The Gateway to the Grand Canyon
For the last few decades, Flagstaff, AZ has been known to travelers as the gateway to the Grand Canyon. Or as the cool little mountain town along Route 66 or Interstate-40 that you remember traveling through as a kid. For many, it has been regarded as a pass-through town for folks on their way to somewhere bigger and better.
Let us be among the first to tell you, that this has changed! There are a lot of other places that are bigger, but not too many that are better than Flagstaff, AZ.
Today, Flagstaff is a bustling tourist town that is in itself a wonderful destination with things to do for visitors of all ages.
Flagstaff as a Destination
Flagstaff has grown up and it is now a leading destination for travelers looking to experience the Southwest. But, why?
Well, Flagstaff is a beautiful and friendly mountain town that is rich in culture, recreation, and history, and it is absolutely worth visiting on your next vacation.
Things to Do in Flagstaff, AZ
When you make the great choice to visit Flagstaff, you will find that there is no shortage of things to do in the area. In this article, we’ve compiled our top five things to do in Flagstaff, AZ for visitors of all ages.
So, let’s get started!
1. Enjoy the Outdoors – All Skill Levels Welcome!
Any list on what to do in Flagstaff would be incomplete if it didn’t mention the outdoors. So, we will just go ahead and knock it out right away.
To start, Flagstaff is well known as a mecca for outdoor adventure. The area offers everything from hiking to mountain biking and from rock climbing to ultra-running. Providing amateurs and professionals many reasons to flock to Flagstaff.
However, one thing that many folks may not know about Flagstaff is that we actually have recreation available year-round and more importantly for all skill levels.
Let’s highlight a few ways that the beginner to intermediate traveler can take advantage of the outdoor experience that Flagstaff has to offer.
- Picture Canyon Natural & Cultural Preserve (Easy to Moderate / Approx. 1 to 3 Miles)
- Griffith Spring Trail (Easy / 1 Mile Loop)
- Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS) (Easy to Difficult / 56 Miles of Trails)
- Kendrick Park Watchable Wildlife Trail (Easy to Moderate / .25 to 1.5 Mile Loops)
- Veit Spring Trail (Easy to Moderate / 2 Mile Loop)
- Buffalo Park (Easy / 1 to 2 Mile Loops)
- Fort Tuthill County Park (Easy to Moderate / Miles of Trails)
Road & Mountain Biking – Rentals Available at Local Shops
- Fort Tuthill Bike Park (Mtn. Biking / Easy to Difficult / Courses & Trails)
- Campbell Mesa (Mtn. Biking / Easy to Moderate / 2 to 10 Mile Loops)
- Lake Mary Road (Road Biking / Moderate / Varying Lengths)
- Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS) (Hybrid or Mtn. Biking / 56 Miles of Trails)
Winter Sports – Consider Rentals or a Lesson!
- Alpine Skiing at Arizona Snowbowl
- Cross Country Skiing & Snow Shoeing at The Nordic Center
Summer Exclusives – A Few Ideas for Those Warm Summer Days
- Pitch & Putt at the Timberline Short Nine Par 3 Golf Course
- Paddleboard, Kayak, or Canoe on Lake Mary
- Scenic Chairlift at Arizona Snowbowl
- Learn about native plants at The Arboretum at Flagstaff
- Go swimming! at the Flagstaff Athletic Club East (Day Passes Available)
Get Active … Indoors!
- Ice Skating at the Jay Lively Activity Center (Available Year-Round!)
- Rock Climbing & Bouldering at a Climbing Gym (consider a lesson)
- Go Bowling
- Play Laser Tag
- Unwind at a Drop-in Yoga Class
A Note on Difficulty & Weather
Easy and moderate difficulty are relative terms. Flagstaff sits at 7000’ in elevation and can have somewhat extreme weather. So, even on the easiest walks ALWAYS be prepared with appropriate water, food, clothing etc.… HYDRATE!
It is important to understand in Flagstaff, that the weather can vary significantly from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season. And that your experience will be greatly enhanced if you plan ahead. Click Here to learn more about the weather in Flagstaff and how best to prepare for your trip.
2. Explore Downtown Flagstaff – Don’t forget the Southside!
Since 1883, what we now know as Downtown Flagstaff has been the heart and soul of our town. Even in the 1970’s when the area was being abandoned in favor of the shopping mall, that heart still beat in a steady rhythm for locals.
