With one of the seven natural wonders of the world, an iconic desert landscape, and one of the world’s top golf destinations, a trip to Arizona is a perfect blend of pamper and adventure –– not to mention year-round sunshine.
Southern Arizona’s desert climate makes it the ideal winter destination, and there’s no better time to take advantage of the open roads. As the sixth largest state, seeing all of AZ’s natural wonders would take time (and many many miles). This week-long itinerary from LA through Arizona hits the major highlights.
Pick up your Cabana in Los Angeles and take the I-15 northbound to Las Vegas (4.5 hours).
Okay, this isn’t Arizona, but why pass up a night in Vegas if it’s on the way? Start your trip right with dinner reservations. When it comes to dining in Vegas, there are almost too many options. Here are a few recommendations for a fine dining experience:
- GIADA: Emmy Award-winning celebrity chef Giada de Laurentis has brought her Italian cuisine to The Cromwell. Dine with views of the Bellagio fountains and Caesar’s Palace.
- Bazaar Meat by José Andrés: This steakhouse at Sahara Las Vegas is only a 15 minute walk from Circus Circus (our recommendation for overnight parking). The restaurant is only open 5pm-10pm Friday-Sunday, but if this happens to fit your itinerary, it’s a culinary experience you won’t forget.
- Peppermill Restaurant and Lounge: This high-end diner serves delicious breakfast foods all day. It’s featured on the Eater 38 for Las Vegas, and it’s only a 15 minute walk down the strip from Circus Circus. The fireside seating and enormous drinks make this an ideal place to start or end your night.
Suggested sleeping: Circus Circus RV Park might be one of the pricier stays of your trip, but you’re paying for a prime location and a truly one-of-a-kind experience. What other campsite offers free daily circus acts?
Alternative route: If the Vegas strip isn’t calling to you, take the I-40 east from LA instead, and stop at the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge to kickstart your outdoor adventure.
If your Las Vegas bucket list runs long, spend an extra day or two in Sin City. If you’re ready to hit the road, don’t leave town without brunch!
Although iconic Vegas brunch buffets such as The Flamingo’s Paradise Garden Buffet might be on hold, there are still plenty of brunch options. For a little more morning guidance, check out The 15 Essential Brunches in Las Vegas by Vegas Eater.
Once you’ve had your fill of Vegas, it’s time to start the Arizona adventure! Take the I-40 East to the Grand Canyon’s south rim (4.5 hours).
Despite the extreme heat Arizona is known for, you can expect winter weather up north. If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter, be prepared with warm clothes and snow chains. If you’re new to driving in the snow, read AAA’s tips.
Seeing the second most visited national park in the winter means avoiding the tourist congestion of peak season. Prepare for quieter days, more open accommodation, and amazing snow-capped views.
Sunset and sunrise are when the Grand Canyon’s beauty really shines. In peak season, the crowd of photographers at sunset tend to take away from the majestic quality. In the winter, you’re much more likely to find a quiet spot to take in the terrific sight.
Suggested Sleeping: Mather Campground is a convenient campground open year-round. In the winter, it operates on a first-come first-served basis. Updated information on what is open in Grand Canyon National Park is available here.
It’s worth spending two days in the Canyon, especially in the winter with weather and visibility rapidly shifting. More time means more of a chance of really spectacular views!
The Grand Canyon has been ranked as the best place in the continental US to see the sunrise. Even on a chilly day, that’s worth waking up for. There is no sight quite like the first light on the already stunning rocks. The added sparkle from the snow makes a Grand Canyon sunrise feel even more like a dream.
Spend your day hiking or on a mule ride! Bright Angel Trail is one of the most popular trails on the South Rim, but in the winter you’re unlikely to pass too many other hikers. Although the out and back trail can be up to 12 miles round trip, there are incredible views throughout. Keep in mind you are hiking downward, not up to a peak, so turning back early doesn’t mean you’re missing the best part. While planning your trip, you are sure to see the reminder that safety in the Grand Canyon should not be taken lightly.
Besides having unbelievable sunsets and sunrises, the Grand Canyon is an incredible spot for stargazing. In 2019, the Canyon became a certified Dark Sky Park. Brave the cold and you might see the Milky Way above you. The Grand Canyon’s slogan, “half the park is after dark” will make sense once your eyes adjust.
After catching another breathtaking sunrise, drive down to Sedona (2 hours). Although the drive is only two hours, the photo-worthy scenery might make you want to pull over on your way.
Sedona is a vibrant desert city known for its red rocks, evergreen trees, and spirituality. From meditation to wine tours, there is something for everyone. Here are a few ways you can spend a day in Sedona:
- Vortexes: Sedona has four main energy vortexes, said to strengthen the inner being of anyone who goes near. If you need a boost of “earth energy,” or are looking for a light hike, Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock are both vortexes worth visiting.
- ATV Rentals: Off-roading is a fun way to see the city and surrounding area. You’ll find plenty of rental options in downtown Sedona, but two popular options are Red Rock ATV Rentals and Sedona ATV.
