Arizona or Bust! #CoffeeTalk

Arizona or BUST

Last fall I mentioned that we were in the very beginning stages of planning a family vacation. We tend to go where we are invited; and thanks to my blogging and generous family members, that’s worked out for us okay thus far. But I considered the ages of my kids and decided that if they’re going to see anything beyond the East coast before they leave home, it’s now or never.

When I was in high school, my mom took our family to California, and that is a trip I’ve always remembered because it was the first time I went somewhere totally NEW. You see, I grew up vacationing with family in Maine and Virginia Beach, much like my kids have grown up vacationing with family in Maine and the Jersey Shore and the occasional trip to Disney World. NOT that I consider them deprived in any way. They’ve seen a lot and had some great experiences and made wonderful memories, but I’m ready to show them something NEW.

We debated various options including Hilton Head, areas of Florida, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and more. We also debated the time of year. Should we go for Spring Break (for some reason, I had my heart set on a Spring Break trip; we have NEVER done that before) or wait until the summer when we have more time and flexibility with our schedule??

I was quickly becoming overwhelmed with options so I reached out to my friend and travel writer, Carol Cain, for advice. She told me that when planning a new trip, they always start by looking at plane tickets because the cost of airfare can quickly dictate which dates and locations are going to fit within your travel budget.

I had looked at hotel accommodations and weather patterns, but it hadn’t occurred to me to look into the cost of plane fare (clearly I’m not a seasoned traveler.) So I did some quick Expedia research.

It quickly became evident that we would need at least a year to plan a trip to Yellowstone. Even for the summer of 2015, many of the accommodations were already booked, plus airfare is astronomical. It will take some time and research to figure out the best way to make that trip affordable for us so we are tabling that idea for another year or two.

We really want to show the kids a part of the country they haven’t seen before, which eliminates pretty much anything on the East coast, bringing us back to my original idea: Arizona!

We finally decided to plan our trip for Spring Break because the weather is much nicer in Arizona in April than in June or July. We will fly into Phoenix and stay a few nights in Scottsdale and enjoy some of the attractions the Phoenix/Scottsdale area has to offer. Then we will drive up to Sedona/Flagstaff for the second half of our trip, see the sites, and take a day trip to the Grand Canyon. 

During the busyness of the holidays we let our travel planning slide, but we knew that if this trip was going to happen, we would need to get right on it as soon as the Christmas tree was put away. That is exactly what we did over the weekend.

I am happy to report that we have hotel reservations and plane tickets booked. WOOT!!!!

Arizona, here we come!!!


I was able to secure a media rate at the Hyatt Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, which is where my husband and I stayed when I visited Arizona ten years ago. I cannot WAIT to go back. It’s a lovely place to hang out and relax, so I plan to schedule time to unwind by the pool in the warm Arizona sunshine.

For our time up north, I made reservations at the Hilton Sedona. Doesn’t this photo simply take your breath away!!????

hilton sedona


Traveling as a family of 5 creates some challenges, especially when trying to find affordable accommodations; that alone eliminated quite a number of possible hotels. The Hilton has a suite option with a pull-out bed that is going to be great for my teenage son. We will be a little bit tight at the Hyatt with a cot in a standard room, but we don’t plan to spend much time in the room so I’m sure it will work out okay. Plus everything seems to be more spacious out west.

What’s Next!??

Now it’s all about planning the itinerary, which is no small feat, but I am so much less stressed now that we have plane tickets and know where we’re going to stay.

You guys were super helpful with suggestions when I started talking about this trip last fall, and I took notes. Plus my friend Jodi wrote a Things To Do With Kids in Phoenix post for me so I have that to work from too.

Here is our bucket list. I KNOW we will not get to do all of this, but right now we are just in the gathering information stage of vacation planning.

Phoenix/Sedona/Flagstaff Bucket List

  • Musical Instrument Museum
  • Heard Museum
  • Taliesin West
  • Phoenix Zoo
  • Rawhide
  • Grand Canyon
  • Pink Jeep Tour (sunset preferred)
  • Blazin’ M Ranch

Most importantly, I don’t want to over-plan the trip and feel like we’re rushing from one attraction to the next. I want to show my kids the Red Rocks and the gorgeous desert vistas because THAT is what I fell in love with when I visited.

I’m wide open to ideas and advice from those who have been there. Lay it on me!

Join the Conversation

35 thoughts on “Arizona or Bust! #CoffeeTalk

  1. There is tons a fabulous hiking in Sedona and April should be a great time of year to do it. Lowell Observatory is in Flagstaff if your kids are really into science.

