A small Guide to Downtown Scottsdale

by Tracy Kaler  |  Published July 3, 2017

It’s no surprise that Scottsdale, Arizona has been labeled one of the most livable cities in the U.S. A dry climate, endless sunshine, and a host of cultural offerings attract scores of visitors to the Valley of the Sun each year. For a taste of the new West with flavors of the old intact, Scottsdale is the place.

The waterfront in Downtown Scottsdale (photo: Tracy Kaler)

Scottsdale is more than golf courses and luxury resorts; the town presents a medley of things to eat, drink, see, and do. Since the city is situated in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert, you’ll discover much of the area’s natural beauty in the outskirts of town. Meanwhile, you’ll come upon more great food than your stomach can handle, locally-produced wines ripe for drinking, and a slew of shops and galleries – a testament to the city’s burgeoning creative community – all in the heart of downtown.

On a short stay in Scottsdale, you won’t waste time figuring out the lie of the land. The city is uber-easy to navigate, and nothing in downtown is more than a 15-minute walk, which makes discovering the town hassle-free. When your feet have had enough wandering, though, hop on the free Scottsdale Trolley, which runs from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m.

Hop on the trolley in Downtown Scottsdale (photo: Tracy Kaler)

A river runs through it, or more accurately, a canal. The Scottsdale Waterfront – a mixture of high-rises, restaurants, and retail within downtown– has become a thriving community in and of itself. Perfect for a daytime jog or evening stroll, the waterfront area – among its lush plantings and graceful palm trees, features a number of public art installations as well. Across from the waterfront, find Fashion Avenue, a designer mall showcasing luxury brands such as Gucci, David Yurman, and Prada. Meanwhile, rove a short distance to the Fifth Avenue Shopping District and you’ll run into a medley of independently owned eateries, cafés, and boutiques.

The painterly desert backdrop has attracted artists and creatives for decades, so it’s no surprise that art, as in much of the state of Arizona, is no stranger to Scottsdale. You’ll encounter both temporary and permanent installations in various media, many of which blend seamlessly with the cityscape. One of the grandest public works of art is the striking Paolo Soleri-designed Bridge – the only bridge in the world by the famed Italian-American architect – which joins the Scottsdale Waterfront to downtown. Beyond its delicate, sculptural lines, the bridge is surrounded by an idyllic landscaped plaza, where a pedestrian walkway, solar calendar, and public space converge. On the south side of the canal, you’ll see Soleri’s Goldwater Bell Assembly, a bronze sculpture produced by the artist in Cosanti, his gallery and studio in nearby Paradise Valley.

The Paolo Soleri-designed bridge in Downtown Scottsdale

On the southern edge of downtown, you’ll find the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, a theater for music, dance, and dramatic performances. Adjacent to the center is the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), a hub for modern art and architectural exhibits. In the same vicinity, don’t miss Civic Center Plaza where you’ll discover plenty of space to roam, relax, and daydream. Grab a bench or a spot on the grass as you soak up the blazing sun in this 21-acre public outdoor space. While you’re there among the park’s fountains and gardens, take note of the iconic Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture, a popular backdrop for snapping photos. If you come between noon and 1 p.m. on a Thursday or Saturday in January, February, or March (exact dates vary each year), you can attend the Native American Trails – an annual festival that pays tribute to the Hopi, Dinè (Navajo), Akimel Au-Authm and San Carlos Apache tribes through music and dance, traditional dress, and arts and crafts.

Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture makes a great picture backdrop. (photo: Tracy Kaler)

As you’d expect, the gallery scene in Scottsdale’s Arts District is well developed, with dozens of establishments dedicated to selling and displaying fine art. The Scottsdale ArtWalk takes place from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. every Thursday evening year-round (except Thanksgiving) and gives art aficionados an opportunity to leisurely browse more than 30 of these galleries while enjoying a night out on the town.


While you’ll find a fair selection of chain hotels in the downtown area, there are several unique properties in the city too. Hotel Valley Ho (6850 E Main St) throws back to 1956 when the property was built and pays tribute to the glitz and glamor of Old Hollywood. The resort offers spacious quarters, a full-service spa and fitness center, and two swimming pools. ZuZu, a fun, trendy bar and restaurant off the lobby, is a solid choice if you’re too pooped to venture out when you arrive late in the evening.

Hotel Valley Ho throws back to the 1950s. (photo: Tracy Kaler)

Funky and colorful, The Saguaro (4000 N Drinkwater Blvd) sits in a stellar location adjacent to Civic Center Park, mere steps from the Arts District. Stay here and you won’t have to venture far to experience some of Scottsdale’s finest galleries, cafes, and restaurants. Rooms come with private balconies, iPod docking stations, and handcrafted furnishings from Mexico. Meanwhile, for a more boutique option, the Bespoke Inn (3701 N Marshall Way) combines the amenities of a luxury resort and the personalized service of a bed and breakfast. Chill out in the rooftop garden, swim in the 43-foot infinity pool, and dine at Virtú, named one of the best restaurants in the U.S by Esquire Magazine.

