Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.
Today, I’m thrilled to share an interview from Northern Arizona: 10 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, & How to Fit In. These tips are courtesy of Jodi Thornton O’Connell.
Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, I moved to Arizona when I was only two years old, which makes me “almost a native.” I’ve been in love with Arizona since childhood and particularly with Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon. I had the pleasure of spending my summers there growing up and moved there as an adult. I get to indulge my love for Arizona on a daily basis as a travel writer, creating content for clients that include jetBlue, Choice Hotels, Hipmunk, and many others.
What to do in Sedona (the Basics)
One thing I really love about Sedona is that there are no disappointing attractions. There are so many activities in the area that cater to so many interests.
First, take a drive up the canyon, especially during autumn. Make sure to get a Red Rock Pass for a nominal fee; you’ll need it to stop and enjoy the view at Midgley Bridge or other viewpoints. The road runs adjacent to the creek. Bring your suit, park at a pull-off, and make your way down to the water to cool off. These sites are much less crowded than Slide Rock. Stop across the road from Pine Flat Campground to fill up your water bottles from a natural spring. Pro tip: Head up the canyon early in the morning to get a good spot. And avoid the stop-and-go traffic when heading back into town by making a day of it. Most of the traffic dwindles by 5:30 p.m. Take a picnic, dine at Indian Gardens or Dairy Queen in the canyon, or continue on to Flagstaff.
[Editor’s note: you can get a Red Rock Pass in person at the Red Rock Ranger District (8375 State Route 17, Sedona), the Sedona Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce (331 Forest Road, Sedona), North Gateway Visitor Center (at the Oak Creek Vista), Oak Creek Visitor Center (3901 N. Highway 89A, Oak Creek), Coconino Forest Supervisor’s Office (1824 S. Thompson Street, Flagstaff), Verde Ranger District (300 E. Highway 260, Camp Verde), as well as many grocery stores, gas stations, shops, and resorts. There are also self-serve machines at some trailheads and you can purchase by phone via 928.203.2900.]
Next, hit the trails. The national forest surrounds the town and any trail you pick will reward you with panoramic views of the red rocks. The Bell Rock Trail is a good starting point, as intersecting loops let you custom-tailor your hike. It’s also home to some of Sedona’s most-accessible vortexes. Other trails start right in town, such as Soldier Pass. Pro tip: Stop by the Ranger Station on Highway 179 on your way into the Village of Oak Creek to pick up free hiking maps or buy a hiking guide.
Browse the shops, most notably Tlaquepaque—an arts and crafts village was built using ancient Mexican methods and that offers much more than upscale artwork. The galleries are fascinating to browse through, especially the Kuivato Glass Gallery.
Cucina Sedona is another favorite of mine. Not only do they have unique kitchenware with a southwest flair but there are spice rubs, soup mixes, and other ready-to-makes with an authentic Arizona flavor.
Vom Fass is another unique store, with tasteable oils, vinegars, liqueurs, and spirits straight from the cask.
And Tlaquepaque has sycamore-shaded courtyards and fountains to linger in while listening to free live music, as well as a Friday morning farmer’s market.
Another great shopping area, Uptown has a mix of galleries and souvenir shops. Clear Creek Trading Company on the far end of the shopping district sits in a historic ranch house and still operates as an authentic trading post. You’ll find authentic and unusual items here, including hides and supplies for making your own crafts. Pro tip: Some shops in town sell non-authentic (made in China or by non-native locals) replicas of Native American artwork, smudging sticks, flutes, etc., which are usually less expensive than authentic items. Its not an attempt to deceive so much as to offer less-expensive alternatives (buying a $10 flute for your kid vs. a $300 one, for example). Be sure to ask—and expect to pay a bit more—if authenticity is important to you.
Hidden Gems for Seasoned Travelers
Take a drive out Dry Creek Road and discover wild red rock country. The drive offers an escape from touristy Sedona and has a bounty of ancient Native American petroglyphs and dwellings. The graded gravel road is accessible with most passenger cars except for the very low-slung unless there have been recent heavy rains (which can leave the road muddy in spots).
The forest service manages two free sites, Honanki and Palatki (again, you’ll need a Red Rock Pass for these) where short, easy hikes take you to ancient ruins. Palatki has guided tours through the ruins.
For a longer hike, stop at the Loy Canyon trailhead and hike back to the Loy Canyon Rock Art, the largest rock art panel in the area. When viewed as a whole, it tells the story of people from the north and people from the south coming to the area and living together in peace (according to my NFS guide who obtained the info from a Hopi guide). Pro tip: There are some old ruins of pueblos on side trails as well. Look and listen carefully for bees before getting too close to non-maintained ruins. Visitors should know archaeological etiquette (not taking potsherds or other souvenirs, not carving their names, etc.), as the forest service monitors the sites and penalties are very stiff for defacement.
Where to Stay
Uptown gives a true flair of the city. From an Uptown Sedona motel or resort, you’re perfectly poised to dine creek-side, explore niche shops, catch a tour, hike a couple nearby trails, or catch the trolley to attractions that are further away. My family owns a creek-side condo and even as a local I still vacation there one week a year out of sheer love of the area!
Jerome—an old mining town that clings to the edge of Mingus Mountain and is filled with quirky shops just as unique as the town itself—has breathtaking views of the red rock country from a distance. Eat on the Haunted Hamburger (410 Clark Street) outdoor patio to savor the view as well as some of the best burgers in the Verde Valley.
Drive the canyon and continue to Flagstaff where you can take a chairlift up the highest mountain in Arizona, explore Ponderosa pine and aspen forests, or meander through the historic downtown.
Head up Mingus Mountain to play in winter snow or take a hike among the cool pines in summer.
