To be honest, before my recent trip to Flagstaff, Arizona, I didn’t know much about this town other than that it is close to the Grand Canyon. In the past, I had stayed there a few times, but only to catch a few hours of sleep before heading off to see the Grand Canyon (Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon is about 1.5 hours | 78.8 miles).
When I was invited to join my friends’ writers retreat/press trip in Flagstaff, I did not know what to expect. What is there to do in Flagstaff? Anything? Boy, was I wrong… I had 2 jam-packed days full of amazing things to do in Flagstaff and returned with a list of more must-do’s for my next trip to Flagstaff. This little town (population 75,000) blew my socks off. I could easily spend a full week there and not be bored.
Thankfully, the trip from San Diego to Flagstaff takes less than 7.5 hours by car (490 miles), so it is easily doable in a day. For a quick weekend getaway, I would recommend flying – either directly to Flagstaff (currently no direct flights from San Diego, unfortunately) or to Phoenix and either get a rental car or take the shuttle bus from Phoenix to Flagstaff.
Check out Historic Downtown Flagstaff
Downtown Flagstaff is super cute. It has this nostalgic lumber town feel mixed with an outdoorsy adventure spirit. And then, as you walk down the street near Northern Arizona State University, you might run into a self-driving robot delivering food. I love this mix of history and cutting-edge technology, don’t you?
Flagstaff Visitor Center
When you first get to town, I highly recommend stopping by the Flagstaff Visitor Center. Not only do they have really great tips on things to do in Flagstaff, hidden gems to check out, fun souvenirs and more, but they are located in the historic train station. They even have a little model railroad that tracks around the visitor center. If you are lucky, one of the 110 daily trains passes by during your visit – great photo opp!
Flagstaff Brewery Trail
While Flagstaff is known for its excellent hiking trails, this is a different kind of trail. The Flagstaff Brewery Trail takes you across town (on foot or by car – don’t drink and drive!) to 9 different Flagstaff Breweries. Before you go, print out your Flagstaff Brewery Trail Passport and get a sticker for every Brewery you visit and once you collect all 9, turn it in at the Flagstaff Visitor Center for a commemorative souvenir pint glass.
I only got to visit two breweries on this trip – Lumberyard Brewery and Dark Sky Brewing – and both were fantastic. I really enjoyed the Pumphouse Porter at Lumberyard and the Wide Awake Blond Stout at Dark Sky. Can’t wait to come back and fill the rest of my passport!
First Friday Art Walk
If you are planning a weekend trip to Flagstaff, make sure you time it with the First Friday Art Walk. Every first Friday of the month between 6-9 PM, downtown Flagstaff puts on an Art Walk. Local art galleries, businesses, and shops invite you to visit them and check out their special exhibits and performances, enjoy live music, and sample local foods and drinks.
Historic Route 66
No other road in the world is surrounded by as much lore as Route 66, also known as “Mother Road”. Leading from Santa Monica to Chicago, this highway embodies the ultimate USA road trip and Flagstaff is the perfect stop along the way.
The Historic Route 66 goes right through the heart of downtown and is home to many local shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Definitely spend some time strolling along and take in the nostalgic atmosphere along the “Main Street of America”.
Downtown Flagstaff Tours
Downtown Flagstaff is very walkable and I recommend you do that. On my last visit, I did a Segway Tour (my first one!) and it was a great way to check out the downtown area.
- Flagstaff Historic Segway Tour
- Downtown Flagstaff Haunted History Tour
- Haunted Downtown Flagstaff Segway Tour
- Flagstaff E Bike Tours Experience E-Bike Tour
Visit Some National Monuments
Just outside of Flagstaff are several National Monuments and I was lucky to experience three of them. If you like history, especially Native American history, you should definitely add them to your Flagstaff itinerary. I was blown away by these monuments and I definitely plan on returning to visit some of the other National Monuments and National Parks in Northern Arizona as well.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
As the name suggests, this National Monument is a stunning 600 ft deep Canyon. While the view from the Rim Trail is stunning, I highly recommend (if physically able) doing the Island Trail. But be warned: the trail takes you down and up over 730 steps and is quite strenuous, especially considering the altitude and heat. The trail is only 1 mile long and paved, but considered strenuous because of the altitude (~7000 ft) and the elevation loss and gain of almost 200 ft on this short distance. Bring plenty of water, a hat, sun protection, and listen to your body.
But boy is this trail worth the effort. The Island Trail takes you right by 800+-year-old Native American cave dwellings built right into the side of the canyon. Can you imagine waking up to this view? Pretty spectacular, right?
