This Southwestern City Has 5-star Hotels, Next-level Spas, and Some of the Best Hiking in the Country
For supercharged adventures in the desert Southwest, Sedona — the crown jewel of the Verde Valley — offers everything from spirituality-boosting energy vortexes to an unexpected wine country to world-class hiking among the area's signature red rock landscape. Given such ancient assets, it's important to note that if you're among the 3 million visitors annually, you should consider these three things: support small, locally owned businesses, adopt the city's Leave No Trace principles, and commune calmly with your surroundings. Keep reading to see what else you should do, see, and where you should stay in Sedona, Arizona.
Things to Do in Sedona
Sedona's vortex phenomenon makes it a popular place for those looking to do a bit of spiritual intention setting. But, even if you skip a desert meditation, you're still guaranteed transcendent views when you visit these remarkable Red Rock destinations. Popular vortex hiking destinations include Airport Mesa for city vistas and Cathedral Rock's virtually vertical but mercifully brief ascent. But like many of Sedona's popular paths, these unique spots are environmentally fragile and can often be overcrowded. For a hike without the crowds, consider taking a jaunt on one of the Secret 7 trails. The Aerie Trail, for example, is a moderately difficult excursion with lots of morning shade and panoramic views of the Secret Mountain Wilderness.
A more straightforward spiritual setting is the Chapel of the Holy Cross (also an official vortex site), a beautiful example of religious architecture from 1956 by a Frank Lloyd Wright pupil whose modernist design features a 90-foot-tall cross symbolically anchored into the earth.
Four-wheel driving over and around the buttes — named for their distinct shapes, like Bell Rock, Coffee Pot Rock, or Snoopy Rock — is best left to the pros. And that's precisely why you should book a trip with the drivers of the jacked-up Jeep Wranglers at Pink Adventure Tours. Sign up for the two-hour, nail-biting Broken Arrow ride to Submarine Rock and Chicken Point, a traverse of rocky roads and steep, dusty descents that may undo any chiropractic progress you've been making, albeit for a worthwhile memory.
Don't sweat the summertime in the cool pools at Slide Rock State Park, whose 80-foot-long water-carved sandstone chute gets its titular slip from algae. (Note: water shoes are an excellent choice here.)
To see Indigenous ruins up close with bonus narration from a live docent, head to the reservations-only Palatki Heritage Site, where you'll explore cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and an outdoor natural museum's worth of pictographs from the Sinagua people and other archaic cultures dating back 3,000 to 6,000 years.
Sedona's smaller, locally owned accommodations evoke the location's funky vibe with delightful sincerity. The Red Agave Resort adjoins US Forest Service land, meaning the close-range views of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte are unobstructed. The property has a private trailhead that points toward a bundle of different walking paths, from the Slim Shady Trail to the Bell Rock Pathway. Each of the resort's A-frame loft chalets sleeps five people and has a full kitchen. (The kitchen comes in handy after picking up local provisions at the Sunday morning Sedona Community Farmers Market.)
The Star Motel in Uptown Sedona makes the most of its original cinder block confines with a mix of mid-century furnishings like colorful Eames-inspired shell chairs alongside vintage Indigenous art and objects, from Indian blankets to ceremonial bows to painted portraits of native chiefs. The lodge is named for the clear view of the galaxies above Sedona, one of only 20 official Dark Sky communities in the nation. Bonus tip: Nearby the motel is one of the city's best stargazing observation points, the open field at the Jordan Road Trailhead.
There are several luxury properties scattered across Sedona for those looking for a splurge-worthy experience. Enchantment Resort offers guided hiking and mountain biking excursions alongside spa services ranging from classic massages to body treatments like the Prickly Pear Butter Wrap, which includes a body scrub, shower, and hydrating body butter.
Then there's the famed L'Auberge de Sedona, which specializes in immersive experiences and retreats, including daily activities like Introduction to Crystals and Meditation.
High-end hotel fans shouldn't look past Amara, a hotel that maintains its rustic charm thanks to its rough edge exterior but still comes with plenty of luxury offerings inside like a full-service spa, oversized suites, and a glittering infinity-edge pool overlooking the verdant landscape.
Skyranch Lodge is also notable for its location as it sits 500 feet above the town fray on a beautifully landscaped section. The resort grounds are an accredited botanical garden of rare and native plants of Airport Mesa. Spring for the Rim View rooms or Cottage Suites for lavish furnishings like four-poster beds and fireplaces, plus panoramic views from the private balconies. While others have to drive to Airport Mesa at sunset, all you need to do is take a leisurely 20-minute stroll from the Lodge via the picturesque Sedona View Trail to hit the vortex in time to bid farewell to the day.
The most coveted table in Sedona is at the award-winning Elote Cafe. The restaurant specializes in traditional Southwestern and Mexican cuisine, expertise gained from chef-owner Jeff Smedstad's Arizona upbringing and extensive travels south of the border. Signature dishes include the elote (fire-roasted corn with spicy mayo, lime, and cotija cheese) and an exceptionally succulent lamb adobo (a long-braised Superior Farms shank in ancho-chile sauce). The restaurant's tequila program is also second to none in Sedona, featuring small heritage productions like the Camarena family's G4 and private barrels from Cascahuín.
Other gastronome-approved eating experiences in Greater Sedona include an utterly pleasant creekside picnic of cold-smoked salmon rillettes and truffled roast vegetables paired with sustainable wine at Page Springs Cellars in nearby Cornville.
The Osteria at Cottonwood's Merkin Vineyards (owned by Maynard James Keenan, gentleman winemaker and frontman for the dark-metal band Tool) serves scratch-made Italian food like airy potato gnocchi in sage-and-prosciutto cream sauce. For fusion fare, try the chicken relleno "lasagna cupcakes," layered with duck-egg pasta sheets, roast chicken, and poblano chiles from the Merkin gardens.
On a more casual note, the Cowboy Club in uptown Sedona may be a destination of Western kitsch, but its frontier food is anything but. Don't miss the spoon-tender bison pot roast in succulent pan sauce or the thick elk chops with a slick of savory demi-glace.
End the day at the old-fashioned ice cream shop, the Black Cow Cafe, where fresh-baked pie and cookies scent the air. Get a scoop like the high-desert favorite prickly pear or snag a cone filled with classic butter pecan, churned in-house.
Best Time of Year to Visit
If you're seeking quiet, peaceful trails, then be prepared to traverse those tracks slathered in sunscreen. Believe it or not, the height of summer — when temperatures soar into the 90s — is a great time to visit. After all, Sedona is considered a "cool" getaway for those living in cities like Scottsdale and Phoenix, where triple digits are par for the summer.
Bookend your days with shorter walks in the early morning and early evening (Sedona's longest light is in July when the sun rises around 5:15 am and sets around 7:40 pm). Stellar spots to do just that include Fay Canyon (2.4 miles round trip) or Bell Rock (1.75 miles round trip). While the sun is high, head for the cool shaded courtyards and air-conditioned art galleries of Tlaquepaque Village. Step into Mountain Trails Gallery, which features western art by local painters and sculptors, and Rowe Fine Art, where owner Ken Rowe sculpts highly detailed wildlife forms in bronze.
Another option is to time your visit to any of Sedona's popular festivals throughout the year. The WineFest takes place in late September, celebrating the harvest of the Verde Valley. Seek out something shiny at October's annual Sedona Rock, Gem, and Jewelry Show. Since collecting rocks and other natural treasures from national- and state-park land is illegal, you can search for rare gemstones, crystals, and fossils from dozens of vetted vendors at the highly anticipated annual event.