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