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Did you know that the mountains around Flagstaff are actually volcanos? The last one, Sunset Crater, erupted about 1000 years ago and you can still see the resulting lava fields to this day.
I have to say this was one of the strangest places I have ever visited. The miles upon miles of rugged and sharp black lava rocks, interrupted only with an occasional patch of greenery, seemed foreign, almost like I was on a different planet. Maybe this is why NASA sent the Apollo 11 crew to this area to train for the 1969 moon landing.
You can even hike up to the top of Lenox Crater. Beware that the trail is steep, and strenuous, but offers panoramic views of the San Francisco mountain range. There is also the shorter Bonita Vista hike that is wheelchair accessible.
Wupatki National Monument
The Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona is one of the most picturesque places I have been to in Arizona. The rusty orange stone against the deep indigo Arizona desert sky will make for some Instagram-worthy photos.
Wupatki means “Tall House” in the Hopi language. This Pueblo was settled between 500 AD and 1225 AD. After the eruption of the Sunset Crater, the earth became so fertile that it sustained a population of around 2000 Hopi natives. The structure features 100 rooms and a ball court. If you are in the area, this place should definitely be on your itinerary!
It’s a great spot to learn more about the History of the Hopi tribe and their way of life. I find it so amazing that they were able to sustain this place in such a harsh environment and not only survived but thrived.
Explore the Stars at the Lowell Observatory
“Remember to look up at the stars and now down at your feet.
Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.
And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
It matters that you don’t just give up.”
Professor Stephen Hawking
Flagstaff is part of the Dark Sky Community and a fantastic place for stargazing. If you want to learn even more about the starry sky above, you HAVE to visit the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. You can book day- and night-time tours, lectures, and activities at the Lowell Observatory to learn more about the cosmos and the tools scientists use to explore space from earth.
Did you know that (ex-) planet Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory? You can still see the telescope he used to take the photos for his groundbreaking discovery.
Our guide Kevin Schindler, the Lowell Observatory historian, who also wrote several books on Flagstaff’s important role in Space exploration, gave us a fascinating tour of the observatory. The highlight was actually was when we got to take a closeup peek at Saturn and Jupiter. Kevin’s passion for Lowell was infectious and he really brought the history of this place alive for us.
Take a Gondola Ride up to Arizona Snowbowl
Skiing in Arizona? Most people think this is a joke and are quite surprised to learn that the ski area near Flagstaff, also known as the Arizona Snowbowl, is one of the top places to go skiing in the Southwestern USA. With over 777 acres of skiable area, this medium-sized ski resort uses snow machines to ensure a long and powdery ski season.
This year, the Arizona Snowbowl ski season starts on November 19, 2021 with limited capacity, so make sure you get your ski season pass now. Oh, and did you know that kids and seniors ski for free? Pretty sweet, right?
One of the things that I found super interesting: They offer an Adaptive Program that teaches accessible skiing. Watch the video below for more information.
But even in the other seasons, a trip up to Aggasiz Peak is worth it. The view from the top at 11,500 ft over the valley below is absolutely spectacular. If you are up there on a clear day, you might even spot the Grand Canyon in the distance.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Flagstaff is the perfect destination for outdoor lovers. Spring, summer, and fall are perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and water sports in the Coconino National Forest. And in the winter, you can hit the slopes. This makes Flagstaff a great place to visit year-round.
San Francisco Peaks
The San Francisco Peaks are a volcanic mountain range located just north of Flagstaff. Humphrey’s Peak is the tallest of the peaks with 12,633 feet. The collection of peaks are all part of an eroded stratovolcano that once upon a time reached 16,000 feet.
The tall peaks feature a very interesting mix of ecological zones, ranging from the Sonoran Desert zone to Ponderosa Pine Forest to Alpine Tundra zone. Temperatures in this area can vary a lot, going from blistering desert heat in the valleys to freezing at the peaks, so if you plan to spend time in various altitudes, wear layers and come prepared.
If you are into caves, add Lava River Cave to your itinerary. This 1-mile long cave was formed about 700,000 years ago Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit this time around, but I will definitely try to do that next time.
If you love the outdoors, you know how much effort it takes to ensure its conservation. Flagstaff has joined a really cool new project called Pledge Wild. It is a website that allows you to donate a small amount that will help keep the trails maintained and usable for all every time you enjoy nature. Hiked 5 miles with our family? Donate $5 to give back a little. I know how much going on a hike or spending time outdoors gives me, so I feel giving back a little every time I enjoy a trail is the least I can do.
