Arizona Road Trip Review: The Grand Canyon and More!

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Grand Canyon

I don’t think D can remember a time that I didn’t talk about how badly I wanted to go to Arizona. I spoke about it constantly and would browse through pictures of the sights I wanted to see. It took years for us to finally plan the trip. We always put it off, it was never the right time or the expense would be too high. All that changed when we discovered travel hacking. Check out our post How we booked a week long trip to Arizona for $34 for our family of 3 to see how we travel hacked this trip. Now its time for the trip’s review post. This post will take you through a full review of Arizona and the sights we saw. Surprisingly enough, it took me a long time to get this review together, we did a lot in a short period of time.

Arizona is a large state. In fact, it’s the 6th largest state in the United States. Knowing that, there’s definitely a lot to see and many miles to travel. Our trip was 8 days and it wasn’t enough time. We had to plan an itinerary to guarantee we got to see everything we wanted to.

Our must sees:

  • Tombstone- Wyatt Earp’s old stomping ground. (In case you didn’t know, like me)
    • If you know anything about D, then you know he is a sucker for a good Western
  • Red Rock National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Antelope Canyon
  • Horseshoe Bend

Day 1: Tuscon

Arizona Road Trip

When we planned this trip, we planned it a little backwards. I booked the airfare and then mapped all of our “must sees.” I knew at this point we were road tripping!

We flew into Phoenix international airport using our Southwest companion pass. It was a 5 ½ hour flight, we got nervous with our toddler. We decided to“splurge” a little with points and bought our 1 ½ year-old his own seat. This way we had our own row to ourselves. It was definitely the right move. He had the opportunity to move throughout the row and didn’t have the desire to walk through the aisle.

After we landed we picked up our rental car from Enterprise. We rented a Hyundai Santa Fe which was a good choice. It was spacious enough to fit all of our luggage. I don’t know about you but traveling with a toddler means we can no longer only use carry-ons. I’m sure I over pack but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Comment below any tips on how to pack while traveling with a toddler! I can take all the advice I can get!

From the airport, we started our drive down to Tombstone. But first we stopped for lunch. Although I brought a whole backpack of food we were starving when we left the airport. We decided to try Jack in the Box since we don’t have those near home. A quick and delicious meal (yes, I mean delicious) came out to $20.48. Just so you know, I am a sucker for fast food! With the long day of travel, we decided that stopping half way was probably best. To break up the drive, we drove to Tucson, which has about an hour and 15 minutes from Phoenix. We didn’t really plan on seeing much here. We expected a rest day, to get some food and just explore a little. With our toddler in tow we did our best to try to space out the trip.

In Tucson, we stayed at the Hyatt Place Tucson Airport. This was only a 5,000 point stay. We didn’t expect anything special with this hotel. The location was extremely convenient and the hotel happened to be great and spacious. It basically had a living room area next to the bedroom and they provided a pack and play for our toddler. This was when I realized you can’t go wrong with a Hyatt hotel.

For dinner, we went to the downtown area which seems to be where all the college kids hang out. The University of  Arizona is right in Tucson so the crowd was quite young. Despite that, the downtown was very cute with plenty of options for dining. We wanted to keep things light and quick so we found a burger spot, Lindy’s on 4th. They had funky burgers and regular sides. I made my own sandwich, grilled chicken with avocado & cheese. D got the Blue Suede Cow, a burger with peanut butter, and tater tots. Overall the food was pretty solid and you got what you would expect. It was easy to feed our toddler from our plates too.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped by Walmart to get some basic supplies, milk, fruit and some dish detergent. We returned back to the hotel and crashed at 7:30pm! Mind you, we are from the East coast so it was really 9:30pm our time but that doesn’t really make us feel less old.

By the way, we brought our Roku with us, talk about a lifesaver! We were able to put a movie on for the little guy as we got our luggage in order and he was nice and content. I always recommend this. We were able to access his favorite shows/movies on the road.

