When we moved to Sedona many moons ago, we felt like we already knew the town like the back of our own hand – we had, after all, vacationed in Sedona for five years. But a funny thing happened when we arrived to Red Rock Country: Locals, especially Old Timers, started whispering in our ear about little-known restaurants, hiking trails, Jeep routes, Native American rock art and ruins, and views not found on tourist maps. It appeared there was more to Sedona than the businesses and attractions located along SR 89A, and we were eager to explore. It’s taken us a few years to compile the list of our favorite hidden spots, but we can’t keep it under wraps any longer. (Well, we’re not ready to give away all of our secrets, so you’ll have to be content with six of the most interesting locations.) Grab a sandwich at Indian Gardens Store & Deli; take a rough Jeep road to a peaceful beach along Oak Creek; make reservations for the Agave Roasting Pit Tour at Palatki Heritage Site; summit Woodchute Mountain for views of the Verde Valley and Sedona, or climb Sacred Mountain to wander around Sinagua ruins; and spend time in the Village of Oak Creek exploring the site of a 1975 Academy Award-winning movie. You might think you know Sedona better than you know your best friend, but we promise she still has a secret or two just waiting to be uncovered.
How many of you have passed the Indian Gardens Store & Deli countless times on your way up Oak Creek Canyon without a second thought? We lived here for years before we realized the squat rock structure next to Garland’s Indian Jewelry contained anything more than camping supplies and trinkets for tourists. In fact, Indian Gardens might be one of the most peaceful spots for breakfast and lunch in all of Sedona. Yes, you can purchase postcards and fishing supplies, but the deli in the back serves incredible (and affordable) sandwiches such as the turkey-and-avocado Gobbler; Mama Says, loaded with veggies and cheese; and Canyon Charlie, albacore tuna salad on whole-wheat bread. The deli also hosts wine tastings and serves homemade soup, enormous brownies and specialty coffees. If you’re out early, stop in for breakfast from 8-11 a.m. seven days a week.
But it was more than the menu that impressed us. Walk through the screen door at the back of the deli and you’ll find an enchanting garden where you can enjoy your meal. The canyon walls and tall trees provide plenty of shade. Potted flowers and flowering ivy ground cover add color, while brick pathways lead to plastic chairs and tables covered in bright tablecloths. On the weekends, you can often find a band playing music, which tempts you to linger even longer. During our weekday visit, couples were sipping glasses of wine and locally brewed beer, playing games and enjoying leisurely conversation while small dogs rested in their laps. If you’d rather watch the cars cruising up the canyon, check out the outdoor picnic benches in front of the story, or sit inside the deli on cooler days. (Speaking of cooler days, you can purchase local apples at the store when they come into season at the end of summer.)
Indian Gardens is steeped in local history, too. Oak Creek Canyon’s first European settler, J.J. Thompson, homesteaded in the area in 1876. Prior to his arrival, local Native Americans grew corn, beans and squash along Oak Creek. Carefully cross SR 89A to check out the historical marker and a beautiful section of the creek right across from Indian Gardens.
Directions: Drive four miles north of Sedona on SR 89A. Indian Gardens Store & Deli is on the left side of the highway. Open daily, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (4 p.m. on Monday). Serves breakfast, lunch, specialty coffees, beer and wine. For information, call 928-282-7702.
True, the trail leading up Sacred Mountain to a set of Sinagua Indian ruins can be found in many Sedona hiking books – Sedona Monthly even wrote about the hike in 2005 – but based on the lack of entries in the hikers’ log, and the bumpy dirt road leading to the trailhead, we figure not many people make it to this eerily beautiful place. You should. While Wupatki, Montezuma’s Castle and Tuzigoot national monuments are stunning, they see thousands of visitors, not to mention the fact that many of the ruin walls have been reconstructed at these sites. The ruins atop Sacred Mountain aren’t as spectacular because they’ve been left as-is, but you also won’t be visiting with hoards of other people, which, in our humble opinion, can lead to a more authentic experience. We hiked up the half-mile trail late one afternoon and had the place to ourselves.