Art, Architecture, Dining: Arizona Scottsdale Things to Do

|   Last Updated on January 5, 2023

On a 72-degree day in November with zero humidity, a bright blue sky and gentle breezes blowing through the shaded patio at Diego Pops where brunchers enjoy Brussel sprout nachos and spicey margaritas, it’s no wonder Scottsdale, AZ continues being one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. On a day like this, the better question is why anyone chooses to live anywhere else. For visitors, Arizona Scottsdale things to do include art, architecture, the outdoors and dining.

Scottsdale augments its perfect winter weather with a robust arts scene, diverse dining options and outdoor recreation, combining the best of big city culture with its Sonoran Desert lifestyle and mountain views for a vibe unique to The West’s Most Western Town.

Canal Convergence annually kicks off “the season” (November through March) in Scottsdale. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the free, 10-night outdoor festival brings together light, art and water with dazzling installations lining the Scottsdale Waterfront–the canal which brings the city its drinking supply. As the still warm sun gives way to refreshing desert nights, Canal Convergence illuminates its corridor of Old Town, Scottsdale Arizona things to do focal point.

A fire show from locally based Walter Productions highlights the event. The fire display became so instantly popular upon debut, it is now an annual feature. For 2022, Orb saw 10 metal spheres placed in the canal, each shooting flames 30-feet into the air choreographed to music and LED light sequences. On weekend nights, thousands of spectators “ohhh” and “ahhh.”

In addition to the artworks, live music, a beer and wine garden, activities for kids, arts workshops for adults, dance performances and tours make Canal Convergence the centerpiece of Scottsdale’s arts calendar.

Year-round, museums, galleries and public sculpture make for a lively arts destination and the premiere Arizona Scottsdale things to do. Start at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art where through February 12, 2023, a selection of works by powerhouse Black artists that would feel at home in New York or Los Angeles can be seen. Kehinde Wiley, Amoako Boafo, Tschabalala Self, Betye Saar, Rashid Johnson and Mark Bradford headline “In Our Time: Selections from the Singer Collection,” with artworks drawn from locals Iris and Adam Singer.

The intricate, vibrant, layered collages of Derek Fordjour prove a revelation. In a nod to Pointillism, his Birdman (Hombre-pájaro) (2022) recalls Seurat’s Le Cirque.

Three blocks from SMoCA, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West has spurs that jingle-jangle-jingle and an even more impressive collection of pottery from the matriarch of contemporary Hopi/Tewa pottery, Nampeyo of Hano (1860 – 1942). Nampeyo was a brilliant artist, reviving Hopi pottery traditions, while also innovating as a businesswoman, taking her pots direct to consumer, selling them to the increasing number of tourists visiting the Grand Canyon nearby to the Hopi Reservation in Arizona where she lived.

Contemporary interpretations of Indigenous Southwestern pottery can be found for sale at King Galleries, a stalwart of the Scottsdale gallery community for almost 30 years, steps from Western Spirit. The finest Pueblo potters–including the phenomenal Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo; b. 1969)–are represented here.

In addition to Nampeyo’s pottery, Western Spirit displays exceptional objects of Native American material culture including Navajo chief’s blankets as fine as can be found anywhere, robes, regalia and the oldest known pair of moccasins in existence.

Native Art Market marks its second anniversary as Old Town’s only Native owned store. Located between SMoCA and Western Spirit, the gallery retails pottery, paintings, fashion, jewelry and decorative items from over 300 artists representing nearly 30 tribes with 100% of all sales going directly to the artists. All items for sale here are authentic Native American in origin. In-store dance and musical performances Thursdays through Mondays from 11 AM to 5 PM share Indigenous cultural practices up close. Make a point of attending one.

Saturdays from November through March, the Native Arts Market sets up an outdoor space (9151 E Indian Bend Road) where shoppers can meet the makers and see more live performances between 9 AM and 3 PM. Don’t miss this when planning your Arizona Scottsdale things to do.

