There’s a reason we travel with the people we do: We’re friends with them, are married to them, or are otherwise related to them. Trouble is, those traveling together might not all like the same things, so, finding a destination that offers something for everyone is key to successful vacation.
If you’re looking for a bucket-list-worthy escape to suit your entire group, consider a Southwest road trip, where you can explore charming small towns, shops, restaurants, hotels, national parks, and more.
One of our favorite road trip itineraries is the scenic drive from Scottsdale to Las Vegas (or the reverse) with stops in Sedona or the Grand Canyon. This works great as either a girlfriends’ getaway, a bonding trip with siblings or cousins, or a vacation with other couples.
This 450-mile drive is doable on a budget during the summer season, when room rates are low and the weather is hot (temperatures are in the high 90s or low triple digits most days, and the occasional “monsoon” — Arizona-speak for a sudden heavy downpour — may dampen an afternoon). For cooler temperatures (and just slightly higher room rates), wait until October or November to visit.
From terrific art and design to great food and wine, to adventure activities, here’s how to explore the Southwest by car on a budget.
Days One and Two: Scottsdale
Getting Here: Fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) and pick up a rental car. Downtown Scottsdale is a 15-minute drive away.
The Vibe: Old Town has so much charm — plus some seriously fun mid-century modern architecture — along with sophisticated dining, an abundance of public art, and some surprisingly tasty Arizona wines. Away from the city’s commercial hub, you’ll enjoy hikes or 4x4 excursions amid dazzling desert vistas, especially at sunrise or sunset. To learn more about Scottsdale, check out our expert-approved guide.
Where to Stay: Hotel Valley Ho offers a fun Mad Men ambience, spacious rooms, two pools, and walkable access to Old Town’s fantastic happy hours and award-winning dining. The property was built in 1956 and refurbished in 2005. Now, the hotel exudes a youthful vibe (especially at the main pool on Saturdays), as well as a nostalgic allure. Rates from $94 per night.
If you prefer a desert resort setting, opt for The Boulders Resort and Spa, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. Here, you’ll find adobe casitas (with fireplaces for cooler nights), two golf courses, a 33,000-square-foot spa, hiking trails, resident wildlife (from rabbits to coyotes), and entrancing desert vistas on its 1,300 acres. Rates from $134 per night.
For Art & Design Lovers: Old Town Scottsdale is home to over 90 pieces of permanent public art, along with dozens of galleries. (Tip: Time your visit to the sociable Art Walk every Thursday night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.) If you love mid-century modern design, Hotel Valley Ho offers both half- or full-day Insider Mid-Century Tours with a local expert. The tour give insight into the hotel’s design, a look at neighboring mid-century apartment complex, and a visit to the fascinating Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Price House. There’s a flat fee of $700 for three hours and $1,400 for six hours for up to 10 people. Alternatively, Wright fans can visit the architect’s home and school, Taliesin West. Self-guided tours cost $35 per person.
For Foodies: Three spots not to miss are Postino Café Highland for great happy hour specials (all wines by the glass are $5 until 5 p.m. and the savory-and-sweet bruschetta is $15 for four selections). For delicious Arizona whites, rosés, and reds, head to Merkin Vineyards. While you’re in town, try to snag a reservation at FnB, where you’ll enjoy delicious dishes prepared by James Beard Award-winning Chef Charleen Badman. You can also grab a seat at the bar and enjoy dishes like lamb loin; bluenose bass; and a salad topped with strawberries, beets, and goat cheese. Main courses from $26.
For Adventurers: Get in a challenging early-morning hike up the 2,704-foot-high Camelback Mountain, or the more moderate Pinnacle Peak. Alternatively, explore McDowell Sonoran Preserve by foot or mountain bike, and beat the heat by stand-up paddle boarding on Saguaro Lake. Golf is another popular pastime here — there are dozens of course options.
For Shoppers & Relaxation Seekers: In addition to its art galleries, Old Town is home to many eclectic boutiques, along with top retailers and contemporary brands at Fashion Square. The VH Spa at the Hotel Valley Ho and The Spa at The Boulders are both top spots to rejuvenate — with the latter offering the bonus of outdoor relaxation area (complete with a meditation labyrinth) with views of the Sonoran Desert.
Days Three and Four: Sedona
Getting Here: Sedona is a two-hour drive from downtown Scottsdale via I-17N and Highway 179N.
The Vibe: Prepare to amazed as you round a bend and see Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte for the first time. The beauty of this red-rock landscape (and the feel-good effect of Sedona’s four vortexes, purported to be swirling energy centers conducive to meditation and healing) needs to be experienced to be believed.
Where to Stay: The Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock offers accommodations with stellar views of nearby Bell Rock. (The property also offers suites with connecting rooms for groups of friends and family members.) Here, you’ll also find two pools, a golf course, and convivial outdoor areas with fire pits. Rates from $206 per night.
For Art & Design Lovers: Sedona’s art galleries, which are mostly located along highways 179 and 89, offer a wide array of paintings, sculptures, and artisan jewelry. On 1st Friday at the Galleries, you’ll enjoy plenty of camaraderie. Architecture enthusiasts should visit the the 69-year-old Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is built into Sedona’s beautiful red rocks.
For Foodies: It’s worth the wait to experience the modern Mexican cuisine at Elote Café, where you can find everything from goat cheese balls to white truffle corn soup. We also recommend ordering the elote appetizer, which is roasted corn with spicy mayo, lime, and cheese. Arrive hungry (and thirsty, since the margaritas are equally as delicious). Note that the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait. Entreés from $20.
