A 5-Day Arizona Itinerary: Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Sedona, & Prescott
Published May 21, 2021
After living in Brazil for almost a year and a half and spending the majority of the pandemic there, I’m excited to finally be blogging about the US again! And what better state to feature than Arizona? Believe it or not, I had actually never been there before last week. It’s such a beautiful destination that everyone should go see at least once!
This was also an exciting trip because it was the first time we’ve done a family reunion in well over a year! The US isn’t quite out of the woods yet in terms of the pandemic, but since everyone in our family was vaccinated, we finally felt safe enough to get together without masks or COVID-19 tests.
Even though this was primarily a family trip, we managed to sightsee in Arizona quite a bit. That’s why I’ve decided to organize this post into a 5-day itinerary. Although I generally love spending as much time as I can in individual towns, doing a whirlwind tour of a half dozen parts of Arizona was a nice change of pace.
Day 1: Fly to Phoenix
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is by far the largest airport in Arizona, so most visitors will probably fly in and out through PHX. Phoenix is also located more or less in the center of the state. This itinerary assumes that you’ll have a rental car, as each destination is a few hours’ drive from the others.
Even if your Arizona trip is centered around another city or town, try and spend at least a few hours in Phoenix. It’s a sprawling urban area with lots to do. We decided to check out the Heard Museum and the Desert Botanical Garden, and I highly recommend both.
This is one of the United States’ premier Native American art museums. It’s got a massive collection of old and modern pieces.
The most impactful exhibit in the museum is on its second floor and can’t be missed. It focuses on the United States’ shameful history of forced assimilation of Native Americans through the use of residential schools, which often were rife with horrific abuse and terrible conditions.
It is a heavy, emotional exhibit, but it’s an important part of US history that everyone should know about. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my own high school curriculum did not cover residential schools in depth. To learn more about the Heard Museum, click here.
Desert Botanical Garden (DBG)
This large outdoor garden is only a short drive from the airport, so it’s easy to do if you have a couple of free hours before or after your flight. The DBG has a lot of beautiful plants to check out, but most impressive are their many varieties of cactus.
Since the Desert Botanical Garden is entirely outdoor except for the gift shop and restaurant, you’ll want to prepare for hot, dry weather, especially if you’re going in the afternoon. I recommend sunscreen and water as there isn’t a lot of shade along the pathways.
Day 2: Sedona
Sedona might’ve been my favorite town we saw on our trip. Not only does Sedona have a cool vibe, but it’s also surrounded by gorgeous red rock mountains. Sedona may look like a small town, but it seems like a popular and growing destination in Arizona. Since we visited for a day, we only had time to visit Chapel of the Holy Cross, get lunch, and do a bit of shopping.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
The landscapes of Sedona are the main reason people visit, so even though you can see the mountains from town, you’ll want to head to a scenic lookout. One great option is Chapel of the Holy Cross, a church built right into the rocks.
After walking up a short pathway from the parking lot, you’ll be able to check out the interior of the church as well as the panoramic views. There are interesting rock formations in every direction!
Stop for lunch
For lunch, we tried Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen. It’s a local Arizona chain, but it fit right in among the other unique trendy restaurants we had to choose from in Sedona.
One of the reasons I want to visit Sedona again someday is to try some more restaurants. For a small tourist town, Sedona appears to have a vibrant international food scene. If you find an amazing place to eat in Sedona, leave a comment at the end of this post and let me know what to try next time!
Do a bit of shopping
After lunch, we decided to browse the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village. This outdoor shopping center has even more interesting restaurants, along with souvenir shops, art galleries, and other places to pick up specialty items and luxurious gifts.
If you shop here, look for The Chai Spot on the second floor. Their open-air balcony is the perfect place to cool down with an iced chai latte!
Spend the night in Sedona
Even though we didn’t get a hotel in Sedona, I recommend it for a couple of reasons. For one, Sedona is just such a cool town, and this would allow you to see all the mountains during sunset. In addition, you’d be able to try one more local restaurant for dinner. Finally, Sedona is significantly closer to the Grand Canyon than Phoenix is, cutting your travel time basically in half if you spend the night.
