Flagstaff, Arizona

This mountain-college-town is the gateway to the Grand Canyon and Northern Arizona’s ski country. At over 7000-feet and surrounded by the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff’s 19th-century downtown has become a restaurant-and-microbrew mecca. Don’t just pass through here; linger and get a taste.

2400 N Gemini Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, USA
Flagstaff, Northern Arizona‘s winter-playground-college-town, is often overlooked as visitors drive through it on their way to or from the Grand Canyon. But if you have time to linger, this town will reveal its charms. In recent years, it’s become a regional mecca for farm-to-table dining, with new restaurants repopulating its 19th-century downtown. After getting your fill of locavore dining and microbrews, work it off by going for a run or a hike up on McMillan Mesa, an ancient lava flow with superb views of the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountains in Arizona. Buffalo Park has a two-mile loop through grassland and ponderosa pine forest, connecting to trails that go up into the wooded slopes. Remember, though, that Flagstaff is over 7000 ft/2133 m. above sea level--give yourself time to acclimate to the lower oxygen levels...
11 S Beaver St #1, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA
After hiking, skiing, or Grand Canyon gawking, what better way to spend an evening than in Flagstaff’s oldest microbrewery? Wood-burning stoves in the entryway will keep you warm if the wait is long in this family-friendly brewpub. In addition to the handcrafted beers, you will find wood-fired pizzas, fondues, and apple cake made with oatmeal stout. I opted for the “Brewer’s Platter": bratwursts and spicy southwest sausage braised in their Railhead Red Ale, with caramelized onions, red cabbage, cinnamon apples, and skin-on mashed potatoes. So glad I listened to the guys in the mountain-gear-store up the street who recommended the place. For two decades, Beaver Street Brewery has been a Flagstaff institution, its sign a beacon on foggy winter nights... (Just remember, at 7,000 ft. above sea level, the brews go to your head much faster...so eat up!)
16 N San Francisco St, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA
College-town hiking aficionados usually know where to eat, so when the guys up the street at Babbitts Backcountry Outfitters told me this was one of the best places in town for weekend brunch, I went. A lunch-and-dinner place during the week, Criollo Latin Kitchen opens up on weekend mornings with offerings from blue corn pancakes to pork belly tacos, with poblano cheddar grits, sweet ancho chili sausage gravy, and Haitian ‘ti-malice'-inspired relish to go with eggs over easy. And along with the artists’ paintings that change monthly, the food is “local” as well—the menu and the chalkboard on the wall will let you know the ranches and farms in Arizona and Colorado that are the sources for Criollo’s organic ingredients. On this particular morning, I had the “huevos motuleños,” the Yucatán’s version of “huevos rancheros.” And get some bacon—it’s hearty, comes from Black Mesa Ranch in the White Mountains, and will make you want to bring the word “toothsome” back into popular usage. Even if you’re just passing through Flagstaff on your way to the Grand Canyon, or driving from Albuquerque to Los Angeles, Criollo is worth a stop. It’s just a block north of historic old Route 66 downtown. (Criollo is owned by the same folks who opened the nationally-renown “Brix” just up the street—Flagstaff is becoming a restaurant mecca—and its newest sister restaurant is “Proper,” way down the road in Tucson. “Taco Tuesday” evenings with inexpensive margaritas can be crowded.)
3 Walnut Canyon Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, USA
A ten-mile drive from downtown Flagstaff will take you back about a thousand years if you take a quick hike down into Walnut Canyon National Monument. From about 1150 AD to the early 1300’s, this meandering section of forested canyon was home to a thriving village of cliff-dwellers, part of the Sinagua culture. A series of steep stone steps leads down from the visitor center to the dwellings. The area is often snowy in winter; blanketed in white, it’s a striking contrast to most people’s mental images of Arizona. Coming from Flagstaff’s Victorian downtown, these ancient ruins are a testament to the complex layers of human settlement in the Southwest. The Sinagua culture is thought to have eventually merged with the modern Hopi people to the northeast.
120 N Leroux St, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA
I hate wimpy hamburger buns--you know the kind: pickle juice and grill marks bleed through the sad white carbs...Downtown Flagstaff’s Diablo Burger rejects mushy bread in favor of hearty “db"-branded English muffins. Their beef patties are from just down the road a bit, where the cows are grass-fed, open-range, hormone & antibiotic-free...The cheese--local. Beer on tap? Almost always regional. The potatoes for their Belgian-style fries? From the local “food-shed” too. “Landscape-scale conservation that you can taste,” they say. Savor a beefy taste-of-place on your way to or from the Grand Canyon, or linger a while in this college-ski-town that defies Arizona‘s all-desert reputation. The outdoor seating area boasts a mural that is redolent of Hieronymous Bosch and Picasso. Chew on that at 7,000-ft. above sea-level... (Diablo Burger has also opened a second location a few hours south--down in Tucson...)
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks