By Stephanie Allen
Media and Content Editor
If you missed our previous post, our Diamond Resorts media team spent three days last month exploring Sedona, Arizona to give you an inside look at the best experiences in Red Rock Country. It was our first stop in the #DiamondStories series this year, aimed at showcasing several of Diamond’s most desirable destinations around the globe.
From off-road tours and hot air balloon rides in Sedona, to hiking dormant volcanoes in Hawaii or enjoying beachside concerts in Virginia Beach, Virginia – we’re testing out adventures in each destination first to help you make the most of your next Diamond Resorts vacation. If you aren’t already, you can follow our adventures on social media with #DiamondStories and join the conversation by sharing your own vacation experiences.
While in Sedona, we made Los Abrigados Resort and Spa our home base. The resort, one of four that Diamond Resorts manages in the area, is located in the heart of Sedona. It is within walking distance to numerous shops and restaurants, and features plenty of on-site amenities, including a recently renovated fitness center, two restaurants, saltwater pool, mini golf and more. Click here to read more about the resort and our stay.
Sedona Ticket Station booked us on numerous excursions before we arrived, so nearly every detail of our three-day trip was perfectly planned. All we had to do was sniff out the best restaurants to fill our hungry bellies after all the activities. Luckily, there was no shortage of great local restaurants to choose from.
On our first night, we checked in to our rooms at Los Abrigados and then walked to Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, where we wandered through the local shops and galleries. We decided to stick around for dinner at Oak Creek Brewery and Grill. There was a decent 30-minute wait for a table for two, but the food was worth the wait. Plus, the restaurant is just 224 steps from the Los Abrigados lobby, so it’s super convenient. After stuffing ourselves, we called it an early night in preparation for a day full of adventures.
We set our alarms for 5:15 a.m. – our Social Media Manager, Christopher, snoozed his alarm until about 5:30 a.m. – but we both made it to the resort lobby in time for our 6 a.m. pickup by Blair, our pilot with Northern Lights Balloon Expeditions, for a sunrise hot air balloon ride.
He was surprisingly cheery for it being before sunrise and had a repertoire of fun dad jokes that made our packed van chuckle during the 30-minute drive to our launch site. When we arrived, Blair and his crew rushed to set up our basket and fill the balloon with air, so we could climb in. And I say climb, because we literally had to climb up and over the side to get in the basket. It wasn’t the easiest, but Blair’s team offered a helping hand.
After getting cozy – it’s a tight fit, so don’t expect to maintain any personal space – we exchanged hellos with the other adventurers in our basket: a group of retired women on a girls trip, a family of four and a young couple. (He proposed during our ride! She, of course, said yes.) We got settled, and then we were floating. We didn’t feel a thing, and then suddenly, we were 2,500 feet in the air.
Breathtaking doesn’t begin to describe what it’s like floating that high and watching the sunrise over Sedona. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everything about the ride was exceptional. Blair identified different landmarks and rock formations, and helped us spot several animals, including mule deer and a jackrabbit. He was extremely knowledgeable about the area and provided great insight into the history of Sedona.
After landing, we enjoyed a picnic breakfast and mimosas, and then Blair drove us back to Los Abrigados. Honestly, we were ready for a nap at that point, but instead spent a few hours exploring the resort, working up an appetite for lunch. We didn’t feel like going far, so we walked to Spoke & Wheel Tavern, the on-site restaurant. The burgers were large and juicy – I made such a mess, I had to ask for extra napkins. Definitely recommend the parmesan garlic fries, which were extra crispy and full of flavor.
We were back outside the lobby at 3 p.m. to be picked up for our afternoon Pink Jeep® Tour, which turned out to be one of the best parts of our entire weekend. Sedona Ticket Station booked us on the Ancient Ruin/Diamondback Gulch Combo tour, and after four hours on the road with our hilarious tour guide, Laura, we didn’t want to leave. Granted, we were a little shaken up – the Diamondback Gulch is a beast and not a smooth ride – but it was by far one of the coolest things we’ve ever done. We almost lost Christopher, who sat in the “catapult seat,” but he held on tight. Tip: Don’t sit in the very back. As Laura described, you will get an intense “Jeep® tissue massage” and will feel like you did four hours of “Pink Jeep® Pilates.”
The Ancient Ruins portion of the tour took us to the Honanki Heritage Site, where we parked and walked about a quarter of a mile to the site, which dates back to between A.D. 1150 and 1350. Seeing the ruins up-close was incredible. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of petroglyphs and pictographs depicting life back then tucked along the cliff face, along with partially crumbled walls from ancient dwellings. We had chills just standing near everything, and Laura provided great insight into the fascinating history. Her passion for Sedona and its rich history was evident in the stories she told.
