Moon Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona

Best Hikes, Local Spots, and Weekend Getaways


By Lilia Menconi

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Whether you’re hiking red rock trails in the Valley of the Sun or relaxing in Scottsdale’s resorts, take Arizona at your own speed with Moon Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona. Inside you’ll find:
  • Strategic, flexible itineraries like a luxurious desert getaway, a family road trip, and the 4-day best of the Valley of the Sun
  • Unique experiences and can’t-miss sights: Explore the local art scene, from Native American exhibits to contemporary galleries, and taste the best Sonoran-style cuisine this side of the Mexican border. Luxuriate in five-star resorts, world-class spas, and gourmet restaurants. Go stargazing in Sedona or bar-hopping in Scottsdale. Hike water-carved canyons and climb mountains or hit the links in the golf capital of the West. Discover the rich culture of the Native American people who first settled the Valley, and venture to the leafy respite of Oak Creek Canyon to picnic between trout-filled ponds and towering red-rock monoliths
  • The top spots for outdoor adventures, from rock climbing and hiking along hidden mountain trails to sunset hot air ballooning and exhilarating desert Jeep tours
  • Expert advice from Phoenix local Lilia Menconi on when to go, how to get around, and where to stay, with special focus on the best resorts in the area
  • Full-color, vibrant photos and detailed maps throughout
  • Thorough background on the culture, environment, wildlife, and history
With Moon’s practical tips and local know-how, you can experience Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Sedona your way.

Expanding your trip? Try Moon Arizona & the Grand Canyon. Hitting the road? Try Moon Southwest Road Trip.


Cosanti Originals bells by Paolo Soleri Studios at Cosanti in Paradise Valley

koi at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix

DISCOVER Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona


Planning Your Trip


The Best of the Valley of the Sun

10 Best Hikes


Family Road Trip


Beat the Heat


Art in the Desert


Desert Luxury


Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale.

On your flight into Phoenix, you’ll notice something that sets it apart from other major cities in the United States: space. There’s a lot of space to spread out. As the demand for homes, shopping centers, and cultural hot spots continues to rise with every new resident, the sprawling city continues its crawl across the flat desert floor. And with all this space comes a travel experience that can be diverse and unforgettable.

Phoenix, Scottsdale, and the surrounding cities that comprise the “Valley of the Sun” have set aside huge swaths of preserved land in the nearby mountain ranges. These areas have a network of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails offering residents and visitors a glimpse into what this wild desert was once like.

Just as Western expansion began with settlers seeking an escape, today’s Valley offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life while still providing some of the posh amenities only found in cosmopolitan cities. Phoenix boasts incredible resorts, and Scottsdale takes the cake as one of the very best spa destinations in the world. Golfers flock to these cities to tee off at more than 200 courses.

sunset along Phoenix’s canals

exterior of Soleri’s experimental artists’ community, Arcosanti

dramatic storm in Sedona

Even residents live like they’re on vacation, with a hike before work or a late-night swim after a full day. You can join them: Taste the best Sonoran-style cuisine this side of the Mexican border. Wear yourself out partying and shopping in Scottsdale. Join spiritual seekers from far and wide who seek tranquility at one of Sedona’s famous retreats. Venture to the leafy respite of Oak Creek Canyon and witness the red-rock monoliths. Discover the rich culture of the Native American people who first settled the Valley and still govern independent tribal land.

First-time visitors may be surprised to find a desert playground that caters to demanding foodies, diehard shoppers, and outdoor adventurers. Get to know this incredible, beautiful place, and you’ll discover just how hospitable the desert can be.

Lookout Mountain Golf Club in Phoenix

Slide Rock State Park near Sedona

hiking West Fork of Oak Creek Trail near Sedona.


1 Gaze at the stars: Sedona’s dark skies provide the perfect backdrop for shimmering planets, galaxies, and star clusters.

2 See dramatic red-rock formations: The massive red-rock buttes that soar from the desert floor captivate with intricate spires and rich colors.

3 Tour the architectural gem Taliesin West: Still a working architecture school, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home blends the architect’s trademark techniques and design motifs with the desert landscape.

4 Walk into the past at Montezuma Castle: Built in the 12th century, the five-story cliffside pueblo is an impressive testament to the ingenuity of the Sinagua people.

5 Dig into the art scene: Arizona is home to a wealth of inspired artists and architects who choose this state for its rich natural scenery, Southwest artistic tradition, and opportunity in a growing scene.

6 Go for a hike: Hear the dusty pebbles crunch against the rocky ascent of a saguaro-speckled mountain. Take a deep breath of fresh desert air as the warm wind kisses your face.

7 Play a round of golf: This region is home to a collection of some of the most celebrated courses in the country, with Scottsdale having developed the most desired golf destinations.

