With its glorious landscapes and new age vibes, Sedona is perfect to explore nature or browse art. Here are the best things to do in Sedona.
Locals say that God created the Grand Canyon but he lives in Sedona. Watching the sunset turn Sedona’s sweeping red rocks to orange makes it easy to see how this small desert city rivals the state’s biggest tourist destinations.
Sedona’s majestic landscape holds sites sacred to the Native Americans. The Yavapai and Apache tribes lived in the area before they were forced onto a reservation in 1876.
Today the city pulls in enthusiasts of the New Age spiritual movement who still believe in the healing powers of its red earth.
Surrealist painter Max Ernst built a quiet home in Sedona after fleeing Paris to escape the horrors of World War II. Similarly inspired artwork fills the city’s galleries today, where you can find anything from Southwestern kitsch, masterful watercolors and Native American pottery.
Sedona offers great hiking trails and outdoor adventures that make it a perfect weekend family destination. The epic red sandstone formations serve as backdrops in dozens of Westerns, from John Wayne classics to the more recent 3:10 to Yuma.
Sedona is surrounded by this awe-inspiring nature. And its art galleries, quirky boutiques, five-star spas and historical sites make Sedona an ever-fascinating destination.
Nestled inside the Coconino National Forest, this beautiful city is named after Sedona Schnebly, the wife of the city’s first postmaster known for her hospitality.
The first Anglo settlers came in 1876, and Sedona developed into a tourist attraction and retirement destination in the 1950s. With a average high temperature of 57 F (14 C) in January, Sedona is a wildly popular getaway to escape a harsh winter.
Here are the best things to do in Sedona:
1. Explore the Airport Loop Trail
The drive into Sedona is spectacular as the tall Saguaro cacti and flat desert give way to red sandstone formations. A short walk along a trail is a great start to a Sedona day trip.
The Airport Loop Trail, a 3.2 mile (5.1-km) trail that snakes around the city’s tiny airport, doesn’t take much exertion and offers stunning views – especially at golden hour and sunset. It’s moderate but it does get rocky and narrow, so good hiking shoes make things much easier. In the summer months, there’s little shade so pack plenty of cold water.
The air is crisp and smells lightly of creosote bushes. This resinous aroma, once used by Native Americans for congestion, grows pungent during summer rains. You can also spot clusters of tiny wildflowers and prickly pear cactuses. Lizards or red frogs scurry amid the red rocks. Ocotillo bushes and their twisting trunks spring from the rocky mountains and the occasional plane can be heard zipping past.
You can hike, run or mountain bike this trail, or bring your dog along on a leash. Take the trail in either direction for 360 degree views of Sedona and all its major natural landmarks. You’ll see the Oak Creek Valley, Cathedral Rock and Airport Mesa.
2. Take in the views at Airport Mesa
These sweeping views are some of the best in the city, especially at sunrise or sunset. Airport Mesa is also a great spot to just sit and take in the landscape.
And there’s no hiking required. Airport Mesa is a short, easy drive that ends at 360 views of Sedona. Just drive west on Highway 89A and turn at Airport Drive, then take the short road up the hill.
Familiarise yourself with the local red rock formations and you’ll be able to spot Thunder Mountain, Coffeepot Rock, Ship Rock and Chimney Rock, among others.
This popular sunset spot is easily accessible from anywhere in town, and there’s a large parking area and an overlook where people from around the world gather to watch the sun going down.
Like several other special spots in Sedona, some believe that Airport Mesa – along with its brilliant views – holds spiritual energy as a powerful vortex.
And while sunsets can get very crowded, sunrises are less in demand and you just might get the site all to yourself.
The views are so good that even the locals love this hike.
3. Visit the Crescent Moon Ranch
The nearby Crescent Moon Ranch includes one of the most photographed areas of the Southwestern US: the majestic Cathedral Rock with Oak Creek streaming past at Red Rock Crossing.
