Scottsdale, Arizona, may not get the attention that nearby Phoenix does, but it's a fun location with a thriving art scene and some interesting, esoteric things to do. Just like its larger neighbor Phoenix, the city has sprawled larger and larger bringing with it a budding and vibrant nightlife, as well as a solidified resort quarter in the northern part of the city.
Butterfields Pancake House
Chain diners have given real diners a bad name, and that's really unfortunate because it means that an out-of-towner might skip over a place like Butterfields. Butterfields is breakfast food done incredibly well. The fluffiest eggs, the thickest bacon, perfect pancakes with real Vermont maple syrup, the whole nine yards. It's a great way to start the day.
Old Town Scottsdale
Aside from the usual array of downtown local businesses, Old Town Scottsdale serves as a monument to the town's Old West heritage while embracing a more modern look and feel. There are many art galleries up and down Main Street in addition to local restaurants, nightclubs, and the Museum of the West. If you want to take your time and browse, you may be surprised at the variety of galleries and boutique stores. If that sounds too slow, you can always feel the wind in your hair as you zip by on a Segway tour.
Assuming your day trip rolls through on a Saturday or Sunday, you should be able to swing by the Mission for brunch. (Despite calling it brunch, it keeps to lunch hours, 11-3.) The Mission focuses on modern Latin cuisine. There are numerous taco options, from butternut squash to mahi-mahi. They have anticuchos (the South American version of a shish kebab), street corn, and—perhaps dangerous—tequila flights.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
With over 30,000 acres of desert preserve, you could definitely spend more than a little time at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Still, even for part of the day, you could hit up a trail or two. The desert landscape is something unique that not many people get to experience up close. Since you're seeing the sights, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
This giant monument to locomotion is a standout feature of Scottsdale and a great spot for families. The park has a ridable miniature railway, a carousel, playgrounds, a museum, train cars from around the world, and a machine shop from 1930 with the original equipment. There's also a desert arboretum where you can check out some fauna in case you didn't make it to the Sonoran Preserve. This place is big enough and impressive enough that even if you didn't grow up loving trains, it's worth checking out. And if you did grow up on trains, it's a must-see.
This isn't the cheapest meal in town, but it's one of the best experiences. Cafe Monarch offers a prix fixe menu of contemporary American cuisine with a focus on ambience and service. The menu changes from week to week, but the cauliflower soup and the flourless cake are consistently singled out as highlights.