Planning a trip to Arizona? HOLR is breaking down the Top 11 “Out Of The Box” places to go, stay, and see while exploring the Grand Canyon state.
Known as a year-round destination that features the ultimate in adventure and scenery, Arizona is a true travel lover’s dream. Offering breathtaking sunsets and sweeping mountain range views, Arizona has it all and is the place to be when it comes to embracing outdoor activities, picturesque accommodations, and stunning panoramic desert landscapes. Perfect for solo travelers, couples, and families alike, Arizona is quickly becoming a “can’t miss” stop on everyone’s travel itinerary.
If you’re embarking on an unforgettable getaway to the copper state, check out our go-to list of “Out Of The Box” tips and tricks curated to make your next trip to Arizona one of a kind.
1. Rent A Car And Travel Road-Trip Style
If you can, try touring Arizona via a rental car so you can see as much of the landscape as possible from your own perspective. If you’re all about taking in Arizona’s sweeping desert landscape, renting a car to make a fun road trip out of your stay is the way to go because you can customize your daily stops and activities.
Here’s how to make the most out of your Arizona trip, road trip-style.
It’s important to plan ahead. Our recommendation? Fly into Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport and pick up your rental vehicle from the airport’s conveniently located car rental service. Then, embark on a journey where you head to Flagstaff and make your way down to Scottsdale, stopping in cities such as Sedona and Cottonwood along the way for a scenic tour of Arizona’s top spots.
Hot Tip: Try to take the Scenic Loop Drive if driving from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. This is because Sunset Crater Volcano can be found along a 34-mile scenic loop road that takes you from the Ponderosa pine forests around Sunset Crater, through Juniper grasslands. You’ll also gain a view of the Painted Desert and get to witness the spanning red rock landscape which encompasses the Wupatki Basin and Wupatki National Monument.
2. Stay Small and Local At A Charming Boutique Hotel or Inn
Boutique hotels and inns often offer a unique, personalized experience that other chain hotels don’t typically cater to. Luxury boutique hotels and inns are on the rise as they take into account the surroundings and what their unique location has to offer. This means that you can expect a more immersive, intimate setting that makes these properties more of an “Out Of The Box” stay compared to others.
If you’re on the hunt for a must-stay in Flagstaff Arizona, Bespoke Inn Flagstaff is a charming boutique hotel that features the ideal blend of historic charm and modern amenities. It was built in 1894 but recently underwent renovations to ensure it’s a go-to in the heart of Downtown Flagstaff. This property has luxe accommodations that include a mix of rooms and suites equipped with elevated essentials such as; a cozy gas fireplace, Wi-Fi, The Heavenly Bed luxury linens, and Bespoke Blend Special Roast pour-over coffee service. We stayed in the property’s Olivia and Marcel Suite which featured a gorgeous en-suite bathroom as well as a separate living and bedroom space to relax and unwind in. Thoughtfully blending comfort with convenience, we appreciated the attention to detail throughout the property, as it skillfully maintained a sense of historic heritage while offering guests a modern, serene stay in the heart of the city’s bustling center.
3. Take Turns Gazing At Stars And Planets At Lowell Observatory
No trip to Flagstaff, Arizona is complete without a stop at Lowell Observatory – AKA The Home of Pluto- for a little nighttime star gazing. For more than 125 years, Lowell Observatory has been dedicated to connecting people to the universe- through thoughtful and immersive exploration, discovery, and education. It was founded in 1894, in which the property now offers visitor programs designed to embrace its history while giving guests the opportunity to embark on interactive tours and presentations.
A must-try experience to take part in is The Giovale Open Deck Observatory which features one of the finest collections of telescopes available for public observation where visitors can discover it all- from plentiful star fields and planets to incredible nebulae and galaxies. This is the ideal late-night activity to embrace if you’re on a romantic getaway with your significant other or have family members who love exploring the night sky.
4. Do The Trail Of Time Hike At The Grand Canyon
A trip to the Grand Canyon during your stay in Arizona may be an obvious choice, but embarking on the Trail of Time Hike is an “Out Of The Box” detour that you can add to your scenic stop.
