A renaissance has hit this Arizona mountain escape, elevating it beyond the outdoors

Lowell Observatory
Ken Sanger

The Grand Canyon celebrates its centennial as a national park this year. If you’re planning a trip, don’t write off Flagstaff as simply a gateway to the park’s South Rim. Standing at almost 7,000 feet, with Arizona’s highest peak and the world’s largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff is a destination in its own right. Outdoor adventure is never far—nor is a microbrewery, for that matter. Not only do world-class runners train here, but so did the men on the moon. The big ideas that pour forth from Northern Arizona University have helped elevate the vibe of this pioneer outpost. Even those who come for the peaks and the pines will be pleasantly surprised by the cultural offerings. But not to worry: The dress code remains rustic.

9 A.M. Expect a line at Tourist Home All Day Café (touristhomecafe.com), known for its locally roasted coffee and badass baked goods. Go sweet with a cinnamon sugar-crusted churro or go savory with huevos rancheros.

Courtesy of Powerofforever/iStock/Getty Images

10 A.M. Drive nearly 10 miles east to Walnut Canyon National Monument (nps.gov/waca) and explore ancient cave dwellings. From the visitor center, take the steep 273 steps down to the Island Trail for a 1-mile loop of curving limestone walls. Then walk the Rim Trail for panoramic vistas of the 185-foot deep canyon, plus view a pueblo and pithouse ruins.


Courtesy of Nancy Wiechec/Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine

12:30 P.M. Grab a mountainous sammy from Proper Meats + Provisions (propermeats.com), a deli and butchery on Route 66. The house-cured pastrami on homemade rye is piled high with Swiss, grilled onions, pickles, and mustard.

1:30 P.M. Head north on San Francisco to the historic downtown. Hit the Winter Sun Trading Co. (wintersun.com) for face mists and locally made Hopi katsinas, and Fool’s Gold (shopfoolsgold.com) for wooden art deco-esque jewelry.

Madison Nelson

2:30 P.M. Cross the railroad tracks on San Francisco and nab a Route 66 tour map at the Flagstaff Visitor Center (flagstaffarizona.org). Check out landmarks like Santa Fe Plaza’s steam engine and the Downtowner Motel (a sign still advertises $5 rooms). Detour to Mother Road’s Downtown Brewery (motherroadbeer.com) to sample the Tower Station IPA.

3:30 P.M. Head three miles northwest of downtown via US-180 to the Museum of Northern Arizona (musnaz.org) to take in exhibits on archaeology, geology, and contemporary Hopi and Navajo art.

7 P.M. Nibble small plates at the chef’s counter at Shift FLG (shiftflg.com). The seasonal menu changes, but you can count on pickled french fries with secret sauce—and creative cocktails.

9 P.M. Flagstaff is the world’s first designated “International Dark Sky City.” Lowell Observatory (lowell.edu) offers nightly Constellation Tours. As of this year, you’ll be able to peer through six telescopes to see star clusters, nebulae, and Saturn’s rings at the new Giovale Open Deck Observatory

PERFECT NIGHT Tuck yourself in at Arizona Mountain Inn & Cabins, a collection of cabins, suites, and a loft set on 13 acres of ponderosa pines with mountain views. From $122; arizonamountaininn.com.