State 48, as it's known locally, is more than the tumbleweeds and cacti depicted in classic Western movies. In major cities like Phoenix and Tucson, you’ll find world-class museums and luxury resorts. At the Grand Canyon, you’ll be inspired as you view the only one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World located in North America. The state has world-class spas, Native American arts and crafts, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.
On the same day, you can kick off your morning walking the still-dusty streets of Tombstone and end the day sipping wine at a winery. Or, pose with the world’s largest cacti at Saguaro National Park near Tucson, then Instagram a photo of yourself standing in the world’s largest stand of Ponderosa Pine trees in Coconino National Forest. The possibilities are endless.
Chances are, if you fly to Arizona, you’ll most likely land at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. The fifth-largest city in the United States boasts some of the state’s best museums, including the internationally acclaimed Musical Instrument Museum and the Heard Museum with its impressive collection of Native American art. Taliesin West, the winter home of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and open for tours in Scottsdale.
Even though the greater Phoenix metropolitan area is surrounded by the Sonoran Desert, its unique landscape is worth exploring in the cooler months. Get a primer on the area’s flora with a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden and its fauna at the Phoenix Zoo before heading out. You can explore the Sonoran Desert on your own on a hike at South Mountain Park, one of the largest city parks in the world, or take a 4x4 tour into the Four Peaks Wilderness.
Phoenix also has some of the state’s best restaurants, including its only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star award-winning restaurant, Kai; nearly 200 golf courses; and some of the nation’s best spas.
Grand Canyon National Park
One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is a must for any visitor to Arizona. You can see the canyon from viewpoints at the South Rim, the national park’s main entrance; the North Rim; and Grand Canyon West, the Hualapai tribal lands where the glass Skywalk curves over the rim’s edge. First-time visitors will want to experience the canyon at the South Rim, which is the easiest access and has jaw-dropping views.
After gazing across the expanse of the South Rim, you can hike or bike the mostly-paved Rim Trail, trek a short way into the canyon (or all the way to the bottom if you plan to overnight there), or ride a mule with reservations on the rim or below. Rafting trips, which generally leave from Page, and helicopter tours, which take off at Grand Canyon National Park Airport, are other ways to explore the canyon.
Surrounded by rocks tinged red with rusting iron, Sedona is one of the most beautiful cities in the state. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike or mountain bike the trails in Red Rock State Park, cool off at Slide Rock State Park, or take a yoga class on the red rocks, but you don’t need to work out to indulge at one of Sedona’s luxury spas. Pamper yourself even further with an aura reading or by meditating in a vortex, a swirling pocket of energy that promotes healing and self-exploration.
A trip to Sedona wouldn’t be complete without a Pink Jeep tour. Book the two-hour Broken Arrow tour to see the red rocks up close while tackling rugged terrain in an open-air Jeep Wrangler. After, shop for souvenirs on the main route through the city, State Route 89A, or at the boutiques and galleries at the Spanish-style shopping center, Tlaquepaque.
This city makes a good base for exploring the Grand Canyon, but it’s a destination in its own right. Start in the historic downtown, where you can shop Flagstaff’s boutiques, specialty stores, and art galleries. Between retailers, break with a pint from one of several downtown breweries on the Flagstaff Brewery Trail or grab a bite to eat at Proper Meats + Provisions or Pizzicletta. Or, discover the downtown area on a self-guided walking tour. The city’s “Walk This Talk” tour retraces the Route 66 alignment through Flagstaff. Drop by the Visitor Center in the historic train depot at 1 E. Route 66 for more information.
Beyond downtown, the Museum of Northern Arizona features exhibits on geology and Native American culture while Lowell Observatory introduces visitors to the universe and tells the story of how Pluto was discovered onsite in 1930.
Jerome—dubbed the Wickedest City in the West in the early 1900s—nearly became a ghost town after its mines played out. Thankfully, in the 1960s, artists moved in and breathed new life into the community. Today, Jerome is known for its art galleries, specialty shops like Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes, winery tasting rooms, and great food. Before heading into town, make a stop at Jerome State Historic Park to learn about the community’s mining past.
A day trip to Jerome can easily be combined with a visit to Cottonwood, which has even more galleries, restaurants, and tasting rooms. Serious wine lovers may want to overnight either in Jerome or Cottonwood and spend the following day visiting the actual wineries on the Verde Valley Wine Trail near Cornville.
The second-largest city in Arizona, Tucson is the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States, thanks to its rich agricultural history and efforts to preserve heirloom crops. You can visit the nation’s oldest continuously farmed land at San Agustin Mission Farm and drop by Native Seeds/Search to learn more.
But Tucson is much more than its farming past. It’s home to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a highly-acclaimed botanical garden, zoo, and small aquarium, as well as the Pima Air & Space Museum. In addition to a tram tour of its outdoor aircraft, the museum also offers guided tours of the AMARG “Boneyard” across the street at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Round out your visit with stops at Mission San Xavier del Bac, Sabino Canyon, and Saguaro National Park.
Immortalized in movies and books, this legendary silver boom town in Southern Arizona lives on today. You can stand in the same spot where the Earp brothers—Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan—along with Doc Holliday stared down rivals Ike Clanton, Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury before the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral. Actors reenact the scene at the O.K. Corral Historic Complex daily for ticketholders, but you can dive even deeper into the gunfight at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. Tour the Bird Cage Theater Museum, and get a drink at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon before you go.
A visit to Tombstone can easily be combined with time in Bisbee, a mining-town-turned-arts-community less than a half hour’s drive south. Browse the galleries there, discover the excellent, Smithsonian-affiliated Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, or go underground on a Copper Queen Mine tour.
Sonoita/Elgin Wine Region
Believe it or not, Arizona produces wines so impressive they’ve been served at the White House. While the Willcox area is the largest growing region in the state, some of the best vintages come from the Sonoita/Elgin wine region, the state’s first American Viticulture Area (AVA). Download a map here to visit some of the wineries on your own, or leave the driving to someone else with Arizona Winery Tours. Top wineries include Dox Cabezas WineWorks, Kief-Joshua Vineyards, and Sonoita Vineyards.
If you want to discover even more Arizona wines, detour to Willcox, where several Willcox AVA wineries, such as Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, have tasting rooms.
You’ve likely been awed by pictures of Antelope Canyon, the sandstone slot canyon in northern Arizona formed over millions of years by water and wind. Its wavy, orange walls, and shafts of light give it an otherworldly appearance. Located near Page, it is an extremely popular destination.
Book your tour before you go, especially if you will be visiting during the fall or spring when temperatures are more moderate. Most tours spend about an hour in the actual canyon and involve some hiking. (Due to COVID-19, visitors are not permitted to walk back through the canyon to the 4x4 that brought them. Instead, they have to hike out over a low section of wall.)
Upper Antelope Canyon is more commonly toured since it’s easier to navigate, but some companies also offer tours of Lower Antelope Canyon and nearby Waterhole Canyon and other slot canyons.
Monument Valley Tribal Park
Straddling the Arizona-Utah border, the iconic landscapes of Monument Valley Tribal Park are well over a five-hour drive from Phoenix but not to be missed if you have the time. You can drive the unpaved 17-mile road on your own into the park’s interior or, better yet, have a Navajo guide take you off-road. Often these tours include weaving demonstrations, sunset dinners, and Native American singing and dancing. Plan to spend the night at The View Hotel, the only hotel in the park, to watch the sunrise over the Mittens rock formations the next morning.