If you’re suffering from the winter blues, Arizona is just the natural remedy you need, full of warm sunshine and clear blue skies. Of course, some areas in the northern parts of Arizona aren’t quite as warm and sunny, but that’s what makes the state so special: a mix of sunshine and snow, wine tasting and nature, desert cactus and charming towns. And in COVID times, all that wide-open space is perfect for a socially-distanced vacation.
For all intents and purposes, we won’t be including Phoenix or Scottsdale on this list, assuming that perhaps that will be your jumping-off point. Here are some of the best destinations to visit in Arizona, from wine routes to national parks to cities and quaint towns.
Getting To and Around Arizona
Most US-based air carriers fly to and from Arizona, mainly to cities such as Phoenix (PHX) or Tucson (TUS). Once there, the ideal way to see the state is by car, and renting one is easy at either airport. If you plan to get off-road, a 4×4 may be a good option, but isn’t necessary in most cases. However, many of Arizona’s best attractions require hiking, or at least light walking, so the state is best explored if you have a fair amount of mobility.
The Grand Canyon
We might as well start with the obvious: Arizona’s most famous tourist attraction, The Grand Canyon. Although parts of this incredible canyon can be more crowded, it is over 270 miles long, meaning there’s plenty of space to escape any crowds. If you plan to hit the busier South Rim, take a hike to the lesser-visited Shonshone viewpoint, only accessible on foot. You also might want to consider doing a less busy hiking trail such as Grandview, but it’s usually quieter for a reason: it’s steeper and tougher! Or, consider visiting during sunrise or sunset, when the park sees fewer visitors.
Tucson isn’t an unknown city by any means, but it is the state’s budding foodie destination, named a culinary capital by UNESCO. With a freshly renovated downtown area, the city is all about trendy new spots, old-school Mexican favorites and farm-to-table organic cuisine. Don’t miss Maynards Market, a chic culinary experience in downtown Tucson’s former train station, or no-frills Mi Nidito for a crispy, spiced chimichanga in South Tucson. The Feast features seasonal menus and an award-winning wine list.
A former copper mining village that sits among the Mule Mountains, Bisbee has an almost old-world charm mixed with a bohemian, laid-back vibe. A trip here to shop the antique stores and explore some of the town’s quirkiest attractions: The Bisbee Seance Room, Ghost Tours and the Bisbee Heritage stairs is an Arizona right of passage. In the evening, enjoy the city’s thriving music scene, and spend the night in a refurbished vintage Airstream at the Shady Dell.
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The Salt River
This 200-mile-long river runs through both Gila and Maricopa Counties. And, it’s just a short drive away from destinations like Phoenix, Mesa, and Scottdale. The best times to visit are between April and September when the river is flowing high. Here, you can tube down the river, kayak, stand up paddle, picnic, hike, fish, and a variety of other activities. It’s the perfect natural day trip escape from the busy Phoenix city center.
With over 100 shops and galleries, Tubac is the ideal spot for shoppers, historians, and art buffs. The outskirts also feature hiking and golf if you’re more of an outdoorsy type. Some of Tubac’s farms and ranches allow for visitors, where you can tour, shop, or even spend the night. Don’t forget to check out the iconic Presidio State Park, Arizona’s first state park which also features a museum.
For magical views of gorgeous red rocks, Sedona is your spot. Whether it be hiking trails, Jeep tours or Sedona’s ‘vortexes,’ special rocks that allegedly transmit powerful earth energy for healing, Sedona is a place like no other. Summer visitors should visit Slide Rock, a natural “water park” formed by the rocks. Winter is best for hot air balloon and horseback rides, and of course, enjoying the fireplace on a chilly evening.
Verde Valley Wine Trail
If you’re in or near Sedona, you can’t leave without enjoying the Verde Valley Wine Trail. With over 20 wineries spanning Sedona, Page Springs, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, and Jerome, you’ll have your pick of tasting rooms to visit. Most of the wines are high elevation wines, so expect a more balanced taste. And whether it be red, white or rose, you can find them all along this wine trail! Make sure to stop at Chateau Tumbleweed, one of Winetraveler’s favorites.
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An underrated town in central Arizona, Prescott offers more than 850 different hiking trails and features more lakes than any other spot in Arizona. If you’re not really into nature, you can check out the town’s Whiskey Row, a street of bars and restaurants reminiscent of the cowboy saloon days. History fans will also enjoy the town, which was founded after the gold rush of 1863. It’s home to several museums related to indigenous and pioneer culture, too.
Organ Pipe National Monument
Arizona is chock-full of national parks and natural wonders. But few are as original as Organ Pipe, a UNESCO biosphere reserve that spans parts of both Arizona and Mexico. The park is named for its unique species of cacti, Organ Pipe. These succulents are similar to saguaros, but with many more limbs that grow up from the ground. Hiking, camping, and stargazing are just a few of the activities to do at this national monument.
For a wine-tasting adventure in southern Arizona, you’ll want to visit Sonoita, Elgin, or Wilcox counties. These are all home to vineyards about an hour drive away from Tucson. With over 15 tasting rooms and winery options, you’ll discover varieties such as Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot when tasting here. Winetraveler top picks include Flying Leap and Elgin Wines.
Book or Plan a Trip To Arizona
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