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beachgirl54

Arizona Trip - Eight Nights Including Phoenix, Sedona, Tuba City, and Grand Canyon Village

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Friend and I are taking the kiddos for spring break.  One night in Phoenix, two nights in Sedona, one night in Tuba City (hitting the Hope rez for a private tour the next day), three nights at El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon Village, then last night back in Phoenix near the airport for flight home.

If you have any recommendations in the locations where we're staying, I'll take them.  We have one reservation for the restaurant at the El Tovar - the view is supposed to be amazing and we do plan on Flagstaff and Jerome along the way as well.

Thanks, Nancy

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I made this exact same trip last autumn, taking my MIL and her sister there for their 80th birthday presents (one had just turned 80; the other will soon enough).

Last year, I went to Pizzeria Bianco *three times* - once to the original, downtown location by myself (on a separate trip), and twice with the ladies (first to the downtown original, next to the northern, Town & Country location). When I first went to Pizzeria Bianco in 2003-ish, Chris Bianco himself was behind the counter, making all the pizzas; last summer, I didn't see him at all. However, the good news is that in my four visits which span over a decade, I haven't had one, single thing that was short of outstanding - and that goes for pizzas, salads, side dishes, and more importantly, both locations, with or without Chris Bianco being present. Go there on your very first night (the downtown location is not far from Phoenix airport), because there's a very good chance you're going to want to go a second time.

The drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon starts off on the interstate, but becomes *very* desolate. At some point, around halfway there, we saw an exit (we were running low on gas - make sure you have a full tank), and took it. Exits at some point grow few-and-far-between, and this one you could see from a mile away - it went up and to the right, and led to a single strip shopping center (with a gas station). If you see anything that looks like this, take it, and have lunch at the little dive Tex-Mex place - I'll try to search my credit-card records and find the name of it. It was a little dump, and it had some of best Tex-Mex food I've ever eaten. Shockingly good food at the most unexpected of places - they make everything fresh, so it will take a good twenty minutes for your meal to be cooked (you can probably call in advance, and get things to go if I can find the name for you). It was perhaps halfway to the Grand Canyon, and was probably the only good food available on the entire trip (unless you go to Flagstaff, or some other larger town).

I called for a room reservation *one week in advance*, and amazingly, we got *the very last room* available in the entire Grand Canyon National Park, at Bright Angel Lodge, which I've stayed in twice before. The hotels inside the Grand Canyon are booked a year in advance - really, an entire year. I don't care how much the upcharge is to stay inside the Park, just pay it, because it's *so* worth it - even if it costs triple, even if it costs a thousand dollars a night (which it doesn't), it would still be worth it. The hotels outside the park are touristy pre-fab places of absolutely no interest. You've gone to all the trouble to make the trip (and the drive is no small feat from Phoenix), so spend that extra few hundred dollars and stay *inside the park* - at all costs - the El Tovar is quite possibly your best option, but even if you end up in a broom closet sleeping on a cot, stay *inside the park*. You're going to want to see sunsets, sunrises, walk the trail, sit on a bench, just "hang out" at the South Rim. You don't need to "do" anything; you just need to be there. Your best dining option is the dining room at El Tovar (we walked there from Bright Angel Lodge, both for dinner, and for breakfast the next morning). *Make sure you request a window table*, although there isn't a bad view in the room. Honestly, you're probably best off eating every restaurant meal here, so you should consider bringing your own food if you have a refrigerator - the dining inside the park just isn't anything to write home about. The food at El Tovar is decent - decent - but isn't going to win any awards. However, I remember *very well* the purplish "prickly pear" syrup with my *delicious* blue cornmeal pancakes - breakfast should be your primary meal of the day here. When you're in the Grand Canyon, eat Grand Canyon food - cactus, prickly pear, rattlesnake if you can. The pancakes stood out as my best meal inside the park, and you should get them. Make *sure* to get reservations for each and every meal. This visit, I didn't see any condors, but on my previous visit, I did, and they are absolutely *spectacular* - so large that their shadow looks like that of an airplane. At night, walk to a location without lights, let your eyes adjust, and you will see the Milky Way as clearly as you've ever seen it before - it is truly awesome to think that this band of cream-colored sky is composed of *billions* of stars, and if you think about it *too* much, you'll either end up in an asylum, or become a Fatalist. By the way, I think that for your trip, three nights at the Grand Canyon is one night too many - I'd spend an extra day exploring other parts of Arizona unless you *really* like just hanging out and doing nothing (or if you're going to descend to the Canyon floor) - three nights is a lot, because once you're inside the park, you're not going to leave the park (there's nothing else there *but* the park, and you can "do" the Grand Canyon in a day, unless you do something like a mule trip or a hot-air balloon ride or hiking to the canyon floor and camping overnight). Think seriously about two nights rather than three - you'll understand what I'm saying when you're there. The drive up to Four Corners is very nice (Four Corners itself is just, well, four corners, but it's worth seeing once in your life). Better still, the Painted Desert is really something to behold. I just read that one cubic foot (think about how small that is) of petrified wood in Petrified Forest National Park weighs *168 pounds*! Meteor Crater, the *amazing* Monument Valley - there is a *lot* to see in Arizona.

