If you only have one day in Sedona

Sedona is a must-visit if you live in Phoenix or Los Angeles! Sedona has a relaxed atmosphere and provides a respite from the hustle of the city. If you’re on the way to visit the Grand Canyon, Sedona is only slightly out of the way and the nature here is unique enough to include on your itinerary. I visited Sedona and the Grand Canyon during my first trip to this area. Both were equally exciting. 

I’ve arranged the ideal day in Sedona assuming that you’re driving from the south, like Phoenix or LA. These are my must-see attractions in Sedona. While some areas may feel touristy, especially if you’re visiting on a summer weekend, these sights are iconic for a reason plus you are a tourist (nothing wrong with that!).

This post is organized so that my recommended spots are located near each other. I’ve always hated reading posts that take me to locations that criss cross around town. I’d also like to mention that Sedona prefers roundabouts instead of traffic lights. If you’re in a two-lane roundabout, please pay attention to signs so you don’t accidentally cut other cars.

In the Morning..

Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve visited Sedona twice and the drive is rather boring. Leaving very early helps avoid the heat from the sun from building up inside the car. From Phoenix, Sedona is less than a two hour drive and can be broken up with a pit stop at Montezuma Castle and the Sunset Point Rest Area lookout. 

About 20 minutes south of Sedona is the Village of Oak Creek. I begin my day trip here. I either go to Clark’s Market for a quick snack or to Red Rock Cafe for a full breakfast. Both of these places are located in the same plaza and have ample parking. Clark’s Market is a pricey grocery store so I only go here if I forgot to bring apples or protein bars. Red Rock Cafe is an unassuming diner with solid breakfast choices. Their cold sandwiches also make a great lunch. I like to snack and stretch my legs after a long drive. 

After grabbing some food, I drive a couple more minutes north and park at the Courthouse Loop South Trailhead. If this parking lot is full, there are more spaces at the Courthouse Vista lot which is the next right turn. I hike either the Bell Rock Loop (2 miles) or the Courthouse Butte Loop (4 miles). I’d say these trails are comfortable for beginners. The toughest part would be the lack of shade. Wear a hat and bring water here.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is my next stop. The architecture of this church is simple and beautiful. Parking here is limited to 45 spaces. Mass isn’t regularly held here but there is a Taize Prayer held at 5pm on Mondays.

Daytime Adventures!

The first stop in Sedona is Tlaquepaque. This is an outdoor arts and shopping area. It is not a dressed up mall with a lululemon. These are local shops, art galleries, and wine tastings. It’s very cute. I recommend having lunch here. Events are held occasionally at Tlaquepaque. The Sedona Community Farmers Market is set up in the parking lot on Friday mornings during the late spring through fall. Flamenco dancing with live music is always a treat to watch on Sunday through Tuesday evenings during the summer.

Cacti blooms in late spring on the trail to Boynton Canyon Vortex.

After a couple hours of leisure at Tlaquepaque, I recommend going back into nature! There are two hikes that will cover the essential Sedona experience: Boynton Canyon Vortex and Soldier’s Pass trail. Energy vortexes became really popular during the New Age movement and Sedona gained notoriety for its numerous vortex clusters. The Boynton Canyon Vortex is a quick mile-long hike. Energy vortexes are not visible but you may be able to feel the vibes. Soldier’s Pass is a 4-mile hike that passes the Devil’s sinkhole and Seven sacred pools, both iconic sights.

You may have seen the Devil’s Bridge when searching for Sedona trip ideas. This is also a 4-mile hike so it can be substituted for the Soldier’s Pass trail. I personally prefer the sights throughout Soldier’s Pass. Devil’s Bridge is heavily crowded and its best view is the arch at the end. There is a line to take a picture on the arch; it’s customary for you to take a picture of the person in front of you in line and likewise the person behind you will take your photo.

Berry Divine is the place to be after a day of hiking. Order a blended acai bowl, not the soft serve, because blended has the stronger acai flavor. There is a vegan option here. If you’re visiting in the middle of summer, an acai bowl may not be enough to cool off so drive across the street to Harkins Theater to catch the latest summer blockbuster film. It may seem lame to watch a movie while you’re on vacation but it gets extremely hot here and your body may need a break.

How did it get late so soon?

Finish the day with brews and a sunset picnic. Enjoy local brewed pints and tamales at Oak Creek Brewery on Yavapai Drive, not to be confused with the restaurant in Tlaquepaque. The brewery has a daily happy hour from 4 to 7pm and an outdoor patio. The kitchen also serves nachos and quesadillas but I think the tamales are the best option here.

Sunset views from the Airport Mesa. Taken in the springtime when gets chilly in the evenings.

Afterwards, head to Basha’s or Safeway to get cold drinks and picnic food (premade wraps, sandwiches or a pizza). Natural Grocers and Whole Foods are also nearby options but these are obviously more expensive. Drive to “Sedona Scenic Airport Lookout” on Google Maps and park on top of this mesa. Parking here is $3 last time I checked and they do accept credit cards. This is likely the most popular sunset viewing location in Sedona and arguably the best. 

I hope you enjoy your trip to Sedona!

Cat Cathy

Hey it's Cat Cathy here. I left my exhausting accounting job to freelance full-time. I now live a slow nomadic lifestyle where I stay on location for a month or so to write. Please feel free to reach out (IG @cattywud). I believe in living fully, maybe not everyday, cus that's too much energy, but like at the end of the day. #happyhapa

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