Wondering about free things to do in Scottsdale, Arizona when you visit the state? A welcome and unique blend of Native American, Old West, and contemporary American cultures, Scottsdale, Arizona is also one of the best places to visit with kids. This urban center is set against the backdrop of beautiful American desert and a history that’s as rich and varied as any in the United States. The best part? Scottsdale boasts a number of free activities that are perfect for any budget traveler! If you’re looking for the ultimate family vacation, you’ll want to put this classic American West destination at the top of your list! Here are the basic logistics you’ll need to plan your trip, as well as twenty of the top activities you can do with your kids while there—for absolutely free!
Where is Scottsdale, Arizona?
Located near the Arizona capital, Scottsdale is part of the Greater Phoenix Area and boasts a healthy population of around 255,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in Arizona. The city is bordered to the west by the metropolis of Phoenix, the small town of Paradise Valley, and miles of unincorporated desert land, making it the quintessential modern Western town.
Best Time to Visit Scottsdale, AZ
Most travelers opt to take their Scottsdale vacations from late September through the end of November. During this time, the temperature drops for the intense summer highs, peaking in the 80s and making outdoor activities more enjoyable.
Weather in Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale, like other cities in Arizona, boasts a desert climate that sees intense summer heats, with temperatures between May and September sometimes reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The period from November, December, January, and February sees the coldest weather, with lows in the 40s and highs topping out in the low 70s.
Travelers to Scottsdale needn’t worry about the rain: the city averages less than one inch of precipitation per month, making it a bastion of outdoor fun.
20 Free (or Nearly Free) Things to Do in Scottsdale, AZ with Your Kids
1. Ride the Scottsdale Trolley
With four separate trolley routes, this free trolley takes visitors through the heart of Scottsdale and is the perfect way to check out some of the hottest shopping, dining, and entertainment venues in the entire city. The trolley runs every fifteen minutes from 10AM to 9:25PM, making it perfect for all day fun. The trolley can be accessed in downtown Scottsdale and takes passengers through Fifth Avenue Shops, Historic Old Town, the Art District, the Waterfront, and the Scottsdale Fashion Square. This is certainly one of the fun things to do in Scottsdale.
2. Tour the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
This unique park location spans an incredible 30 acres and offers families a ton of safe fun. The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park offers train rides for families and is home to Scottsdale Railroad Museum, which houses a number of interesting artifacts that trace the history of railroads in the area. This is one of our fun things to do in Scottsdale with kids.
Ever wanted to take a ride on the Paradise & Pacific Railroad? You can do so here! There are also a number of shops in the park that offer cheap railroad-themed souvenirs that are perfect as collectibles.
3. Take the Scottsdale Artwalk
Heralded as “America’s Original Artwalk,” the Scottsdale Artwalk is one of the best things to do with kids in Scottsdale, Arizona. Stroll through the city and walk into any one of the famed galleries that are all part of the Scottsdale Gallery Association (SGA). The Scottsdale Artwalk boasts a thirty-year tradition and some of the most beautiful sites anywhere in the West. Don’t be surprised to see horse-and-buggies, as well as incredible fountains, and expertly crafted statues that are sure to take your breath away!
4. See Art in Action at Cosanti
This unique art gallery contains some of the finest sculpture work in the United States, with structures both above and underground. This is one of the best things to do in Scottsdale.
The location is home to a number of unique artifacts, including sculptural wind-bells, terraced landscaping, and concrete structures form directly from the earth. There’s simply no other place like it. Go there to see the art in action and enjoy one of the most unique things to do in Sscottsdale AZ, an experience you’d love having with your family!
5. Hike the McDowell Sonoran Preserve
With over 215 miles of hiking trails that span the 30,500 acre desert, this preserve boasts some of the best hiking anywhere in the United States. The trails are well-maintained, with options available for hikers of any level. This makes it a great place for Scottsdale kids to have a healthy and active vacation. You’ll want to make sure to dress for the occasion, keeping in mind the high day-time temperatures. Don’t forget to put this hiking paradise on your bucket list so you can see some of the best desert fauna and get a feel for the deserts of the American West. This is one of the best things to do in Scottsdale this weekend.
