On my journey to explore all 50 U.S. states, taking in the diverse cultures and vast landscapes across this country, I wanted to prioritize outdoor experiences, delicious/unique foods and learning as much as possible along the way. Arizona had been high on my bucket list as I had heard nonstop praise in regards to the foodie scene, the mesmerizing views and rich history. I set out to explore Arizona in May 2020, but with the global pandemic still raging, postponed my trip to March 2021. At this time, certain parts of the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon were closed as the Navajo Nation wanted to protect themselves and the land as covid-19 disproportionately impacted their community, so we decided to save both of these specific visits for a later trip.
Let’s talk a little bit about Arizona! This state is located in the American Southwest. It is affectionately known as “The Grand Canyon State” in reference to it’s most popular tourist attraction, with almost 6 million visitors annually. Arizona is actually the 6th largest state in the United States, with 85% of its land covered with nature, rainforests, wildlife, mountains and protected Indigenous reservations/lands. If you are someone who is looking for outdoor fun and adventure, this is an excellent year-round option for you as the climate tends to be less humid with sunny skies; except the weekend we happened to visit where temperatures ranged from 40-60 degrees with rain and frost some mornings! The best time to visit if you’re looking to explore the desert is Jan-March whereas June-August works well for exploring the mountains. Despite when you’re planning to visit, check the forecast for potential inclement or abnormal weather patterns and pack accordingly!
Arizona’s time zone is Mountain Standard Time. There are two major airports that service Arizona, the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) in Phoenix and the Tucson International Airport (TUS). We flew in and out of Phoenix Sky Harbor!
I loved my time spent in Arizona, so much so, that I’m already thinking about a return trip. Just as the pictures and postcards suggest, Arizona is gorgeous, especially Sedona with its contrasting red, clay dirt and mountains against it’s almost always vibrantly, blue sky! The bulk of our 4 day trip was spent in Sedona and if I had to do it again, I’d definitely add more time to my overall trip so that we could make our way to the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, experience a few more hikes, soak in warmer weather as it was abnormally cold when we visited, and then add more days on the back end of my trip to explore Phoenix. Our time was spent equally eating and exploring, as we had wild excursions like the Devil’s Bridge hike and the hot air balloon ride, while trying some of Sedona’s “best” restaurants in town!
My Itinerary (see below for detailed itinerary information):
Thursday: Travel Day, Hotel Check In @ Arabella, Dinner @ The Hudson
Friday: Pink Jeep Tour, Breakfast @ Creekside, Relaxation & Wine Tasting @ Page Spring Cellars
Saturday: Hike @ Devil’s Bridge, “Jazz” Brunch @ Soundbites Grill, Travel to Scottsdale, Dinner @ Zuzu
Sunday: Hot Air Balloon Sunrise Ride w/ Rainbow Ryders, Travel Day
Thursday: I arrived to the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) after a direct 5 hour flight with Jet Blue around 12:30 pm local time, my friends arrived shortly after me and we picked up our rental car. We rented via National and caught the airport shuttle to the Rental Car Center (about a ten minute ride) before making the scenic 2 hour drive on I-17 to Sedona! Phoenix’s airport was very nice, but a bit difficult to navigate at first as it’s split into 2 terminals, Terminals 3 & 4 (yes, there’s no 1 or 2), and there aren’t many signs outside of baggage claim (on the arrivals side) to let you know what exact terminal your in.
In Sedona, we chose to stay Hotel Arabella, known for it’s amazing views of the red rocks and close proximity to all that Sedona has to offer. Arabella was super low-frills, and though they could stand to make a few cosmetic updates, the hotel was spacious, clean, close to where we needed to go, had a heated outdoor pool and great views! I’d honestly be tempted to stay here again on a future visit to Sedona if I didn’t want a super lux hotel experience! Check HERE for my hotel tour! After checking in around 4:30pm, we decided to freshen up a bit and head for dinner at one of the most popular and acclaimed restaurants in the area, The Hudson.
Admittedly, I’m often skeptical of overly hyped restaurants as I usually find that the food is average at best, but Hudson did not disappoint, from the views, the cocktails, the meals (get the steak) and the service! There was a LONG wait (around 6:30pm), as it seemed that the whole city of Sedona decided to also head to the Hudson for dinner, but we grabbed a spot at the bar (after about 15 minutes) and grabbed a few drinks. We ended up ordering our meals at the bar as well as our table didn’t become available until about 1hr and 30 minutes after our arrival, but we didn’t mind, our bartender took excellent care of us and the food was superb! Phoenix is known for the prickly pear margarita so we tried that as well as a few of the other speciality margaritas and cocktails and for dinner my friend and I split the steak meal (we subbed the potatoes for the grits, which were AMAZING) and a caesar salad, while our other friend got the scallop meal! The Hudson has daily happy hour from 3-6pm where they offer some drink and food specials, but outside of that I’d definitely say it’s mid-tier pricing, but worth the price tag!
