When we were thinking about where he wanted to go on vacation, we kept a few factors in mind. Our biggest priority was traveling to a place where we could escape the fast-pace of city life in a beautiful, natural setting and to a combination of adventure and relaxation. Since this was our first vacation away from Adina, we did not want to travel too far away or be away for too long. Arizona fit the bill! We packed in so much in the few days that we were there and had the best time. Keep reading to see pictures and highlights from the trip and to read my mini Arizona travel guide!
When to Go & How to Get Around:
I highly recommend going to Arizona this time of year, in early October. The temperatures were still quite high – in the 80s and 90s every day – but there was no humidity and in the shade and with the breeze, it was actually really comfortable. We also missed the rainy season, which I am told is in August and September. Everything is pretty spread out and public transportation options are limited, so you’ll need to rent a car to get around the state.
Our goal for the first day of our trip was to catch the sunset at the Grand Canyon, which took place at 6:24 pm (PT.) Our flight was scheduled to land at 1 pm, so we thought we would have plenty of time for a leisurely drive from the Phoenix airport to the Grand Canyon, about 4 hours away. Little did we know, there would be a few hitches in our plan… The first issue we encountered was with our luggage. Although we had packed in carry-on bags, since our flight was at full capacity and we were in the last group to board, the crew insisted on checking our bags at the gate. I tried to plead with them in the nicest way possible to let us take our bags with us on the plane, but the crew member wouldn’t budge. Once we were on the flight, I came up with a bunch of things I wish I had said to persuade them (like “my breast pump is in my bag and I can’t risk being separated from it”) - anyone else think of things to say too late in situations like that?
So we had to wait at baggage claim for our suitcases to arrive. By this time, it was around 1:30 pm. Then we had to take a shuttle to the car rental desk, which also took a bit of time and it was close to 2 pm at that point. (On the bright side, the car rental place upgraded us to an SUV!) Michael drove pretty quickly but of course I had us make one pit stop on our way. When we arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park around 6 pm, we had a bit of a drive to our hotel from the park entrance and we couldn’t find parking right away. It really was a race against the clock! Somehow we found a parking spot around 6:20 and raced from the car to view a breathtaking sunset over the canyon - the pictures don’t do it justice! Thank you, universe, for getting us there in the nick of time!
We stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge, which is one of the few lodging options that is inside Grand Canyon National Park. The lodging in the park is limited and fills up quickly, but it is worth checking back often to see if they have any cancellations, which is what we did. We lucked out and were able to stay inside the park, which enabled us to view the sunset and the sunrise. This was perfect since we only had one full day at the Grand Canyon.
Some rooms have their own bathrooms and some do not, so it is worth requesting one with its own toilet and shower if it is available. The staff at the lodge are incredibly friendly and helpful. They took the time to go through the different hiking trail options and map out the best one for us. There are a bunch of dining choices at the Canyon, the nicest of which is El Tovar dining room. Make sure to make a reservation in advance – we weren't able to eat there this time but if we go back I would love to eat there. If time permits, you can look into some cool ways to experience the canyon like rafting down the Colorado River are taking a helicopter tour. Since we only had one day, we chose to get an early start and hike a few trails in the park. We watched the sunrise at Hopi Point and hiked the Kaibob Trail.
Before we left the park, we made a stop at the Desert View Watchtower, in the design of the Ancestral Puebloan towers. On our way from the Grand Canyon to Sedona, we stopped off at the Little Colorado River Gorge, with more breathtaking views. There are also a few local Native American Navajo artists who sell their jewelry, crafts, and other art there - I picked up a beautiful dream catcher for Adina's room.
I had heard so many amazing things about Sedona, and knew we had to spend some time there on this trip. He stayed at the Orchards Inn, and our room had a spacious balcony that overlooked the red rock mountains, for which Sedona is famous. It was in a great location, steps away from the main street in the town of Sedona.
We ate dinner at Elote Cafe, A southwestern restaurant a few minutes from the center of town. Note that they do not accept reservations so it is advised to arrive early and expect to have a wait before you are seated. We arrived around 5:45 and had to wait about an hour before we were seated. Elote has an impressive drinks menu and we enjoyed some cocktails on their patio while we waited. I got the traditional margarita, and it was absolutely delicious! We started with their signature Elote corn dish - a must get! Everything was so yummy! The portions were pretty big though, so if you end up going, make sure to pace yourself!
