Forget Disney World—if there was vote on the real “most magical place on earth,” Sedona would surely be a top contender. From its iconic rugged rock landscapes to its mysterious vortexes, the energy in Sedona is undeniably special. Add a vibrant arts and culinary scene to boot, and we’re all in.
Sandwiched between two state parks, uptown Sedona is dense with New Age shops, spas and art galleries. Nevertheless, a trailhead is never more than ten minutes away. On its north side, Slide Rock State Park is known for its natural waterslides, formed by the smooth rock formations of the river bed and its rushing water. Large flat stones on the bank provide an idea spot for picnicking, sunbathing, or catching up on reading. To its south, Red Rock State Park includes the more iconic Sedona landmarks like Bell Rock and Cathederal Rock. The landscape serves as a peaceful backdrop for many activities, ranging from spiritual pursuits to the hundreds of hiking and mountain biking trails.
Speaking of the red rocks, this well-known desert city has a rather fascinating geological past—and let’s be honest here, we don’t toss around “fascinating geological past” lightly! The very short version is that over 330 million years ago, Sedona sat at the bottom of the sea, collecting stone and hematite (iron) deposits that gave the rocks their reddish hue we see today. When the sea eventually moved, roughly 30 million years later, another 300 million years worth of erosion and violent weather took place, forming the strange landscape we see today. Surely, the casual sightseeing in Sedona barely scratches the surface. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find yourself amazed by the intensely complex geological circumstances that created Sedona’s canyons and buttes.
We first visited a few years ago during an Arizona roadtrip that took us from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon. More recently, we retraced that route and continued onto California, making the 6 hour trip from Sedona to Joshua Tree across the Mojave Desert. Planning a trip out west? Make Sedona part of your own roadtrip! Though you can fly direct into Sedona, the 2-hour drive from Phoenix is amazing and will save you on airfare. From Sedona, check out the the nearby art community in the old mining town of Jerome, or head straight north toward Flagstaff and take Route 66 to the Grand Canyon. Read on for our guide to this magical place, in special partnership with Visit Sedona.
Where To Stay: Creekside Cabins in Oak Creek Canyon
There’s a ton of lodging options in Sedona, though many are chains along Sedona’s busy artery. Opting for seclusion, we booked a stay at The Briar Patch Inn, north of uptown in Oak Creek Canyon. We loved the location, just ten minutes from Sedona, but remote enough to make visitors feel a world away. On its nine acre property, 19 cabins are spattered about, with offerings ranging from family cabins with full kitchens, bedrooms, and living spaces to romantic, creekside cabins for two. Between each, there’s plenty of space to relax and unwind.
Upon check-in at the office, guests are handed the keys, a hand-drawn map, and shown to the snack table, which is filled with baked goods and drinks—spiked cider included. From there, guests can drive or hike to their cabin, past the sheep meadow or overlooking the rushing creek. We stayed in the Oriole Cabin, which sleeps four with a kitchenette, private patio, and a fireplace. The cabin was small but cozy, and decorated in southwestern charm with Native American arts and crafts. We spent each night fireside, totally disconnected with the outside world, just as The Briar Patch Inn intended it: there is no wifi, or cell service to speak of. (Should you need to connect with the outside world, there’s land lines in each cabin, plus wifi in the office.)
Each morning, healthy breakfasts include home-baked breads and muffins, crunchy granola, quiche, yogurt, fresh fruits and juices. Best of all are the southwestern-style quiches, which changed daily. Guests can enjoy breakfast by the fireplace in the lodge, on a tray in their cottage or, or outdoors overlooking the creek.
Taking in Sedona by Foot, ATV, or Helicopter Ride
There’s well over 100 hiking trails in Sedona, and seemingly just as many books and websites about them. There’s also two state parks. With so many trails and so little time, we opted for several shorter trails at the Red Rock State Park, hiking Bell Rock (about an hour), the Teacup Trail (about 2 hours), and Airport Mesa Vortex (30 minutes)—rather than the longer hikes. (The unseasonably cold weather during our visit didn’t help our cause, either.) If you’re staying at the Briar Patch Inn, be sure to check out Slide Rock Park, just a few minutes north. During summer, visitors flock here to cool down, where the combination of smooth river rocks and rushing water create natural water slides. Vortex hikes are popular for visitors, too. Not familiar with Sedona’s “vortexes?” They’re believed to be special spots where energy is entering, or projecting, out of the earth’s plane. It’s believed that the energy moves in a spiral—hence, the “vortex”—and is evidenced by Sedona’s twisted trees and plant life. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, visiting a vortex is a great excuse for a hike.
Of course, there are more adventurous ways to take in the spectacular scenery in Sedona than hiking—and if there ever was a place to splurge on the outdoors, Sedona is it. Because there’s so much to see, we wanted to get a lay of the land and booked a helicopter tour with Sedona Air Tours on our first day. Rides begin at $99 and go in small groups, buzzing around the canyons and buttes around the park. Another exhilarating experience can be had with Arizona Offroad Tours, whose owner, Mary, is one of the most fun guides ever. Book up to four people for these guided tours though desert terrain—but don’t let the word “desert” make you think its flat. Within the first 20 minutes, we climbed 2,000 feet, then slowly descended though lush forest and sandy trails. Trail difficulty is based on experience, and all levels are welcome, including first-timers.
Lovers of the great indoors will appreciate the great shopping in Sedona. New-agey shops are everywhere, so if you choose only one, check out Crystal Magic. We easily spent an hour perusing the aisles of rocks there, which ranged from the ultra-cheap to crazy-expensive. Pick up a crystal and charge it on a vortex hike! Another must-see are the shops at Tlaquepaque, an arts and crafts village from the 1970s. Nestled beneath giant sycamore trees, the art galleries and shops feature paintings, sculptures, handmade rugs and home decor by local artisans. In the same vein, Garland’s Indian Jewelry is probably the coolest shop in Sedona, boasting one of the finest American Indian jewelry collections in the world. Tucked into a cabin with a rock facade and vine covered walls, the little roadside shop is is located just up the road from Briar Patch Inn in Oak Creek Canyon. Last, check out Son Silver West, a huge roadside shop in uptown Sedona with Native American art, weavings, jewelry, and antiques. Although it’s pretty touristy, it’s a great one-stop shop for unique souvenirs.
Where To Eat & Drink in Sedona: The Best Vegan Meal Ever, High-Brow & Low-Brow Mexican Food
Our best meal in Sedona was hands-down the Chocolatree, whose menu is 100 percent organic, gluten-free, and non-GMO. But don’t let that all that healthy stuff scare you: even junk food lovers will walk out happy here. Begin your meal with a golden milk or green juice, progress to a salad, and definitely order something southwest-inspired. Save room for dessert! Enjoy lunch or dinner inside the cafe, or hang out in the back yard garden, where much of the ingredients are grown.
While in the southwest, Mexican fare is a must, and there’s no shortage in Sedona. On the way up from Phoenix, we stopped in Camp Verde for some roadside Mexican at Gabriela’s that didn’t disappoint. Enjoy a burrito and a Mexican coke under the shadow of the worlds largest Kokopelli that lives in the parking lot. (Bonus: it’s very close to the Arizona Offroad Tours’ trailhead!) In uptown Sedona, check out El Rincon, tucked into the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. Order the chimichanga, which are like Mexican pot pies, or opt for the chile relleños, which are fried and out of this world.