WHAT TO DO
Sedona lies within the Coconino National Forest, halfway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, in the state of Arizona. It was named after Sedona Arabella Miller Schnebly, the wife of the town's first postmaster, who was celebrated for her hospitality and industriousness. Nestled amid striking red sandstone formations, Sedona's truly spectacular landscape has long attracted spiritual seekers, artists and healers. Many people believe that this area has a number of vortexes that radiate the earth's energy and you'll find all sorts of alternative medicines and practices here, from rejuvenating bodywork to past life workshops. The formations appear to glow in brilliant orange and red when illuminated by the rising or setting sun. The red rocks form a popular backdrop for the hundreds of hiking and mountain biking trails throughout Oak Creek Canyon. With its natural beauty, art galleries and gourmet restaurants, Sedona is sure to please.
Start your journey at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, located at 780 Chapel Road. Completed in 1956, it towers over 250 feet and is supported by a 90 foot concrete cross. The chapel is backdropped by Twin Buttes and a pair of cone shaped rock formations called Two Nuns. Regardless of whether you’re into religion or architecture, this unorthodox landmark is worth a visit to discover its compelling backstory and take in the cliffside views. It has earned numerous architectural awards and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Set into what is now called Chapel Rock, the reinforced concrete building angles backward from its roofline. Its modest interior features floor to ceiling windows which are set back from the colossal cross. During the daytime, you can enjoy commanding views of the canyon, and in the evening, the sun’s rays cast a golden glow inside. A refined dignity permeates the compact chapel, where rows of wooden pews face the statement making sculpture: Christ Nailed to the Cross. Made of bronze, the 33 foot crucifix is shaped in the form of the Tree of Life, stretching up to the ceiling. It is alive with spiritual symbolism, from the tree’s double trunked base and the golden apple to the dozen leaves (representing the 12 apostles) and the crown, which bears three roses and one hundred thorns. Note: a sign near the chapel entry bearing the words, 'Peace to All Who Enter' welcomes visitors inside.
From the chapel, make your way to Secret Slickrock Trail at Chavez Ranch Road. Fellow photographers, this one's for you. Come here at sunset to capture Cathedral Rock reflected in the sandstone pools atop this lovely mesa. Note: it's best after a recent storm, otherwise the pools may be dry. Next, head to nearby Red Rock Crossing Trail at Red Rock Crossing Road. This tremendous trail has the trifecta: a shady swimming hole, awesome views of Cathedral Rock and energy radiating from one of Sedona’s four vortexes. The area and trail itself are naturally named for the iconic buttes rising up amid the junipers and pines. Although maps show the dotted line for Red Rock Crossing Trail leading through Oak Creek, the namesake 'crossing' no longer exists - unless you are willing to get your feet wet. Note: a flood washed out the bridge in 1978. Two of the easiest ways to visit both banks of this scenic spot on Oak Creek are via the Crescent Moon Picnic Area (north side) and the actual Red Rock Crossing Trail (south side). Because of its proximity to Cathedral Rock, a vortex site, many people believe that the point of Red Rock Crossing closest to the monolith also has energy flowing from the earth. Not far away is Red Rock State Park. Long before Sedona became a destination, only a handful of people had settled in this geological wonderland. The desert town sits at over 4000 feet in Central Arizona’s Verde Valley - an area shaped by volcanic activity and erosion, which ultimately carved Oak Creek Canyon and created the oxidized red rocks for which Sedona is celebrated. The park now protects this important landscape. Its mission is to educate visitors about the area’s ecosystem as they explore the areas surrounding Oak Creek.
It is no secret that Arizona’s boundless trails offer infinite variety, like traversing red rock canyons, winding among ponderosa pine forests and skirting cacti that bring pops of purple and yellow to the desert during spring bloom. All fuel the senses, but some of Sedona’s trails also offer a metaphysical element to exploring outdoors, namely the town’s vortex sites. Some people say there are as many as eight of these energy sites in Sedona, but the four most powerful are in Boynton Canyon, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Airport Mesa - located just a few miles from downtown. Sedona has been considered sacred by the Indigenous peoples for millennia, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that spiritual seekers started making pilgrimages to its vortexes, believed to be ideal for meditation and healing. In the late 1970s, new age mystic Page Bryant was credited with coining the term 'vortex' and actually putting Sedona’s four key sites on the map in her book. Dick Sutphen, a psychic researcher and past life therapist also spread the word about these high energy sites. In August 1987, a new wave of believers descended on Sedona to take part in a worldwide event called Harmonic Convergence. Sedona was chosen as a 'power center,' where a throng of 5000 people participated in what became the first synchronized global peace meditation event. Note: everyone's experience at a vortex will be different - researchers say the forces are not linked to electromagnetism but are actually attuned to the topography. Given its lofty location above the city, Airport Mesa is said to radiate an energy 'up flow' associated with mesas and mountaintops. In contrast, 'in flow' vortexes are found in canyons and caves. Interestingly, some places in Sedona have a bit of both. For example, people say Red Rock Crossing at the edge of Oak Creek is an in flow vortex, but its proximity to looming Cathedral Rock, an up flow vortex, influences its energy.