Day 2: Tombstone/Sedona

We woke up bright and early, probably around 6 am, mind you, this wasn’t hard considering our toddler was ready to go at 5:30 am. We grab some free breakfast/coffee and start our drive to Tombstone. By the way, I wouldn’t call the Hyatt breakfast gourmet but it was pretty good; great variety. There was cereal, eggs, bacon, yogurt, potatoes, an assortment of breads, etc. For a free breakfast, I was pretty happy. Another little side note, only World of Hyatt members qualify for free breakfast and you have to book through Hyatt, not through a 3rd party. This is a relatively new practice.  Luckily we booked through Hyatt because I was unaware of this.

We got to Tombstone and the weather was far from ideal. It was rainy and cold, probably in the 30s. I packed for colder weather, but I wasn’t prepared for winter-like conditions. Also, we didn’t have an umbrella. But we made the best of it. We ducked into many shops to stay away from the weather and got to really look around.

The town is adorable and definitely keeps a lot of its integrity. You feel like you are in the Wild West when you are walking down the street. Old shop signs, lots of wood and cowboys! We didn’t get to do much since we were mostly passing by but we stayed for the famous gunfight reenactment at the  O.K. Corral. The show was fun, laid back and interactive, I’d recommend it. It’s outside but luckily there was a tarp covering it. It was close to about 20 min long so it was short enough to keep our child’s attention the whole time.

After the show, we ate lunch at Big Nose Kate’s because you basically have to go there when you go to Tombstone, Arizona. Big Nose Kate’s definitely stays true to their theme. The walls are filled with old photos and spunky signs. It’s not a fancy restaurant so it was perfect for a family with a young child. I got a chicken sandwich that was easy to share with the toddler and D got a taco salad. Service was extremely quick and the food was tasty. The reviews for this place were definitely accurate. We were in and out within an hour, which is basically a requirement for us. We pretty much have an hour until our little guy starts to freak out.

Now the long drive begins. We start our journey to Sedona. A solid 300-mile drive. D and I have driven the entire Pacific Coast Highway so we clearly love road trips but this was the first time with the little one so we were a little worried.  But we had to go for it. The drive itself was breathtaking, the views were incredible. If any of you have ever driven the PCH you know that is incredible and I have to say, this drive definitely rivaled it but in a very different way. I am happy we decided to make the drive. So many sights I never even dreamed of could be real. Wow Arizona, you are truly beautiful.

The little guy made it through almost 4 hours of the drive before he got a bit cranky. We stopped about halfway through at a rest stop that he was able to run around and burn some energy. But at around the 4-hour mark, he had enough and we only had 20 min left to go. We pulled out all the stops, tried giving him snacks, singing his favorite songs, taking out all of his toys so we were able to make those last 20 minutes bearable for him. So we learned a valuable lesson, 4 hours is definitely his limit and can you blame him? I thought lasting 4 hours was incredible.

We make it to the hotel and wow! This is the hotel that I splurged on, 15,000 points per night, and it was the right choice! It wasn’t a standard hotel it was more apartment style. At the Hyatt Residence Club Sedona, Piñon Pointe, we booked a studio and got upgraded to a one bedroom suite! We had plenty of room and it even came with a jacuzzi, although we didn’t get to use it. Our balcony, yes we had this too, had a beautiful view of Red Rock and it was considered a stargazing zone (fancy way of saying very low ambient light) so the stars really lit up the sky, we couldn’t get a good picture of that though.

For dinner, we decided to just order in and eat in the room, which had a kitchen and dining room table. We figured with all that time in the car, we didn’t want to subject the little man to have to sit still in a restaurant. We got Italian from Dala & Deluca, I got the burrata and the bolognese sauce (again to share with the toddler) and D got some risotto. It wasn’t our favorite meal. But it got the job done and we were content with dinner.