8 Catch a game during spring training: Hear the crack of a bat on the pitch and the roar of the crowd during Cactus League Spring Training, when 15 Major League Baseball teams descend on the Phoenix area, ready to play.

9 Get away from it all at a spa: You haven’t yet learned the meaning of the word “pamper” until you’ve been to an Arizona spa. The spas here offer experiences so far from everyday life, it’s surreal.

10 Feast on Mexican and Southwest Food: A rich and diverse tradition in food is part of the very fabric of living here. Embrace the opportunity for a tasting tour.

11 Embrace your spiritual side in Sedona: Shop for crystals at Sedona’s New Age boutiques, then go in search of vortexes, believed to be invisible centers of spiraling cosmic energy.

Planning Your Trip

Where to Go

The Sonoran Desert’s brilliant light and warmth permeate every aspect of Arizona’s state capital, now the fifth-largest city in the country. Thanks to more than 325 days of sunshine a year, it’s possible to dine alfresco, play golf, or hike year-round (although you must hike strategically in the summer). The jagged mountains that surround the Valley of the Sun are prime spots to explore the area’s diverse desert landscape. For a little urban fun, downtown Phoenix and the college town of Tempe offer terrific museums, cultural attractions, and popular restaurants.


Phoenix’s best-known suburb may call itself the “West’s Most Western Town,” but visitors are immediately struck by its pleasure-loving attitude. Scottsdale prospers thanks in part to its chic resorts, restaurants, and nightspots, along with its desert golf courses and eclectic boutiques selling cowboy boots, trendy brands, and luxury goods. The city’s galleries support its well-known art market, and its five-star spas are among the finest in the world. Even architect Frank Lloyd Wright was seduced by the area, building his winter home, Taliesin West, here in the 1930s.


As you approach Sedona on the highway, you’ll immediately understand why it’s called Red Rock Country. With monumental formations and intricate spires, its massive crimson buttes lure travelers and outdoor lovers. The city itself is marked by hidden resorts and charming galleries, while rugged Jeep tours explore its otherworldly landscape, which is accentuated by deep-green ponderosa pines and leafy cottonwoods. Historic and cultural sights dot the neighboring Verde Valley, such as the ancient cliffside dwelling Montezuma Castle and the Old West mining town of Jerome.

Winter in Sedona is an incredible sight.

When to Go

The commentary about the heat in Arizona is abundant. And if you visit during the summer months, the heat is downright shocking. But the rest of the year can be absolutely gorgeous, and many U.S. citizens rely on this state for much-needed relief from extreme winter weather. Phoenicians are experts at hot-weather adaptation in order to take full advantage of the sunny, desert climate year-round.

There’s no better time to visit Sedona or the Valley of the Sun than spring. Temperatures peak around 70-80°F during the day and cool down to “sweater weather” at night. Residents spend most of their time outdoors, taking advantage of the numerous golf courses, hiking spots, open-air shopping centers, and annual events such as Major League Baseball spring training and the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Also, the desert explodes with colorful wildflowers and blooming cacti.

hanging out at the ballpark during Cactus League Spring Training

You may actually love Phoenix in the summer when it sizzles—the nosedive in rates at luxury resorts and spas may help you embrace the heat. The searing temperatures and constant sun leave visitors and residents with little choice but to stake out the closest swimming pool. Cooler mornings and late nights provide relief, and sudden monsoon storms that build in the desert deliver a dramatic, refreshing reprieve many evenings.

Fall kicks off the social season. Eager to escape their air-conditioned confines, residents return to their outdoor haunts in October and November when daytime temperatures fall back to 70-80°F, filling up patios and gathering for festivals and concerts. Outdoor lovers flock to the hiking and biking trails in the surrounding mountains.

By winter, the daytime mercury rests between 50-60°F, and the sunny, blue skies make Phoenix a mecca for snow-weary travelers. It can get downright chilly in Sedona, and the occasional light dusting of snow on the red rocks is a spectacular sight.

What to Pack

A resort mentality and a Wild West attitude pervade much of Arizona, and overall, visitors will find Phoenix and Sedona to be pretty casual. Jeans are acceptable in most places, and in the summer shorts and flip-flops become de rigueur. However, Scottsdale’s nicer restaurants, bars, and clubs require that you dress to impress, which basically amounts to collared, pressed shirts (it almost never means a suit or tie) for the men and fashionably polished attire for the ladies. Visitors planning to take advantage of Arizona’s myriad outdoor activities should come prepared: sneakers and hiking boots, swimsuits, and golf shoes and clubs. And don’t forget a hat (or five).

The desert’s arid climate can create a bit of confusion, as temperatures can swing as much as 20-30°F from an early-morning low to a late-afternoon high. Fall through early spring, be sure to bring along a couple sweaters or jackets if you plan on staying out when the sun goes down. In the dead of winter, consider packing a heavier coat in case the overnight temperatures fall below freezing. Sedona is generally cooler than Phoenix or Scottsdale, so keep that in mind when choosing among tank tops, T-shirts, and long sleeves.

