Posts on Instagram make it seem like you have to visit far flung locations (preferably wearing a fedora and long flowy dress) for an impactful travel experience. But I have personally found that small, unheralded towns are where the people, food and places nurtures a tender side of your soul. At an elevation of 7,000 feet, smack-dab in the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff has it all. Art and culture, incredible food, outdoor adventure, and access to some of the most iconic sites in the United States. It’s not as popular as Phoenix or Sedona, but trust me: it’s easy to fall in love with Flagstaff.
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Flagstaff: The Basics
Best known for…
It’s a toss between the terrestrial and extraterrestrial. Flagstaff is the highest point on the entirety of Route 66. It’s also the place where Pluto was discovered, and astronauts trained before first visiting the moon.
Where to stay
Drop your bags at Little America. With its prime location—close to great restaurants, hiking, skiing, and within driving distance to the Grand Canyon. Kids will love the pool, you’ll love the hot tub.
Where to eat & drink
Enjoy inventive dishes made with local ingredients at Brix, a farm to table restaurant housed in a historic brick carriage house. Ancho braised pork with pineapple relish; portabella and Vidalia onion tarte; poached salmon with roasted beets and fennel are just a few things talking to me on the menu.
For an old school honkytonk experience, check out the Museum Club. Open since 1935, this log cabin has showcased the likes of Willie Nelson, Wanda Jackson and more.
You’ll find everything from IPAs, stouts, sours and kombucha on tap at Dark Sky Brewing. Better yet, there’s a woodfired pizza restaurant onsite.
Culture & History
A celebration of the past
Founded in 1928 by Harold S. Colton and Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, the Museum of Northern Arizona is all about celebrating the beauty and diversity of the Colorado Plateau. The museum features a permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibits. One of note: The Native Peoples of the Colorado Plateau, a permanent exhibit that displays the story of ten tribes of the Colorado Plateau. The MNA’s geological gallery digs into the region’s colorful geological rock formations, flora and fauna.
We’ve landed on the moon!
Before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, they landed in Flagstaff. Apparently, many aspects of the local terrain made for very moon-like conditions—perfect for training. Hike the Lava’s Edge Trail at Sunset Crater National Monument, which helped astronauts get up-close-and-personal with an impact crater. The volcano is no longer active, but did experience a significant eruption about 900 years ago. The basalt rock surrounding the volcano is proof.
For more technical insight, visit to the US Geological Survey, Astrogeology Science Center. You’ll find a working protoype of the lunar rover astronauts drove on the moon, as well other commemorative space mission displays. Since it’s still a working lab, only parts are open to visitors. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule yours.
Old School Photo Opp
Snap a selfie in front of the Western Hills Motel’s iconic neon sign.
Art all around
The city’s extensive public art scene infuses creativity and beauty throughout Flagstaff. The city boasts over forty pieces of public art, from murals to abstract steel installations. Find them all on this map.
The Great Outdoors
Hikes and Bikes
There’s truly no shortage of ways to get outside in Flagstaff. One my favorite ways is on foot. Families will love hiking the interesting-but-low-key Viet Springs 1.6-mile loop; the slightly more challenging Fatman’s Loop (2.5 miles) offers views of eastern Flagstaff, seasonal wildflowers, and cool rock formations—including one that runs through the trail and is a bit of a squeeze to fit through, hence the name.
Flagstaff is made for those who love to bike. In fact, the city boasts 117 miles of bike lanes, representing 58 percent of major streets. If you prefer to bike in the wilderness, check out the Campbell Mesa trail system, just outside of town. The trail’s series of loops is shared with hikers (and skiers in the winter), and boasts views of ponderosa pine and Mount Eldon. Road cyclists will love touring Lake Mary Road, a rolling 40-60 mile trip with a designated bike lane and jaw-dropping views.
Not traveling with your bike? Rent one from Absolute Bikes, whose fleet includes mountain, road, electric, kids bikes and more.
Visit the Arb
Prefer the outdoors at a slower pace? Head to “the Arb,” home to 750 species of plants. Explore this arboretum’s greenhouses, gardens and natural habitats, located deep within the Coconino National Forest. They’re only open May – October, but make the most of it with a packed calendar of events, like tours, concerts and children’s activities.
In 2001, Flagstaff was named the World’s First “International Dark Sky City.” Low light pollution and star-gazing friendly outdoor light restrictions make Flagstaff the perfect place to look for satellites, constellations and planets. One of the best places to do so? The Lowell Observatory. Founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell, this active astronomical research facility welcomes visitors year-round for tours and telescope viewing.
Elk, Wolves and Bears, oh my!
I love a good pun, so Bearizona caught my attention. Experience nature from the safety and comfort of your own car at this three-mile drive through zoo. You’ll see elk, deer, bison, wolves and lots of bears. There’s also a walking section with a more traditional zoo experience. Remember: keep those windows rolled up, kids!
Awesome Road Trips
Flagstaff puts you in close proximity to much of the Southwest’s most iconic sites.
Grand Canyon (about 90 miles)
It’s the freaking Grand Canyon! No explanation needed.
Sedona (about 30 miles)
Hello, red rock mountains, vortexes, and any New Age thing you could possible imagine.
Petrified Forest National Park (about 110 miles)
Go for the Rainbow Forest, full of colorful petrified wood, then check out the Painted Desert Inn, a 1930s adobe building with Hopi murals.
Meteor Crater > about 40 miles
It’s one of the best preserved impact craters on the planet, made by a 150-foot meteor traveling at 8 miles per second. What remains is a 3,900-foot wide hole in planet earth.
Montezuma’s Castle > about 55 miles
Behold one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America—a 20-room structure nestled into towering limestone.
Jerome > about 70 miles
Wineries… in Arizona? You bet! There’s lots of good ones in this old west town.
Winslow > about 60 miles
Take the obligatory “Standing on a corner” photo opp.
Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend > about 130 miles
It’s a hike, but the epic views are worth it! Want to let someone else do all the heavy lifting (and driving)? Book a tour!
Have you been to Flagstaff? What are your favorite spots? Share in the comments!
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