I recently finished a five day vacation in Sedona, Arizona and had a fabulous time, so I wanted to share my travel recommendations with you. Hope you enjoy!
Where to Hike
We chose Sedona as a vacation destination because we love the outdoors. Living in New York City, the closest thing we have to nature are half-ass parks occupied by litter, dog shit, and gawking tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in NYC, but there are very limited opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.
Sedona, which is sandwiched in the middle of the most awesome red rock formations, offers countless amazing hikes and was the perfect location for our outdoorsy vacation.
Cathedral Rock Trail
An imposing red rock formation that’ll awe you with its grandeur, Cathedral Rock is the most famous landmark in Sedona. While the trail to Cathedral Rock is a short distance (just over one mile round trip), it’s very steep and requires various forms of rock climbing, butt sliding, and crab-walking down rocks. It's certainly not for the faint of heart or the out of shape. And not for the fashionable either, since your clothes will be covered in red sand within minutes. There’s a reason I’m not in most of these photos: my ass was covered in dirt the entire time I was in Sedona.
Once you scale the rocks to the top of the trail, you are rewarded with a majestic lookout. We got to the top around 8:30 a.m. and it wasn’t desolate but it wasn’t crowded either. We were able to sneak off to the lookout ledge and take some photos of the spectacular landscape. After your photo break, find another spot to set up shop and enjoy a relaxing meditation session or a snack break while you take in the view.
We did see a few hikers who made it to the top but didn’t venture out to the lookout. I suppose fear of heights is a real thing, but the walk to the ledge is not dangerous (if you exercise common sense). It would be a shame to scoot your butt up the mountain and not enjoy the best view in the house. On the other hand, don’t be a dumbass and insist on taking one of those “jumping” poses on the lookout ledge. This will require you to jump up in the air multiple times, increasing the likelihood that you fall of the ledge and plummet to an untimely death.
Tips: pack as lightly as possible. A small day pack or fannypack with bottled water is ideal. Scooting your ass up and down mountains is a lot harder when you’re carrying a heavy pack
One of the most popular hikes in Sedona, Devil’s Bridge is another hike that you can’t miss when you’re in Sedona. While the hike itself isn’t that remarkable, the viewpoint at the end is definitely postcard worthy. It ends with a view of the largest natural sandstone arch in the area.
Unlike many of the hikes in Sedona, which attract zen yogis looking for solitude, Devil’s Bridge is typically packed with hella tourists, so don’t come expecting you’ll find a quiet spot for inner reflection. Unless, of course, you go first thing in the morning.
We started the four-mile round trip hike shortly after sunrise, and by the time we got to the top, we had the vista to ourselves for a few minutes. Shortly thereafter, we were joined by two other couples, with whom we took turns taking photos of one another. The trail gets extremely packed during the day, so I highly recommend leaving early like we did. For one, you’ll have more solace and quiet time, which is what Sedona does best. And two, you’ll be safer, literally. As the viewpoint gets crowded, people rush back and forth to get their photo taken, and sadly, more than one person has fallen to their death in the mayhem.
Having arrived early, I was able to take a variety of #basic yoga poses on top of the bridge, as well as several cutesy couple photos. Afterwards, we enjoyed a breakfast of granola bars while taking in the view. Oh, and then, we witnessed one of the two aforementioned couples get engaged on top of the bridge. It was a sweet moment but mostly hilarious since the woman was terrified of heights and was simultaneously crying and hyperventilating.
If you have a four wheel drive, you can park in the Devil’s Bridge parking lot and drive your jeep along a dirt road. The ensuing hike is a short one mile hike. For the rest of you common folk, the trail to the vista is two miles. The hiking trails are rather easy with a steep incline in the last few minutes of the hike.
Tips: the first half of the Devil’s Brideg trail is a dusty dirt road shared with jeeps. For a more scenic option, park at the lot for the Chuck Wagon Trail and Mescal Trail and follow the signs for Devil’s Bridge.
Boynton Canyon is one of many spots in Sedona that allegedly contains a “vortex,” a special location where energy either enters the earth or projects out of earth’s plane. In other words, it’s a hippie New Age belief that certain areas on earth possess an energy that enhances spirituality, consciousness and introspection.
In more practical terms, this trail is a 5.8 mile round trip hike that’s relatively easy, except for a few steep climbs at the end.
I must admit that while I enjoyed this hike, it was my least favorite trail for a few reasons. One, we made the mistake of starting this hike at noon, when the Arizona sun was unrelenting. Two, the first half of the trail runs alongside the Enchantment Resort. While this luxury resort is gorgeous, this part of the trail doesn’t feel as nature-y or as zen as the other hikes in Sedona. Three, this first portion of the trail is completely unshaded, which meant lots of sweaty pits for us in the afternoon heat.
