Arizona Is A Cool Place (Arizona Trip Report)


After spending nearly all of 2020 cooped up in the perpetually damp Pacific Northwest, Mrs. Tako and I decided it was finally time for a family vacation.  Things are finally starting to open-up again after COVID-19, and we wanted to go someplace that was warm, loaded with good food, and someplace new to us.

Together we decided on Arizona for our next travel adventure!

 

The Trip To Arizona

After booking a free flight using credit card points, we packed our bags and boarded the plane!

free tickets

Since we were going to be driving all over the state, a good rental car with AC was a firm requirement.  Yes, it can get really hot in Arizona!  Temperatures are regularly in excess of 100F (38C) during the summer.  Having AC is important!

What we ended-up with was this black Kia Sportage.

arizona rental car

Unfortunately with the AC running, that poor Kia only got 25 mpg.  I’ve only driven a few Kia’s in my life, but I was pretty unimpressed with this one.

After long day of traveling and collecting our rental car, I was just ready to crash at the hotel in Phoenix, but the kids had other ideas about trying out the hotel pool.

late night swim

Dads just never win the battle vs. the hotel pool…  Oh well!

After a decent night’s rest, our next stop on the the trip was Sedona —  A town up in northern Arizona, known for it’s amazing mountain views and awesome hiking.  It’s a bit like the Grand Canyon, only better in my opinion (and less well known).

We thought we were going to see this:

When we got there, this is what we saw:

grey

Don’t adjust your monitor if you’re only seeing a grey blotch.  That’s exactly what we saw in the sky!  Wildfires were filling the Sedona skies with smoke.  The famous red mountains of Sedona were NOT visible.

Sedona is gorgeous, but all we got was a big grey sky.  What a bummer!  Even worse, all hiking trails and state parks were shut down to reduce the risk of tourists starting even more fires.

This was unfortunate, because we were planning on spending our day hiking and site-seeing around Sedona.  Doh!  Scratch that!

The town of Sedona itself is filled with kitschy tourist shops, but “shopping” for entertainment isn’t really our idea of fun.  Rather than let the wildfires ruin our trip, we decided to drive over to nearby Prescott, AZ to salvage the day.  (It’s a 1 hour drive away).

prescott

Prescott is a quintessential mountain town, with tons of “cowboy” history.  It’s at a much higher elevation than the desert cities like Phoenix or Tucson, and tends to be much cooler.

We had a great time checking out the Prescott downtown.  Big leafy trees and old cowboy taverns on “Whiskey Row” for tourists make up the bulk of downtown Prescott experience.

courthouse   prescott
Even though we’re not big restaurant goers, we were ravenous at this point.  We just had to stop for a taco (or two).

prescott taco

After that, it was time for the kids to cool off at the local splash pad.  If you’re not familiar, a splash pad is a kind of water park where kids can get wet and cool off from various spraying jets of water.

Here’s an example of one of these splash pads on our trip:

splash pad

The splash pads became one of the themes of our trip because A) They’re completely free, and B) When you have two kids that are tired of driving, splash pads are a perfect way to get the kids outside to burn off that excess energy.

The kids absolutely loved them, and I confess I may have ran through the water a few times myself.

We spent the next few days in the Phoenix area, taking the kids to a waterpark (Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa), and checking out fancy suburbs like Scottsdale, Gilbert, Carefree, and Cave Creek.

Scottsdale is fancy, but Carefree gets my vote for one of the nicest “town centers” I’ve seen in ages.  It was practically deserted when we were there, but we still got to check out the giant sundial (which is supposedly the 3rd largest in the Western Hemisphere).

carefree sundial

The kids in particular liked the splash park in Carefree, which had the probably the coolest water sculpture of our whole trip… a scorpion!  You can’t tell from the photo, but that scorpion is spraying water everywhere!

scorpion splash pad

Meanwhile, Mrs. Tako enjoyed checking out the amazing “desert garden” in the Carefree town center.


 
 
Even though we were in the desert, there is an incredible amount of life all around.  When people think about the desert, they usually think it’s something like this:

But what we found, the reality is so much more alive than we ever expected.  This became even more evident during the second half of our trip, when we visited the Tucson area.  We kicked off our visit in Tucson by checking out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

 
The museum was awesome, and totally worth the ticket price ($23.95 for adults).  The museum did an excellent job of showcasing the many desert plants and animals.

