Like most avid travelers that were hit hard by the pandemic travel restrictions, my wanderlust was reignited as soon as the world started to open up again. However, since I did not want to break the bank, I decided to get a bit creative with my travel plans and kill two birds with one stone! My trip to Arizona was the perfect example of this.
Arizona had always been on my travel bucket list, with its stunning natural landscapes, unique culture, and rich history. And with a little bit of research, I discovered that there were plenty of affordable ways to explore the state's beauty. I visited the state in August, when one of my friends chose Phoenix as his wedding destination. My travel buddy was a die-hard fan of the state, so she asked to come along with me. I rallied others to help score her an invitation to the wedding and needless to say, we were successful. So we planned this trip around the wedding.
When you travel, do you prefer a hotel or an Airbnb?
I'm an Airbnb girl and love the feeling of being home away from home. When we started comparing hotel prices offered by the couple, we immediately knew that an Airbnb would be our best option. We wanted a city that would enable us fully experience Arizona but keep us in close proximity to the wedding venue. So we chose Scottsdale, and rented a car for the 5 days we were there.
Our criteria for this trip was selecting a good mix of tourist + local experiences, enjoying some good food and taking memorable pictures. We decided on the following experiences:
This restaurant is primarily known for its beautiful restroom and we decided to go there for this exact reason. In my opinion, this is the one time an obligatory restroom selfies is a must! If pictures or selfies are not your thing, feel free to skip this part entirely. On our arrival at the restaurant, a group of girls came in after we did and once they were seated, they also went straight to the restroom. Can’t blame them!
The restaurant serves regular bar food but the service was great! If you're looking for a chill vibe, the ambience is pure perfection! The decor is thoughtfully curated, with a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, adding a playful touch. There's both indoor or outdoor seating, as well as a convenient parking garage nearby.
For some history, AZ/88 was established in 1988, hence the name. One of the things I loved about this restaurant was the option to share a burger or other dishes from their menu, with an additional side included. Not only did it make for a fun and communal dining experience, but it's also a brilliant business strategy that taps into the social nature of humans. By encouraging customers to share their meals, the restaurant is creating a sense of community and making their establishment a go-to spot for groups of friends looking for a good time. Overall, I would rate the food 7/10 for taste and portion.
2. Antelope Canyon
The canyon is a popular destination for tourists and photographers due to its stunningly beautiful and unique rock formations. Antelope Canyon is split into two sections: the Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. The upper canyon is the most visited and is famous for its light beams, which are created by the sun shining through narrow cracks in the rock ceiling. On the other hand, the lower canyon is longer and narrower than the upper canyon and requires more physical maneuvering to navigate.
When planning a trip to the canyons, it’s important to do your research in advance, as you may be surprised by how quickly the experiences get fully booked. The Antelope Canyon was one of those for us. A little over a month before our trip, when we started planning our itinerary, we discovered that we would need to book a tour with an authorized company to visit the Antelope Canyon. Due to safety and vandalism reasons, the Antelope Canyon which is protected by the Navajo Parks and Recreation became unavailable to the public in 1977. I initially wanted to visit the Upper Antelope Canyon, but it was fully booked. However, we were able to get a date for the Lower Antelope Canyon, which exceeded our expectations and was arguably one of the highlights of our trip!
On the day of the tour, we left Scottsdale at 3 AM in the morning and drove for about 4.5 hours. It's important to prepare well before the trip and also arrive at the tour company location on time. We booked our guided tour with Ken's Tour, and they were fantastic! As the name suggests, it was interesting to see that the Lower Antelope Canyon was located underground and was not visible to outsiders.
Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and a great photographer at the same time! She showed our group of 6 tips on the best angles and filters (iPhone are vivid and vivid warm) to enhance our photographs. Although visitors are allowed to take pictures at the Antelope Canyon, video recording is prohibited. The colors of the walls will change sometimes when taking a picture with the same filter, so don't be too surprised.
The story of the rock formation of Antelope Canyon begins millions of years ago, when the area was covered by shallow seas. Over time, the water receded, and the land was left exposed to the elements. Flash floods and erosion gradually carved out the sandstone walls of the canyon, creating the smooth curves and twisting shapes that we see today.
The red and orange hues of the rocks are caused by iron oxide deposits, while the narrow slots and undulating formations are the result of centuries of wind and water erosion. The canyon was named after the pronghorn antelope, which once roamed the area, but today, the canyon is known for its otherworldly beauty and has become one of the most photographed natural wonders in the world.
3. Grand Canyon
On our drive from the Antelope Canyon, we stopped at the Grand Canyon, since it was on the way. The elevation increases as you drive up, since we were starting from the top of the canyon. As a result, it's not uncommon if your ears become slightly blocked - similarly to when landing from an airplane.
True to its name, the sheer size and scale of the Grand Canyon is humbling, and the layers of red rock, carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, are a testament to the power of nature. Unlike us, if you have more time on your hands, it may be best to book a tour of the Grand Canyon to have a more enriching experience. Maybe this was an Arizona thing, but most people are nice and would be willing to take your pictures if you ask. However, be careful to not get too close to the edge of the cliff. No picture is worth losing your life over.
And since we came to Arizona for a wedding, here are some pictures from that :)
4. Horseback Riding
After the wedding, we went to Ponderosa stables, which was about 30 minutes away from our AirBnb at Scottsdale for a group ride at 9 AM. The horses have names and were assigned to us by the trainers. My horse was Little Black and my friends got the alpha male, Mississippi. This was my first time going horseback riding so I was very excited! The trainers guided us on how to steer the horses and also explained in which order (per horse hierarchy) we had to ride in. The ride lasted for about an hour, so make sure you bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated, and a bandana to cover your nose, because the horses poop everywhere and on the go.
It is worth noting that sitting on a horse for extended periods of time can cause significant discomfort, particularly on the bony parts of the buttocks. So I would recommend having some additional cushioning. A scarf should do.
During the horseback ride, Little Black had a voracious appetite and kept getting distracted by the plants along the trail. I had to keep nudging her away from the food to ensure we stayed on course. Since we rode through a national park, we had to adhere to strict regulations to preserve the natural habitat and ensure the safety of all visitors. According to our guide, riding the horses at a fast pace or running with them was strictly prohibited, as it could startle other park-goers or cause harm to the wildlife. Violating this rule could result in a hefty fine of $600.
During our horseback ride through the rugged terrain of the desert, we came across a myriad of cacti in all shapes and sizes. According to our guide, the age of these majestic cacti could be determined by the number of arms they possessed, with each arm representing 50 years of growth. As we continued on our journey, we came across the skeletal remains of a cactus that had lived for approximately 200 years. Its lifeless form lay on the desert floor, a testament to the beauty and fragility of the natural world. It was a stark reminder that, just like us, even the mightiest of beings must one day return to the earth.
In addition, our guide cautioned us about the presence of rattlesnakes in the area. They are known to emerge from their hiding places when the sun is up. Needless to say, I was relieved when we didn't encounter any during our morning ride. Overall, the experience was another highlight of our trip (with the Antelope canyon) so I highly recommend it.
5. Hula's Modern Tiki and Butter's Pancakes & Cafe
When it comes to good food, I'm always on the lookout for exceptional dining experiences. And during our recent stay, two restaurants stood out - Hula's Modern Tiki and Butter's Pancakes & Cafe. The food at Hula's was an explosion of flavors, with a modern twist on traditional tiki cuisine that left my taste buds dancing with delight.
And as for Butter's Pancakes & Cafe, the name says it all - their pancakes were fluffy, buttery, and simply irresistible. The cozy atmosphere and friendly service made it the perfect spot for a delicious breakfast or brunch. Overall, these two restaurants were the highlight of my culinary adventure and are not to be missed!