A First Timer’s Guide to Sedona

Graphic First Timers Sedona NEW

 

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The beautiful town of Sedona, Arizona is surrounded by red rock buttes, steep canyon walls, and pine and juniper forests. It’s an adventure-lover’s paradise, with hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, and off-roading trails throughout the area. There is something here for everyone: award-winning spas, art galleries, bed and breakfasts, golf courses, craft cocktail bars, Jeep tours, and breweries.

We are fortunate enough to live within a couple hours of Sedona, so we’ve explored quite a bit of the city and surrounding area. Here are our recommendations for those of you visiting the area for the first time!

 

GETTING THERE

  • From the South/Phoenix: Take the I-17 North out of Phoenix, then take the 179 North towards Sedona- you will come upon a breathtaking view of multiple red rock formations against the clear blue sky. Get your camera ready!
  • From the North/Flagstaff: Approach Sedona by taking the 89A South, driving through the beautiful and lush Oak Creek Canyon, and entering Sedona through the Northern “Uptown” area.

 

THINGS TO DO

Enjoy the views (no hiking boots required):

  • Get a lay of the land, pick up a map, take in the views, and talk to a guide at the Red Rock Visitor Center and Ranger Station at the very South end of Sedona. You can pick up a Red Rock Pass here if you plan to do some hiking!
  • Admire the panoramic views of Sedona from the top of Airport Road. Simply drive up the hill from the heart of the city, and in 5 minutes you’ll approach a parking lot on your left with a viewing platform on your right.
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View of Sedona from Airport Road
  • Uptown Sedona offers gorgeous views of the red rocks all around you. There are tons of gift shops, restaurants, ice cream shops, boutiques, and bars all within a couple of blocks.
  • Take the 89A North from Sedona into Oak Creek Canyon. This narrow winding road is surrounded by towering red rock walls, a year-round creek, and beautiful mature trees. There are plenty of picnic sites and scenic viewpoints to allow you to take it all in.
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Driving through Oak Creek Canyon
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Snow in Oak Creek Canyon in January
  • Take in the views of Cathedral Rock from Crescent Moon Ranch. This is a great spot for a picnic lunch! The view is not far from the parking lot.
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View of Cathedral Rock from Crescent Moon Ranch

 

Go play outside:

 

Hike to your heart’s content:

  • Bell Rock Pathway: (3.6 miles, easy-moderate depending on your route) Along this trail you’ll enjoy amazing views of Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, and other notable landmarks. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can ascend Bell Rock for even better views of the surrounding area. Navigating upwards can be tricky, so keep an eye out for rock cairns to guide you.
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Bell Rock Pathway to Bell Rock Climb
  • Little Horse Trail #61: (3.75 miles, 400 ft elevation gain, easy) This trail begins at the Bell Rock Pathway, then splits off towards the “Two Nuns” rock formations. We loved the juniper trees and desert plants on this trail. You can turn around at “Chicken Point” or keep going to the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
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“The Two Nuns” as seen from the Little Horse Trail
  • West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon (“Call of the Canyon”) Trail: (6.9 miles but you can turn around wherever, 839 ft elevation gain, easy) This is by far our FAVORITE trail in the state of Arizona. This fairly level trail leads you from a bridge to a field of wildflowers into a narrow red rock canyon and forest, crossing the babbling Oak Creek many times. Springtime brings a lush green blanket and colorful flowers to the forest floor, and Fall brings a spectacular show of the trees changing colors. Go as far as you want, and turn around whenever. Be sure to get here early- it’s a super popular hike!
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West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon (“Call of the Canyon”)
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Impressive Fall colors in Oak Creek Canyon
  • Cathedral Rock Trail #170: (1.5 miles, 744 ft elevation gain, moderate) Although short, this trail climbs up quickly, so pace yourself. When you get to the saddle, enjoy the beautiful views ahead of and behind you, then walk South over to another viewpoint with a red rock spire looking East. Be sure to bring sunscreen as there is very little shade on this trail!
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Looking West from the top of the Cathedral Rock Trail
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Looking East from the top of the Cathedral Rock Trail
  • Devil’s Bridge: (4.2 miles, 564 ft elevation gain, moderate) You’ll start by walking along a dirt road for a while (unless you have a good off-roading vehicle that can handle the first part), then the trail winds its way through the desert landscape and juniper trees to a rock staircase. The ascent is steep but the bridge isn’t far once you’re to that point! Devil’s Bridge is the largest natural sandstone arch in Sedona and an iconic landmark not to miss.
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Devil’s Bridge
  • Bear Mountain: (4.3 miles, 1975 ft elevation gain, difficult) This trail is not for beginners, but the intense climb in elevation offers spectacular views of Sedona throughout the entire hike. The cherry on top is getting to see snow-capped Humphrey’s Peak in the distance when you reach the summit!
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View along the Bear Mountain Trail

 

Shop and relax:

  • Shop, dine, and explore the numerous art galleries and boutiques in Tlaquepaque. This arts and crafts village is centrally-located, right where the 89A and 179 meet.
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Fountain within Tlaquepaque
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Seasonal flowers in Tlaquepaque
  • In the mood to get pampered? Get a massage at L’Apothecary Spa at L’Auberge de Sedona.

