While Arizona is best-known as a desert and its 110-plus-degree summer temperatures routinely make national news, the northern part of State 48 is not only temperate but downright resplendent for the next several months. Flagstaff in particular boasts pretty much perfect weather for those looking to escape the heat. Here are the 10 essential things to do in Flagstaff right now.
Calm down. Not that kind of high (although Flagstaff’s award-winning Noble Herb Dispensary is locally owned by two brothers and their best friend who were all raised in Arizona and still call it home). Each summer, Arizona Snowbowl offers scenic gondola rides that soar more than 11,000 feet in the air, allowing for bird’s-eye views of Sedona’s Red Rocks, the cinder cone volcanic field and – weather permitting – the Grand Canyon. Once atop the mountain, guests may hike and take photos as well as interact with professional guides to learn more about the region and its history. Reservations are available starting June 16 and start at just $18 per rider. The hours of operation, as of now, are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week, and there are food and drink trucks at the base of the hill as well as comfortable outdoor seating, giant-sized games, and kid-friendly activities including a bungee trampoline, rock wall and tubing for an enhanced fee most days of the week. Insider tip: plans are in the works to offer some sunset-themed rides on the Arizona Snowbowl website as soon as this summer, so stay tuned!
Savor a Scandinavian Spa
When High Country Motor Lodge (see the Fabulous Arizona review here) opened its doors in 2022, it became the first hotel in Arizona to feature an authentic Nordic Spa experience. The offering, available to hotel guests and daytime visitors alike, is inspired by spa rituals from hundreds of years ago in Northern Europe that – when done together – have been proven to decrease anxiety, boost the immune system, detoxify the body and increase circulation.
The session, which starts at $50 for 50 minutes, is a combination of hot, cold, wet and dry therapies. It starts with a private sauna, which may be used alone, as a couples’ experience or for slightly larger groups of friends for an added cost. The sauna has its own changing area, allowing for the utmost of privacy, as well as private cold showers and an outdoor relaxation area, which together set it apart from other similar experiences. After the private session, there is a communal cold plunge pool and hot tub experience, and guests may choose to book back-to-back sauna sessions to do the circuit multiple times.
For maximum benefits, use the sauna and private cold pool either in blocks of time or back and forth a bit before making the final cold plunge and then soaking in the hot tub.
Make Monumental Memories
While the south rim of Grand Canyon Village is approximately 80 miles from Flagstaff, there are several national monuments directly in or just a short drive from the area in Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki.
Walnut Canyon, which lies on the Colorado Plateau and cuts through the Permian Kaibab Limestone, is in Southeast Flagstaff just off of I-40, so it is ultra-easy to find. It features two trails, which are both less than a mile. Each offer insane views and rare glimpses into 25 cliff dwellings built by the Sinagua as long ago as 1125 AD. The Rim Trail is mostly flat while the Island Trail is strenuous, so keep that in mind when planning. There is also a visitor center that dives deep into the peoples of the area over time with volunteers who can offer suggestions as to which trail is best for one’s group. The Monument is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, and it costs $25 per private vehicle to enter. The fee covers all people in the car, but if traveling in a commercial tour vehicle, expect the cost to range from $28 to $40 for the group.
Visitors are smart to bundle a trip to Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki into the same day. Why? Sunset Crater is located along a killer 35-mile scenic drive that has towering trees, grasslands and views of the Painted Desert in addition to the volcano site itself. It leads directly to Wupatki Basin and Wupatki National Monument. There are six pueblos open to the public at Wupatki National Monument as well as an interpretive garden and wildlife both on the land and in the air.
Looking to visit all three? Invest in a Flagstaff Area National Monuments Pass, which costs $45 for the entire year and allows access of one vehicle and its passengers to all three monuments.
