Best Family-Friendly Museums in Scottsdale

10 Best Family-Friendly Museums in Scottsdale That the Whole Family Will Love

Scottsdale's rich Western heritage and natural desert beauty make it a natural choice for a family vacation. From horseback riding through the desert to hiking the McDowell Mountains, Scottsdale offers plenty of opportunities for fun and exploration. Scottsdale also has several family-friendly museums that will appeal to both parents and kids.

The Musical Instrument Museum, for example, tops our list for its array of hands-on exhibits and interactive displays. Kids and parents will enjoy viewing the museum's vast collection of musical instruments from around the world.

If your kids love trains, be sure to plan a stop at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park. The park features historic locomotives, a carousel, and a train museum with model railroad displays. For a sweet snack or train souvenir, stop by Hartley's General Store for hand dipped ice cream, food and drinks, and Thomas the Tank toys. You can even take a fun one-mile train ride around the park.

For a fun glimpse into Arizona's territorial past, head north of Scottsdale to the Pioneer Living History Museum. The 85-acre property features a mix of authentic and reproduced buildings, including a blacksmith shop, sheriff's office, jail and opera house. Costumed craftspeople bring the whole thing to life, showing what life was like in pioneer-era Arizona.



The Commemorative Air Force seeks to preserve a flying example of every aircraft from WWII, and the Arizona Wing is home to some of the most famous airplanes of the era, including the B-17G Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey (still in flying condition after all these years). The Arizona Wing has also recently completed the restoration of a B-25J Mitchell. The museum houses historic aircraft and plays host to special exhibits honoring the stories and legacy of those who served in U.S. Military aviation. Popular exhibits include the Chow Hound exhibit, a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), Enemy Artifacts, and a memorial honoring the fallen.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The Commemorative Air Force Arizona Wing Aviation Museum is a must-see spot for aviation lovers of all ages.

Patricia's expert tip: Hours may change due to special events, so make sure to call ahead and confirm hours and current aircraft availability.

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Arizona's territorial days are recreated on this 85-acre property, where costumed craftspeople work among authentic and reproduced buildings. Special events like a lively bluegrass festival, a Civil War reenactment, and an antique tractor show are held throughout the year. Adults and children of all ages are invited to stop by and enjoy an afternoon of family fun. The village is a mix of authentic buildings and historically accurate reproductions. You'll get to see the Opera House where Lilly Langtry sang and explore the real-life cabin that survived Arizona's bloodiest range war. There is also a blacksmith shop, sheriff's office and jail. Costumed interpreters bring the whole thing to life.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Pioneer Living History Village brings Arizona's history to life in a fun, historically accurate setting.

Patricia's expert tip: When you get hungry, stop by the on-site restaurant, the Chuckwagon.

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Many visitors to Old Town Scottsdale stroll right past this local gem, located on the grassy pedestrian mall in the downtown district. The Scottsdale Historical Museum seeks to present, preserve, and interpret local Scottsdale and the cultural heritage of the Southwest through research, exhibits, and educational programming. Permanent exhibits include the Winfield Scott Exhibit, displaying personal artifacts and celebrating the life of Scottsdale's founder. The One Room Schoolhouse, also known as the Little Red Schoolhouse, which displays what one of the city's first schools might have looked like when it first opened in the 1800s.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Scottsdale Historical Museum gives visitors a fascinating look into Scottsdale's earliest days.

Patricia's expert tip: Stop in during your visit to Old Town Scottsdale--admission is free!

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Heard Museum North is the Scottsdale extension of the world-famous Heard Museum in Downtown Phoenix. The North Scottsdale facility features two exhibition galleries, a gift shop, and a garden cafe. The world-renown collection of the Heard Museum is on continuous display at the Heard Museum North galleries in both changing and ongoing exhibits. The Heard Museum North has one permanent gallery and one changing gallery, which means there is always something new. The Heard Museum North Shop offers visitors a large selection of one-of-a-kind traditional and contemporary handmade artwork purchased directly from American Indian artists. Free public guided tours with knowledgeable museum docents are offered Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Heard Museum gives families an up-close look at traditional and contemporary Native American arts and crafts.

Patricia's expert tip: Plenty of free parking is available at the Summit at Scottsdale, where Heard Museum North Scottsdale is located.

