Destinations / North America / Arizona

3 Exciting Ways to Do a Day Trip to Sedona from Phoenix

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There are few states I love visiting more than Arizona. I’ve been dozens of times but continue finding new and wonderful corners to explore. The state is rich in history, culture, nature and opportunities to relax, and there are few better ways to experience that texture than on a day trip to Sedona from Phoenix. In just the last year I’ve visited Sedona twice, once on a day trip from Phoenix with kids and the other for a girls weekend getaway, and I’ve previously visited many times over the decades.

Now I won’t fault you for planning a weekend (or longer in Sedona) – I’ve done that too. But one of the best things about a day trip from Phoenix to Sedona is that it’s totally feasible. You can generally make the drive in about 90 minutes if you don’t stop on your road trip to Sedona, though if you need a coffee or breakfast option I’ve heard great things about Nora Jeans Koffee Kitchen.

After reading this article on day trips to Sedona, you’ll have three great choices that will satisfy every type of traveler! Each day’s itinerary can be thought of as morning and afternoon blocks, so feel free to mix and match to craft your perfect one day in Sedona. And if you’d rather stay a few nights to discover all the wonderful things to do in Sedona, you can easily combine these into a Sedona weekend itinerary.

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Tips for Planning a Day Trip from Phoenix to Sedona

While it’s possible to book a tour to Sedona, I recommend renting a car and visiting on your own if you’re able to. You’ll be able to enjoy the area’s tranquility and mix-and-match which Sedona attractions you want to see, rather than being beholden to a set schedule or someone else’s priorities.

There isn’t usually too much traffic on the 115 mile drive from Phoenix to Sedona, but weekends I recommend hitting the road early just in case. On weekdays, traffic within Phoenix can be brutal during rush hour. If you plan to visit Sedona on a weekday, you might consider staying on the northern end of Scottsdale for a quick getaway – JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa and Fairmont Scottsdale Princess are good options.

Within Uptown Sedona, traffic can be absolutely brutal! The secret is definitely out. Arriving in the center town as early as possible can help, but if you’re planning to go on a weekend or during Spring Break, for example, be sure to pack your patience.

Parking can be a challenge in popular areas. The Courthouse Vista lot gives you the best access to Bell Rock, but try to go early or close to sunset to get a space. Likewise, parking in town can get full and you may have to walk from one of the farther lots. If someone in your group faces mobility challenges, you may consider dropping them off before you seek parking that may feel like it’s in New Mexico. But there are parking lots, so take heart and follow the signs.

Bring your America the Beautiful National Parks Pass! There are several locations in and around Sedona where it’s accepted and can get you either free admission or free parking.

Choose a Sedona restaurant with the best view for lunch if you can, unless you plan for an early dinner or are visiting when sunset is especially late. Once the sun goes down in Sedona, it’s basically pitch black.

If you can, squeeze in a Sedona photo session. We had so much fun doing this during our girls trip to Sedona! We booked Whitney from Flytographer and she did a great job capturing our personalities and the stunning landscape. Save $25 on your session with coupon FAMILYVOYAGE.

3 Options for a Sedona Day Trip from Phoenix

These three Sedona itineraries for one day will give you options for morning, mid-day and afternoon. I’ve deliberately left out most dining, as much of the area is compact enough that you can choose from plenty of great options that I’ll outline in the next section.

Option 1: The Relaxing Sedona Day Trip

If you’ve come to Arizona to relax, you’re not alone. The Grand Canyon State seems to have spas and golf courses everywhere you turn. With this one day Sedona itinerary, you enjoy Sedona’s unique twist without anything that’s too physically taxing.

Start your day off with a visit to the famous Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park in Sedona. This meditative space is located at the base of Thunder Mountain and many visitors feel that the Buddha’s presence can be felt here, but it’s open to people of all faiths.

While we hiked a circuitous path to visit the Stupa from our fantastic Sedona vacation rental, there’a also plenty of dedicated parking for this popular site – just be respectful of local residents, as this is located in a neighborhood. It’s a great place to enjoy the scenery and some quiet, reflective time. The stupa and prayer flags are so striking against the backdrop of the red rocks!