  2. My kids go back to school tomorrow (pending a snow cancellation!), and researching a S.B. Phoenix trip is on my list to do also. Just curious about your Sedona/Grand Canyon side trip. We don’t want to have to constantly hop hotels, so I’m thinking once we leave Phoenix, we don’t stay another night there? How are you handling the Sedona to Grand Canyon transition? Are you staying at an airport hotel the night before departure? Are you driving straight from Grand Canyon back to Phoenix or are you staying in Sedona 2 nights? I’ve been to the Grand Canyon twice, and it is nice to break up the drive. Logistics, logistics!

    1. We are trying to keep it simple, so we are doing 3 nights in Scottsdale and 3 nights in Sedona. I realize that means getting to the Grand Canyon is a bit of a haul. We planned our plane flight home for 10:45 on Monday to allow time to drive to Phoenix from Sedona. That might be ambitious, but I hate the thought of THREE hotels…

  3. Definitely do the pink jeep tour if at all possible. Sedona is gorgeous and it is a really fun way to see it with the kids!

  4. We took a 2 week road trip out west 7 years ago when my youngest was 9. She remembers some things but the long drive is what both girls remember the most. 🙂 Our final destination was my brother’s in Vegas. We made several stops along the way, including the Grand Canyon. We took the train up to the canyon and that was fun! We stayed in Williams, AZ where the train begins. There is a great local restaurant in town that has the most huge pies we have ever seen anywhere! We also visited the Petrified Forest which is amazing to see, but it may be too far from where you’re going. Just take in all the beautiful scenery; there is nothing like it on the eastern side of the country. (although my girls got tired of seeing nothing but rocks-ha, ha).

  5. My hubby and I are taking a very similar trip at the end of this month! We’re spending our first night at the Grand Canyon and the rest of the time in Phoenix. Will do a day trip to Sedona and do the Pink Jeep Tour. Can’t wait! Still need to finalize our Phoenix activities so I’ll be checking out the things on your list too. 🙂

  6. I love AZ! There is a great place right outside Phoenix, in Carefree called the Buffalo Chip. You can check thier website for the current schedule but twice a week they hold bull riding competions out back of the restaurant. They also serve wonderful smoked meats/BBQ.

    Close to Sedona is a cool town called Jerome, you might consider adding a visit there onto your itinerary too.

  7. You will have so much fun! Unless your kids are really big zoo fans, I might skip the zoo. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great zoo, but your kids might be old for it. I would do the Desert Botanical Garden instead – since the flora and fauna is so different in Arizona, it’s a great introduction to all the different cactus you will see. And since you’re going in spring, you will probably be able to see alot of the desert flowers which will be blooming at that time.

    My son’s favourite restaurant in the world is Pinnacle Peak Patio in North Scottsdale. It’s a giant barn of a place that serves steaks, ribs, etc. and they make their own sarasparilla. It’s not fancy, they cut off your tie if you wear one. The food is good, they have live music, and kids seem to love it.

    The Sugar Bowl in old Scottsdale is a great place for ice cream. It’s a diner – there won’t be much GF in the food menu, a tuna salad plate kind of thing, but the ice cream desserts are MASSIVE. Again, not fine dining – but the kind of place kids like.

    Finally, if you want to bargain hunt, I’d go to Last Chance on Camelback road. It’s the store where all the Nordstrom returns and overstocks go to be sold. Because of that, it’s hit or miss – I have a weird shoe size so I’ve always been able to find great deals on shoes. However, be prepared – it’s often super crowded, and you really have to be in the right frame of mind to dig for that bargain. If you hate that kind of shopping, don’t go.

    And whatever you do, don’t go on a segway tour of the desert. We did it last July, and my husband broke his wrist – he had to fly home with a cast, have surgery, wear an external fixator for 6 weeks, and he’s still having physiotherapy!

    Other than that, we’ve always had great vacations in Scottsdale – our first was before kids 20 years ago, and our last was last July.

  8. I’ve got the travel bug. Maybe its the colder weather making me want to venture to warmer areas. Not sure. I’ve never been into travel until this year. Arizona looks amazing and it’s close enough to me. Maybe I’ll have to look into it! Looks amazing. Have fun.

  9. The Grand Canyon is a BIG day trip. Unless you plan to do a Griswold family hop-out-of-the-car, there is so much to see….you might want to consider spending one night in Williams, AZ so you can just crash there after a day of seeing the Canyon. It’s a cute little Western town that Route 66 goes through. Several family-friendly restaurants.