The Sedona Arts Center is located at 15 Art Barn Road. Founded in 1958, it features changing exhibits of local and regional artists, a gift shop and classes in performing and visual arts. It also stages a variety of cultural events like the Sedona Plein Air Festival - featuring local artists in an outdoor festival. From there, take Highway 89A to the Midgley Bridge. This Instagram worthy span, just over a mile north of town, is also a great spot to hop on a hiking trail. Head up into Wilson Canyon or, for a great one way hike, follow the Huckaby Trail three miles back along Oak Creek into town (stream crossing required). Note: the trail ends at the roundabout on Schnebly Hill Road. The Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park can be found at 2650 Pueblo Drive. This consecrated Buddhist shrine and park is set quite stunningly in West Sedona amid pinon and juniper pine and the omnipresent red rocks. A few steps below the 40 foot Amitabha stupa, look for the smaller White Tara stupa. Note: a stupa is a mound like or hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation.
When you wander beyond the urban edges of Sedona, the landscape reveals clues to the area’s evolution. Discover secret swimming holes, bridges shaped from sandstone and enigmatic rock art created by prehistoric peoples who traveled light and left few traces behind before they suddenly disappeared. According to archeologists, Palatki Heritage Site (and sister site, Honanki) have the largest panels of pictographs in the Verde Valley. Located in the Coconino National Forest, Palatki is not just a man made marvel composed of cliff dwellings and rock art dating back to the archaic period 3000 to 6000 years ago. It is also a working archeological site where experts continue to decode evidence of all the indigenous cultures to have ever occupied this region of Central Arizona. It’s here where the Sinagua peoples built and lived in the cliff dwellings at Palatki. But they were not the only ones to have painted symbols on the stone. The Hopi, Apache, Navajo and Yavapai also left their marks. Note: to visit Palatki Heritage Site, you must call ahead to book a reservation, which includes an hour long guided tour. Arrive early at the visitor center to explore the history of the site and see artifacts such as arrows and tools.
Back in town, just south of Highway 89A at 336 Highway 179 is Tlaquepaque Village. A Sedona landmark since 1973, it is a series of Mexican styled, interconnected plazas home to dozens of high end art galleries, boutique shops and superb restaurants. Constructed of stucco walls, wrought iron, stone and patterned tiles, Tlaquepaque has the organic feel of an old Mexican village. Some of my favorite shops here include: Andrea Smith Gallery, Renee Taylor Gallery, Alt Books and Records, Sedona Candle Gallery, Sedona Music Boxes & More, Vino Zona Sedona, Spirits & Spice, The Chai Spot, How Sweet It Is In Sedona, Secret Garden Cafe and the excellent Rene Restaurant (which I will discuss later on). Across the street at 341 Highway 179 is the totally rad Center for the New Age. The New Age is a free flowing spiritual movement comprised of believers and practitioners who share beliefs integrating mind, spirit and body. It is the reemergence of earliest esoteric knowledge coupled with contemporary scientific advances. This metaphysical superstore has it all - crystals, incense, books, music, tarot, psychic readings, aura photos, past life regressions and various paths to enlightenment. Touchstone Gallery is at 320 Highway 89A. Here is where Mother Nature's finest awaits you. Visit this uptown gallery to discover a world of rare ancient fossils, magnificent mineral formations and natural art masterpieces. Touchstone is Sedona's home of nature's art etched in stone.