Luckily towards the end of the 20th century, the City of Flagstaff and its residents and business owners began to rally a renaissance. The result of this hard work is today a comfortable, safe, and fun central location that both visitors and locals can enjoy any time of day, all year long.
Any great city center has a square, and Flagstaff is no exception. Heritage Square was built in 1999 to give folks a meeting point in downtown, and it has filled this role very well. Within the square, you will find performances, festivals, arts & crafts fairs, or simply just a place to sit and people watch while enjoying a gelato with friends. The best way to keep tabs on what’s happening in the square is by visiting the Downtown Flagstaff website.
Heritage square is a great place to start your exploration of Downtown Flagstaff, but the fun doesn’t end there.
The Railroad District
Just north of the railroad tracks, for a couple blocks along Route 66 and a couple blocks deep, sits what is sometimes referred to as the Railroad District. This designation comes from the fact that its initial buildings, streets, and alleyways were laid out by the railroad when they established their first depot in Flagstaff near the site.
Today, this area is home to the majority of shops, restaurants, hotels, and other attractions in the area, and it can enjoy by simply walking around. Here are a couple highlights!
- Visit the 1889 & 1926 Railroad Depots
- Next to the 1889 Depot is a sculpture and a memorial display to the railroad workers
- Behind the 1889 Depot is Old Two Spot, a steam locomotive that served Flagstaff for decades
- The Weatherford Hotel – Opened on January 1, 1900!
- Hotel Monte Vista – Opened on January 1st, 1927!
- The Commerce Hotel – This hotel burned down in 1975, but there is now a beautiful courtyard that memorializes the space. Located in between Flagstaff Brewing Company and Rainbow’s End Boutique on Route 66.
- The Hotel DuBeau (Find it in the Southside!) – Opened in 1929! One of the original Motor Hotels aka Motels
Shops, Shops, and More Shops
- Art Galleries – All along San Francisco Street, Aspen Ave., and dotted every street, you will find art galleries and other unique, local shops.
- Candy Stores, Bakeries & Coffee Shops – If you have a sweet tooth or need something warm, downtown Flagstaff has you covered.
- Clothing Boutiques – The Old Town Shoppes are a hub for shopping, but don’t limit your search there! There are stores along every street to suit your particular sense of fashion.
- Outdoor Gear – An outdoor town would not be complete without outdoor shops! We have three major stops in downtown: Peace Surplus, Babbitt’s Backcountry, Aspen Sports. However, there are more including ski and skate shops.
Okay, so you’ve visited downtown, shopped, eaten and watched a band in the square. What’s next? Well, why don’t you head south of the tracks and check out the neighborhood commonly known as the Southside.
In local lingo, to get to the Southside we will head ‘south of the tracks’. This area is changing and growing rapidly, but in a lot of ways it still holds a little bit of the less refined charm that graced downtown Flagstaff a couple decades ago.
Interestingly, the original route of Highway 66 through Flagstaff came through town south of the tracks on what is now Mike’s Pike & Phoenix Ave. So when you are exploring this part of town, you are actually exploring an important part of old Americana.
Along the couple block section that is the commercial district of the Southside you will find a number of great restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. You will also find a few shops that are true gems and worth a visit.
You may not be able to spend as much time south of the tracks as you do to the north, but we highly encourage you grab a bite or a cup of coffee and explore a bit.
3. Take a Historical, Scenic, or Educational Tour – We’re Biased Here 😉
Okay, okay, you know we are a bit biased here because we offer Flagstaff tours, but there is another reason this item is #3 on our list. We want YOU to choose the best tour for YOU!
Northern Arizona is amazing and vast, and Flagstaff is uniquely located for the traveler to experience it in so many different ways. It can actually be a bit overwhelming.
To make this process a little easier, we are going to break down for you the different types of tours you can enjoy in or around Flagstaff.
Experience Flagstaff Tours
No matter which method you choose, taking a tour of Flagstaff is definitely worth your time! Our town has some really interesting history and you won’t want to miss out.
Here are a couple different types of tours to enjoy in town.
- Flagstaff Driving Tours: Enjoy Flagstaff Tours is the only driving tour operator in town! Check out our tours. Adding a vehicle to the mix allows for tours that explore more of town than the other types of tours. We are also very accessible.