6. Marvel at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Expand your minds at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the leading contemporary art museum in the Scottsdale area. Here, you’re sure to find exhibits that are (quite literally) off the wall and symbolize a variety of issues that are plaguing the world today. So if you are looking for the best things to do in Scottsdale today, this might just make it to your list.
Kids of all ages will delight in the creativity of the exhibits—even if they aren’t into art themselves! Exhibitions at this unique museum include Unapologetic: All women, All Year, a yearlong show that showcases work from female artists and is presented in part by the Feminist Art Coalition (FAC).
7. Challenge Yourself at Tom’s Thumb Trailhead
One of the most popular trailheads in the area, Tom’s Thumb Trailhead is for more advanced climbers and is the perfect way to spend a day out in the sun. Only four miles long, it’s one of the more challenging climbs around—making it a great place to go with older children. This is one of the free things to do in Scottsdale that’s also popular and fun.
8. Stroll the Desert Botanical Garden
Over 50,000 desert plants call this one-of-a-kind desert botanical garden home, making it one of the best of its kind anywhere in the world. This should be on your list of free things to do in Scottsdale AZ as well as fun things to do in Scottsdale AZ today.
Famous for its incredible variety and the beautiful Papago Buttes, the garden is located in the gorgeous Sonoran Desert and features all kinds of plants, including imposing cacti, breathtaking wildflowers, and even a huge array of vibrant trees.
To reach this free destination, which contains a number of hiking trails that you’ll want to try out with your family, you’ll have to make a bit of a drive to nearby Phoenix—but don’t worry, you won’t have far to go!
9. Jam at the Scottsdale Civic Center
This civic center is the perfect place to go for a bit of urban fun. The best part? The location is home to free concerts that you and your family can attend. In addition to this, the civic center also houses sports amenities such as volleyball courts, tennis courts, playgrounds, basketball courts, and even splash pads. This makes it the ideal place to go for a bit of outdoor fun with your family! Looking for what to do, then this fun place should be on your top places to visit in Scottsdale.
10. Stop by the Penske Racing Museum
Into NASCAR? You don’t want to miss out on a trip to the Penske Racing Museum. This incredible location has a lot to offer for both kids and adults alike, making it one of the best locations for kids in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is also one of the top things to do in Scottsdale with older kids.
Located in nearby Phoenix, the museum houses real race cars, trophies, and memorabilia from some of the sport’s most memorable moments.
11. Visit the Ellie & Michael Ziegler Fiesta Bowl Museum
Fan of college football? You don’t want to miss out on a trip to the Fiesta Bowl Museum, which collects and houses memorabilia from some of the sport’s most amazing games. Tracing the history of the Fiesta Bowl and featuring exhibits from real Fiesta Bowl games, this is an incredible location even for the casual fan. Every FBS team helmet (all 128 of them, to be precise) has its own place at this one-of-a-kind museum. The location is open from 8:30AM to 5:00PM from Monday to Friday, with free admission for all. This is again one of the free things to do in Scottsdale AZ, but also a fun thing to do in this city with teens or college kids.
12. Learn Native Culture at Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa
Every week, local tribes come to the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa to show off their native culture and introduce their traditions, dances, and lifestyle to guests from all over the country.
For absolutely no cost, you and your family can get first-hand knowledge from one of America’s original tribes, while watching them partake in traditional dances and other cultural activities that are sure to expand your horizons. This is one of the best things for kids to do in Arizona, and also a worthwhile activity for adults of all ages!
13. Relax at Scottsdale Quarter
Scottsdale Quarter is home to some of the best shopping and dining locations in the city. Make sure to stop by for cheap entertainment and a delicious meal that won’t break the bank! While you’re there, make sure to take your kids by the splash fountan – we can easily tell you the kids will think this is one of the best things to do in Scottsdaale!
