Tuesday Trip Back in Time – Phoenix and Sedona, AZ

Once in a while I like to revisit my past trips and relive the experiences that I had on those trips. There’s the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly – but it always brings back fond memories and hindsight even the bad or annoying things get a nice sheen of nostalgia too!

a dramatic sky over the desert landscape in Arizona

The first trip I’ll be revisiting is the trip that my husband and I took to Phoenix and Sedona in Arizona, from 11/27-12/1 2011. Honestly, I had never really thought about visiting Arizona again (I had briefly gone to the Grand Canyon with my family as a child). It was actually a Groupon gone wrong that led me on this trip! Originally my friend and I had each bought a Groupon for a three day-stay at a ranch in Tucson, AZ that included meals, horseback riding, and a tour for only $64! It sounded like a great deal, and we decided we would both bring our significant others. Everything seemed fine – I called them to book a stay in late November after Thanksgiving and they had us down in a nice bungalow. I booked my airline tickets back in February (I like to book my tickets early… my downfall in this case!) and everything seemed pretty set!

view of arizona from the plane

However, a few weeks later my friend called me and let me know that when she tried to book with the ranch, they didn’t have any openings for the rest of the year. So it would just be my husband and I. Not a complete tragedy, I decided. It would still be a fun trip with us two. But a few months later when I was checking my credit card statement I noticed something – a credit on a $64 Groupon charge. WHAT? I called up the ranch in Tucson and it was bad news – they would be closing in April and therefore could no longer honor our reservation. It was kind of a rude shock – after all, wouldn’t it have been nice for the ranch to let us know, rather than for me to find out in a credit card statement? Needless to say I was upset about it for a day or two. After all, we had already bought the plane tickets and to cancel them or switch them would cost too much. So it looked like we would be taking a trip to Arizona!

At this point it was time to do some research and figure out what our plans would be – and to my surprise I found that Phoenix had quite a lot to offer a tourist. In addition, I was instantly captivated by the amazing red rock scenery and desert landscapes of Sedona, a city that is about a 2 hour drive away from Phoenix. It seemed like this Groupon mixup might lead to a unique and interesting trip that I normally wouldn’t have planned on my own!

Day 1

white VW jetta – our rented ride for the trip!

– Flying into Phoenix
– Dinner at Canteen Tequila Bar
– Checking into Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel Tempe

The first night, we flew into Phoenix and got our rental car. It was too late in the day to do much sightseeing, so we got a good night’s rest at the hotel and woke up early to start off our second day. After a quick breakfast at Harlow’s Cafe in Tempe, we were on our way! The plan was to drive into Sedona and stay for two nights, then drive back to Phoenix and spend one night there.

Day 2

– Breakfast at Harlow’s Cafe
– Driving 2 hours to Sedona
– Checking into Days Inn Sedona
– Lunch at Thai Spices
– 3 hour Pink Jeep Tours
– Dinner at Cowboy Club

delicious breakfast at Harlow’s Cafe – gotta start the morning right!

a closeup of the red rocks

Driving through the city wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be (definitely not as annoying as driving in NYC) and soon we found ourselves on the open highway to Sedona. The landscape was totally different from what I’m used to in the Northeast, where there are thick stands of trees bordering the highway (probably to muffle traffic noise, but also provides beautiful scenery throughout the year!). Here, the highway landscape consisted of wide expanses of scrubby grass and distant mountains. As we came closer to Sedona, we started seeing more dramatic rock formations and the dirt took on a reddish tone. Sometimes we would find ourselves driving in a deep gorge cut between two red cliffs. Very cool!

Sedona is probably most famous for all the red rock formations that surround the area. Seriously, it is almost impossible not to have a view of the gorgeous red rocks, no matter where you stay. So we decided to go cheap and we stayed at Days Inn, which was absolutely fine for our needs and also had a lovely view of the rocks as well. They keep the buildings low here to prevent obstructing views of the rocks – which I think is absolutely necessary to preserve the beauty of the surroundings. Another thing about Sedona is that they often have roundabouts instead of intersections – keeps the traffic moving, but can be a little confusing if you’re not totally sure where to go. I kind of liked the, but I don’t think they would work as well in a city with higher traffic volume.