Also, remember that Flagstaff is on the Colorado Plateau, so the altitude can impact your body. Make sure to get enough rest, drink a lot of water, and listen to your body.
Learn about local history at the Museum of Northern Arizona
Arizona has a fascinating history. Over 22 Native American tribes lived in Arizona and today, the state has the largest area of designated Native American lands and reservations. The Museum of Northern Arizona does a fantastic job not only explaining the history of the settlement of this area for the past 10,000+ years but also giving the various tribes a voice to share more about their culture. Instead of having a curator or anthropologist telling the information about the culture of the tribes, the museum asked members of the individual tribes to share what they think visitors should know about their tribe.
My personal favorites were the art and jewelry exhibits at this museum. The handicraft and details of the silverwork and some of the paintings are marvelous.
Another great exhibit was the Star Wars exhibit, which showed the parallels between the Native American Tribes (the Resistance) vs the Conquistadores and Settlers (Imperial Forces). A very fitting interpretation.
Plan a Day Trip from Flagstaff
While there are many great things to do in Flagstaff, it is also the perfect home base to explore more of Northern Arizona, including some of Arizona’s most famous natural attractions, such as the Grand Canyon, Sedona, or Horseshoe Bend. Here are some of the top day trips from Flagstaff:
Flagstaff Grand Canyon Day Trip
Most Popular Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Tours:
- Grand Canyon Railway Adventure Package
- Small-Group Grand Canyon Complete Tour from Sedona or Flagstaff
- Grand Canyon South Rim Day Trip from Flagstaff
Sedona Day Trip
Most popular Flagstaff to Sedona Day Tours:
- Sedona Red Rock Explorer from Flagstaff
- There are only a few day tours from Flagstaff to Sedona. But if you have a car, you can easily drive down to Sedona and either explore on your own, or book a day trip that starts in Sedona. I’ve heard the Jeep Tours are always a lot of fun and you’ll see stunning scenery!
Page/Horseshoe Bend Day Trip
Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend Day Trips from Flagstaff:
- Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend Day Tour from Flagstaff
- Small-Group Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend Tour from Flagstaff
- Antelope Canyon via Canyon X and Horseshoe Bend Scenic Tour from Flagstaff
Flagstaff to Monument Valley Day Trip
Top Rated Monument Valley Day Tours From Flagstaff:
Plan your Flagstaff Trip
Where to stay in Flagstaff
Little America Hotel Flagstaff
This hotel is perfect if you are looking for a quiet place a little outside of town, yet still accessible to everything Flagstaff has to offer. The property is completely remodeled and I really liked the mix of outdoorsy mountain lodge coziness with a modern twist. The rooms are very spacious and spoil you with a Keurig coffee maker, luxury toiletries, and very comfortable beds. If you love hiking, check out the lovely 1.6-mile hiking trail right on their property. Book your room here>>
The hotel restaurant also wowed me. I usually avoid eating at hotel restaurants, but Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar convinced with their food and service.
Residence Inn Flagstaff by Marriott
The Residence Inn is located right in the heart of downtown Flagstaff, so you can explore most of the downtown attractions on foot and have plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops just outside your door.
The rooms are spacious and contemporary and the beds were plush and comfy. My suite came with a full-size kitchen, including a coffee maker, fridge, stove, and everything else you need to make a yummy meal. Also noteworthy was the breakfast buffet. which offered quite the selection and was very convenient. Book your room here>>
Where to Eat & Drink in Flagstaff
Let me start with this: I did not have a single bad meal during my 4 days in Flagstaff and all the restaurants I went to were really good. Here are some of my favorites that I discovered and can only highly recommend:
Josephine’s Modern American Bistro
This cozy little restaurant was my favorite. The atmosphere of this cute little cottage restaurant, the beautiful outdoor space, and the delectable food really wowed me. The seasonal menu had so many yummy-sounding options that it was hard to decide and I wish I could have tried more dishes.
This fine-dining restaurant right in downtown Flagstaff offers amazing and innovative dishes, excellent service, an impressive wine list, and a refined atmosphere. I liked the concept of shareable main dishes, which makes it a perfect spot for a special date night or enjoying a meal with your friends and family.
Amazing Things to do in Flagstaff was written by Maria Haase for San Diego Explorer. Maria joined a Travel Writer’s Retreat and Press Trip sponsored by Discover Flagstaff to research things to do in Flagstaff and write this article. Her opinion is her own and was not influenced by this invitation.
Last Updated on October 14, 2021 by Maria Haase