This was our first real trip since COVID shut everything down in March of 2020. And like most of our trips, it wasn’t planned very far in advance. This excursion was also tied to an event. In this case it was set around a half marathon in Tucson Arizona.
One way I keep myself busy, now that I’m retired, is that I train for and take part in races. From triathlons to half marathons (not interested in longer distances…yet), my wife and I try to do several races a year.
When one of our favorite race organizers, Vacation Races, announced their newest event, a trail/road half marathon in Tucson, we jumped at the opportunity. Hoping that COVID would be subdued by then, we also planned to extend the trip. We had vacationed in Arizona several times in the past, usually in Scottsdale, and enjoyed each trip.
We searched for timeshare availability surrounding the race date, March 27th, and found a week in Sedona beginning on March 27th. Perfect!
Anything I write is going to have a financial aspect to it, it’s just how I roll. With that in mind, I’ll talk about the cost of this trip. We enjoy luxuries but want to do so as economically as possible. One way we could save money is by driving from our house in California to Arizona. The trip to Tucson is a five-hour drive. Because we have flexibility, we decided to break the trip up and stay in Scottsdale for a night (three-hour drive) before continuing to Tucson. The real reason we did this: food.
There is no way I was going to drive past Scottsdale and not eat at a place called Bootleggers. If you’re a fan of “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” on the Food Network, you may have heard of this place. It was on the show in 2017. We had no idea about it being on the show when we first found the place a couple of years ago, but if all the eateries featured on that show are this good, I might have to visit more of them. On this trip, we ate at Bootleggers three times.
I can describe their food in one word: smoke. I had the smoked prime rib the first night we were there. It’s not a typical way to prepare prime rib but it should be. Absolutely delicious. Julie had her favorite dish, the smoked muscles. The muscles themselves aren’t smoked. They’re steamed in garlic, butter, and white wine, but the tomatoes that are added to the resulting sauce are smoked giving the entire dish an amazing aroma and equally amazing taste. Although it’s listed as an appetizer, it’s plenty for Julie as a meal.
Even though we needed to move onto our next location, we made time to visit some art galleries. This is a favorite thing for me wherever we go. Two years earlier we had spent a week in Scottsdale and found some interesting art. While I do collect some, I don’t often buy art. It’s the whole early retirement thing. We make choices and art often isn’t the right choice. This time, however, we took the plunge. We bought some whimsical climbing figures that we had seen on our last visit.
With our purchase complete we set off for Tucson to prepare for the race on Saturday. I have family in Tucson but we opted not to impose on them and stayed in a hotel. I needed to be at the start of the race at 4:30am and didn’t want to disrupt anyone. My cousin, Gail and her husband Cal, were kind enough to have us over for dinner Thursday evening so we still got to spend time with them which was nice.
The hotel we stayed at in Tucson was awesome. It’s definitely not in a scenic area. The Hotel McCoy is in an industrial area just off the freeway. What it lacks in location, it more than makes up for in style and service. They celebrate local craft beer and wine. Due to COVID restrictions, the bar was closed for seating but you could take your preferred beverage with you and hang out by the pool, play corn hole, foosball, or gather around the fire pit. They even gave us poker chips good for one free drink each when we checked in. Staying there made me feel like I time travelled to the 1950s staying at a roadside motel while on an epic cross-country adventure.
So far, we’ve spent $365 on hotels and, over the entire trip we spent $215 on fuel. It’s been a busy trip already and has only cost us $580.
This was Vacation Races’ first event near Saguaro National Park (all their events are in very close proximity to National Parks) and I do like to be in on an inaugural event. I also ran the inaugural half marathon they did in Joshua Tree in 2017.
I was in the first wave of runners so Julie, who couldn’t run due to injury, volunteered at the race. That meant we had to be there a bit earlier but it wasn’t a big deal at all. The organization that was necessary due to COVID restrictions were handled perfectly by VR. At exactly 6am the race started. The first mile was on the road and then we made the turn into the desert and single-track trail.
The single track made passing difficult but since each start wave (which went out in 10–15 minute intervals) was restricted to just 50 people or less, crowding wasn’t a problem at all, at least not for my wave. When it was necessary to pass or be passed, everyone was very kind and accommodating. Runners are great people. There were lots of rolling hills on the course. I would say that this was my favorite trail run thus far.
