There is magic up the hill far before the first snowfall. While still keeping its cozy “mountain town” charm, Flagstaff is gaining more and more national attention as a hot spot for couples, friends and families looking for adventure and culinary creativity, especially in the summer and fall months and well before the first snow falls (and skiers ascend upon the city).
Just two hours from the Valley, it’s at least 25 degrees cooler “up the hill,” and while some attractions are restricted or limited amid COVID-19, several are still open and working diligently to keep visitors and team members safe while provided a needed respite. Here is a look at just a few of the must-do, must-taste and must-sip attractions now as well as some well worth bookmarking for later:
Fun Facts About Flagstaff
- Flagstaff is at an elevation of 7,000 feet. To give perspective, the “Mile High” city of Denver is at 5,280 feet.
- Flagstaff is smack dab in the middle of the world’s largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest.
- Those pines yield a bounty of wild mushrooms, pine saplings, honey, pine nuts and berries, some of which are used at restaurants across Arizona.
- With more than a century of history, Flagstaff’s paranormal past and well-known specters have earned the city a reputation as one of Arizona’s most haunted locations.
- In 2005, Flagstaff was home to the first legal distillery in Arizona and after many dormant years a new team is working the still (more on that below)
- Pluto was discovered at Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory.
- During the summer months, you can ride up Snowbowl via a scenic chairlift, which happens to be located at Arizona’s highest point (the San Francisco Peaks).
Where to Rest Your Head
The Little America Hotel is set amongst 500 acres of pristine Flagstaff forest and just miles from all of Downtown Flagstaff’s top attractions. The cozy, spacious hotel has been making headlines for the past few years for more than just its prime location, however. In recent years, the award-winning hotel completed a more than 75,000-sq.-ft. interior and partial exterior renovation to update the property, initially built in the 1970s. The enhancements include the addition a modern, contemporary lobby with Southwestern flair and an impressive bar and restaurant called The Silver Pine. Even if not staying at the hotel, the restaurant’s creative cocktails, gastropub-meets-comfort-food menu and expansive patio (with heaters) that offers a view of both the stars and the 500 acres of woodlands is worth a visit. Have a group? They have you covered with an expansive two-bedroom apartment option with full kitchen, living room and shared master bathroom bigger than most you would find in a single family home.
Most folks hear Flagstaff and just think skiing, but Flagstaff proudly boasts a wide variety of cultural, historic and scientific attractions including Lowell Observatory, the Museum of Northern Arizona, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, The Arboretum at Flagstaff and authentic Route 66 nostalgia.
For outdoor and adventure lovers, look next door to the popular Fort Tuthill County Park, where it is not uncommon to see concerts and Flagstaff visitors flying from rope swings and zip lines. Why? An intricate obstacle course set among the trees – the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course – made its debut a few years ago. After a detailed safety program, guests are given the green light to brave four courses, each consisting of 12 obstacles high in the sky. Each course, much like with popular ski mountains, is color-coded to denote difficulty. The easiest part – having fun!
Depending on the time of year, there is also ample fishing, camping, horseback riding, hiking, biking and paddle boarding available on the gentle waters of nearby Lake Mary.
Beyond all of this, most people don’t realize that Grand Canyon National Park, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument and Meteor Crater are all within easy driving distance, as are many more archaeological treasures and attractions.
What do ghosts, selfies, Route 66 and outlaws a la Jesse James have in common? You can learn about all of them on one of Flagstaff’s self-guided tours. One of our favorites is the selfie tour, which was developed by Discover Flagstaff and features an interactive map with directions to the one-of-kind backdrops tailor-made for your Insta. There’s even a hashtag to use while posting: #FlagstaffSelfie
Land of Libations
Let’s start with beer. Flagstaff is home to nine craft breweries with award-winning ales that have been noticed on the global scale at the World Beer Championships and Great American Beer Festival. In fact, in 2018 Arizona Governor Doug Ducey formally proclaimed Flagstaff as a leading craft beer city with a commendation. In addition to Mother Road and Historic, do not miss the chance to taste at Dark Sky Brewing, Lumberyard Brewery, Beaver Street Brewery, Flagstaff Brewery Wanderlust Brewing and Grand Canyon Brewing Distillery. Not sure where to start? Trekking the Flagstaff Craft Brew Trail is as easy as 1-2-3 thanks to Craft Beer Flag, which offers a map and passport for free. Once the passport is filled, in fact, you can exchange it with them for a commemorative pint glass.
For wine, your cup will runneth over with options. Outside of restaurants, we have two favorites: FLG Terroir and Blendz. Though closed in the short term, FLG Terroir is a must. Formerly The Wine Loft, this dark and dreamy bar specializes in small boutique wines from throughout the world in all price categories, and its list is fast approaching 500 labels by the bottle. In addition, with more than 30 wines by the glass and a great selection of bottled beers with a focus in Belgian Ales, it is perfect for after dinner (or after date) drinks. Insider tip: Try the dessert wine with one of the house-made gelatos or pastries. Blendz, a wine bar with a twist, does not stop at simply offering guests to swirl, smell and sip on their wines. In fact, at Blendz, you have the chance to make your own wines in addition to sampling their 15 varietals served straight from oak barrels. To start, you are given several varietals and some fun blending equipment that looks straight out of a chemistry lab. Then, you can either work with a guide or on your own to develop blends using your personal taste.
