Arriving at Sedona Airport (KSEZ) — “America’s Most Scenic Airport” — at sunrise is a dramatic experience, even for a general aviation pilot who has flown the approach through downtown San Diego (KSAN) and landed at the Catalina “Airport in the Sky” (KAVX).
Sedona’s Runway 3/21 is perched on the edge of a 500-foot tall mesa, surrounded by iconic red rock peaks that glow bright orange from the rising sun. The approach can be a bit precarious with unpredictable up and down drafts, along with opposite direction arrivals and departures.
While recovering from the breathtaking views, head into the FBO — Red Rock Aviation Service — and rent a car for the adventures ahead.
While on the airport, walk to the end of Runway 3 and feed the growling in your stomach at The Mesa Grill. It has some outstanding reviews, allowing it to continually win a Hundred Dollar Hamburger Best of the Best.
The metallic, industrial looking interior is balanced by the high ceilings and cascading natural light. It has an airy, open and relaxing feel. The exterior patio, with its large fire pit and meandering gardens, is the perfect place to have a drink or simply plane watch.
The menu is an eclectic mix of satisfying and traditional Southwest-style Americanized dishes. It’s sexy sounding comfort food that can be as flavorful as it is filling.
Crank the air in the rental car and head two hours south on US 17 to the 215-acre Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park. Specializing in African and South American animals, it is the perfect place to stretch your legs and get up close and personal with some of our animal brethren. Talk with the sea lions at Shipwreck Cove, feed the giraffes, stingrays or parrots at their feeding stations or interact with the more than 600 exotic and endangered species on the well-shaded grounds.
Originally started as a breeding farm for birds by Mickey Ollson, one can see his commitment even today. The animals are clearly content and well cared for in a stress-free environment.
Forty-five minutes east is Scottsdale’s Civic Center Mall. City Hall is not the focal point of this tiny oasis in the urban desert. The strolling paths are lined with flowers and shrubs. Waterfalls, fountains and public art pieces are flanked by the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the Civic Center Library.
Visually “punny” works, such as the “bike lock” (above) and the “lock and key,” lead you to Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture. The pop art image was initially made for the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1970.
Versions in various forms now appear worldwide. The red and blue aluminum letters scream out for a selfie with your significant other. Cheesy perhaps, but definitely a check on the Phoenix area bucket list.
Just north on Highway 101 is the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). The MIM wireless headsets automatically connect to videos throughout the museum, giving you an immersive audio and visual experience of more than 6,500 instruments and displays collected from more than 200 of the world’s countries and territories.
The geographical galleries focus on the pageantry and diversity of five major world regions. Drums and stringed instruments span the globe from the triangular Russian balalaikas to the recycled steel drums of Trinidad and Tobago.
MIM’s Mechanical Music Gallery features a selection of musical instruments such as player pianos, mechanical zithers and cylinder music boxes that virtually play themselves.
Make sure to embrace your inner “Trekkie” at the Theremin exhibit or relive your musical youth at the Artist’s Gallery. Every generation is represented from the Man in Black’s legacy and the Carter/Cash family history, to Pablo Casal’s cello, to John Lennon’s Imagine piano, and Maroon 5’s lead singer Adam Levine’s rare Ibanez electric guitar.
For the musically inclined, you can bang a gong, strum a Burmese harp or interact with an ever-changing array of instruments in the museum’s Experience Gallery.
After a short afternoon rest, dinner will be on the agenda. James Beard award winning chef Chris Bianco, a Bronx transplant, has been called America’s best pizza maker. His 22-year-old flagship Pizzeria Bianco, in Heritage Square downtown, serves Neapolitan-American pizza and little else.
The wood-burning oven cranks out thin-crusted, crispy, charred dough with simple yet quality oriented toppings. The cheeseless Marinara – tomato sauce, oregano and garlic— the classic Margherita – tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil — or the inventive Wiseguy – onion, house made and smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage — all shows Chris’s skill in balancing flavor and his commitment to his craft.
After dinner, a nightcap will be in order. Bar Bianco, next door to the pizzeria, serves artisan wine and beer from around the world, including local Phoenix establishments.
Better yet, find your fedora, crank the Sinatra and go to Melinda’s Alley. It’s a modern speakeasy with no signage, no website, no beers, no wines and no credit cards accepted. Only craft cocktails and cash. Look for the red light in the alley behind the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel.
If it is on, head down the cold metallic stairs to the basement. Soft red light highlights the minimalist cement décor and contributes to the secret club atmosphere. The fresh squeezed juices, garnishes and heavy glassware are worth the slightly high price tag.
Get up and out early and hike Camelback Mountain at sunrise. Both the Echo Canyon (the steeper) and Cholla (the longer) trails gain approximately 1,200 feet in elevation on their way to the summit at 2,704 feet above sea level.
The 3.1-mile Cholla ridgeline trail, just off of Invergordon Road and around the corner from the Phoenician Resort, is for fairly experienced hikers and has some steep, rocky sections.
The two- to three-hour round trip offers panoramic views of the surrounding Phoenix cityscape and includes a stop half way up at the saddle to recharge and hydrate.
Saturday is the day to go to the Open Air Market at the Phoenix Public Market in the heart of downtown Phoenix. It is a small marketplace compared to most major metropolitan cities, but still includes a good number of local produce farms, grass fed meat, egg and poultry suppliers, several bakeries and craft purveyors selling locally made products.
Grab some fresh fruit and some bread for a light snack or a more substantial breakfast burrito from one of the food vendors.
For a more full service breakfast, walk 10 minutes south on North Central Avenue to the Breakfast Club behind the Palomar Hotel. The patio offers shade from the morning sun and the spacious, modern interior allows for casual conversation and people watching.
