Lightning illuminated the Sedona sky all evening and throughout the night as peals of thunder heralded a grand finale to this year's monsoon season. I drove out from L.A. to watch the second annual Bike & Brew Festival, a first-of-its-kind, a mountain bike race on a golf course, with local breweries providing frothy libations. I set up shop, with doggy and hubby, across the street at the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock, where I enjoyed a little pool time prior to the festivities.
Sedona Golf Resort hosted the race, which featured several age groups, including adorable tykes on bikes. The 18-hole course is a monster, stretching a couple of miles into the adjacent neighborhood while the elevation rises and falls like the rugged geology of this enchanting northern Arizona city.
Some holes lie more than 600 yards from the blue tees, which might not be that tough on the riders, but it sure tests some drivers. I know because the grounds crew had the course back in tip-top shape the following day, and it tried like hell to take out its revenge on me. But the view from the tee on the signature 10th hole is almost enough to make you forget the double-bogey on nine. And you know what else makes you forget about a lousy golf score? A great massage. I went for the Full Circle experience at Eforea. Part hot stone massage, part New Age audio therapy, the combo is what people trek out to Sedona to experience.
Meanwhile, the Robert Trent Jones Sr. -- and Jr. -- designed course at Oak Creek Country Club will make you forget about ever going home. Tree-lined fairways, picturesque fountains and strategic decisions create one of the best golf experiences in a state renowned for it.
Another tourism staple of the Copper State is the spa experience. I discovered 90 minutes of sheer bliss in the form of a Japanese facial and a hot rocks body massage at a nondescript office building in the western part of town. But what A Spa For You lacks in glitz, the day spa more than makes up for in technique, as the healing hands of the masseuses are able to transport you to an entirely other plane.
And while its tradition in this part of the world is not as longstanding as golf or the spa, wine is rapidly developing as a viable industry, drawing even the pickiest palates of Californians. Javelina Leap Winery, set in a scenic riparian locale, grows several heat-loving varietals on its hillside property -- Zinfandel, Syrah, Tempranillo, among many others -- and, offering gourmet bites on its covered patio and its elegant tasting room, is now a destination for oenephiles and their four-legged friends -- unless that friend is actually a javelina, ironically, and presumably.
Of course, dining is a critical reason for travel, and Sedona has some unique options. Sound Bites Grill is a music venue as much a restaurant. A steak and a martini never sounded so good. Meanwhile, Javelina Cantina is the place to get your Mexican food fix. In addition to the best queso in town and hearty combo plates, the margaritas are among the best you'll ever have (hint: Spend a couple bucks more and go for The Maserati or The Don -- it's so worth it).
But for a romantic evening of casual fine dining, the best restaurant in town just might be Rene Restaurant & Wine Bar at Tlaquepaque. Nestled among the stunning galleries and shops of Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, this landmark restaurant has been delighting guests since 1978 with its encyclopedic wine list, flambé desserts and signature rack of lamb carved tableside.
There's not much in the way of nightlife in Sedona, unless we're talking about nocturnal animals. Instead, urban escapees come to enjoy warm nights under a starlit sky. And if you don't happen to have your own vacation home here, the next best thing is the Red Agave Resort, which features high-ceilinged A-frame cabins with back patios that open onto the herbally scented trails of the Coconino National Forest. With every BBQ grill for each cabin, the pet-friendly resort is a home away from home, only with less noise and better scenery.