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Weekend Explorations: Flagstaff

Disclosure: All my lodging and some of my meals and activities were hosted by Visit Flagstaff.

When people think of Flagstaff it's often in association with the Grand Canyon. As in, it's the last decent-sized city before the national park. Or the last stop to pick up gas and food supplies before “heading in.” Or that Flagstaff is a “stopover” on the way to Sedona. That if you've driven on S. Milton Road, a part of Route 66, or some of Highway 89 that you've “seen” Flagstaff.

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Facade of hotel Weatherford in Flagstaff, Arizona, USA Facade of hotel Weatherford in Flagstaff, Arizona

But you would be wrong. Very wrong.

Flagstaff is an incredibly vibrant city that is “open for business” all year long with four incredible seasons and so much to offer. Something that Mr. Misadventures and I learned very quickly during our first weekend adventures.

Truth be told, most of our other trips to Flagstaff had been some of those pass-throughs on our way to the Grand Canyon or Sedona. Shame on me. However, I began to realize my mistake when we made a brief visit in March of 2016 with the RV. We stayed a few nights at the KOA which was quite nice and a good base camp for the Grand Canyon when traveling by RV.

The impetus for this most recent trip was full moon photography. Mr. Misadventures had plans to do a moon shot. But for all his planning and calculations, one of the things that escaped his attention was the elevation at which Flagstaff is at, which is close to 7,000 feet. We left our home late afternoon to drive to Flagstaff and immediately ran into a problem. There was an accident on I-17 which shut down the road in the direction we were going for about 45 minutes. Strangely, for all the commute woes I had while living in the Bay Area, this was the first time that I had experienced actually shutting down the engine and parking while an accident was being cleared.

No matter. We would not be dissuaded from our mission. We got to Flagstaff in time to see an absolutely stunning moonrise with beautiful pinks and oranges. I wish I could show you the photos. But, ahem. There are none. Once the moon began its rise and we finally got to the location that Mr. Misadventutes was planning to take his shot from, the moon was so small, it was pointless. We determined we need somewhere with a lower elevation to get a shot like this. However, as we soon learned, Flagstaff is a phenomenal place for night photography – more on that in a minute.

Because we missed our slot (and our shot), we also missed the picnic dinner I had packed so I can't tell you how thrilled I was when the lovely lady at the front desk of the DoubleTree by Hilton offered me one of their famous chocolate cookies when we checked in. It made my night!

DoubleTree Flagstaff Cookie

In fact, our 2-night stay was very pleasant. Clean rooms, great bed, friendly staff, and an inviting lobby area with a fireplace that called our name. It was cold in Flagstaff, a nice reminder of how we can get to the snow so quickly from Phoenix with a 2-hour drive right into the heart of [a mild] winter. We appreciated the light dusting of snow on the ground and the crispness of the clear brisk air!

Flagstaff is increasingly becoming known for its food scene (here's a great article about it from the Jan 2018 edition of Phoenix magazine) and we just scratched the surface during our trip. We had lunch at the newly re-opened Market Bar & Grill. We spoke to the owner, Won, who grew up in Flagstaff. His family has been a part of Flagstaff's restaurant scene for a very long time. Won himself used to wait tables as a teenager in his uncle's restaurant!

Lunch at Market Bar and Grill

His passion for food and Flagstaff was evident in our discussion as well as the lamb burgers we enjoyed!

For dinner, we headed off to Brix, a restaurant and wine bar that is focused on seasonal food with ingredients sourced from local farms. Our kind of place! I will say that it is not immediately evident where any of the ingredients come from – the menu doesn't really indicate, but once you start plying the servers with questions, you get a good idea that they truly do source their food locally and sustainably.

Dinner at Brix Flagstaff

In fact, the service is exceptional. Something that you expect in a San Francisco (although it is actually hard to find these days…) and not necessarily Flagstaff.

And that's the surprising thing.

Flagstaff can hold its own. It's got game and after speaking with Visit Flagstaff, I don't think it's losing it anytime soon!

We have food trails and brewery trails to do. And if there isn't a coffee trail there should be. We had amazing coffee at Tourist Home All Day Cafe. Not once. Not twice. But three times. One time we added breakfast on the side…..

Coffee at Tourist Home All Day Cafe Flagstaff

Flagstaff has damn good coffee, not only in town, but their skill reaches out into the surrounding area as well. We had another incredible cup of coffee at La Posada Hotel in Winslow towards the end of our weekend which was also exceptional. Their coffee was roasted by the Late for the Train Coffee Company in Flagstaff.

Coffee at La Posada

Now you could spend all your time exploring the food, beer, and coffee scenes, but eventually, you will have to come up for air and maybe stretch a few more muscles besides your stomach.

Flagstaff has you covered.

Because it was a little on the cold side and we weren't up for skiing (yes, Flagstaff has a ski resort!) we decided to do a few indoor activities. Our first stop was Riordan Mansion Historic State Park right next to the Northern Arizona University (which by the way has a gorgeous campus!). The previous weekend we had just purchased an Arizona State Park Pass so we were thrilled to get more use out of it!

Riordan Mansion State Park in the Snow
Photo credit: James Stutzman

I will admit when I first saw the house, I said to myself, “just a giant log cabin.” Boy, was I wrong. I haven't been in a ton of historical homes, but I have visited my fair share. Mostly on the East Coast and mainly presidential homes like Mt. Vernon, Monticello, and The Hermitage. Of course, I've been in a ton of chateaus in France. I also really loved Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home, Taliesin West.

