This desert city is hard to pin down in a few words. It strikes a bold balance: a haven for visitors seeking spiritual enlightenment or those wanting adrenaline-spiking adventure among the ancient red rocks and swaths of pine forest.
The Arizona city’s location in the high desert adds to its distinctive – and authentic – allure. Cool convergences are everywhere. Locally produced wines unite well with desert cuisine. Pine forests flank red rocks. And Buddhist shrines and natural vortex sites crackle with good vibrations. We picked out the best 10 experiences not to miss in Sedona.
Photograph the desert landscape
With shapes such as cathedrals, castles, bells — and even Snoopy reclining on his doghouse — Sedona’s landscape is like a city carved out of sandstone. The sheer architectural diversity is a draw for photographers (pros and Instagrammers alike), not to mention bright-blue skies contrasting the iron-rich rock and dark-green junipers framing undulating trails.
The desert’s drama softens in spring (late April through June) when delicate flowers blanket the paddles of prickly pears and spike cholla cactuses. Visit in winter and you might witness snowfall adding a veil of white to the ancient peaks. Take your photography to the next level during the Sedona PhotoFest in June and the Sedona Photography Symposium in August.
Learn more about Indigenous cultures
The Indigenous populations of the Verde Valley have inhabited this fertile region as far back as 650 BCE. The Sinagua first settled in the valley, followed by the Hopi, Yavapai and Apache, whose histories you can discover at Arizona’s national parks, monuments and historic sites. Sedona’s thriving arts community supports local Indigenous artisans at several galleries and shops. Whether you have your sights set on something collectible or contemporary, you can find authentic items for sale, such as woven baskets, turquoise-inlay jewelry, Hopi kachina dolls and pottery at centers like Sedona Artist Market & Gallery, Hoel’s Indian Shop and Garland’s. Do your research to make sure you're buying the real deal.
Taste high-desert cuisine
“Southwestern” food is one of those all-encompassing terms applied with broad brushstrokes. In Sedona, though, you’ll sometimes see the term “high-desert cuisine” on menus. Syrup made from agave plants and the ripe fruits of prickly pear cactus, called “tunas,” are used in cocktails, especially margaritas. The pads of those same cactuses, called “nopales,” are often cooked up like French fries. You might even see rattlesnake on a menu, along with tamer high-desert choices like peach cobbler.
Slide down a sandstone chute
It’s not unusual to find a swimming hole near a clear creek — but one with a natural slide? To skim down an 80ft sandstone chute into Oak Creek, grab your gear and head to Slide Rock State Park, located in the Oak Creek Canyon neighborhood north of downtown Sedona. The park’s stone channel has a seven percent decline and gets its slickness from algae, which helps slingshot swimmers into the creek’s cool water.
With half a mile of Oak Creek to splash around in, Slide Rock is a fantastic summer sanctuary teeming with wildlife, such as more than 140 bird species (look for hummingbirds and Steller’s jays), javelinas (aka “skunk pig”), Coues white-tailed deer and even black bears.
Search for UFOs
With billionaires blasting off to explore space, would it be such a stretch to think that aliens are visiting us? Not in Sedona, which is considered a superb place to see otherworldly aircraft. First, it’s ultra-dark in Sedona (Oak Creek Village is on the roster of International Dark Sky Places), so it’s easier to pinpoint extra-terrestrial activity pulsating in those clear, jet-black skies. Second, people believe Sedona has four vortexes — natural sites that emanate a type of energy.
Sedona’s metaphysical community offers a number of educational tours that typically combine UFO sightings (many guarantee you’ll see paranormal activity) and vortex visits. Imagine what you might make out when staring at the stars while wearing military-grade night-vision goggles. Regardless of what you think is the truth or a tall tale, you’ll find out why so many people believe Sedona is such a mystical place.
Sip local Arizona wines
Sedona isn’t exactly Sonoma, but since it’s situated in Central Arizona’s Verde Valley at almost a mile in elevation, this region is also great for grape-growing. Downtown, the Art of Wine provides a primer on local wines with by-the-glass offerings. The range is far-reaching. Sample Bordeaux blends, a single-varietal Malbec, the familiar Chardonnays and Rieslings, plus an Arizona fave, Malvasia Bianca, a fruity white with a floral bouquet.
Wine-making isn’t new to Arizona (Jesuit priests planted grapes here in the 1690s) or even in this desert city. Back when Sedona was a budding village in the 1880s a homesteader planted grape vines in the high-desert grasslands, where the combination of warm days and cool nights create favorable growing conditions. Sedona is now leaning into its agricultural roots, plus it’s part of the Verde Valley Wine Trail. A number of companies offer tours to wineries on the route. For a deep dive into the area’s wine culture, visit in September during the Sedona Winefest.
Take a full-moon hike
Walk through the desert in the coolness of the evening when it’s aglow with moonlight to put a fresh spin on exploring Sedona’s terrain. You don’t need to wander alone. Naturalists at Red Rock State Park offer guided interpretive hikes during the full moon. The tour covers two miles and you’ll learn about Sedona’s fascinating geology, history and plant life.
Mountain bike the desert trails
Two millions acres of national forest land and 200 trails traversing 400 miles in Sedona means that riding single-track routes is boundless. People new to mountain biking can find plenty of wider and less-steep trails to get comfortable in the saddle, like parts of Slim Shady and the Bell Rock trail named for the iconic butte. Advanced riders might want to challenge the Hangover trail or Cathedral Rock Big Loop, which gains 1054ft in elevation.
With Sedona’s mild weather, you can mountain bike any time. During summer monsoon season though, heavy rainfall can create flash floods. A good time to visit is in March during the three-day Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. But don’t bust the crust! You’ll see these signs on Sedona’s multi-use trails. It’s a reminder of the fragility of the desert ecosystem – and to stick to the pathways.
Take a hot air balloon ride at sunrise
A memorable way to see Sedona is to greet the rising sun while drifting above its buttes, mesas and pinnacles in a hot-air balloon. Balloon operators generally pick up guests from their hotels at pre-dawn; flights take off early when the wind conditions are most favorable and trips last for up to four hours. Along with the feeling of weightlessness and 360-degree views, exploring by hot-air balloon is a more environmentally sound way to see Sedona from above. In an effort to enhance the city’s natural peace and quiet as part of its Sustainable Tourism Plan, Sedona has asked helicopter tour operators to adhere to no-fly zones.
Visit a Buddhist shrine and peace park
Sedona’s natural sacred sites have long been a lure for people seeking spiritual enlightenment. The area’s history originates with the indigenous people who consider this land a holy place intended for healing and transformation. Yet it seems unexpected to find a pair of Buddhist stupas — mound-like shrines filled with relics and ritual offerings — erected among the red rocks. Located near Chimney Rock at the base of Thunder Mountain, Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park is spread out across 14 acres of junipers and pinyon pines.
The peace park was created by Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC), a Buddhist organization and center for study whose lineage traces to Tibet. Construction of the 36ft Amitabha stupa according to sacred architecture and geometry was completed and consecrated in 2004 after 18 months of construction. A bronze image of its namesake Buddha of Limitless Light is inside the stupa’s faceplate. The six-foot White Tara Stupa is named for the female Buddha. Practicing Buddhists pray to her for health, longevity and compassion. Both stupas are a short walk from the parking lot. Anyone can visit – the organization emphasizes that it's a place for "prayer, meditation and the experience of peace," regardless of faith.
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