We rented an RZR through Sedona ATV for half a day. There are lots of trails that you can do – we did Broken Arrow and Diamondback Gulch. I would say that these are definitely for adventure seekers. If you would rather not drive your own vehicle into the red rock mountains, you can also do a group tour. We were considering doing a guided group tour with Pink Jeep Tours, which are quite popular in Sedona. I must admit, I was pretty nervous while we were in the RZR, but I felt safe with Michael driving and it ended up being really fun.
To unwind after a busy and adventurous morning, we had lunch at Tii Gavo at the Enchantment Resort & Spa, overlooking some of the most dramatic views in Sedona. The ingredients were fresh and high quality. We started with the street corn nachos with Mexican crema - SO good! Michael and I shared some upscale assorted street tacos and a hearty salmon salad. We couldn’t resist indulging in a sweet dessert treat before we made our way from Sedona to Phoenix.
We spent the weekend at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa to get some quality R&R. It was the perfect place to relax poolside and at the spa. The hotel had a lazy river and lounges surrounding the pool to cozy up and read a book or even watch the Sunday football game. After three days of non-stop traveling, hiking, and off-roading, we couldn’t have chosen a better place to kick back and soak up the Arizona sun.
While in Phoenix, we had brunch at St. Francis, a cool place with indoor and outdoor seating. Despite the heat, St. Francis had these mist sprayers overlooking the tables outside that kept us cool. The pineapple sparkling lemonade was so refreshing and the buttery biscuits were heavenly!
Since we only had one night in the Phoenix area, we knew we wanted to go somewhere special for dinner and make it count. Michael had done some research and make reservations at Café Monarch in Scottsdale, about 20 minutes from our hotel. We both agreed that this was in the top three meals we have ever had. Café Monarch is an incredibly romantic setting, with tons of string lights and lit candles cascading through an open-air garden. The restaurant has a 4 course pre fixe menu with options for the first course and the main course. They can also accommodate vegetarian and gluten free needs. Our waiter was so knowledgeable about everything, including the extensive wine menu, and his passion for food was contagious. Michael ordered the filet mignon and I ordered the Chilean sea bass for the main course and both were cooked to perfection, with complex flavors and delicious sides. After the meal, they brought out a special dessert dish of beignets a la mode with a little sparkler in honor of our recent wedding anniversary. Café Monarch is a bit of a splurge, but 100% worth it!
On our final day in Arizona, we explored Old Town Scottsdale, a scene right out of an old western film. This district is kind of touristy but so cute - full of saloons, cowboy paraphernalia, and Native American influences! It offers boutique shopping, and tons of jewelry and art with a Southwestern flair. There are also plenty of art galleries, a free trolley, and horse-drawn carriage that transports visitors around. On our way back to the hotel from Cafe Monarch on Saturday, we drove through Old Town Scottsdale and it was beautifully lit up at night, highlighting the hip eateries, fine dining and vibrant nightlife scene.
Our final stop before heading to the airport was The Mission, a sophisticated Latin American eatery. The highlight of the meal was the table-side guacamole, some of the best I’ve ever had! I couldn’t think of a better send-off.
Arizona is a definitely a destination worth going to! There’s something for everyone - adventure and relaxation. It was really special for Michael and I to recharge our batteries and have time together as a couple, beyond the occasional date night. It felt so nice to take our time and enjoy a leisurely meal without rushing or worrying about the logistics of a baby’s nap schedule and to hike some trails and do an off-roading day-trip that is not baby-friendly.
Although we were only gone for 4 nights, it was the longest amount of time I had spent away with Adina I missed her a lot during the trip. It did require a little bit of extra planning (making sure we packed everything she might need while we were away and bringing my breastpump and accessories along with me) but it was worth it. I am so grateful that she was in great hands with Michael’s parents and they absolutely adored spending quality, uninterrupted time with her! We chose not to FaceTime with her, with the thought that it would be confusing and potentially upsetting for her to see/hear us through the phone, but not in person. But my in-laws sent us tons of photos and videos of her everyday. I was a little nervous about how it would be when we reunited, but I shouldn’t have been concerned at all. She had a huge smile on her face and was so excited to snuggle with me!
Michael and I both agreed that we want to go back to Arizona when Adina is older, but we’ll never forget this first kids-free trip!