The Scoop: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West captures the imagination with authentic and stunning exhibits featuring art, artifacts, and other cultural pieces. The spirit of the Old West is alive and well in this museum, and many individuals, couples, and families tour the exhibitions to appreciate a time long past. Phoenix metro residents and visitors to the area can lasso up a date and enjoy roaming the nine galleries at this unique and affordable destination.
TripAdvisor user IntrepidTraveler23 said she isn’t generally a big fan of museums. The Scotland native wrote on the site that exhibits tend to overwhelm her with too much information, and she doesn’t have the patience to spend all day trying to read and see everything.
However, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West struck the perfect balance for her and her husband. They spent two hours studying the exhibits and soaking in the spirit of the West, and it left them full of wonder.
“First of all, this museum is beautiful,” IntrepidTraveler23 wrote in a review. “It is also, at least in my opinion, a very doable museum.”
As far as date activities go, visiting a museum may not rank at the top of everyone’s list, but it can be a wonderful way to spark conversation and awaken the imagination — together. Scottsdale’s Museum of the West invites people to journey back in time to a romanticized period of American history.
SMoW is a Smithsonian Affiliate that tells the stories of the West through art, artifacts, objects, and works of living cultures such as Hopi pottery, which is still being created in northern Arizona by the Hopi people.
The museum’s entertaining events and programming offer a new perspective on historical events and give visitors plenty to see, do, and discuss.
“We are located right in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale with its popular eateries and social spots just blocks away,” said Dr. Tricia Loscher, Assistant Director of Collections, Exhibitions, and Research at SMoW. “We also have all-day come-and-go admission, so couples can plan a longer date where they come by late morning, tour a floor, head to lunch and come on back for more.”
Where the Old West Comes Alive
Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is dedicated to telling Western stories (historical and contemporary) to help shed light on the West of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The museum is a gateway to the West, designed to inspire visitors and generate interest in the region — its culture, landscapes, community, and people.
SMoW honors the artists, pioneers, Native American leaders, cowboys, and frontiersmen who made a life for themselves in an unforgiving land.
People from all over the world can appreciate the stories told through these exhibits, which feature over 1,400 examples of Old West cowboy gear, Hopi pottery spanning six centuries, and rotating art collections.
While Scottsdale’s Museum of the West has a lot to see, it won’t take very long to tour the galleries. The typical visitor spends about two hours at the museum, so it can be a pleasant pre-dinner or post-lunch date activity.
SMoW welcomes everyone from young children to grandparents, and it has played host to many family outings, field trips, romantic date nights, and sightseeing visits. The museum, through private use, has hosted accommodated celebrations, including birthdays, corporate events, weddings, and anniversaries too. In the 2018-2019 school year, SMoW hosted over 40 student groups, and it saw an influx of college students who saw SMoW as a one-of-a-kind visual backdrop for photo ops.
Docent-led tours are free with admission and offer an educational and interesting look at the museum’s exhibits.
Though SMoW has firm roots in the past, it also reaches to the future with its eco-friendly and modern design. Its beautiful building is LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certified and a beacon of sustainability in the desert.
In January 2020, SMoW will celebrate its fifth birthday, and the museum team looks forward to spending many more years giving visitors the opportunity to see the West from a whole new perspective.
“We always keep the Western storytelling fresh,” Tricia said. “If you come by in the fall and return in the following spring, you’ll see something new!”
Nine Galleries Feature Eye-Catching Artwork & Artifacts
SMoW has nine galleries in total — four permanent exhibitions and five rotating exhibits. The museum features a variety of culturally significant pieces, from Hopi pottery to Old West saddles, and it keeps people coming back with constant fresh updates to its collections.
One of the most popular exhibits is the Abe Hays Family Spirit of the West Collection. The gallery features an Old West town facade and surrounds visitors with authentic cowboy gear, including gun rigs, holsters, spurs, saddle bags, chaps, hats, bridles, and more. You can also see a David E. Walker leather saddle from around 1880.