Oh, and don’t forget sunscreen with a high SPF, or at least stock up when you get to Phoenix. The Sonoran Desert’s powerful sun shouldn’t be underestimated.

The Best of the Valley of the Sun

Phoenix and Scottsdale make an excellent weekend trip, offering visitors the chance to combine a little culture with their R&R. Don’t try to cram in a bunch of “must-see” sights. Instead, savor the Valley like a local—be whimsical and take your pick of activities according to your mood. This is the best way to experience the Valley’s unique sensibility.

Day 1

Catch an early flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and check into your hotel upon arrival. First thing’s first: Mexican food. Load up for a day of activity choosing from the breakfast-served-all-day menu (pssst, try the breakfast burrito) at Otro Café. Then head out for a round of golf at one of the city’s championship desert courses or spend the late morning hiking the red sandstone Camelback Mountain or the rocky Piestewa Peak for the most spectacular views in town.

Have a relaxing afternoon, either poolside at your hotel or shopping. Choose from the open-air Biltmore Fashion Park or the many incredible shops in North Central Phoenix housed in adorable shopping centers like the Crown on 7th, The Colony, or The Newton.

Have dinner at any of the Central Phoenix favorites like Pizzeria Bianco, the Windsor, or Barrio Café, all local-owned restaurants that regularly earn praise. Later, join the art scenesters for drinks, snacks, and live music along Roosevelt Row. Consider ending the night with drinking, dancing, and old-school board games at Valley Bar or the unforgettable Gracie’s Tax Bar.

Day 2

Rise with the sun and make your way down to Tempe to have a hearty meal at Matt’s Big Breakfast before heading across Tempe Town Lake to get to know the Valley from its geographic heart, Papago Park. The easy climb up its rounded, red-hued butte to the Hole-in-the-Rock formation rewards visitors with a spectacular view of the city (this one’s perfect for kids). Within the protected reserve, you’ll also find the Desert Botanical Garden, an impressive collection of the diverse cacti and plants that make their home in the Sonoran Desert. Next, visit Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, the remains of the ancient Hohokam civilization from which the modern city of Phoenix rose.

Papago Park

For dinner, grab a meal and a cocktail on the back patio of Chelsea’s Kitchen, which overlooks a stretch of the city’s famous canal system. Afterward, if you’re in the mood to mix with the locals, grab a beer and play a round of pool at a favorite neighborhood bar, Shady’s Fine Ales & Cocktails.

Day 3

Begin your day in Scottsdale with breakfast at Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen at Andaz Scottsdale Resort before your tour of Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and architecture school, which still trains young apprentices. Learn how Wright’s revolutionary work blended modern design and the Sonoran Desert landscape.

Have lunch in Old Town Scottsdale at Arcadia Farms, and visit the district’s Southwestern boutiques and the Old Adobe Mission, Scottsdale’s first Catholic church. Head across Scottsdale Road to the art districts of Marshall Way and Main Street, where the city’s chic galleries showcase contemporary and Western art.

Have dinner at one of downtown’s numerous restaurants, such as Café Monarch or The Mission, and barhop among Scottsdale’s hip clubs and lounges, including AZ88, Geisha A Go-Go, and The Mint Ultra Lounge.

Day 4

Have breakfast at Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles on your last day. Check out the Desert Modernist Burton Barr Central Library in downtown Phoenix, then get a dose of culture at the Phoenix Art Museum for historical and contemporary art viewing or the Heard Museum for one of the nation’s finest collections of Native American art and artifacts.

Native American performance at the Heard Museum

Grab a gourmet Pane Bianco sandwich for lunch and a delicious coffee at Lux before you have to catch your flight home, and consider snagging a couple scoops of ice cream from Sweet Republic in Terminal 4 of the airport.

10 Best Hikes

A hike in Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Sedona is unlike anything you can experience elsewhere. The terrain is dusty, rocky, and lined with the spikes of the local cacti—the landscape itself sends a clear message to stay on trail for your own good! The air is dry and hikers consume more water on these outings than they ever thought possible. And, honestly, there’s no better way to grab that obligatory photo in front of the iconic saguaro cactus or the red rocky spires of Sedona.


• Phoenix hikers tend to favor Piestewa Peak for a huffing, puffing, cardio workout. In a 2.4-mile round-trip, it tops out at 2,600 feet and takes about an hour and a half to complete the craggy, steep trail. It’s also connected to the entire trail system of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, giving stellar views of surrounding desert landscape.