After a long day of travel, we decided to call it a night early and get a head start on the next day with our Pink Jeep Tour!
Friday: Friday started early with a 6:30am Pink Jeep Tour with the Pink Adventures Tour company of Sedona where Jessica was our instructor! The tour came highly recommended from every blog as a must-do, and I’d absolutely co-sign all of those reccos. The tour cost $146 USD and lasted about 2 hours.
While in Sedona, our tour guide Jessica mentioned that every restaurant in the area was a great option to check out, with the exception of one-89 Steakhouse- so we avoided this eatery.
Post the Pink Jeep Tour, we decided to head to Creekside for breakfast located downtown, or as locals call it “Uptown Sedona” near the Main Street District (most attractions, shops, restaurants and art in this area). I’d highly recommend Creekside for both the food, the service and the views!
After breakfast, and a brief break in the hotel room regrouping post an early morning, we decided to head to the heart of Arizona’s wine country, Verde Valley, right outside of Sedona in Cornville, AZ! Verde Valley is a trail full of 25 wineries, but we decided to check out the Page Springs Vineyards where you have Page Springs Cellars, Oak Creek Vineyards, Javelina Leap and Da Ranch. We actually only made it to Page Springs Cellars and it was so cold (about 40 degrees), so we stayed inside the tasting room. I did the mixed flight which was a tasting of 5 red and white wines for $12USD, I didn’t love any of the wines I tried enough to buy a bottle, but I was really impressed with the overall experience! Our night ended at this winery (where we also grabbed “dinner”, I got the margherita pizza and a charcuterie board to split with my friends!
The Page Spring Cellar is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year! There was a bit of a wait when we arrived as they had the outdoor area closed because of how cold it was, but we were able to taste a few wines until our table was ready!
Saturday: Another super early morning, we wanted to hit the Devil’s Bridge Trail before 7am, to hopefully beat the crowds and grab a few pictures! We arrived at about 6:50am and there were already quite a few eager hikers who also wanted to get an early start to catch some amazing views. Devil’s Bridge and Devil’s Bridge Trail is a breathtaking view and experience, with a 54ft high/45ft long natural bridge, it is Sedona’s largest sandstone arch. It’s located in the Coconino National Forest, off of Highway 89a. The views are amazing and you’re even able to walk across the natural “bridge” or arch to get a picture.
There will be tons of other travelers, hikers, bloggers and IG influencers who will be making this roughly 4 mile roundtrip trek to get the same views as you, so plan accordingly, the wait when we made it to the top was 2 hours for a picture (so we skipped that and grabbed a photo on a closer nearby ledge. The hike is said to be moderate, which for 75% of the journey, I’d agree, but there are portions where you’ll have to climb up a few steep inclines and rocks that I would argue would be difficult for someone not in good shape/who has any difficulty walking. You can still do portions of this hike and just stop before the steep incline and still get amazing views!
We actually entered the wrong trail when we arrived and walked 1 mile in the wrong direction, making our total trip a little over 4 hours and 6.5miles long! You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see all of the signs that say Devil’s Bridge trailhead. Check back soon for more details on hiking to Devil’s Bridge! And while it is a bit nerve wracking for anyone who may have a fear of heights, there are only 2 recorded deaths from the bridge, so it is a safe journey!
Post our hike, we went back to Arabella to freshen up, pack our belongings and check out of the hotel. We wanted to check out Soundbites Grill (who claims to be the best restaurant in Sedona) for brunch before heading to Phoenix. We were able to get a seat outside, facing the rock formations, where I enjoyed a steak salad, the clam and lobster chowder and a berry sangria- so good!
After fueling our stomachs and the rental car, we made the 2 hour trek back to Scottsdale, where we hit a bit of traffic, before getting to our Airbnb. We settled ourselves into the bnb, freshened up and then went into town for dinner and drinks at Zuzu Restaurant in the Hotel Valley Ho. Zuzu was super cute, from the atmosphere and décor, the staff and live performers and the food and drink. Get the brookie, get the salmon and get the Mango Tango to was it all down. Check out their IG for more food pictures and inspo! The night ended at Zuzu as we wanted to get rest for our super early hot air balloon ride the next morning.