We were wiped out by the time we got back to Los Abrigados, but decided to walk to The Hudson for dinner. There’s a decent amount of parking available near the restaurant, but it was only about a 10-minute walk from the resort, so we decided to hoof it. At 7 p.m., our wait was about 45 minutes, so we definitely recommend calling ahead or making reservations. With a slightly industrial chic vibe, The Hudson is more upscale than most restaurants in Sedona, so we were a little out of place in our hiking boots and athletic wear. We ordered a couple appetizers and quickly forgot, focusing on how mouthwatering delicious the food tasted. Crab cakes that are moist and crispy? Yes, please. We ordered the barbecue braised pork tacos and parmesan chicken scaloppini, which was creamy and lemony and all-around melt-in-your-mouth amazing.
We spent the next morning at the newly renovated fitness center at Los Abrigados before driving about 45 minutes to the Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale. You check in and get your boarding passes in the gift shop, which features a great selection of train-themed souvenirs and a café, in case you want to grab some snacks for the ride. We were booked in a first-class cabin, which we definitely recommend for first-time riders, as it had a full-service bar and appetizers. Honestly, we were too distracted by the beauty of the area to eat the appetizers, but it was nice knowing they were available. We also had the option of walking out to an open-air car for better photo opportunities. It was a little too cold to stay out there the whole ride, but the views were worth the chill factor.
The Verde Canyon Railroad is a must-do if you’re not into hiking and want to see a different side of Red Rock Country. The ride literally takes you back in time on a 38-mile stretch of railroad between Clarkdale and Perkinsville that was built in 1912 by 250 men, who only had dynamite, picks, muscle and mules. The train stops in Perkinsville, where the locomotives are disconnected from the front of the train, driven on a set of parallel tracks and reattached to the caboose to head back to Clarkdale. The locomotives themselves hold a great deal of history, as only two of 10 vintage FP7 locomotives left in service. They were originally built in 1953 for the Alaska Railroad.
For dinner, we drove to the nearby Blazin’ M Ranch, which features a replica Old Western town and fun family activities. We learned how to lasso, shot a real .45 caliber revolver, enjoyed a tractor ride around the ranch and met some fun farm animals. I quickly made friends with an adorable pot-bellied pig named Penelope, who sat in her food bowl and then oinked at me. Dinner was a chuckwagon-style barbecue, with ribs that fell off the bone, baked beans and prickly pear coleslaw. Beware: they will come around with “flying biscuits” and toss warm baked biscuits at your face. I caught mine first try. We won’t mention how many Christopher dropped before eventually giving up. (Ahem, four.) Of course in the country, you can’t have dinner without a show, so after a creamy apple cobbler dessert, the Blazin’ M Cowboys took the stage for a cowboy-tastic performance. It was full of country clichés and Old Western charm – a perfect way to end our second full day in Sedona.
DAY 3 – SAYING GOODBYE
On our last morning in Sedona, we walked to The Secret Garden Café in Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village for a quick breakfast. The quaint café has been in business for nearly two decades and has a simple breakfast menu with several gluten free and healthier options. Christopher had the world-famous deep dish quiche with ham, bacon and Swiss cheese, while I opted for the traditional two eggs any style with bacon, fruit and toast. It was convenient and our meals provided the exact amount of fuel we needed to begin our day.
As we were trying to squeeze as many activities in as possible, we booked a short Red Rock Magic Trolley tour for the morning. We planned it just right, so we had time to squeeze in one more adventure before checking out. The trolley picked us up right outside the resort lobby and drove us up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It’s a massive Roman Catholic chapel built into the red rocks and provides exceptional views of the city. Even if you’re not religious, the architecture is well worth the trip. Take time to read all the signs – there is a great story behind the structure.
Our guide on the trolley was knowledgeable and pointed out various landmarks along the way. It was a quick trip because we had to leave that morning, but the Red Rock Magic Trolley offers numerous tours throughout the day. If you’re interested in learning about the destination, while getting up close to some of the most famous landmarks, we highly recommended a tour. If you’re nearly 6-feet tall like me, just be aware that the seats are a little tight.
We spent the remainder of the morning packing our things and checking out of our home-away-from-home. It was a short getaway, but we maxed it out with three days full of adventures. During our two-hour drive back to the Phoenix airport, we reminisced about our favorite experiences and both promised that we would return to Sedona soon.
Now, it’s on to the next one…