Legacy Gallery and R.C. Gorman Navajo Gallery, also on Main Street in the Arts District section of Old Town, hold firm to Scottsdale’s Western heritage, while Erin Hanson brings welcome new energy to the genre at her gallery which opened here in Summer of 2022.

Thursday night ArtWalks throughout the year from 7:00–9:00 PM are free to the public in the Scottsdale Arts District with dozens of galleries opening their doors to the longest running event of its kind in the country.

Because art lovers cannot live on paintings and sculpture alone, in the Arts District, enjoy oven-baked sandwiches on fresh bread from Craft 64 with a cold craft beer or tableside guacamole, craft cocktails and inventive interpretations of Mexican food at The Mission–a locals’ favorite –in the adjacent Historic Old Town. Scottsdale loves its “districts.” Old Town has nine of them, all easy walking distance within a few blocks of each other.

Scottsdale for Architecture

Inside Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ. Courtesy of Taliesin West.
Inside Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ. Courtesy of Taliesin West.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) remains the only architect most Americans have ever heard of, a fact the notorious egomaniac would enjoy tremendously. His winter home, Taliesin West, carefully situated in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains with expansive views of the Valley, serves as an opus to Wright’s philosophies of organic architecture which strove to create buildings in harmony with their natural surroundings, materials and inhabitants.

As has been the case for decades, Taliesin West highlights Arizona Scottsdale things to do.

Few natural surroundings match Taliesin West’s for subtle beauty. The ochre mountains jutting skyward are obvious, true aesthetes find the sublime in the stately saguaros, prickly cholla and endless varieties of tan. Wright saw it, despite his upbringing in green and watery Wisconsin.

Docent tours lead hundreds of visitors daily through Wright’s office, living room, bedroom and the site’s trippy cabaret where guests and the numerous architecture students learning at the knee of the master would gather for movies.

Imagine the location as Wright would have found it in the 1930s. Before the unchecked sprawl, before the power lines interrupted his views, when bobcats and gila monsters and roadrunners were more numerous than retired Midwesterners. The Phoenix area, it is often said, is Chicago largest suburb.

Visiting Taliesen West requires a half hour car ride out of the Old Town area. On the way, stop at Hash Kitchen for the rich and gooey Cristina’s Tamale Cakes. Brunch is a ritual in Scottsdale and on weekends, Hash Kitchen blends the area’s best Bloody Mary bar with a live DJ for a unique breakfast-meets-nightclub experience.

While travelers can’t sleep where Wright did at Taliesin, back in Old Town, they can do even better overnighting at another of the area’s architectural gems, the midcentury modern gem Hotel Valley Ho. Bing Crosby slept here. So did Janet Leigh. And Zsa Zsa Gabore. And Ted Williams. Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner hosted their wedding reception here–one of them.

First opened in 1956, an $83 million renovation brought the property back to life in 2005 with additional rooms in the newly constructed towers and updated amenities throughout. Back in the day, Hotel Valley Ho had only two levels. A new generation of Hollywood elite gravitate here as well. Recent guests have included Hugh Jackman, Ed Harris, Diane Keaton and Kelsey Grammar. The Hollywood elite, Steven Spielberg, played on property as a kid while it was under construction the first time–he grew up nearby.

This fascinating history–and the best views of Scottsdale–are shared by Ace Bailey on her Ultimate Art and Cultural Tour of the property.

Pool at the Valley Ho hotel in Scottsdale, AZ. Mark Boisclair Photography, Inc.
Pool at the Valley Ho hotel in Scottsdale, AZ. Mark Boisclair Photography, Inc.

Scottsdale’s pronounced sweet tooth–a donut Ferris wheels at Hash, Sugar Bowl, Sweet Dee’s Bakeshop, Old Town Candy and Toys, Buzzed Bull Creamery, etc., etc., etc.–reaches its apex at Hotel Valley Ho’s on-site restaurant Zuzu where the $20 Show Stopper Shake pairs brain freeze with a high-octane sugar rush via a rotating selection of add-on treats.

There is a debt to be paid for Scottsdale’s winter fun and outdoor living, it’s called summer, but when just visiting, that’s someone else’s problem.

Last Updated on January 5, 2023