Flagstaff: The City of Stars

When visiting Arizona, most people think of the Grand Canyon, Sedona, or the Hoover Dam. However, the tiny town of Flagstaff sits right smack dab in the middle of all three of these big attractions, and just happens to be a short seven hour drive from Salt Lake. Home to the famous Route 66, haunted tours, and the observatory that discovered Pluto, the city is known for its nighttime skies and what’s known as the seven wonders of Arizona.

The Stars

Lowell Observatory. Photo Courtesy of Discover Flagstaff

When first arriving in Flagstaff don’t be alarmed by the limited street lighting in the town at night. Flagstaff is the world’s first International Dark Sky Destination, and has strict regulations in order to limit the amount of light pollution produced. Because of this, the nighttime sky is as light as it would be if you were on a deserted island, so don’t forget to look up!

The Lowell Observatory, founded in 1894, sits on a peak looking over the city of Flagstaff. When visiting this National Historic Landmark, be sure to utilize its state-of-the-art telescopes to take guided journeys through the cosmos, learn the history behind the town of Flagstaff, and see the famous Lawrence Lowell telescope that discovered Pluto. The observatory is open during the day, but I recommend going at night to get the full experience of Flagstaff’s stars that shine just as bright as the moon.

Historic Downtown & Route 66

Route 66, also known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, is the historic highway that provided the first direct route across the country. The route is a symbol of American freedom that served as a beacon of hope and opportunity for people seeking a better life in the West. Route 66 is the heart of Flagstaff, and is located in the historic downtown district. While Route 66 is not technically a “Main Street,” it does play a similar role in the city’s transportation and cultural landscape. This area is filled with shops, restaurants, historic buildings, and haunted tours that harken back to the heyday of the Mother Road.  An experience that you can not miss!

Not only is Flagstaff known for its location on Route 66, it is also considered one of the most haunted cities in America. One of the most famous haunted locations in Flagstaff is the Hotel Monte Vista, which has a long history of paranormal activity. The hotel was built in 1926 and has hosted many famous guests over the years, including Clark Gable, John Wayne, and Bing Crosby. However, it is also said to be home to several ghosts, including a phantom bellboy who knocks on doors and disappears, a woman who fell to her death from a roof, and a bank robber who was killed in a shootout and is said to still roam the halls. If this haunted location is too spooky for you, there are multiple other locations you can visit, including the Riordan Mansion State Park, The Weatherford Hotel, The Orpheum Theater, and The Pioneer Museum. Check out the haunted tours that Flagstaff offers here

Where To Eat & Drink

Atria. Photo Courtesy of Discover Flagstaff

If you’re looking for a bougie spot for date night, Flagstaff has no shortage of upscale culinary experiences. When you’re finished cruising down Route 66, it’s time to explore Flagstaff’s many foodie destinations. Atria, is a fine dining restaurant located in historic downtown, offers farm-fresh American cuisine and a variation of seafood platters. Don’t forget to try out their cocktails, especially their most popular one called “Far from East,” Japanese gin, strawberry infused campari, and vermouth. If their cocktails don’t catch your eye, their wine and dessert definitely will!

Diablo Burger, burgers, fries, and wine! If you’re looking for the perfect burger, this is where you’ll find it. With multiple different burgers to choose from including a vegetarian option loaded with jalapenos, green chiles, beets, raw onions, grilled onions, ancho grilled onions, sliced sweet pickles, and roasted garlic, you won’t be disappointed. Diablo Burgers is a family-friendly restaurant that also includes a kids menu.

Located on Route 66, Mother Road Brewing Company, is all about unique, in-house drafts! This brewery has pale ales, American lagers, and golden ales, with my favorite being the “Daily Driver,” a juicy pale ale.  If you’re a beer lover you have definitely tried one of their brews, so go and check out their home location here in Flagstaff.

Motherroad Brewing Co. Photo Courtesy of Discover Flagstaff

Brix, a fine dining restaurant and wine bar, is perfect for a healthier option when eating out. With multiple different cocktails and beers to try, their wine is what really draws tourists in. Their annual Mother’s Day brunch is definitely the perfect place to go and celebrate with your loved ones!

Pizzicletta offers traditional neapolitan pizza. With red pizza sauce options as well as white, eating here will make you feel like you’re in Italy. Not too expensive and perfect if you’re just looking for some fresh gelato!

The Seven (Outdoorsy) Wonders

If you’re looking for some adventure, Flagstaff is also known for its seven must-see outdoor wonders. Choose from Coconino National Forest, Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, Walnut Canyon, Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, and the San Francisco Peaks. All of these places offer rich outdoor hikes, mountain biking, scenic drives, and of course the most breathtaking views.

Coconino National Forest. Photo Courtesy of Discover Flagstaff

If you’re interested in hiking, the Coconino National Forest has numerous trails, ranging from easy to difficult, with views of the canyons and forests. The most popular trail is the Humphreys Peak Trail, it’s a more strenuous trail, but leads to the highest point in Arizona. Check out all their hiking or backpacking trails here!

If hiking just isn’t your thing, Oak Creek Canyon’s Scenic Drive will be perfect for you! This 14-mile drive between Flagstaff and Sedona offers stunning views of the red rock canyons, the creek, and the forest. There are also several pull outs along the drive for a picnic with a view or a photoshoot moment. 

This one’s for the mountain biking lovers! The San Francisco Peaks have several mountain biking trails, including the Schultz Creek Trail and the Arizona Trail. These trails are moderate to challenging and offer views of the alpine forests and the mountains. For more trails check out their website linked here!

Where To Stay

High Country Motor Lodge Hotel. Photo Courtesy of Discover Flagstaff

Although Flagstaff has multiple campsites and Airbnb’s to choose from, the city also has upscale lodging available. The High Country Motor Lodge Hotel offers a great location, beautiful views, is pet friendly, and is budget-friendly to boot. The Little America Hotel, the same hotel franchise home to Salt Lake, is a bit more expensive but is located right next to Arizona’s ski resort Snowbowl. The Hotel Monte Vista is right in the middle of historic downtown, relatively cheap, and has quite the historic and haunted background. Whatever type of lodging, activities, or eatery you’re looking for Flagstaff has it all!

Julia McNulty
Julia McNulty
Julia McNulty is an intern for Salt Lake magazine. She is currently enrolled at the University of Utah and is studying English. In her free time she enjoys skiing, reading, and traveling.

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