The picnic area at this site is a beautiful historic prelude to your nature walk, and it’s a perfect spot to photograph the remnants of the area’s first settlers. There are picnic tables, water and toilets available. But come on weekday mornings to avoid the crowds.
A rustic historic ranch house stands in this field. Early Anglo settler John Lee, a cattleman from Prescott, shoveled through rock and dirt here in the late 1800s to make a ditch to divert water to the OK ranch and create the area’s first homestead. The ranch got a custom-built water wheel some 30 years later. It drove a water pump and an electric generator to bring lights to the ranch.
The ranch changed hands multiple times. It passed from Lee to Elizabeth Ragsdale, a local midwife who raised cattle and was briefly married to a San Quinton escapee. The ranch was eventually turned into an orchard with award-winning peaches that boasted some 1,5000 fruit trees by 1916.
But the very first inhabitants of Oak Creek date back to 700-900 AD, when the area was used for seasonal farming. The valley was home to Yavapai and Apache Native Americans before Anglo settlers arrived in the 19th century.
A room with a view
Today the ranch house can be rented out for $200 a night for incredible views from the living room and a stone’s throw away from Oak Creek.
The U.S. Forest Service purchased the property in 1980 and painstakingly restored a 1938 home on the site, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, to create a stunning ranch house getaway. The rustic hideaway sleeps up to 10 people and includes three bedrooms and a wood-panelled great room. Lee’s original barn stands a few hundred yards away. You can hear the waters of Oak Creek from the screened porch, and a private patio offers spectacular views of Cathedral Rock.
4. Dip into Oak Creek
Further into the ranch, down a narrow pathway lined with berry bushes, the towering Cathedral Rock reflects in the waters of Oak Creek. This is Sedona’s most iconic, Instagram-worthy view.
Children love to swim here in the summer and during more moderate winters. Visitors stack “prayer rocks” into tall, gravity-defying piles to leave their mark. These piles balance on tree branches and along the trails that run alongside the creek.
Oak Creek is also a photographer’s dream for postcard-perfect shots of Cathedral Rock, a short hike away through brush and cottonwood trees.
Crowds in the summertime love to wade in the creek. Fishermen try their luck in the waters while plein air painters capture the scenery on canvas. The site is also a favorite destination for photography symposiums and spiritualists looking for some positive vibes. In the summer, it’s an excellent swimming hole that’s shaded by expansive sycamore and oak trees.
The Red Rock Crossing is also about a mile hike away from Buddha Beach, popular among the New Age crowd as a powerful energy center filled with more stacked rocks, spiritual guides and meditative crowds. In the spring, the Oak Creek’s high waters wash the rocks away. The stacks are later rebuilt once again in the rocky circle of life.
5. Do yoga at a vortex site
Sedona is famous among the New Age community as a “vortex site,” which is a geographic location said to have a unique energy. At a vortex site, energy is said to move strongly in a spiral motion. Some believe it’s why the juniper trees at certain places around Sedona have twisting trunks.
But the best way to experience this spiritual magic yourself is to hike to a vortex site and roll out your mat. There are guided tours that organize mindfulness excursions, but you can set up on your own and unwind with a meditation or yoga session amid the red rocks.
Sedona itself is said to be a vortex site, but there are locations around the city that reportedly have more powerful vortex energy. Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and the Airport Mesa are some of the more popular vortex sites among mystics and healers.
How do vortex sites occur? One explanation uses theory of ley lines to explain this phenomenon. Other theories point to Sedona’s Red Rocks (which contain iron deposits) or the crystals within Sedona’s geography.
— contributed by Valentina of Valentina’s Destinations
6. Browse some authentic Sedona souvenirs
Shopping for authentic art and souvenirs can be tricky. Many shops downtown are overpriced compared to Phoenix. And things can get kitschy. There are badly-executed watercolors of cowboys riding off into the sunset and plastic cacti magnets.
If you’re on a budget, browse the local thrift stores for genuine pieces at bargain prices.
