To really explore the American Southwest, you’d need weeks or months to see it all. However, doing a road trip in a 4-day weekend or a week is a lot more doable, and that’s how I’ve been able to make it happen. There’s no need to quit your job or have a huge saving, doing a road trip like this, I think, is the best way to explore America.
In this post, I am sharing 21 best road trip stops and things to do in Arizona and New Mexico. This is just a very small part of the American Southwest road trip itinerary, but along with my older American Southwest trips (listed below), I hope this can serve as a good resource and inspiration for you to start planning for one in a near future.
Read Four Day Grand Circle Road Trip & Tops Stops in Arizona & Utah blog post if you’re planning to visit:
Read 8 Day Road Trip Itinerary – Kansas City to Seattle blog post if you’re planning to visit:
We started and ended our trip at Phoenix. Phoenix has the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and is closed to well-known cities such as Scottsdale, Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa.
WHERE TO EAT IN PHOENIX:
PLANT SHOPS IN PHOENIX:
I’m sharing my list of plant shops that I’ve visited during the trip since some of you have asked about it. I did purchase some cacti and brought them on the plane home. In case you’re curious, I got two big cacti on the plane without any questions asked. Plant shops in Arizona are not normal plant shops, and they’re huge nurseries, growers, and suppliers.
WHERE TO STAY IN PHOENIX:
Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West (860 N Riverview, Mesa, AZ 85201-3605)
WHERE TO EAT IN TUCSON:
PLANT SHOPS IN TUCSON:
WHERE TO STAY IN TUCSON:
Sheraton Tucson Hotel & Suites (5151 E Grant Rd, Tucson, AZ, 85712)
Saguaro National Park has 2 districts: Saguaro East and Saguaro West that are geographically separated by the city of Tucson. West District has a higher concentration of saguaro cacti, but I think exploring the East District is equally as fun.
Fun facts about saguaro cactus: Saguaro is pronounce as Sa – WAH – ro, and its scientific name is Carnegiea gigantea. It’s native to the Sonoran Desert and has a long lifespan, up to 250 years. Inside Saguaro National Park, there is no specific saguaro recognized as the tallest, and in fact, lots of young and small ones. It’s a slow-growing cactus, and saguaro’s white waxy flowering season is late April through June.
TIPS TO EXPLORE SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK SAFELY & RESPONSIBLY:
Start your adventure at the Rincon Mountain Entrance Station/visitor center and follow the park map (available at the visitor center). Saguaro National Park East has older saguaro compared to the West side.
The Red Hills Visitor Center is a pretty nice place to start your Saguaro West adventure. Saguaro National Park West has higher density of saguaro than the East side with younger saguaro forest.
WHERE TO EAT IN SEDONA:
If you’re planning a Sedona trip in advance and have a restaurant in mind, I recommend reserving a table at least a day in advance. Most places get a lot of hype on Google and reviews on Yelp due to such a large amount of tourists. If you want to come in anyway, you might get lucky or certainly feel free to put your name down for the table. There are tons of shops within walking distance, so have a plan.
WHERE TO STAY: We slept in our car for the night at the Devil’s Trailhead parking lot and started the hike at 4:30 am. Sedona is a very busy and popular town, so I’d say to pick a hotel or a place to stay in a nearby town so it’s cheaper.
DEVILS’ BRIDGE OUTFIT: blanket I used for the morning sunrise hike: RUMPL | long-sleeved shirt: LULULEMON Swiftly Tech| leggings: LULULEMON Align leggings | backpack: FJALLRAVEN | bra: GIRLFRIEND Float Lola | shoes: KEEN
Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village is such a charming shopping area with restaurants and lots of unique shops, definitely one of the best I’ve been to. It’s designed after a Mexican village in the 70s, and Tlaquepaque means ‘best of everything.’ I love the stucco walls, cobble-stoned walkways, arched entryways, artsy doors, and live music.
Located in the Northeastern Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park (1 Park Road, Petrified Forest, AZ 86028) is known for expansive vistas, colorful badlands and moon-like landscapes. It’s named after the petrified wood found in the park. Part of the park also contains a segment of the Historic Route 66 and the National Old Trails Highway.
TIPS TO EXPLORE PETRIFIED NATIONAL PARK SAFELY & RESPONSIBLY:
The best ways to enjoy and explore the park are to drive from one end of the park to the other and take on a hike. The drive takes about an hour, and there are plenty of pull-outs as well as historic stops along the way. Make sure to acquire the park map or ask a ranger for more information.
We started from the North End and exited the park at the South End. After learning about some must-stops at the Painted Desert Visitor Center, we headed to the Painted Desert Inn and hiked the Desert Inn trail, entrance is right to the left of the Desert Inn. We then followed the park map and drove South. Most of the trails in the park are very short and easy, so I’d call it walking, not actual hiking.
White Sands National Park is in the heart of the Tularosa Basin. It is the world’s largest gypsum dune field that spreads 275 square miles of desert, located in New Mexico.
Fees & permit. We have the America the Beautiful pass.
Sunset at White Sands is the best sunset I have ever seen in my entire life! Camping is not permitted inside the park, so we stayed in Alamogordo, a small but pretty established town nearby, and woke up early for sunrise in the park the next day.
TIPS TO EXPLORE PETRIFIED NATIONAL PARK SAFELY & RESPONSIBLY:
You can stop by Interdune Boardwalk to learn more about the science, geology, plants, and animals in White Sands National Park. Other easy trails include Playa Trail and Dune Life Nature Trail are great stops, kid-friendly and pet-friendly, too.
We did not to the full loop! In fact, we had to climb quite a few high dunes and walked off trail a little bit where there weren’t a lot of footprints on the sand. Our plan was to follow our own footprints back and head back right away at sunset since we were here early fall. Early fall means the sun would set much earlier! 8 pm was the time that the park was closed. Note that it wasn’t a windy day either, so we felt safe and decided to wander off trail for clean sand dunes.
ALKALI TRAIL OUTFIT: tube top, short, and shirt: thrifted | hat: MUJI | sandals: LUNA SANDALS
We did make a lunch stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and would love to come back and explore more of what the city has to offer next time.
Guava Tree Cafe (118 Richmond Dr NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106): The best Cuban sandwiches, highly recommend!
Watch my IG-stories for trip highlight, HERE. Thank you for reading, and leave me a comment with any questions about the trip. I’d love to help you out. Have fun and be safe out there!
MORE ROAD TRIP IDEAS: