Everything You Need to See, Do, and Eat on an Arizona Road Trip (Video)
Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.
There’s more to the Grand Canyon State than its namesake. Arizona is brimming with surprisingly luxurious hotels and spas, underrated and unique cities and towns, and southwestern dining guaranteed to take your taste buds for a ride. So grab your camera, hiking boots, and sense of adventure and hit the back roads of the Wild West for an unforgettable journey.
Start in Tucson
Enveloped by the vast Sonoran Desert, Tucson is a vibrant and colorful southwestern city with a thriving culinary scene. Stay at Hotel Congress, a landmark property built in 1919 that harbors a concert venue, club, and bistro. It’s full of vintage charm, but also has a cool rock-and-roll vibe. Plan to party like Post Malone before crashing in a renovated room that boasts touches of yesteryear such as iron beds, transistor radios, and zero televisions.
At nearby Saguaro National Park, witness the towering saguaro cactus — crowned king of the Sonoran Desert — in its native environment. Then, hike to the pinnacle of Mount Lemmon — just north of Tucson, it’s the highest point in the Catalina Mountains.
Grab lunch at Tucson Tamale for an authentic taste of the region. Try the extra-spicy chipotle beef and cheese tamale or the vegetable curry vegan tamale. Then, schedule a tour and tasting at Hamilton Distillers before dinner at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, the farm-to-table brainchild of James Beard Award-winning chef Janos Wilder. Don’t miss the restaurant’s rotating art installations and live music every weekend.
Drive From Tucson to Scottsdale
Just under two hours from Tucson and a 20-minute drive from Phoenix, Scottsdale is a balmy retreat stationed on the edge of the Valley of the Sun. Here, you’ll find high-end shopping, world-renowned spas, and a variety of hiking adventures.
Route 179 is the most scenic between the two destinations. It passes by Casa Grande Ruins, one of the biggest prehistoric structures on the continent. It’s free to visit and the docents are experts in the storied history of the Sonoran Desert. Additional outdoor attractions in Scottsdale include the Desert Botanical Garden and Camelback Mountain. See an abundance of cacti, succulents, and colorful wildflowers at the gardens before a four-hour climb to the top of the mountain for 360-degree views of Scottsdale and neighboring Phoenix.
Stay at Bespoke Inn, a 10-room, boutique gem tucked in a secluded corner of downtown Scottsdale. Unique fixtures (like clawfoot tubs), elevated amenities (there’s a rooftop infinity pool), and al fresco dining at the property’s award-winning restaurant, Virtu Honest Craft, shape a personalized experience that lives up to the hotel’s name.
Other noteworthy restaurants include Roaring Fork, a downtown hot spot with Old West vibes. At happy hour, the restaurant’s signature burgers are 10 bucks each. After dinner, grab a few drinks at Handlebar J, where you can also enjoy live country music, nightly two-stepping, and a robust beer selection on tap.
Drive From Scottsdale to Sedona
Two hours up the road from Scottsdale is Sedona, a destination for spa enthusiasts, art connoisseurs, and outdoor adventurers alike. This mystical retreat is flanked by red-rock buttes, steep canyons, and pine forests, shaping an otherworldly environment that’s equal parts Wild West and understated luxury.
Get there by continuing along Highway 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Break for dessert along the way at Rock Springs Cafe. This landmark, famous for its award-winning pies, was established in 1918. Its close proximity to the highway makes it convenient for road-trippers. Indulge in a seasonal treat, like the strawberry rhubarb crumb pie, or try out the best-selling Jack Daniel’s pecan pie.
Hang your hat at Sedona Rouge Hotel and Spa. A short walk from shops and galleries in Uptown Sedona, this sophisticated haven boasts modern and spacious suites that overlook Thunder Mountain. Follow hiking or horseback riding through the surrounding red rocks with a yoga class, treatment, or Jacuzzi soak at the spa.
Devil’s Bridge is one of the most photographed natural wonders in Arizona, so lace up your boots for a 90-minute trek from Dry Creek Vista. Prepare for a rigorous uphill climb to your destination, but know the view is well worth the effort.
Digging into a towering stack of pancakes at Casa Sedona Inn is the perfect way to load up on carbs before traversing the red-rock buttes on foot. Sit in the outdoor courtyard for top-notch ambience. Then, end your day with fish tacos, southwestern-style nachos, and a strawberry margarita at Oaxaca Restaurant. Sample the grilled Arizona cactus appetizer and other vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes on the menu. Pop over to nearby Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village after dinner to stock up on Sedona’s famous healing crystals and a grab nightcap at The Secret Garden Cafe.
Drive From Sedona to the Grand Canyon
A beautiful two-hour drive from Sedona, the magic of the Grand Canyon awaits. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is the cherry on top of an Arizona road trip experience. Take 89A out of the Sedona. Break at Midgley Bridge on the outskirts of Sedona for a quick hike down Oak Creek Canyon. Then, stop in Flagstaff to refuel at Macy’s European Coffee House, where bespoke coffee concoctions and healthy breakfast fare are served all day long. Flagstaff is also home to Arizona’s tallest mountain, Humphreys Peak, as well as a variety of Native American heritage sites, so stick around and scout it out for a few hours.
Check into El Tovar Hotel upon arrival. This historic property opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for the past 100 plus years. Mere steps from the Grand Canyon’s edge, El Tovar is both elegant and rustic with breathtaking views from every window. The resort’s Dining Room is as close to the canyon as you can get, and the authentic cuisine is almost as memorable as the views from the tables closest to the windows.
Experts say the South and North Rims are the best places from which to behold the scale of the natural landmark. The South Rim, right outside El Tovar’s doors, is accessible year-round. Look forward to hikes of varying lengths that cater to explorers of every skill level. Plan a hike at sunrise and bring along a breakfast picnic.
Drive From the Grand Canyon to Page
Page, a water sports lover’s paradise, is another three-hour drive north. Continue along 89A toward Nevada and reserve several hours for a tour of Antelope Canyon. Weave through the winding walls of this sandstone formation with a camera in hand; the wave-like structures and light that breaks through the canyon’s slots are straight out of a photographer’s fantasy.
In Page, check into Lake Powell Resort. This serene and peaceful property nestled in the heart of the desert boasts old-fashioned allure and modern comforts. Warm up in the morning at the all-day coffee bar and look forward to nights by the resort’s fire pit.
Nearby, BirdHouse serves up some of the best comfort food in Arizona (think: mac and cheese, waffles, mashed potatoes, and crinkle-cut fries). But fried chicken is the star of the show at this roadside establishment. Pair it with a homemade sauce, like honey butter or buttermilk ranch, and an ice-cold beer — BirdHouse has a stout selection from local breweries.
The magic of Horseshoe Bend is a mere stone’s throw south of Page. One of the most iconic venues in Arizona, this unusually shaped bend in the Colorado River is best enjoyed from an overlook that towers 4000-plus feet above sea level. The easy hike from the parking lot to the overlook is less than a mile.
Want to extend your Western voyage? Head west to Las Vegas, then hop onto Nevada’s 365-mile Death Drive, one of the region’s most memorable road trips.