 

WHERE TO EAT

Breakfast:

  • Pump House Station Urban Eatery
    • Perfect for breakfast to-go or eat-in, this quaint restaurant offers epic croissant sandwiches, egg benedicts, a full pastry case, delicious hand-crafted coffee drinks, a bar, and an adorable outdoor patio that overlooks Oak Creek. If it’s too cold for you outside, cozy up next to their fireplace inside.
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Pump House Station Urban Eatery

 

  • Creekside American Bistro
    • This is one of our favorite places for a hearty breakfast. Their menu is huge so there’s something for everyone. They even have mimosas and Bloody Mary’s to complete your brunch!

 

Lunch or dinner:

  • Indian Gardens Cafe
    • We must’ve driven past this place 10 times in our visits to Oak Creek Canyon but didn’t try it until recently- boy were we surprised and delighted! Their outdoor courtyard is covered with plants and tall trees, iron cafe tables, and complimentary blankets for those chilly days (we actually ended up buying one!). Their sandwiches were delicious, and they have a great selection of coffee and beer! 10/10 for location and food.
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Back patio at the Indian Gardens Cafe
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Hazy IPA and Dan the Man Sandwich

 

  • Mariposa Latin-Inspired Grill
    • Perfect for a family brunch, a post-hike lunch, or a date night, Mariposa is a must-try for any visit to Sedona. They have panoramic red rock views, a delicious and creative food menu, and equally impressive cocktails. We’d recommend the yucca fries with aioli, any of their burgers (which are branded (yes, branded) with their butterfly logo), and the Juniper Margarita.
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Panoramic views at Mariposa
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Burgers and cocktails at Mariposa

 

  • Oak Creek Brewery and Grill
    • This brewery’s treehouse-like location in Tlaquepaque is the perfect setting for enjoying their “Seven Dwarves” flights of beer and some fantastic pub food (definitely try their fries- you won’t regret it!)
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“Seven Dwarves” flight at Oak Creek Brewery

 

  • El Rincon Restaurante
    • If you’re a fan of Mexican food, look no further than El Rincon Restaurante in Tlaquepaque. Their patio is lush and shady, and they keep the chips and salsa flowing.
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El Rincon’s covered patio
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Yummy chips and salsa and margaritas at El Rincon

 

  • La Cucina Rustica
    • This Italian restaurant is the perfect place for a date night in Sedona. The dim lighting, Italian courtyard-inspired decor, and live music create the perfect atmosphere for a relaxing, romantic meal. We’re not exaggerating when we say that EVERYTHING is amazing here. Don’t skip dessert!
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Cucina Rustica’s patio features live music and romantic lighting

 

WHERE TO STAY

Bed and Breakfasts:

  • Creekside Inn
    • We may be a bit biased, as this is where we got married, but the Creekside Inn is the perfect place to spend a peaceful weekend. It’s a beautiful and welcoming Victorian-style bed and breakfast nestled along Oak Creek in the heart of Sedona.
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View from the back patio at the Creekside Inn

 

  • Inn Above Oak Creek
    • This centrally-located and newly-remodeled bed and breakfast is perched above Oak Creek along the 179, and offers gorgeous views of the red rocks from the rooms and balconies.
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Our balcony at the Inn on Oak Creek

Hotels:

  • Los Abrigados Resort and Spa
    • This large resort has plenty of amenities for the family and is centrally located within walking distance of Tlaquepaque’s shops and restaurants, which is a HUGE plus in our opinion.
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Fountain in the lobby of Los Abrigados

 

  • Las Posadas of Sedona
    • This boutique inn in the southern part of Sedona has spacious villas and suites, and is located directly across the street from a small shopping and dining center and the Sedona Golf Resort.

 

Civilized camping:

  • Campgrounds are nonexistent within the city limits of Sedona, and it’s not legal to camp just anywhere you want, but just North of Sedona on the 89A there are several campgrounds (Manzanita, Cave Springs, and Pine Flat). You can make reservations through www.recreation.gov in advance.
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Riverfront campsite at Manzanita Campground
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Manzanita Campground lies adjacent to Oak Creek

Dispersed camping:

  • From Sedona, take the 89A South towards Cottonwood, and turn right onto FR 525, a dirt road on the right (North) side of the road just a few miles West of Sedona. The individual spots are not marked, but just continue down this dirt path until you find an open area to set up camp. You’ll occasionally see where previous campers have made their own makeshift fire pits. We recommend going pretty far back (closer to the red rocks) for awesome views of hot air balloons rising over the the mountains at sunrise. There aren’t any restrooms or running water here, but the solitude is glorious!
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Dispersed camping area off FR 525

 

Planning a trip soon? Click here to get the packing lists we use! We’ve got standard, camping, hiking, and blank packing lists for you to screenshot, download, or email to a friend.

Thanks for reading, and we hope our recommendations are helpful for planning your first trip to Sedona! Comment below or send us an email at wildthingsandcoffee@gmail.com if you have any questions, or if you want to tell us what you did with our advice! We’d love to hear from you 🙂

Click HERE to see our most recent blog posts and click HERE to see ALL of our free travel and hiking guides!

 

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