Shortly after crossing the six-mile mark, we were back on the road until the finish. I wanted the trail back. I enjoy the varied terrain and it takes my mind off the running, making time go by more quickly. I’m definitely going to be back for next year’s race. Hopefully Julie will be back in running form and will once again beat me as she did at our last Joshua Tree Half Marathon.
After crossing the finish line, we hung out just a bit before making our way back the Hotel McCoy for their delicious (and free) oatmeal and coffee breakfast which is delivered to your room due to, you guessed it, COVID restrictions. After showering it was time to make our way to Sedona but not without a stop in Scottsdale for lunch at Bootleggers.
This time we started with the Boot Dumplings (which was featured on DDD — I still hadn’t seen the episode with Bootleggers, however). The dumplings are stuffed with a pork belly filling and pan fried. I could eat a hundred of them easily. My main dish was a pulled pork sandwich and it did not disappoint. Julie had the Cobb salad with, of course, smoked turkey.
Onward to Sedona
All of this was just the prelude to our trip to Sedona. We had spent a couple of days in Sedona many years ago but this would be our first week long trip. We’re all about hiking, biking, and running so of course we brought our bikes.
One downside of a timeshare is that they always try to sell you more. Most times we simply decline the sales pitch and go on with our trip. This time, they offered the right incentives and we signed up for their presentation. What did we get in return? A nice discount on a helicopter tour — $200 vs. $400, a $75 voucher for a restaurant we already had reservations at, and a week vacation at another location. That last one probably won’t happen as there are so many hoops to jump through to redeem that free week, it’s never worked out for me.
We sat through the two-hour pitch at 8am on Tuesday and were done. Even if we don’t use that one-week vacation voucher, we earned $275 for just two hours of our time. That’s $137.50 per hour. After the pitch we went on a great bike ride covering 18 plus miles surrounded by amazing scenery. After such a great ride it’s like the sales meeting never happened.
Sedona is much more popular and crowded than the last time we were there but a lot changes in 20 years, so I guess that’s to be expected. Our fist hike was to Devil’s Bridge, a natural stone arch, and it was crowded. Cars lined the road near the trail head on both sides for literally miles. By driving a bit farther, we were able to find parking much closer to a trail that would lead to the Devil’s Bridge trail. It meant more hiking but that’s a good thing and it was more scenic.
The final ascent to Devil’s Bridge is tough but fun. Once at the top it was like being in Disney World. There was a line of people waiting to get on the bridge to have friends or family take their picture. One hiker near me actually said, “I wish they had Fast Pass for this.”
I’m glad we did the hike and saw this great feature but our next hikes would be on less travelled and more difficult terrain.
On Wednesday of our trip, we did the helicopter tour with Sedona Air Tours. Neither of us had ever been in a helicopter before and it was spectacular. I got to sit in the co-pilot seat so I had unobstructed views. We flew over an area called Boynton Canyon where native Americans built cave dwellings approximately 800 years ago, we were told. The next day we did a seven-mile hike in Boynton Canyon and it was beautiful. Such a mix of sights from desert red rock to pine forests, I’d recommend this long, but easy hike.
I judge any trip by two criteria: adventure and food. The adventure was the great hiking, biking, and the helicopter tour. The food? Well, that wasn’t so bad either. We found three great places and went to a few other notable restaurants.
Since craft beer is important to us, we visited both local breweries. I don’t have much to say about Oak Creek Brewing. The food was fine and the beer was good but nothing blew us away. Sedona Beer Co., however, was the winner. I would have liked to see more dark beer choices. They didn’t have a stout, but they did have a porter. I opted for their double bock called Dwayne the Bock Johnson. It was smooth and tasty. When we went back again, they were out of the bock so the waitress suggested an IPA. I usually don’t go for IPAs especially west coast IPAs but this one, called Beach Please, was excellent with a low IBU count that made it very drinkable.
The food there was great as well. We had their Cauliflower “Notchos” with vegan “cheese” made with potatoes and carrots. It was so good, I’m going to be making it at home. For the main course I got the Reubenesque Burger which is a burger with corned beef on top. Wow! Julie got a salad with beet chips that was really good as well. Of course, we made sure to make a repeat visit and split the Not a Bahn Mi Burger which is a burger with pork belly and Bahn Mi greens on top. Amazing!