Another long day meant another early night. Good thing we did this because our toddler woke us up at 4:30 am! He was ready to start his day. The time difference definitely took a toll on him

Day 3: Sedona & Out of Africa Wildlife Park

Lion Pride

So our day started at 4:30 am, not exactly the time I expect to wake up on vacation but when you have a child you just have to go with it. Despite the hotel being perfect, they did not have free breakfast or breakfast options at all so we had to find something on our own. We found this small little cafe, Jose’s cafe, that opened at 6 am. Our options were limited because of the time but it was a great choice. We had pancakes, waffles & eggs . Again, service was very quick so no complaints here. We wrapped up breakfast took the little guy back to the room for a nap and got ready to head over to the safari.

Bengal Tiger Feeding

If you know me, you know that I love animals. Once I found Out of Africa Wildlife Park I knew we needed to go. They had add-on excursions including a sloth encounter. I thought I had died and gone to Heaven! Needless to say, I booked that.

The park was pretty perfect. Everything was spaced out so it looked as though the animals had plenty of room. We got to witness a Bengal Tiger feeding session & felt like we were maybe 15 feet away from a pride of lions. It was definitely up close and personal. A great day trip. We left for lunch and went to this place called Gabriella’s for some Mexican food. It was more like fast food since you ordered at the counter and cleaned off your own tables but pretty tasty. After this, we went back to the park, met Bart the sloth and finished up looking at all of the exhibits. The park was relatively small so something that could be done in a few hours.

Red Rock

When we left, we knew that our little guy was ready for a nap so we took advantage of this and started a driving tour of Red Rock that D found online. This was perfect! Yes, we didn’t get the full hike experience but we got to see all of the most beautiful sights in Red Rock from afar and were able to do this all during nap time! We even got to see most of the sunset at Airport Mesa. It got really cold during the sunset so we didn’t stick around the whole time but boy was it beautiful.

Dinner tonight was simple, we actually went to Whole Foods! We wanted to get a reasonably  healthy dinner quickly, so Whole Foods it was. It was honestly great. Our toddler definitely got a balanced dinner so we couldn’t have asked for more. I don’t know about you, but we find it hard to stay extra nutritious during vacation. We also bought  some fresh fruit for the road and I took advantage of the kitchen in our room and made some vegetables for the road.

Day 4: Grand Canyon & Page

Another day on the road but this one was definitely more broken up so it didn’t feel too bad. We started the drive from Sedona to the Grand Canyon. This was about 150 miles, a 2-hour drive. We stopped at Oak Creek Canyon on the way up and wow… just wow. It was beautiful.

Grand Canyon-South Rim

We went to the South Rim, we entered the National Park which was a flat $35 fee for the car. Although you can easily stay all day at the South Rim, we really only had a few hours in order to keep our schedule intact. When we got there, we went to the visitors center, asked for suggestions on the best sites that were easily accessible and found this online.

To maximize our limited time, we used this to do a quick view of the Grand Canyon and although I know we only scratched the surface, what we saw was still breathtaking. We got some fast food for lunch to avoid spending much time eating and just got to really enjoy our time at the Grand Canyon. After a while, the toddler fell asleep while we were driving from spot to spot so D & I took turns jumping out of the car to take in the views.

At about 3 pm, we started our drive to Page, Az. Another 2 hours drive, about 120 miles, but after so much time spent at the GC it didn’t feel that long. The scenery was beautiful. Did you expect anything less? Page,AZ is a much different feel than Sedona. Sedona is filled with shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. Its very populated and very up to date. Page has a smaller town feel. More local small businesses instead of chains. We got to our hotel, another Hyatt, Hyatt Place Page/Lake Powell. It was a great choice. It was also only 10 minutes from the Antelope Canyon Tour & Horseshoe Bend.

