Best Things to Do with Kids in Scottsdale

10 Best Things to Do with Kids in Scottsdale

Scottsdale is known for its upscale boutiques and lively nightlife, but this desert metropolis also happens to be a great family vacation destination.

If you're traveling to Scottsdale with young kids, be sure to plan a visit to McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, a free attraction where kids can get up close to historic locomotives, visit a model railroad museum, and even ride a train through the park.

Kid of all ages will enjoy a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to collecting instruments from around the world. Interactive, hands-on exhibits encourage younger visitors to experiment with different instruments and sounds.

All kids love butterflies, so take the tikes on a trip to Butterfly Wonderland, one of Scottsdale's newest attractions. It's the largest indoor butterfly atrium in the country and the perfect place to give the kids a fun glimpse into the secret life of everybody's favorite insects.

One of the best things about visiting Scottsdale is getting to experience the wonder of the desert. For a fun family night that celebrates the natural scenery and Old West history of the Southwest, head to MacDonald's Ranch in beautiful north Scottsdale. You can enjoy hayrides, singalongs around the campfire, and authentic Western barbecue.


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 Things to Do with Kids because: Pioneer Living History Village gives kids a peek at life in territorial Arizona.

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

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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. Check out the impressive collection of over 200 historic fire fighting helmets from around the world.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Hall of Flame is the ideal museum for young kids interested in firefighting.

Patricia's expert tip: The Hall of Flame is located within easy driving distance of other major attractions, including the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden.

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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 Things to Do with Kids because: History comes alive at Scottsdale's Museum of the West, where families can explore the lore, history and artifacts of the American West.

Patricia's expert tip: Seniors (65+) and active military get a $2 discount on admission. Just make sure to bring your ID.

Read more about Western Spirit Scottsdale's Museum of the West →


Odysea Mirror Maze is Scottsdale's latest family-friendly attraction. Located to the Butterfly Wonderland complex, the Odysea Mirror Maze is the next phase in Scottsdale's 'Odysea in the Desert' entertainment complex. Step inside the otherworldly ambiance of mirror maze and prepare to set off in pursuit of the ever elusive rare butterfly. The walls are lined with oversized mirrors, creating a dramatic and mind-bending effect full of twisting corners, dead ends and loops that go nowhere. On your quest, you will encounter dramatic lighting and sound effects designed to evoke the feeling that you are traveling through a South American rain forest.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Odysea Mirror Maze is a unique attraction that kids will love to explore with their parents.

Patricia's expert tip: Try the laser maze challenge, where you can test your flexibility and speed.

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Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale is a 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 Things to Do with Kids because: Butterfly Wonderland is a unique kid-friendly attraction that boasts the country's largest indoor butterfly pavilion. A treat for kids and adults alike.

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

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Old Town Scottsdale
Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Many of this district's buildings date from the 1920s and have been renovated to house an appealing collection of specialty shops, which the neighborhood is known for today. Top-notch Native American and Mexican jewelry and crafts sit alongside wallet-friendly souvenirs in many shops, offering a little Old Town magic for all budgets. Over 150 stores and restaurants inhabit the area, so you're ensured of a great meal to conclude a day of shopping. Scottsdale Historical Museum offers an enticing break from the many stores. The Old Town Scottsdale shopping district is a must-see for visitors, as well as a great place to pick up a souvenir.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Old Town Scottsdale offers a fun, walkable stroll for the whole family, with plenty of kid-friendly shops and restaurants.

Patricia's expert tip: Be sure to swing by the Sugar Bowl, Old Town's favorite ice cream shoppe.

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MacDonald's Ranch is the Valley of the Sun's premier horseback riding stable. Located in beautiful North Scottsdale, MacDonald's Ranch offers guided horseback rides, hayrides, stagecoach rides, cowboy cookouts, and live entertainment. No matter your skill level, MacDonald's Ranch offers activities for single riders, small-, medium-, and large-sized parties, corporate gatherings, and even conventions. There is also a large, walk-in petting zoo where kids can mingle with their favorite farm animals. When you want to get out of the city traffic, head to this family-friendly North Scottsdale attraction. The surroundings are beautiful, so be sure to tote along your camera to capture the family outing.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: MacDonald's Ranch is a fun, family-friendly Scottsdale destination that brings the spirit of the West to life.

Patricia's expert tip: MacDonald's Ranch offers free admission to their large, walk-in petting zoo.

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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 Things to Do with Kids 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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Located in Papago Park, this garden features the world's largest outdoor desert plant collection. A vast array of colorful wildflowers has been strategically placed to create a spectacular display and delight visitors in the springtime, and throughout the year. Not only is this park a treat for the eyes, but it also provides exercise for the body and mind. One of the main highlights, an informative ethnobotanical walking trail, meanders through the grounds. The trail explains the many vital ways in which plants were integrated into Native American tribal life, thus illustrating the importance of plants beyond their natural beauty.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: There might not be a better place for families to experience the flora and fauna of the Sonoran desert than at the Desert Botanical Garden.

Patricia's expert tip: Music in the garden and seasonal festivals are held throughout the year. Make sure to check out the calendar of events before your visit.

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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 Things to Do with Kids because: The Musical Instrument Museum is a unique family-friendly museum that lets kids interact with a vast selection 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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Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.