Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any brand or company mentioned in this post. Any external links provided are to allow my readers the option to read further into places/services I experienced and enjoyed on this adventure, should they choose.
Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to take our first big trip as a family. Chris and I are often the ones who take the big trips, but we’d never done one with Eli before. I toyed with the idea of the beach, but wanted to go somewhere new. I’d visited Arizona as a child when I was around Eli’s age, but never as an adult. I knew Chris would be on board with the weather there, and Eli would be excited to visit anywhere on a big vacation.
So to Phoenix, Arizona, we went!
I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP…
I originally intended to book the components of the trip on my own, but ended up bundling the flight and hotel with Southwest Vacations because it was a better deal.
Another reason we chose to visit Arizona over other places were the lower cost of flights. Flights can be crazy expensive from our location in the Midwest, but Phoenix is one of the more affordable option. I knew I wanted to fly somewhere so Eli could experience his first flight on this family vacation.
We had a super early morning flight from St. Louis to Phoenix, with an evening flight back home. Eli was so excited (and nervous) for his first flight. We made sure he had his own rolling bag for the airport and a tablet to keep him busy during the three hour journey.
He ended up handling it like a champ and was completely relaxed after the initial take off.
Fun fact: Chris’s first flight was as an adult–all the way to Ireland!
The things we wanted to do during our five day trip were spread out, including a day trip, so we decided renting a car would be our best option. We rented from Enterprise and ended up with a Toyota something. It was black with black interiors though, so it got pretty warm in the sun.
I only drove a short stint one day and nearly turned us into an intersection going the wrong way. Luckily, I was able to course correct us before that ended badly. Chris wasn’t too keen on me driving much after that haha!
A PLACE TO REST…
When Chris and I travel, we tend to prefer staying in Airbnbs, VRBOs, or bed and breakfasts, but since we had the little man, we chose to stay at a hotel resort. We stayed at Phoenix Hilton Resort at the Peak near the Phoenix Mountain Reserve.
This hotel seemed like a great option for our family of three, because it had pools, a room with separate spaces, and a water park area on site.
I did do a deep dive on the hotel reviews about a week before we were scheduled to leave and got concerned about the amount negative ones. It turns out, some people just like to complain more about the little things–like the lazy river being too slow. Chris and I are easy-going travelers and honestly didn’t have any complaints.
Some of the restaurants and others amenities were closed due to COVID, but we read up on these details beforehand. The rooms may have been a little outdated, but were nice and clean which is my primary concern when traveling. We had a separate bedroom space and a pull out couch in the living area for Eli to sleep on.
The pools were nice and had very comfortable sun chairs to lay on, although I wish there was an additional hot tub for the evenings since it did get crowded. The water park area had two pools with volleyball nets, a water slide, and a lazy river.
BRAVING THE ELEMENTS
Don’t get me wrong, Arizona is hot–especially on our last day there, but as any true Midwesterner would say, it’s not so bad without the humidity. Seriously, it’s nice being able to step out into hot weather without instantly feeling like you need to take a shower like it feels at home.
We spent a lot of time by the pool so the heat was manageable. The only time I remember breaking a sweat was sitting in the UTV for two hours. Our hiking day couldn’t have worked out more perfectly with nice breezy weather!
We didn’t spend as much time researching “the best places to eat” like Chris normally would. Truth be told, Phoenix has so many places that all the options were overwhelming! Plus having Eli on the trip meant we preferred less hassle places to bring him to.
This was the first spot we visited in Phoenix after picking up our rental car. It was busy and we had to wait on a table, but we ended up being seated rather quickly! Chris had a special kind of eggs benedict, I had an English muffin sandwich, and Eli ordered a kid’s platter. Over Easy was a cute little breakfast spot with quick service and good breakfast food.
Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers
We had a hankering for cheeseburgers and since it’s in the name for this place, we figured why not? This restaurant had a sports bar style atmosphere with a huge selection of alcoholic drinks to choose from. I’m not a beer fan, so I went with a mango cider!
I ate the peanut butter and jelly cheeseburger on a whim, and oh my gosh, it was delicious! I was nervous about the combination, but it ended up going together so well. Chris tried a bite and was jealous he didn’t order it himself.
We ended up at this spot on a whim during our road trip outside of Phoenix. We were looking for a quick and easy place for breakfast and this was what we found! We all ordered GIANT breakfast burritos which ended up hitting the spot. Later, we spoke with many people from the area who said this is the best restaurant option ending in “bertos”!
Sedona Pizza Company
During our day trip to Sedona, we decided pizza sounded good and stopped at this restaurant while walking around the main area. I had a Caesar salad and we all shared a pepperoni pizza while sitting out on the patio. It was a wood fired style pizza and I enjoyed it despite it being messier than the average pizza. The salad was pretty good as well–even Eli was a fan and he’s not a salad eater.
The Habit Burger Grill
Chris picked this fast food style meal one evening while I was on hold for nearly three hours dealing with a vacation mishap (more on that later). It worked out perfectly, because we were able to munch on our burgers, fries, and shakes while playing Uno on the big hotel patio. It wasn’t mind-blowing, but the fries were good and fit the bill on what we were going for that evening.
Snooze, an A.M. Eatery
I picked this breakfast spot primarily because they had a pancake flight on their menu that sounded intriguing. I ordered the flight, which had a pineapple upside down pancake, a blueberry danish pancake, and a sweet potato pancake. I thought the blueberry danish would be my favorite, but the sweet potato pancake was awesome!
We sat out on the patio and had an enjoyable breakfast here!
