Idyllic and idiosyncratic, Sedona is a high-desert city where nature and a new-age counterculture looms large. Situated in Arizona’s Coconino National Forest and flanked by Red Rock State Park and Slide Rock State Park, Sedona is both a desert oasis studded with spas and galleries and a year-round adventure playground with 400 miles of trails to explore.
Sedona has a dedicated downtown, but this city of 10,000 feels more like a handful of villages huddled beneath the shadows of its imposing red rocks. Its four neighborhoods are spread along the main thoroughfares, so you don’t need to venture too far to discover them all.
Best neighborhood for shopping
Sedona’s rustic roots run deep in historic Uptown, the city’s original downtown and core of its cultural heritage. Once flush with ranches and apple orchards, Hollywood came calling in the 1920s and the fledgling village welcomed an influx of movie-making, with more than 80 Westerns filmed in the area. Sedona’s hardscrabble cowboy culture was later augmented by artists and new-agers seeking spiritual enlightenment. That coexistence endures in this contemporary and walkable neighborhood that sits at the base of Oak Creek Canyon. Uptown melds into Oak Creek Canyon to the north and the Village of Oak Creek to the south, but basically begins at the “Y” roundabout where state routes 89A and 179 (the Red Rock Byway) intersect.
Uptown is Sedona’s liveliest area, so it can get crowded in the high season, especially since the city’s festivals are often centered along Main Street. Here, restaurants serve Southwestern and high-desert cuisine, while boutiques offer everything from Navajo rugs to healing crystals that blend into the natural landscape. The streets get sleepier after dark, but some pubs and saloons are open as late as midnight on weekends, offering live music, a DJ or karaoke.
Uptown is a great place to wander any time of year. Take it slow, pausing at historic plaques, sculptures and landmark buildings that offer glimpses into Sedona’s past. Sedona Heritage Museum houses thousands of artifacts and photos, and Sedona Art Center was once a barn used for packing apples and peaches. South of Main Street, the massive Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village is worth a visit to see the work of Sedona’s artisans. Uptown is also the most convenient place to stay, but expect to open your wallet wide. Sprawling luxury resorts and hotels with fireplaces, swimming pools and spas are sanctuaries unto themselves.
Village of Oak Creek
Best neighborhood for stargazing
Once known as Big Park, the Village of Oak Creek (VOC) straddles the Red Rock Byway south of Uptown. “The Village,” as it’s called by locals, is a little more rural and laid-back than its northern neighbor. It’s dark here — perfect for stargazing and UFO spotting — and residents want to keep it that way. The Village is a certified International Dark Sky Places (IDSP), one of only 130 worldwide.
It’s also home to imposing natural edifices such as the mile-high Courthouse Butte and the dome-shaped Bell Rock, one of Sedona’s four vortex sites. Some people believe a vortex is a naturally occurring phenomenon of energy that’s ideal for healing, meditating or simply recharging your weary soul. Plenty of easy-to-access paths crisscross the surrounding area; many trailheads have parking lots right off the highway.
The Village of Oak Creek draws its share of spirituality seekers, but they’ve got competition when it comes to golfing. Sedona’s mild weather means there’s never a bad time to tee off and four golf courses (some attached to resorts) are scattered around the neighborhood. The Village of Oak Creek is mostly walkable, with a mashup of casual restaurants, pubs, and quirky shops clustered around midrange hotels and vacation rental properties. The neighborhood’s real character comes from its stunning natural setting.
Oak Creek Canyon
Best for outdoor adventure
Oak Creek Canyon is just a short drive from downtown, yet it feels worlds away. Traveling north on the 89A as it twists through the canyon, Sedona’s signature red rock desert gives way to glorious green — namely one of the world’s largest ponderosa pine forests. The canyon’s cooler temperatures offer a reprieve in summer with natural sites like Midgley Bridge Observation Sight for picnicking and Grasshopper Point for swimming and cliff-jumping.
One of the area’s unusual attractions is at Slide Rock State Park: an 80ft natural sandstone chute that deposits sliders into Oak Creek’s refreshing water. Even if you don’t want to swim or splash, there’s a history lesson to be had here; on the primitive trails that lead to the 43-acre Pendley Homestead and apple orchard, view historic cabins and learn about Central Arizona’s early agricultural development.
Although the canyon is gorgeous in every season, fall is particularly pretty when the oak leaves transform into a blaze of color. If you decide to stay here, there’s a range of accommodations, whether campsite, cabin or midrange resort, most hemmed in by creek and forest. Services and restaurants in Oak Creek Canyon are sparse and typically scattered along 89A or located in resorts. Many places are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but there’s enough around for you to fuel up or scratch your shopping itch. If you’re determined to find a rare vintage Apache basket, Hopi kachina doll or other collectible, drop by Hoel’s Indian Shop. The family-owned business has been selling art and treasures here since 1945. You can pick up coffee and provisions at Indian Gardens Cafe & Market and The Table at Junipine has a full-service bar with local beer on tap.
Best for budget travelers
There’s more of a residential feel to West Sedona, an excellent jumping off point for accessing scenic spots like Airport Mesa Overlook and Thunder Mountain towering in the distance. Located about a mile west of Uptown on 89A, West Sedona is decidedly down-to-earth. When underground aquifers were found in the area, people moved from burgeoning Uptown and the neighborhood was born.
Functional businesses, bookstores, thrift shops and metaphysical stores are the mainstays. One standout is the Sedona Artist Market & Gallery, which showcases and sells work of more than 100 local, regional and Native American artists. You can purchase everything from jewelry to textiles and paintings to rock art. West Sedona has a number of chain hotels that will appeal to travelers looking for a break on room rates, while boutique-style inns and lodges are farther from the heart of the neighborhood but closer to the trails.
Food offerings are eclectic in West Sedona, with sushi, vegan and modern Native American restaurants rounding out the expected Southwestern and Mexican cuisine. And, of course, there’s the iconic McDonald’s: the “golden” arches are teal, so they don’t clash with Sedona’s surrounding red rocks. Like the rest of the city, West Sedona isn’t exactly party central. One of the best places for drinking and a dose of entertainment is the Olde Sedona Bar and Grill, which features live entertainment, karaoke, bingo and trivia.
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