When it comes to Mexican food, I consider myself a mole sauce connoisseur. When we drove past a place called Mole, I knew we had to try it. I love when you stumble upon great places on your own. We started with avocado fries and they were the best we’ve ever had. Of course, I had to get the chicken enchilada with mole sauce. While I like my local Mexican place here in La Quinta, Casa Mendoza’s mole sauce better, this was a very solid sauce. I was quite pleased. What really got me was their green mole sauce (I didn’t even know that was a thing — so much for my connoisseur status). The green mole was on Julie’s seafood enchilada and was spectacular. I will attempt to make this as well. The one downside at Mole was their margarita, I had the blood orange margarita. It was delicious but too pricey for the size. I still had a second one. I am on vacation after all.
The third restaurant that stood out was owned by the same company that owns Mole. Shorebird just opened in Sedona in March, 2021. They also have a location in Newport Beach, CA so I hope to try that one some time. Their menu is small but the food was amazing. They have some sushi and I’d highly recommend giving it a try. I’d also highly recommend they expand their sushi menu.
We had a spicy tuna eggroll and, if it’s possible to fall in love with food, I did. It was a spicy tuna roll in eggroll form. Sounds simple but wow, it was amazing. Julie had the Balboa roll for dinner which is blue crab, ahi tuna, cucumber, and avocado. The best part, however, was the wasabi. It was actual fresh chopped and grated wasabi, not the typical paste wasabi. I have only had real fresh wasabi at one other place, Morimoto’s in NYC.
For my meal I had their salmon mignon which was a salmon filet coiled to resemble a filet mignon. It was cooked to perfection with an amazing crispy top. It was served over a rosemary cauliflower sauce which I will also attempt to replicate. (If you hadn’t noticed yet, I love to cook. Something else that keeps me occupied in retirement).
Lastly, I will mention one other restaurant, Dahl and DiLuca. The food was excellent and very reasonably priced. The wine list, however, was way overpriced. The other complaint is something that is common at a lot of restaurants and is a pet peeve of mine, the vintage of the wine listed on the menu didn’t match what was brought to the table. If a restaurant prints the vintage, that should be what they serve.
I had the lobster fra diavolo and the amount of lobster was epic. I almost wish they had a bit more pasta but man was that delicious. With fra diavolo in the name I would expect it to have a spiciness to it, it did not, which was disappointing. Julie is a big fan of gnocchi so that’s what she ordered. While it was good, it was not at a standard we expected based on the pasta in my dish. My pasta seemed homemade; her gnocchi seemed prepackaged.
On the day we were leaving Sedona we did one more hike and made it back to the condo with ten minutes till check out. We really try to squeeze every second out of a trip. We were driving straight home, no overnight on the way back, but we still made a pit stop at Bootleggers for our third visit of the trip.
Funny enough, I finally saw the “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives” episode with Bootleggers, the night before, and they featured the French dip sandwich. The sandwich is made with the smoked prime rib so that’s what I had. It did not disappoint. Seriously the best French Dip I’ve ever had. Julie once again had the smoked mussels.
After lunch we continued our trip and made it home by 6pm.
Recap (Thoughts and Observations)
One benefit of timeshares is that the accommodations are usually larger than standard hotel rooms. We got a studio unit and yet, no hotel room is ever this spacious. We had a full-size refrigerator, a two-burner stove, a microwave, coffee machine, and a dishwasher. To save money, many timeshare users will cook some meals in rather than going out. We rather treat ourselves so we ate out most meals. So, here’s the breakdown of what this trip cost:
Hotels/Lodging: $365 (three nights in hotels) and $209 (timeshare booking fee) = $574. If you break that down over the 11 nights we were away from home that comes to $52 per night.
Meals: $1152 This is where we splurge. Based on the excellent meals we had, it was certainly worth it for us.
The grand total for this trip comes to $2,141 for 11 days of fun and adventure, which breaks down to about $195 per day. If we stayed at a hotel instead of our timeshare, we could have easily doubled the cost.
We checked all the boxes: scenery, adventure, food, and a great time. How do you judge a vacation? What boxes would you add or what boxes aren’t necessary for you to check off?