Arizona is a place where I’ve visited several times and each time I visit I seek out something new-to-me to explore. Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Sedona always have something to offer. Apparently, I’m not the only one who loves to discover on my own. On a recent trip I met five solo women travellers of all ages on a day trip to Sedona and we became fast friends. In between points of interest we learned about each other and what brought us to this energy replenishing place on earth. It was a beautiful experience I will never forget.
Coincidentally, Arizona was one of my very last trips before covid changed the world…and it was one of my first trips post pandemic lock-down. Some things have changed. Prices in restaurants have increased which meant adjusting travel budgets. But some things haven’t changed and thankfully the people I’ve encountered continued to be warm and receptive as always.
Here are some of my all-time favourite things to see and do in the Phoenix, Scottsdale and Sedona areas…
The Heard Museum: This museum holds an extensive collection of Indigenous arts and artifacts – maybe the largest in North America. The collection celebrates some of the most well-known Indigenous artists based in the US including contemporary works of today. The Heard also offers insight into the lives of various communities and their cultures. They also have a heartbreaking gallery that speaks to the truth of Residential Schools in the US. Much of what we have learned about what happened here in Canada also happened across the US. I spent about 3 hours in this museum.
Phoenix Art Museum: Located in the Arts District this is a perfect spot to take a break. Filled with fine arts as well as contemporary works it’s a great exploration. I discovered the works of Southwest artist Philip Curtis that were both deep in meaning yet whimsical – all is not what it appears in his fascinating paintings. Visitors will also find one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms here that is a beauty titled You Who Are Getting Obliterated In The Dancing Swarm Of Fireflies. A treat when I visited since there’s no time limit and I was pretty much the only person in for a very long time!
Musical Instrument Museum: located north of Scottsdale is worth the drive for any music lover. Take a walk through the history of music, the genres, and instruments from across the globe. Learn how popular instruments were made from Steinway pianos to Martin guitars. Music soundbites are offered all throughout the museum. Try your hand on some really amazing instruments and see how some of the most cherished finds are brought back to life in their restoration lab. This museum is packed full of interesting facts and stories. There are many ways to explore it but staff highly recommended choosing your favourites and go from there. It’s overwhelming if try to do it all. I spent 3 hours here.
Wonder Spaces: at Scottsdale Fashion Square: located conveniently in this popular mall is an immersive art space with contemporary installations. Aimed to show that “art is for everyone”, it’s a fun one to visit. “The Immigrant” by artist Michael Murphy greets you upon entry. Made of over 2000 suspended wooden balls it pays tribute to the cultural contributions made by immigrants. Various rooms play with light and music. Artists are rotated every few months to keep things fresh.
Day Trip to Sedona: You don’t have to spend an entire weekend or more to Sedona — unless you want to of course. There is definitely lots inspire a longer stay and there is no denying the natural draw to the vortexes in the area. Ask anyone who’s been, and those who call Sedona home, and they will tell you there’s an undeniable energy here. I had learned on a tour that Sedona boasts the most diverse spiritual and religious offerings in the world. It’s also considered a sacred place for the Navajo and Hopi Indigenous communities. This is where you’ll find the world famous red-rock formations that jut out of the earth across the desert land. Take a visit to the breathtaking Cathedral formation — there’s an actual Cathedral built within the formation. Sedona is also considered a place of healing so you may want to drop into one of the shops to pick up a few crystals. My favourite is the Sedona Crystal Vortex shop located on the Main Street. Looking for a spa to visit? Check out Mii amo an award winning wellness spa located at Boynton Canyon. If you’re interested in an Aura Reading check out Hillside Harmony. Another wonderful stop for Mexican arts and culture is the Tlaquepaque Village. Montezuma’s Castle: a must-stop if you’re taking the freeway up towards Sedona. This stop holds the history and stories behind several Indigenous groups who made the cliffs their homes. Literally. Multigenerational families carved out intricate dwellings within the cooling natural materials and it’s awe-inspiring.
Camelback Mountain & other Hiking trails: Arizona is known for the many outdoor activities and hiking is one of them. Camelback Mountain is the one of the most popular. Located in Scottsdale the foot path is easy to take but be warned that it does ascend up the mountain can get challenging. Consider the time of day (early morning is best when it’s not too hot out) and bring plenty of water. Wear proper hiking shoes and make sure your phone is charged up. There have been reports of people needing to be rescued and by the way that cost to airlift you out of there will be charged to you. Here’s a list of hiking trails ranked on difficulty that you’ll want to save.
There is no shortage of great restaurants but a must is Piazza Bianco. Featured on the Netflix series Chef’s Table Pizza it lives up to the hype. There are two locations. Be prepared for long lines. I visited the second location in Scottsdale located in a shopping mall. I arrived at the restaurant at 5 pm to put myself on their waitlist and only had to wait an hour for a seat. The mall had a few great shops to poke around so it worked out well.
Mowry + Cotton at the Phoenician Resort is a great casual restaurant for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. Fresh and healthier options on their menu with a great view of the hotel grounds. During the day you may get lucky and meet the resident falconry expert. The falconry staff walk around with their majestic feathered friends to help keep other birds away from stealing morsels of food from the outdoor dining area. They are also happy to chat about what they do.
Old Town Scottsdale is a popular area filled with restaurants, cafes, lounges, art galleries and local shops. FnB is a James Beard Award Winning spot located here. Other well known chefs also have restaurants here including Matt Carter’s The Mission. If you’re craving Tex-Mex style tacos and margaritas, check out Barrio Queen.
A Few Traveller Tips for Women:
I did a lot of exploring on my own and asked locals about personal safety. Being a female who is also person of colour, I also have that in the back of my mind when no matter where I’m travelling. Here, I felt safe everywhere but was advised to not be alone at night in Phoenix and even in daylight I should stick to the busier streets. I was also told it’s better to wear a cross-body bag rather than a purse or even a tote. Also, to avoid wearing obvious designer logos. All advice that I would stick with anywhere I travel to anyway.
Uber is a great way to get around in Phoenix and Scottsdale. Affordable and great conversations with the drivers to be had! BTW, Uber has an added safety feature now where you can “share your ride” with someone you trust. I also had “find my” active on my iPhone.
For excursions, you can also easily, and comfortably, explore places like the Montezuma’s Castle, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Apache Trail through tour companies that will pick you up from your hotel and return you at the end of the day. DETOUR AMERICAN WEST tours is a great one that I’ve trusted a few times.
The desert sun can be deceivingly hot. The dryness is more tolerable compared to the humidity we have at home. While the summer months in these parts of Arizona are scorching hot I find the best time to go is the fall. Daytime can reach pleasant temperatures for sundresses and nighttime you’ll just want to have a sweater handy. Of course always bring water and wear your sunscreen. Oh, and watch out for jumping cacti!
I plan to return to Arizona again this year as I have one big destination still on my travel “bucket list” as well as more scenic hiking to add to my list. There’s so much history to this State that’s worth learning about.