Sedona, AZ / Birthday Trip

Despite a full year of COVID-19, we have been able to continue our birthday travel tradition. We kept it close to home for Scout’s birthday back in June when we traveled to Table Rock Lake, but after all of us contracted COVID in December / January, we decided we felt comfortable hopping on a plane finally. It had been exactly a year since I had flown and I was itching to get away for a while. Five years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a work conference in Phoenix and Scottsdale. While there, my boss and I were able to explore the area while visiting some of our retail locations. We drove through Sedona, Prescott, and Jerome and I instantly fell in love (check out the photos, here) and made it a goal to get my boys there to see it as soon as possible. I proposed the idea to Sawyer for his 9th birthday trip, and he was super excited. We invited our parents and started planning!

We left on his birthday, February 17, and flew from Springfield to Phoenix. Then we rented a car and drove the beautiful scenic drive to where we were staying near Sedona. I highly recommend to drive as much as you can while visiting. There is so much to see, even a 2-hour drive is enjoyable. We found the perfect place for us to stay (we had 2 kids, and 5 adults) with an amazing VRBO host. The owner went above and beyond and the house was exactly what we needed – lots of space, centrally located, with a pool / hot tub – read more about that below.

We wanted this to be 100% a Sawyer trip so let him call the shots on what we would see and do (with some nudging and help from us, of course). Here is our itinerary and recommendations, but I will be honest when I say there was a ton more we could have done. Guess we will just need to come back!

Check out all our trip photos here:

Where we stayed:

We rented a home in the Village of Oak Creek near Sedona. The backyard has a direct sight of Gunsight Rock and is only 1.5 miles from world-famous Cathedral Rock and ultra-exclusive Red Rock Crossing. It is also only 1.5 miles from Bell Rock. The house is very spacious and sleeps 20. We spent the majority of the time in the backyard enjoying the heated pool and hot tub (yes, we swam in February!). I found the property on VRBO and the host, A1 Diamond Luxury Homes was excellent and attentive. They own five other rental homes in the area that are all perfect for families or a fun couples getaway. Here is where we stayed:

What we did:

Day 1: This was a long travel day due to a changed flight through Charlotte instead of Dallas into Phoenix (instead of our original plan to Flagstaff) and sitting on the runway for an hour due to snow. Once we had our rental car, we at least got to witness the beautiful sunset as we drove the nearly 2 hours from Phoenix to Sedona. It was a wonderful introduction to the Arizona scenary.

Day 2: First on the agenda, check out the hot tub and pool! With the boys coming from -15 degree temperatures in Missouri they were chomping at the bit to get to swim in February! After they got their pool fix and breakfast, we made the short drive (only 1.5 miles) to visit the breathtaking Cathedral Rock. If you haven’t heard of it, Cathedral Rock is a natural sandstone butte located in the Coconino National Forest. It is listed as one of the most-photographed sights in Arizona and definitely a must-see! It is a nice sightseeing spot to hit that is quick and easy for all ages and fitness levels.

After cathedral rock, we were ready for a longer hike and choose Devil’s Bridge Trail. Located 12 miles west of Sedona, it is a 4.2 miles roundtrip trek and features the largest natural sandstone arch in the Sedona area. The trail is made up of soft red sand, which makes for a nice walk. Full disclosure, it was definitely more difficult than what we expected. Not only is the hike fairly long for little ones, but as you near the arch the elevation reached 4,600 feet and to get to the top you will add another 400-foot climb and .9 miles to get to the top. With the steep hike up and extreme drop-off, we decided our boys would stay back with my mom and mother-in-law. They were totally fine just enjoying a rock stacking site before starting the hike back. John, my dad, and I finished the trail and got to see the incredible arch. If you are afraid of heights, you should definitely skip this! Walking out on the arch is a bucket list item and a highlight of our trip! The total hike (with the kids) was about 3 hours, but you could do it quicker without kids.

Day 3: We decided with the forecast being the warmest on this day, we would do an afternoon Grand Canyon Tour. This allowed for another laid back morning of breakfast and swimming before hopping in the car for the 1-hour drive to Flagstaff for our 2:30 p.m. tour. The drive provided spectacular views of the snow-covered San Francisco peaks. To provide a little color to the magnificence that are the Peaks…it is a volcanic mountain range in San Francisco volcanic field in north central Arizona, just north of Flagstaff and a remnant of the former San Francisco Mountain. Humphreys Peak, is 12,633 feet in elevation, and the highest point in the state of Arizona.