The menu is extensive and includes standards, alongside fun and delicious variations. The portions are ample, service is fast and amenable, prices are reasonable, the mimosas are made with fresh squeezed juice, and the Bloody Mary’s have the appropriate spicy kick and tasty pickled garden garnishes.
When the time is right, “geek out” with a trip to one of Phoenix’s science and aviation-related museums. The Arizona Science Museum is a kid friendly tactile, interactive experience with plenty of adult exhibits covering giant insects, the working process of earthquakes, the human brain, American Airlines Flight Zone, and supercomputers.
The Challenger Space Center of Arizona has a rotating array of exhibits and activities. Permanent features include the Technology Flight Deck, which features a Mission Control room designed after Johnson Space Center; the Spacecraft, designed to simulate a room onboard the International Space Station (ISS); and the ESTM, or Earth Space Transit Module. The center has recently gone through a major renovation, so check with the website to see the latest happenings.
An afternoon of brain research and space travel will leave you parched and seeking an adult beverage. Call or email ahead and get an appointment for a tour and tasting at Phoenix’s latest micro distillery, Lucidi Distilling.
Located in Peoria’s Historic Fire Station No. 1, an operating fire station until 2006, Christopher Lucidi, head distiller, along with his father Joseph “Zip” Lucidi and brother Joseph P. Lucidi are crafting (and in some cases importing) vodka, moonshine, gin, Canadian whiskey, local bourbons, rum and bitters.
The tour will give you a tasting of gin, rum and vodka, the history of the building and the Lucidi family along with a brief synopsis of the distillation process.
A signature cocktail will be waiting for you at the end of the tour allowing you to distinguish what differentiates the artisan from the mass produced.
There are two choices for dinner. Go old school at the 65-year-old Durrant’s Steak House. Act like a regular and enter through the back door, allowing you an insider’s view of the kitchen. Velvet wallpaper, red-vested waiters, a martini and a tried and true 1950’s standard menu of steaks, chops and seafood will not surprise but will be appetizing and extremely consistent.
Go new school gastropub at the Pig and Pickle. The eclectic yet comforting menu is heavy on the pork, but what would you expect from a place with pig in its name? Global influenced farm to fork dishes, such as the braised pork shoulder tostada, pork belly with a yam hash, wood roasted marrow bones and fried Brussels sprout leaves with a poached egg, are a perfect pairing with one of their versions of a classic cocktail.
Head back into the city after dinner for some comic relief. Jester’Z Improv Comedy main show will be familiar to anyone who knows Chicago’s Second City or Los Angeles’ Groundlings. The audience provides the topics and the improv comics perform a number of scenes, situations and theater games over 90 minutes. You will cry laughing at least once. And the best part is no two shows are ever alike.
Sunday brunch at Matt’s Big Breakfast is a requirement. The quaint, little orange nook of a restaurant is always bustling and filled with neighborhood residents. Local and organic ingredients find their way into huge portions of hearty breakfast fare.
For the truly hungry, their Chop & Chick — a bone-in pork chop, with two eggs, toast and rosemary potatoes — is a must have. For the rest of us, sample their daily chalkboard specials or one of their egg or griddlecake offerings.
For a fun loving and family friendly good time, visit the Goldfield Ghost Town right off of the historic Apache Trail. It once was a booming 1800s gold mining town. Now it’s a living museum with a restored Main Street with operating shops, a saloon, the Mammoth Gold Mine and Goldfield Museum. Don’t miss the hourly old west gunfight performed by the Goldfield Gunfighters.
In January, try to snag a ticket to the annual Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction. The internationally renowned auction is more like a lifestyle event where thousands of the world’s most sought-after, unique and valuable automobiles cross the block. It covers eight days with more than 1,000 vehicles and even a fashion show. Check your bank balance before you go. A 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 “Super Snake” sold for $5.5 million and the Batmobile #01 from the 1960s TV show went for the reasonable price of $4.6 million.
The Arizona Coyotes Hockey has had a tumultuous history. They started life as the WHA Winnipeg Jets in the 1970s. Since moving to the Phoenix area, the Coyotes have survived the Wayne Gretzky era, bankruptcy, a potential move back to Canada, and a name change.
The 2016-2017 season is promising with Captain Shane Doan returning. They might not make it into the playoffs this year, but Gila River Arena is a great place to beat the heat and see if a game breaks out between fights.
Four Peaks Brewery, Arizona’s largest craft brewer, was sold to beverage giant Anheuser-Busch in 2016. For locals and visitors, nothing really changed. Their 8th street flagship location in Tempe is in a century old building in an unassuming neighborhood.
The place is always rocking, especially on a Sunday afternoon game day. They serve uncomplicated pub fare and their brews live up to the hype. Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale rightfully accounts for 60% of the beer sales and is a rich, amber color beverage with caramel, malty, creamy sweetness.
As Visit Phoenix Information Bureau rightfully proclaims, “Phoenix is red rocks, blue sky and golden sunshine. Phoenix is mountain trails and city lights. Phoenix is palm-canopied resorts and mural-adorned streetscapes. Phoenix is the cosmopolitan heart of Arizona and the soul of the American Southwest.”
NEED TO KNOW
Sedona Airport, Sedona, Arizona, (KSEZ)
Elevation: 4,830.4 feet
Sectional chart: PHOENIX
ARTCC: ALBUQUERQUE CENTER
FSS: PRESCOTT FLIGHT SERVICE STATION [928-583-6154]
Pattern altitude: TPA for Propeller Aircraft 1,173 AGL, JET ACFT 2,173 AGL
Dimensions: 5,132 x 100 feet
WX AWOS-3PT: 118.525 (928-282-1993 or 928-282-448)
PHOENIX APPROACH/DEPARTURE: 126.375