Calvin and I flew over 2,000 miles to Phoenix, AZ for a friend’s wedding in Scottsdale, AZ so we decided to stay a few extra days to explore and eat our way through the state. Florida is known as the sunshine state but Phoenix has an annual average of 300 sunny days which is more than Florida and Hawaii. After staying indoors for about 98% of the past year, we were excited about our outdoor adventures hiking in the canyon, desert, and mountain. Here are the places we recommend you see and eat:
We drove 2 hours from Scottsdale to Saguaro National Park to check out the 1.9+ million large saguaro cactuses. When you reach the park, you’ll notice the saguaros everywhere for miles. We drove to the Red Hills Visitor Center where you can pay the entrance fee, pick up a map, and stop for the bathroom. We did the quick 1-mile hike to the Valley View Overlook where we got up close to some giant saguaros. There’s also a famous loop you can drive through when it’s too hot to walk around outside.
What Have I Learned: We decided to come here on a hot sunny day and weren’t prepared for how hot it will be. There are no shades here so put on sunblock, bring your sunglasses, water bottle, and a hat.
Cost: 25.00 USD per vehicle. They accept America the Beautiful National Park Pass (80 USD annual).
Hour: Tucson Mountain District (west) – Open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset/ Rincon Mountain District (east) – Open to vehicles from 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM in the summer, and 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM in the winter.
It’s my husband and friend’s first time to the Grand Canyon so they were excited even though it was a four-hour drive from Scottsdale. I have been fortunate to have seen it twice before but it’s been over ten years since my last visit and it’s as beautiful as I remember it. There was an orange line shuttle (comes every 10 minutes/max 15 people per bus due to Covid) at the Visitor center that took us to South Kaibab trailhead, Yaki Point, and Pipe Creek Vista. Vehicles are not allowed into the first two stops. We started our hike from South Kaibab Trailhead and made it to Ooh Aah point in about 30 minutes plus multiple photos stops. The whole hike there is gorgeous so take your time to enjoy and take in the views around you. After we return to the car, we made our way to Desert view where there’s a huge watchtower (closed due to Covid) and the most spectacular views of the Grand Canyon.
What Have I Learned: We arrived at the visitor center inside the park to find it close but the visitor center outside the park is open. A lot of the bus lanes weren’t running except the orange line due to the pandemic so do your research before you go. Also, we didn’t realize it would be so windy there… and I lost my Green Bay Packers hat at Yaki point lookout.
Cost: 35.00 USD per vehicle (single, private, non-commercial vehicle, up to a 15 passenger van)/ 30.00 USD per motorcycle/ 20 USD per person (entering by foot, bicycle, park shuttle bus, Grand Canyon Railway, and private rafting trip)/ 15 or younger are FREE. They accept America the Beautiful National Park Pass (80 USD annual).
Hour: Open 24 Hours
I researched multiple trails in Sedona before my visit and seen lots of photos and videos but to see the red rocks in person is like nothing I have seen before. We were ambitious and planned 3 to 4 hikes in one day. We woke up at our usual 6 AM that day and thanks to our jet lag, it wasn’t hard to start our day early. It was a 2-hour drive from Scottsdale to Sedona so we arrived around 9 AM at Boynton Canyon to find the secret Subway Cave. We took a lot longer taking photos at the cave than anticipated so we headed to lunch at Hideaway House and enjoyed our sandwiches/lasagna outdoor with the Red Rocks in the background. After lunch, we were recharged and ready to do the Devils Bridge Trail. If you have a Jeep 4WD then you can technically drive up closer and save yourself 30 minutes of walking.
What Have I Learned: You may purchase the Red Rock Pass at the self serve machines located at most of the trailheads, the Sedona Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center in Uptown Sedona, the Ranger Stations, or at local hotels and businesses around Sedona.
Cost: Red Rock Pass is 5 USD for the day, 15 USD for seven days, or 20 USD for the year. They accept America the Beautiful National Park Pass (80 USD annual).
Hour: Mon to Sun: 6 AM to 11 PM
One of the Uber/Lyft drivers recommended checking out the sunset at Dobbins Lookout in South Mountain. Luckily, we got back from Saguaro National Park earlier than planned so we decided to try to catch the sunset. When we reach South Mountain Park and Preserve, we still had to drive 17 minutes to reach the top so I was a bit worry that we wouldn’t make it in time. However, we found parking in time and a great spot to catch the beautiful sunset overlooking the city.
What Have I Learned: We parked the car and got a good spot at around 6:30 PM. If we arrived 15 minutes later, we would be one of the cars that would be stuck waiting in the long line for a parking spot. Try to get there a little early to avoid watching the sunset from the car.
Hour: Mon to Sun: 5 AM to 11 PM
Old Town Scottsdale – You’ll instantly know you’re in Old Town Scottsdale when you start seeing buildings like you were transported back to the Old West. This is the place you’ll find a collection of shops, restaurants, art galleries, bars, and places to grab your souvenirs.
Petrified Forest National Park/ Painted Desert – If we had more time in Arizona, we would have stopped by Petrified Forest National Park which has two sections: The Painted Desert in the north and the petrified wood in the south. Blue Mesa has both colorful hills in shades of blue, grey, and purple and large chunks of petrified wood which is wood that’s been fossilized and transformed into colorful quartz crystals (Check out Crystal Forest loop).
