Mini Travel Guide: The Southwestern U.S.

Looking for a travel guide of the Southwestern US? Click through for from-a-local insights on what to do, where to go, what to eat, and how to do it all cheaply in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California!
Hi friends! I’m Carrie. I’ve lived in the Southwest United States my entire life, and I’m excited to be here today to share some of my favorite places with you from Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas.
I know that most people still imagine the Southwest to be filled with Cowboys, Indians and tumbleweeds, but we are so much more than that! The Southwestern States are filled with busy cities and gorgeous desert.
Must go in the Southwest US

Must go in the Southwest

Sedona, AZ

The red rocks in Sedona are said to have healing power, and you can definitely believe it after visiting this serene place. There’s an awesome downtown area with shops and restaurants (you must try the fudge from the fudge shop there!), and some breathtaking landscapes. I highly recommend finding Crescent Moon Park for a picnic and a light hike – it’s one of my favorite places in the world.

Las Vegas, NV

If you’re not into drinking and gambling, you will love Las Vegas. If you’re into drinking and gambling, you will LOVE Las Vegas. It’s full of glitz, glamour and money, and boasts tons of awesome shows every night. There’s plenty to do if you’re with your family or on a Bachelorette party weekend. Make sure you check out my favorite hotel on the strip – the new Cosmopolitan Hotel.

Marin County, CA

Located about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, Marin County is a gorgeous, tree-filled area filled with really awesome Earth-loving people. Tons of celebrities have houses in the area, and George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch is there too. There are some beautiful scenic roads to take and some really fun places to shop for gifts.
Must do in the Southwest US

Must do in the Southwest

Visit a theme park

One word: Disneyland. Hang out with the Mouses and make sure you eat a Disneyland churro. If Disney isn’t your thing, there are tons of other cool theme parks in the Southwest. Six Flags Magic Mountain in California and Six Flags Over Texas are great if you’re a thrill-seeker, because they’re filled with some really awesome roller coasters.

Watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean

The Southwest has some beautiful sunsets, and the best place to watch it is on the beach, obviously. Walk on the boardwalk while enjoying the crash of the surf and the pink and orange sunsets. Flip-flops are not required, but highly recommended.

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta takes place every October and is one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Make sure you get there early (before the sun rises) to see the “glow” – where balloons are lit up and start taking off. Before you know it, the entire sky will be filled with balloons, and you’ll be in the middle of even more taking off.
Must eat in the Southwest

Must eat in the Southwest

Authentic Mexican food

Oh my yum. You can’t get more authentic Mexican food unless you cross the border to Mexico (which is totally possible for a day trip from most of the Southwest). You have to try a mom-and-pop restaurant (or should I say “madre-and-padre restaurant”) while in town.


The strawberries…oh, the strawberries. The California sun gives life to many delicious plants, and you can find farmers markets on almost every corner during weekends.


There’s a reason why the entire country has Texas brisket on the menu! Finger lickin’ good food is to be found in the Southwest.
Cultural tips for traveling in the Southwest

Cultural tips for traveling in the Southwest

Wear sunscreen

We can often have a nice breeze blowing through (and by “nice breeze,” I really mean it feels like a hairdryer), and sometimes it’s hard to remember how potent the sun rays are. Keep your skin young and pretty and lather up with sunscreen often.

Drink tons of water

This goes along with the previous tip, but it’s even more important. Even when you’re swimming in one of the many pools in town, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Drink more water than you think you need!
Cheap travel in the Southwest

Cheap travel tips for Southwest US

If you’re feeling brave, there are plenty of rideshare options listed on Craigslist. The bus systems in the big cities are usually really great if you can figure out how to navigate them.
Of course, Airbnb is usually cheaper than a hotel and a great way to meet locals! Here’s a $40 tipi in Madrid, New Mexico and here’s a gorgeous studio apartment with a pool in Tucson for $85 a night! If you haven’t used Airbnb before, here’s $40 off your first booking.
Thanks so much for sharing, Carrie!  I’m sure tons of you guys live in the Southwest – what else should we do/eat/be aware of or other Southwest US travel tips?
photo 1 by nicholas_t // photo 2 by joseph depalma // photo 3 by randy pertiet // photo 4 by my visual poetry // photo 5 by joe shlabotnik // photo 6 by abhisawa

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  1. Cailee

    I'm not convinced Marin Country (or California in general) qualifies as the Southwest…

  2. Anonymous

    This is a little broad. Next, how about Canada! "Canada is not just all about maple syrup and Celine Dion, eh?! Be sure to try some delicious Asian food!" I mean, there are about 1000 different unique places to visit in the "southwest."