And follow the road down the other side to head to the city of Prescott. On the way back, take Highway 69 to Cherry Road and enjoy the views.
|Did I mention that I wrote a book full of these interviews?
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Where to Walk
Other than the plethora of hiking trails in and around the city, Sedona’s parks are a wonderful place to spend some time and go for a walk. They also have ADA-accessible trails designed to make the Sedona experience easy for those with mobility issues. Jordan Historical Park in Uptown has nature trails winding through natural areas and orchards. Sunset Park has a wheelchair-accessible Splash Park and a nature trail that connects to trails in the national forest. Chimney Rock Loop is one of several trails that start in town and offer sweeping views of the red rocks. I like this one because it is on the west end of town and offers views into the wilderness area as well as over the city.
What & Where to Eat & Drink
Sedona is very eclectic in its cuisine and you’ll find dishes from all over the world here. For regional southwestern cuisine, Mesa Grill (1185 Airport Road; phone: 928.282.2400) is a favorite for its food and views from the airport mesa. In Village of Oak Creek, Miley’s Cafe (7000 AZ-179, Suite 108) has an informal atmosphere and delicious food.
Other favorite spots include historic Indian Gardens (3951 N. State Route 89a; phone: 928.282.7702), Cafe Paleo Brio (1650 W. State Route 89A) for the best healthy eats in town, Oak Creek Brewery (336 AZ-179 D201; phone: 928.282.3300), Golden Goose (2545 AZ-89A; phone: 928.282.1447), Rene Restaurant (336 AZ-179; phone: 928.282.9225), and Schoolhouse Restaurant (7000 AZ-179 C-106; phone: 928.284.2240).
Pack a picnic and head up the canyon. Pick up the city’s best sandwiches at Sedona Memories Bakery Café (321 Jordan Road) or stop for the best hot dogs and hamburgers in town (really!) at Senor Bob’s (2015 W. State Route 89A). For dessert, pick up a coupon from your concierge (or from a local brochure rack) from Sedona Fudge Company. Check for coupons online at sites like Visit Sedona or stop by the brochure racks you’ll find in businesses throughout Uptown.
How to Fit In
We love tourists! Many citizens were once tourists themselves. But yes, there are a few things we locals wish tourists knew ahead of time:
First, learn to drive roundabouts before arriving. Traffic during peak visitation can be stressful as it is, so that’s no time to try to figure out what to do in a roundabout. Big pet peeves of every local include stopping in a roundabout to yield to traffic not yet in the circle, stopping before entering a roundabout when there’s no traffic, and driving the wrong way in a roundabout to shortcut the circle (my husband almost got in a head-on yesterday for this very reason). Locals try to be kind and understanding, but it would benefit everyone’s stress level if you read up on how to drive a roundabout and mentally prepare yourself for it ahead of time.
Second, when driving on Highway 179 (which runs through the national forest between the Village of Oak Creek and the town of Sedona), pull all the way off the road at the pull-offs and viewpoints along. It’s not unusual to see tourists stopped in the middle of one-lane divided highway taking pictures of soaring monoliths. The road has no shoulder other than a narrow bike lane and is full of twists and dips that limit visibility. The speed limit is 35, but locals tend to take it at 50 or faster. So for the sake of both safety and consideration of those driving around you, pull all the way off the road.
Finally, be aware of your surroundings and take responsibility for your own safety. I love driving through Uptown in my convertible with the top down, hearing the laughter and excitement of the visitors enjoying their vacation. However, I know that in doing so, odds are that I’ll find an unexpected pedestrian rocketing out in front of my car. People get in “Disneyland Mode” and forget about things like not backing into the roadway without looking when taking a picture or just running into the street at random when horsing around with their companions. Not to mention chasing down a Pikachu or Jigglypuff.
How to Meet Locals & Make Friends
The locals in the uptown shops are very friendly. Whole Foods patio is a great place to make friends. Join a Facebook Group such as Sedona Bulletin Board or Sedona-VOC Community Connections to find out where the locals are headed during your time in town. There are also apps such as Grouper, Trippal, and Party With a Local that will let you know who is in your vicinity and is into catching drinks or dinner (when writing about these a few weeks ago, I downloaded and tested the apps and found that there was a lot of activity in Sedona).
Best Places to Take a Photo
Indian Gardens is my favorite photography spot. You can capture greenery, something blooming, and the red rocks in the background. Creek access provides memorable photos as well, with plenty of greenery, red rocks jutting out of the water, and small rapids. Head to Red Rock Crossing to capture the classic picture of Cathedral Rock with the creek in the foreground or stop on the scenic viewpoint on Upper Red Rock Loop Road to get a panoramic view with twisted juniper trees in the foreground.
Final Notes & Other Tips
Sedona is very pet-friendly and you’ll find most shops not only allow dogs but put out water bowls as well. Some restaurants, such as Ken’s Creekside (251 AZ-179; phone: 928.282.1705), have a menu especially for dogs.
For those looking for Wi-Fi and workspace, Indian Gardens is a favorite. The front patio is usually deserted and has a great Wi-Fi connections and inspiring views of the red rocks and plants. The back garden is where most patrons sit; you can enjoy the tall sycamores and garden atmosphere.
Whole Foods is another top pick. It’s centrally located but has expansive shaded patios, fountains, and a lounge/bar, restaurant, and hot food bar. I enjoy this atmosphere because, chances are, local musicians are meeting on one of the patios for an informal jam session. It’s a great place to meet locals as well.
Finally, when you need minimal distractions, Sedona Public Library offers private study rooms, conference rooms, laptop stations, and garden areas. High timber ceilings, skylights, and a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace flanked by view windows add a lot of ambiance. There are plenty of electrical outlets and a very fast connection.
Find Jodi at travelingwithlargedogs.com.
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