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Sedona, Arizona has long been known as a place with spiritual powers. Even the tourism bureau there touts the vortexes of energy that swirl around this desert city, mysterious forces that leave people feeling at peace with nature around them. And who wouldn’t feel good here? The gorgeous red rocks of Sedona offer so many opportunities for exploring, but if you want to just sit tight at a restaurant, sipping a prickly pear margarita and enjoying the view, that’s quite alright, too.

About two hours north of Sedona is the Grand Canyon, a geologic wonder and national park that everybody should visit at least once in their life. Is it possible to enjoy the extremes of Arizona — from hot, sunny Phoenix to chilly Flagstaff — in one long weekend? Yes, it is! Here’s your itinerary so you can start mapping out your trip out west.

Arizona vacation itinerary

Nothing clears the mind and lifts one’s spirits more than walking among the iconic red rocks of Sedona. Winter can be an ideal time, with highs in the 50s and 60s during the day. Rain is rare except in the summer. Image: Lisa Mowry

Day One

Fly into the Phoenix airport and rent a car for the next few days’ transportation. If you’re headed there in winter months, it might be wise to get an SUV that can get you past any icy roads, and if you go in the summer, you’ll need a vehicle with major air conditioning. (SB TIP: Spring and fall — and even through the December holidays — are ideal times to visit Arizona. Not too hot and not too snowy at the Grand Canyon.) Head north to Sedona for the two-hour drive. It doesn’t take long to feel like you’re in a Road Runner cartoon, with craggy mountains and 10-foot-tall cacti dotting the landscape.

Arizona vacation itinerary

Cacti big and small, green and purple — and always prickly — greet you all over Arizona. Image: Lisa Mowry

Check into the Kimpton Amara Resort, a gorgeous boutique hotel in Sedona with magnificent views and a convenient location just off the main street in town. If you have time, lace up your hiking shoes and get in an afternoon walk along one of the dozens of trails. Many are relatively flat but have stunning vistas — not necessarily strenuous to get big visual pay-offs. Check out this list on HikeSedona.com. A relatively short hike (5-mile roundtrip) we enjoyed near the Amara is Marg’s Trailhead.

Arizona vacation itinerary

An infinity pool and hot tub at the Amara offer some of the best ways to unwind at the end of the day. Even better? Get a treatment at the Amara Spa and then hit the pool. Image: Lisa Mowry

Dogs are welcome and treated royally at the Amara resort, which also offers complimentary bicycles to guests. Image: Lisa Mowry

Dogs are welcome and treated royally at the Amara resort, which also offers complimentary bicycles to guests. Image: Lisa Mowry

Arizona vacation itinerary

Hiking trails in Sedona are plentiful and well-marked. Image: Lisa Mowry

Arizona vacation itinerary

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a Roman Catholic church built into the buttes of Sedona, and well worth a trip to walk the quarter-mile or so up from a parking area to see the inside, as well as dramatic views of Sedona from the church itself. Image: Alex Mowry

Make sure to get back in time for the complimentary happy hour in the lobby every night from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., when the resort serves a specialty cocktail in addition to wine, with a few light appetizers. Sitting in their courtyard watching the sun go down behind the red rocks … nobody can deny the good energy there. When you get hungry, the hotel’s free shuttle takes visitors to town, but it’s not a bad walk should you go that route. The super-casual 89 Agave is known for its specialty guacamoles and tequila bar. They can put together a flight of unusual guacs with a flight of tequila tastings for a dinner with local charm.

Arizona vacation itinerary

Can you spot “Snoopy’s Rock,” supposedly resembling the Peanuts dog lying on top of his doghouse, nose up? No matter … the views from the Amara Resort in Sedona are both peaceful and energizing, all the more so with spiked hot apple cider enjoyed in the courtyard. Image: Lisa Mowry

Arizona vacation itinerary

Guacamole three ways at 89 Agave: lime and sun-dried tomato; with bacon and cojito cheese; and avocados blended with mangos, pomegranates and almonds. Lisa Mowry

Day Two

Book a morning escapade with the Pink Jeep Tours for a thrilling adventure off-roading to spots in Sedona the average hiker would never reach. Their Broken Arrow tour is sort of a “greatest hits” opportunity to see amazing vistas and go up and down a few heart-pounding hills.

