As the child of an Italian immigrant and tour guide in love with the American Southwest, I spent my childhood summers road-tripping through the four corner states: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. I recently returned to Sedona, after visiting a near-empty Grand Canyon during the Covid pandemic.
At first glance, Sedona hits the senses like a revelation. Surrounded by technicolor red-rock buttes and Ponderosa pine forests, it’s more colorful and surreal than just about anywhere else in the Southwest. It’s a small town, but for a successful trip, first-time visitors must navigate the New Age vortex shamans, tight-lipped cowboys, desert-inspired art galleries, and one-of-a-kind outdoor experiences. Since it can be challenging, here’s an itinerary to get you started.
Sedona is at elevation and cooler than you'd expect; midsummer brings high temps.
If you only have time for one thing, make it the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
Uptown Sedona is full of shops, galleries, and restaurants along North State Route 89A. Mostly meant for tourists, it’s useful for getting oriented. On a half-day Sedona sightseeing tour, you can explore uptown and see the surrounding natural beauty, stopping at the Chapel of the Holy Cross within the Coconino National Forest, Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park, and multiple energy vortexes (yes, they exist).
After dinner at the Wild West throwback Cowboy Club—a local favorite serving cactus fries, bison pot roast, and rattlesnake sausage—end your first night with a magical astronomer-led stargazing excursion.
Rise early and tie on your hiking boots, as your second day is for Sedona’s spectacular outdoor trails. Most visitors start with the short Birthing Cave or Sugarloaf trails, but a relaxed private hiking tour near Oak Creek is ideal for those concerned about getting lost in unfamiliar territory.
A visit to Sedona isn’t complete without visiting northern Arizona wine country. With your own car, you can stop at wineries scattered between Sedona and Cottonwood. Travelers who prefer letting someone else drive can try day-long wine tours or combine kayaking with wine tasting.
If you’re with children or wine isn't a priority, a ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad vintage train cars is an inspiring send-off. Take a roughly half-day sightseeing journey past Native American Sinagua cliff dwellings and historic sites along the Verde River, and celebrate a successful trip with an onbaord Champagne toast.