Most beer and wine lovers have heard of mead. In Flagstaff, you can taste it for yourself at Drinking Horn Meadery, which began fermenting small batches of mead using all natural and locally sourced ingredients in 2014 and began bottling and selling in 2017. The meadery name is a nod to the owner’s obsession with all things Viking and they plan to soon offer custom branded drinking horns for sale to use when sipping their mead varieties. Currently Mead with Black Cherry and Mead with Pineapple is available for purchase at bars and liquor stores around Flagstaff.
And finally, back to the spirits we teased above. Canyon Diablo Spirits currently offers several locally made varieties, including Sonoran Rose Prickly Pear flavored Vodka, Desert Rain American Dry Gin, Two Ghosts Chili Pepper flavored Vodka and Grand Canyon Whiskey. The company was named for Canyon Diablo, a real, but little known, short lived, true Wild West town located east of Flagstaff. It was meaner than Dodge City and Tombstone combined, and often called the “toughest hellhole in the west.”
If you haven’t been to Flagstaff in recent years, you are missing what is clearly the start of a culinary revolution at nearly 7,000 feet. Here are some best bets, and click here for COVID-19 updates on dine-in as well as delivery and take-out information.
MartAnnes Burrito Palace: As colorful and kitschy in design as it is delicious, this breakfast spot is one of the most hopping places to be on any given morning. And rest assured, lunch and dinner options will leave you equally as satisfied.
Proper Meats + Provisions: Arizona’s only exclusively local, whole-animal butcher shop and deli, Proper Meats + Provisions offers specialty cuts of meats and carefully curated local or premium imported products. All meats offered are humanely and sustainably farm-raised. Proper Meats + Provisions, owned by devoted local businessman Paul Moir, also offers an eat-in and takeaway menu featuring sandwiches, local cheeses, fresh-baked breads, house-made soups, as well as a thoughtful menu of craft beers and Arizona wines.
Fat Olives Wood Fired Pizzeria: Here, it is all about Vera Pizza Napoletena (VPN), a traditional style pizza prepared with thin crust that is made in a 3,900-pound wood fired oven constructed in Italy. It’s actually been featured on Food Network a few times over the years as well. Mama mia!
Criollo Latin Kitchen: Specializing in Latin-inspired fusion from South and Central America including Mexico but also Brazil and even Haiti, Criollo Latin Kitchen offers a killer brunch and one of the most popular happy hours in Northern Arizona in addition to its award-winning dinner fare. It’s been recognized by the likes of Arizona Highways and USA Today, in fact, for its blending of cultures and flavors across its menu.
Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar: Contemporary and cool, yet warm and inviting, Brix is owned by the same team behind Criollo and Proper Meats, so you know it’s amazing. They are so focused on spotlighting all things local and have a hell of wine list, to boot.
Lotus Lounge: Among the most recognizable of locales and landmarks in downtown Flagstaff is the Hotel Monte Vista (or Hotel Monte V as it is most commonly called), whose storied history dates back to the 1920s. It’s no surprise that a venue as iconic at Hotel Monte V has a similarly epic dining option in Lotus Lounge. Definitively Asian with some of the freshest fish in the state, Lotus Lounge boasts nigiri, sashimi and sushi rolls as well as a full menu of soups, noodles, rice and full entrees bursting with far out, Far East flavors.
Josephine’s Modern American Bistro: Refined without being pretentious, Josephine’s chef Tony Cosentino uses the seasons to direct his menu, taking advantage of the best produce and seafood from across the country month by month and often suggesting wine pairings from the Wine Spectator-awarded wine menu to accompany each dish.
The Silver Pine at The Little America Hotel: Even if not staying at the hotel, the restaurant’s creative cocktails, gastropub-meets-comfort-food menu and expansive patio (with heaters) that offers a view of both the stars and woodlands is worth a visit.
Tinderbox Kitchen: This gem, which is undergoing a renovation now and will re-open Labor Day weekend, is often named among the restaurants credited for helping to re-launch the foodie movement in Flagstaff, and for re-inventing the “Southside” neighborhood of the city. Focused on providing progressive – but not pretentious – American comfort food, the menu is often eclectic and always changing (think crispy duck confit served in a skillet with toasted quinoa and braised greens then doused in a perfect juniper duck broth).
The Annex Cocktail Lounge and Tourist Home All Day Café: The team at Tinderbox found so much success on the Southside, in fact, that the owners were able to acquire the space next door a few years ago and re-imagine it into “The Annex,” a hip, indoor-outdoor cocktail bar with real-deal mixologists and then recently took over the space next to that, creating a more breakfast-skewed haunt called the Tinderbox Tourist Home. And yes, it was once an actual tourist home. Next year, they will also open a fourth concept – Corn & Flour – in Flagstaff. A punk rock taco shop, they are currently sampling menu items planned for Corn & Flour regularly at Annex.
Shift Kitchen and Tapas Bar: Shift’s dinner-only menu features shareable plates of progressive dishes that create a modern dining experience through the use of both familiar and exotic ingredients.
Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon, & Musical Revue: Enjoy the finest in oak-broiled steaks, seafood, prime rib, and more in a unique and unforgettable setting at Black Bart’s. Back in 1979, Black Bart’s was actually an RV Park, but its owners had a vision of transforming it into a steakhouse filled with musically and theatrically inclined students from the nearby Northern Arizona University.
Pizzicletta: Whether you’re digging in at Pizzicletta’s flagship shop in Downtown Flagstaff or at its Dark Sky Brewing location, you’re in for a treat. Surrounded by bubbly wood-fired crust, you can’t go wrong with any of the ‘za on the small-but-mighty menu at Pizzicletta. The warm olives are also a simple but divine way to kick off the meal.
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