Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Sedona offer a diverse range of activities for the whole family. Start in the Valley of the Sun and explore downtown Phoenix’s museums and parks, then head north to Sedona for a series of outdoor adventures. Finally, make your way back to Scottsdale for some Old West fun.
Fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and check into your resort. You’ve got plenty of time to explore the city, so spend the afternoon taking advantage of the resort’s amenities, which range from water parks and tennis courts to day camps for kids.
There’s no better place to begin your trip to Phoenix than at its ancient foundations, the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park. Go inside reconstructed pit houses and learn more about archaeology in the interactive gallery. Head to neighboring Tempe Town Lake, where you can rent paddleboats or let the little ones run wild in the water-soaked Splash Playground. Have lunch at one of Mill Avenue’s many family-friendly restaurants before crossing back over the lake to Papago Park to tour the Phoenix Zoo, where you can touch stingrays or duck into the walk-through Monkey Village. In the evening, sample tacos and fajitas at Macayo’s Depot Cantina or dine inside Tempe’s oldest building, Monti’s La Casa Vieja.
Begin your third day in the Valley at Matt’s Big Breakfast or Scramble. Afterward, visit the Arizona State Capitol, restored to its original look in 1912, the year of Arizona’s statehood. Nearby, the Wells Fargo Museum highlights the state’s Wild West past. Consider a picnic lunch at Civic Space Park, where kids play in the grass or splash around in the water features, or Encanto Park, home of Enchanted Island Amusement Park.
If it’s too hot to be outdoors, grab a bite at the Arizona Science Center, a delightfully interactive museum in Heritage and Science Park. Younger kids may prefer the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, across 7th Street. Older teens may enjoy a tour of Phoenix’s progressive art and design at the Phoenix Art Museum and the Burton Barr Central Library, which offers brilliant views of the Phoenix skyline. Tonight, try dinner at one of downtown’s pizzerias, like Cibo or the renowned Pizzeria Bianco.
It’s time to immerse yourself in the Sonoran Desert, with a morning hike in South Mountain Park, the world’s largest municipal park. Hunt for ancient Native American petroglyphs or explore the pristine trails on horseback. Reward your adventurous spirit with a hearty, gourmet brunch at the open-air The Farm at South Mountain. Explore the mountainside Mystery Castle, a private home built from objects found in the desert, or you may want to take the kids to Rawhide Western Town. The 1880s-themed Old West burg features dusty streets, stagecoach rides, and old-fashioned carnival games. After lunch, cross to the East Valley to pan for “gold,” visit a territorial jail, and scope out the three-story Dinosaur Mountain at the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa. Relax poolside at your resort before staking out a good spot for viewing the sunset.
Today, discover Arizona’s rich Native American history. Spend the morning at the Heard Museum, an impressive introduction to Arizona’s original inhabitants and culture. Head north on I-17 to Montezuma Castle National Monument. The stunning five-story cliff dwelling near Camp Verde was once inhabited by the ancient Sinagua people. Shady tables near Beaver Creek make a good spot for a picnic (unless, of course, you stopped for lunch at the Rock Springs Café and sampled their famous fresh-baked pies). Just up the interstate, you can witness more Sinagua ingenuity in the petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, and early irrigation ditches at Montezuma Well, one of Arizona’s unique geological wonders, a limestone sinkhole fed by 1.5 million gallons of water every day by underground springs.
From there, take I-17 to SR 179 and Sedona, driving into town on the Red Rock Scenic Byway to admire the monolithic Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, and Cathedral Rock. Stop to tour Chapel of the Holy Cross, an elegant, Modernist church that appears to rise out of the red rocks, offering panoramic views. Check into your hotel, and after dinner, consider a Sedona Stargazing Tours adventure with an astronomer who will guide you around Sedona’s star-studded nighttime sky.
Have a hearty breakfast at Coffee Pot Restaurant and stroll the easy trails at Red Rock State Park or Crescent Moon Ranch Picnic Area, which features postcard views of Oak Creek and Cathedral Rock. Also, you can’t come to Sedona without venturing into the backcountry on one of the ubiquitous Jeep tours. The guided journeys are a fun way to learn the names of Sedona’s rock formations while getting an introduction to geology and wildlife. Pick up sandwiches at Sedona Memories or Indian Gardens before continuing north on SR 89A to explore the leafy refuge of Oak Creek Canyon. Hike the streamside West Fork Trail or plunge down the 80-foot-long natural rock slide at Slide Rock State Park. Explore the courtyards and stairways of Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village and get a treetop view while you dine at Oak Creek Brewery and Grill or The Hideaway Restaurant.
Take a side trip to the Old West mining town of Jerome. The hillside community was once called the “Wickedest Town in the West,” and today it’s a National Historic Landmark, welcoming visitors with a host of small cafés, shops, galleries, and saloons. Have lunch at Quince and learn about the Little Daisy Mine at the Jerome State Historic Park. Before driving back to the Valley of the Sun, consider a stop at Tuzigoot National Monument or Dead Horse Ranch State Park, a lush stretch of the Verde River that offers hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and equestrian areas. Make the 90-minute drive back to Scottsdale, where you check into one of the city’s sprawling resorts.
Reacquaint yourself with the Valley of the Sun at Camelback Mountain. The moderately difficult trails are among the best in the area, although you may want to take the little ones to McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, where they can ride the popular train or beautifully restored carousel. If your family includes a budding musician, spend the afternoon at the fabulous and fun Musical Instrument Museum, taking a break for lunch at the museum’s excellent cafeteria. Or keep heading north on Scottsdale Road to Frontier Town in Cave Creek. Continue the Wild West theme with a steak dinner at Pinnacle Peak or Reata Pass, a historic stage stop.
Today, you may want to camp out at your resort to enjoy the pools, tennis courts, and golf courses. However, if you’re looking for a little adventure, travel east to explore the Superstition Mountains via the Apache Trail. Stop at Lost Dutchman State Park or the recreated mining town of Goldfield, or join a steamboat tour of Canyon Lake. Tonight, have dinner at one of Scottsdale’s iconic Mexican restaurants, and then venture into the hidden nocturnal desert on an outing with Stellar Adventures to spot wildlife with the aid of night-vision goggles.
On your last day in Scottsdale, wander the Western-themed streets of Old Town to pick up last-minute souvenirs and gifts. Hop on and off the free Scottsdale Trolley, which stops in the three arts districts and at Scottsdale Fashion Square. Grab lunch at The Orange Table or The Sugar Bowl before you have to catch your flight home.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona.