The aspen are gold and shimmering in Flagstaff.
The daytime temperatures barely kiss the 70-degree mark — making it cool enough to explore, but not so cold to drive you inside.
And the Northern Arizona city is in an ideal spot to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service without the hassle of summertime crowds.
The Grand Canyon is an easy drive.
And that’s always worth a visit.
But there are other sites that are close by and worth exploring:
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a cinder cone from an eruption that dates to the 11th century. It spewed ash over more than 800 square miles. There’s a one-mile loop trail at the base that’s accessible. And check out the visitors center for a bit of history — the area was home to farmers before the volcano blew and made the land uninhabitable.
Not far from Sunset Crater is Wupatki National Monument, which is about 45 miles north of Flagstaff. The land is a look back in time, with Indian ruins that speak to how the Ancient Pueblo people lived.
Walnut Canyon National Monument is about 12 miles southeast of Flagstaff. There are geological formations that will awe, pueblos that will fascinate, and pine forests that offer sublime aromas and cool respites. The canyon, carved out by walnut creek over about 6 million years, according to the Park Service, is 20 miles long, 400 feet deep, and a slim one-quarter-mile wide. Birds are abundant, and hikes will challenge. But it’s worth it just standing there and looking at the canyon, full of shapes and colors that only nature can provide.
With Flagstaff as your home base, you won’t be wanting for things to do. Some of our favorites:
The Weatherford Hotel (23 N. Leroux St.) in downtown flagstaff is a beautiful building with a rich history. It opened on New Year’s Day in 1900 and while it’s gone through several “updates” that threatened the historic charm of the hotel, it is slowly being restored to its original glory. Check out the Zane Grey Ballroom, where the author wrote his novel “The Call of the Canyon.” And while there, grab a bite at Charly’s Pub & Grill. We particularly like the soup there.
Flagstaff’s town square offers ideal people watching. And tucked into the square is Diablo Burger, which often has long lines. Patience; it’s worth it. Diablo has a downtown Tucson restaurant, but it’s bit more upscale than the original in Flag. There are few seats inside; plan to eat in the square and drink in the ambience of the town.
If you miss Proper, which closed earlier this year in downtown Tucson, plan to have a meal at Brix Casual Fine Dining & Wine Bar (413 N. San Francisco St.), one of Flagstaff’s best and run by the same folks who brought us — and took away — Proper. Brix is cozy, sophisticated, has a great wine list and food that is hyper-local, thoughtfully prepared and beautifully presented.
And a trip to Flagstaff would not be complete without a stop at Macy’s European Coffeehouse, Bakery & Vegetarian Restaurant (14 S. Beaver St., just south of the railroad tracks), where the pastries are fresh and the coffee rich.
Flagstaff is packed with artists, and there are galleries galore. A favorite is The Artists Gallery (17 N. San Francisco St.), a cooperative with about 30 members who are loaded with talent. You’ll find paintings, pottery, jewelry — it’s a sort of something for everyone place.
The first Friday of the month is the Art Walk through the galleries in the downtown area. It’s getting cooler, so pack a jacket if you are going to wander out at night. But also be prepared to be impressed with the abundance of art in the town.
Craft beer flows freely in Flag, and there are some fun ways to imbibe. There’s the Craft Beer and Wine Bike Tour, a 2½-hour guided tour with stops at five of the city’s breweries, as well as some wine bars (azpedaltours.com).
The Alpine Pedaler offers a pub crawl and an Ale Trail Brewery tour — you’ll be on one of the pedal-powered trolleys that you help propel (alpinepedaler.com).