- Things to Do
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Home to both the tallest peak in Arizona and the deepest canyon in the world; Flagstaff is a mountain playground for everyone from geologists to adventurers.
Flanked by the San Francisco Peaks, the entire area was once volcanic, which blessed the high desert with canyons and crazy rock formations, transforming it into the most geographically diverse region in the world.
What started as a transcontinental railway stop for intrepid settlers traveling west, Flagstaff‘s now an eclectic mix of western heritage, leftover hippies, and college students. It’s both Arizona’s craft beer city and festival town, and people visit for a variety of reasons. With attractions for just about any interest, swing by the visitor’s center on your way into town to snag a trail map, self-guided walking tour, Route 66 highlights, public art map, haunted spots, and/or brewery passport. While there truly is something for everyone, here are a few of the major reasons to visit.
Truly a four seasons destination, Flagstaff has hiking, biking and water sports in the summer and snowy pursuits in the winter. The extreme adventure course and zip line are popular with the adrenaline junkies, while Snowbowl offers a more relaxed view above tree line on the scenic gondola ride. In the winter, you’ll find powder hounds skiing and shredding Arizona’s tallest peaks.
For a touch of culture and fresh air, you can actually hike to three national monuments right near town. Peruse the lava fields at Sunset Crater and marvel at the otherworldly landscape. Nearby, the 800-year old Pueblo Village of Wupatki is a brilliant red outcropping, rising like an oasis amongst the Painted Desert and Ponderosa Pines. Walnut Canyon also boasts ancient cliff dwellings built right into the rock face. Try to imagine what life must’ve been like back in the day as you take in the vast and varied desertscape.
Flagstaff’s downtown is a mix of heritage buildings and locally owned shops with very few chains to detract from the authenticity. The Weatherford Hotel is the centerpiece of the city and one of the most iconic spaces for its grand ballrooms, ornate finishes, and vintage touches. It’s the place to be on New Year’s Eve when they drop a giant pinecone to the cheering crowds below (their take on the Times Square ball).
With eight microbreweries and an impressive food scene, you could eat, drink, and be merry all the livelong day. Get a caffeine buzz at Macy’s European Coffeehouse & Bakery, tip one back at the award-winning Mother Road, and try the contemporary Italian cuisine at La Vetta, which is really just #designgoals. You may be surprised to learn that their two-story kitchen used to be an underground opium den with tunnels connecting the whole city, an ode to the town’s Wild West heritage. Save room for dessert because there are sweet shops all over town, tempting you with homemade fudge, ice cream, popcorn, and old timey soda fountains. Thankfully, shopping’s the best cardio and there are plenty of spots to work it off. The Old Town Shops are hidden behind Heritage Square which is home to cheap clothes in Basement Marketplace, a secret barbecue joint, grilled cheese spot, burger place, and so much more if you’re somehow still hungry.
Photo Credit: Tom Alexander
As the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, Flagstaff actually has a number of ties to outer space. In fact, every astronaut that walked in the moon trained in Flagstaff at one point or another. Geologists set explosives to match the moon’s surface at Sunset Crater, while Lowell Observatory is where they discovered Pluto thanks to advanced lunar mapping technology.
Flagstaff is the world’s first internationally designated dark sky city and offers a number of opportunities for the public to learn about space. With a motto of “you can learn a lot by watching,” Lowell is one of only privately funded observatories that offers nightly events, talks, and telescope viewings. You can gaze up into the galaxy, explore Meteor Crater, the best preserved meteor site on earth, and even celebrate in town with many local restaurants and bars creating special dishes or drinks to commemorate the occasion (ie. La Vetta’s color changing cocktail).
This article was created in partnership with Visit USA Parks.
Lauren Monitz is a travel/food writer and social media influencer specializing in approachable adventures and offbeat explorations. She is the Google Local Expert for Denver and has more than 10 years of experience with bylines across the web from Thrillist and the Huffington Post to Eater and the Food Network.