Head to the Best Western Art Museum!
A must-stop while glamping through Scottsdale is Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. It’s an affordable art, history and culture tour. Tucked into the Arts District in Old Town, it’s open 6 days a week — and free underground parking* is yours. See the lore of Cowboys, Cowgirls, and Native Americans — plus, horses, buffalo and much more. It's in a striking, sustainable new building. Wide open spaces make it easy and Accessible* to amble about the exhibits.
* It gets crazy busy in Downtown and Old Town Scottsdale. Here are my handy tips for getting around without the hassle.
- Head to the Best Western Art Museum!
- Saddle Up for the Museum of the West— How to Go and What to Bring
- What to Bring for Scouting the Western Frontier
- Tour the Best Western Art Museum From Home
- Ponying Up — The Best of the West!
- Viewing the Galleries and Exhibitions
- Western Art and History on Exhibit
- The Old West and Working Cowboy Life
- Women of the West
- Native American Art and Life
- Where to Stay When Visiting
- Happy Trails to You
Saddle Up for the Museum of the West— How to Go and What to Bring
You can get your tickets in advance for the Museum of the West by making a reservation and purchasing online. I picked the earliest slot at 9:30 AM on a weekday. I scored a good parking spot and beat the crowds! You can also just show up and try to get in, but I'd only try this in the summer. Here's the dirt on Directions, Parking and Hours.
*Accessibility features include ramps, automatic doors, elevators to the second floor, restrooms, and drinking fountains. It's a barrier-free building that allows service animals, which must be reined by their handlers at all times.
What to Bring for Scouting the Western Frontier
Bring your headphones to plug into your phone for the solo audio tour. It works via QR codes in the galleries, opened with your phone's camera. Your browser opens — just follow the steps. The nice staff and volunteers will help you get started, checking you in and giving you a handy gallery map. And, you can swing back and ask them questions.
My first visit was in August, so I gussied up in a sundress, turquoise jewels and cowboy hat. Plus, I wore comfy shoes and brought a sweater.
Bob Hoaozous, Untitled Mixed Media Sculpture
The water fountains were disabled for Covid, but they had water. Just ask, or bring your own ‘canteen' — you'll need it unless you're a camel.
My first question was, ‘Can you take pictures?' You bet! But, no flash photos and no tripods. Selfie sticks are allowed. In fact, you're encouraged to share your pics on social media — #SMoWest and tag away.
Tour the Best Western Art Museum From Home
Exhausted just thinking about it? Take a virtual ride through the Museum of the West!
Maynard Dixon painting, 1935, Lobby
You can watch the Old West from home or your hotel room. Get a beverage, some popcorn and settle in to watch their spiffy videos.
Ponying Up — The Best of the West!
It wouldn't be the ‘West's Most Western Town,' without a western art museum in Scottsdale. We might be rhinestone and drugstore cowboys and cowgirls, but we also embody the real deal.
Spirit of the West captivates visitors as the ‘The Best Western Art Museum in the Nation.' Showcasing the American West's art, history and culture — 19 states including Arizona are represented.
For the whole scoop, visit the museum's blog page, which has tons of information for a deep dive.
Viewing the Galleries and Exhibitions
As museums go, Western Spirit is pretty tame to get around. There's a lot to see and learn. But, it's not too big and there are plenty of benches to rest and take your time to see what interests you. If you don't see it all, it will still be here when you come back. And, with new exhibits.
For some fresh air there's Christine and Ted Mollring's Sculpture Courtyard. It's a collection of Native American and Cowboy bronzes. One of the best parts?
A long, smooth, carved bench sculpture — from a single pine tree. It's a nice resting place to view these art pieces and reflect.
I circled the museum twice in about 2 hours. After the first pass, I was parched. I went back to the entrance and a nice volunteer, Gene, kindly gave me a bottle of water. Thirst slaked, and after a little rest, I set out again to scout the frontier.
Western Art and History on Exhibit
You'll see many collections of art and their history in words and sound. Some are permanent, and some are on loan. Exhibits change, but there's plenty of time for you to plan or be spontaneous, so you won't have FOMO. View a gallery of present and past exhibitions for a preview of what to expect and what has come before.
As I've said, you can take a self-guided tour, which I did. You also have the option for a free docent-led tour, by volunteers with a passion for people and the West. There are video docent-led tours too, for your personal tour!
On exhibit while I was there were John Coleman bronzes and Paul Calle's works of Western art, plus art for NASA. I also got to see ‘Courage and Crossroads, A Visual Journey through the Early American West.'
It was quite something to see art and artifacts from the Lewis and Clark expeditions. The West's extraordinary beauty and its inhabitants have been preserved by Native American and other artists, captivated by their encounters. Their talent brings it all to life for us to experience.
The Old West and Working Cowboy Life
Get ready to see lots of cowboy and cattle herding gear. The murse has nothing on a saddlebag. From saddles to chaps, hats, and bandannas. Who knew there were so many Texas and California types of spurs?
There's also a collection of law enforcement handcuffs, badges and weapons. It brings back memories of old TV and movie westerns. Who remembers Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Maverick and the rest? There's Old Tucson movie studio history too. Wild West shows, saloons and rodeos all play their parts in the lure and love of the American West.
Women of the West
Women get starring roles too, as cowgirls and a whole lot more. For my visit, the ‘Golden West on the Silver Screen‘ exhibit was here, with lots of western movie posters featuring leading ladies and cowboy stars of yore.
Native American women play a big part as artists today and in history. It took me aback to see explorer Sacagawea in her own corner! She was the Lemhi Shoshone woman who helped the Louis and Clark expedition survey the Louisiana Territory for the US government.
Native American Art and Life
The Native American exhibitions here are really special. Woven wool Ute and Navajo chief blankets from the 1800's, Hopi pottery, beaded leather ceremonial clothing and gauntlet gloves will leave you awestruck. The sculptures will too.
The American buffalo — bison — played as big a role for Native Americans as cattle did for the settlers' westward expansion. The art depicting skillful hunting of these magnificent creatures is stunning.
Where to Stay When Visiting
If you are visiting Scottsdale, the museum is just across the street from the Canopy Hotel. They were rustling up some good-smelling grub from the Cobre Kitchen! Next time, I'm either going there to eat before or after my tour. They have beautiful outdoor seating with a great view of the museum's iconic exterior.
Happy Trails to You
Last stop is the Museum Store! I have my eye on some books and a map of all Native American tribes across the US. You can also also get some Route 66ish kitsch to take home.
This is just a sample of the lore that awaits your discovery of the Old West at Spirit of the West. You'll learn a lot, be in awe of the art and history, and have a great time — off the beaten path.
You might love it so much you'll want to get married here, or host and attend other special events.
We welcome you to our home on the range! Thank you for touring the Western Spirit Museum with me. In the words of the famous Cowgirl Dale Evans and Cowboy hubby Roy Rogers — Happy Trails to you, until we meet again!
Scottsdale Lifestyle Blogger
I'm a 5th generation native Arizona gal who loves showing and telling what makes Scottsdale an amazing place to visit and make home! I hope you enjoy our city through my lens, making your own discoveries and memories here!