We went to dinner at Dam Bar & Grille after we checked in. The service here wasn’t extremely fast but the food was good. D got a chicken pot pie, I got a flatbread and we ordered a cheese pizza for the little one. We were happy with dinner, went back to the hotel and crashed. That was basically the theme of this vacation. We were always so tired! We packed a lot into a short amount of time but how else do you get to do everything you want to do? I don’t regret it for a second!

Day 5: Antelope Canyon Tour & Lake Powell

We had a late start to this morning, I booked the 11 am Lower Antelope Canyon tour. We chose the 11 am slot because it’s supposed to be the best time to really see the sun through the rocks. Basically, that’s when you get those beautiful shots of the sun beaming through the Canyon. So technically we booked the perfect time slot, I made sure to book it extra early to get this. The one thing that you can’t book in advance, however, is the weather. It was overcast! I checked the weather for the next day to see if we could postpone it a day but it was all rain so this is the best we were going to get.

Overcast or not, it was still beautiful. We booked through Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours. Just a little FYI if you book through them they require that you check in at least an hour in advance, so I thought that we had to get there an hour early. I could have literally driven there at 8 am, “checked in” and then gone back to the hotel and eaten breakfast. Since I didn’t know that, we checked in and had to hang out in the car for an hour until they were ready for us. It wasn’t the biggest deal but I would have definitely planned my morning a little differently had I known.

The tour did start right on time, which was great. It started with a quick 15 minute ride to the canyon itself. The canyon is crowded so be prepared. It’s also a tight space so it can be a little overwhelming in some areas, at least it was for me. But the sights were beautiful and worth it! Our tour guide really helped us see the beauty of the canyon and gave us tips on how to get some great shots.The tour itself was probably about 30-40 min. We got really lucky, the sun poked out from time to time! I saw what I’ve been dying to see for years. Mission accomplished!

We got back to our car around 12 and our little guy knocked out! We knew he wouldn’t stay asleep if we took him to the hotel room so we drove around a little instead and got some take-out. Thanks to Yelp, we found a burger place called Slackers. It was a great burger!  And the fries were great too. It was a good choice and I would definitely go back.

Now we had the rest of the day to just relax and do a little exploring. It was drizzling a bit at this point so we stayed in the hotel for a little and then went out for ice cream to give the toddler a treat. He loved it of course and who am I kidding, so did I.

We took the opportunity to drive to see Lake Powell and drove around Page to see what else it had to offer. Lake Powell was of course beautiful, which is apparently the theme of this trip. We decided to kick the unhealthy eating up a notch and got Pizza Hut for dinner, definitely another guilty pleasure of mine. For our toddler, however, we gave him some of those vegetables I prepared in Sedona to make sure he had the nutrients he needed. Then, we settled down, watched a movie and went to bed.

Just a little side note, bringing our Roku on the trip was the best decision we ever made! It was so incredibly easy to plug into the TV in each hotel and just gave us the option for a little extra entertainment which is a must with young children!

Day 6: Journey to Phoenix/Scottsdale

Today we woke up prepared to start the last leg of our trip which was bittersweet, of course. We planned to drive down to Phoenix since we were flying out of the Phoenix airport. Since it was our last morning in Page, we found a little place for breakfast which was incredibly tasty. It was like eating breakfast at home. It was a quiet and quick breakfast.

Before we started down to Phoenix we went to Horseshoe Bend to cross that off the bucket list. We were able to park in the parking lot, luckily even though it was under construction and started the about 15 minute walk to the actual viewpoint. I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest walk, it was a lot of uphill walking. The view itself was incredible! It was overcast but not raining! So we didn’t get those picturesque photos that you see on Instagram all the time but we definitely got to experience it. Just being in Arizona and seeing all of these natural landmarks was such an incredible feeling. We took a bunch of pictures and headed back to the car. The walk back was definitely harder than the walk there. I’m sure holding a 30 pound baby made the hike a little more challenging too.