We spent two nights in Sedona on the way back to Phoenix, and this is going to be your problem in terms of dining - as nice as it is (and my MIL's sister actually liked Sedona more than the Grand Canyon - and I can understand why: The Grand Canyon, as spectacular as it is - is a one-hit wonder, whereas Sedona is end-to-end awesome, with amazing, blazing-red cliffs, contrasted with (yes, touristy) artist's studios. I remember one night in Sedona, I had to pull into an empty parking lot to turn around: it was pitch black, and I saw three "things" that were some of the most bizarre creatures I've ever seen in the wild. I went back to my hotel, and asked the person at the front desk if they have wild boar in Sedona (I had absolutely no clue what these things were, but my best guess was wild boar). She laughed, and said, "Oh, you saw some Javelinas." Huh? What the heck is a Javelina? Well, Google it and you'll see, and, if you're on the lookout, when you're walking in the shopping district downtown (only about a half-mile long), on the sidewalk which is on the same side as the river (the river parallels the main road through Sedona), there's an artist's rendition of a Javelina. What I saw was a family of three: mom, dad, and baby, foraging through a dumpster, and it was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I do hope you get to see one, and if you drive around at night, preferably taking your car into dark parking lots and side streets on the side of the river, you just might. I'm afraid to say I planned poorly for Sedona, and we did not have one, single good meal when we were there - it was touristy *garbage*, and the best thing I had *by far* was a ten-dollar pint of fresh-squeezed fruit-vegetable juice from an organic juicer (riverside, a couple miles down from the shopping area going *away* from the Grand Canyon (in other words, if you're coming from the Grand Canyon, you pass all the shopping (you'd be driving west-to-east)), and this place is in a dumpy little strip shopping center - if you don't mind paying big bucks for top-quality juices, it's great). But plan well for Sedona, and learn from my mistake - good food here is rare, and you need to know in advance where you'll be eating, or you're going to be stuck with some heaping plate of Tex-Mex glop, or a terrible, king-sized hamburger and frozen French fries. I did manage to find rattlesnake at one of the places, but it was frozen, and absolutely mediocre (I've still never had good rattlesnake) - in fact, if I remember, these were rattlesnake fritters, with tiny little bits of snake meat - very much *not* worth your time. On my previous visit (with Matt, about twelve years ago), we went in the "swimmers river" or whatever it's called - it's a section of the river where you can "ride" down the smooth rock. All I remember is how unbearably *cold* the water was, so be forewarned: that water is frigid - this time, I didn't bother, because I didn't feel like being a polar bear.

Heading South on I-17 from Sedona to Phoenix, you'll see a brown-and-white sign for Agua Fria National Monument. Spend 30 minutes there - it's right off the interstate, and even though the entrance says "four-wheel drive vehicles strongly recommended," our rental car - a piece of junk - handled it just fine up to a point. There is edible cactus-like, floral fruit in the park - very, very seedy, and your hands will be stained a dark purple, but it's perfectly fine to eat, and delicious, too. The fruit you pick looks like little sea urchins, so you have to be careful about getting stuck by the soft, whiskery needles (which are insidious, and will get inside your hands - you'll spend a couple hours "noticing" them after you leave), but it's easy to peel, and you can do your own foraging for a roadside snack. These things are *everywhere*, and you don't need to look for them carefully - there's only one road through the National Monument (no park rangers here), and you'll probably be the only car you'll see the entire time you're there. It's as desolate as desolate can be, and a really nice way to break up the drive. I was on the lookout for rattlesnakes and tarantulas the entire time, but didn't see a single one. This little unplanned stop turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, even though we really didn't "do" anything other than forage desert fruit. If you're in a rental car, navigate the road *very* gingerly, so as not to scuff up your car - you'll be fine, but do exercise some caution in terms of your car, and don't leave the main road except to make a three-point turn to turn around. Just drive in a half-mile, get out of your car, hang out nearby, picking some fruit, and enjoying the immense silence of the desert.