Next head to Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village in town but off of busy Rte 89A, and with ample free parking on-site. Since the 1970s this has been a hub of Sedona’s booming art scene. There are more galleries and boutiques than you can imagine, and the complex’s architecture will make you feel like you’ve been transported to a riad in Morocco. Enjoy gallery hopping, lunch, coffee and the general ambiance here.

Your final stop is just a quick stroll away. Treat yourself to a decadent massage and some detox time in the very steamy steam room at Los Abrigados Resort & Spa. Between you and me, this was one of the best massages I’ve ever had! The hotel itself is beautiful and would be a great place to stay in Sedona if you want to extend your visit. When you book a massage you’ll get full-day access to all of the hotel’s facilities, including the large fitness room and the inviting outdoor pool.

Option 2: The Adventurous Day Trip to Sedona from Phoenix

Sedona is a great place to get outside and breathe some of the freshest air you’ll find while you challenge your body and pump up the adrenaline. Be sure to bring lots of water with you, as the elevation and low humidity can take their toll on you.

Start this itinerary for a Sedona day trip by arriving at the Courthouse Vista parking lot as early as you can. You’ll want to snag a coveted parking spot so that you can climb all the way through the lower and upper Bell Rock trails and finally reach the summit. [info about hike distance/time and summit]. The views are gorgeous, and you’ll appreciate them even more knowing you’ve earned them.

After a much-deserved lunch at Mesa Grill at the Sedona airport, head into town to check in for an off-road Jeep tour. An experienced guide will take you in a specially equipped Jeep for an off-roading adventure you’ll never forget! I did three different Sedona Jeep tours in 2022, and adrenaline junkies will love Diamondback Gulch. It’s non-stop boulder crawling, insanely steep descents and ascents and epic views for miles and miles. 

Whomever gets the most motion sick in your group should definitely take the front seat. And be sure not to wear a white shirt (as I did) or you’ll come back looking orange from all the dirt that gets kicked up! I recommend bringing a light jacket or fleece, as the ride back in the evening can get chilly.

One warning about Pink Jeep Tours with kids: Though their website makes reference to car seats, this is one activity that made me extremely uneasy as a car seat technician once we arrived. The Jeeps are equipped with lap belts and have lots of padding around the roll cage. You’re able to install a harnessed car seat along the back bench, but there’s no top tether so ideally you would only do this for a rear facing child. Car seats are not tested on side-facing seats and booster seats are not approved for use with lap belts. The route to get to the National Forest does go on some major paved roads before you arrive in more remote areas.

Your tour will return you to town, which is a great opportunity to stroll around and window shop some of the local galleries. Sedona is full of artists with wide-ranging styles, but nearly all sharing their own interpretation of the local culture and natural beauty.

Option 3: The History Buff’s Sedona Day Trip

While most of Arizona’s current population lives in the southern and central parts of the state, its most interesting history is further north. This Sedona day trip itinerary is different from the other two because the first two stops aren’t in Sedona at all! But trust me, they’re worth your time.

You’ll veer west from your route along I-17 to step back into the “wild west” in the old mining town of Jerome. Established in the 1880s for copper mining, it reached its heyday in the 1920s thanks to the efforts of United Verde Extension Mining Company. Over the decades, much of Jerome burned or collapsed and was rebuilt repeatedly until eventually most of the residents left to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

You can learn all about Jerome’s fascinating history and see some of its important relics by starting off at Jerome State Historic Park. Don’t miss the movie, which gives so much context to what you’ll see in the town. Once you finish at the museum, drive over to what remains of town to poke around. There are remnants of historic buildings intermingled with newer shops, some of which nod to Jerome’s new status as a hippie enclave. There’s also a small Jerome Mine Museum in town, which focuses on both the town and its people. For a richer visit, consider taking this tour to make the town come to life as you stroll through.

I recommend that you grab lunch in Jerome, as it’ll be a little while before you get to Sedona proper. I’ve heard excellent reviews of Haunted Hamburger, which is conveniently located in the heart of town.

Back on the highway, your next stop goes much further back in Arizona’s history. Montezuma’s Castle is a well-preserved Sinagua cliff dwelling dating back to around 1100-1400. A self-guided visit to this National Monument takes about 30-45 minutes along the fully-accessible path, but I recommend stopping in to watch the park movie for a deeper understanding of the site. You’ll get free admission with you America the Beautiful National Parks Pass.