Starting at the Verkamp Visitor Center, this 1.5-mile trail features expansive exhibits that span 1.5 billion years in geologic time. If you’re a history buff, this is the perfect hiking trail to gain a better understanding of the history of the canyon – all while taking in the canyon’s striking views.
5. Stay In A Landscape Hotel
For a luxurious, “Out Of The Box” stay, be sure to check out Ambiente Sedona – A Landscape Hotel. Designed to nurture your senses, the property takes conservation and environmental challenges to heart in which the hotel is dedicated to conserving and preserving. As a result, there are design processes put in place that protect and maintain the natural landscape the property sits on. In this sense, the restoration of an ancient waterway is uniquely incorporated into the design of the resort which guests can also enjoy as a water feature throughout the property, utilizing aqua therapy.
In terms of amenities, this hotel offers a luxurious natural escape, in which rooms feature personal rooftops with panoramic views, state-of-the-art furnishings, complimentary delights, and high-tech integrations amid other modern amenities. The property also features a restaurant on-site, Restaurant Forty1, as well as a serene pool for guests to lounge in and around.
Some of our favorite features about this hotel include its spa experiences, featuring massage therapies and body treatments, and expansive dining options that allow you to customize your experience from check-in to check-out. This is a gorgeous property that will truly make your stay one to remember as it offers uncompromised luxury amid the red rocks.
6. Embark On A Water To Wine Tour With Verde Adventures
Calling all venturesome enthusiasts over the age of 21. This Water To Wine Tour with Verde Adventures is a fun addition to any Arizona itinerary because it includes a healthy mix of adventure and indulgence. Be prepared for a must-try activity while in Cottonwood as guests have the opportunity to take part in a kayaking trip along the Verde River followed by an outdoor wine tasting experience.
Highlights from this activity include a leisurely adventure down the Verde River in your own personal kayak where you’ll have the chance to marvel at the scenic views. Following your water adventure, you’ll embark on a wine-tasting experience at Alcantara Vineyards.
Don’t worry- if you’re a first-time kayaker like I was, it was fairly easy to get the hang of maneuvering your personal kayak. All in all, this is a 10/10 experience that will leave you with lasting memories.
7. Create Your Own Food Tour
According to VisitArizona.com, the food scene in Arizona offers a delicious mix of Mexican, Native American, and European food traditions. If you’re looking for a way to make your trip to Arizona one of a kind, create your own “foodie tour” at each stop where you can experience the best Arizona has to offer in terms of drinks and dishes.
Here are some of our top recommendations when it comes to the top eats in Arizona:
Teatro is a top Italian restaurant in Flagstaff highlighting authentic Italian cuisine. The space is intimate, and the menu features decadent offerings made with locally sourced produce, fresh Mediterranean seafood, and imported ingredients. Be sure to try the Tiramisu!
The Vault Uptown is an ideal spot to take in one of the best views in the city while dining, and enjoying a cocktail. Plus, the spot’s “Trash Can Nachos” are a must-try. If you’re up for a more adventurous choice, Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill sits atop a scenic bluff and features delicious South American-inspired dishes.
Our favorite? As guests of Amara Resort & Spa in Sedona, we experienced the traditional Southwest menu at the property’s SaltRock SouthWest Kitchen. This restaurant offers the best local fare in which modern cuisine is accented by seasonal ingredients, hand-crafted cocktails, and stunning property views. Must-tries from the dinner include; Blue Crab Empanadas, Lobster Al-Pastor Tacos, and Pan-Seared Scallops.
In fact, be sure to add Amara Resort & Spa to your list of must-stays when going to Arizona. This beautiful property recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation and now offers a stunning “tree lodge” aesthetic throughout guestrooms and spaces. This scenic red rock report is expertly designed to allow guests to refresh and recharge with modern amenities such as its signature zero-edge infinity pool, spa & fitness center, and on-site dining experience. We loved the spacious, modern room design, which featured views overlooking the breathtaking red rock landscape.
Colt Grill in Cottonwood is a family-owned establishment that features made-from-scratch dishes centered around smoked meats. Offering delicious comfort food cooked in giant steel smokers with genuine hardwoods, you can expect to indulge in menu items such as; back ribs, brisket, chicken, and pulled pork.
