Located two hours north of Phoenix, Sedona is to that city what the Catskills are to New York City. In the summer, the locals make the two-hour trek up their route 17 to seek relief from the stifling heat while in the winter Sedona is a gateway to northern Arizona ski and snowboarding resorts, though there are none within the Sedona city limits. Mountain biking, hiking and hot-air ballooning are popular throughout the year but more so in the winter, when the cool temperatures are easier on the body than the 100 degree-plus days of summer.
No disrespect to the Catskills, but they can’t hold a candle to the mountains and wondrous scenery of Sedona. The red rock mountains that greet you as you enter town are nothing short of awesome, the desert landscape making it obvious why the region has become a mecca for the spiritually inclined.
The best way to appreciate Sedona’s spectacular terrain is to take a Pink Jeep Tour. Pink Jeep has been around 50 years, and you truly need a rugged off-road vehicle that can navigate the rocky ups and downs of the various state and federal parks that surround Sedona. You will feel like you are on a roller coaster so it is advisable not to have a heavy meal before embarking on a four-hour Pink Jeep Tour. In addition to being great drivers, Pink Jeep tour guides are knowledgeable on the history of the ancient peoples that populated the area and the artwork which may have told their story.
The wide open spaces that appear untouched by time are a leading reason why Sedona has long been a favorite spot for filmmakers, particularly those making westerns. Among the famous films that have been shot here are “Stagecoach,” “Johnny Guitar,” and the original “3:10 to Yuma.”
The Sedona Trolley provides an hour-long tour that acquaints you with the modern side of Sedona as you go past its numerous shopping centers and art galleries. The unquestionable highlight is a stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a 250-ft tall glass structure that was built in 1956 and is surrounded by two huge red rock walls. The view from the Chapel looking down on the valley is breathtaking.
While it is a far cry from California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys, Sedona has become a hotbed for wineries as its hilly terrain and fluctuating seasonal temperatures are ideal for chardonnay and red wines like merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah.
If you have visited the San Diego Wild Animal Park, then you know how special it is to watch large mammals in natural surroundings, as opposed to a zoo. The Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, a 30-minute drive south of Sedona, is a far more intimate experience than its Southern California cousin. While there are lions, giraffes, hyenas (yes, they do laugh) and pumas, the unquestionable stars here are the tigers. You can watch them swim at the Tiger Splash show and you can even feed a hungry male named Hunter red meat — with a long pole through the bars of his enclosure.
There are several local dining options. The Marketplace CafÈ at the Oak Creek Outlet Mall is a good place to enjoy such seafood dishes as mahi mahi and grilled salmon, as well as sandwiches. There is also nightly entertainment and a weekly wine tasting. The Hideaway, located in the heart of town, is renowned for its chili, pastas and thin crust pizza — which will pass muster for even the most skeptical of New Yorkers who detest eating our signature fast food out-of-town. If you are seeking a more formal and romantic dining experience, L’Auberge is one of the best French restaurants in the Southwest.
The south rim of the Grand Canyon is 120 miles north of Sedona but the town of Williams, where you can catch a train to the Canyon, is only 35 miles away, so Sedona is ideal either to stay in overnight before going there or to use as your home base.
There are plenty of local hotels and chains to choose from in Sedona. The Adobe Grand Villas offers very spacious rooms, a fireplace (very helpful in the winter!) and a complimentary homemade breakfast, as well as other amenities such as freshly baked bread and snacks in your room.
For more information, log onto visitsedona.com or call the Sedona Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center at 1 (800) 288-7336.