Arizona is a state rich with diversity, history, and stunning landscapes. Many people visit the Phoenix area but to really get to see what’s special about Arizona, you need to head out from Phoenix to see other parts of the state. Here are the best Phoenix day trips you won’t want to miss.
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- Where to Stay in Phoenix
- Check Out Phoenix and the Best Phoenix Day Trips
Phoenix is a great place to visit and a perfect place to set off on road trips to explore Arizona. There is an international airport so it’s easy to get flights there and it’s centrally located in the state. Phoenix metro offers a lot to do including hiking, some incredible museums, and the restaurant scene in Phoenix is a foodie’s paradise. Even so, it’s worth taking some day trips to see this incredible state, and here are the best options.
One of the most popular Phoenix day trips is to the city of red rocks: Sedona. Sedona is a stunning place to visit and one of the prettiest places in the state. It’s a must-see for any visit to Phoenix and well worth a day trip or more.
Sedona got its start as an artist’s enclave. It has grown a lot since its early days, though you can still find lots of art galleries ranging from paintings, sculptures, metal works, jewelry, and more.
You can easily spend many days in Sedona as there’s a lot to see and do. You wouldn’t be the first traveler to extend your visit! So, plan accordingly for the risk!
Sedona is filled with red-rock buttes just begging to be hiked. The area is so beautiful, and it’s worth hitting the trails to see it up close. Some popular trails are Boynton Canyon and the Bell Rock and Courthouse Rock area. Devil’s Bridge is a stunning natural bridge that you can cross over if you dare, providing some incredible views of the area. There are hundreds of trails in and around Sedona, offering all levels of difficulty.
Hunt for Rocks
A number of the red-rock buttes have special names for the shapes that they look like. Snoopy Rock looks like the image of snoopy laying on the top of his doghouse. Bell Rock is a perfect bell shape. And when you view coffeepot Rock, you can’t help but see one of those old percolator coffee pots that were used decades ago. There are many different areas with great names and it’s fun to drive around to check them out. Maybe you’ll find some new ones!
Explore the Galleries
Some artists left Sedona as it has grown larger and has become increasingly popular with tourists. Though, there are still many galleries around town. You’ll see a range of different types of art from western, Native American, abstract, Mexican, and southwestern art.
Tlaquepaque is an area in Sedona inspired by the town in Mexico with a number of galleries, though they are also all over town. If you see a place that strikes your fancy, stop in. You may find the treasure you have (or have not!) been seeking.
Connect with Your Spirituality
Not only is Sedona an artistic place, but it’s also a very spiritual one as well. It is known for being a vortex center alive with an energy that is believed to be conducive to meditation, self-exploration, and healing. Stop by one and see if you can feel the energy of the area.
You’ll also find lots of shops selling spiritual items, services, and crystals. Are you looking for an aura reading or a chakra cleansing? Sedona is the place for it.
Visit the Church in the Rocks
The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a small Roman Catholic chapel built right in the Sedona buttes overlooking the city. It’s a place with unique architecture and it offers some of the most stunning views of the area.
It was built in 1956 by a student of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He was known for his work designing in harmony with the environment. When you see the chapel, it looks like it belongs exactly where it was placed. The materials are from the surrounding area.
Wander Around Oak Creek
Though most people come to Sedona to visit the red rock paradise, Oak Creek is another highlight. It’s a soothing place to escape the tourists, particularly during the busy season in the summer.
It’s a beautiful, meandering stream that runs through a portion of the area. It actually runs behind some of the main strip in town off route 89A behind the Arroyo Roble Resort and some shops. The Oak Creek Visitor’s Center is a good place to get information if you want to visit. There are also hiking trails along the creek or that cross the area that is quite beautiful. And of course, you can pick a large boulder in the middle of the creek to just sit and watch the world go by.
How to Get There: Sedona is an easy drive just under 2 hours north of Phoenix. Take the I-17 through the mountains, and you’ll drive through some really beautiful desert areas. If you can leave Phoenix just before sunrise, you’ll be rewarded with some stunning views as the mountains light up with shades of blue and violet before taking on the brownish hues of the desert during the daytime.
When some of the artists left Sedona, they moved to the small town of Jerome. This town was established in the late 19th century when copper was found around Cleopatra Hill. A mining operation was established, and the town swelled to nearly 20,000 people by the 1920s.
By the 1950s, the ore ran out, and the town was under 100, almost becoming a ghost town. Then the artists moved in and by the early 21st century, Jerome had a revitalization. There are now art galleries, a coffee shop, a handful of restaurants, and a mining museum. And if you’re feeling daring, there’s even a haunted hotel you can stay in at the top of the hill, the Jerome Grand Hotel.
Jerome’s pace is slow but it’s fun to walk up the switchbacks in this small town and think about what life was like there 100 years ago. Visit a glassblower and watch him perform his craft and a potter as well. There’s also a great winery, Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards, which scores rave reviews from wine lovers.
How to Get There: Jerome is north on I-17, sort of on the way to Sedona. Take 260 West to 89A South. On the way, you’ll drive through two small picturesque towns of Cottonwood and Clarksdale, which are worth a stop if you have the time. In these towns, you can get a feel for small-town Arizona.
You’ll also pass right by Tuzigoot National Monument, a 2-to-3 story Native Americal pueblo ruin that was partially recreated. You can climb through it to see how some of the Native Americans lived in this arid area. It’s a great way to see the history of Arizona from the time of the Sinagua people.
Prescott is around two hours from Phoenix, making it another popular day trip from Phoenix. It’s at a higher elevation than Phoenix, so it’s especially popular when temperatures heat up in Phoenix as people go to enjoy the cooler weather. You can also go to Prescott to visit the snow in the wintertime.