The second portion of the trail has radically different scenery, reminiscent more of an enchanted forest from Game of Thrones than the red rock area of Sedona. This part of the trail is notably zen, as the only sounds to be heard are birds chirping and Ponderosa pines whistling. The view at the end of the trail is certainly beautiful, but it wasn’t my favorite view and it was the longest of the hikes we did, taking 3 ½ hours after stopping for photos and water breaks.
Tip: start this hike in the morning and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Located adjacent to Boynton Canyon, Fay Canyon is an easy and pleasant hike with a short steep climb at the end. We saw plenty of elderly folk and children on this trail, so it’s family friendly.
In comparison to nearby Boynton Canyon, the risk:reward ratio at Fay Canyon is much better, in my opinion. It’s a short 2.3 mile round trip with spectacular views of the canyon, plus there are more shaded areas, which is crucial if you are a pigmentally challenged individual.
Many people take the Fay Canyon trail in order to find the “hidden arch,” a natural sandstone arch that can be a bit difficult to find as it’s located on a side path and requires a separate hike. Having just seen the badass arch at Devil’s Bridge, we felt justified in skipping this hard-to-find detour.
A 3.5 mile roundtrip hike that is relatively flat, Little Horse is another easy hike. And for how easy the trail is, the views are quite rewarding. At every stretch of the trail, your eyes are greeted with beautiful views of the red rock formations.
I must admit that I was a bit embarrassed when we came to the end of the trail, as a gentleman in his 60s was rushing past us, almost as if we were too slow and out of shape for his taste. However, we ended up chatting with the gentleman, and it turned out that he was a local who hikes this trail every other weekend. So that made me feel a bit better about my slow ass pace.
At the end of the trail, if you continue for 400-500 feet, you’ll come upon Chicken Point, which is a great spot for photos.
Where to Eat
With all the hiking and outdoor zen vibes that permeate Sedona, I had a very natural desire to eat healthy. Luckily, I found the best smoothie/juice shop I’ve ever tried anywhere. At Local Juicery, 99% of the ingredients are organic, almost everything is vegan (with the exception of honey, bee pollen and ghee), and their ingredients are locally sourced.
We tried three different smoothies, and they were all outstanding. They were either the best smoothies I’ve ever had or the second best smoothies I’ve ever had (the other contender being the smoothies from Organic Avenue in NYC, which are so creamy and thick they’re practically soft serve froyo).
Local Juicery’s matcha smoothie, made with ceremonial grade matcha powder, was the best smoothie of the three and was definitely worth the $12 price tag (most of the smoothies are closer to $9 or $10). The unique flavor still haunts me to this day, in a good way. We also had the fit + green smoothie (the best standard green smoothie you could ask for) and the classic cacao (tastes like a damn fine chocolate milkshake). We also split the avocado toast, which is #basic, I know, but it was served with vegan chipotle mayo, which tasted like a smoky tahini and proved to be an incredible combination.
Berry Divine Acai Bowls
This place is another paradise for health freaks and vegans. Apparently, you can pay someone and they’ll make you a smoothie bowl instead of you having to make it yourself. Genius, right?
BDAB offers two different acai bases, one that has sugar and one that doesn’t. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t put sugar in my smoothie, as the fruits provide enough sweetness, but I was on vacation and I had literally just hiked 800 miles, so I didn’t mind the added sugar.
I ordered the volcano bowl and was not disappointed. It was a bit like eating a bowl of dessert and it tasted delicious. My favorite part? The hemp seed granola and toasted coconut that, along with the coconut oil, formed a thick crust to the bottom of the bowl. It was like eating pie crust for breakfast except healthier.
Cress on Oak Creek at L’auberge de Sedona
L’auberge de Sedona is quite possibly the nicest resort in a town teeming with nice resorts. The hotel rooms at L’auberge are outrageously expensive, and while their famous restaurant is certainly not cheap, it was an affordable splurge to celebrate our anniversary.
It’s hard to describe the elegance, mystery and charm of the Cress on Oak Creek. The restaurant sits on the banks of Oak Creek, with dining tables lined along this gently bubbling stream of water. It has Old Southern charm mixed in with West Coast relaxation and is a great place to take photos.
The restaurant menu is entirely prix fixe and none of the menu options are vegan. Nonetheless, my online research indicated that dietary restrictions could be accommodated so I decided to go for it. When I informed my server that I was vegan, he was very kind and did not freak out at all. He asked if I was also gluten-free, and when I replied “no, you can give me all the gluten you want,” he shirked with joy and informed me that they would prepare a custom menu for me based on the ingredients and flavors the chef had on hand.
My favorite dish was a recreation of their house papardelle with roasted tomato, fennel confit, charred broccolini, pine nut crumble and roasted olive. Since the pappardelle pasta contained eggs, they recreated pasta out of enoki mushrooms, which are long, thin (and very expensive) mushrooms. It was one of the most unique noodle replacements I’ve ever tried.
If you’re visiting Sedona and are celebrating a special occasion, dinner at Cress on Oak Creek is a must.