- Educational Tours: Check out the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center for some of the best educational tours in town. Jump below for our Flagstaff attractions section for more information on other educational opportunities as well.
- Flagstaff Walking Tours: There are a number of guided tours offered throughout the year in downtown Flagstaff and you can also do a self-guided walking tour if you prefer.
- Flagstaff Biking & Segway Tours: This is a great way to explore a little bit more area than a walking tour.
- Flagstaff Food Tours: Adding some good food to our favorite topic, Flagstaff history, is always a good thing.
Grand Canyon, Sedona, & Page Day Trips & Tours
So, we said earlier that Flagstaff has been known at times as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, and thought Flagstaff has grown to be so much more we are still darn proud of this designation!
The Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Page are three amazing destinations that are close enough to Flagstaff for companies to offer single day trips. All of these destinations can be done on your own or you can consider booking a tour.
- Flagstaff to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 2 hours. This will depend on the traffic you encounter when you hit the village. Consider visiting on a weekday to avoid the busiest days. Check out the Desert View Watchtower and be sure to take a hike or a bike ride. Don’t just look over the rim!
- Flagstaff to Sedona is about 30 minutes to an hour depending on your destination and your route. Check out uptown and visit Oak Creek.
- Flagstaff to Page and destinations like Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are about 2 hours from Flagstaff. You can definitely visit Page in a single day from Flagstaff, but it’s probably best to stay overnight.
Other great places in Arizona that you can consider exploring from Flagstaff on an easy day trip are:
- Winslow (50 minutes)
- Jerome (1.5 hours)
- Petrified Forest National Park (2 hours)
- Meteor Crater (45 minutes)
- Williams (30 minutes)
Truly, this list is just the beginning but hopefully it helps you find the best place to start for your vacation!
4. The Local Food Scene– Nom, Nom!
For many people, traveling is planned around eating and getting to know a town’s food scene is essential. Luckily, Flagstaff has over 200 restaurants for the hungry traveler to choose from.
The local food scene has been growing like crazy over the last decade or so, and there are now so many options for travelers of all tastes. Even better, many places are using locally or regionally grown or sourced products for many of their menu items.
Instead of giving you specific recommendations as to which restaurants to visit (because this is so personal) … we are sharing with you the different areas of town to seek out great food. This can also be an important guide for simply getting to know the different areas of Flagstaff before your trip (perhaps for your lodging?!).
Downtown & the Southside
A large majority of Flagstaff’s restaurants are located within a walk-able distance from Heritage Square in downtown Flagstaff, or just south of the tracks. The cuisine will vary from Thai to Mexican to Sushi to American and everything in between.
Sometimes folks will decide to avoid eating downtown because it can mean a bit of a ‘scene.’ It’s often fairly busy downtown and some restaurants don’t take reservations, so you might have to wait. You will also have to find a place to park and you will likely pay the $1 per hour fee to do so. Learn more about parking downtown on the ParkFlag website.
However, don’t let this scare you away! This ‘scene’ is what often draws us to the downtown area to begin with. We love the hustle bustle, the old buildings, and the cozy restaurants.
So if you’re on a casual time frame and want some great food, downtown is always a great choice.
Fourth Street & the East Side
To find the many restaurants available in East Flagstaff (which refers to anything east of downtown) you will want to look in a couple different places. Fourth Street, Steve’s Blvd., along Route 66, and out Country Club Drive.
Fourth Street: Head east on Route 66 from downtown and take a left onto Fourth Street. Primarily along the right-hand side of the road (but some on the left), you will find some wonderful restaurants.
Steve’s Blvd: Head east on Route 66 from downtown and take a left onto Steve’s Blvd. There are a couple little gems on this block.
Along Route 66: Beginning just outside of downtown and continuing to about 4 miles past the Flagstaff Mall towards Page, you will find restaurants dotting the side of the road. Some of these are newer establishments, some are great local spots, and some are wonderful relics of the Route 66 diner era.
Country Club Drive: At the time of this article there are only two restaurants out this road, but both are worth visiting. We would suggest that this area is up and coming and new restaurants will be appearing over the coming years.
Milton Road & the West Side
Milton Road is the main thoroughfare through the part of Flagstaff located to the south and west of downtown. It is home to a lot of varying restaurants including the majority of the area’s fast food and chain restaurants.