Prescott features a quaint and historic city square that provides a taste of what the Old West once was. There’s also a lot of natural beauty in the Prescott area as well. Here are some favorites.
Explore Historic Prescott Square
The historic Prescott Square is a great place to stroll around as the city has done a wonderful job of preserving the historic feel. Wander the antique shops and stores filled with interesting western lore. The old courthouse in Courthouse Plaza is great for a photo op.
Then grab a bite at the many fantastic restaurants like Murphy’s and Farm Provisions. The Barley Hound is super dog-friendly and even features a menu for your furry friend.
When the town center is quiet, you can almost get a feel for lawmen and outlaws, cowboys and gamblers in the ways of that point in time. Maybe you’re walking in the footsteps of some of Prescott’s famous past, like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday.
Go to Whiskey Row, a block of historic bars and saloons, and be sure to stop at Palace Bar and Restaurant, which opened back in 1877. And if you decide to stay the night, Hassayampa Inn built in 1927 is a beautiful boutique hotel just a block from the square that was lovingly restored to its 1920’s glory.
Enjoy Watson Lake
Only ten minutes from Prescott Square is a striking reservoir at the Granite Dells, a rock formation made of large granite boulders. Years of erosion have created a softly-rounded grouping of these huge rocks with interesting color striations. The area is picturesque and has a subtle beauty to it.
This lake isn’t for swimming, though there’s plenty of other fun things to do. You can rent canoes and kayaks on the lake and enjoy the rock views from the center of it. They also have boat docks where you can bring your own. Fishing, rock climbing, hiking, camping, and boating are all popular activities here.
How to Get There: Watson Lake is an easy drive north on I17 to east state road 69.
Flagstaff is a small college town, proudly showcasing Northern Arizona University (NAU). There is a quaint and historic downtown and lots of fun outdoor activities.
Visit Downtown Flagstaff
The center of Flagstaff is a cute little hippie enclave with lots of small shops, art galleries, and restaurants. You’ll see musicians playing on street corners with a crowd casually enjoying them. Beer crafters and coffee roasters are plentiful as well as bars.
Ski at the Snowbowl
If you’re a skier, Flagstaff is the place for you in Arizona. The Arizona Snowbowl is a ski resort in the San Francisco Peaks and the top spot for skiing and snowboarding. There are eight lifts and many trails with different levels of difficulty.
In the summer, hiking is big in Flagstaff. Mount Humphrey is a 14k-foot peak in the San Francisco range, and there are other popular hikes as well.
Explore Native American Ruins
To see another aspect of Arizona history, visit Native American ruins. There are two close to downtown Flagstaff, Wupatki and Walnut Canyon. Wupatki is a beautiful red rock complex near Sunset Crater. Walnut Canyon is a cliff dwelling in a heavily-wooded plateau carved by Walnut Creek. It’s a short hike to reach the ruins. Both are worth seeing if you have the time and they represent the very different ways Native Americans once lived in this very arid area.
How to Get There: Flagstaff is right off I17 North a couple of hours north of Phoenix. You’ll pass the exit to Sedona to get there.
Tucson is the second-largest metropolitan area in Arizona, located in the southwestern corner of Arizona. It’s a vibrant community filled with Mexican heritage, with the border to Mexico less than two hours away.
Hang with the Cool Kids at 4th Ave
4th Ave. Historic Arts District is the lifeblood of Tucson. It features some fun and funky shops and galleries along with some great restaurants. It’s the place for nightlife, and there are a lot of bars and clubs. Down one end is the historic Hotel Congress with the best Bloody Mary bar anywhere. The Cup restaurant is one of Tucson’s best, an added bonus—the hotel is super dog-friendly.
Titan Missile Museum
This museum was once a strategic missile site during the Cold War. Tour the facilities to learn what it was like when it was operational. You can still see the 8-level silo with an inert tidal II intercontinental ballistic missile along with the original launch facilities. It’s pretty hard to believe and amazing to see.
Pima Air and Space Museum
The highlight of any trip to this museum is a visit to the “boneyard” where the really old and retired planes are housed. There are hundreds of them ranging from World War II aircraft to Sikorsky helicopters. It’s the third-largest aviation museum in the world and there are over 300 aircraft.
See the Barrio
Barrio Viejo, meaning “old neighborhood,” showcases brightly-colored adobe homes and Mexican cantinas dating back to the 19th century. The Barrio, as it’s called, has the feel of old Mexico. It was a diverse area of working-class people who moved to Tucson to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The area fell into disrepair when the work was completed, but it has since been revitalized and is one of the largest groupings of 19th-century adobe buildings in the U.S.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Only ten minutes from downtown Tucson is this striking Catholic mission. It was built in 1797 and remains an active church today. It’s the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. There is a museum and mausoleum that you can tour.
How to Get There: Tucson is straight down I10, around 2 hours south of the center of Phoenix. It’s a long and rather boring ride, though there are a few interesting stops you can make to break up the time.
Picacho Peak is a beautiful and impressive mountain you’ll pass. You’ll also see the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch that is a fun stop. And depending on the time of year, you’ll likely see some Native American stands along the road and some shops along the way.
Where to Stay in Phoenix
There are some great places to stay near downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale of you are looking for nightlife, or find a quiet Airbnb in one of the quieter communities.
Check Out Phoenix and the Best Phoenix Day Trips
Phoenix is such a fun place to visit, and it’s so different from a lot of the United States. Not only is the city great to see, but there are a lot of great day trips. These are the most popular offering a wide range of fun things to do. Make sure you plan enough time to see Arizona when you visit!
Sam is the travel-obsessed animal lover behind My Flying Leap travel blog. She has big plans to travel the world with her dog. For now, the Phoenix area is her home