How to explore Sedona's diverse neighborhoods

Idyllic and idiosyncratic, Sedona is a high-desert city where nature and a new-age counterculture looms large. Located in Arizona's Coconino National Forest and flanked by Red Rock State Park and Slide Rock State Park, Sedona is both a desert oasis studded with spas and galleries and a year-round adventure playground with 400 miles of trails to understand more about.

Sedona includes a dedicated downtown, but this city of 10,000 feels a lot more like a number of villages huddled beneath the shadows of their imposing red rocks. Its four neighborhoods are spread across the main thoroughfares, so you don't have to venture too much to discover them all.


Best neighborhood for shopping

Sedona's rustic roots run deep in historic Uptown, the city's original downtown and core of their cultural heritage. Once flush with ranches and apple orchards, Hollywood came bringing in the 1920s and the fledgling village welcomed an influx of movie-making, using more than 80 Westerns filmed in the region. Sedona's hardscrabble cowboy culture was later augmented by artists and new-agers seeking spiritual enlightenment. That coexistence endures within this contemporary and walkable neighborhood that sits at the base of Oak Creek Canyon. Uptown melds into Oak Creek Canyon towards the north and the Village of Oak Creek to the south, but basically begins at the “Y” roundabout where state routes 89A and 179 (the Red Rock Byway) intersect.

Uptown is Sedona's liveliest area, so it could possibly get crowded within the high season, especially because the city's festivals are often centered along Main Street. Here, restaurants serve Southwestern and high-desert cuisine, while boutiques offer everything from Navajo rugs to healing crystals that blend in to the natural landscape. The streets get sleepier at night, but some pubs and saloons are open as late as midnight on weekends, offering live music, a DJ or karaoke.

Uptown is a superb place to wander any time of the year. Take your time, pausing at historic plaques, sculptures and landmark buildings that provide glimpses into Sedona's past. Sedona Heritage Museum houses thousands of artifacts and photos, and Sedona Art Center was once a barn used for packing apples and peaches. South of Main Street, the huge Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village is worth a visit to begin to see the work of Sedona's artisans. Uptown is also the most convenient destination, but be prepared to open your wallet wide. Sprawling luxury hotels and resorts with fireplaces, pools and spas are sanctuaries unto themselves.

Village of Oak Creek

Best neighborhood for stargazing

Once referred to as Big Park, the Village of Oak Creek (VOC) straddles the Red Rock Byway south of Uptown. “The Village,” as it is called by locals, is a touch more rural and laid-back than its northern neighbor. It's dark here – ideal for stargazing and UFO spotting – and residents wish to keep it this way. The Village is really a certified International Dark Sky Places (IDSP), one of only 130 worldwide.

It's also home to imposing natural edifices like the mile-high Courthouse Butte and also the dome-shaped Bell Rock, certainly one of Sedona's four vortex sites. Many people believe a vortex is really a naturally sourced phenomenon of energy that's ideal for healing, meditating or just recharging your weary soul. Lots of easy-to-access paths crisscross the nearby area; many trailheads have parking lots right off the highway.

The Village of Oak Creek draws its share of spirituality seekers, but they've got competition with regards to golfing. Sedona's mild weather means there's never a bad time for you to tee off and four courses (some mounted on resorts) are scattered round the neighborhood. The Village of Oak Creek is mostly walkable, having a mashup of casual restaurants, pubs, and quirky shops clustered around midrange hotels and vacation rental properties. The neighborhood's real character originates from its stunning natural setting.

Oak Creek Canyon

Best for outdoor adventure

Oak Creek Canyon is just a short drive from downtown, yet it feels worlds away. Traveling north around the 89A as it twists with the canyon, Sedona's signature red rock desert gives way to glorious green – namely among the world's largest ponderosa pine forests. The canyon's cooler temperatures provide a reprieve in summer with natural sites like Midgley Bridge Observation Sight for picnicking and Grasshopper Point for swimming and cliff-jumping.

One of the area's unusual attractions is at Slide Rock State Park: an 80ft natural sandstone chute that deposits sliders into Oak Creek's refreshing water. Even though you don't want to swim or splash, there's a history lesson available here; on the primitive trails that cause the 43-acre Pendley Homestead and apple orchard, view historic cabins and find out about Central Arizona's early agricultural development.

Although the canyon is gorgeous in each and every season, fall is especially pretty once the oak leaves transform right into a blaze of color. If you choose to stay here, there is a range of accommodations, whether campsite, cabin or midrange resort, most hemmed in by creek and forest. Services and restaurants in Oak Creek Canyon are sparse and typically scattered along 89A or located in resorts. Many places are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, there is however enough around that you should fuel up or scratch your shopping itch. If you're going to look for a rare vintage Apache basket, Hopi kachina doll or any other collectible, visit Hoel's Indian Shop. The family-owned business continues to be selling art and treasures here since 1945. You can pick up coffee and provisions at Indian Gardens Cafe & Market and The Table at Junipine has a full-service bar with local beer on tap.

West Sedona

Best for budget travelers

There's much more of a residential feel to West Sedona, an excellent jumping off point for accessing scenic spots like Airport Mesa Overlook and Thunder Mountain towering within the distance. Located about a mile west of Uptown on 89A, West Sedona is decidedly down-to-earth. When underground aquifers were found in the area, people moved from burgeoning Uptown and also the neighborhood was born.

Functional businesses, bookstores, thrift shops and metaphysical stores are the mainstays. One standout may be the Sedona Artist Market & Gallery, which showcases and sells work of more than 100 local, regional and Native American artists. You can purchase from jewelry to textiles and paintings to rock art. West Sedona has a quantity of chain hotels that will attract travelers looking for a break on room rates, while boutique-style inns and lodges are farther from the heart of the neighborhood but nearer to the trails.

Food offerings are eclectic in West Sedona, with sushi, vegan and modern Native American restaurants rounding the expected Southwestern and Mexican cuisine. And, obviously, there is the iconic McDonald's: the “golden” arches are teal, so they don't clash with Sedona's surrounding red rocks. Like the remaining city, West Sedona isn't exactly party central. Among the best places for drinking and a dose of entertainment is the Olde Sedona Bar and Grill, which features live entertainment, karaoke, bingo and trivia.