Finding the Good Stuff in Arizona (Sedona, Scottsdale, Grand Canyon)

I’ve always wanted to visit Sedona. As a Vermonter, I imagined that it would share the crunchy vibe of my hometown, plus I was dying to get up close to those otherworldly red rocks.

While Sedona turned out to be more commercialized than I had imagined, I still loved spending a few days there, and am glad that my mother-in-law suggested we split the trip between Sedona and the Scottsdale area. A week would have felt too long in either place.

What follows is a description that includes the basics of where we went, and when, during our week in Arizona–including mistakes we made that you should avoid making!

A Week in Arizona Itinerary

Day 1 (Saturday): I flew directly from LA (where I had traveled for Expo West) and met my family at the Phoenix airport. We rented a car through Budget which was a bit of a nightmare (it took over an hour in a line), then drove two hours to Sedona, where we checked into the Marriott Residence Inn. (This hotel is not luxury, but was clean and comfortable and there was so much to do around Sedona that we didn’t spend much time there.) We had dinner this night at Javelina, which I cannot recommend.

Day 2: While the kids were still on East Coast time and waking up crazy early, we drove to the Grand Canyon (two hours from Sedona) and spent most of our day there. Once back in Sedona, we had dinner at Dahl & DiLuca, which was among the better meals we had in Arizona.

Day 3: We started our day with shopping at Tlaquepaque Village, then had lunch at ChocolaTree, and ended with a Pink Jeep Tour to get us closer to the red rocks. We had a mediocre meal at Oak Creek Brewery for dinner.

Day 4: We spent our day hiking, first Airport Loop and then Bell Rock, and our afternoon at Crystal Magic, where we our auras read and our fortunes told. We had our favorite dinner at Mariposa for our last night in Sedona.

Day 5: After breakfast, we drove two hours to Scottsdale, where we checked out the Old Town area before heading the beautiful JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa. After a cocktail in the nearby Jade Bar, we had an excellent meal in the adjoining Elements (both are part of Sanctuary Resort, which I would love to check out on a future visit).

Day 6: I had promised the kids a veg-out pool day, but of course I cannot sit still so I did sneak off to with my mother- and sister-in-law to check out Kierland Commons shopping area in Scottsdale. We stayed in for dinner, ordering sushi from a dubious-sounding spot called Sushiholic that ended up being pretty good.

Day 7: We visited the Desert Botanical Gardens and checked out downtown Scottsdale, which was the most charming shopping area that we found around Phoenix. That evening, we drove an hour to Cave Creek for a rodeo and dinner at Buffalo Chip Saloon, which was perhaps the highlight of the entire trip (you’ll get why if you go, especially if you are not from the Southwest).

Day 8 (Saturday): We had an early flight back to New York out of Phoenix Airport, which is only a 20-minute drive from Paradise Valley.

Sedona Highlights

The red rocks of Sedona really are something you need to see to truly appreciate, and for that alone I say, visit Sedona. On the other hand, the town of Sedona itself was overdeveloped and cheesy. If you go, stay in a nice resort (Enchanment got rave reviews from a friend) or spend your time hiking, not shopping.

The Airport Loop was beautiful, but a little bit too difficult for the oldest and youngest in our group.
The Bell Rock trail was essentially flat, but still offered stunning views.
The Pink Jeep Tour was definitely worth the price, although it comes with a bumpy ride that made Felix a little queasy.
It took a hour for the food to come, but the avocado toast on homemade gluten-free bread at ChocolaTree was delicious.
Most of Sedona’s downtown is gross and touristy, but the little Tlaquepaque shopping village is charming and worth a visit.
Sedona is replete with crystal stores, but Crystal Magic is legitimately amazing–it makes me want to believe in this stuff!

Grand Canyon Highlights

The highlights of the Grand Canyon were… the Grand Canyon? We basically to the South Rim from Sedona, admired the view from a few lookout spots, and drove back to Sedona.

You’ll see ample opportunities for lookout points if you drive along Desert View Drive. Our favorite was the popular Mather Point (and we did have to wait a few minutes for a parking spot to open up).

One thing we did not do was make a lunch reservation anywhere–big mistake! There are no good options once you leave the park, and we ended up at a gross Pizza Hut Express (yup, an actual level below Pizza Hut). The wait at Fred Harvey Burger was at least an hour but seemed like the best option for a casual meal with kids inside the park. If you want fine dining, El Tovar seems to be the place to go. Or, pack a lunch and picnic in the park. Anything is better than that Pizza Hut Express!

It’s worth noting that it’s much colder at the Grand Canyon that it is in Sedona (which is itself much colder than Phoenix/Scottsdale), so you’ll want to bundle up if you’re there in the winter. We were under-dressed and it diminished the experience.

The most impressive views were at Mather’s Point along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

Scottsdale (and Phoenix) Highlights

I didn’t realize before this trip that Scottsdale is essentially just part of Phoenix. And it turns out that our resort, The JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, wasn’t in either location, but rather Paradise Valley–a luxurious area outside of Phoenix full of fancy resorts, fancy homes, and fancy golf courses.

We loved our stay at the JW, and if you are a golfer, Scottsdale seems like it would be an ideal vacation spot. The weather was also perfect, so maybe March is the best month to visit!

Besides maybe this sign, the area known as Old Town Scottsdale didn’t offer anything I’d call a must-see.
We lucked out by catching a Chihuly exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens, but it is worth visiting even without it.
The best meal we had in Scottsdale was at Elements in the beautiful Sanctuary resort. The views alone are worth a trip there.
Kierland Commons in Scottsdale offers a pleasant outdoor shopping experience, although it’s all chain stores so you’re not going to miss much if you skip it. The most enjoyable part of this afternoon was spent at Zinc restaurant, where we sipped cappucinos and rose.
After almost a week in Arizona, I finally tried the famous Prickly Pear Margarita while sitting poolside–and it was cloying. Skip it.
Our casita at JW Marriott was spacious and comfortable, and the boys would have happily spent their entire vacation in the bed (along with the pool!).
The spa and fitness center at JW are beautiful, and one of my vacation highlights was making Daylon do barre with me.
If you do only one thing while in Arizona, make it the Buffalo Chip rodeo. Just trust me on this.

I hope to get back to Arizona soon–where should I go next time I am there?

Stay sane,

Maia, Founder & CEO

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