Another paradise for vegans and healthy foodies, ChocolaTree is an eatery and chocolate shop that uses 100% organic produce, local ingredients, and is gluten- and GMO-free. It also has an adorable outdoor garden section where you can enjoy your meal.
The menu boasts a wide variety of beverages, elixirs and smoothies, but I wanted to save room for dessert so I passed on those. We shared the appetizer sampler platter, which was full of some of my favorite foods—hummus, guacamole, flat bread, crackers (made with chia seeds) and nachos made out of nori (seaweed)! And the green goddess salad was everything a salad should be—savory, crunchy and creamy. And to top it off, the raw double chocolate ganache—a silky smooth raw dessert made of cacao powder, dates, coconut, raisins, and pecans—was pure bliss.
What to do
Aside from hiking, here are a few other things to do in Sedona.
Get a massage
If you hike as much as we did, your body will be aching for a full body massage. After doing a cost comparison and thorough Yelp review of nearly a dozen spas in Sedona, I settled on Sedona New Day Spa, which offers “desert nature body treatments and Native American inspired Spa Rituals” according to its website.
After we changed into our matching white robes, we were greeted by a small buffet of nuts, crackers, and dried fruit. After filling my belly with sugary dried mango, I relaxed outside on a lounge chair and read some spiritual materials before being whisked away to my massage room.
We had originally booked a couple’s massage—you know, the kind of massage where you and your partner are simultaneously massaged by two different masseuses in the same room—but since we changed the time of our massage at the last minute, the tandem room was no longer available. Some couples might have been bummed, but I was totes fine because I never really understood the point of a couple’s massage. It’s not like you’re talking to one another during the massage, and if you really want to see your partner naked, you can do that literally any other time.
We both requested deep tissue massages since we were sore from hiking. I think it was the first genuine deep tissue massage for both of us because it hurt like hell. I typically request deep tissue massages, but this was the first time I spent 70% of the massage wincing in pain and contorting my face into a series of unattractive grimaces. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, and the masseuse was very talented. So much so that, even three days later, my whole body was sore from the massage. That’s the sign of a good massage – it makes you so sore that you need another massage.
Enjoy a cocktail at sunset
Sedona has this unique quality of being a town/city that is sandwiched between the natural wonder of red rock formations. You can drive down the main drag in town and see dozens of incredible red rock formations to your left, right and straight ahead.
There are plenty of cafes, restaurants or viewpoints from which you can view sunset, but our favorite was the Mariposa restaurant. This restaurant is not vegan friendly so we didn’t consider eating there, but they make a nice cocktail and the view can’t be beaten. The outdoor patio has a front seat view of the red rock formations, which is particularly stunning at sunset.
Sunrise at Airport Mesa
The tiny local airport in Sedona has one of the best vistas for sunrise and sunset. We opted out of sunset, as we had read that the parking lot and vista become very crowded, and let’s be honest, I hate people. Just kidding. But I do hate crowds in most circumstances.
We arrived 20-30 minutes before sunrise and there were only a couple other people around, including a bride and groom and their fancy photographer. The lack of crowds made it very easy to set up my tripod in a nice location. Even after the sun had risen, there were probably only 20-25 people at the vista.
Though getting up early enough for sunrise is no easy feat, it is truly mesmerizing to watch the red rocks change color and shadows by the minute as the sun rises. And most people are sleepy enough at dawn so you can enjoy the peace and while the sun rises over the canyons.
Day trip to Grand Canyon
The south rim of the Grand Canyon is a 2-2 ½ hour drive from Sedona, so you’d be remiss if you didn’t make a visit to one of the natural wonders in this world while in Sedona. Since the Grand Canyon deserves its own blog post, I won’t write much except for that it’s spectacular. Photos really cannot do this place justice. Even with the best lens and perfect settings, your camera cannot capture the scale and enormity of this place.
But if you do want to take photos, as you should, here are a few tips
- Get your ass up early and go for sunrise. The Grand Canyon the most stunning at sunrise and sunset because the light hits the canyon in this indescribably magical way, creating layers of shadows in warm reds and soft purples. You should also go at sunset, but it will be more crowded.
- Don’t bother with taking tons of photos during the day. When the sun is high above the canyon, the canyon looks washed out and flat. Capturing a good photo of the Grand Canyon at noon is virtually impossible, unless it’s a cloudy day.
- Use a neutral density filter to balance the light in sunrise and sunset photos. A neutral density filter will balance the highlights in the sky and the shadows in the landscape, darkening the sky that is often blown out in sunset photos and lightening the dark shadows in the landscape. I didn’t use an ND filter, but I know that my photos would’ve been better and required less editing if I had used one.
- Shoot away from the direction of the sun. This sounds contrary to common sense. Don’t you want to capture the sun itself in a sunset photo? Well, yes, but in the Grand Canyon, the canyon is the true star, no the sun. If you shoot away from the sun, you’ll get to witness how the sky’s changing colors affect the canyon. That’s where the magic is.
Hope you found this blog post informative, and if you plan a trip to Sedona, please reach out with questions!