Our first stop after checking in at the hotel and grabbing a quick bite was the Pink Jeep Tours! It’s a fun and informative way to get close to the red rocks. Basically you are driven around in a bright pink jeep (surprise surprise) through the red rock formations while the guide gives you more information and history about the area. It can get quite bumpy so there are handlebars all over and seatbelts as well, if I remember correctly.

pink jeeps, at your service!

inside the jeep

The tour that we went on was the Broken Arrow/Scenic Rim combo, a three-hour tour which I found really fun. The views were amazing, and our driver also took us to a flat area where we could get out and take pictures and tell us about the area. Also, there were some almost vertical inclines and slopes that we went on that were pretty intense!


i forget the name… but to me it looks like an eagle spreading its wings. it’s like a cloud formation, whatever you see!

a dramatic rocks formation

a line showing the seismic shifts in the rocks

a nearly vertical incline! jeep can handle it =D

the appetizer sampler with cactus fries, beef brochettes, and rattlesnake meatballs

After this adventure, we were ready for dinner! We stayed within the downtown Sedona area, which has kind of a old western town feel with wooden storefronts and whatnot. It’s a little touristy, of course, but I soak up that stuff! For dinner we decided on the Cowboy Club, which looks like a saloon from the outside with those swinging wooden doors. Inside there’s comfy green banquettes and lots of old west and Southwestern flair.

I thought there appetizers were pretty interesting – they have cactus fries, rattlesnake meatballs, etc! So we tried the sampler that came with cactus fries, buffalo brochettes, and green chili rattlesnake meatballs. It tasted… like chicken? Honestly I could not say there was anything too distinct about the rattlesnake meatballs! I did like the fries though, which came with a sweet prickly pear sauce. For our entrees we went the carnivore route – carne asada for me, ribs for him.

Day 3

– Breakfast at Cafe Jose
– Driving to Chapel of the Holy Cross
– Checking out Tlaquepaque, a art and crafts shopping area
– Hiking through the desert to Bell Rock
– Dinner at Elote Cafe

outside the Chapel of the Holy Cross

We started off the day with breakfast of huevos rancheros at Cafe Jose, and then made our way to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Although I’m not particularly religious, I find churches beautiful examples of architecture and the serene atmosphere inside very calming. I also get this tranquil feeling at libraries, haha! Apparently enforced silence is the key.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is unique in that it’s built into the Sedona rocks. It has a very dramatic perch from atop a cliff and I think that the modern design really suits the landscape. It would look a little strange to have a Gothic style church with flying buttresses among the red rocks, let’s say that.

The church has amazing views of the surrounding rocks and makes for some very dramatic photo opportunities with the red rock formations behind you. That is, if you feel comfortable having nothing but a low ledge separating you from the edge and a formidable drop down! My husband was definitely nervous taking his picture so close to the edge!

inside the church. beautiful light!

red rock scenery from the church

Next we made our way to Tlaquepaque, a shopping center in the middle of town that sells arts and crafts. Everything was beautiful but also a little pricey (we only graduated last year!) so we refrained from buying anything. That said, just walking around the shopping center itself was great. Tlaquepaque is modeled after a Mexican village and it did feel that way, with little alleyways leading to other areas and secretive archways leading to open plazas with gurgling fountains  Each area has a different name – Patio Azul (for the blue tiles that decorate the area),  Plaza de la Fuente (for the fountain in the center), etc. There’s a bell tower and little mossy fountains with a Madonna statue set in a niche. It’s definitely a nice place to spend an afternoon, with a cafe and a restaurant as well, where we had a relaxing lunch.

mexican village feel

decorative tiled steps

the bell tower

decorate clay pendants

After lunch, we decided to drive outside of Sedona and check out one of the many trails that criss-cross the area. Here’s a note – we are not hikers and are pretty terrible nature people. We are both born and raised in the city and I never really did nature-y things as a child – so of course we would go hiking into the desert in jeans and without a bottle of water. Of course. At least I was wearing sneakers and not flats.

We picked a random trail with the intent of walking to Bell Rock, which was around 2.7 miles away. We probably only made it halfway before we decided to turn around and call it a day! But we did get some great shots of the area, so it was definitely not a wasted experience.

bell rock! cheating… we took this from the car.

After our very mild desert adventure, we decided it was time for dinner! I had read up about Elote Cafe on Yelp and I was pretty excited to get to try it out. We were second in line (they open at 5 pm and we lined up maybe at 4:15?) They specialize in refined Mexican cuisine and their specialty is elote, which is corn on the cob served with different condiments like chili powder and sour cream. I also read they have great carne asada and I am a definitely beef lover so I was sold!