Restaurants & Bars

For Latin-inspired cuisine, head to The Mission (3815 N Brown Ave), an inviting eatery crafting toothsome dishes like chunky tableside guacamole, beer-battered mahi-mahi tacos with escabeche and cotija, and green chile duck confit, all equally delicious. Have a look at their extensive tequila and rum list as well as the lineup of margaritas, mojitos and other libations. The Primarita (El Mayor reposado tequila, organic agave nectar and pressed lime) is an excellent option if you’re counting calories, and the Mission Sour (Pisco, vida mezcal, pineapple, agave nectar, and egg white) is a refreshing take on the classic South American Pisco sour.

Fish tacos and tableside guacamole at The Mission. (photo: Tracy Kaler)

Take advantage of the varied menu of tacos, market salads, wraps, and sandwiches, and more at The Herb Box (7134 E Stetson Dr, Ste 200). Impeccably fresh, the short rib tacos are a must-try, as are the sweet potato and corn enchiladas. With a host of vegetarian and gluten-free choices, a super friendly staff, and a lovely outdoor dining space, the Herb Box embodies the essence of the Scottsdale food and drink scene.

The farm-to-table movement is alive and well in Scottsdale, and that’s no more apparent than at FnB (7125 E 5th Ave, #31). Helmed by James Beard-nominated chef Charleen Badman, this neighborhood gastropub does every dish justice but takes vegetables to a heavenly level. Frontrunners like grilled spicy broccoli with tangerine aioli and pistachios won’t allow you to miss meat at all, but the succulent pork shoulder doesn’t disappoint diehard carnivores. Longtime restaurateur and winemaker Paul Milic oversees the drinks selection which highlights craft cocktails, a lineup of locally-produced wines, as well as interesting choices from France, Austria, California, and other regions.

Grilled spicy broccoli at FnB. (photo: Tracy Kaler)

If you’ve never tried Arizona wine, now’s your chance. Although a young region, expect a surprising range of varieties including Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Merlot, and Syrah, among other reds and whites that can easily compete with the West Coast output. Wine enthusiasts will find bottles to sample and sip at the family-owned Carlson Creek Tasting Room (4142 N Marshall Way) in the heart of the Marshall Arts District. Founded in 2008, Carlson Creek crafts an excellent collection of reds, whites, and rosés. A standout, however, is flagship wine “Rule of Three” (a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre).

For a local java fix, enter Cartel Coffee Lab (7124 E 5th Ave), a hip yet welcoming hangout brimming with worker bees on laptops and locals downing caffeine. Loved most for its house-roasted brew and experienced baristas, Cartel also offers herbal tea, chai tea lattes, scones, pop tarts, and other confections, as well as gourmet soft pretzels.


Consisting of three levels – the main gallery, second-floor salon, and the rooftop sculpture garden – Calvin Charles Gallery (4201 N Marshall Way) exhibits work from artists living and working in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The gallery aims to showcase a variety of styles, often focusing on new and emerging artists, proving that art can be for everyone.

See fine art and crafts from more than 70 artists in the wonderfully lit space of the Marshall Gallery of Fine Art (7106 E Main St). In addition to paintings, drawings, ceramics, and sculpture, the shop is widely known for its selection of art glass from the likes of Alexander Fekete and George Bucquet.

Observe original works by some of the most iconic European and American artists in history at Modern American (4161 N Marshall Way). Pieces by Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, and Andy Warhol among other great modern visionaries have graced the walls here at one time or another.

Modern American exhibits work by the greatest modern masters. (photo: Tracy Kaler)

No matter your taste or budget, you’ll want to stop by Art One Gallery (4131 N Marshall Way). Since 1993, founder Craig Foote has given up-and-coming artists – many of whom are local high school and college students – an opportunity to exhibit their work. The modest space contains an incredible assortment of affordable pieces begging to be bought.


No western town is complete without an authentic western wear shop. Family owned and operated since 1927, Saba’s (3965 N Brown Ave) vends a diverse selection of hats, clothing, accessories, and of course, handcrafted cowboy boots made in the USA. Choose from a plethora of leather styles for men, women, and children, made of buffalo, calf, kidskin, and ostrich. Browse brands like Justin, Nocona and Tony Lama at this popular outpost in the heart of Old Town.

When your sweet tooth calls, listen. Super Chunk (7120 # 6th Ave #19), a delightful bake shop specializing in small-batch handcrafted treats, represents the epitome of sugary goodness. The mesquite chocolate chip cookie bursts with hints of southwestern flavor, and the best peanut butter cookie – made from house-made peanut butter – is accurately named. Other sinful sweets at Super Chunk include brownies, blondies, cakes, pies, and “brookies,” a brownie and cookie combo.

For a sweet treat, stop by Super Chunk. (photo: Tracy Kaler)

To browse an array of unique gifts from around the globe, stop by The Store at Scottsdale Performing Arts Center. (7380 E 2nd St) Tucked inside the center’s entrance, the shop stocks fair trade and upcycled/recycled arts and crafts, artisan jewelry, housewares, greeting cards, and other nifty items from around the world. It’s the perfect spot to pick up a memento for yourself or a gift for that special someone.

Native-American, western, and southwestern arts and crafts reign supreme throughout Scottsdale, but Bischoff’s (7247 E Main St) is the place to find bona fide jewelry, Navajo rugs, pottery, folk art, baskets, as well as other souvenirs and collectibles from indigenous tribes. A treasure trove of fascinating finds, this emporium meets gallery will make you fall in love with the Southwest – if you haven’t already.