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Sedona vs Tucson – Which One Should You Visit?

I spent about a week and a half exploring Arizona recently as part of my epic USA road trip.

Two of my favorite places that I got to visit were Sedona and Tucson! Today, I’d love to share with you which one I preferred and why.

This post will look at the differences between them to help you decide where to visit on your next trip! It covers hotels, activities, atmosphere, nightlife and more!

Summary – Sedona vs Tucson

Small tourist townMid-sized city
Tourist centered
& commercial
Less touristy,
less commercial
Red rock scenery
& pines
Mountains & desert
Fun outdoor activitiesFun outdoor activities
Limited nightlifeFun & lively nightlife
2 hours from
Grand Canyon
Far from other
tourist spots

I really loved visiting both Sedona and Tucson and it’s incredibly hard to pick which one is best especially because I found them to be so different.

I’d probably choose Sedona as my ultimate favorite mainly due to the scenery! The red rocks and mountains were unreal and like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Top Picks For Sedona

Best Hotel In Sedona: Enchantment Resort

Top Activities In Sedona:

Top Picks For Tucson

Best Hotel In Tucson: JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort

Top Activities In Tucson:

Sedona mountains

Sedona is a desert town in Arizona that is surrounded by impressive red-rock buttes, steep canyons and pine forests. Uptown Sedona has a fantastic range of shops, cafes and art galleries. 

Tucson, on the other hand, is the second most populated city in Arizona and the home of a major university and a thriving arts, music and food scene. 

Whilst Sedona is all about the magnificent red rock scenery and pines with a busy town center, Tucson is a mid-size city surrounded by mountains with lots of things to do. 

I’d definitely say that Sedona has much better scenery than Tucson. In fact, Sedona has some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole country. 

The red-rock buttes are unparalleled and Tucson just doesn’t have anything like it although Tucson does have some beautiful mountainous scenery surrounding the city. 

Sedona is located much closer to the Grand Canyon. You can book onto a Grand Canyon full-day tour from Sedona. It takes just 2 hours to get there. Tucson is far from all major Arizona tourist spots.

I did find Sedona to be very touristy and it often got super busy especially in the main uptown area. Tucson, on the other hand, was still a busy city but it didn’t feel touristy at all. 

Most of the shops in Sedona were typical souvenir/tourist shops that didn’t feel very authentic so I avoided them. Tucson, however, wasn’t overly commercial but still had a nice buzz due to it being a mid-sized city. 

I found that there were tons of fun outdoor activities available in both Sedona and Tucson.

In Sedona, I loved taking a jeep ride through the desert and doing some ATV off-roading whilst in Tucson you can relax on a hot air balloon ride or take a tour up to the peak of Mount Lemmon.

Which Is Bigger?

Tucson is much bigger than Sedona in terms of area. Tucson covers 587.2km2 whereas Sedona covers just 47.4km2.

Tucson also has a much higher population of 541,000 compared with Sedona which has just 10,300 residents. 

As Sedona is much more popular with tourists and much smaller, I noticed that it got very crowded especially in the main uptown area of town. This area of Sedona is very commercial. 

Tucson didn’t really feel as commercial and tourist-centered as Sedona did and I really felt like I was in a true Arizona city. I kinda felt like a local (I think my British accent gave it away though).

As Tucson is much bigger you’ll find a wider range of shops, restaurants, bars and cafes in the city center compared with Sedona.

Which Has Better Activities?

Sedona mountain scenery

I though that Sedona’s scenery was much better than the scenery in Tucson however Tucson does still have some really beautiful spots.

Most of the activities in both Sedona and Tucson are outdoors with a big focus on hiking.

Activities In Sedona

Most people come to Sedona to see the epic red rock scenery and stunning landscapes and this is initially what attracted me to the area.

There are so many different ways to enjoy Sedona’s magnificent scenery both from the air or from the land.

Best Activities In Sedona:

I noticed that Sedona had a huge focus on outdoor activities as it has a wide range of magnificent nature trails.

I spent most of my time hiking, taking in those glorious views. I didn’t even scratch the surface though as there are over 400 miles of hiking trails to choose from. 

I only had a couple of days in Sedona so I booked onto this day tour of Sedona to make sure I didn’t miss any of the top sites and attractions in the desert. It was excellent!

Sedona has some of the most magnificent scenery in the whole of the US. Some of my personal highlights were the Bell Rock, Devil’s Bridge and Cathedral Rock. These incredible giant red rocks & natural bridges looked out of this world. 

There’s no better way to see Arizona’s incredible desert beauty than from the above. Get a birds eye view by joining a helicopter tour and see some of Sedona’s most famous red rock formations, including the ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings.

Alternatively, you can also join a Sedona jeep tour and explore the epic red rocks from the road.

Airport Mesa was my favorite viewpoint as you get panoramic views over Sedona including some of the most famous rock formations like Chimney Rock and Capitol Butte

Other popular activities in Sedona are fishing, mountain biking and even ATV off-roading. The best place to go fishing is at Oak Creek Canyon.

You can also spend the day on a wine tour where you’ll visit local wineries and try out some of their beverages. This activity is super relaxing and gives you a chance to try some of Sedona’s best wines.

Sedona is only a 2 hour drive from the Grand Canyon so why not join a day tour to the Grand Canyon from Sedona! Everyone should visit the Grand Canyon at least once in their lifetime, it is not to be missed.

