Once considered a "snow bird" paradise, Scottsdale, Arizona, has turned over a new leaf and should now be considered a mecca for the young family. While there are thousands of young families that already know this, I wanted to share our blissful experience just in case you need to be educated about just how perfectly adapted the city is for the world of young families.
The complexity of young families these days include parents that are both working, daycare, a nanny, camps, before and after school activities, weekend sports, and playdates that involve the whole family. All of this to say, our kids are busy. They're used to jumping from activity to activity. They are used to (over) stimulation. They are curious and they are captivated by interactive experiences, and of course what they treasure most, is time with mom and dad. For these reasons Scottsdale has it sorted.
There is a Butterfly Garden (where Monarch's will tickle, touch, and mystify you), an aquarium that is supposed to be quite incredible, multiple zoos, as well as desert hikes and dune buggy type adventures. We didn't get to do it all, but what we did do, was phenomenal in that it catered to our toddler / pre-school age group. Here's a quick breakdown of our exploration over the short four day getaway:
- Phoenix Zoo - The interactive activities at this zoo were amazing. Firstly, upon arrival -BAM! - the giraffe exhibit. An absolutely grand welcome. In fact throughout the zoo, the animals were not only in the exhibit (anyone ever go to a zoo where none of the animals appeared to be at home?), but they were either wandering about or full out playing despite 30°C or 86°F weather. While we were sweltering in the heat and searching for seconds of shade, these animals were thriving!
Highlights at the zoo for our family included Stingray Bay (which allowed petting the rays), monkey village, the tigers and the elephants and of course the camel rides. I know riding animals and petting (poking and prodding) is no longer kosher, but if your three years old or less, you have no idea that it's frowned upon. The camel ride was a thrilling experience that I feel only enriched their love and respect for animals.
Monkey Village had a million or fewer spider monkeys running around as you walked through their enclosure. They were quite strict about ensuring that all guests walked, remained on the path and did not touch the animals, but to see them scurrying about like little spider monkeys was a pretty giddy experience for all of us. The tigers and elephants were not scurrying about as much but they were fan favourites, especially for Henry who likes roaring right now and is a huge fan of elephants.
We spent 2.25 hours at the zoo (from opening) and rented a double stroller. We could have brought our strollers but the double stroller was yet another fun experience for the kids. The food was expensive and ok but we quite simply could have brought more snacks or sandwiches. I'm over simplifying our experience at the zoo but it truly was remarkable.
- Cracker Jax Amusement Park - This amusement park reminded me a lot of Rattlesnake Canyon in Osoyoos, BC, which we trek to annually at the peak of Summer. It's a pay per experience amusement park and offers bumper boats, bumper cars, bungee trampolines, water balloon canon fights, batting cages, laser tag, 2 mini golf courses, volleyball courts, and an arcade. If your kids are old enough you can purchase a wrist band for them and then hit the adjacent driving range. Given that our kids are 3 and nearly 2, we decided against the wrist band route.
During our visit we took to the bumper boats, and the mini bumper car track. Alexa loved driving her own sports car, especially as they had a yellow one which matched the flowers in her hair perfectly. She also enjoyed the bumper boats until Dad accidentally steered them directly beneath the one waterfall obstacle in the lake. We also took in the arcade. The kids were too young for a majority of the games, but it was nice to cool down in a dimly lit room for a while and all the buttons were still a thrill. A great way to spend 2 hours.
- McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park - This was Henry's favourite spot. Probably because he could really participate in every activity. There is a ride on steam train, built and operated as an exact 5:12 reproduction of a Colorado narrow gauge railroad that offers a great overview of this majestic 30-acre park. The ride also included passage of a long dark tunnel which the kids loved and a ride over small bridges, past a water tower and model play structure buildings from the Old West.
It was obvious that dozens of families choose to host birthday parties at this location because of the vast green space for bouncy castle rentals. We also visited the massive and unique playground that catered to all climber skill levels and slides that catered to all levels of bravery. The whole playground is brilliantly shaded, so it really didn't matter how hot it got.
Before we left we had to ride on the picturesque carousel that was playing "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from Disney's Cinderella. We spent about 2 hours at the park and spent $10 US, which is pretty remarkable given how much fun we had there.
- Kierland Commons and Scottsdale Quarter - Every late afternoon we wandered into Kierland Commons or Scottsdale Quarter for dinner. It was about a 15 minute walk from where we were staying at the Villas. It was a gorgeous walk that meandered through cactus gardens and provided a view of the Kierland Golf Course. We loved the walk with the kids in their umbrella strollers. The shopping here was phenomenal albeit pricey. Each store is carefully embedded into this fantasy shopping district with unique architecture and meticulous attention to landscape and the flow of both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. There was even a stylish splash park for the kids to rest their weary but bored tootsies.
The restaurant offerings were also incredible. We indulged at Shake Shack quite a few times and my husband's only regret is that we didn't indulge more. We also treated ourselves to a pretty astounding dinner at Zinc Bistro, an innovative french bistro, that sizzles with the passion and ambiance of Paris. Every bite was savoured. A truly visceral and alluring experience. Zinc did not have a kids menu whereas all the other restaurants we went did. The kids still loved nibbling on the rich and delightful plates we ordered, still... we ended up getting Shake Shack cheeseburgers for dessert. North Italia served a delicious short rib radiatori, my husband had the diver scallops and risotto and the kiddies shared spaghetti and meatballs. We cherished every morsel. At Sol Mexican Cocina we over-indulged on modern yet authentic Mexican offerings, all teaming with fresh herbs, citrus and heat! The margaritas were refreshing too. ;)
There were so many more options to try, but not enough time. Every meal was a show stopper, and while the meals were not cheap, they were memorable and delicious.
- Westin Kierland Villas - The Villas were so conveniently located to the shopping districts but they were also in close proximity to a plethora of activities at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, including story times, crafts, a lazy river, wave rider, and of course golf and more dining options. We loved our 1-bedroom unit because it had a balcony (with a ceiling fan) off the master bedroom, so once the kiddies were dreaming of their next adventure we were able to share a glass or two of rose and talk about the day's activities. We also loved that the unit had laundry and a full kitchen. We ate breakfast in the unit everyday. The neighbouring Westin Resort and Spa offered more adventurous pools, but the Villa pools were no slouch. The pool activities had a splash park, surrounded by fun outdoor games like foosball, oversized chess and checkers, and an air hockey table. The pool itself had a volleyball net set up and a pretty fun waterslide that I noticed several adults enjoying too. We also spent a bit of time in the toddler pool but mostly Alexa just wanted to ride the slide and Henry wanted to collect the several footballs and beachballs that were meant to be shared with other guests. All of our afternoons were spent here.
On future trips we've already decided that we must venture into the wild and spectacular rock formations that are seemingly perfectly perched between each idyllic community. We would also love to visit Montezuma Castle, the Out of Africa Wildlife Park, ride in some dune buggies or take a helicopter ride. This trip the kiddies were a bit too young for the long treks to the Castle, the Wildlife Park or the Grand Canyon but perhaps on our next trip, we'll be able to venture further. There are seemingly endless experiences in this hot desert oasis. If I've missed anything on your top 5 list for families, please say so, I'd love to investigate more opportunities for adventure on our next trip.
The exciting adventures left to future visits has got me thinking about bucket lists, family bucket lists more specifically. Does anyone have a family bucket list? How did you get input from the whole family? What is bucket list worthy? How often do you update it? Is it a visual list (like a craft)? I would love to hear ideas so that I can get started on one for our family.
Wishing you lots of the best kind of noise, blissful ruckus. xo