For our tour, we selected Pink Jeep Tours, which is highly-regarded in the area for their variety of tours throughout Arizona. We choose the 2-hour Grand Entrance private tour. Prior to departure, we arrived early to see the included IMAX movie Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets. It is excellent and provides the history of the Grand Canyon. After the movie, we met our guide and loaded our jeep to the South Rim of the canyon and our first stop, Duck on a Rock. To say we were speechless, is an understatement. I truly have never seen anything like the Grand Canyon….it totally lives up to the hype and photos don’t do it justice. To be honest, I was nervous the whole time as my boys moved from site to site…the drop is insane and full mom mode was on! Our guide took us to a few other spots, including the Grand Canyon Pyramids named after Egytian gods. She provided historical and education information on our drives and even pointed out the native juniper trees where we got to sample juniper berries (I am a gin fan, so this was awesome!) On our jeep ride back, off the side of the road a family of Elk ran by so we were able to stop and see them playing. When we made it back to the jeep depot, we took our guide’s recommended to make a stop at the Grand Canyon Chocolate Factory. Such a fun day!

Day 4: We wanted to get in one more hike before we headed home the next day, so we visited Red Rock State Park. John and Scout stayed home and rested (Scout didn’t sleep well) and swam. The park is perfect for all levels and is 5-miles of trails that are interconnecting loops leading along Oak Creek and the famed red rocks of Sedona. We choose the Kisva and part of the Eagle’s Nest trails which totaled about 2.4 miles roundtrip. We saw at least half a dozen mule deer, including a big buck just lounging in the grass. It is a beautiful park.

After our hike, we were ready to eat! We drove about 40 minutes to Jerome, AZ, for that much-anticipated meal at the Haunted Hamburger. Jerome is one of the coolest cities I have ever seen and called the Wickedest Towns in the West, this old copper mining town has a lot to see. While we waited for our table, we shopped their unique shops and took in the 100-mile view. The city is built into the side of Cleopatra Hill, overlooking Verde Valley. The boys got some great souvenirs at the local shops and we had fun learning all about the Haunted Hamburger’s ghost tales.

Day 5: Unfortunately this was our last day. We capped our vacation off with more swimming and uno games before driving back to Flagstaff for our departure flight. The Flagstaff airport is adorable and super tiny with literally two boarding gates. A really easy airport to navigate!

What we ate:

Rotten Johnny’s / Sedona: We got in from Phoenix to Sedona fairly late due to weather delays, but the first thing Sawyer spotted was Rotten Johnny’s Wood-Fired Pizza Pie. I am so glad we stopped because it was yummy and their service was INCREDIBLE! They treated Sawyer like royalty for his birthday. Just read through their menu and you will want to fly there now.

Red Rock Cafe / Sedona: We are suckers for a good breakfast spot, especially local diners. This place was around the corner from our house and definitely worth the stop. Breakfast is served all day and they are known for their 3 lb. cinnamon roll (yes you read that right). We were able to eat on it all week!

Maria’s Restaurant & Cantina / Sedona: After a long hike, we were ready to feast on chips and margaritas (virgin for the kiddos) and stumbled upon Maria’s near our house. The owner waited on us and was so friendly, he shared that the restaurant is one of the oldest in the area with traditional family dishes. I ordered the chile relleno and John and my mom did the tamales…both were seriously the best we have ever had! Everywhere we went, had fantastic service…even Sawyer commented on how friendly the locals were!

Oak Creek Espresso: Since we were staying at a house with a coffee maker, we were able to make our own coffee; however the first day before we shopped, we stopped at Oak Creek Espresso to get our fix. So, while this isn’t a food recommendation I had to include because….oh man, do they have the best cold brew ever! I did mine with oat milk, and am seriously craving it now as I type it. We ended up going back a few more times despite having our own coffee.

Altitude’s Bar & Grill / Flagstaff: After our Grand Canyon tour, we decided to eat in Flagstaff. Originally, we wanted to try out a local brewery Beaver Street, but they had an hour wait. Fortunately, across the street was Altitude’s and we luckily stumbled in minutes before their kitchen closed. First thing I spotted on the menu was walleye, so I was sold! The boys enjoyed the ski decor (they are located near the Ski Bowl) and that their kids meals are served in take-home frisbees.

The Haunted Hamburger / Jerome: On my first trip to Arizona, we visited Jerome and headed to visit the Haunted Hamburger since it comes highly recommend per the Travel Channel. But unfortunately, we were on a time crunch and the wait was way too long. When we were planning this trip, I had shared the stories of the restaurant with Sawyer and there was no way he would let us NOT eat here. So, we planned ahead and got there early anticipating a wait…and we were right. When we got there at 4 p.m. the wait time was 1 hour and 45 minutes. The wait was definitely worth it, the burgers and their whole menu is tasty. I don’t eat red meat, but all of their burgers can be swapped for turkey, score! We capped our meals off with their speciality shakes while we walked the restaurant looking for ghosts.

As you can tell, even with just 5 days in Sedona we were able to do, eat, and see a lot. It is a family-friendly location that you can either jam pack with activities or even just relax and enjoy the views. There is no doubt we will make another trip out soon!

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