66 miles NE of Prescott; 116 miles N of Phoenix; 106 miles S of the Grand Canyon

Just to state the obvious, in few places in the U.S. will you find a town or city in a more beautiful setting. On the outskirts of Sedona, red-rock buttes, eroded canyon walls, and mesas rise into cerulean skies. Those buttes are masterpieces in their own right, each with its own personality and majesty. Off in the distance, the Mogollon Rim looms, its forests of juniper and ponderosa pine dark against the rocks. With a wide band of rosy sandstone predominating in this area, Sedona has come to be known as red-rock country, and each evening at sunset, the rocks put on an unforgettable light show that is reason enough for a visit.

All this may sound perfectly idyllic, but if you lower your eyes from the red rocks, you’ll see the flip side of Sedona—a sprawl of housing developments, highways lined with unattractive strip malls, and bumper-to-bumper traffic. And downtown, which most visitors end up wandering through at least once, alternates serious art stores with trashier places. Yet not even this can mar the beauty of the backdrop.

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With national forest surrounding the city (fingers of forest even extend into what would otherwise be the city limits), Sedona has some of the best outdoor access of any city in the Southwest. All around town, alongside highways and down suburban side streets, there are trail heads. Trek down any of these trails and you leave the city behind, entering the world of the red rocks. Just don’t be surprised if you come around a bend and find yourself in the middle of a wedding ceremony or a group of 30 people doing tai chi.

Located at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona was first settled by pioneers in 1877 and was named for the first postmaster’s wife. Word of Sedona’s beauty (the town’s, not the wife’s) did not begin to spread until Hollywood filmmakers began using the region’s red rock as backdrop for their Western films. Next came artists, lured by the colorful landscapes and desert light (it was here that the Cowboy Artists of America organization was formed). More recently, the spectacular views and mild climate were discovered by retirees and New Age believers, who come to experience what they says are unseen cosmic energy fields—the famous vortexes. As a result, Sedona has become a hotbed of alternative therapies—you can hardly throw a smudge stick around these parts without hitting a psychic. Mountain bikers have also discovered the red rock, and word has spread that the biking here is almost as good as up north in Moab, Utah. With knock-your-hiking-boots-off scenery, dozens of motels, hotels, and inns, and a smattering of good restaurants, Sedona makes an excellent base for exploring central Arizona.