Interestingly, during my most recent visit I encountered a group of rangers out on the trail discussing the shifting interpretation of the site’s story thanks to both advances in scientific methods and more involvement of local tribes to collect their oral histories. It’s amazing to see archeology at work beyond the dig sites that most of us think of!

Finally, at long last, you’ll make your way into Sedona. Prepare to be blown away by the stunning scenery of the red rocks! Head directly to Pink Jeep Tours in Uptown for the Ancient Ruins tour, which takes you deep into the Coconino National Forest to the Honanki Heritage Site.

While Montezuma’s Castle is a fantastic example set high up on the cliff face, Honanki is lower down and offers an incredible opportunity to see details. You’ll see how the Sinagua’s construction methods evolved over time as they learned different methods from other Native American communities. There are also thousands of pictograms that you’ll observe up close, with different styles and colors reflecting different era’s of the site’s use.

This is a sacred location for the local Hopi community and is still used for rituals today, so the tour schedule may have some gaps – check ahead for your planned visit date. Note that there is about 15 minutes of walking each way, some of which is on an uneven forest path.

Your visit to Honanki will end as the sun is getting low, casting a stunning glow on the red rocks all around you. It’s the perfect way to end your day in Sedona! Your driver will bring you back to town and you’re free to explore Sedona’s art galleries and grab dinner at one of the many restaurants below.

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Where to Stay in Sedona

After reading about all of these awesome things to do in Sedona, you may just decide that it’s worth staying up there for a few nights! If you’re debating where to stay in Sedona it’s worth thinking about what activities you plan to prioritize. Visitors who are mostly going to be doing things in town (like Sedona Jeep tours and art galleries) should consider Uptown Sedona hotels that are walking distance to to heart of town, which will help avoid some of the traffic at peak times. If you’ll be focused more on hiking or visiting historic sites outside of town, you may want to stay outside of town for more tranquility.

Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villas – Best place to stay in Sedona with kids thanks to free breakfast, pool and game room along with amazing views and central location in Uptown

Hyatt Residence Club Sedona Piñon Pointe – Best place to stay in Sedona to avoid traffic and parking without being right in Uptown, plus it’s seconds away from great dining options

Los Abrigados Resort & Spa – Best Sedona hotel for arts lovers thanks to its location at Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village

L’Auberge de Sedona – The nicest luxury hotel in Sedona, with a price to match

Sedona vacation rental – We stayed at this lovely Sedona Airbnb for a girls weekend and it would be perfect for groups and families. It’s in a peaceful residential area close to the Stupa.

Where to Eat in Sedona

There are basically two types of restaurants in Sedona: those with amazing views, and those without views. After many years of visiting, I can tell you that you want to pick the Sedona restaurant with the best view for lunch rather than dinner unless you’re visiting when sunset is very late. The good news is that you’ll find awesome Sedona restaurants at all price points.

Tamaliza Cafe is one of my top picks for a relatively budget-friendly restaurant in Sedona with a view. The food is excellent, authentic Mexican food prepared from scratch in the small kitchen. Try to snag the bar that faces the front window from great views while you eat.

Wildflower has excellent soups, salads and sandwiches that you can enjoy on their scenic patio or in the airy dining room.

Pisa Lisa offers fantastic gourmet pizzas, which you can eat on-site or take to go as well. The wait here can be very long, so call ahead with your order!

Fiesta Mexican serves up great budget-friendly Mexican food. There’s no view since it faces the “wrong way”, so save this for dining at the end of your very full day.

Mesa Grill is one of the most famous restaurants in Sedona for its view and proximity to “the Vortex” but it’s incredibly difficult to get a reservation. Trust me, I’ve tried. If you plan to eat here, call as far in advance as you can and book either lunch or an hour before sunset.

The Vault is a nice restaurant in a convenient location with great views to boot. They have patio dining available, so you can try to stop here for a fancy lunch with Option 1 or Option 2 Sedona itineraries – but reserve early! We enjoyed a nice dinner here, but unfortunately it was far too dark to enjoy the spectacular view.

Rascal Modern Diner serves up lovely food and is owned by the same folks as Mesa Grill above. Unfortunately there’s no view here, but the food is fresh and tasty.

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Planning your trip to Arizona

Don’t miss these helpful Arizona travel articles as you plan your upcoming trip!

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