For more artsy shopping, Hillside Sedona has three levels of galleries amid red rock views. You’ll find local jewellery, gorgeous bronze, oil and glasswork, along with crystals from around the world. Stan Rose Images has some gorgeous local photography of Sedona landscapes.
Sedona is a dream for retail therapy. You’ll find anything from fine art galleries and authentic silver jewellery to wineries and quirky gift shops.
The Sedona Arts Center has a Fine Art Gallery showcasing an array of local artists and photographers, if you’re looking for an original keepsake. There are classes if you want to immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant arts community. There are also an array of annual cultural events including the Sedona Plein Air Festival in late October.
For foodies, head to The Art of Wine in uptown Sedona, which features 25 different Arizona wineries and hosts tasting events.
And to feed your soul, Sedona Crystal Vortex has knowledgeable service and an incredible collection of crystals and minerals, while also offering aura readings and massages.
7. Stroll through the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village
The Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village with its cobblestone maze of upscale shops, restaurants and fountain-filled courtyard has become a Sedona landmark in its own right.
Tlaquepaque means “the best of everything” in the Nahuatl Native American language. It was built in the 1970s on the banks of Oak Creek and modelled after a traditional Mexican village. It includes gorgeous details like wrought iron railing, hand-painted tiles and masonry walls.
Shady sycamores provide cool breezes in the summer. Vines dangle from the rustic stucco walls and potted flowers frame the arched entryways. Cottonwood trees line the winding streets and nestle some 50 different shops and art galleries, along with four plazas.
It’s also a wedding destination – there’s an intimate chapel on site. And the village plays host to cultural events like Flamenco in the Courtyard concerts, Day of the Dead celebrations and an annual tree-lighting ceremony.
The art galleries and specialty shops at Tlaquepaque offer original and eclectic art, from bronze sculptures to traditional ceramics and glassblown art. There are also Southwestern paintings, decor pieces, large format photography and contemporary jewellery. The wide range of unusual and creative offerings make this village a discovery for the senses.
Tlaquepaque also holds five delectable restaurants, from Mexican to fine French dining. There’s also an on-site brewery with a gorgeous oak bar and The Secret Garden Cafe, which offers patio dining and plenty of vegetarian options.
Best shops at Tlaquepaque
The El Picaflor is a stand-out with handmade Andean folk art, ceramics and alpaca garments. You’ll also find gorgeous flutes from Peru and colorful ceramic skulls associated with Mexico’s Day of the Dead.
Environmental Realists features the handwork of some 120 local artisans, from wooden games and silver jewellery to beautiful copper clocks and multi-wood cutting boards.
Renee Taylor Gallery is a bright and colorful boutique that offers jewellery, spinning wind scupltures and original paintings.
The Chai Spot is a dazzling cafe serving up homemade chai in a sprawling lounge lined with colorful cushions handmade in Pakistan. It was founded by an Italian-American and Pakistani couple whose love of chai was a common link during their stereotype-defying courtship.
8. Browse at the Center for the New Age
Across the street from Tlaquepaque, on the other side of State Route 179, lays the massive superstore Center for the New Age. Brimming with crystals, astrology books and nature sounds CDs that promise inner peace, the center also offers psychic readings and aura photos.
The New Age movement has been booming in Sedona since the 1970s. Hippies and spiritual seekers claim the city holds vortexes of electromagnetic energy amid the red rock landscape that boast special healing powers.
The Center for the New Age is a good starting point if you’d like to dig into this scene. Or if you’d just like to pick up a souvenir crystal or two.
They offer a long line-up of psychic readers with amazed client testimonials that you can book for an appointment. There are also nighttime UFO sighting tours on offer with military night vision goggles. Sightings are guaranteed or your money back, the center says.
Or sign up for a vortex experience. One of the center’s expert tour guides will guide you through one of Sedona’s four “swirling centers of subtle energy coming out from the surface of the earth.”
The Center for the New Age is also a good spot to find info about upcoming yoga or meditation workshops. If you’re looking for a “portal to the Mer Ka Ba,” it’s here too. In the form of a pyramid-shaped sculpture topped with a spinning sphere that plays soothing music.
9. Visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross
This stunning Roman Catholic chapel is build right into the red buttes of Sedona – and it turns very picturesque at sunset.
The Chapel of the Holy Cross was first dreamed up by local rancher and sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who’d been a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Staude was inspired by the recently constructed Empire State Building to erect a chapel inside the Coconino National Forest. The chapel was built – with a special-use permit – over 18 months and completed in 1956.
A curvy ramp leads to the entrance of the chapel. Inside, a tall iron cross inspired by New York’s skyscraper is the centerpiece. The cross is held up by concrete walls and measures 90 ft (27.4 m) tall. The entire structure sits at the base of a 1,500 ft (457 m) cliff and, inside, offers sweeping views of Sedona’s landscapes from its enormous windows.
Stately and minimalist, the chapel is one of Arizona’s man-made wonders and a destination for both Christians and New Age mystics alike.
10. Take a slippery swim at the Slide Rock State Park
When the sun beats down in the Arizona summer, this state park (7 miles from Sedona) makes for some hilarious fun in the cold water. Just grab a seat on one of the smooth rocks and push yourself off for a wild ride downstream.
Slide Rock State Park was originally a historic 43-acre apple farm that used an innovative irrigation system to make its orchard blossom at Oak Creek Canyon. But vacationers began coming more into the canyon, and rustic cabins were built in 1933 . Today, the cabins are available for viewing and the site still contains a working apple farm.
But the park’s main attraction is the slippery bed of Oak Creek. The canyon bed makes a natural water slide that’s hilarious fun for adults and children alike. Slide Rock is a natural waterpark that’s surrounded by nature. And USA Today ranks it the fifth best swimming hole in the country.
The rock slide area measures 80 feet long with a 7 percent decline from start to finish. Algae growing along the rocks propel you down the slide as the scenery whizzes past.
Red rock formations surround the park and there are three hiking trails to explore and picnic ramadas for lunch.
Upgrade to the first-class car and you’ll get food and drinks along the way, including a champagne toast to being your journey. If you’re booking the coach class seats, there’s a cafeteria where you can buy snacks for the four-hour trip through the Verde Valley.
Every car has access to an open-air viewing car where you’ll likely spend most of your time. For special occasions, you can even rent out a caboose that accommodates up to six people.
Shortly after pulling out of the Clarkdale station, you’ll see some cliff dwellings from the pre-Columbian Sinagua people. You’ll cross the lush Verde River and glimpse the native flora and fauna before entering Sedona’s well-known red rock landscape. The scenery is incredible on this trip!
In addition to daily tours, Verde Canyon Railroad hosts special events like the fall color tour, a wine-tasting tour and starlight rides. This renovated vintage train has a rare and powerful locomotive and offers a step back to a more leisurely era of travel.
— contributed by Leigh of Campfires & Concierges
12. Hike the Cathedral Rock Trail
Cathedral Rock is perfect if you’re short on time but want to squeeze in one of Sedona’s most thrilling hikes into your itinerary. You’ll be in awe of the sweeping views of the iconic red rock formations.
But Cathedral Rock is a popular hike so prepare for crowds, especially on weekends. Start early to avoid the day’s heat and score a parking spot.
The trail is only about 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometres). But it can be challenging for some hikers because it’s all uphill with a 740-foot elevation gain. Keep good hiking practices in mind and wear hiking boots with a good grip to prevent slipping when you’re descending the trail. And don’t forget plenty of water especially in the hot Arizona summers.
The trail has incredible scenery for miles and views of some local homes build right into the mountains.
Once you’ve hit the “end of trail” sign you can walk right and continue on the narrow pathway for some epic views and a great photo opp. It’s a short walk but not for the faint of heart – so tread cautiously.
— contributed by Jeanine of Le Wild Explorer
13. Ride the Red Rock Scenic Byway
Ranked as the state’s most scenic drive, the Red Rock Scenic Byway (SR 179) is sprinkled with Sedona’s red rock formations and Native American cliff dwellings.