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Day 3: Grand Canyon
It’s very possible to visit the Grand Canyon as a day trip, which is exactly what we did. The closest major city is Flagstaff, which is about a 90-minute drive away. Sedona is a little over two hours away, and so is Prescott. Phoenix to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center is almost four hours away, which is why I recommend traveling north to Sedona and spending the night there before driving to the Grand Canyon the next day.
The Grand Canyon is absolutely massive, so we only visited the South Rim. There are trails inside the canyon itself, and it’s also possible to visit the North Rim, but both of these would require longer stays in the area. It’s my understanding that the North Rim isn’t open all year, either.
To enter the Grand Canyon from the south, navigate to this ticket station, where you’ll be required to pay $35 per vehicle (as of May 2021). From there, Desert View Drive twists and turns along the canyon’s edge with multiple scenic viewpoints where you can stop, park, and take it all in.
We drove as far east as the Desert View Watchtower before heading back the way we came. At this point, the road diverges from the canyon rim, so it’s a good place to turn back.
As you can probably guess, no picture of the Grand Canyon does it justice. It’s simply something you have to see in person to get a sense of the size and scale. A day trip along the South Rim is certainly a good introduction, but I definitely want to go back sometime soon to explore other parts of the canyon.
Day 4: Prescott
Prescott may not be on every visitor’s radar when they think of Arizona destinations. My brother lived there for the past few years, which is why we spent a fair portion of our trip there. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the historic town center. It’s incredibly quaint and easy to explore in just one day!
Surrounding the courthouse are lots of interesting cafes and restaurants, but most famous is Whiskey Row on South Montezuma Street. Prescott looks and feels like an old western town, and this is the best place to experience it and learn about the history.
Of all the bars and pubs on Whiskey Row, the biggest and most famous is called Palace. It’s impossible to miss with its fancy columns and swinging saloon doors. I tried one of their burgers and a couple of specialty cocktails, and all of it was delicious!
Restaurants to Try in Prescott
As mentioned above, Prescott has a good restaurant scene. Here are a couple of the places we tried.
El Gato Azul
El Gato Azul was the most memorable restaurant we tried in Prescott. They serve a large menu of tapas-style plates, but they have a distinctive southwest influence. You’ll probably be seated somewhere on their large, semi-outdoor patio if you choose to dine in. It’s a pretty popular place, so make a reservation if you plan to go on the weekend!
Maya Mexican Restaurant
I couldn’t leave Arizona without trying some local Mexican food! This cozy little place a few blocks south of the courthouse was the perfect place to get a filling and satisfying combo plate. I tried their chili relleno wrapped in egg and topped with sauce and cheese, which was delicious.
Wild Iris Coffeehouse
This hip cafe downtown is a place coffee lovers won’t want to miss! When I saw something called “cyclist coffee” on their menu, I inquired about it. The cashier explained that it’s black coffee blended with coconut oil, butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and cream. I decided to go for it, and it was pretty good! Wild Iris also offers a bunch of other specialty drinks and pastries.
Address: 420 E Sheldon St, Prescott, AZ 86301
This local diner with rodeo-themed decor may not look fancy, but the breakfast scramble and pancakes I got were delicious. For a no-frills, old-fashioned country breakfast, this is the place to go!
We decided to do one of our big family dinners at this Indian restaurant, and I’m glad we did! Everything from the appetizers to the curry for dinner was delicious. Be sure to try their gulab jamun for dessert!
Day 5: Fly out of Phoenix, Plus Tips & Other Ideas
There are many more things to see in Phoenix than just the Heard Museum and Desert Botanical Gardens mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you have time, you could check out the Camelback Mountain hike northeast of downtown. Another option is to spend your final day in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix with an Old Town that’s supposed to be lots of fun!
I’m really glad that we covered as much ground as possible during our family trip. However, I definitely left Arizona feeling like I had only scratched the surface. I would visit every place mentioned in this itinerary again, and I am especially interested in returning to Sedona someday.
Have you been to Arizona before? Are you heading there soon? Leave a comment and let me know! I love hearing from my readers, and I want to know if this post helped you out! Until next time!
This post was published on May 21, 2021