 
 
 
From mountain lions and wolves, to bears and rattlesnakes, hummingbirds, scorpions, tarantulas, and even a few wild iguanas, the Desert Museum was a very cool place!  I had no idea there were so many different species of both plants and animals living in the desert.

This theme of the desert being alive was repeated on our visit later that day to Saguaro National Park.  The national park is literally a forest of saguaro cactus out in the desert.

There’s literally thousands of saguaro cactus visible in this next photo (click for larger image):

saguaro national park

Did I mention that saguaro cactus grow extremely slowly?  Most of the saguaro in the foreground are over 100 years old.  Some may even be older than 200 years!

Of course, being in Tucson area we had to check out some of the “local” food, which I would classify as primarily “Sonoran Mexican cuisine”.  It’s a little different than the Tex-Mex you might find in the United States, or Californian style Mexican cuisine.

The Sonoran hotdog in particular is considered iconic in the Tucson area.  It’s a bacon wrapped hotdog filled with pico de gallo, beans, mayo, mustard, and other salsas.

Personally I was more interested in all the amazing tacos!  There were so many different kinds of grilled meats to choose from!

And they were all delicious!  We tried several different taqueria’s on our trip and they were all equally excellent.  Many places grilled their meats over mesquite fired grills, which gave the tacos an excellent smoky flavor.

sonoran taco

Apparently Sonoran Mexican food is known for flower tortillas and grilled meats.  The carne asada in particular was very good.  They really love their meats here.

At one point Mrs. Tako even ordered a ‘ensalada’ (a salad) with carne asada.  This is what she got:

Holy Cow!  It’s a plate piled with meat!  There’s lettuce under all that carne asada somewhere….

We even tried some of the local ceviche — which might seem a little crazy considering the desert heat, but the ceviche was excellent and nobody got sick!

This was a crab and shrimp ceviche tostada:

There were tons of good meals to be had!  Since COVID-19 was still a concern during our trip, we ended-up mostly doing take-out, and bringing back meals to our hotel.  The extended-stay hotel we stayed at also had a mini-kitchen that we used to cook many of our own meals.

We spent a number of additional days in the Tucson area, checking out the town and enjoying the many attractions.  For a small city, Tucson has a lot going on!

The Tucson Botanical Gardens and the beautiful Agua Caliente park were great fun!

 
There was even a fully guided cave tour of a limestone cave called Colossal Cave.

 
One day we drove down to see the famous San Xavier del Bac mission.  The mission is a beautiful old church built in 1797… back when Arizona still belonged to Mexico!  Admission to the mission was completely free, but we were limited to 5 minutes inside due to COVID-19 concerns.

 
This leads me to the final and very important monetary portion of our trip — How much did it all cost?

 

The Total Cost

The Tako family spent a total of 13 days in Arizona.  Almost two weeks!  As I mentioned earlier, we paid for our flights using credit card points.  Other than a few taxes and a $30 checked bag fee, the airline flight was completely free.

Some of our hotel nights were also paid for with points, which helped reduce the cost of the trip.  The rental car however was a completely different story.  The rental car cost was a incredibly expensive $872.  That works out to be $67 per day for the car.

In total, we spent $2509 on this family vacation.  Which averages out to be $193 per day.  This includes gas, food, plenty of cold drinks, some of our lodgings, and any entertainment expenses (tickets, tours, etc.)

Overall we had a really great time in Arizona.  IMHO it is a very underrated destination to travel in the U.S. Southwest, and completely different from anyplace we’ve visited before.  The desert is amazing!

Best of all, it’s fairly affordable too!  Thanks for reading everyone!

 

[Image Credits: Flickr1, Flickr2, Flickr3]

30 thoughts on “Arizona Is A Cool Place (Arizona Trip Report)

  • July 18, 2021 at 6:59 AM
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    Looks like you guys had some great family time together, and some beautiful desert views! Did you catch the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale? Seems like it’d be perfect with the boys, a unique experience, and pretty close to free!

