When I think of Arizona, the image of a cactus pops in my head. It wasn’t until I traveled there that I realized how humongous those things actually get! Having the opportunity to drive into the state on a road trip from California, I was able to witness the cactus-forests that line the rocky roads and wide open planes of this sunny state.
After exploring several cities in Arizona, I discovered that there was more to this state than cacti and hot weather. Arizona is a state of many climates, landscapes, and cultural influences that vary from city to city.
Here are the top 3 cities to see in Arizona:
Phoenix has a big city feel with its high-rises and busy streets, although it is still surrounded by desert. As the capital of Arizona, there is plenty of things to do here, making it a popular place for University students and tourists alike.
Take a walk through downtown and marvel at the illuminating art that decorates the streets of the Roosevelt Row Arts District. From building walls to sidewalk benches to power boxes, this area is blanketed with incredible art from local artists. See if you can find the infamous Angel Wings mural for a trendy Insta-pic.
Want to discover the different types of plants and succulents that Arizona has to offer? Spend the day strolling through the Desert Botanical Garden. There are four different trails that have their own unique theme, including one filled with wildflowers and butterflies (who knew so many beautiful flowers could flourish in such heat?!). Cool off and admire some art in the on-site art galleries, then grab a farm/pasture-to-plate lunch at Gertrude’s before you leave.
Admission Cost: $25-$30
This is THE brunch spot in Phoenix! The stunning entrance at Ocotillo is lined with vibrant yellow-flowered trees, and you can choose to dine inside their open floor space restaurant, or out on their terrace or lawn. The brunch menu is full of sweet, savory, and light dishes–all which sounded so good that it made it extremely hard to choose. I went with the “Smoked Brisket on Parmesan Polenta with a Fried Egg, Crispy Onions, and Brisket Jus”…my mouth is watering just thinking about it, ugh!
A place for a sweet treat in the hot, dry heat! Pop N Tea Bar is famous for their “diamond bars” made from 3D printing technology. Pick your favorite gelato or sorbetto flavor, choose your chocolate drizzle/dip, then add your favorite toppings. And don’t forget to take a picture in front of their “Today Was a Good Day” sign and @ them on Instagram. Not an ice cream fan? Their Teas and Slushies are just as poppin’!
This outdoor-style food and shopping center is the place to be, located right in the middle of Roosevelt Row. Grab some delectable bites from Freak Brothers Pizza or Provecho, and pair it with a cold one from So Far So Good or Pobrecito. Grab a seat in the outdoor lounge areas or large picnic tables to relax and chat; or challenge someone to a game of corn hole. The Churchill is a great place to visit in the day or night!
Sedona is my favorite city in Arizona. The red rocks that surround this serene town, sprinkled with green trees and tall canyons give it a beautiful 360 view no matter where you are. The multiple Vortex sites and Native-American culture give it an energy of peace and healing. The buildings all have a mesa-style architecture, the pace is slow, and the sunsets over the landscape are absolutely breathtaking.
If you want the chance to gaze upon the beautiful red and green landscape of this town, take the Sedona Trolley Tour. One tour trails you through the north side, while the other (the one I took) takes you through the south. The tour is narrated allowing you to learn the history of Sedona, and there are plenty of photo opportunities along the way. The highlight of this tour is the stop at the famous Chapel of the Holy Cross on Cathedral Rock. At this high elevation you get a stunning panoramic landscape view of Red Rock State Park.
Cost: $15 ea. tour/$25 for both tours
After a day of exploring, hiking, and walking around downtown, head over to the art and shopping center of Tlaquepaque. This village is a blend of Mexican architecture and Navajo culture. Venture through the four courtyards separated by ivy-lined walls, hand-painted tiles, and twisted iron railings. Spend your evening jamming to Flamenco Music in the Courtyard, performed by local musician Gaetano. This live show is the perfect way to wind-down from a long day.
If you’re looking for a place to dine while keeping your gaze on the red rock formations, check out Canyon Breeze Restaurant. Ask to sit on their vast outdoor patio that faces the canyon. They offer a menu of American cuisine as well as specialty cocktails (I went in October so it was a “Pumpkin Spice Martini” for me, yum!).
Bomb.com, authentic Mexican food! From their chips and salsa to their large-portioned entrees, Oaxaca Restaurant does it right. Sit in the rooftop cantina to soak in breathtaking views while enjoying your delicious meal. Order a “Desert Sunset Cocktail” for the perfect blend of tequila and prickly pear cactus!
This hotel offers clean rooms, each with their own open-style patios featuring a wicker chair swing. The property has two pools and various outdoor gazebos with cushioned chairs and fire pits (perfect for wine and charcuterie at the end of the night!). They provide a free, bountiful breakfast to all of their guests; and a chance to burn off some extra calories at their fitness center, or hiking their on-site trails.
If you don’t think of cactus when you think of Arizona (like I do), then the Grand Canyon is probably next on the list. Flagstaff is a nearby city where many tourists stay when visiting the Grand Canyon. It’s cooler climate is a nice break from the dry Arizona heat, and the scenic road between here and the Grand Canyon is lined with pine trees and jagged mountains. It’s the perfect getaway site for your Grand Canyon trip.
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, this canyon is something you can’t conceptualize until you actually see it. Pictures simply cannot do it justice. The Grand Canyon is the biggest, magnificent stretch of land form I have ever seen. Walking around the South Rim Trail provided a fully presence-inducing experience. Every step you take gives you a different angle, and completely different view of the canyon. Be sure to set aside an entire day to take this beauty in!
*Travel hack: The traffic getting into the Grand Canyon is insane. Leave early in the morning, and practice patience as you wait with thousands of others to get into this national site. Cost: $35 per vehicle
This famous restaurant is located on-site the Grand Canyon. It’s rustic, it’s elegant, and its popular among hungry tourists. Stop at El Tovar for a filling lunch before you spend the day walking around the canyon. Do your stomach a favor and order the “Signature French Onion Soup Gratinee”! Their menu offers gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options as well.
This hotel is surrounded by the most stunning landscape of pine trees and mountains. The rooms are big and comfortable, and there is a pool on-site. Sit down for a nice steak and wine dinner at the Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar; and make sure to indulge in their morning breakfast buffet! My favorite part of this hotel is the trails that run along the backside of the property. Combined with the cool weather that Flagstaff gets, these make a perfect place to have a morning jog or meditate in front of the crystal blue lake.