Head into town for some city pleasures. Lunch at Oak Creek Brewery and Grill is an opportunity to try some local brews as well as their specialties, such as southwest mac & cheese. The eatery is located in hard-to-pronounce Tlaquepaque, a historic shopping area filled with art galleries and clothing boutiques set among a charming Spanish Colonial village.

Arizona vacation itinerary

The two-hour Pink Jeep Tours of Sedona offer a wild adventure up and down treacherous slopes, not to mention incredible views. Image: Lisa Mowry

Arizona vacation itinerary

Tlaquepaque village originated decades ago as an arts destination, and today visitors enjoy wandering through the courtyards and fountains to explore stores and galleries. Image: Lisa Mowry

Arizona vacation itinerary

Sedona is known for its New Age sensibilities, so by all means it’s fun to check out some of the local stores to learn more. Lisa Mowry

Dinner at the Amara’s signature restaurant, SaltRock Kitchen, offers upscale-casual dining in the resort’s scenic courtyard. Start off with the West Fork margarita, which has a little jalapeño kick to it (when in Rome … ). Delicious entrées that earned our enthusiasm include the scallops with smoked corn risotto, and the duck confit served with roasted Brussels sprouts and spicy corn bread. Save room for dessert; the chocolate chili cake brings in even more Southwestern kick mixed with dark chocolate.

Arizona vacation itinerary

Pan-seared diver scallops on corn risotto benefit from a little tequila sauce — not to mention the specialty margarita — at SaltRock Kitchen. Image: Lisa Mowry

Day Three

Maximize a full day of activities with a good breakfast. A casual, local favorite is Coffee Pot Restaurant, a diner-style place with quirky interiors. Their claim to fame: 101 different omelets (all sorts of combos, including peanut butter and jelly, or roast beef and cheese). Afterwards, head north of Sedona to Slide Rock State Park, a don’t-miss place to enjoy a meandering creek surrounded by dramatic red rocks. If the weather permits, you’ll see visitors taking a quick (cold!) dip. Continue up Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon, often called a mini-Grand Canyon with its dramatic gorges. Stop for lunch in historic downtown Flagstaff, a quaint college town set in the mountains.

Arizona vacation itinerary

Yes, it’s kitschy, but try to pop in to the Coffee Pot Restaurant for a big Southwestern breakfast while in Sedona. Image: Lisa Mowry

Arizona vacation itinerary

Slide Rock State Park (worth the $10 fee) offers majestic views and a cooling river. Image: Lisa Mowry

The drive from Sedona to Grand Canyon National Park is only about two hours, but even with all the worthwhile stops, make sure to get there in plenty of time for sunset. If you’ve planned ahead (a must for visiting uber-popular national parks such as this one), you’ve already secured a room in one of the lodges along the South Rim, which allows you stunning views just outside the hotel. We like El Tovar, with its old-timey lodge atmosphere and elegant-rustic dining room (it’s good to get reservations there about a month in advance). There’s not much to do at night, so head to bed early so you can get up for sunrise.

Day Four

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon is a magical experience … it’s not every day you get to see the multi-colored band of pink make its way along the rocky canyon. There are two ways to explore the canyon while on a quick trip (excursions to the bottom and overnight camping are available with advance planning and more time): walk along the 15 or so miles of the Rim Trail around the top, or venture down into the canyon itself on the Bright Angel Trail (remember that it’s easier to go down than back up, and take water!). After lunch at the Maswick Lodge, an easy option thanks to its food court setup, it’s time to drive back to Phoenix, four hours south, for an evening flight.

Arizona vacation itinerary

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon is a quiet, special time. Image: Alex Mowry

Arizona vacation itinerary

A lone painter is set up on a precipice at the Grand Canyon, trying to capture one of the seven natural wonders of the world with her own interpretation. Image: Lisa Mowry

Arizona vacation itinerary

Have some time in the Phoenix area? Check out the charming restaurants and stores in revitalized Old Scottsdale. Image: Lisa Mowry

Arizona vacation itinerary

The Musical Instrument Museum is a must-see with any extra time in Phoenix, a hit with music fans or anyone interested in music as a uniting force for the world. Image: Lisa Mowry

When you’re ready to head west and experience the splendor for yourself, start your planning at visitarizona.com.

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