    I say this because my family drove from Grand Canyon (we spent 2 days there) to Sedona at dusk after hiking all day. By the end of the drive my husband was exhausted and we were all white-knuckling it while singing nonstop to keep him awake.

    Have a great time! You couldn’t have picked a more un-East-Coast place, so I think the kids will be blown away!

  10. I echo the advice to go to Last Chance – just head west on Camelback into Phoenix – it is at 19th in a shopping centre with a big Matshalls. But if you go, get there first thing when they open. We have been bargin hunting there for years! Shoes and purses are often the best bets, but in April you’ll find deals on winter coats that are too good to pass up. It’s rather like an upscale garage sale, as some things are perfect (and new) and some items in pretty rough shape.
    We have been going to Phoenix for over 20 years now and our kids (now 17 and 13) just like hanging by the pool, eating out and doing a little shopping. Our favorite restaurant is Tia Rosa’s, in Mesa, on the Scotsdale/Mesa border. We usually end up eating at the taqueria in front of the main restaurant – the shrimp tacos are amazing (and that is coming from people who live on the coast in Vancouver).
    We’ve done the Grand Canyon in a day – left super early and came back in time for dinner. Long drive with kids though.
    Tortilla Flats is another fun little adventure – go in the am to get there in time for lunch. Stop at the old gold mine/”ghost town” on the way. It’s a lovely drive in the spring and my kids enjoy stopping to take pictures along the way.

  11. We did the exact trip you are planning in 2006. My son was in high school and my daughter was 12. The best vacation ever. My kids were not really excited to go BUT when we got there they were in awe. We stayed at one of the timeshare resorts in Sedona and booked a day tour to see the Grand Canyon one day. They picked us up at our resort. We loved it so much we booked a float down the Colorado River that started at the Glen Canyon Dam with the same company. That site was the most spectacular thing any of us had ever seen. The look on my kids face was priceless!! And since it was quite a drive back to Sedona-we were so thankful to have the tour bus driver so we could all relax. It was about a 15 passenger air conditioned bus and just perfect. Instead of the Jeep tour we did the hummer tour-my husband has some neck and back issues so we were concerned about it being too bumpy. It was great fun…we got very dusty-wear appropriate clothing. You will LOVE the experience.

  12. I have some more restaurant recommendations I think you will like as I live nearby! There is a local group of restaurants call Fox Restaurant Concepts and they have several different restaurants throughout the valley. When you are at Hyatt Gainey Ranch (which has pretty decent hotel fare compared to other hotel chains) you will be somewhat central to several of them. True Food Kitchen is a health conscious restaurant with an emphasis on gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan food (I am none of those but LOVE LOVE LOVE this restaurant) and I think you would love it. Another one of my favorite Fox restaurants is the Greene House ~ their Truffle Fries are to die for. I’ve never ordered something I didn’t love. If you are in the mood for a gourmet burger, Zinburger is fabulous, again another Fox restaurant (No, I have no affiliation with them!). And if you are a fan of Cupcake Wars as my 8 year old is, you should visit Sprinkles Cupcakes. Candace Nelson is the founder and owner of Sprinkles and they are the best cupcakes I have ever sank my teeth into (they have gluten free too!!). Hyatt Gainey Ranch rocks as well – we go every summer for a “Staycation”. Sorry for the lengthy comment, but I would want this information if I was a visitor to the area!

  13. So, JoLynne, I stumbled across your travel page and wanted to hear your recommendations after your trip to Arizona. We are planning a trip in late May and appreciate any insider info you can give. We have never been out west either and are super excited. My son is stationed in New Mexico and this is a great opportunity for us to visit.

    1. Hi Kim. We love Arizona. You can see my review of the Hyatt Gainey Ranch here:

      This was our 2nd stay there. My husband and I stayed there once on a biz trip. It is FANTASTIC and I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend it. You will never want to leave. 🙂

      I have also stayed at the Phoenician, and it is also lovely, but I just adore the Hyatt Gainey Ranch.

      Unfortunately because my son got sick, we didn’t get to see much of the area, but I highly recommend visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. Even if you have no interest in architecture, it is utterly fascinating. Many years ago when we were there, we traveled up to Sedona. That is a neat area and a really cool town. We scheduled a pink jeep tour that we had to cancel, but that comes highly recommended, and would be fun with older kids. And of course, there’s the Grand Canyon – if you want to travel that far north.

      Have so much fun! I love the American west.

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