DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. READ THE FINE PRINT.
It’s not every day that I get to tell you guys about an awesome, new place that I’ve visited in the good ole US of A. (ICYMI, most of my travel posts tend to focus on European cities.) And that’s why I’m so excited to share all of our favorites from an Arizona scenic drive packed into one long weekend. We’re talking food, breweries, sights (read: the most awe-inspiring sight you will ever behold), and more!
Arizona: #31 on my list of states visited, #1 in my heart.
To be honest, it feels a little misleading to even use “Phoenix” here at the beginning because we spent so little time there. We literally landed at PHX at about 10 p.m. MST on a Thursday night thanks to bad weather around Denver. Then we did what any self-respecting person would: drove straight to In-N-Out for burgers and animal fries. (If you’ve never had In-N-Out, it is worth the hype and you must get your fries “animal style” aka smothered in cheese, Thousand Island, and grilled onions.)
We absolutely crashed that night, and when we got up the next morning we immediately got out of Dodge…
…And took a 30-minute drive over to Scottsdale. In a word, Scottdale is swanky. It felt like the Buckhead of Atlanta or Cincinnati’s… I’m sitting here trying to think of a Cincinnati parallel, and I’m just not sure we’re that bourgie up here. It’s kind of a shame, to be honest.
Anyway, think impressive open-air shopping centers and green, green golf courses despite the fact everything else surrounding it is pure desert. We were a little early for brunch and decided to drive around ooh-ing and aah-ing at ridiculously nice houses, if that gives you a bit more context.
We did finally do some noshing at the cutest little brunch spot called Farm & Craft. It’s a sustainable restaurant that focuses on whole, healthy foods and also has the most adorable decor. Spencer and I could not decide on one thing, so we ordered two build-your-own bowls: his with grass-fed beef, sweet potato hash, and bacon Brussels sprouts, and mine with all-natural chicken, cheddar cauliflower mash, and charred broccoli. (It’s actually impossible for me to say no to a cauliflower mash, and this one did not disappoint.)
I cannot recommend this restaurant more, so if you’re in the Phoenix area, do yourself a favor and check it out. Everything was delicious, the atmosphere was great, and it didn’t break the bank. All positives for sure.
Unfortunately, we had a pretty packed schedule, which meant immediately cruising out of Scottsdale to make it to Sedona for our afternoon appointment with some ATVs.
In case you were curious, the only way to do an Arizona scenic drive is in a suped-up convertible.
Let me start off by saying I am not an ATV person. I had a friend growing up who had a four-wheeler and acres of land, so I’m not a complete newbie, but I was also always the one riding, never driving. But to be honest, I had so much fun riding through desert in our little dune buggy.
We did a half day with Red Rock ATV Rentals, which lasted from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (We were actually a little later than 1 because the good food was so distracting, but they were super gracious and flexed our time for us!)
We had a two-person buggy that Spencer and I used for the majority of the time, and then this beast that our friend, Niraj, led the way on.
I feel like there’s a whole bunch of knowledge around ATV-ing that I didn’t know, but luckily our fearless leader did. And now I’m passing that know-how along to you.
Things you’ll want for ATV-ing:
- An “optional” helmet from your rental company (they’re not required in AZ, but you want one because you’re no dummy!)
- A bandanna to cover your nose and mouth because it is dusty
- Lots of water (our ATVs came with a cooler full of water)
- Clothing that you don’t mind getting covered in red dust
- Map of where you’re going (we got a laminated one with our trail clearly marked from the rental company)
You have to do a tiny bit of road riding to get onto the actual trails, which was a little disorienting. But then you’re there, surrounded by nature as far as the eye can see!
The landscape in Sedona is unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before in my life. You’ve all seen the famous red rocks in photos, but up close it’s a completely new experience. The color is remarkable (and not at all done justice in these photos, but I tried!).
If you want to check out the Honanki Heritage Site, which supposedly has cool cliff and rock art sites, don’t leave all your cash in the car. Because that’s what we did, and you have to pay a small fee to gain access to the site.
Instead, we carried on around the Red Rock trail loop that the rental company had designated for us. We took turns riding/driving, and I even spent approximately three minutes on the single-person ATV. I made it all the way up to 10 mph on a straightaway, and that was plenty for me!
One thing I never expected from Arizona is the crazy range of landscapes you can experience in what is, for all intents and purposes, a desert. I tried to capture it in my photos, but the foliage, the different natural structures, the wildlife, it’s all so much more diverse than I imagined it would be. It was all truly beautiful.
At the end of our ATV trip, we got off the road and took a little hike up to Devil’s Bridge in the Coconino National Forest.
The view was so beautiful that my blogger instincts got the best of me. Niraj would make a first-rate Instagram husband, right?
And then we shuffled out onto the narrow ledge of Devil’s Bridge. I know it might be difficult to tell, but there is nothing below us. Just a little arch of air. One girl did an impressive little jump that was equal parts terrifying and awe-inspiring.
Then we followed the Devil’s Bridge Trail back to the ATVs, got them back to the rental headquarters by 5:15, and headed north to Flagstaff.
We’ve reached the point in the blog post when I remind you to pack layers, and that’s not only because I am always cold. In Sedona, it was in the 80s with a high of about 92°. In Flagstaff, the high was maybe 70°. As we drove further and further north, you could feel the temperature dropping. At one point I even considered asking to put the top up on the car, and then I decided I could handle 45 minutes of chilly wind for the views.
Sometimes I think, Do we really want to stay in an Airbnb tonight? And then we have an experience like we did in Flagstaff, and the answer is immediately apparent. Guys, we stayed in an RV in a woman’s driveway, and it was fantastic.
First of all, they had a cat. He was an old, little ginger thing, and he had his own practically-on-the-ground-it’s-so-low lawn chair. The host herself was so sweet. She’d made the most amazing blueberry muffins for us, and then the RV itself wasn’t too bad either. Spacious, warm, and the perfect size for our trio.
We barely spent any time in the Airbnb because as soon as we got settled, we drove into town for a little food and a lot of brewery hopping. This portion of our Arizona scenic drive brought to you by Lyft. 😉
Name: Lumberyard Brewing Company
Beer: Pumphouse Porter
We started off our night of brewery hopping here at Lumberyard, and it was honestly my favorite of the night. They do a solid porter (despite being summer it was around 70° and chilly, which made it perfect porter weather). We sat at the bar and decided to eat there, too. Get the award-winning Vietnamese Burger. It gets two thumbs way up.
This brewery was my favorite of the trio we visited. The food was amazing, the staff was friendly and knowledgeable, and they brewed some darn good beers.
Name: Historic Brewing Barrel + Bottle House
Beer: Piehole Porter
When we walked into this little brewery tucked off the main street, I fell in love. There was a guy playing acoustic guitar in the corner, the decor was kind of minimalist meets rustic, and they had one of those taps that’s so refreshingly uniform but must be a bitch to actually use.
Did I mention they serve flights on books? That’s right. Six adorable glasses set into a book cover. I was swooning too much to get a picture.
Name: Mother Road Brewing Company
Beer: Kölsch Style Ale (not pictured)
We got to the final brewery of the night just before last call, and I kind of regret not giving ourselves more time to sit out in the beautiful outdoor area, complete with string lights and the most adorable beagle puppy who was still learning to use his paws. (But just once more, bring a jacket. Flagstaff is chilly.)
We did sit for a spell and play Cards Against Humanity while sipping our final beers of the night. Then we caught a Lyft back to the RV and dreamed of the next day’s trip to the Grand Canyon!
The Grand Canyon is about an hour and a half from Flagstaff, which meant we had to get a little sustenance to hold us over. These donuts are from The Fractured Prune in Flagstaff, and they were pretty fantastic.
They all start with the same donut base, and then they add frostings and toppings to the hot-from-the-fryer donuts to create your own magical creations. Pictured below are OC Sand, Rocky Shores, Cookies & Cream, and Morning Buzz.
Then we got on the road! The top was up on the drive to the Grand Canyon because it was drizzly. But to be honest with you, the rain was more welcome than beating sun and hot, hot desert temps. Not every bit of an Arizona scenic drive has to be top down, desert sky-driving.
We were lucky enough to go with a U.S. National Parks junkie who had the annual pass, which let our car in for free. If you plan to make it to more than two national parks in a year, I would recommend getting the pass. It would’ve been $35 for our car without the pass, and you can buy the pass for unlimited access to all 49 U.S. National Parks for $80.
Once we made it into Grand Canyon National Park, we had a bit of a drive to actually get to the South Rim, and our first Grand Canyon interaction took place on a narrow road going up the side of a mountain.
Word to the wise: When you see a huge elk on the side of the room, do not get out of your car and approach it. It was a beautiful animal, but that doesn’t mean you should try to interact with it.
And then we were at the GRAND CANYON! My photos aren’t going to capture the beauty and the majesty and all those other words from America the Beautiful, so you’ll have to get out to Arizona and see them for yourself.
Two sun-burnt goofballs at the Canyon <3
At the Desert View Watchtower, which was designed in 1932 in the style of ancestral Pueblo towers, you can get an amazing view of the canyon. There are also murals covering the walls by a Hopi artist, and they also supposedly do cultural and artist demonstrations, too.
There aren’t any words good enough to describe the Grand Canyon, so I won’t even try! Do yourself a favor and get out there. You won’t regret it.
After spending a few hours walking around the Grand Canyon, we got back in the car and drove three and a half hours back south. That’s when we found ourselves in Phoenix, and this time we did have a little blog-worthy evening!
Our lovely hosts Niraj and Pallavi took us out to Angels Trumpet Ale House, which had an amazing selection of beer and the best food. I didn’t remember to take a photo until after we’d mostly demolished an order of chipotle hummus, an order of hot pretzels, an order of spud taquitos, and two flatbreads: the Farm (mmm, goat cheese) and the Bandit. Everything was spectacular, and we were absolutely stuffed.
But not so full that we couldn’t also enjoy these fantastic pops that were swirls of ice cream and cookie dough, frozen and dipped in chocolate and covered in almonds. One day, I will learn how to make these.
And there you have it! We packed our Arizona scenic drive with a little bit of everything. We did so much and experienced so much, and I hope our plans inspire you to go out and make your own. Have questions? Need more info about ATV-ing? Want to chat about Flagstaff breweries? Drop me a line in the comments!
P.S. If distilleries are more your style than breweries, do I have a Kentucky Bourbon Trail itinerary for you!