We were not disappointed! The food was amazing and the atmosphere was very friendly. They have a beautiful outdoor terrace that has great views of the sunset and the rocks, but perhaps because it was a little chillier they did not open it up. We did get a seat right next to the patio though, so we had great views. We ordered the elote and the roasted duck empanada for appetizers, and the carne asada and lamb adobo for entrees. Yum!


duck empanadas

lamb adobo… blurry pic!

delicious carne asada

Day 4

on the road

– Breakfast at Coffee Pot Restaurant
– Driving back to Phoenix and checking into Radisson Hotel Phoenix Airport North
– Lunch at a small but really fresh Taqueria!
– Horseback riding at Cave Creek Outfitters
– Dinner at Tuck Shop

Our last day in Sedona! We had breakfast at Coffee Pot Restaurant, which is famous for having 101 omelettes! A lot of them are merely variations – such as, a turkey and cheese is different from turkey, onions and cheese, etc. Sooo I’m sure plenty of other restaurants serve 101 omelettes too… but I enjoyed the busy atmosphere and my omelette was cooked well so I definitely can’t complain!

Next we were back on the road back to Phoenix! The two hours flashed by and after we got checked into our hotel, we were hungry for some good food – and we found it, in the form of a little taqueria. I wish I could remember the name because everything was so fresh and tasty that I would’ve liked to go again if I have the chance! It was definitely on the plain side (I remember white walls and very simple, utilitarian furniture) but everything tasted great. It was run by a friendly local woman and her family. So good!


taco salad with juicy beef

After lunch it was time for horseback riding at Cave Creek Outfitters! This was a first for my husband so he was a little nervous. He is also a little nervous about heights so that added to his anxiety – but all was good! We got saddled up and headed off into the desert while our trail guide talked about the plants and various cacti that we encountered.



The sun was beginning to set when we were finishing up our trail ride, so we were treated to a gorgeous sky while we drove back into town. Absolutely gorgeous!

Tonight’s dinner would be at Tuck Shop, a restaurant that serves up comfort food with a refined twist. We had shrimp po’boys and a shepherds pie for appetizers and we shared a entree of carne asada. For dessert we had pineapple upside down cake and they also gave us complimentary truffles with our check! An extremely satisfying dinner and a great end to a busy day!

shrimp po’boys

shepherd’s pie

carne asada

pineapple upside down cake

Day 5

it was so good i forgot to take a “before” pic!

– Breakfast at Matt’s Big Breakfast
– Exploring nature at the Desert Botanical Garden
– Dinner at Cornish Pasty Co.

Matt’s Big Breakfast is a Phoenix institution for breakfast so we knew we had to get there early to get a seat! We put our name on the inevitable waiting and joined other breakfast devotees for our turn to be seated. Inside it was packed with people enjoying french toast, waffles, and all other delicious assortment of breakfast goodies. We ordered the Hog &  Chick (2 eggs with bacon or sausage) and the Chop & Chick (2 eggs with pork rib chop), and also a waffle for good measure. Our order also came with thick toast and marmalade preserves. Also free refills on coffee and tea! Totally worth the wait (which was less than an hour, actually).

Our main destination for the day was the Desert Botanical Garden. I love botanical gardens of any type (one of my dreams was to get married at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden! Which will alas, remain a dream) and this was no different. There were of course, many types of cacti on display, from saguaros to golden barrel cactus to beavertail cactus. I went a little crazy with pictures at the garden so I will try to limit myself here!

Although a lot of people think of deserts as wastelands, the truth is there’s an amazing variety of flora and fauna that manage to flourish despite the harsh conditions. The botanical garden really highlights the diversity of plantlife that exists in the desert!

golden barrel cactus


a busy bee

We spent most of the day at the botanical garden, and for dinner we didn’t have much of a destination so we decided to Yelp the area. This led us to the Cornish Pasty Co., a restaurant that serves pastries stuffed with different savory fillings. When we came, they had expansion plans on the wall – definitely a good idea because it is a tiny restaurant that is very narrow in the front and then widens out in the back to fit a few larger tables and the bathrooms. Also, it’s extremely popular so there’s a line that squeezes into the tiny front area and it’s not fun! But we did get seated and got to enjoy our last meal in Phoenix – actually not one of my favorites, but pretty good nonetheless.

the narrow corridor of people waiting for a seat

proposed expansion

And so our Phoenix adventure comes to an end! It was definitely a trip out of left field but I think we really made the most of it and had a great time!

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