Conclude your visit to Sedona with a few fun activities. Take a jeep tour, have a spa treatment or perhaps do some wine tasting. Pink Jeep Tours is located at 204 Highway 89A. This popular company provides a number of red rock adventures. Each excursion offers an unforgettable backcountry tour with insider info from the area’s most knowledgeable and experienced local guides. Try the Broken Arrow Tour - it takes about two hours and your jeep crawls over and atop the iconic red rock formations. Note: be sure to book in advance. There are several spots in town to relax your mind, body and spirit. My 3 favorites are Sedona's New Day Spa (3004 Highway 89A), Namti Spa (60 Tortilla Drive) and The Spa at Sedona Rouge (2250 Highway 89A). They all use organic, nature crafted and indigenous products that honor the local landscape and soothe your soul. Body treatments include massage therapy, acupuncture and herbal detox wraps. Touring wineries is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Sedona, but it’s quickly gaining a reputation as one of Arizona’s most popular wine destinations. Note: while most of the wineries are not technically 'in' Sedona, they are all a short drive away and absolutely worth a visit. I recommend: Page Springs Cellars (1500 N Page Springs Road, Cornville), Caduceus Cellars (158 Main Street, Jerome), Arizona Stronghold Vineyards (1023 N Main Street, Cottonwood), Alcantara Vineyards (3445 S Grapevine Way, Camp Verde) and Winery 1912 (320 Highway 89A, Sedona).
WHERE TO EAT
Sedona has several great places to eat and enjoy a drink. Start your day at Creekside American Bistro, located at 251 Highway 179. Situated in the Creekside Plaza, just north of Tlaquepaque, this place has lovely patio views of Oak Creek and does breakfast until 2p daily. Its weekend brunch features huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, and a sriracha chicken and rice bowl. Another solid spot is The Coffee Pot, found at 2050 W Highway 89A. This go to breakfast joint has been serving locals since the 1950s. It presents an extensive menu selection including eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, huevos rancheros and a bewildering 101 types of omelet - including what may be the world's only peanut butter, jelly and banana special. Wildflower is at 101 N Highway 89A. This reliable Arizona chain does soups, sandwiches, salads and pastries - nothing fancy, but it's all good. Have your meal out on the patio and enjoy the fantastic red rock views.
Mesa Grill can be found at 1185 Airport Road. Yes, it's a bit odd to choose to eat at an airport, on a patio next to airplanes, but 'airport' is a misnomer - it is really more of a landing strip for charter and scenic flights. Mesa does interesting Southwestern fare, such as gulf shrimp with crispy pork belly and cheesy grits, offered in contemporary surrounds. Oak Creek Brewery & Grill is located at 336 Highway 179. This spacious brewery at Tlaquepaque will satisfy your post hike drinking needs, with upmarket versions of pub food like fish and chips, charred pork ribs and signature pizzas prepared in an oak fired oven. It has outdoor seating and beer flights. Just up the street at 231 Highway 179 is The Hideaway House. This casual spot does homemade Italian pizzas, pastas and sandwiches. House favorites include the caramelized onion soup, baked meatball parm sandy, meat lasagna and the blanco classico pizza. There is a full bar and three open air patios. Sedona Memories is at 321 Jordan Road. This tiny cafe and bakery assembles gigantic sandwiches on slabs of homemade bread. You can nosh on their quiet porch and if you call in your order, they'll toss in a free cookie. Note: the cafe is open from 10a-2p, Monday through Friday. From there, head to Local Juicery at 3150 W Highway 89A. This hot spot in West Sedona offers salads, quinoa bowls and tantalizing cold pressed juices to cure what ails you. Try the Super Human (blueberries, bee pollen and almond butter) or Strong & Radiant (spirulina, maca root powder and strawberries). You'll feel healthier just walking in here. For something a wee bit less healthy, but oh so yummy, make your way to the Black Cow Cafe at 229 N Highway 89A. Many claim the Black Cow's homemade ice cream is the best in town. Note: go with the prickly pear, it is quite refreshing.
The excellent Elote Cafe is located at 350 Jordan Road. Come here for some of the best, most authentic Mexican food in the region. It serves traditional dishes you won't find elsewhere, like the namesake elote (fire roasted corn with spicy mayo, lime and cotija cheese), lamb adobo with an ancho chile sauce, Niman Ranch skirt steak with pasilla chile sauce, braised beef short ribs stuffed into a roasted poblano chile, smoked brisket enchiladas, corn crusted scallops and buffalo mole poblano - todos son muy deliciosos. Note: be sure to save room for the Mexican chocolate pie. The tons of fun Cowboy Club can be found at 241 N Highway 89A. Its long history started in 1946 when it opened as a saloon and pool hall that attracted Hollywood’s Western stars from Burt Lancaster and John Wayne to Donna Reed and Joan Crawford while they filmed in the red rocks of Sedona. The tavern became The Cowboy Club in 1993, retaining restored barnwood walls, a renovated fireplace, a reconditioned bar and other charming details. The restaurant offers angus steaks, pecan smoked prime rib, buttermilk fried chicken, elk chops, bison pot roast and the house favorites - rattlesnake and cactus. Tamaliza Cafe is at 1155 W Highway 89A. This family owned, counter service Mexican eatery specializes in tamales. Diners can order vegan, vegetarian, chicken, pork and beef varieties, but options do change based on what produce is available. A few daily specials (barbacoa tacos, portobello enchiladas and stuffed chile rellenos) are also on the menu.