Indulge in a Foodcation
Flagstaff has a food scene that is more than on the rise: it has arrived. Do not let the quiet mountain town vibe and locals’ laidback demeanor confuse the elevated culinary offerings that rival most big cities. When visiting Flagstaff, it is best to make dining plans in advance to best take advantage of every epic flavor available. At the top of any food-focused bucket list should be Atria, Tinderbox Kitchen, Teatro Food & Wine and Silver Pine Restaurant & Bar.
Atria is the brainchild of Rochelle Daniel, a veteran leader who wowed diners for years in the kitchens of Fat Ox, Zinc Bistro and L’Auberge de Sedona before signing on as partner and chef at this experiential epicurean gem. It only opened in 2021, but Atria has already earned a James Beard nomination! Modern American but with global influences and even some foraged ingredients, Daniel’s eight-course tasting menu is one of the best dining experiences in the Southwest. Expect clever plating, whimsy, big flavors and some dizzyingly delicious wine and cocktail pairings. Even if some items seem intimidating to one’s palate – like oysters or bone marrow – try it all and prepare to be dazzled. If unable to partake in that many courses, there is also a seasonal a al carte menu with a good balance of meat, seafood and vegetable-forward sides as well as more outside-of-the-box offerings for the more adventurous members of the party.
Both Teatro and Tinderbox are owned by THAT Place Projects, an Arizona brand that helped transform Flagstaff’s Southside neighborhood into a foodie’s paradise. The team opened Tinderbox Kitchen in the Southside in 2009 despite the Great Recession. Its success led to the team expanding to open Annex and Tourist Home All Day Café next door soon after, and today the area is home to Cornish Pasty Co., Dara Thai, Lumberyard Brewing Co., Historic Brewing Barrel + Bottle House, Southside Tavern, Morning Glory Café and Evan’s Fish & Chips in addition to the Tinderbox family. In recent years, Tinderbox upped its game exponentially, so much so that in 2022 Wine Spectator named them an Award of Excellence winner. Teatro is new to the area, opening in 2022, and it is a stunner. Overdelivering on even their lofty promises of bringing authentic northern Italian recipes, handmade pastas, caviar service and a steak menu that would make even a New York restaurant jealous, Teatro is taking the entire state by storm.
Silver Pine is a sneaky gem hidden right out in the open. Why? Silver Pine is located in the exquisite Little America Hotel, where there is so much to do – hike or bike across its 500-acre private forest, sunbathe by the expansive pool, indulge the kids in the large-scale on-site playground, shop at the gift shop that is bursting with curated Northern Arizona snacks, treats, toys, clothing and other goods, nap in the impressively oversized rooms and suites – that sometimes folks miss that there is an exceptional eatery right on site that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and boasts one of the most intimate, romantic patios in the state. The menu manages to be both playful and casual yet with some items one would expect at the finest of dining venues in Scottsdale. Think slow-roasted prime rib, freshly caught Atlantic salmon and Bordelaise braised short ribs right along with pulled pork nachos, fish and chips and simple greens. If coming for dinner, plan to save room for dessert, because there is a lot of it, and every single dish is better than the next, especially the bread pudding and apple spice cake.
Looking for additional musts?
- Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar has a cavatelli with expertly made rabbit sausage
- Karma is where locals – and those in the know – go for ramen, spam and kimchi fried rice and sushi, especially the Lucy Roll, which donates a potion of sales to local animal rescue organizations
- Shift Kitchen boasts pickled French fries that make guests eyes roll back in their heads
- Lumberyard Brewing Company is casual but its Irish egg rolls with pastrami and Vietnamese burger with char siu pork are truly gourmet
- Pizzicletta does not just have some of the best pizza in Arizona; it has what this writer thinks is the best pizza in Arizona
- Taverna, a Mediterranean-influenced eatery and cocktail bar with savory Moroccan wings and sensational spanakopita
- Josephine’s features as plush patio that makes it feel as if having brunch in a secret garden
- The Mayor, a come-as-you-are boozy brunch lover’s heaven with Instagram-worthy 3D art installations in all directions and one of the few rooftop bars in town
Go Ghost Hunting
Think you ain’t afraid of no ghost?