I found that the best place to go shopping in Sedona was at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. This stunning collection of Mexican-style buildings is home to over 50 boutique arts & crafts shops and a great range of restaurants. 

I also loved this Sedona stargazing tour which was recommended to me by a friend. You’ll get an unparalleled peek at the astronomical wonders of the Arizona night sky.

Activities In Tucson

Saguaro National Park in Tucson

With year-round sunshine and incredible desert scenery, most of Tucson’s top attractions will lead you into the great outdoors.

Best Activities In Tucson:

Tucson has some incredible hiking opportunities as it is located close to 4 mountain ranges.

Most of the trails are around 15 minutes from downtown Tucson and give you the chance to escape the city and get lost in nature. 

I explored the city itself by joining a bike tour around the city. My guide was super knowledgable and told me so many interesting things about the city.

As part of the bike tour we got to ride over Rattlesnake Bridge and cycle through the colorful Barrio Viejo. This was followed by great views of the Santa Cruz River. 

My personal favorite attraction in Tucson was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This world-renowned zoo and natural history museum features an impressive range of plants and animals. 

Tucson is well-known for its delicious Mexican food which was news to me when I got there. Hit up the best restaurants by joining a taco and bike tour. Your experienced guide will take you all over the city to taste the best tacos in town!

Mount Lemmon, located in the Coronado National Forest, is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. 

Join a tour of Mount Lemmon to experience it to its fullest. As you travel up the mountain you’ll be greeted by scenic views of the surrounding landscape. 

You can also go rock-climbing and canyoneering at Mount Lemmon too if you’re more of an adventurer.

For an experience that you’ll never forget, book a hot air balloon ride over the Sonoran Desert. You can marvel at the panoramic views of the Sonoran Desert whilst enjoying a glass of champagne.

The Saguaro National Park was another one of the best places I visited. This impressive national park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor with some of the cacti reaching up to 50ft!

Which Has Better Accommodation?

Tucson city

You’ll find an impressive range of places to stay in both Sedona and Tucson. 

Both locations have a variety of upmarket, luxury hotels that will make your trip just that little bit more special.

If you’re looking for a more budget option then Tucson will have a wider range of cheaper hotels and B&Bs compared with Sedona.

In Sedona, I stayed at the Enchantment Resort which was super dreamy. In Tucson, I stayed at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort which I also loved.

Accommodation In Sedona

In Sedona most people stay in the uptown area as this is where all the shops, restaurants and amenities are.

Accommodation in Sedona is very pricey as most of the hotels and resorts are luxury. 

Best Hotels In Sedona:

Accommodation In Tucson

Tucson has a great range of places to stay including a few impressive luxury hotels. 

You’ll find every kind of accommodation in Tucson perfect for every traveler and every budget. You can even find tons of hotels with jacuzzis in the room in Tucson which is pretty special. 

Best Hotels In Tucson:

Which Is Better for Nightlife?

Tucson music venue

I found that Tucson had a much more lively nightlife scene compared with Sedona. This is mainly because Tucson is a larger city with a university and a much higher population.

Sedona isn’t known for nightlife but it does still have a range of nice bars where you can spend the evening.

Nightlife In Sedona

Sedona isn’t really known for being a party city. There are no nightclubs in Sedona at all and almost all of the bars and restaurants close by 11pm even on weekends.

This was a bit of a shock for me when I headed out at 10pm on my first night for some drinks only to find that all of the bars were starting to close up.

Despite closing early, Sedona’s nightlife scene did feel very sophisticated and up market.

Most of Sedona’s bars are within resorts, hotels or upscale restaurants. Here you’ll find hand-crafted cocktails and luxurious lounges. 

Some of the best bars in Sedona are The Hudson, SaltRock Southwest Kitchen and 89Agave. There’s also a great range of wine bars in Sedona such as The Secret Garden Café and Oak Creek Brewery & Grill.

Nightlife In Tucson

Tucson had a very lively and vibrant nightlife scene with a great variety of night spots ranging from quiet wine bars to college hangouts and even dance clubs. You’ll also find breweries, dive bars, country saloons, comedy shows and much more.

Tucson really comes alive after the sun goes down and has the perfect venue for everyone. Some of my favorite spots in town are Club Congress, Rialto Theatre and Paradiso Bar & Lounge.

I loved that most of Tucson’s bars and clubs stayed open until 2am so I was easy to party all night long.

There are also lots of small theater companies and other venues putting on productions including music, dance and other forms of entertainment. From flamenco dancing to magic shows and classical guitar – you’ll find it all in Tucson. 

Which Is More Affordable?

I personally found Sedona to be way more expensive than Tucson which is mainly due to the fact that Sedona is a more commercial, touristy town. 

Getting a hotel in Sedona cost me significantly more than in Tucson – I kinda weeped a little when I paid my hotel bill in Sedona.

You can find much cheaper, more budget friendly options in Tucson that are friendlier to the wallet.

If budget is an issue for you then Tucson will be much cheaper than Sedona.

And that’s it!

I hope you’ve been able to make a decision on where to visit between Tucson and Sedona.

If not, you may find these guides handy:

I hope this article was helpful in highlighting the main differences of Sedona vs Tucson.


Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir, who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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