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Don, thank you for all the advice - we already have the El Tovar booked - did that a year ago - and we're doing a Pink Jeep tour there.  While I'd love to do some of the more adventurous things, I'm going with my son (he's 6) and my friend and her son (also 6).  So the trail rides are out.  But I think some of the other things you mentioned are do-able.

Our itinerary is first night in Phoenix (excellent children's museum) and we will aim for Pizza Bianco - I ate there 12 years ago and even chatted with Chris Bianco, although he's not very chatty.  Then 2 nights in Sedona, which may be a home base to go to Jerome/Flagstaff/haven't decided.  Then the one night in Tuba City. There's also a Navajo reservation near there that we might stop at as well. The Petrified Forest is definitely on our list.  Eight nights total.

I will definitely keep an eye out for that rest stop.  Some of the best tamales I ever had were purchased from a lady selling them out of a cooler outside a Goodwill store in Phoenix.  If I could find her again .  . . .

We plan to load up on lots of snacks and bottled water when we arrive that we'll have at the ready as well.

Then, the Grand Canyon/El Tovar.

I can't wait!

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Matt was about 6 when I took him. You can walk part of the way down the Canyon Trail (even a hundred yards will give you a good feel for what it would be like to walk down, but be warned: It's very steep coming back up). I'm not sure which trail rides you're ruling out, but the Agua Fria National Monument is perfectly fine for kids - it can be a ten-minute detour if you want it to be. Also, Matt rode the swimmer's rapids in Sedona, so I think it's perfectly safe for 6-year-olds (it's not whitewater; more of a "sliding board down smooth rock in a two-feet deep river." I didn't think it was all that great, but that's mainly because I was freezing. With young kids, you'll be glad you're staying in one place, but some of these National Parks have little self-guided tours for children to complete (takes about an hour), and when they're finished, they go back and get "sworn in" as official park rangers - it's a big deal for children. I *think* they have one at Petrified Forest, and I think that's where Matt got sworn in (you'll definitely want your camera for that one). I'm pretty sure it's Monument Valley you drive through, and the drive is about an hour - they have the most *amazing* buttes, and it's worth it for sure. There's also a very old, very large, Pueblo or Adobe (I don't know which) cliff dwelling in the region, too, not far from Phoenix - Matt found touring it a bit boring. but it's pretty awesome. If you're really going to stay at El Tovar three nights, be *sure* you have activities for the kids; otherwise, they're going to get pretty bored (there's only so long you can stare at the Canyon in complete awe). I'll go through my credit-card records for the name of that little Tex-Mex place. And if you see anyone on the side of the road advertising "Fry Bread," stop and get it!

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No suggestions for eats, but if you can squeeze in a side trip to Canyon De Chelly, do it!  (pronounced De Shay).   I was more impressed with it than I was the Grand Canyon but both seen on a very quick December trip whose main purpose was to see the Grateful Dead, so both canyons were just "drive by's.  Canyon De Chelly is smaller but still huge and was more impactful to me than the overly massive Grand Canyon was.  The Grand Canyon was too big to appreciate in a couple hours, but Canyon De Chelly wasn't.  Also near there is Monument Valley.  Also worth the time if you have any to spare.

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Okay, I checked my records:

The Taqueria was called Gabriela's Taco Shop in Camp Verde, AZ.

In Sedona, tried but strongly *not* recommended were Cowboy Club (where I got the Diamondback Rattlesnake), and Oaxaca Restaurant (where I got the ladies the Oaxaca Posole) - you absolutely do not want to be caught walking around the shopping district, and end up at places such as these two - this is where you need to plan in advance, and I can't urge you strongly enough to do so - talk to someone who really knows the local restaurants there, because they all market themselves very well. The juice bar I liked so much was called Local Juicery - if I remember correctly, that also might have been the parking lot where I saw the foraging javelinas (pronounced hah-veh-LEE-nahs, btw), but that was on a separate occasion. I also took a book, and had some "me time" at Famous Pizza (I went to the West Sedona location, just for a beer (no pizza), and can *highly* recommend their beer selection) - this, and Local Juicery (which is an absolute splurge), are very close to each other.

