Crawling through commuter gridlock, I caught the infectious strains of Houndmouth’s folk rock tribute to the red rock city of Sedona: Hey Little Hollywood / You’re gone but you’re not forgot / You got the cash but your credit’s no good / You flipped the script and you shot the plot. Less than a year later, I quit my job in entertainment law, vacated my Los Angeles apartment, and hightailed it into Arizona.
Sedona earned its nickname “Little Hollywood” as the prime filming location for golden age Westerns starring the likes of John Wayne, Hedy Lamarr, and Joan Crawford. Today the city remains a hub of culture, clean eating, outdoor adventure, spiritual healing, golf retreats, wineries, and specialty shopping.
Here’s how to make the most of your time in Sedona:
Where To Stay
If you prefer to live as the locals do, West Sedona is the place to be. RV’s with Midwestern plates and climbers’ vans bedecked in Buddhist prayer flags and climbing gear populate the parking lots of Whole Foods and organic cafes. Nearby famous photo-ops include Devil’s Bridge, Robber’s Roost and Fay Canyon, and almost every intersection in town culminates in a trailhead.
I opted for a 30-day AirBnB stay (the city-prescribed minimum) at the foot of Coffee Pot Rock in West Sedona. There are plenty of affordable hotel chains, but for those seeking luxury accommodation without the touristy look of Uptown, book a private villa and personal chef at Adobe Grand Villas, a spa bedroom complete with indoor soaking tub at Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa, or a room accessing a 1,000 volume reading library at Canyon Villa Bed & Breakfast Inn.
Uptown is only a ten-minute drive eastward, but feels like a different city entirely. Multi-level shop fronts and plazas hawk artisan jewelry and jeep tours along the promenade-style main drag. Scenic Highway 179 leads to the Chapel of the Holy Cross and several viewpoints accessing Cathedral Rock, Castle Rock and Bell Rock. Upscale accommodation includes pueblo condos at The Hyatt Residence Club complimentary bicycles and hosted wine events at Amara Resort and Spa, rustic lodging at El Portal Hotel, and private yoga and meditation instruction and waterfront dining at L’Auberge de Sedona. For the naturalist-types, there are a number of cabins in Oak Creek Canyon only a few minutes east of Uptown by car.
What To Do Outside
Before making any plans, drop into one of the visitors’ centers, where you can procure discounts, trail maps, and a mandatory Red Rock parking pass.
Tours are a great way to get the lay of the land, whether by Jeep, ATV, helicopter, segway, kayak, hot air balloon, trolley, train, horseback, mountain bike, and hike. Also try thematic excursions such as wine tours and vortex tours.
There are several great online resources for the most scenic trails and Indian ruins, but be mindful of the fact that the more popular the trail, the more crowded it will be. Devil’s Bridge is the Disneyland of Sedona trails, and hikers commonly wait in line for a photo-op at the top. My advice is to hit the trails at sunrise, and at sunset, drive up to the Sedona Airport Overlook Point for breathtaking views and unparalleled stargazing.
What To Do Inside
For rejuvenation, Hot Yoga Sedona offers heated and non-heated yoga classes and aerial silks classes. There are several traditional spas providing massages and facials, but if you are curious about non-traditional therapies such as acupuncture, meditation, crystal healing, reiki healing, chakra balancing and aura photography, the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association has further information on classes, vendors and retreats.
Where To Eat
For a date night, try Latin-eatery with a view Mariposa, beautifully-plated American dishes at Schoolhouse Restaurant, industrial chic hotspot The Hudson or Mexican food favorite Elote Café, where you can pick up their cookbook on the way out.
For casual and affordable dining, Java Love Café serves the best coffee in town with a side of weird and wonderful people-watching, and Euro Deli serves charcuteries, pierogis, borscht, and other imported delicacies. Lodge-style Golden Goose American Grill is worth a visit for the sweet potato pancakes alone, and at Mesa Grill you can enjoy roasted oysters on the patio and watch Cessnas take off from the Sedona airport runway.
Day Trips To Take
History buffs will enjoy Jerome, a mountainside ghost town with great views, forty minutes west. Architecture and sustainable living aficionados will appreciate Arcosanti, an unfinished but habitable urban living project an hour south. Sedona lacks a reliable nightlife, but Flagstaff, forty-five minutes north, is home to one of the satellite campuses for Northern Arizona University.
The Grand Canyon is two hours north-west, and slot canyon Antelope Canyon is an additional two-and-a-half hours north of that. There are a couple of guided tour options to the Grand Canyon from Sedona if you prefer not to drive.
Ultimately, no matter where you go and what you do, it is impossible to choose poorly in Sedona. Just be sure to switch on “Havalina” by the Pixies, enjoy the drive, and watch your worries grow ever smaller in your rear view mirror: Havalina / Walking in the breeze / On the plains of old Sedona / Arizona / Among the trees / Havalina.
What are your favorite things to see and do in Sedona?
Images via Jaimie Li