14. Visit the Old Town Farmer’s Market
In the mood for a cheap and healthy snack? Check out the Old Town Farmer’s Market, where local farmers come to share their pesticide-free and organic wares. The fruits and vegetables sold at this market are some of the best you’ll have during your stay in Scottsdale.
On a budget? You can still treat your children to some cheap baked goods made fresh by the local vendors. The market boasts a friendly, family-oriented atmosphere with tons of sites and plenty of good conversation, making it one of the best things to do with kids in Arizona as well as one of the best places to visit in Scottsdale.
15. Hike Brown’s Ranch Trailhead
Want to hike a different path? Try out Brown’s Ranch Trailhead. This nature preserve is located in the Sonoran Desert and offers an incredible array of outdoor activities. In fact, there’s no better place for family activities in Scottsdale, as the trailhead has places for hiking, biking, picnicking, and bouldering. What’s more, the location is great for hikers of all levels, meaning you can easily enjoy an afternoon there with your kids! Another fun thing to do while visiting Scottsdale.
16. Walk Your Dog at Chaparral Dog Park
Don’t leave Spot out of it! With a trip to Chaparral Dog Park, you can give your dog the walk and playtime he needs (assuming he came with you on your vacation, of course). Chaparral Dog Park is free and is the most famous dog park in the Scottsdale Area.
With over 3 acres of grass and plenty of facilities and rest areas for you and your dog to play and relax, it’s an incredible place to simply spend a chill afternoon with your family—every member of it, that is. Your kids, as well, will love the chance to play with man’s best friend in a park that’s perfect for your little ones, as well! This is one of the most fun things to do in Scottsdale with pets.
17. Visit Old Adobe Mission
Built from more than 14,000 bricks, Old Adobe Mission originated as a Catholic church built by hand by Mexican settlers. Today, the location serves as a popular religious and tourist site and is one of the most-visited destinations anywhere in Old Town. When it began, the building held the name Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) Catholic Church. Both you and your children will marvel at the incredible Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style that is famous in the American West and throughout Mexico. The building has a place on the City of Scottsdale’s Register of Historic Buildings, making it one of the most distinguished locations in the city—and also one of the best to visit in Old Town Scottsdale with your kids!
18. Learn History the Fun Way at the Arizona Canal
Located in Scottsdale, this free-to-tour canal is one of the best things to do in Scottsdale with kids. Built nearly 150 years ago in the 1880s, this 50-mile long canal is the site of many bikers, joggers, and other health enthusiasts looking to stay fit.
Join in on the fun and teach your children some of the incredible history of the location! The Arizona Canal also contains a bridge where you can go to overlook the water—making it a great location for those vacation selfies!
19. Browse Kierland Commons
Kierland Commons is the most famous shopping center in the city for a reason. Complete with designer shops, gourmet restaurants, and fancy bars, this upscale outdoor shopping commons is a great place to go even for a stroll.
No matter your budget, the area is the perfect place for a bit of window shopping. Located near Phoenix, it’s also a good launching point if you wish to leave the urban life of Scottsdale for the big city.
20. Experience Old Town with a Public Art and Historic Walking Tour
Old Town Scottsdale is home to some of the best art and architecture in the city, and you can see it all with a free Public Art and Historic Walking Tour while you’re in Scottsdale, Arizona!
See the welcoming cowboy replica that stands on the edge of Old Town and other famous works of art that dot the landscape. This fun and engaging tour makes this activity one of the best free kid’s activities in Scottsdale—so make sure you try it out with your family! And when you’re done, try one of the Old Town Scottsdale restaurants.
The Bottom Line
Complete with contemporary art culture, amazing native traditions, and incredible art shows, Scottsdale, Arizona is located next to the incredible Sonoran Desert and the capital city of Arizona. Get the best of both worlds by using this guide to find out the best things for kids to do in Scottsdale for your next vacation!