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Do the "Pink Jeep" tour in Sedona. It's pricey but worth it. The things you drive over, up, and down will blow you away.

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Vermilion Cliffs and Antelope Canyon are not far from Tuba City and definitely worth considering. I think Antelope would be doable for 6 year olds and slot canyons are otherworldly experiences. Rainbow Bridge and Glen Canyon dam are also great to visit.

The Page area will give you and the kids a taste of my favorite area of the US, southern Utah spanning from Moab to Zion national park. Canyon de Chelly is lovely too, but it's further out and have unpaved roads.

Can't make any specific food recommendations. I'd just check TripAdvisor and lower my expectations. Above average steak and burgers or Tex-Mex seems to be the best one can hope for, outside of Sedona and Phoenix.

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Given your traveling companions I'm not sure whether much fine dining is on your radar, but if it is (or someone else in the future sees this thread) and you're in the Phoenix area, specifically the north suburb of Cave Creek, you might take a shot at my very distant relative Kevin Binkley's eponymous restaurant  "Binkley's".  Kevin has been nominated for James Beard awards several years running.  I have not yet made it there, but from what I've read it seems to be top notch (I have had  lunch with his Dad).  He also has two more bistro-like places, Cafe Bink which is near the mother restaurant and Bink's Midtown which is not far from the airport, either of which might be a better bet with the kids and both of which are open for lunch.

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Thanks - already booked it, and one at the Grand Canyon too!

Do the "Pink Jeep" tour in Sedona. It's pricey but worth it. The things you drive over, up, and down will blow you away.

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Yeah, I loved the Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona as well.

Canyon deChelly is way too far out of the way. It's all the way across the Navajo res., double (at least) the distance from Tuba City to the Hopi reservation (glad you're going there... Very worth it. Watch out for Navajo made Kachina dolls, copies of the Hopi originals & not authorized). We've spent a lot of time in the 4 Corners region, where Canyon de Chelly is, & it's pretty desolate country except for the Canyon itself (which I agree is as great in its own way as the Grand Canyon. Read the Tony Hillerman novels to get the feel. If you are going that way, pm me and I'll get you specific info. As I said, we've spent significant time on the Navajo res. And know people, places, etc there. As a matter of fact, we were in the Canyon for a wedding this past spring.

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A quick summary of our trip as I'm slammed at work & still on west coast time - so, so tired . . .

Children's Museum in Phoenix is a must if you've got kids from 0-8/9.  It was awesome.  I can't remember what we ate that day.

Sedona food was unmemorable - we did eat a late lunch at Oak Creek Brewery & Grill that was quite good - burgers and beer after a hike really hit the spot. The Pink Jeep tour was awesome and we hiked with the kids at Cathedral Rock, down to the forest section.  Also went to Jerome one afternoon - wish we could have spent more time there - a very unique place.  Kids panned for gold, saw goats and walked around.  Ate dinner at Grapes - it was fine, nothing memorable, needed to feed the kids pronto and it served the purpose.

From Sedona, we drove east to the Petrified Forest National Park.  First we stopped at the meteor crater on the way, which was way more interesting than I had expected. Worth the stop.  In Winslow, I had to stand on a corner and have my photo taken - nice to see the candles and flowers left for Glenn Frey.  We ate in Winslow at E & O Kitchen, which was hard to find but worth the effort.  I had the special enchiladas with their homemade posole sauce - yum.  The server was really nice and good with the kids too.

We then went to the Petrified Forest National Park - we didn't get there until 4 pm but this was a highlight - amazing views, broad expanses and a really nice hike through a portion of it.  When we left, we saw the moon rise - strikingly beautiful.  Stayed in Tuba City - a dry town, and you can get fined for even bringing alcohol there because it's part of the Hopi reservation - oops - both the Hopi and Navajo are dry.  The only reason we stayed there was because, the next day, we had a private guided tour of the Hopi reservation. Totally eye opening, both the culture and some of the history we saw - our guide showed up petroglyphs that were incredible, and we visited with some of the Hopi artisans and people. Ate a traditional Hopi food made from blue corn called pika (sp?) - tissue paper thin and rolled up.