The Courage and Crossroads exhibition focuses on the experiences of early pioneers journeying through exciting new lands. Over 100 works of art paint a clear picture of the challenges early settlers faced and the beauty all around them. The exhibit brings the past to life with its vintage photographs, Native American objects, and rare and historical artifacts from the Lewis and Clark expedition.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, SMoW launched Paul Calle’s Life of Exploration: From the Mountains to the Moon, an exhibition highlighting Western- and space-themed artwork by an official NASA artist. Calle was witness to history in 1969, and his pen tells the behind-the-scenes story of the astronauts and the lunar mission.
Calle sketched the astronauts having breakfast on the morning of the flight, and he painted an iconic depiction of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, but he is also known for artwork featuring mountain men of the Wild West.
“I have always likened the image of mountain man John Colter, his moccasin-clad foot first stepping on the newly fallen snow of the Yellowstone valley, to the moon boot of Neil Armstrong, stepping in the dust of the moon’s surface at the Sea of Tranquility,” Paul Calle said. “Two worlds apart, yet each at the edge of a new frontier.”
“I felt like a kid stepping into the museum for the first time.” — Jeremy R. in a TripAdvisor review
SMoW’s upcoming exhibitions include By Beauty Obsessed: Gilbert Waldman Collects the West and Maynard Dixon’s American West. These will open in the fall of 2019 and showcase beautiful artwork that captures the magic of the plains, mountains, and geographic wonders in the West.
Plus, through late March 2020, SMoW will feature the photographic artistry of Barry M. Goldwater, five-term U.S. senator who was also a gifted photographer.
“This is the most comprehensive exhibition featuring Goldwater’s photography,” Tricia said. “It includes iconic black-and-white images of Arizona’s stunning landscapes and portraits of Native American people.”
A Highly Rated Destination for Locals & Visitors
Visitors enjoy wandering the galleries of Scottsdale’s Museum of the West because it gives them a chance to escape their everyday cares and see life from a new perspective. The museum’s team is passionate about their work, and it shows in every exhibit.
“We are a small-yet-mighty team at SMoW,” Tricia said. “Teamwork is especially important throughout the museum, and we collaborate with many co-curators and private and institutional art loaners on the exhibitions and Western stories we tell here.”
The museum curators have crafted an experience like no other, and people have written numerous positive reviews to show their appreciation. SMoW has a 4.5-star rating on TripAdvisor, and it ranks #7 on the site’s list of 118 things to do in Scottsdale.
“During a staycation in Scottsdale, my husband and I decided to visit this museum,” said one local Arizonian. “We were so glad we did. This museum is so well thought out, and informative.”
“I stopped in mainly out of curiosity,” said Jeremy R. in a five-star review. “I felt like a kid stepping into the museum for the first time.”
Centrally located in Old Town Scottsdale, SMoW packs a lot of history and culture in its galleries. Its informational exhibits transport visitors to another place and time, offering hours of entertainment with come-and-go admission for those that might want to break for a meal and return later in the day.
Couples Share an Immersive Experience at the Museum
Scottsdale’s Museum of the West attracts a diverse crowd with its engaging and original exhibitions. The museum truly has a something for everyone, and people of all ages and interests love it. History buffs enjoy reading about early settlers in Arizona, while art lovers marvel at sculptures, paintings, and works created by a wide range of artists. Even people who don’t usually enjoy museums can find something they connect to here.
The Western spirit is alive and well at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, and the museum curators are always brainstorming new ways to educate and entertain visitors.
Couples can explore these galleries during a casual daytime date and then ride off into the sunset together, or stick around Old Town to try any one of the many local dining options nearby.
“SMoW is a great spot for a very unique shared experience,” Tricia said. “We continually poll guests — of all ages — and they are surprised by the SMoW experience and really enjoy themselves.”