-op Experiences on the Gateway Loop Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Our guide Steve was amazing as he took us through the desert landscape, pointing out local flora and fauna along the way. The entire area is stunning and there are plenty of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
I recommend doing a guided hike with teens because it’s educational and they complain less (kidding not kidding). We walked along a 4.5-mile loop, carefully watching our step as it’s quite rocky in parts. As we went up in elevation, the views overlooking the Valley were spectacular.
Steve showed us the teddy bear cholla cactus, which “jumps” if you get too close. Turns out it’s not actually jumping, but their arms like to detach from the main stalk and attach to things that brush against them. These arms are covered in tiny barbs that are very painful to remove. So don’t get too close!
He also taught us about the giant saguaros throughout the preserve. Did you know that when you transplant a saguaro it needs to face the sun in the same direction it originally faced? And the roots of saguaro are actually quite shallow when you consider how tall and massive they can become.
Desert Dog Offroad Adventures
If your teens can drive (or even if they can’t) consider taking an off-road adventure in a buggy, Jeep, or Bronco. We took a 2-hour sand buggy tour with Desert Dog through the Tonto National Forest, driving through creek beds and puddles and small hills.
Our guide Don led us along the trail and we stopped midway for water and snacks. He was very thoughtful and always made sure we were close behind. He made it fun for the boys by going through puddles, but I quickly learned I didn’t want to be wet when it was starting to cool off. The kids had their own buggy and loved being in control of their off-road experience.
If your teen loves shopping
Scottsdale Fashion Square
Scottsdale Fashion Square might be the OG when it comes to shopping malls, but nothing about the mall feels old. The mall has over 200 stores, including an Apple store, H&M, Lululemon, Zara, and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
My teen boys (who don’t love to shop) thought this was one of the coolest outdoor shopping centers in Scottsdale. We ate lunch at Postino, but they were equally impressed by the “nicest Shake Shack” they had ever seen. Stores teens might like here include Anthropologie, Athleta, Tecovas, and bluemercury.
Across the road from Kierland Commons is Scottsdale Quarter (feels like a sister property). Fun stores here include Altar’d State, Everything But Water, Dry Bar, and Free People.
Old Town Scottsdale with teens
Old Town has a variety of restaurants, galleries, and shopping. For unique boutiques, head to Old Town Scottsdale where you will find favorites like Vintage by Misty and the Native Art Market. Be sure to stop in Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor for a sweet treat.
Where to Stay in Scottsdale with Teens
We stayed at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess which is one of the premier resorts in Scottsdale. The AAA Five Diamond property has six swimming pools, waterslides, a spa, a kids club, five restaurants, tennis courts, and two Tournament Players Club golf courses.
There are a variety of guest rooms at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, including rooms with balconies and suites. Our Deluxe Room was extremely spacious with two queen beds, a desk, a balcony, and a large bathroom with a walk-in shower. If your family is looking for extra space check out the Privado Villas on the property.
We sampled several of the restaurants at the resort. Our favorite was Toro which magically weaves Japanese and Chinese-Peruvian flavors and dishes. We had the most amazing sushi there (my favorite) and the short rib tacos were out of this world. You do not need to be a hotel guest to enjoy their delicious offerings. La Hacienda serves upscale Mexican dishes and Bourbon Steak is the steakhouse. Ironwood American Kitchen serves a mean breakfast with incredible options like Citrus Pear toast and chocolate brioche donuts.
The pools at Fairmont are heated and there were plenty of young kids frolicking in the water. My teens loved the basketball courts, the on-site coffee shop, and relaxing on our balcony.
As you can see, there are so many fun things to do in Scottsdale with teens. No matter what interests your teen, you are sure to find the perfect fit.