Flagstaff Gateway to Adventure

Photo by George Miller

Things to see and do in Flagstaff near Grand Canyon National Park

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Besides the nearest city to the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff stands as its own vibrant destination with all-season recreation and nature activities, lively dining and shopping scenes, a revitalized historic downtown, a world-famous observatory, and three nearby national monuments.

Since it was founded in 1876, and named after the ponderosa pine flagpole erected to celebrate the nation’s centennial, Flagstaff has been the transportation, economic, and recreational hub of northern Arizona. Still surrounded by pages of its past, “Flag” has never lost its grip on its pioneering history. Revitalized Heritage Square is still the heart of the city, period establishments like the Hotel Monte Vista, Weatherford Hotel, and Babbett Brothers outfitters date back to early mining and railroad days, while galleries, boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, museums, and businesses operate in historic storefronts.

Though urbanized with shopping centers and subdivisions, a busy crossroads corridor with two interstate highways and a railroad, the high desert town has never lost its soul. Just look at the towering San Francisco Peaks, sacred to all the surrounding Indian cultures, and you’ll know why Flag celebrates its connection to nature and outdoor recreation.

In the busy summer when overnight facilities are booked up in the Grand Canyon and Tusayan, Flagstaff has all the national motel chains, as well as the renovated Victorian England House B&B and hotels to fill the need. Regardless of why you visit this dynamic town, you’ll find plenty of reasons to tarry for a weekend or week to explore Flagstaff and nearby attractions. See the Flagstaff Day Trips for nearby exciting adventures.

Flagstaff in a day

Pick your track, history, nature, or shopping. If Nature is your first love, head for the Flagstaff Arboretum with 200 acres natural and landscaped woodlands. Besides an introduction to the wildflowers, shrubs, and trees of northern Arizona, you can stroll the shaded paths, join a birdwatching walk or hawk and raptor program, stroll demo gardens, or hike the nature trail.

If you need a quick buzz, pull into a Wicked Arizona Coffee kiosk, Late for the Train Coffee, or for something more substantial, try Macy’s European Coffeehouse, Bakery & Vegetarian Restaurant. Or grab a snack at the Flagstaff Chocolate Company or the Sweet Shoppe and Nut House, both in Old Town Shops at Heritage Square.

Ready for Lunch? Step back in time at the classic Route 66 style Galaxy Diner , or go all-American at Fratelli Pizza, Beaver Street Brewpub, or Downtown Diner topped off with homemade pie or an ice cream sundae. If your taste buds crave Asian, try Swaddee Authentic Thai Cuisine or Karma Sushi Bar & Grill.

Continue your adventures with out-of-this-world thrills at Lowell Observatory, a hotspot for heavenly observations since 1894. Astronomers discovered Pluto here in 1930, and Time Magazine placed it in “The World’s 100 Most Important Places.” Explore the cosmos with daily tours of the telescopes, daytime solar viewing, and evening star gazing.

The History of northern Arizona is rich with mining, railroad, and Native American heritage. The Museum of Northern Arizona exhibits modern and traditional Indian arts, artifacts, and natural science. Nearby, look for the steam locomotive at the entrance to the Arizona Pioneer Museum, located in the 1908 Hospital for the Indigent. The galleries present a glimpse of life from the Territorial period up to the Route 66 era. Then to see how lumber barons lived in 1904, visit Riordan Mansion State Park. The Riordan brothers married sisters and build a 40-room log mansion with identical wings and a communal living space.

In the mood for Shopping?  Think turquoise jewelry, Navajo rugs, or museum-quality Indian pottery… or maybe your western wardrobe needs refreshing. Historic downtown Flagstaff has a shop waiting for you. Start walking at Heritage Square. Explore the eclectic stores and eateries in the Old Town Shops complex, then stroll the sidewalks. You’ll find boutiques, outdoor outfitters, book stores, art galleries, and plenty of places to snack, drink, or dine. American, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, and vegetarian restaurants, diners, sandwich shops, coffee shops, and microbreweries–take your choice.

For Evening Dining and Entertainment make reservations at Josephine’s American Bistro, Flagstaff’s favorite fine dining restaurant. Or catch the music review at Black Barts Steakhouse, with family dining and a wide range of entree selections. Still game? Drop by the Museum Club, an historic 1931 Route 66 roadhouse with boot-scootin’, beer chugging, live music, and of course, the ghost of a murdered patron.

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