    Also: Everyone should wear sunscreen everywhere.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I like to keep the mini travel guides broad. Personally, I'm not interested in reading travel guides for specific cities. This is meant to be a starting point with the hopes that readers will contribute helpful comments about their favorite things in this area 🙂

  3. Lisa

    I'm really excited to be traveling to Flagstaff next month with my husband, parents, and siblings. Any can't-miss spots in Flagstaff or nearby? I definitely want to check out Sedona while we're there.

    • Carrie Rosalind

      Hey Lisa – I love Flagstaff! I lived there for a year and attended Northern Arizona University. The weather will be absolutely perfect for you next month. Flagstaff is a college town, but it's gorgeous. I'd recommend checking out the downtown area – lots of cool shops, restaurants and old hotels. If you're into outdoorsy type stuff, there are a lot of good places to hike in the area. And definitely check out Sedona – it's about an hour drive away.

  4. Anonymous

    I grew up and live in New Mexico. I agree with the previous comment, I really wouldn't consider California as part of the Southwest. I also agree that this is too broad. I love the mini travel guides, but this was super disappointing. The Southwest is so unique and special, plus it has so much cultural heritage and history. This guide could have been much better even without focusing on specific cities.

  5. Deb @ Paper Turtle

    What a great review! I've lived in Arizona most of my life and I think that this mini-travel guide is a great overview of the main points of interest. Obviously, there is much more to see, but the points of interest pointed out work well for this post. Listing ALL of the things to see in the Southwest would have been a novel, not a blog post.

  6. Michelle

    Don't forget to visit the Grand Canyon! Now that I've lived here in Arizona for over 10 years, and I've definitely learned to appreciate the beautiful sunsets, warm (actually, more like hot) weather, some of the best Mexican food around, and again- the warm weather. 😉

  7. Lindsey

    No matter where I live (unless it's back in Texas), I will always miss the south(west). Can't get enough "real" Mexican food and Texas BBQ and I can still vividly remember weekend trips to Six Flags. I probably road the Texas Giant 500 times over the years and will have back spasms later in life to show for it I'm sure. Thank you for sharing this travel guide – like a trip down memory lane.

  8. Amy T Schubert

    AMEN to Mexican food. Also, the great thing about everything on this list is you can literally do it ANY time of year. You might not go in the water, but the beach is still gorgeous in the winters here.

  9. Anonymous

    Since when is California in the Southwest? And Las Vegas, really? This was a really disappointing travel guide.

  10. Kirsten

    I lived in Las Vegas for almost 9 years, and I'd consider it part of the desert southwest, since it is in the Mojave Desert. There is so much more to do in Vegas than just gambling and drinking, though.

  11. Megan Anderson

    Geographically, you can't get more South and West than Southern California in the continental United States. Just sayin', people.

  12. Sammy

    I'm sad that Marin County qualified for the Southwest but no one ever thinks to include Utah. It makes me wonder what region of the US Utah even fits into :/

  13. Virtual Office

    Mexican food is one of my favourite, because of the taste.

  14. Nancy

    Nice tips, but with so much ground to cover there's so much great stuff left out. Since the states are so large in the southwest maybe try 1 or 2 states in each mini-guide so you can include more of the great stuff…like all the national parks. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Melinda Barker

    You are right! I am not into gambling and I am not into casinos and I love Las Vegas. I am going back again next month. I booked with I recommend them to the Vegas fans as they have tons of offers even for the people who cant afford an expensive hotel.


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