I think the trick for Horseshoe Bend is to get there early. There weren’t many people there around 9am and it was perfect. There weren’t too many spots to get great photos so the less people the better!

We spent maybe an hour at Horseshoe Bend before we started on the road trip. It was time for our kid’s nap so we knew that we bought ourselves some time. It was a 3.5 hour drive so we were a little nervous but figured we would see how long he would nap for and stop when he woke up. Surprise surprise, he napped the whole 3.5 hours!! How? I have no idea. It definitely worked out because all of the stops that I planned were outdoors and it was pouring outside so we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy them. With the rain and the route we took it was mostly just a standard highway drive, nothing really memorable to point out.

We actually drove to Scottsdale, by the way. We originally planned to stay in Phoenix but switched to Scottsdale at the last minute and I’m so happy we did! Scottsdale is very lively, filled with tons of restaurants and entertainment. I can definitely see why it’s becoming so popular. We stayed at the (insert hotel) and it was pretty nice. Definitely not as new and updated as the previous hotel but it was very spacious and the staff was extremely accommodating.

For lunch we ate at this modern Tex-Mex restaurant Diego Pops. They had a great taco plate that our kid loved and I loved their green chili chicken. If we had more time, we would have definitely gone there again. For dinner we ordered in from Pasta Brioni for another relaxing dinner in the room. We found that these were great with having an (almost) 2 year old. We were able to get great meals in our pajamas, let our little guy run around and save money. Overall, it was a win-win!

Day 7: Scottsdale/Phoenix

Our final full day in Arizona. We planned on going to the botanical gardens since it’s a must see in Arizona and decided that our son might be a little happier heading to the zoo instead, and of course, D & I can’t say no to a zoo! We starter the day off with a delicious breakfast at Butters. D got these funky Oreo pancakes and boy were they sweet but absolutely delicious.

After breakfast, we went straight to the zoo. It was a perfect early afternoon for our kid. He loves seeing the animals and we got to experience the petting zoo. He enjoyed petting the goats and the cow. It was a great afternoon and the zoo wasn’t too big that it felt like it took up most of our day.

We left for lunch and to put the little guy down for a nap. Cien Agaves Taco was a great place for lunch. It was in old Town Scottsdale; just a warning, parking was a little tough. Once we found a spot, however, it didn’t feel crowded. This part of Scottsdale was definitely a place to visit. Tons of shops and a great old school feel to it. It was nice to walk around.

We realized there was enough time for the Botanical Garden so we went. By the time we got there, it was around 4pm. We only planned on staying for about an hour and to be honest, we didn’t need more time. It turns out that going to a botanical garden isn’t exactly something that we enjoy. After we came to that realization, we decided to head back to Old Town to get some souvenirs and find a place for dinner. We landed on Grimaldi’s and this was possibly my favorite meal of the trip. The pizza was great and so was the Caesar salad. We even got a free cannoli! How can you go wrong?! It was delicious. If we ever make it back to Scottsdale, I’m going there.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the supermarket and got some snacks for the flight home to save some money there. We made sandwiches and got some crackers. A must-do for traveling with young ones.

I don’t think we will win any prizes for frugality. But we saved so much money booking the trip that I’m happy with the overall cost. We learned a lot and will continue to learn as we continue travel hacking. A family of 3 spending less than $2,000 for a 7 day trip across the country seems like a steal to me!

Overall, Arizona was a great place to visit. It was simply beautiful. I’m so happy we chose this destination. And look forward to the day we get to go back. Add it to your bucket list and plan to head out there, you won’t regret it!


2 thoughts on “Arizona Road Trip Review: The Grand Canyon and More!”

  1. Love the blog, Trial by Fire! I’m actually a mechanical engineer also! I was lucky enough to get to see the Grand Canyon this year before the pandemic stay-at-home orders were put into place. Arizona is such a beautiful place! I wish I saw this post before I went. You detailed and planned such a great trip. Guess I just have to go back!

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