Flagstaff's proximity to Sedona, The Grand Canyon, Route 66, Coconino National Forest, Snowbowl Ski Mountain, and many other attractive places, makes it a great destination for those looking to explore these famous sites.
We hit some snow during our first few days (I didn't even know it snows here!),and very cold temperatures, which caused us to make some changes to our itinerary. Nevertheless, we were still able to soak in much of the surrounding beauty that literally appears at every turn. We haven't heard much about Flagstaff and were very pleased with our stay here. The city is charming, full of history, well-kept, and centrally located to many of the more well-known sites. Also, its elevation of 7,000 feet makes it one of the highest elevation cities in the USA! We were very pleasantly surprised by our visit and loved being embraced by the dominating mountain peaks that surround the small city.
Below are my TOP FIVE Places to Visit While in Flagstaff:
1. Grand Canyon, South Rim
Even the second time around, the Grand Canyon completely mesmerized us. Its vastness is a reminder of how small we are in this great, big universe. On both visits, I left feeling inspired, filled with purpose, and connected to the greater source that creates all these natural wonders in our world.
TIP: by 12:30 pm there was a line of cars of at least 1.5 miles long waiting to get into the park. Not only did they have to endure a very long wait time, they surely dealt with lack of parking. This happened during the offseason. Do yourself a favor, and arrive early as we did. You'll breeze right in, find parking in a sinch, and won't have to share the viewpoints with hundreds of others squeezing in to get their selfies. The early bird does get the worm!
We decided to drive through the following lookout points:
Yaki Point( this was closed off to buses and employees when we arrived)
Following this route will give you many different vantage points of the striking red canyons and gorges. Lipan Point has the best views of the Colorado River. Mather Point was the most crowded. Desert View overlooks the site where the most egregious plane accident in US History took place. Each lookout point has its own unique, distinct character so you'll want to try to visit as many of them as possible. It's no wonder that The Grand Canyon is one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Sprawling at 277 miles long, the rock formations that were once under sea level, seem to stretch into infinity. The colors of the canyons are truly spectacular and at 7,000 feet of elevation, your brain will have a hard time processing the surreal vision before you.
2. Coconino Natural Forest
This wondrous place awaits your exploration just 25 minutes away from Flagstaff. The natural forest will take you through quick changes in landscapes from desert vistas painted in hues of reds and oranges to the blackest earth kissed by lava from a massive volcanic eruption that occurred 800 years ago. The transformations in the landscape are hard to describe, you'll need to experience it for yourself to process the stark contrasts with equally captivating beauty. I suggest you get in your car, drive to this national park, and just drive through it for as long as you can while making the marked stops along the way. Below are some main highlights.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Approximately one mile past the Coconino Natural Forest entrance gate, you'll see a sign on the right to enter this park blanketed in endless lava rocks and the blackest earth for miles ahead that are the remains of a volcanic eruption. There are well-marked paths that will lead you through the crater and the weaving trails through the lava rock formations. The Lava Flow Trail is an easy one-mile loop walk through unimaginable landscapes.
Wupatki National Monument
Fifteen miles further into the park will transport you to the year 1100 when the Puebloan peoples inhabited the expansive region of Wupatki. There are several remaining structures still intact proudly sharing the impressive masonry, organized town planning, and even remains of homages paid to various spirits. Visitors are permitted to enter the structures to fully imagine what life was like here for the Wupatkis. This is an unbelievable experience not to be missed and equally exciting for all ages.
Painted Desert Vista
Make sure to pull over to soak in the stunning views at this overlook. The horizon is lined with endless desert landscapes that pop with the colors of clay and earth.
3. Route 66
Don't miss out on a quick and easy drive down the mother road known as Route 66. You can take a ten-minute drive outside of Downtown Flagstaff and hop from one historic site to another. Many of the original buildings built in the 1950s still stand intact and in their original, quirky forms. Many of them like Miz Zip, Western Hills Motel, Motel 66, and The Museum Club, are still perfectly preserved, although the latter has since converted from a former museum into a nightclub. It's fun to drive by and imagine all the en-route trucks that would stop here for lodging or a quick bite as they were transporting goods across the country.
4. Historic Downtown Flagstaff
Downtown Flagstaff is a truly quaint American town that only spans a few, short blocks. This super small square is packed with history, shops full of personality, beautiful architecture, and great restaurants. It really is adorable. Despite its small size it really delivers everything a local would need from great cafes and bakeries to unique boutiques and historic hotel bars. We loved walking around here and I know you will too!
The spectacular city of Sedona is a stunning forty-minute drive from Flagstaff. Route 89 will take you on a scenic ride through windy roads at high elevations. The views continue to escalate into a beautiful ascendo of non-stop picturesque perfection. Sedona is one of my favorite cities in the country. Unfortunately, it seems like many others have discovered it as well. Compared to March of 2017, when we last visited, the crowd size grew enormously causing parking and traffic to be disastrous. We had long waits at the various trails' parking lots as well. TIP: go as early in the day as you can to beat the swarms of hikers wanting to get in on the vortex action and epic opportunities to connect with nature.
Sedona rightfully earns its popularity with visitors from all over the world. We are thrilled that it is a short seven-hour drive from San Diego, where we will be moving to this summer. I have vivid images of the time I will spend here again, and again, and again. There truly is nowhere else like it in the country.
Cathedral Rock is one of the most photographed rock formations in red rock country. It is a rather short hike (.7 miles) but rather difficult to climb due to its quick 600 feet of ascension. Native Americans revere this site as the birthplace of the first man and woman. It is also one of the four sites in Sedona that harbor healing, spiritual, and trippy vortex energy. Don't miss out on this wonderous spot and make sure to arrive early to avoid long waits in the parking lot.
Bell Rock is yet another well-recognized rock formation in the Sedona skyline that also exudes the much-sought after vortex energy that many come to absorb. I really love this park in Sedona. There are almost four miles of trails to hike and bike. If you just want to climb the rocks on Bell Rock that'll just take one mile of your time. The views around this site are breathtaking. You're likely to find yourself wanting to explore as many of the trails as possible. This lot was full by afternoon as well, so, again, arrive as early in the day as you can to avoid the crowds.
Downtown Sedona, AKA Uptown
The Main Street in Sedona is jam-packed with all sorts of shops that beautifully blend into the landscape. In my humble opinion, this is the nicest "downtown" in the USA and easily wins this title for its perfectly situated location hugged by red rocks. Yes, the surrounding views are spectacular but the shops deserve attention too. Here you'll find a wide range of art galleries, crystal shops, and restaurants which all ooze an artsy, laid-back, and just down-right cool vibe. Spend some time strolling the wide sidewalks, shopping, and getting lost in the various nooks along the way.
A Day in the West Jeep Ride
For a fun adventure, in-depth learning of the land, and the absolute most insanely, ridiculously stunning scenery, you must book a tour with A Day in the West Jeep Tours. They offer many different excursion types and lengths. We opted for the two-hour Gabmbler Trail which took us through a fun, bumpy ride on one of their hummers inside a box canyon surrounded by loads of significant rock formations and jaw-dropping desert landscape. We were loaded up with facts on Sedona's history, lists of celebrities who live in the area, stories of significant and spiritual spots to the Native Americans, and even experienced first-hand the strong sensations emitting off two vortex sites. This private jeep tour was definitely a highlight of our trip. One day soon we will return to set up tents to camp in this magical part of the desert because a two-hour drive through was simply not enough.
We had a difficult time finding a well-appointed, available property in Flagstaff. Everything was booked! I was hesitant to book this Airbnb property because it had no ratings and I usually steer away from homes with no reviews. Because the property management company had fantastic reviews, and I also had no other options, I booked this house and am so happy that we did! The house is spotless, beautifully decorated, spacious, private, and smells so good! The pictures do not do it justice. We absolutely loved this home that boasts four bedrooms (including two HUGE master bedrooms), a game room and den, a fully stocked kitchen, and a selection of brand new game boards. This is a perfect choice for your Flagstaff lodging.
Since Flagstaff isn't exactly known for its food scene, we didn't have high expectations. Yet, we were actually really surprised by the consistency of the great meals we experienced. There are many well-reviewed restaurants in the downtown area and one of them (see below) stood out as one of the best of our road trip.
For outstanding pizza, with a perfect, crispy crust, order some pies from Pizzicletta. They don't have a large menu but it's the quality of their offerings that truly stand out. We ordered a couple of Margherita pizzas and a mascarpone, sage, and honey pie that was soooo good. We also munched on their green salad, which was packed with fresh greens, and their burrata and date appetizer. This is a wonderful take-out option in the area.
Josephine's Modern American Bistro, Flagstaff
Josephine's offers American fare with a twist. Lots of meat and seafood options are on the menu, but you'll find some Mexican and French-inspired dishes as well. Close to downtown Flagstaff, with a lovely patio, this restaurant is a solid choice when in the area. We ordered a couple of salads which were paired with delicious homemade dressings, a fondue queso dip (minus the chorizo), short ribs, steak, cornmeal-crusted calamari, and butternut squash risotto. Everything was fresh, well-prepared, and enjoyable.
Shift Kitchen & Bar, Flagstaff
This is exactly the kind of place that deserves more mention and attention. This tiny establishment serves delicious food straight from the open, exposed kitchen to your table. Diners can watch the chefs in action, up close, as they carefully time your dishes to arrive at an endless flow of delectable fare. The menu, like the space, is small and the dishes are meant to be shared. Shift Kitchen & Bar will truly shift your approach toward dining, and maybe even cooking, through the inspiration and creativity woven into the fresh ingredients. We couldn't resist ordering almost every dish on the menu: the breadboard, the crispy Brussel sprouts in smoked ranch, the pickled french fries with secret sauce, the charcoal roasted beetroot with coriander honey, the toasted sunflower seed risotto with puffed grains, apricots, and egg, the smashed potatoes with kimchi purree and Aleppo pepper (ordered 2 of these!), the Tagliatelle alla Puttanesca, and the shift burger with a fried egg on it. To end the meal we jumped on the opportunity to dig into the almond cake with caramel buttercream, chocolate ganache, hazelnuts, and banana gelato. This is the kind of place that makes me want to enroll in culinary school. Like, today.
You would never expect fresh seafood and sushi in the middle of the desert yet Shorebird masterfully pulls off fresh and delicious seafood dishes. This new, upscale restaurant was filled with well-dressed diners in its modern space. Rest assured, feel free to roll in from an excursion covered in red dust and gym clothes as we did. No one will bat an eye. We were really impressed by the chef's usage of ingredients and beautiful presentations. The towered chicken wings were an artistic masterpiece! Some notable and creative dishes need to be mentioned as you won't find them anywhere else: avocado battered french fries in green goddess dressing, beet and strawberry salad with goat cheese (the beets are sliced thinly and topped with the other ingredients, we thought they were mini tortillas!), and the most delicious buffalo onion rings topped with blue cheese crumbles and housemade buttered hot sauce. The more common menu items were uncommonly delectable: sesame seared tuna tataki with pickled red Fresno chili, ginger dressing and black sesame, yellowtail and ahi tuna nigiri that melts right into your mouth, truly delicious grilled swordfish tacos with cabbage and kale slaw, and equally incredible skirt steak tacos. After a full day of exploring Sedona, you'll be happy to end your day with a perfect meal here.
Flagstaff was an accidental find yet one of our best discoveries on the trip. There are so many wrong assumptions we make in life and Flagstaff has debunked a few of them. We thought it didn't snow in Arizona. We never imagined that people ski in Arizona. We thought Flagstaff's biggest draw was UFO sightings. We thought Flagstaff would be occupied by a bunch of weird, gun-bearing Americans. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Flagstaff is a city worth exploring and its excellent access to so many sites would make it almost irresponsible of you to avoid. So, drop those assumptions, get in your car, and just drive. You'll learn more on the road about the country than you ever would in your mind or on your television screen.