    Coincidentally, we’re headed to Arizona in late August—flights (and that damn rental car!) all booked. We’re flying into Flagstaff in order to spend some time at the Grand Canyon, which Jenni hasn’t ever seen. There’s an old heritage train that runs south from Grand Canyon I’m hoping we can ride on as a special experience. After the canyon, we’re headed south through Sedona like you all did. If we’re lucky, it won’t be so grey by then!

    We’ll head to Phoenix and Scottsdale to spend some time with my grandparents and catch some local sites (I’m hoping for Taliesin West). Then, flying off to Burbank, CA for more fun!

    One thing I found about the rental car: picking it up in Flagstaff and returning it to Phoenix cut the rental car cost nearly 30% for us. I guess Phoenix is short on cars!

    Thanks for blazing the trail for us. 🙂 Looks like a great time with some amazing food. We’re both really looking forward to the cheap and tasty eats!
    Chris@TTL recently posted…A Clever Way to Financial Independence (My Money Mindset)

    Reply
    • July 19, 2021 at 12:28 PM
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      Next time we’ll hit up that railroad! Thanks for the tip! And enjoy your trip! 🙂

      Reply
  • July 18, 2021 at 7:52 AM
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    Looks good! We only spent 3 nights in Arizona on our big trip but stuck to the northern destinations of Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Route 66, and Glen Canyon dam. Nice place, and I agree, definitely underrated vs some of the overcrowded national parks we went to elsewhere (except I’d lump grand canyon into the “overcrowded/overrated” places too).

    That grey sky pic hit home. Basically what we experienced for the last month everywhere across the southwestern USA. First fairly clear day was here in Montana/Wyoming at Yellowstone but we could still smell wildfire smoke!

    Reply
    • July 19, 2021 at 12:27 PM
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      The Grand Canyon is definitely in that category of “overcrowded/overrated”. I’d take Sedona any day… which is of course what we were attempting to do.

      Bummer about the fires though. I hope your trip was OK.

      Reply
  • July 18, 2021 at 10:10 AM
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    Hey Mr Tako
    Cool report on you trip to Arizona. Looks you and your family had a great time, eating good food and visiting interesting places. We have not yet really been traveling outside Switzerland since the pandemic hit early in 2020 but plan to spend a few days in France in August.
    All the best!
    Cheers
    MyFinancialShape recently posted…How lifestyle inflation takes your freedom

    Reply
    • July 19, 2021 at 12:25 PM
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      Good luck on your visit to France! I hope things don’t lock down again for you.

      Reply
  • July 18, 2021 at 2:43 PM
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    How brave of you to venture down to the desert in the middle of summer, but glad you had an enjoyable trip! And, for a pretty affordable price for that many days.

    We’re in Scottsdale and always looking to get OUT of town once the temperature surpasses 110 degrees, but we’ve only been here a couple years so maybe we’re just not used to it yet.

    Sedona is a gorgeous town! It’s unfortunate that the wildfires kept you from enjoying the natural beauty. If you ever come back, Sedona and the North Rim of the grand canyon (much less crowded) are my favorite places in the state.
    Mrs Richfrugallife recently posted…TAX PLANNING EARLIER SAVED US $5,800 – HERE’S HOW TO LOWER YOUR TAXABLE INCOME

    Reply
    • July 19, 2021 at 12:24 PM
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      Actually the temperatures weren’t that bad. I think the hottest we saw on our trip was 108F.

      Having the ability to cool down from those temperatures is very important, and thankfully AC is everywhere in Arizona.

      Reply
  • July 18, 2021 at 5:40 PM
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    Sounds like your family enjoyed the trip. We have a trailer in Apache Junction, but not been able to get for the past two winters. If you get down again, stop at the ostrich farm on Hwy 8, on the way to Tucson. The kids would have really liked it.

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    • July 19, 2021 at 12:21 PM
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      Definitely nice sunny weather there! You should definitely visit again!

      Reply
  • July 18, 2021 at 6:54 PM
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    I’ve visited Arizona at Christmas time during the past couple of years and absolutely LOVED it. There was so much nature to explore and a laid back vibe. Are you considering moving there or retiring there? I’d love to move there for retirement!