Cost: Vehicle: 25 USD for a 7-day pass/ Individual & Bicycle: 15 USD per person/ Motorcycle: 15 USD
Antelope Canyon – This sculpted, twisting sandstone walls canyon has been on my list for years since I first heard about it but sadly, it is still close due to Covid. It is protected by Navajo Parks and Recreation so you can only visit this canyon with an authorized tour company. There are two separate slot canyon sections, referred to as Upper Antelope Canyon, and Lower Antelope Canyon. I read that the upper part is where you’ll see light beams into the canyon to capture that magical shot.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park – Another park that’s currently still close due to Covid but this red-sand desert region on the Arizona-Utah border is known for its 17-mile drive along a one-way gravel road to see sand dunes and towering sandstone buttes that can be as tall as 1,000 feet.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area – Glen Canyon is home to Glen Canyon Dam, the famous Horseshoe Bend, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Golden Cathedral Trailhead, Reflection Canyon, Gunsight Butte, and Lake Powell, the second-largest human-made lake in the United States.
Cost: Vehicle: 30 USD for a 7-day pass/ Individual: 15 USD per person/ Motorcycle: 25 USD for a 7-day pass/ Boat: 30 USD for a 7-day pass
Montezuma Castle National Monument – If you’re heading to Sedona, this is a quick 15 minute stop if you have a National Park Pass but I wouldn’t go out of the way to check this out. This five-story stone castle is built into a shallow cave on a cliff that was once a six-story dwelling with 45 rooms. It’s badly deteriorated so they don’t allow you to go into the castle anymore.
Cost: 10 USD per person
Chiricahua National Monument – The 8-mile paved scenic drive through this park is filled with unusual balancing and standing rock formations that give the national monument its nickname, Wonderland of Rocks. Cost: FREE
Goldfield Ghost Town – Goldfield Ghost Town is a 40-minute drive from Old Town Scottsdale. This abandoned old mining town was reconstructed to the town as it was in the 1890s. You can take a gold mine tour, watch an old west gunfight performance, pan for gold, check out the shops, and more.
FOOD RECOMMENDATION in Scottsdale, Phoenix & Tempe
Hash Kitchen ($$) – An amazing brunch spot that’s home to a Bloody Mary bar (build your own Bloody Mary with over 50 toppings) and delicious oversize plates. There are a few locations so find the closest one to you and try this place. I ordered the delicious sweet and salty hangover short rib hash (18 USD) with five-hour braised short ribs, jalapeño cornbread & potato hash, poached eggs, and fried onion rings (food for two).
Hours: Mon to Fri: 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM/Sat & Sun: 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Little Miss BBQ-University ($$) – I read multiple reviews saying we would have to wait hours and certain items will run out if you get there too late so we went first thing in the morning. We were super lucky we didn’t have to wait long (maybe 30 minutes) and we ordered a bit of everything to try. The 2 meat plate with 2 sides (18 USD) is perfect for one person to try multiple meats/sides. This is a must try BBQ spot and don’t forget the mini pecan pie.
Hours: Wed to Sat: 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM/ Sun to Tues: Closed
Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles ($$) – The Famous Soulfood Platter (19 USD) with the 3 pieces of chicken smothered in gravy and onions with cornbread is a must-try. It also comes with two sides so we ordered the mac and cheese and mashed potato and pretty much licked the plate clean. I find the Double D (15 USD) to be a bit dry so I recommend the smothered chicken.
Hours: Mon to Fri: 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM/Sat: 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM/Sun: 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Sugar Bowl ($) – This bubble gum pink restaurant and ice cream parlor opened in 1958 and hasn’t changed much since it first opened. We ordered two scoops of Cookie and Cream and Butter Pecan in a cup (4.75 USD). The ice cream here is thicker and their portions are huge. It was so good that I wanted to grab another scoop of ice cream the next morning before flying out but sadly it didn’t open until 11:00 AM.
Hours: Sun to Thu: 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM/Fri to Sat: 11:00 AM to 12:00 AM
Four Peaks Brewing Company ($$) – This is a great spot to do a beer flight to try their different beers but I am not a fan of the food there. We ordered the Blacked Salmon BLT and 8th St Chicken Strip and it wasn’t anything special.
Hours: Mon to Sun: 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM
Fate Brewing ($$) – Ordered the Legendary French Dip Sandwich where we dip the thin-sliced prime rib on a baguette into the french onion soup (18 USD). My husband ordered a beer flight (6 USD for 3 different beers) and I fell in love with the Hatch Chiles Gatos beer (Bronze Medal 2020 Great American Beer Festival & Gold Medal 2018 World Beer Cup!) which has a bit of spice at the end of every sip.
Hours: Sun to Thu: 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM/Fri to Sat: 11:00 AM to 12:00 AM
The Mission ($$$) – On our last night in Arizona, a friend recommended this fancy restaurant. We ordered the delicious roasted pork shoulder that was smoked & slow braised for 12 hours (35 USD for two) but the one thing you have to order is the tostadas (12.50 USD), I drooled a little just thinking about juicy chicken with everything else on the crispy corn tortilla.
Hours: Sun to Wed: 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM & 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM/Thu to Sat: 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM & 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Bobby Q ($$) – We weren’t able to try this restaurant with over 3,600 reviews on Yelp while we were in Scottsdale. They have been serving BBQ in Phoenix since 2005 and now have 3 locations. Yelp has 380 reviews just on their Smoked Baby Back Ribs so I would give this dish a try.
Hours: Mon to Wed: 11:00 AM to 8:30 PM/Thu & Sun: 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM/Fri & Sat: 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM
FAQ about Scottsdale, AZ
How many days do you need in Scottsdale? 1 day (at least a week in Arizona)
What is your main transportation in Scottsdale? Car
How long did it take to get to Scottsdale? 5 hour 30 minute flight from JFK
Where did you stay? Courtyard by Marriott Old Town
Is Scottsdale expensive? $$
When did you go to Scottsdale? April 2021