I decided to take a trip to Sedona for my birthday this year and it was perfection. Sedona is known for its red rocks, hikes, and numerous vortexes. Our 4-day itinerary was truly the best one for someone’s first time visiting if I may say so myself. We had a nice mix of hikes without overdoing it and even took a day trip to Jerome. If you are looking for the top hikes, places to eat, and things to do in this beautiful desert, you’re in the right place!
Check out my Sedona Travel Vlog
Best Time to Visit Sedona
Having a birthday in the winter does tend to limit where to go without traveling internationally. Because Arizona is so damn hot in the summer, I knew February would be a good time to visit so that we could comfortably explore Sedona. It is the desert, after all, so do expect snow in February. It snowed for a couple of days in the early morning, but it would stop by the time we woke up. For the most part, we had brisk, cool weather and minimal crowds during our hikes, which was KEY. The popular months to visit Sedona are between March through May, but that does mean you’ll be dealing with large crowds, aka, lots of waiting.
Day 1: Two Sedona Hikes in One Day
We arrived in Sedona the night before and checked into Poco Diablo Resort. Once we settled in, we ordered room service and went straight to bed. On our first day, we woke up at around 7 am and got ready to hit the road to hike Soldier’s Pass. Our first order of business was to grab some coffee and a quick bite to eat at Creekside. This spot is in an otherwordly convenient location as it’s in the town center and practically on the way to most trails. The restaurant, Creekside American Bistro, is on the bottom level, while Creekside Coffee is situated upstairs (and yes, there is a difference).
Judging by the thousands of good reviews, I had high hopes for Creekside Coffee but wasn’t impressed with the breakfast nor the service. They have premium lattes that you can add mushrooms, CBD, and more into. Brian ordered a breakfast sandwich and a latte, and I had avocado toast and iced coffee. Again, breakfast was okay, but definitely do not get the avocado toast is all I have to say. Since it’s upstairs, the view overlooks gorgeous mountains which is the tradeoff for the lackluster food. If you come early enough, you’ll catch the last bit of sunrise.
Soldier’s Pass Trail: Caves, Seven Sacred Pools, and Devil’s Kitchen
After we fueled up, we were on our way to Soldier’s Pass! I loved this trail; from the Seven Sacred Pools to Devil’s Kitchen, there were plenty of incredible stops along the way. At the end of Soldier’s Pass, there are several caves you can explore. Some caves are higher up and require some climbing experience. We hiked up to the closest cave that was doable for all of us to get to. The view of Sedona from the cave was incredible. I have another post that talks about Sedona hikes for first-time visitors in greater detail, so check that out for some tips when planning your trip. Soldier’s Pass took about 4.5 hours round trip. Do not miss this hike on your trip.
We hit up The Hudson for happy hour after our hike. Since we had dinner plans at Cucina Rustica, we wanted to save our appetite. However, I want to go back to The Hudson for dinner. We shared the ahi tuna burger and I still salivate just thinking about it. And damnit, I wish I had that burger to myself!
Exploring Bell Rock and the Accidental Rock Climb
We sipped on some cocktails, closed out, and moved on to our next hike. Bell Rock is one of Sedona’s well-known meditation sites due to its supposed energy vortex. Bell Rock Loop intersects with many other trails, such as Courthouse Butte and Chapel of the Holy Cross. In my mind at the time, this was supposed to be a casual stroll. Once we got to the trail signs, we saw “Bell Rock Climb” and diverted away from the loop trail out of pure curiosity. Spoiler alert, climbing the actual Bell Rock requires a little experience in rock climbing.
We made it about halfway up Bell Rock, determined to reach the top. There isn’t a clear trail on the rock so it took a lot of guesswork. The higher we went, the scarier it got – at least for me – because there were moments where I was literally crab-walking against a rock formation. We ended up calling it because we realized how much harder it was going to get the higher we climbed and were already spent from our morning hike. We also had Lyla with us, who was such a trooper, but we were concerned for her safety. I would 100% go back to climb Bell Rock again, but making sure that would be our only hike for the day, sans dog.
Valentine’s Day Dinner at Cucina Rustica
We had dinner reservations at Cucina Rustica to celebrate Valentine’s Day. This was our favorite restaurant we dined at in Sedona (yes, even better than Elote). We ordered from the Valentine’s Day specials so I can’t promise what we had is on the current menu. We shared a creamy Italian tomato soup and some bread. I had the seafood linguine in a delicious red sauce and Brian had the lamb chops that were out of this world. We finished our night with a flan dessert topped with strawberries.
Stuffed and ready for bed, we went back to our hotel and hopped straight into bed for an early 5 am wake-up time.
Day 2: Wake Up Early for Devil’s Bridge
I think you may be catching on that we’ve been waking up early for two days straight to hike, and it’s indeed for a reason. Even in the off-season, trails do get crowded so we knew early on that hitting the trails early was our best bet. I can only imagine how much more packed the trails are during the spring. Just go early.