- Wineries: The town of Oak Creek is an ideal microclimate for growing grapes. Book a wine tour or stop by any of the local wineries for a tasting.
- Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village: The natural beauty and meditative quality of Sedona has attracted artists for decades. Whether you’re an art collector or you’re curious about Sedona culture, it’s worth stopping in a few art galleries. From desert-inspired jewelry to quirky southwest souvenirs to a year-round Christmas store called Feliz Navidad Sedona, Tlaquepaque is always an adventure.
Suggested Sleeping: To continue with the quirkiness of your day in Sedona, use HipCamp to find a truly unique overnight destination. There are a lot of free options around Sedona, too, such as The Main Drag 525.
If you want to start your day with a great view and great local coffee, stop at Creekside Coffee. When you’re ready to hit the road, enjoy the red rocks in your rearview mirror as you make your way to Scottsdale, Arizona (2 hours).
Scottsdale is known for its ritzy resorts, spas, and golf courses, but the city has a lot to offer for anyone who appreciates food, architecture, saguaro cacti, or a good Instagram backdrop.
Scottsdale is an ideal winter destination, where outdoor activities require a light jacket and a little sunscreen. If you’re looking to take advantage of the weather, here are the best hiking trails in the area.
- McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Trail: This 4.2 mile loop is a moderate trail and will most likely be fairly busy in the winter. With saguaro and cholla cacti, you’ll get your fill of desert sights. If you’re looking for a photo opportunity, the trail is incredible at sunset. The base of the trail is already an iconic desert landscape, so if you’re looking for a more formal photo shoot, you don’t actually need to hike to get great shots here.
- Lost Dog - Taliesin Overlook: Starting at the Lost Dog trailhead , there are a number of easy to moderate trails to choose from. This 4 mile out and back trail follows the Lost Dog Wash trail and detours to the overlook. The overlook offers expansive views, including a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. This was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and is still open as a school of architecture.
- Camelback Mountain: This mountain is actually in Phoenix, not Scottsdale, but depending on what your day in Scottsdale looks like you might be less than 10 minutes away. This 4.8 mile out and back trail is typically very busy on the weekends. It’s by no means a hidden gem, but it’s popular for a reason. You’ll see all the desert’s favorites, from saguaro cacti to palo verde trees.
If you’re hoping to spend time outside but aren’t looking for another hike, you might want to grab some golf clubs! There are so many courses in Scottsdale to choose from. Whether you’re looking for a challenge or a nice day on the green with desert views beyond, there is something for you. To find your ideal course, check out this list of Best Golf Courses in Scottsdale.
The restaurants are what will really make you miss Scottsdale once you’re away. There are delicious, trendy restaurants all throughout the city, but Old Town Scottsdale has so much to offer day or night. Here are some restaurants worth checking out in the area:
- Cornish Pasty: The creative spin on a traditional Cornwall pastry makes this restaurant one to remember. String lights set the mood for their extensive outdoor seating, and the beer list adds to the rugged atmosphere. Beyond traditional steak and potato filled pasties, you’ll find Italian, Cajun, and Greek flavors to name a few (plus an entire section of vegetarian and vegan options).
- The Mission: The modern Latin American cuisine of The Mission is a common favorite. Fresh tortillas and salsa will start your meal off right, and you can’t go wrong with any of the upscale street-style tacos.
- Farm & Craft: This community-style stop is focused on wellness and sustainability. This is a great stop for any time of day, with a delicious brunch menu served until 3pm. The bright decor and healthy menu items make this a restaurant that will leave you feeling ready for the day or rejuvenated after a long hike.
- Rehab Burger Therapy: This restaurant was created on “a belief that it’s actually therapeutic to slow down and celebrate life’s simple pleasures like the company of friends, great music and a ridiculously delicious meal.” Don’t be afraid of the unique options like the PBJ Burger or Nacho Taco Burger. (And the Sweet Potato tots are a must!)
If you’re looking for more of a desert feel, head north to the town of Carefree. Here are two options for authentic AZ experiences:
- El Encanto: This Old-World style Mexican restaurant sits beside a picturesque pond. Watch ducks and turtles swim while sipping a prickly pear margarita.
- Buffalo Chip Saloon: Did you really think we’d have an Arizona itinerary without any opportunity for mechanical bull riding? This classic Western bar has live music, dancing, and bull riding, of course.
Suggested Sleeping: If you opt for an evening in Cave Creek, then Cave Creek Regional Park Campground is a nice quiet option. There are a few other RV parks on the outskirts of the city. If you’re looking for something convenient to Old Town Scottsdale, WalMart parking lots are popular for overnight parking.
It’s time to start the drive back to Los Angeles (6 hours). If you want to stop for breakfast before heading out of town, Original ChopShop and Luci’s at the Orchard are delicious and quick options. If you want to break the drive into two days, spend the night in Palm Springs (4.5 hours) or use our Joshua Tree itinerary to add an extra national park to your trip.
Return the Cabana to your starting point by 11am.
Arizona is full of natural wonder and desert charm. From desert skies to top-notch tacos, you’ll have plenty to write home about!