Old Town Scottsdale
Start: Scottsdale Historical Museum.
Finish: Scottsdale Waterfront.
Time: 2 hours (not including shopping and visiting the museums).
Best Times: Thursdays, when the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art waives its usual admission charge and art galleries stay open late.
Worst Times: Mondays, when galleries and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art are closed, and summer, when it's just too hot to do any walking.
Downtown Scottsdale is a curious place. Yes, it’s a tourist magnet with a lot of tacky souvenir shops, but it’s also a legitimate art destination and a lovely city in its own right, with civic adornments—not to mention a lot of nice restaurants—to be proud of. With half a dozen distinct shopping districts around the area, it’s easy to miss many of the highlights. This walking tour leads you past the best downtown Scottsdale has to offer.
Make it easy on yourself and park in the convenient garage at the south end of old town, just above E. 2nd St. on N. Wells Fargo Ave. Go to the northwest corner of the garage where, at 7333 E. Scottsdale Mall, you will find the:
1. Scottsdale Historical Museum
Housed in a little red schoolhouse that was built in 1909, this museum will help you understand that despite all the modern buildings, Scottsdale really does have a past. Here at the museum, you can pick up a map to the various historic buildings in the neighborhood. On this walking tour, you'll pass most of the buildings on the museum's map.
After acquainting yourself with Scottsdale's history, turn right as you leave the museum and take a stroll around the:
2. Scottsdale Civic Center Mall
As you walk east, the mall opens wide, and you’ll see a big green space circled by restaurants, civic buildings, and lots of sculpture. (Scottsdale has an active department of public art.) There are often public events in the winter months. As you walk west to where the major sculptures are, poke your head into the gift shop at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (7380 E. 2nd St.).
Near the main entrance to the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, which faces the mall, you'll find the city's most beloved sculpture:
3. Robert Indiana's Love
With its canted letter O, this image, which consists of the word "love" spelled out in large block letters, will likely be quite familiar. The iconic image is nearly as symbolic of the 1960s as the peace sign, and was once used on a postage stamp.
Primed with a bit of pop art, head around the side of the arts center to the:
4. Louise Nevelson’s Windows to the West
This monumental piece by the celebrated sculptor anchors the east edge of the mall in front of a large fountain; Scottsdale City Hall is right next door.
Turn around and head back to the central part of the mall, looking for any other art pieces that catch your eye. Then head to the southwest corner of the main plaza, where you’ll find:
SMOCA, as it’s called, generally has a different innovative show in each of its three ever-changing galleries, and admission is always free. Check the schedule for any special events or openings, the latter of which are fun parties, and free.
Head back out of the mall the way you came in by way of the little red schoolhouse, and you will see a statue of:
6. Winfield Scott
If you haven't already guessed, Scott was the founder of this city, and it is for him that Scottsdale is named. This statue, which shows Scott with his wife and his mule, Maude, is on the site of Scott's original homestead.
To the left as you exit the mall, at 3925 N. Brown Ave., you'll find an ivy-covered building called:
7. Bischoff's at the Park
Don't confuse this shop full of Native American jewelry and other Southwestern arts and crafts with the affiliated Bischoff's Shades of the West across the street. The latter is a low-end souvenir shop, while the former is full of higher-quality merchandise and is fascinating to explore.
Turn left when you come out of Bischoff's and walk a block and a half south to the:
8. Old Adobe Mission
On your left as you walk, it’s easy to miss a cluster of metal sculptures behind some bushes and trees. A block down, you’ll see the recently restored small mission church, built in 1933 by Hispanic and Yaqui Indian families. Inside, you’ll usually find someone ready to answer questions about the building. On the corner across the street is a small group of colorful sculptures by Elizabeth Conner.
Walk back north on Brown Ave. to Main St. and turn left. On this block, you’ll find lots of souvenir shops and stores selling Native American jewelry. In the middle of the block, you’ll find a longtime favorite Scottsdale watering hole:
Rusty Spur Saloon— For many years, Scottsdale billed itself as the West’s most Western town, and at the Rusty Spur Saloon, 7245 E. Main St., the West lives on with country bands playing throughout the day and couples dancing and drinking the night (and day) away. If you’re a cowboy or cowgirl at heart, you owe it to yourself to stop in for a beer.
The Sugar Bowl— Not the saloon type? Go to the corner and turn right, and you’ll see the bright pink facade of the Sugar Bowl, the Valley’s most venerable family ice-cream joint. You can grab just a sandwich and coffee if you want; good luck resisting the shakes, parfaits, or extravagant sundaes, often deranged concoctions that involve cream puffs, fudge, and brownies.
And right there on the corner of Main St. and busy Scottsdale Rd., you’ll see the:
9. Main Street Art Galleries
We've now reached the heart of the Old Scottsdale gallery district.
Just south of Main Street on Scottsdale Road, you’ll find Gilbert Ortega Galleries & Museum, which has one of the best selections of Native American jewelry in Scottsdale, as well as museum-quality displays of Native artifacts. On the same side of the street, down half a block, check out Az-Tex Hat Company, a high-end purveyor of cowboy hats, fedoras, and custom hats of any conception.
East of Scottsdale Road, E. Main Street becomes the realm of serious art galleries. At 7164 Main Street, you’ll find one of my favorite antiques shops, the cluttered and cramped Bishop Gallery for Art & Antiques, full of rare and unusual antiques from around the world as well as original works of art. Next door, Gebert Contemporary is probably the most serious remaining Scottsdale gallery for modern art, representing several of the most important local artists and sculptors. A few doors down, at 7149 Main Street, Arizona West Galleries (tel. 480/990-1834) has antique cowboy gear and the trappings of the American West, along with prints and all sorts of books.
At 7100 E. Main Street, Faust Gallery deals in collector-quality old Native American baskets and ceramics and Navajo rugs. Right next door, Territorial Indian Arts & Antiques (www.territorialindianarts.com; tel. 480/945-5432) is the oldest Indian arts-and-crafts shop on Main Street, with a good selection of Hopi katsina (kachina) dolls, Zuni fetishes, and Navajo silver jewelry. At 7056 E. Main Street, Knox Artifacts Gallery is filled with an intriguing mix of pre-Columbian artifacts and antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. Finally, at 7033 E. Main Street, the River Trading Post is a trove of ancient southwestern pottery, Navajo rugs, and reasonably priced Native American crafts.
Continue on East Main St. until it meets Marshall Way at a roundabout. In the middle of it, you’ll see Ed Mell’s sculpture:
10. Jack Knife
This kinetic, evocative work—Mell’s first large-scale sculpture—is a masterpiece of modern equestrian statuary.
Looking for another break? Go straight ahead another block and a half and you’ll be in the lobby of the swellegant confines of the Hotel Valley Ho. Make your way to:
ZuZu—Chill out in comfy retro midcentury modern interiors. You’ll find creative cocktailing available, and some nice snacks, too, amid a casual and sophisticated crowd.
Head back to the roundabout, and take a right. You’ll immediately notice a magnificent copper-clad new building:
11. Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West
This is a gorgeous place, a major museum with two vast floors of spectacular art and exhibits. In the permanent collection room there are innumerable Western artifacts; you can lose yourselves in the galleries, taking in the landscapes and portraits.
Head north into what’s called Fifth Avenue or the Waterfront: Walk up Marshall Way to the major thoroughfare of Indian School Rd. You’ll notice another piece of public art:
12. Horseshoe Falls
The columns of Michael Maglich’s sculpture are actually stacks of horseshoes arranged in the shape of a horseshoe. Mist periodically rises from the ground beneath the statute.
Cross Indian School Rd. and head north. Major galleries used to mark this section of Marshall Way; they’re now gone, but there are nice shops and a few quirky endeavors, like at 4215 N. Marshall Way:
Unlike me, you may be able to resist a different sort of art next door, at 4225 N. Marshall Way:
Sugar & Spro—These guys make elegant little truffles, each a masterpiece in its own right, in both the culinary and aesthetic sense of the word. Bananas Foster, Piedmont Sunrise, Framboise au Poivre . . . even the names are delicious. There’s coffee, too.
In the middle of the roundabout at the intersection of North Marshall Way and East Fifth Ave., you’ll see Bob Parks’:
14. Bronze Horse Fountain
The four life-size bronze horse statues thundering away from this fountain have long been a symbol of the Fifth Avenue shopping district.
From the roundabout, walk a block up Stetson Dr. to the pedestrian bridge over the canal. At the north end of the bridge, you’ll come to yet another horse sculpture, Herb Mignery’s:
15. Passing the Legacy
This classic Western bronze statue shows two Pony Express riders passing the mail at a full gallop. One sculpture is meant to represent cowboys of the past, while the other represents cowboys of the present.
Head 2 blocks east along the north bank of the Arizona Canal, a pleasant walk next to high-rise condominiums. The busy Scottsdale public art office often sponsors extravagant art pieces using the canal, so keep an eye out for those. Just before the canal reaches Scottsdale Rd., you’ll find:
16. Soleri Bridge & Plaza
Arizona-based architect Paolo Soleri, known for his futuristic city Arcosanti and his bronze wind bells, designed this bridge, dedicated in late 2010, three years before his death at 93. The bridge is anchored by a 64-foot pylon with massive bronze wind bells suspended from it. Each day at solar noon, sunlight shines through the bridge pylon onto a red stripe on the bridge deck. Note: Solar noon is different from noon on your watch.
Have time for one more piece of massive public art? Still on the north side of the bridge, continue a few steps to the corner of Scottsdale and Camelback rds., where you’ll find Donald Lipski’s unusual sculpture:
17. The Doors
From the outside, this sculpture looks like three huge colonial doors leaning against each other, but step inside the doors, and you’ll find yourself inside a giant mirrored kaleidoscope.
Still have more energy? Go back over the Soleri Bridge into the Waterfront District, where Stetson Drive has yet more shops and restaurants. Or cross busy Camelback Road and dive into the scores of stores and restaurants in the giant Scottsdale Fashion Square mall.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.