Best Museums in Scottsdale

10 Best Museums in Scottsdale: Explore the City's Arts and Culture Scene

Scottsdale's best museums offer a glimpse into a world of imagination, history and creation. One of the city's shining examples of creativity and innovation is the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, or the SMoCA. The museum is one of the country's leading venues devoted to cutting edge art, regularly hosting some of the country's leading contemporary artists.

Another must-visit museum is the Musical Instrument Museum, which is dedicated to celebrating music and musical instruments from around the world. On display are instruments from every region of the world, as well as fun hands-on room where guests are invited to try their hand at a diverse array of world instruments. The museum regularly hosts award-winning museums at the venue's intimate live music theater. 

For history buffs, there's the Scottsdale Historical Museum in downtown Scottsdale, which features the permanent Winfield Scott Exhibit, letting visitors get a close-up look at the personal artifacts of Scottsdale's founder. There's also the new Scottsdale Museum of the West, a state-of-the-art museum celebrating the history, art and culture of the American West. Visitors can see works of art from lumanaries like Georgia O'Keefe and Fritz Scholder. On display are also fascinating artifacts from Western legends like John Wayne and Kit Carson. 


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 Museums because: This popular railroad park offers kid-friendly rides and diversions, as well as a model train museum that train enthusiasts of all age will enjoy.

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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Tucked away inside Paradise Valley Mall is a pop culture-lovers paradise. The Arizona Pop Culture Experience is both a comic book store and museum of pop culture featuring an exhaustive catalog of movie posters, hard-to-find comic books, action figures and other pop culture ephemera. Even guests with a passing interest in comic books, superheroes, sci-fi and fantasy will find something to ooh and ahh about in this fun museum. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for teens and children, and free for children under the age of five. Active military personnel, police officers, and fire department receive free admission with ID.

Recommended for Museums because: The Arizona Pop Culture Experience offers a fun look back at the best of 20th century comic books, sci-fi and fantasy pop culture.

Patricia's expert tip: Free admission for military and police personnel with ID.

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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 Museums because: The Hall of Flame Firefighting Museum, located near Papago Park, offers a fun and history-filled look at historic firefighting gear and fire trucks.

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

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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 Museums because: Butter Wonderland offers a fun, education-filled look at the world of butterflies and other insects.

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

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Taliesin West

Located in northeast Scottsdale on the beautiful foothills of the McDowell Mountains, Taliesin West is Frank Lloyd Wright's desert masterpiece. This was the architectural master's personal winter home, studio, and architectural campus. Public tours are available year-around, offering visitors insight into Wright's singular ability to fuse indoor and outdoor spaces. There are several tours available, offered all year long except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, from 9 am to 4pm. Tours range from one to three hours long, so make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes. With advance booking, individuals and small groups can schedule a private tour by an architect or personal guide.

Recommended for Museums because: Taliesin West gives visitors a rare glimpse into the architectural campus of one of the country's most influential architects.

Patricia's expert tip: Taliesin West offers both day and evening guided tours. Call ahead for seasonal hours.

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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 Museums because: Scottsdale's Museum of the West features one-of-a-kind historical artifacts and great works from Western artists like Georgia O'Keefe.

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

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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 Museums because: The northern campus of the world-renown Heard Museum offers free public tours on the weekends.

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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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. Admission is free to the public.

Recommended for Museums because: The Scottsdale Historical Museum offers an interesting glimpse into the history of "The West's Most Western Town."

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

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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 Museums because: The Musical Instrument Museum is one of the only museums in the world dedicated exclusively to documenting the history and beauty of the world's 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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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 Museums because: The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (or SMoCA) has one of the West's best collection of modern art works from new and contemporary artists.

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

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Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.