• For the grand tour of the entire Phoenix Mountains Preserve, follow the 11-mile, one-way Charles M. Christiansen Memorial Trail 100, which scales the entire park end-to-end. It is masterfully planned, and you’ll gain an intimate understanding of the native Sonoran Desert while hiking up, over, and around the dramatic rocky spires of this beloved mountain range. Plan an all-day trek that could last 5-8 hours.

• The Hole-in-the-Rock Trail in Papago Park is often the very first trail completed by hikers aged three and under. At just 0.3 mile for the round-trip, it amounts to walking up a few flights of stairs and ends at a giant hole in a rock. This weather-eroded hole in the sandstone is so big that you can climb in, find a seat on the rocky sloped sides, and watch the sunset. Plan for 10 minutes of actual hiking followed by at least 30 minutes to enjoy the view.

• For a hiker, a visit to this region would not be complete without a trip up Echo Canyon Summit Trail on Camelback Mountain. At 2.6 miles for the round-trip, it reaches the summit at 2,700 feet and offers a 360-degree view of the valley below. Although it’s the most popular trail by far, keep in mind that it is tough, so be prepared!

Mormon Trail to Hidden Valley in South Mountain Park is a 3.6-mile hike with a quick climb at the start followed by a leisurely stroll through a swath of flat, sandy terrain hidden in the mountain. The hike also includes a rock tunnel and a suck-in-your-gut tight squeeze between two boulders called Fat Man’s Pass. There’s some moderate to advanced trail reading required for this combination of trails, so be sure to have a map and pay close attention to the trail signs.


• For a beautiful, easy, and highly educational walk in the desert, try the Bajada Nature Trail, at McDowell Gateway Trailhead. At just 0.5 mile total for this loop, you could knock it out in 20 minutes, but plan for an hour to take in the scenery and read the information signs.

• Hands down, one of the most memorable hikes in all the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is Tom’s Thumb Trail, which is an approximately five-mile round-trip of hard-fought switchbacks cutting right into the heart of the mountain range. The final destination of this trail is a blow-your-mind ginormous boulder that juts straight up, up, and up some more. Give yourself about three hours to complete this beast.


• For an easy introduction to Sedona mountain hiking, try the four-mile Bell Rock Pathway and Courthouse Butte Loop, just north of the Village of Oak Creek. The popular trail allows hikers to get up close and personal with some of the area’s best-known rock formations.

• Speaking of rock formations, strap on your climbing shoes and scale the slick sides of Cathedral Rock Trail, which provides hand- and footholds to assist in your ascent. It may only be a 1.6-mile trek but don’t be fooled, this short hike goes straight up for one heck of a workout and some incredible views.

• Ready for the best hike of your life? West Fork of Oak Creek Trail in Oak Creek Canyon is an eight-mile epic round-trip that crosses the West Fork tributary waterway 13 times. It ends at a serene beach where hikers can take a dip or continue for additional miles wading through the watery canyon.

Family Road Trip

Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Sedona offer too much to do for the whole family—which is a great problem to have. Start in the Valley of the Sun and explore downtown Phoenix’s museums and parks. Then head north to Sedona for a series of outdoor adventures before making your way back to Scottsdale’s resorts and Old West fun.

Day 1

Fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and check into your resort. You’ve got plenty of time to explore the city, so spend the afternoon taking advantage of the resort’s amenities, which range from water parks and tennis courts to game rooms for kids.

After you’ve decompressed, consider heading out for a meal. There’s incredible Mexican food available nearby at Otro Café or Rito’s Mexican Food.

Day 2

Begin day two in the Valley at Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles, a downtown Phoenix breakfast joint that kick-started a city-wide obsession with the soul food dish. Afterward, force a little history lesson about Phoenix’s ancient foundations at the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park.

Consider a picnic lunch at Civic Space Park, where kids can play in the grass or splash around in the water features, or Encanto Park, home of Enchanted Island Amusement Park.

Spend your afternoon at any one of the many interactive museum opportunities in the area. The Arizona Science Center is a delightfully hands-on museum in Heritage and Science Park. Younger kids may prefer the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, across 7th Street, which features a pool noodle forest (among other things). Older teens will enjoy a tour of Phoenix’s progressive art and design at the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard Museum, an impressive introduction to the state’s original inhabitants and culture.


On Sale
May 19, 2020
Page Count
296 pages
Moon Travel

Lilia Menconi

About the Author

Lilia Menconi is a Phoenix gal through and through. She was born and raised in Phoenix with the famous Camelback Mountain visible from her backyard and school playground. While she enjoyed the occasional day hike with her family during her childhood, she truly fell in love with the city’s dusty trails as an adult.

Lilia is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in local publications, including Phoenix New Times, Arizona Republic, and Generation Health AZ, and on the blog The Broke-Ass Bride. She loves her day job as a communications coordinator and feels lucky to accept additional work as a freelance writer and blogger. She happily lives and works in Phoenix with her husband (who hiked almost every trail in this book with her) and two adorable cats.

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