Explore N. Arizona

Three Oak Creeks

You’re not seeing triple: The southern gateway to Sedona, a northbound route out of town, and the water feature flowing right through red rock country all bear the name “oak creek.” Teeter too close to a cliff’s edge, though (or tip too many oak creek brewing company products) and you may second-guess your senses.

VILLAGE OF OAK CREEK Many Sedona visitors who approach from the Phoenix area appreciate the village of Oak Creek for utilitarian reasons: They’ve made the Sedona exit from Interstate 17, the famous red rocks are coming into view—and thank goodness, so is a gas station with restrooms.

The village is a teaser to what’s even more abundant in Sedona proper as far as food and drink, original art, recreational equipment, and the general New Agey lifestyle.

Cucina Rustica, from the same owner as romantic Sedona restaurant Dahl & Di Luca, is among the first tenants of a commerical development in Oak Creek called Tequa. Dinner- only, Rustica deals in fare like made-daily pastas, sautéed veal blanketed in beautiful sauces, and lasagna with or without Italian sausage.

Firecreek Coffee Company and Village Gallery share a driveway in the village. Drinking a latte from the former while perusing nailhead art, batik painting and glass jewelry inside the latter is a fine way to go. The nearby Sedona Bike & Bean, meanwhile pairs coffee to-order with mountain bikes to-go, by rental or by guided tour.

The Sedona area has a reputation for having mystical and spiritual powers. Some people say they feel generally happier and sharper in the presence of so much natural beauty. Others credit specific hot spots of scientifically measurable electromagnetic energy—called vortexes—for granting problem-solving and life-affirming advantages.

Bell Rock, a red-rock plateau in the village of Oak Creek, is a vortex site. Take a question on a hike and see what happens. Or, just drive ’round and ’round in one of Highway 179’s many traffic circles.

The village of Oak Creek functions largely as a bedroom community for Sedona employees, and hilly side streets are pleasantly stacked with rounded-edge houses that would be just as home in arty, spiritual Santa Fe or Taos. Xanadu of Sedona is one odd, obvious exception to the pueblo-home look. It’s a private family residence comprised of monolithic dome-shaped rooms, each painted a contrasting bright color, visible at the village’s south end. Tours may be arranged.

TRIBUTARY OF THE VERDE RIVER Among Sedona’s innumerable movie-quality characteristics: A river runs through it. The water feature known as Oak Creek is an offshoot of the Verde River, which in turn is an extension of the Phoenix/Scottsdale-prominent Salt River.

In West Sedona, Oak Creek gives a gazing mirror to Cathedral Rock, one of the classic postcard views inside Red Rock State Park.

In central Sedona, Oak Creek vies for attention at an intersection that also has upscale-shopping destination Tlaquepaque and the entry to Schnebly Hill Road, a wild four-wheel-drive rock-viewing route. A flash flood in 2009 placed Oak Creek over the road, in fact, rendering the other two points of interest temporarily pointless; highway improvements since then have restored balance to this sycamore-shaded confluence.

The water of Oak Creek does not factor directly into the products of Sedona’s Oak Creek Brewing Company, but it would be a shame to overlook the hometown brand in the context of this name game. Plain old water-company water gets transformed into such drinkable favorites as Oak Creek Nut Brown Ale, Oak Creek Hefeweizen and the seasonal Oak Creek Snake Charmer IPA, and the beers are served alongside cedar-planked salmon and rotisserie chicken at Oak Creek Brewery & Grill at Tlaquepaque.

OAK CREEK CANYON Beyond the gift shops, art galleries and restaurants that define Uptown Sedona, the most dramatic identity of Oak Creek comes into focus: the steep, sun-dappled, cabin-inhabited Oak Creek Canyon. If you’ve got a convertible, this is the place to put the top down and head north.

Highway 89A crosses Midgely Bridge, itself so spectacular that it has its own sightseeing parking lot. The stopping place is officially for hikers picking up a trailhead, but no one’ll blame you if you simply pull in to take some safely grounded nature photos of the deep chasm below.

Driveways in Oak Creek Canyon descend steeply to cabins and campgrounds that offer creek access to guests holding reservations. But carloads of thrill-seekers can spontaneously pull into Slide Rock State Park to see—or, especially during the summer, slip right into—a nature-propelled chute of rush- ing water for an afternoon of amusement. An apple orchard dating to 1912 frames the way to this “water park.”

Within 25 pretty miles and about an hour’s time, Sedona becomes a memory, and the Oak Creek Canyon route concludes in the city of Flagstaff. During winter, this can mean snow, skiing opportunities and soup consumption. During summer, this can mean a 10- or 15-degree break from the 100s, sidewalk shopping, art festivals, college pubs and patio dining.