Flagstaff is usually included in most typical West Coast road trip routes due to its proximity to attractions such as the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley (although the latter is practically a 3-hour drive away). However, the Wild West charm of this city located on Route 66 at the foot of the picturesque San Francisco Peaks and the many attractions available in the area, make this small city more than a quick stop.
- Things to Do in Flagstaff
- What to Do Near Flagstaff? Natural Attractions
- Nearby Attractions along Route 66
- Grand Canyon Tours From Flagstaff
- Best Places to Eat in Flagstaff
- Lodging in Flagstaff
Things to Do in Flagstaff
Whether you have a few days or just a few hours, here’s how you can plan a short stay in the city and these are the points of interest worth seeing in Flagstaff.
Historic Downtown Flagstaff
Strolling through the streets of Flagstaff’s Historic District is a pleasant experience. It is a lovely area with historic buildings dating back to the late 1800s, which today have been transformed into bars, cafes, and shops that still retain many references to the Far West. Downtown Flagstaff today is particularly lively, especially because of Northern Arizona University, which brings a constant flow of students to the city. This is true especially on weekends when students
Heritage Square, is at the heart of Downtown Flagstaff, and it here that the local shops and bars are found. If you’re short on time, this is the place to go for a short walk and maybe buy some souvenirs for friends and family back home.
Visiting Flagstaff can also be an excellent opportunity to learn more about an important time in American history. Here are the most interesting museums in the city that I recommended you visit if you have a few hours to spend in the city.
Arizona Historical Society – Pioneer Museum
The story of Flagstaff is a story of hard work, effort and sacrifice. All these features are at the heart of this museum, located in a stone building that once served as a hospital. Today, the building houses domestic, agricultural, medical and pioneering artifacts from the first half of the 20th century. Visitors can also take a look at barns, underground vegetable storage, steam engines and wagons dating back to the early days of the city.
The hours of operation vary depending on the time of year:
- November 1 -April 30: Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Closed on Sundays and on holidays.
- Memorial Day (last Monday in May) to Labor Day (first Monday in September): Monday through Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- Labor Day-October 31: Monday through Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Closed on Sundays and on holidays.
The entrance fee is $10. Check the official website for any change.
Museum of Northern Arizona
This museum is mainly dedicated to prehistory and the life of Native Americans, with insights into the events, art and culture of the Anasazi, Navajo, Havasupai and Hopi people. There are many original artifacts of the tribes but, considering the cost of admission ($12), it is recommended to those who have a particular interest in discovering the history of the area or those who are passionate about indigenous art.
In the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff, there is a historic house turned into a museum. Built in 1904 by Timothy Riordan (a member of one of the most important families in the city), it is definitely a must for lovers of the history of the Wild West. The architect who designed this house is Charles Whittlesey, also known for building the famous El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon.
Hours of operation vary depending on the season:
- Summer months (May 1 to October 31): Monday through Sunday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.
- Winter months (November 1 to April 30): Thursday through Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 pm.
The cost of the tour, which lasts about an hour, is $12.
Built back in 1894, it is one of the oldest observatories in the United States (in 2019 it celebrated its 125th anniversary). It is best known for the discovery of Pluto in 1930. From that moment on, the observatory’s nickname became The Home of Pluto.
In addition to visiting the observatory itself and the exhibitions dedicated to its history, there are many activities during the day. For example, there is the possibility to observe the sun (Solar Program) and, of course, the stars (Clark After Hours).
The hours of operation of the observatory are as follows:
- Monday-Saturday: 10:00 am-10:00 pm
- Sundays: 10:00 am-5:00 pm
Ticket prices change depending on the day of the week:
- Monday-Saturday: $17
- Sunday: $12
As you can imagine, most of the activities at the observatory are influenced by weather conditions. That’s why it is best to check the weather forecast to avoid being disappointed once you arrive.
What to Do Near Flagstaff? Natural Attractions
The natural points of interest around Flagstaff are just as interesting. Make sure to visit at least one of these beautiful attractions.
We couldn’t help but start with the Grand Canyon, Arizona’s major attraction. It takes about an hour and a half by car to get to the South Rim, to either Grand Canyon Village or to the entrance near the Desert View Watchtower. This is why Flagstaff is chosen by many people every as a base to visit the Grand Canyon.
When there’s snow, people go downhill skiing and snowboarding on the slopes, but in other seasons the Skyride transports visitors to 11,500 feet in altitude, where you can enjoy breathtaking views of Northern Arizona, including the Grand Canyon. This summit, which is part of the San Francisco Peaks, is actually the top of an ancient sleeping volcano that hasn’t been active for over 200,000 years.
As you can imagine, during the winter months, it a the main destination for skiing, while during the rest of the year, you can still walk along trails through peaceful forests and spectacular landscapes.
Coconino National Forest
This national forest gives you the opportunity to get to know the natural terrain of Northern Arizona. Almost two million acres in size (it is so big that it also extends into the area around Sedona), and can also be explored comfortably by car. Given its size, you can admire the most diverse ecosystems from the mountains to the plains to lakes and rivers. Here are some of the main attractions that you can visit.
- Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive (section of SR-89A): One of the most spectacular scenic roads in the United States in this area. Arizona State Route 89A begins near Flagstaff’s city limits and runs through Oak Creek Canyon. You will travel surrounded by a contrast of green forests and red rocks that is common in the area. Along the way, you definitely need to stop at Oak Creek Vista, where you can enjoy a view of the canyon from above.
- Around the Peaks Loop: A route (partly paved and partly unpaved) around the highest mountains of the San Francisco Peaks that you can view as you drive through valleys and forests.
- Fossil Creek: A creek that forms waterfalls and very picturesque waterscapes that are worth a visit if you have some time. There are at least 9 excellent overlooks that are almost worth a separate visit. Check the official website to find out how to reach the most beautiful and spectacular places to visit.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
This is a small National monument set in a beautiful area that also allows you to discover something more about the history of the region. The opening hours are from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day of the year except for Christmas, which is the only day that the park is closed. There are two trails to hike here:
- Island Trail: You can visit the “cliff dwellings”, more than 25 typical buildings built close to the mountain by a prehistoric people. They are just over a kilometer round trip with an elevation gain of about 260 ft. During the winter, the trail may be closed due to snow and frost. This trail is only accessible until 4:00 pm so that everyone can complete it in peace and quiet.
- Walnut Canyon Rim Trail: A trail of about one mile long along the edge of the Canyon and allows you to enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding area. It can be accessed until 4:30 pm.
Although it is run by the National Park Service, it is one of the few parks where the entrance fee is calculated by people and not by car. So, unless you have the America the Beautiful annual parks pass, you will have to pay $15 per person, which is not cheap if you are traveling with your family.
These are large muddy waterfalls that, due to their color, resemble a huge river of chocolate that spills over the red rocks. The waterway that forms these scenic waterfalls is the Little Colorado River, whose main source is the melting snow in the White Mountains. For this very reason, the best time of year to visit is between March and April when the snow that fell during the winter begins to melt and swell the course of the river.
The waterfalls are about 180 ft tall and when there is enough water, a rainbow will often form at the base. Just to give you sense of the size of the falls, the famous Niagara Falls are “only” 170 ft tall.
The area is quite remote, so bring water, food and everything you need for your trip. In this regard, here are the recommended directions to get to the area. From Flagstaff take I-40 E and, near Winona, you will take Exit 211. Then take Leupp Road and follow it for about 20 miles until you turn left onto Indian Route 6910 (a dirt and unmarked road), which is between milepost 5 and 6. After about 9 miles, you will reach the viewpoint over the waterfalls.
If you want to follow the directions from Google Maps be careful, because, at the time I wrote this the article, simply entering the words Grand Falls will calculate a “wrong” route that will take you to the other side of the falls and you will cross the Little Colorado River beyond a town called Leupp. Following it, you will see the falls from the side instead of the front of the falls, which is the view you will see by following the “correct” route above.
As I said earlier, part of the route will be on a dirt road, so having a car that is higher off the ground will make the route easier, even if the road is not in bad condition (always at the time when the article was written).
Wupatki National Monument
This is certainly a very interesting area to visit for those who want to admire the ruins of the ancient homes of Native Americans and discover more about their lifestyle and customs. The Wupatki National Monument includes an area where the ruins of an ancient Pueblo settlement in a large valley where, from afar, you can see the typical red reliefs. Unlike the archaeological sites of the Pueblo in New Mexico, here you can visit not one but five ancient settlements. They are the following:
- Wupatki Pueblo
- Wukoki Pueblo
- Lomaki Pueblo
- Citadel Pueblo
- Nalakihu Pueblo
The entrance fee is $25 (minumum) per vehicle, but because it is managed by the National Park Service, you can use the America the Beautiful annual parks pass.
Sedona is one of the most beautiful and at the same time mysterious cities in the state, surrounded by a number of natural wonders that are definitely worth visiting. If you’re planning a road trip to Arizona, consider at least a day to explore this area. To better understand what I’m talking about, I invite you to read our article about things to do in Sedona.
Nearby Attractions along Route 66
As I have already mentioned, Flagstaff is located on the historic Route 66 in Arizona. However, the city, unlike other places, chooses instead to emphasize more (in tourist terms) its proximity to the Grand Canyon and its Historic Downtown. So here are some of the most iconic attractions in the vicinity of the city.
It’s the world’s best-preserved meteor crater and one of the best-known attractions along Route 66. If you want to learn more little known facts about the area, how to get there and what you can see in the area, please read our full article about Meteor Crater.
A characteristic town immortalized in the verses of the Eagles’ song Take It Easy. Winslow is about a one-hour drive from Flagstaff. Fans of the famous American band don’t miss the chance to visit the Standin’ on the Corner Park and take a souvenir photo next to the statue of the singer Glenn Frey.
