Everyone in the world knows what Arizona is famous for. That big beautiful gaping hole in the earth that draws the crowds year after year is definitely a sight to see. But what else does this state have to offer? I have started to realize there is a whole lot more to Arizona than the Grand Canyon, spring training, and giant cactus. This weekend was a great example of some little known Arizona towns and attractions just waiting to be enjoyed.
We started the weekend journey an hour and a half north of Phoenix in the town of Cottonwood. For all of you Sons of Anarchy fans out there, I have found Arizona’s own “Charming”. Cottonwood is just as picturesque and quaint as the show’s ficitional mid-California based town…but with more wine. Lining the streets of Old Town you have everything from up and coming local tasting rooms to cute antique shops to some of the best cafes and bakeries in Arizona.
After a quick stop for some amazing bruschetta at Crema Cafe, it was wine time. Our first winery was Arizona Stronghold. We had 3 dogs with us and while Crema Cafe had no qualms with our furry friends out on the patio, I was worried that everyone might not be so inclined. As soon as we walked in we were ALL welcomed with open arms and asked if our dogs liked bacon. Yes, of course they like bacon! While the pups indulged, we were given the option to sit inside or outside. Hmmm… comfy couches, local art and a game of connect four or sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. We decided not to push our luck with the pups and sat outside. When I found out you can try 5 wines for $9 I was sold.
Next stop – baked goods! Our friend Pete was craving some sweets and said we had to try Paradise Point Cafe just a few doors down. I walk in and there lay some of the best pie displays I have seen in a long time. Splurge time!For those with dietary restrictions, this little bakery has options for just about anyone. We decided to try the paleo friendly gluten-free German Chocolate cake a la mode while Pete took the last piece of Blackberry Pie. The coffee and cake along with the ambience was perfect. With little touches such as the finches that greet you on the way in, the excitement of the server, the camouflaged bathroom doors, and just to top it off, our pie was served warm. Its those little things that really make a place special.
With bellies fully buffered on pie and ice cream we moved on. I took a quick stop at the end of the street to check out a tea store, Wild Rose. Scents of lavender and jasmine and sweet fruit pierce your nose the second you enter. With a cutesy organic feel and a variety of blends, tea and cupcake lovers are sure to be impressed.
On to our second winery, Burning Tree Cellars. This is a boutique winery that focuses on small batch quality wines. With a stunning tasting room and a large dog friendly patio of comfy white couches, we were stunned by the price point. $9 flights again! This town is growing on me!
Our last stop in Cottonwood was Pillsbury Wine Company. I first tried their Roan Red when I moved to Arizona years ago. I had a glass at a co-op in downtown Phoenix and I remember having hope that things would be alright in this unfamiliar state. Pillsbury’s tasting room did not dissappoint. With art and live music, it was easy to relax and get into those deep soul-enriching conversations…the ones that make us remember why its fun to drink this stuff in the first place!
It was a good glass to end my first introduction to Cottonwood. With Verde Valley River access, dirt cheap wine flights, art galleries galore, delectable treats, and a yoga studio to boot – i am in love! I will definitely be back for the kayaking wine tour adventure next time!
Way way up the hill about 15 minutes from Cottonwood, you have a town so utterly unique its no wonder it draws artists, bikers, outdoor enthusiasts, and tourists alike. The town sits perched atop a mountain! The drive up to the town is half the fun as you look back down over the Verde Valley. Today happened to be the art walk and the town was buzzing.
Making our way from gallery to gallery, trying free samples of food and climbing secret staircases, we eventually made it up to the old Haunted Asylum on top of the hill. This is now known as the Grand Jerome Hotel. With oodles of history this town has haunted houses and ghost stories galore.
We finished our long day with a meal at the appropriately named, if not cliche, Haunted Hamburger. The three shining stars of this restaurant are without a doubt the views, the burgers, and the cakes. It also has a fido friendly patio! It was not a bad way to end our evening. Next time you are looking for your SAMCRO fix or just a perfect off-the-beaten path day trip in Arizona, look no further than Cottonwood and Jerome.
This is where we screwed up. We did not reserve a campsite and everything around the area was booked. It was dark and we had gone down way too many wrong bumpy dirt roads looking for something or some place to call home for the night. I was ready to call it and get a hotel but the boys were determined to camp. Luckily, a friendly camp host told me about dispersed camping. This is a legal free camping area on the little known dirt road 89B off of highway 89A (between Cottonwood and Sedona). Hallelujah! We found a spot and set up camp. S’mores and stories followed until we all went to bed. Everything worked out aside from the relentless, albeit, gorgeous wild rooster who gave us a free wake up call at 5am. We begrudgingly got up and started a fire for breakfast.
Food always tastes best when camping! Soon I realized our free happenstance campsite actually was quite nice. It overlooked bits of Sedona and hot air balloons were taking off for their early morning flights. If you are ever in need of a quick fix free spot to set up camp, this is your ticket.
Packing up, I realized we were only 10 minutes from Lower Red Rock loop, a stunning drive in Sedona offering sweeping panoramic vistas. We did the quick Ridge Trail hike just to get our blood running for the day. This trail is less then a mile up and overlooks her majesty, Cathedral Rock, with unparalleled views. The boys thought it would be funny if they did the yoga photo for once. Now that’s love!
Our last excursion for the weekend was a stop at Camp Verde’s wildlife park. We started with the African Bush Safari ride. You may be in Arizona, but it feels like Africa when hitching a ride on this 40-minute tour. The real treat is when Pilgrim comes right into the bus to give you a big sloppy kiss. Okay, maybe you are feeding him celery with your mouth but for picture purposes, it looks like one giant smooch!
Among the variety of animals sighted, we also saw a 6 month old baby zebra and her family. They are actually black with white stripes if you are ever wondering. Their noses give away their true color.
On the interactive animal encounter we were introduced to the largest lizard I have ever seen. A Tegu, originally native to Central and South America, stole the show. Scooter the boa was jealous. We also got to play with a cavy – also from South America. She is the fourth largest rodent in the world and looks something like a mix between kangaroo and rabbit.
The last show was a treat. I have never seen anything like this before! Imagine multiple Bengal and Siberian tigers interact in a predator-and-play relationship, romping and splashing in the water with their seemingly carefree caretakers. I bet they take this act a bit more serious then they lead on! Anyone up for a game of jump rope with Kasha the tiger?
The rest of the day was spent wandering around the different habitats. We saw everything from sleepy lions to skulking wolves, bright eyed emus and playful iguanas. We ended the day watching a seriously fat happy prairie dog chow down his lunch. What a magical place!
In the four years I have lived in Arizona I had never been to Cottonwood or Out of Africa. If I knew I could be sipping wine and kissing giraffes all weekend I would have made this short drive a long time ago. You never know what you might find in your own backyard. This sign was posted to our neighbors car back at the free campsite, and I fully support this message… wanderful wondering everyone!