Most of the historical homes I've been in had some level of original decor or at least staging from the era. I've never seen a place like the Riordan Mansion where 90% of the artifacts found inside are original. When you walk inside, it is like entering a home frozen in time, and it had me awestruck. First, because I have a deep appreciation for the Arts & Craftsman style of which the Riordan family home was modeled after, but then when we spent time with our docent Patty and learned about the family's history and how it intertwined into Flagstaff's history, I was truly in love.

Dining Room with Limoges China in the Riordan Mansion State Park

Of course, I also love it when I can find a connection to France, like the beautiful Limoges dishes that the family used in their dining area, or the fact that the Riordan family donated millions of dollars in aid to France during and after World War I to feed starving Frenchmen.

There were several rooms that I just wanted to move right into. Like this corner of the formal dining room with a beautiful window seat just begging for me to sit down and read a book in.

Beautiful Window Seat in the Riordan Mansion State Park

Or this corner of the family room with photographs by Jack Hillers inserted onto the windows.

Family Room in the Riordan Mansion State Park

This tour which is filled with Flagstaff, Arizona, and American history was one of the best I've ever been on. Mr. Misadventures and I are already planning a return trip. I highly recommend it.

We left Riordan totally in love with the park and could have gone home happy campers, instead, after a coffee, we headed to Lowell Observatory. You might have figured out through our trips to see rocket launches at Kennedy Space Center and the Y-shaped radio antennas in the middle of the New Mexico desert that Mr. Misadventures and I are kind of space geeks. So we couldn't wait to visit the observatory that discovered Pluto and speak with some of the team there.

Lowell Observatory Flagstaff
Photo credit: Lowell Observatory

In 2001, Flagstaff became the world's first international dark sky city. Given its altitude, it's always been a great place to see the stars, but with the efforts to keep it that way and educate other cities around the world to do the same, star gazing and night photography are both phenomenal in the area. The observatory is a great place to come any night of the year (watch out for cloud cover though) to see the stars. They have nightly programs for kids and adults with multiple telescopes. It is really cool.

Flagstaff played a part in the Apollo Moon Missions too. There were astronaut science training, instrument development, and lunar mapping. I will have much more to share on Flagstaff's lunar legacy soon!

During the weekend, we also wanted the opportunity to take in the historic downtown area so we printed off the Public Art Map (pdf) from the Visit Flagstaff website and headed out to do some mural hunting.

Here are some of them:

This one was one of my favorites:


If you like the murals, you'll love First Friday ArtWalk which we were lucky enough to be in town for. The first Friday of every month galleries and businesses open in the evening with special art exhibitions, performances, live music, and food. It's a street party that happens every month. We didn't capture any photos because it was too dark and we were having too much fun!

Flagstaff Route 66

The last thing we did during our initial weekend explorations was to drive a bit of the iconic Route 66. Route 66 culture is a huge part of Flagstaff's history and the city does an excellent job of keeping this essential part of Americana alive.

Flagstaff Route 66 Mural

We have driven bits and pieces of the Mother Road around Flagstaff and a little beyond and would love to do the complete route. What I love about Flagstaff is that you can also walk part of it. The Visit Flagstaff team has a great walking map (pdf) that provides some great history while getting a bit of exercise! Check out the visitors center (which is actually on Route 66!) for more information, maps, and giveaways!

We packed a lot in, right? And that is just scratching the surface! Flagstaff has an endless variety of things to do all year round and with it only being 2 hours from our home in the Phoenix area, we plan on seeing, doing and eating it all!

Lots of our friends in Europe fly to LAX, rent a car and drive to the Grand Canyon, stopping in Flagstaff, BUT as of May 2018, you will be able to fly on American Airlines from LAX to Flagstaff every Saturday! And in June, American Airlines will also fly non-stop from Dallas-Ft. Worth to Flagstaff every Saturday as well. So convenient!

How about you? Have you been to Flagstaff? What was your favorite part? If not, have I convinced you that you should get there as fast as you can?

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  1. This is great to know. We were considering a Grand Canyon visit as a family but changed plans due to the impression that this was the only game in town so to speak. Thank you!

  2. I wish to visit this place one day since we’re planning this year I could add this destination to our bucket list. Thanks for the info’s!

  3. Wow, Flagstaff has so much neat things going on for it. The food and drinks look great, and the art and culture look great. I love the windows in the cabin, those are so amazing.

  4. Your trip looked like so much fun! Flagstaff is definitely on my bucket list! Maybe we’ll go this summer!

  5. Kristen from The Road to Domestication says:

    What an amazing place to visit! Thanks for sharing – I might not have known about it otherwise!

  6. It’s been so long since I’ve visited Flagstaff. I have such positive memories of it. But it sounds like like there’s even more to see and do!

  7. Annemarie LeBlanc says:

    What a wonderful town! Next time we plan a trip to the Grand Canyon, I will make sure we don’t “just pass” Flagstaff. We have to stay there for a few days to enjoy the food and go stargazing!

  8. Neely Moldovan says:

    Those cookies are one of my fav parts of traveling. not even joking!

  9. I HAVE been to Flagstaff several times, and spent the night. It’s a perfect stopping city when you drive to California from Michigan. 🙂 However, I will say that the last time I was there was MUCH too long ago! I don’t even remember when it was! I’m totally up for going back to Flagstaff, though! Looks better than ever!

  10. I have not been to Flagstaff but we are hoping to go to Arizona next year and have lots of places we want to visit. Your website will be so helpful when it comes time for us to plan our trip!