It takes about 40 minutes to drive from Flagstaff to this quaint city where Route 66 is celebrated on every street corner. But this is not the only thing that this city is known for. Williams is also the starting point of the famous railway that goes all the way to the Grand Canyon. We have described this train and the main attractions of the area in our article on how to get to the Grand Canyon by train.
Grand Canyon Tours From Flagstaff
As I mentioned earlier, Flagstaff is a convenient base to explore the Grand Canyon. However, if you want to leave your car parked and take a break from driving for a day and also enjoy an excursion to America’s most famous national park, you can consider these options:
- Grand Canyon Day Tour: The tour includes pick-up from the city’s hotels in the morning, followed by a visit to the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and the Wupatki National Monument, where you will find out more about the history of the Native Americans who inhabited this area before the arrival of the Europeans. For lunch, you will stop at the characteristic Cameron Trading Post and finally, in the afternoon, there will be a guided tour of the Grand Canyon.
- Grand Canyon Sunset Tour: As you can imagine, this tour will take place in the afternoon to appreciate the beautiful sunset that gives the Grand Canyon area a very special atmosphere. For dinner, you will stop at the well-known and popular Bright Angel Lodge.
- Grand Canyon South Rim Tour with Optional Helicopter Flight: This full-day excursion is dedicated exclusively to the visit of the national park with the possibility to add a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, which is definitely a way to make your vacation unforgettable.
- Boat trip on the Colorado River: For those who want to get a closer look at the Grand Canyon from below rather than above, this is definitely one of the recommended options. Those who are more adventurous can also opt for a day spent rafting on the Grand Canyon’s rapids.
If you want to discover other guided tours and excursions available, click on the link below.
Best Places to Eat in Flagstaff
During your tour of the city center, don’t miss North Leroux Street, where the historic Weatherford Hotel stands out. The hotel still bears the appearance of an old saloon of the late 19th century, the ideal place if you want to have a snack (or a full stay) in a period setting.
Diablo Burger is another great stop where you can have a great meal is not too away. Forget the typical large hamburgers, the hamburgers of this little diner are all about genuine food, with local products and organic meat. Among the many hamburgers that I have eaten during my travels all over the US, the burger I had here is definitely one of the best!
In general, Downtown Flagstaff is teeming with bars, Route 66 style diners and vegetarian restaurants, so you’ll have plenty of choices! If you want to breathe in the country spirit of the area, hop in your car and head out of the city to the Museum Club, where crowds of cowboys gather to dance.
Lodging in Flagstaff
The options for overnight stays in Flagstaff are many. The most characteristic, although not always more satisfactory, are the renovated historic motels and B&Bs. Here are the main ones:
- Monte Vista (100 N San Francisco): This is one of the most important hotels in the city, with its characteristic neon sign that stands out from above. It has certainly lived better days and continues to stay in business largely thanks to its fame. The rooms and services offered, combined with the high price, may not satisfy those who have very high expectations.
- Weatherford Hotel (23 N. Leroux St): I already recommended this hotel above as a great place to eat. This hotel has been able to stand the test of time better. Here the general experience is certainly more positive, but also in this case, I recommend it especially to those who prioritize the atmosphere of a place over the services provided.
This is not a historical residence, but if you want to stay in a place with a family atmosphere, which is a compromise between the historic houses of the area and the classic hotels / motels, you can consider the Starlight Pines Bed & Breakfast (3380 E Lockett Road) with its tastefully decorated rooms and good location.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to play it safe by opting for hotel chains, without the charm, but with a guarantee of the quality of the services, here are some recommendations:
- Little America Hotel Flagstaff (2515 East Butler Avenue): This is a beautiful hotel surrounded by plants and trees. If you are looking for a more relaxing place and want to treat yourself to a little bit of luxury compared to standard accommodations, you should consider this hotel. It also has the advantage of having a beautiful outdoor swimming pool to cool off a bit in the summer months after a long day exploring the area.
- Rodeway Inn & Suites Flagstaff (2285 East Butler Avenue): This is a more basic motel, but it is no less comfortable than the previous one. It is well-kept with clean rooms that are also a little larger than average. The small outdoor garden with an adjoining outdoor pool is also nice.
There are also classic motels that we have learned to know especially from American movies and TV series. You will find many motels along the route of the historic Route 66 in Arizona. As all such accommodations are particularly recommended especially if you are looking for a simple place to stay.
- Travelodge by Wyndham Flagstaff (1560 East Route 66): A motel with a modern and essential design. The furnishing, similar to that found in historic American diners, gives it charm.
- Super 8 by Wyndham Flagstaff (3725 North Kasper Avenue): A simple but well-maintained motel, both in terms of furniture and services, that provides good value for your money even during the high season.
In this regard, if you want to stay in accommodations on the Mother Road and experience the thrill of Route 66 as you continue your trip, I recommend our guide dedicated to where to stay on Route 66, with the list of recommended accommodations also in other states.