It offers roadside views of Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock – and plenty of spots to pull over for photos.
Many of the pull-offs on this 14-mile (22 km) drive have short but breathtaking hiking trails to explore. The byways is called a “museum without walls” and the light is always changing depending on the time of day. It’s especially stunning at sunrise and sunset.
There are plenty of sharp turns and swirling curves on this road that bring you close to the local nature and offer moving perspectives of Sedona’s rocky icons. Geological features, mountain biking trails and two golf courses line this drive, cutting through the yucca, sagebrush and ponderosas of the Coconino National Forest.
Honored with the name “All American Road,” the Red Rock Scenic Byway is a destination in itself. And it’s one of the most gorgeous memories visitors take away from Sedona.
Though you’ll likely use this Sedona main road to get around town, the Red Rock Scenic Byway is worth a drive on its own from start to finish.
14. Catch a sunset with a view
As evening nears in Sedona, it’s not hard to find a good view to watch the sunset. Whether you’re on a hiking trail or shopping uptown, it’s not difficult to find a good spot. Picturesque red rock formations surround the city and take on an ethereal glow at dusk.
For the best photos that capture that otherworldly sunset orange glow, position yourself with the sun behind you. Shoot in front as the sun hits the landscape.
Here are the best spots to watch a sunset in Sedona:
Red Rock Crossing: the shimmering waters of Oak Creek and the towering red Cathedral Rock are picture-perfect at sunset.
Airport Mesa: this spot is easily accessible by car and boasts 360 views of Sedona. But get there early to stake a good spot.
15. Cozy up at a Southwestern hotel
There are enough outdoor adventures in Sedona for a longer trip. And staying overnight makes it easier to catch those spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
But make reservations in the winter. Many “snowbird” visitors flock from colder states to the Arizona sunshine and rooms fill up fast.
A beautiful hotel in an atmospheric setting lets you appreciate Sedona beyond the rushed day trip.
The El Portal hotel is known for boutique elegance and rustic Southwestern decor. Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report named it one of America’s eight best hotels.
El Portal is a small and charming luxury inn – and Sedona’s only arts & crafts adobe hotel. It’s a short walk from Tlaquepaque, nestled amid leafy trees. There’s a vine-covered garden courtyard where guests gather around a fire pit.
Inside, hand-sculpted walls and windows framed in 200-year-old recycled wood create a rustic elegance. Each of the twelve guest suites is unique. Gorgeous details like adobe fireplaces, worn leather armchairs, juniper beams and Navajo rugs give the rooms personality. Many rooms have a private terrace and unique decor made by Southwestern artists.
After a day of hiking the rugged Sedona valley, you can snuggle into a cozy lounge chair by an outdoor fireplace. The embers echo the glow of the red rocks still fresh in your mind.
16. Spend a night stargazing
Save some energy for exploring Sedona at night too! The city is fantastic for stargazing with its minimal light pollution and it’s got tons of dedicated stargazing tours. You should absolutely add a nighttime expedition to your Sedona itinerary.
In fact, Sedona is one of only 20 dedicated Certified Dark Sky communities in the US, which means the region is careful to limit light pollution. So you don’t have to venture far for super-dark skies perfect for stargazing. The rocky landscapes are also an astrophotographer’s dream and make for a dramatic foreground.
Dark skies are only a short drive away, especially at the Two Trees Observing Deck, the Jordan Trailhead Observing Area or the Crescent Moon Picnic Site. All the locations are incredible for spotting faraway stars.
Stargazing in Sedona is an incredible experience year-round, though visibility can get cloudy in the monsoon season of July and August.
Whether you opt for a stargazing tour with telescope that helps you see far-away galaxies and planets, or a “UFO spotting” tour that uses binoculars with night vision, you’re sure to see a plethora of beautiful stars. It’s an experience that will make you feel small in our great, wide universe.