Then the Grand Canyon - ate breakfast every day at the El Tovar, where we were staying.  Dinner there one night - the dishes sounded delicious but were kind of bland - and then grabbing food at nondescript places in or near the Grand Canyon village.  Don, you were right about those - nothing special.

We tried, on the way back to Phoenix, to eat at Gabriela's - but it was closed. My friend and I both kind of forgot it was Easter.  Everything in Camp Verde was closed, except for fast food, so we skipped lunch that in anticipation of our last night in Phoenix - we ate at Bink's Midtown.  My friend and I both had the butternut squash soup and the bolognese with handmade pasta.  Really, really good.  Loved that they had a kids menu too, with good choices.

A truly memorable trip - thank you, everyone, for all your suggestions!

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I was just mentioning reading about this trip to someone yesterday and saying that I'd really like to do something similar some day. I don't know much about Arizona aside from the Grand Canyon (and I don't know much about the Grand Canyon, either!). Maybe I'll plan something when my 2-year-old is a bit older. Thanks for the report!

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I'm delighted to hear you ate at one of my distant cousin's places, and especially pleased that you found it to be good.  I'll have to try to get to Phoenix one of these days and do the same.

Not too surprised the food in Sedona and at the GC was so-so.  That is consistent with my recollection from many years ago.  I recall that, on the way to the GC from Las Vegas, we discovered that In-N-Out had recently opened a location in Kingman.  It was the culinary highlight of the entire three day trip out to the canyon.

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Just got back last week from a similar spring break NE Arizona trip with little kids.  Started in Phoenix with mostly nothing special foodwise - except the rather good Chelsea's Kitchen which is a brunch/Mexican place.

Then, Grand Canyon we had a really nice dinner at El Tovar Dining Room - fresh rolls and cheddar biscuits were great, a good squash soup served in a fry bread bowl was fun and really nice and huge apple crumble and chocolate taco desserts. Chocolate taco was a dark chocolate taco-shaped shell filled with chocolate mousse. The downside was uneven service - great bussers, but disappearing/slow waiter. 

Next, we headed just over the border into UT to Monument Valley (which is really awesome) and stayed in the valley at the only hotel there - the View Hotel. Great hotel, highly recommended - breakfast buffet wasn't too special but was well made with a lot of good variety. Dinner was ok - the fry bread with honey and sugar appetizer was good because how could that be bad, main courses of Navajo vegetarian taco on fry bread was hearty and pretty good, the "world famous" green chile stew was only ok - fresh decent quality ingredients but lacked flavor and was more of a soup, then stew.

Drove back to AZ and stopped at Sunset Crater National Monument (highly recommend the easy and surreal lava flow trail). We stopped for lunch in the historic downtown area of Flagstaff for really good burgers and fries at Diablo Burger.  All of the food is cooked to order and extra tasty - seasoned fries, burgers all on English muffins (not my usual burger bread preference but these held up well and tasted good), and I had mine topped with chili-spiced grilled onions that really elevated the burger.  If you are in Flagstaff - Diablo Burger is a good place to check out.

Lastly, we went to Sedona for several days. Mostly we ate at the hotel - Amara Kimpton - the restaurant is the Salt Lick. Some of the food was only so so but the stand out dish was their salmon topped with sweet relish on a bed of beans (black and green).  We also ate at the Creekside Restaurant, which was hit or miss. My wife's coucous was weak, but my white fish in palpiotte was excellent and the Elixir of Life cocktail was very refreshing. I had a bite of the kids' cheese pizza and it was ok too. Dessert here is supposed to be very good especially the peach cobbler but we skipped dessert. Better was Oak Creek Brewery in Tlaquepaque shopping village - where we had a surprisingly good lunch of great fish and waffle chips and a tequila-salmon salad special. The service was very friendly and attentive - especially for a casual brew pup that was packed with a wait during lunch time.  We also went to the "best" ice cream place in town according to several locals - Brown Cow Café in Uptown. It was decent ice cream, but nothing special. The whole place also smells like waffle cones so I got one of their waffle bowls which was a mistake - it was tasteless.

Overall, we didn't have any really great meals but we also didn't seek out any fine dining as we were focused on the kids and traveling more. A few unexpected good places though above.

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I don't know how to do this but Don or another moderator - you should probably add these comments to a general AZ thread

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