Prove it by taking the self-guided Haunted Flagstaff Walking Tour, which is free to download from Discover Flagstaff. It offers an easy-to-follow adventure to more than half a dozen historically haunted spots in the city, complete with backstories and credible sightings of otherworldly being over the years, including Hotel Monte Vista, The Milligan House, Orpheum Theater, Hotel Weatherford and more.
Those looking for a guide are also in luck thanks to Freaky Foot Tours. The aptly named entity offers private, custom offerings as well as four regular options starting at $23 per person, including the Downtown Flagstaff Haunted History Tour, which does not enter any haunted spots directly but walks by them while offering wild stories of robberies, murders, and suicides; Mountain Town of Madness Tour, which has a deeper and more graphic vibe that is for adults only; Spirits with the Spirits Haunted Pub Crawl, another adult-only tour that features beer, wine and cocktails; and Return from the Grave, which explores the stories of Flagstaff’s Citizen Cemetery (yes, it is a real thing!).
Take a Course
This is not a test! We repeat, this is not a test! And no, it is not a class either. No summer school here.
Each summer, Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course (FLGX) opens its metaphorical doors for the season. Located at Fort Tuthill, FLGX is a lot to digest as it is equal parts ropes course, zip lining adventure, obstacle course and American Ninja Warrior training ground. There are currently three ways to experience FLGX. First is by reserving the opportunity to run the course itself, which gets harder as guests complete each stage of obstacles. Expect to jump, climb, wobble, crawl, maneuver, problem solve and zip line high off the ground in the trees during this literal elevated experience. All guests start this adventure with a safety program and by being fitted into harnesses, and folks are able to stop the course at any time. There is also a child-friendly course, designed for those ages 7 to about 11 years old. It is far shorter and not as high off the ground, and parents can watch them at all times. Finally, there is the truly extreme course, which is for expert-level folks and athletes. It legitimately takes a full day and training is required, but it is definitely something to work toward if up for the challenge.
Flagstaff features some pretty cool hosted freebies each summer in addition to the reserved and ticketed options as well.
First, there is a community farmers market every Sunday now through late October in the City Hall parking lot from 8 a.m. to noon. There is no cost for admittance.
There is also a First Friday ArtWalk from 6 to 9 p.m. over the next several months where art galleries and businesses in historic Downtown Flagstaff open their doors to showcase exhibitions, performances and even music.
Starting May 27, the Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance will again host its Movies on the Square on Saturdays, which is a free family-friendly evening at Heritage Square where a giant screen is erected and guests may enjoy a complimentary movie together. Entertainment, which varies, begins at about 4 p.m. and the movie starts each week after dusk.
Blaze a Trail
Enjoying one or more of Flagstaff’s local trails is mostly free (save for some potential parking costs) as well!
There is the Flagstaff Urban Trail System, which is about 56 miles right now with another 75 or so miles being planned over the next several years to top out at more than 130 miles. About half of the miles of existing trails are paved, either in concrete or asphalt, and half consist of a hard-packed, aggregate surface. The best way to plan some hikes or bike excursions along these trails is by accessing the map here.
Then, there is the whole she-bang. Discover Flagstaff now has one of the most up-to-date apps on the market that is free to download and features an interactive way to pick and choose trails as well as a passport game of sorts that gives outdoor enthusiasts points for finishing various trails over time. Collect one point? That is good for a free sticker at the Flagstaff Visitor Center. Five gets folks a wooden postcard and 10 points is good for a donation to be made in one’s name to the Flagstaff Trails Initiative. Collect 15 or more? Then there is a fun, kitschy Flagstaff fanny pack available for pickup!
Some great trails to add to your list of things to do in Flagstaff this summer:
- Gold Digger Trail: This is a moderate trail that takes about two hours to hike by foot. It is a fun one to bike as well as for birding.
- Picture Canyon: This is a pretty easy trail and perfect for those who want to get out and take photos and seek out petroglyphs.