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Presenting the world's largest display of firefighting equipment, this museum highlights 100 restored pieces of hand-to-hand, horse-drawn, and mechanized firefighting equipment from 1725 to 1961. Additional exhibits include a fire truck for children to climb on and several other restored fire engines. A firefighter wannabe can dress up in official-looking coats, hats, and other gear, just like the real thing! The Hall of Flame is located near the borders of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe in the Phoenix Papago Park area, across from the Phoenix Zoo and next door to Phoenix Municipal Stadium. It makes for a convenient stop if you're checking out these other attractions.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Kids and adults will enjoy exploring the Hall of Flame Museum, a tribute to the history of firefighters around the world.

Patricia's expert tip: Check out the impressive collection of over 200 historic fire fighting helmets from around the world.

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Five galleries and a sculpture garden make up the nucleus of this facility. Additional exhibits of interest include displays of international art, architecture and design, with a predominant focus on hometown attributes. The focus of the SMoCA is not on art from the past, but rather cutting edge contemporary art that deals in the thoughts and concerns of today. The museum is also home to the new SMoCA Lounge--designed as an accessible community space for creativity, imagination and contemplation. The Lounge features a film series, Lit Lounge events that bring together local writers and musicians, and a popular Brown Bag lecture series.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art offers kid-friendly displays designed to expose the little ones to contemporary art.

Patricia's expert tip: Free museum admission every Thursday from 12pm to 9pm.

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Scottsdale's new Museum of the West celebrates the spirit, history and culture of the American West. The museum calls itself a "study in the west," featuring Western art, storytelling, and historical artifacts that help convey the story and history of the American west. The state-of-the-art museum will feature artwork from well-known artists like Charles M. Russell, Georgia O'Keeffe, Fritz Scholder and Allen Houser. Visitors will also get an eyeful of fascinating artifacts such as John Wayne's signed business card, Navajo chiefs' blankets and personal items belonging to Kit Carson. There is also an outdoor amphitheater, cacti garden, and large open courtyard with a sculpture garden.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Scottsdale's Museum of the West offers family-friendly programming and storytelling circles that will bring the history of the West alive for children.

Patricia's expert tip: Military and student discounts are available.

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Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale is an unique facility featuring an indoor rain forest environment that is home to the largest butterfly pavilion in America. The museum features a 3D theater, butterfly emergence gallery, conservatory, a live ant colony, honey bee exhibit, cafe and gift shop. The state-of the art facility features a large glass atrium that creates a tropical rain forest habitat for thousands of butterflies from around the world. Along with the butterfly atrium, you can also pay a visit a real-life ant colony, and take a peek at the fascinating honey bee beehive exhibit. Of course, there's a gift shop where you can pick up butterfly-themed souvenirs.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Butterfly Wonderland offers family-friendly exhibits and hands-on displays for butterfly lovers of all ages.

Patricia's expert tip: Check the schedule at Butterfly Wonderland for fun and educational lectures and workshops.

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The Musical Instrument Museum, also known as the MIM, celebrates art, music and culture by documenting the history of musical instruments from around the world. Everyone from Carlos Santana to Tony Bennett have sung the praises of this bright, open museum, which also hosts a full calendar of live music events. The museum collection includes instruments from 200 countries from around the world, with emphasis on ethnic, folk, and tribal music. Guests are given wireless headsets so they can hear instruments being played at each display, and flat-panel monitors throughout the museum give guests the opportunity to see instruments being performed live. Whether you love Chinese opera or Big Band jazz, the MIM celebrates the joy of musical expression in all its forms.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The Musical Instrument Museum is a unique family-friendly museum with a vast collection of world instruments.

Patricia's expert tip: Check the daily schedule for Museum Encounters, thirty-minute musical demonstrations that allow musician-teaching artists to perform for and interact with museum guests. Museum Encounters are free with admission.

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McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a train-lover's haven located in the heart of Scottsdale, Arizona. The park offers train and carousel rides for all ages, open green space for family picnics, historic Arizona railroad artifacts, model railroad displays in a new 10,000 square foot building, a train museum, and popular events throughout the year. Hartley's General Store offers hand dipped ice cream, food and drinks, and Thomas the Tank toys, while Snackstop offers a variety of snack food and drinks. Whether you're looking for a perfect picnic destination or simply take the kids on a one-mile train ride around the park, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a great family-friendly attraction located just north of the city center.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a train-lovers paradise. Kids and adults will enjoy riding the park's train and the on-site train museum.

Patricia's expert tip: Don't miss the two playgrounds at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, voted some of the best in the Valley of the Sun.

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Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.