We arrived at Devil’s Bridge at around 6:30/7 am and easily found parking in the lot. The trail signs are clear and we were not alone as early birds. If you are going to plan an early start for one hike in Sedona, Devil’s Bridge is the one to wake up early for due to the long, ghastly line for photos once you reach the bridge. We waited about 20-30 minutes for our turn to take photos, which wasn’t terrible. But anyone who arrives past 9 am will be looking at over an hour wait time.
I was starving by the time we got done with this hike and went straight to the town center to get some lunch at Creekside. Creekside’s lunch is much better than their breakfast. We ordered wings and some sandwiches, and Lyla even got a bite to eat from their doggy menu! For the rest of the day, we did some lite shopping and explored the town. Lyla got a cute bandana from a pet store next to Creekside.
We headed back to our hotel to take a quick nap and shower. Later on, we went to Mesa Grill for happy hour which sits atop Airport Mesa. We were still so full from our lunch so we shared ceviche (don’t order this) and their infamous blue crab cake (good). From the covered patio, you can watch biplanes take off and land on the strip. It’s pretty noisy but cool to watch. Afterward, we caught the sunset at the Airport Scenic Vista overlook, which happens to be another vortex.
Day 3: Day Trip to Jerome and Dinner at Elote
After exploring red rocks for two days straight, we decided to take a break and go on a day trip to Jerome. We grabbed a quick breakfast at Miley’s Cafe were on our way! Just 30 minutes away from Sedona, this historic copper-mining town was once a booming part of Arizona. The mining town got hit hard, especially when the main mine closed down in the ’50s. In the present day, this self-marketed “ghost town” has historical sites, souvenir shops, and wineries to draw in tourism and keep the town alive. Jerome sits on top of a hill and overlooks the most incredible views of central Arizona. Due to the higher altitude, it was freezing and windy. You’ll notice in my travel vlog that I left out Jerome and that’s because my fingers were too frozen to hold my camera and capture any video.
Things to Do in Jerome
There are surprisingly plenty of things to do in Jerome, some of which can be tourist traps but still fun for a first-timer! For starters, there are wineries in town for casual wine tastings. There are also cool vintage stores; we bought some tees and souvenirs at Bolshevita for friends and family. Along the way, check out the Sliding Jail and Ruins of the Bartlett Hotel which are literally historical ruins of properties in the middle of current stores and restaurants.
Afterward, make a visit to the Gold King Mine Museum and Ghost Town. The entrance fee is $10 per person and perfect for car lovers and for those who want to step into a time capsule. What once was an abandoned town of Hayes is now a cool junkyard of old classic cars and trucks, antique mine equipment, and the remains of businesses and homes. Everything is open-air and there are even farm animals on the property! Lyla was welcome here and we got to explore an early 1900s blacksmith shop with all of its rusted tools pinned to the walls, old dentist office, and more.
Quick Bite to Eat in Cottonwood
Search for Jerome, Arizona and you’re bound to see The Haunted Hamburger as THE place to go for lunch. We did not do that. Instead, we left Jerome because I was freezing my bum off. I wanted to stop at Bing’s Burger Station in Cottonwood which was on the way back to Sedona. This ’50s style diner is on an old gas station lot and its inner walls decorated with license plates. I had a turkey burger and Brian had a hot dog, but he told me later that he wishes he had ordered a burger. It is a burger stand, after all!
Dinner at Elote
Elote came highly recommended as I was planning our trip and made a reservation right away. I advise making reservations earlier to lock in a better time as I had limited time slots while I was booking. We made our 8:45 pm dinner reservation but by that time, we were pretty exhausted from our day trip. I wish my appetite could have given Elote’s menu fair attention because the food we did have was delicious. Here is what we ordered at Elote:
- Elote (duh!) 9/10
- Huitlacoche Corn Soup 10/10 – DROOL
- Lamb Adobo 8/10 – this was way more decadent than I thought it would be.
- Corn Crusted Scallops 10/10
I recommend reserving early and come hungry. Do I think Elote is worth the hype? Yes I think it’s worth a visit at least once.
Day 4: One Last Hike at Cathedral Rock
On our last day, we checked out of Poco Diablo early, packed up the car, and drove to the entrance to Cathedral Rock. I was much more mentally and physically prepared this time around to scale a fucking rock. Daunted and excited, we began our hike up. The trail signs on Cathedral Rock are marked much better than Bell Rock.
About a quarter of the way up, this is the part where people start to turn around – and we almost did. You have to get on all fours and sort of scale the rock, jamming your feet into crevices. I looked at that, looked at Lyla, and decided to call it because it didn’t seem safe for her. We agreed for Brian to get to the top on his own and take photos since we were already there. As he begins to scale up, Lyla freaks out and yanks on her leash frantically. Her paws scrambled up the rock while I gave her a little butt push, and she SCALED THE ROCK!
After that portion, the rest of the hike was smooth-sailing. We reached the top of Cathedral Rock after 40 minutes and were greeted with panoramic views of Sedona. There was hardly anyone up there and we took our time to relax and take some photos. There is also a “secret” spot if you turn left, away from the main platform overlook. If you ever get there, take a photo of this hush-hush spot and let me know what you think!
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