- Arizona Nordic Village: This is a moderate series of trails with wildflowers is open for hiking, biking, horse riding and wildlife viewing all summer long.
- Buffalo Park: This is another fairly easy and flat hike that only take about 45 minutes. It is good for those out and about with pups as they are welcome as long as on leashes.
- Bear Jaw Trails: This is a beast but beautiful. It is difficult and takes about four-and-a-half hours to complete. While dogs are welcome, it is likely best to leave them at home if they tire easily.
Do Some Brew
Want to get a passport stamped this summer, but have no plans to leave the country?
Download the Flagstaff Brewery Trail Passport, and get to work!
Flagstaff is home to nearly a dozen craft breweries (and counting) and meaderies including Wanderlust Brewing Company, Historic Barrel & Bottle House, Lumberyard Brewing Company, Flagstaff Brewing Company, Dark Sky Brewing, Beaver Street Brewery, Mother Road Brewing Company, Grand Canyon Brewing + Distillery and Drinking Horn Meadery. The free passport features a map with easy-to-follow walking or driving directions (for the designated driver in the group) that makes it easy to explore the suds and brews across the city. Eight of the breweries are signed on to stamp guests’ passports when they visit, and when all eight stamps are collected, beer aficionados may turn in their passport at the Flagstaff Visitor Center for a free, custom-made pint glass!
Some fantastic varietals to try this summer:
- Chavez Crossing Sour Cherry at Wanderlust Brewing Co., which is a sour cherry beer with 4.8 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Expect some fruity and subtle spice notes, but a sharp tartness from the kettle sour process that brings out the sour cherry flavors.
- Still Winter Wild Ale American at Dark Sky Brewing Company, a vegan brew aged for 12 months in the Dark Sky Brewing Caduceus port barrels.
- Hefeweizen German Wheat at Beaver Street Brewery, a magical German-style wheat beer that is refreshing and from Flagstaff’s original brewery and pub.
Adventure After Dark
This is a two-part essential.
First, in 2001 Flagstaff was recognized as the world’s First International Dark Sky City for its pioneering work balancing preservation of the night sky natural resource with concerns about public safety and economic security. Therefore, definitely spend one night enjoying it! The best bet is to look into summer offerings at Lowell Observatory just outside of Downtown Flagstaff. In May, June, August and September, it offers star parties, which are educational stargazing experiences with professionals and use of both portable telescopes and powerful lasers that will make galaxies, star clusters and constellations come into focus. There are also regular open houses both at dusk and later where, with a general admission ticket, folks can stay late and learn about the starry skies in a way they never have before.
Second, Flagstaff nightlife is extraordinary and diverse! Yucca Tap Room, for example, offers a full bar, live music and the Electric Bat – a pinball arcade – at its venue. The Gopher Hole Pub is another multi-element entertainment venue, complete with a microbrewery, cocktail bar, live music, darts, ping pong, pool and dancing. It is located in the basement of Hotel Weatherford but has its own entrance and is adjacent to Charly’s. FLG Terroir and Oneo Wine Lounge are musts for wine lovers, with FLG offering a second-story experience in a wine loft featuring a nearly endless list of Old and New World Wines as well as more than 100 board games from which to choose, and Oneo features both wine by the glass and bottle and a brilliantly creative menu of wine-infused cocktails. Brews & Cues at Beaver Street Brewery is equal parts nightclub and live music venue as well as gastropub with pool tables. The Orpheum Theater features a full slate of performances after dark, including comedy shows, bands, drag shows and Pride events. Collins Irish Pub is perfect to watch live sporting events as well as enjoy a high-energy DJ on weekends. And Hotel Monte Vista has three separate entertainment concepts in The Monte V Cocktail Lounge, which is known for its live music acts; Lotus Lounge, a cocktail bar with major focus on whiskies from around the world; and Rendezvous, a combination cocktail and coffee bar.
For more information on things to do in Flagstaff this summer, visit Discover Flagstaff.