For Adventurers: Sedona has miles of hiking trails at every level from beginner to advanced, including the easy Bell Rock Pathway and the more challenging Bell Rock Climb. Before you embark on your hiking adventures, make sure to buy the $5 Red Rock Pass from a vending machine at the trailhead, and of course, stay hydrated. Pink Adventure Tours offers a range of fun off-road tours in its signature pink Jeeps that bump and bounce their way up to the panoramic vistas — our guide called it a “Jeep-tissue massage.”
For Shoppers & Relaxation Seekers: The atmospheric Tlapaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village (which is designed to resemble the colorful Mexican town after which it’s named), is worth a stroll — even if you can’t afford most of what’s for sale in its upscale galleries and boutiques. Wellness, the healing arts, yoga, and meditation are other specialties you can find in Sedona. Depending on your interests, you can do a yoga hike to a vortex or enjoy a few hours of pampering at a day spa.
Day Five: The Grand Canyon
Getting Here: It’s a two-hour drive from Sedona to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim Visitor Center (via I-17 to Flagstaff, then 1-40 to Williams, and AZ-64 to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim Visitor Center). Note that you may sit in traffic as you near the entrance gate, especially if you’re visiting on a weekend.
The Vibe: Whether you’re a first-timer or seasoned visitor, you’ll be definitely be dazzled by this magnificent natural wonder. Even on a bad day, it’s magical. What’s more, the park is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, so there are special centennial events scheduled throughout the year.
Where to Stay: Hotels within the park —which include the historic El Tovar Hotel (rates from $263 per night) and the more modern Kachina Lodge (rates from $225 per night) — book up months in advance for summer and autumn stays, so plan ahead for a room with a view. Another option is the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, which is located in nearby Grand Canyon Village. Rates from $200 per night.
For Art & Design Lovers: Even if you can’t stay there, the retro log-cabin architecture of the circa-1905 El Tovar Lodge (which is located directly on the canyon’s rim), is worth a look, as is the Kachina Lodge for its beautiful midcentury exterior. For art and handicrafts, head to Hopi House, a Pueblo-style dwelling that has been open since 1905, located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
For Foodies: This is a national park, after all, so don’t expect gourmet eats. The on-site hotels each have a restaurant — from the more formal and historic ambience at El Tovar Lodge Dining Room to the casual flatbreads, tacos, and sliders of the Yavapai Tavern, to the pies and slices at the Maswik Pizza Pub in Maswik Food Court.
For Adventurers: Outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers will love the Grand Canyon. From a two-hour walk along the Rim Trail to a whitewater rafting excursion on the Colorado River, there’s plenty to see, do, and explore. If you’re looking for an out-of-the-ordinary activity, partake in a mule ride adventure to the bottom of the canyon at the circa-1920s Phantom Ranch. Call the property directly to book.
For Shoppers & Relaxation Seekers: The park has the usual selection of souvenirs in its gift shops and general stores, where you can pick up mementos for friends and family. Also, if you’d rather sit back, relax, and admire the views from afar instead of hiking your way to the top of the vistas, you can sightsee by bus on a guided interpretive tour.
Days Six and Seven: Las Vegas
Getting Here: Las Vegas is a four-hour drive from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on I-40 West from Williams, and then I-93 North to I-11/I515 North.
The Vibe: You’ll either feel energized or exhausted after two days here. If you suspect you’ll be the former, make this sensory-overload city your starting point. If you want to have the stamina to hike and explore while in Arizona, Las Vegas is the perfect place to end your Southwestern adventure.
Where to Stay: Park MGM, a reinvention of the Monte Carlo property, offers millennial-tailored décor and amenities — check-in is by tablet and room service is delivered in take-out style bags — with a lively pool and bar scene and easy access to neighboring properties, including ARIA Resort and Casino and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Rates from $79 per night.
If you’re craving a more sophisticated ambience, stay at sister properties Wynn Las Vegas or Encore, where the eye-catching, art-centric decor is complemented by great dining options and two spas. Rates from $170 per night.
For Art & Design Lovers: Sophisticated design isn’t really the point here — it’s Vegas, after all — but cheerful replicas are everywhere, from the half-scale Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas to the recreations of Venice’s landmarks (the Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge, and even the Grand Canal) at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas. Also, check out the art collection at The Cosmopolitan and the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. Alternatively, take a 10-mile drive into the desert to see Seven Magic Mountains, a brightly colored installation of painted and stacked boulders.
For Foodies: Grazing on authentic Italian specialties at the new 40,000-square-foot Eataly at Park MGM is a fun group experience. Just buy a bottle or two of vino in the Wine Shop, grab a table and and then send various members of your party to order an array of wood-fired pizzas (from $13), pasta dishes (from $16), antipasto patters, and desserts (don’t miss the cannoli). For Sunday brunch, opt to enjoy omelets and creative shareable plates paired with live jazz at The NoMad Bar in the NoMad area of Park MGM. Alternatively, head to Bardot at ARIA for a très Parisian brasserie ambiance. Note: Brunch menu items at Bardot cost around $20 to $25 each, but the dinner menu is quite pricy.
For Adventurers: Head to Red Rock Canyon to hike on more than 25 trails amid the vividly colored formations that give it its name. (Again, be sure to pack plenty of water.)
For Shoppers & Relaxation Seekers: There are thousands ways to max out your credit limit along the Strip — from high-end designer boutiques to department stores and national chain stores at the Fashion Show Mall, to bargains at Marshall’s and DSW (right across Las Vegas Blvd. from the Park MGM).