Adadero Norte de Sonora
This blink-and-you-might-miss-it spot was recommended to us by a former coworker. We sampled each of the different type of tacos, along with chips and salsa, charro beans, and refried beans. Eli and Chris thought the salsa was too spicy, but I loved it! When our tacos came, we were pretty disappointed we didn’t order more of the barbeque style, because those ended up being our favorite.
Original Breakfast House
This surf themed, cash-only breakfast spot was another one I’d heard about online. We went during a slower time of day. They had great service and generous breakfast portions! I had an omelet with a hefty side of potatoes.
Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub
On our final day, we grabbed dinner here before dropping off the rental car and heading to the airport. I loved the atmosphere and it made me miss hanging out at the actual pubs in Ireland. I had fish and chips here…of course!
We ended up here one night while looking for something sweet. We got a mixed box with snickerdoodle, german chocolate, churro, animal cracker, peanut butter chocolate chip, and another one I can’t remember. I think the churro flavor was my personal favorite!
SOO…WHAT WE GONNA DO IN PHOENIX?
Since this was a family trip instead of only Chris and I, we planned more activities ahead of time. We tried to pick at least one specifically catered to each of us so everyone would have a great time.
Because our hotel had a waterpark and pools, we had two days spent almost entirely at the pool. The weekend day at the waterpark was so crowded it took us ages to find lounge chairs, but the day we went on a week day it was perfect! Well, except for the sunburns.
Every evening when we arrived back to the hotel after our activities, Eli wanted to do nothing more than swim and make friends at the pool. This meant I got to relax while reading my book, Eli slept like a rock most nights, and Chris got to chill and drink his Trulys in the hot tub. It was a win-win-win.
Day Trip to Sedona and Bell Rock Hike
This was my portion of the trip and I was concerned on how Eli would do. He had been complaining about having a sore toe, but I was determined to at least get one good hike in.
We headed out early, initially intending to hike Devil’s Bridge trail, but Eli was really milking the sore foot so we opted to try something shorter. I’m still bummed we didn’t get to do that one, but I hope Chris and I get a chance to come back kid-free and hike more spots.
The drive was less than two hours from Phoenix and the scenery was so different from our native Missouri that we had plenty to hold our interest. When we stopped at Bell Rock to park, Eli asked if we got to climb up the top, so we took that as a green light to do the Bell Rock Climb to the top. There was a $5 fee you paid at a kiosk here.
We threw on our hiking boots and were on our way! The hike was a lot of fun and Eli did much better than I would have predicted, even though there was still plenty of whining.
Once you got closer to the top, it was tricky to find a good way up. We even scaled a portion of the rock to get higher with Eli in the middle so each of us could help push and pull him up. We didn’t make it as high as we saw some others, but still managed to fit in a challenging hike and catch some incredible views.
Afterwards, we went to the downtown portion of Sedona to check it out. Eli was excited because he got to hold a few snakes from these reptile guys hanging out on the sidewalk, but overall Chris and I agreed we could have skipped this portion for another hike.
Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life Aquarium
This was the activity we picked out for Eli’s day! He is always watching Youtubers do videos at LEGOLAND, so we thought he would be excited. This location was inside a shopping mall. There wasn’t as much to do here as I expected, but we had fun building cars to race and Eli still says it was his favorite part. I even made a little stop motion video.
We got a combination pack with the aquarium next door. This aquarium had a lot of cool features and I liked it SO much better than our aquarium back home.
ATV and UTV Tour
I chose this two hour caterpillar tour through the desert with Chris in mind. I knew he’d want to ride an ATV, so I drove Eli in a UTV. I was nervous about this since I’d never driven one before, but it was AWESOME.
We drove about 40 minutes outside of Phoenix and did the tour through a place called Arizona Outdoor Fun. There was a wait getting everything situated, but I thought it was worth it.
Chris was the only ATV rider, so he got to lead the pack up front. Unfortunately, Eli and I were behind a pair of girls who were more nervous and couldn’t go as fast as we would have liked. I also managed to have a fly stuck in my goggles that I had to try and get out while driving!
It was still an absolute blast driving through the desert trails getting covered in dust. I would love to do something similar one day. I even think I like driving a UTV better than my own car.
When I was younger, I had riding lessons for a short time and genuinely love riding horses. Eli is a huge animal lover and was excited for this as well! Chris had never been on a horse before. We found a short evening ride that was at a good price and decided to go.
I loved the horses and the wranglers there, but I wish the trail had been a little more interesting/complex and that the ride was longer! Eli had a blast and the wranglers even got his horse Puddin to trot, which I think made him both anxious and excited. My horse, Lighting, seemed to want to call it a day to go eat and relax.
Two nights before we were scheduled to leave (or so we thought), we were relaxing by the pool and I got a Southwest notification to check into my flight the following day. I immediately said “Uh Oh” and began looking up flights. Chris looked over at me and said, “You can’t say uh oh while looking at flights. What’s going on?”
Now, Chris is prone to get a little stressed out if things don’t go smoothly or as planned, so I initially didn’t even want to tell him. I apparently messed up and had the wrong days in my head compared to what the actual trip dates were booked for.
Luckily, he took it in stride and after a 3 hour hold with Southwest to change our flight, and a little more money out of our pocket for another night at the hotel, we were smooth sailing again. The hotel staff was wonderful and understanding through this process!
A GREAT TIME IN PHOENIX
All in all, we all had a great first family trip in Phoenix, Arizona. It was fun watching Eli experience his first flight and getting that time together as a family. Chris and I needed that quality time and relaxation in our lives. I can’t wait to see what future trips the three of have in store.