Don’t let that fool you, though. There are a handful of locally owned and operated eateries that are worth visiting. Traffic on Milton can be a bit of a bear. So, it’s best if you plan ahead and be patient on your way.
Off Milton, there are a couple additional streets with restaurants worth checking out. This includes, West Route 66, South Woodlands Blvd., and Beulah Blvd.
The Sawmill & Butler Ave
Butler Avenue runs directly through the center of town, and acts as the southern border of the Southside and the northern flank of Northern Arizona University. In the past, this area would not have been on a list of areas for restaurants, but times change.
The first restaurant in this area is located on the northernmost point of campus and it’s last are located just past the I-40 overpass. In between you will find a number of little delicious and eclectic eateries.
The major location for dining on this strip, however, is the Sawmill at Aspen Place. Or fondly known as “Little Scottsdale”. Most of the restaurants here are franchises or chains, but you can find a good bite to eat nonetheless.
The Flagstaff Farmer’s Market & Local CSA
When discussing the Flagstaff food scene, we would be doing you a disservice if we didn’t mention the Flagstaff Farmer’s Market. Every summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the community of Flagstaff gathers every Sunday and Wednesday to sell their local items.
If you are visiting during this time frame, the market is a MUST! Check out our guide to the Flagstaff Farmers Market.
Okay, so what if you are visiting in the winter or aren’t here on a Saturday? Well, luckily Flagstaff also has a great little Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) store on Cottage Ave). The hours are limited, but it’s worth a visit.
5. Visit a Flagstaff Attraction – Something for Everyone!
Alright, guys, this list of items could be looooong!! There are hundreds and hundreds of attractions in the Flagstaff area, and there is no way to share them all in one place.
However, we will share with you some of the major types of attractions and some highlights within these categories. Hopefully this information can get you started on the path to planning your visit.
Learn about northern Arizona’s indigenous cultures and the more modern development of the area at one of our many museums or parks. Among the best destinations to learn about the history of Flagstaff’s culture are:
- The Museum of Northern Arizona
- Flagstaff Pioneer Museum
- The Riordan Mansion
- Flagstaff Tours (Driving, Walking, Biking, Segway)
- Wupatki National Monument
- Walnut Canyon National Monument
- Elden Pueblo Archaeological Site
- Picture Canyon Natural & Cultural Preserve
- Fort Tuthill Military History Museum
Natural History Attractions
The natural history of the Flagstaff area is also an incredibly unique experience, and there are a number of ways to learn enjoy this aspect of our town.
Of course, the numerous trails we have in the area are always the best way to enjoy a place’s natural history. So, get outdoors and experience northern Arizona’s natural history.
However, before you go, perhaps you’d like to get your learn on. Here are some tips for you:
- Enjoy Flagstaff Tours
- The Arboretum at Flagstaff
- The Museum of Northern Arizona
- Wupatki & Sunset Crater National Monuments
- Grand Falls of the Little Colorado River
- Hart Prairie Preserve – The Nature Conservancy
- Picture Canyon Natural & Cultural Preserve
- Willow Bend Environmental Education Center
- Lowell Observatory
Parks & Scenic Destinations
Last on our list are Flagstaff area parks and other scenic destinations. Much of what makes Flagstaff a great place to visit, is that you really don’t have to do much to enjoy your stay.
We highly encourage guests to just relax and breathe in the clean mountain air. Our parks are a great place to do just this.
At this point, we have already provided you with so many things to do in Flagstaff, AZ that there will be inevitable overlap. Many of the items we’ve already discussed also fit into this category, but let’s go ahead and highlight a few:
- Fish, paddleboard, kayak, canoe, or have a picnic at Lake Mary
- Enjoy a City Park: Thorpe, Bushmaster, Jim Cullen Memorial Park (Tree Park), Foxglenn Park, Wheeler Park, Buffalo Park
- Arizona Snowbowl’s Scenic Chairlift (Summer)
- Explore the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS)
- Take a Walk Around Northern Arizona University Campus
- Explore The San Francisco Peaks & Mount Elden
Phew! This has been a really fun journey, but also a whole heck of a lot of information. Our hope is that you now have all the information you will need to confidently plan your visit to Flagstaff, AZ.
If you have any questions for us or if you would like to book a Flagstaff tour, then contact us at any time. We look forward to hearing from you.