We spent a week in Flagstaff following our trip on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from Chicago. The city is the perfect home base for exploring the region, so I rounded up where to eat and drink, and where to hike and explore around Flagstaff!
Where to Eat & Drink
A quick search reveals that Tourist Home is one of the top recommendations for breakfast in Flagstaff, and the designation is much-deserved.
It’s an excellent spot for coffee and baked goods, like glazed or cinnamon-dusted French crullers.
Great choice of breakfasts, too, from burritos to huevos rancheros, eggs and hash browns to fried chicken, biscuits, and gravy. Read more about Tourist Home here.
The tiny Lux Coffee North offers superb coffee service and fresh-baked goods.
Pizzicleta + Dark Sky Brewing
We loved every pie that came our way, as well as every brew, from pale ales to IPAs to stouts.
Lumberyard Brewing is an easy-to-love brewpub with a solid collection of house brews, a full bar, big patios, and a full pub menu with wings, burgers, sandwiches, mac and cheese, you name it. If you’re like us and you love trains, it’s a good spot to watch for them at the train station and crossings in the center of town.
Set in an historic building right by the train tracks, Foret offers full coffee service, pastries, breakfast, and lunch.
Mother Road Brewing
Similar in style to Lumberyard, Mother Road Brewing pairs house brews with burgers, chicken pot pie, and other hearty delights.
Where to Hike & Explore
Set on a hillside overlooking downtown Flagstaff, the Lowell Observatory is famous as the spot where astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930. Your admission gets you into the multiple museums, lets you see various telescopes, hear talks from astronomers, attend a variety of night-time programming. Admission is $16-25/person, depending on your age.
Even though it’s not used for stargazing today, you can still see the telescope Tombaugh used to observe and identify Pluto.
In the main plaza we listened to a talk from an astronomer identifying constellations, while a group of “amateur” astronomers focused their telescopes on different planets, star clusters, and other notable sites.
We also visited the Clark Telescope, which gave us stunning views of the moon.
The museum contains a variety of artifacts. You can see the telegram with Venetia Burney’s (who was 11 at the time) idea to name the new planet Pluto.
Sedona, Arizona is an easy 45-minute drive south of Flagstaff. The small town serves as a handy base for hiking around the area. The city center is primarily one main drag with a collection of shops, galleries, and restaurants.
We started by hiking a portion of the Teacup Trail toward Coffeepot Rock. Along the 2.5+ mile loop you’ll pass features like the Seven Sacred Pools.
You have to pass through a largely residential area to get there, and parking is very limited, so be prepared for a walk to the trailhead.
After our first hike we tooled around the town, spotting a few shops, a fudge stand making Mackinac Island fudge, then had lunch at a Mexican restaurant.
Our post-lunch hike took us to Yavapai Vista Point, a relatively easy half-mile loop with beautiful views.
The area includes foot paths and bike trails, all with great views of surrounding rock features.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument sits about 20 minutes east of Flagstaff, not far off I-40. The canyon offers a couple different trails, one that descends partly into the canyon and one that follows the rim, with interesting geological features and hundreds of ancient cliff dwellings.
Entry into the park is $25/vehicle, or included if you have a National Parks pass.
The Island Trail is a must-try. It’s a one-mile, fairly strenuous (mostly for the stairs) loop that follows a large outcropping of rock in the canyon. It offers views of much of the canyon, and takes you past about 25 cliff dwellings.
Even as you begin your hike, you’ll begin spotting the dwellings on the canyon walls far across from you. They were thought to be last inhabited between 800-1100 AD.
The Island Trail gives you an up-close look at them. You can even see blackened ceilings from the fires in the dwellings.
The Rim Trail is an easier, .7-mile paved spur that offers a couple scenic overlooks into the canyon.
While you’re doing the Rim Trail, you can visit some of the remaining structures that were once used as homes, storage facilities, and community centers for the peoples living and farming in the area.
The Meteor Crater & Barringer Space Museum
Another remarkable site that pairs well with a trip to Walnut Canyon is the Meteor Crater and Barringer Space Museum in Winslow. The crater sits about 45 minutes east of Flagstaff (or about 20-25 east of Walnut Canyon).
The crater is estimated to have been formed about 50,000 years ago by a 300,000-pound meteorite traveling 26,000 miles per hour. The crater itself is about 550 feet deep and almost a mile across.
A privately owned visitors center sits on the north rim, and offers outdoor viewing decks, a small museum, trails, guided tours along the rim, even a hotel!
Different displays explain the history of crater, how it was discovered and mined, how it was even used to train Apollo astronauts for moon landings.
Admission ranges from $16-25 depending on your age (free for active military). You can save a couple dollars by booking ahead online.
Grand Canyon National Park
Does the Grand Canyon need any introduction?
One of our country’s most recognizable national parks sits only 90 minutes north of Flagstaff.
Along the rim you can access multiple visitors centers and trails. You can even park, hike the paved rim trail as far as you want, then take the tram back to your car. There are plenty of activities in and around each visitors center – just don’t forget to get your National Parks passport stamped at each one!
For train enthusiasts, you can also book passage on the Grand Canyon Railway. It starts about 50 miles south of the canyon in Williams and takes you on a tour-hour ride to the Grand Canyon Village visitors center.
Photos are never going to capture the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, but suffice it to say that it’s just remarkable, almost 14 miles across at some point. Your eye almost can’t comprehend it.
On the south rim, we hiked a (very) small portion of the Bright Angel Trail, one of the more popular routes that takes you down to the canyon floor. It leaves from Canyon Village.
Along these trails you’ll offer see mule trains. You can book full day or overnight excursions, riding up and down the trails.
Explore Downtown Flagstaff, Route 66, & the Train Station
Downtown Flagstaff offers a number of shops, restaurants, breweries, and more stops to explore. Route 66 also passes through downtown, so you’ll find a number of spots to visit related to its history.
I’ve said before that we love trains, and a large set of freight and passenger lines run right through the center of downtown Flagstaff. The combined train station/visitors center is nicely kept up, and offers a fun spot to sit and watch busy rail traffic.
We spent almost every free moment on the platform watching for trains, day and night. The Flagstaff station is also an active feed on Virtual Railfan on YouTube, and we frequently waved to the cameras. (Just like we did on our Amtrak trip.)
This video gives you a sense of how the trains look coming past the platform.