One of my favorite spots in town (thanks mom) is The Hudson, located at 671 Highway 179 in the Hillside Sedona Center. This cozy American bistro has the feel of a neighborhood gem with its industrial chic dining room and bar, along with a large deck overlooking the red rocks of Sedona. Opened in 2015, it has an impressive food and cocktail menu. Highlights include: corn chowder with fire roasted peppers, bruschetta with house smoked salmon and pesto cream cheese, Thai shrimp, barbecue braised pork tacos, fireball chicken wings and for dessert, the chocolate peanut butter pie. To drink, do try The AZ Mule (tequila, prickly pear, ginger beer and lime). The Heartline Cafe can be found at 1610 Highway 89A. For more than twenty five years, it has been a mainstay in Sedona with its patio dining and wine lists. The rainbow trout comes with a pecan crust while a mustard peppercorn tops the tenderloin. For something a bit more local, go with the tequila lime marinated salmon with ancho chile aioli. Note: the restaurant is open from 5p-9p, Thursday through Monday. The Golden Goose Grill is at 2545 W Highway 89A. Steaks, seafood and burgers make up the menu at this popular place. Hash brown crusted Scottish salmon, pecan crusted trout, a Delmonico cut of ribeye and a porterhouse pork chop join meatloaf and a darn good smokehouse bacon cheeseburger on the menu.
One of the finest restaurants in town is Mariposa, found at 700 W Highway 89A. Over the past twenty years, chef Lisa Dahl created a food empire in Sedona. In 2015, she opened this Latin inspired spot - with dishes from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay guiding her menu. The filet mignon comes with a gorgonzola chipotle sauce, while a seafood trio comes with cold water lobster tail, Hokkaido seared sea scallops and jumbo grilled tiger shrimp. House specialties include pollo rustico with charred corn and roasted potatoes, and a steelhead ocean trout finished with a cilantro mint pesto and frijoles negros with quinoa pilaf. The only thing that might outdo the food here is the spectacular mountain views. Note: the restaurant is closed on Tuesday and reservations are required. Another outstanding place is the previously mentioned Rene Restaurant, located at 336 Highway 179. Tucked inside the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, this special occasion French restaurant and chef Walter Paulson have been impressing diners for more than forty years. Rack of lamb, Dover sole, stuffed acorn squash, roasted duck with wild rice and mushroom cake, and seared sea scallops over a prickly pear beurre rouge are just some of the star dishes. For dessert, do consider a flambe tableside - it is a sensory delight. Note: the restaurant is open daily from 5p-9p and reservations are recommended. There are two more must visit restaurants and I will mention them in the next section. End your evening in Sedona with a drink or two. Mooney's Irish Pub can be found at 671 Highway 179 in the Hillside Sedona Center. This colorful bar features live music, darts and mighty fine pints of Guinness. Note: the bar is open daily from 12p until close.
WHERE TO STAY
Sedona offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is L'Auberge de Sedona, located at 301 L'Auberge Lane. Situated on the banks of Oak Creek, this elegant hotel is a short walk from the shops and restaurants in town. Refined accommodations are set across a lodge and 4 types of cottages (Spa, Vista, Creekside and Garden). All include flat screen TVs, fridges, iPod docks, free WiFi and patios or balconies. Upgraded quarters add desert views, whirlpools, outdoor showers and fireplaces. Amenities include yoga classes, evening stargazing, a pool and spa treatments - as well as the superb creekside restaurant, Cress on Oak Creek and a wine cellar.
A second option is the Enchantment Resort, located at 525 Boynton Canyon Road. Set on 70 acres in Boynton Canyon, this secluded upscale resort is 7 miles outside of town. Sophisticated rooms with Southwestern decor feature decks with views of the red rock mountains, as well as complimentary WiFi, minibars and coffeemakers. Upgrades add fireplaces and kitchens - some include private pools or hot tubs. Other perks include tennis courts, hiking trails, spa treatments, the excellent restaurant, Tii Gavo and bar, View 180.
Sedona is a magically beautiful place that will inspire and balance your mind, body and spirit. It treated me well and I look forward to returning.