The Herb Box features super fresh, seasonally-inspired dishes and ingredients that make up the menu’s traditional recipes. A definite must-try is the Brown Sugar Pulled Pork Sliders and the Market Street Short Rib Mini Tacos (which are gluten-free).
Postino Highland is another go-to in Scottsdale as it is the Valley’s original local WineCafe. Started in 2001, the establishment was built with a unique approach- simple, delectable food prepared with local ingredients, accompanied by delicious wine. During our dining experience, we had the pleasure of tasting that day’s top contenders of the “Battle of the Bruschetta.” Our fave? The Mexican Street Corn is a must-try!
Old-world charm meets modern elegance at The Mission Restaurant and Lounge, which is a go-to in Scottsdale. This space offers Modern Latin Cuisine in an intimate setting that seamlessly blends sophisticated casual dining with elevated menu items. Some must-tries from the kitchen include; Mission Guacamole (made tableside), Halibut, and Duck Carnitas Empanada.
Prepare to be thoroughly impressed with Hearth ’61, which sits adjacent to Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale. This establishment features bold, seasonal dishes from Chef de Cuisine Alfred Muro offering American and Mediterranean menu items complete with an expansive wine list and selection of innovative cocktails. This dinner is an easy 10/10 as dishes are inspired by the flavors of local and organic ingredients. Top faves? The House Meatballs came highly recommended and the Italian Sausage Flatbread was a crowd-pleaser.
8. Experience A Wine Tasting At Merkin Vineyards’ Old Town Tasting Room
Merkin Old Town Scottsdale is committed to bringing community members a top Arizona experience. This includes highlighting a flexible menu where patrons can enjoy delicious food and wine offerings grown and sourced from the property- as well as Arizona’s top-tier farms, fields, pastures, and trees.
For an “Out Of The Box” experience, head to Merkin Old Town Scottsdale for a unique wine tasting and discover how all of the wines are produced from 110 acres of estate vineyards in the Verde Valley and Willcox regions of Arizona.
9. Enjoy A Round Of Golf At Your Hotel
Arizona is known as a top golf destination, so why not enjoy an “Out Of The Box” golf experience that includes going for a round at your hotel?
If you’re staying at the luxurious Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale, the property offers amenities such as an on-site golf course where you can tee off on a scenic 18-hole course specially designed for fun, fast rounds. Since each hole is a par 3 you can practice perfecting your short game.
In addition to the on-site golf course, Mountain Shadows Resort is a must-stay because it’s a stunning property nestled below Camelback Mountain and Mummy Mountain, offering a gorgeous setting to relax and take in the stunning scenery. Earning its name from the shadows cast by the iconic silhouettes each afternoon, this boutique resort is located in Paradise Valley and was opened in 1959, in which modern design and historic retro flair go hand in hand. In fact, this resort hosted famous guests such as John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor back in the day.
Boasting 183 guest rooms and amenities such as a restaurant with an exhibition kitchen, two pools, a high-tech fitness facility, and 37,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, this is a can’t-miss in the heart of Scottsdale. We distinctly loved the resort’s blend of timeless luxury with modern amenities, in which the rooms were spacious yet contemporary, offering a piece of serenity in the midst of the bustling city.
10. Explore Scottsdale ArtWalk
Scottsdale’s Art Walk is a lifestyle go-to activity that’s free and takes place every Thursday- except Thanksgiving- offering a celebration of art within the city. This “Out Of The Box” Thursday activity allows visitors to experience a cultural environment with featured artists and refreshments making this the perfect way to enjoy an evening in Scottsdale with family and friends.
11. Take A Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride
Arizona sunrises and sunsets are not to be missed, so what better way to take in the stunning scenery than with a sunrise hot air balloon ride? Start your day off with a breathtaking view of the Sonoran Desert and take flight with Hot Air Expeditions, which specializes in offering magical hot air balloon rides and experiences. A truly “Out Of The Box” experience to take part in, Hot Air Expeditions provides top service, enjoyable rides, and beautiful scenic views- ensuring memories that will last a lifetime.
These are just a few fun ways to make your trip to Arizona extra special, so be sure to check out some- if not all- of our HOLR-recommended must-tries for the ultimate “Out Of The Box” itinerary of things to do while exploring this extraordinary destination.
Published by HOLR Magazine.