    Reply
    • July 19, 2021 at 12:21 PM
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      It’s certainly high on our list of places to consider a move. I’d consider it one of the places in the top 3 spots.

      Reply
  • July 18, 2021 at 7:19 PM
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    We’ve only passed through Arizona with a stop to see friends last year. But after reading your post, I feel like we need to make another trip back there!

    It looks like all of you had a really great trip! And I gotta say that the Sonoran hotdog looks like a winner to me… I’m hungry now! 🙂
    Jim @ Route to Retire recently posted…Our Travel Perks Are Drying Up and That’s Big $$$!

    Reply
    • July 19, 2021 at 12:19 PM
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      Thanks Jim, it’s definitely loaded with neat stuff to see, do, and eat! You should give it another chance!

      Reply
  • July 18, 2021 at 7:22 PM
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    o what fun – your kids are at an age where they will actually remember these. Especially with so many pictures and videos that you can now take so easily.

    Reply
  • July 19, 2021 at 12:20 AM
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    Thanks for sharing a great trip report. I always enjoy your family’s perspective on the places you visit. That’s a bummer Sedona had wild fires when you were there but Prescott seemed to be a nice little gem to visit instead. With kids, as long as there are some activities to explore and check out, then you can make an adventure out of just about anywhere and that is one of the things I love about them.

    Where are you planning to go on your next trip, and when?

    Mike

    Reply
    • July 19, 2021 at 12:18 PM
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      We just got back, so we haven’t started planning yet! Until the international travel situation changes, it’ll probably be a domestic trip.

      Reply
  • July 19, 2021 at 1:50 AM
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    Looks like a great trip.
    You always make me hungry.

    Regards
    Len

    Reply
  • July 19, 2021 at 6:49 AM
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    We love Arizona! There is so much to see in the state. Sedona is probably are favorite place too. Unfortunate that you had to deal with the terrible visibility due to the fires. We have been there in both the summer and the winter. When we went in December there was actually some snow, so it was neat to see the white snow on the red rocks. If you ever go back, Page is a great place to also visit. It is home to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. It’s in the middle of nowhere but those two places are amazing!

    Reply
    • July 19, 2021 at 12:16 PM
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      Definitely on our list of places to visit! Thanks for commenting Dragons on Fire!

      Reply
  • July 19, 2021 at 10:37 AM
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    So just how damp is the PNW, I’ve been considering relocating that way as Colorado is getting awfully crowded. Arizona in the summertime…wow that’s hot! But then again you’ve been having record temperatures in the PNW haven’t you?

    Reply
    • July 19, 2021 at 12:16 PM
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      Basically the PNW is damp and grey for 9 months of the year. Seriously, if you stop moving the mold and moss will grow on you.

      As far as record temps go, there was a couple days that broke 100F, yes. But now it’s back to 70’s in the summer. Many mornings are overcast, but the clouds usually burn off by the afternoon and we can get a few hours of sunshine each day in the summer (which is roughly those other 3 months when it’s not cloudy/damp).

      If you like sunshine, don’t move here.

      Reply
  • July 19, 2021 at 12:55 PM
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    Glad you enjoyed it, hope too many people don’t see this post, we have enough folks moving here these days 🙂

    Of course, that is the pot calling the kettle black, as we moved from Seattle to Scottsdale roughly 9-years ago. Honestly, don’t miss a thing.

    Reply
  • August 4, 2021 at 2:58 PM
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    YAY!! I’m so glad you finally made a trip to my home state! Hope you can come back soon and see:

    Kartchner Caverns
    Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
    Oak Creek Canyon
    Jerome (look for the Sliding Jailhouse)
    Tumacacori National Historic Park
    The Wave at Marble Canyon
    Kitt Peak National Observatory
    London Bridge at Lake Havasu (yes, THAT London Bridge)
    Mineral Belt Railway Tunnel (Arizona’s version of failed railroad ventures)
    Heart of the Rocks Loop (hiking trail with cool hoodoos)
    World Championship Hoop Dance Contest (convergence of the top native hoop dancers in North America. It. Is. Awesome!)

    Cheers, and happy trails to you!
    Mrs. Prickly Pear (from a long-ago case study :-))

    Reply

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