Sunday: We ended an already amazing trip with a bang, waking up at 4:30am for a sunrise hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders, at 5:30am! The place was about a 15 minute drive from our bnb, and we stopped at a Starbucks on the way for some early morning fuel before our ride! Once we arrived at the site, we had to fill out waivers (basically saying they weren’t liable for injury or death) and then we split into groups based on our instructor, packed into vans and drove to the site where we’d actually fly off from (about a 5-10 minute drive). Despite the crazy things I tend to do on vacation, I have a fear of heights, but I’d this excursion over and over and over again! There were about 15-20 total flights that morning, so we waited around as the balloons were being filled up, and then we hopped in our basket and lifted off. The ride was so smooth, scenic and peaceful, any jitters or angst I had left immediately.
Our instructor, Jesse, was also great with explaining the science behind the right and keeping the group entertained. The ride lasted about 45 minutes before we landed softly about a mile away from where we started (the van met us at our landing location), where we toasted to a great ride with a complimentary glass of champagne/mimosa! This was definitely a once in a lifetime experience that I am blessed to have been able to do, especially in a gorgeous location like Phoenix! Rainbow Ryders offers both group or private rides and you can either they sunrise or sunset and they operate year round! This excursion cost us $190 USD, and included the ride, a glass of champagne and post-ride certificate!
After being “eye-level” with the sun as it rose for the day, we decided to grab breakfast as our last hoorah in Arizona and went to FAME for breakfast, but even at 8:30am, they had a long wait. Instead, we drove a few minutes down the road and grabbed food at Emilio’s Cafe! I got the steak and eggs meal and a $3 mimosa and was completely satisfied!
I can say confidently, I did not have a bad meal while in Arizona, everything was so good!
Post breakfast, we decided to head back to the bnb to pack up so that we could make it to the airport and drop off the rental to leave time for check in and bag drop!
Our time in Arizona was well spent and we just scratched the surface, I absolutely plan to return to explore more of what this state has to offer!
Rent a Car: During our time exploring mainly Sedona and the brief time around Scottsdale, we did not see a lot of public transportation options. Though ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft were available for transport, if you plan to do multiple cities, excursions, or hikes, not only will your pockets thank you, but you’ll be thankful for the flexibility in your schedule- especially if it’s a tight one/quick trip! I always utilize expedia.com when booking my car and leverage insurance from my Chase Sapphire Reserve or companies like these HERE, vs getting the rental company’s insurance! Check out my latest post for 8 tips on renting a car HERE.
Pack accordingly: Arizona is the only U.S. state that’s covered by four separate desert regions. During the day, temperatures in the desert tends to rise, while at night temperatures can drop drastically. Dress warm and dress in layers if you plan to hike early or even do a sunset hike, so you can remove layers if you start to overheat! Also, remember to drink plenty of water!
Plan Ahead: Arizona is huge and popular excursions can be spread out across the state, depending on what you’re looking for! Build your itinerary and lodging around your excursions and not vice versa, will you visit the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, hike devil’s bridge, and explore Phoenix in one trip? Well you’ll want to plot out the excursions and develop your route from there. We flew into Phoenix International Airport and decided to head straight to Sedona (roughly 2 hours away) and before heading back home, stopped over in Scottsdale/Phoenix area for 1 day, spending the bulk of our trip in Sedona. The Grand Canyon would be roughly 2 hours from Sedona and Antelope Canyon roughly 4. All of this needs to be taken into consideration as you decide where you will stay and how long your total trip will be! If you have limited days, say an extended weekend, I say you narrow down to your top choices and even plan your route how we did, beginning your trip in Sedona and finishing in Phoenix/Scottsdale before heading the airport. If possible, take a whole week for your Arizona vacation, there’s no shortage of things to do or see!
According to Budget Your Trip, the average cost to visit is Phoenix is roughly $114 USD a day for 1 person, whereas, Phoenix Business Journal states that a family of 4 says you can expect to spend $236 USD per day (both figures include food and lodging). Our trip was a bit more expensive than that, averaging closer to $294 USD per day. We definitely dined at more expensive restaurants and did relatively expensive (but so worth it) activities such as the hot air balloon ride and the pink jeep tour. See below for a breakdown of my expenses:
You can certainly make your trip more affordable by dining at less expensive restaurants, choosing less expensive meals/drinks, or doing less/cheaper excursions! There is a way to make Arizona more affordable and just as enjoyable by doing more free hikes and outdoor experiences! Also check sites like Groupon or Airbnb experiences for discounted excursions.
Is Arizona on your list to visit? If not, it definitely should be!