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Arizonans know occasionally escaping the desert climate to experience cooler temps and a change of scenery is pretty essential to the cactus way of life.
And one place you might find yourself frolicking — to ogle snow in the winter or enjoy 70-degree temps in the summer — is up north to Flagstaff.
It's a great place to get lost in the pines and enjoy the fresh mountain air — if only for a little weekend escape.
This city is significantly smaller than Tucson, but its proximity to the Grand Canyon makes it an international tourist destination.
In this town of 71,000 people you will find great hiking trails, some of the best restaurants in Arizona, tons of craft beer options and a slew of outdoor recreation — a lumberjack's paradise if you ask us.
And because we know there is so much to do in Flagstaff and so little vacation time, here are some things your handy This Is Tucson tour guides (Sam and Andi, obvi.) did while we were there.
So let's get to road tripin', people! "Who's got the keys?!?!"
How we got there
If you're heading from Tucson, the route to Flag is pretty simple. Take I-10 west till you hit the Phoenix area, then head up north on I-17 for for a few hours till you make it to land of the pines.
It's such a treat to see the desert landscape change as you climb up the northern terrain, but if you really want to sightsee we suggest driving through Sedona, about a 45-minute drive from Flagstaff. Just take Exit 298 off I-17 to State Highway 179 North.
We can't say we saw any Sedona vortexes (vortices?), but we did marvel over its dusty red Mars landscape and large multi-colored, layered buttes.
There are plenty of lookout points for you to pull over and have a little walk around, so have the camera ready.
Once you're in Flagstaff
After four-and-a-half hours in the car, you're bound to work up an appetite. The New Mexican brunch classics at Martanne's, 112 Route 66, feel revelatory, although the large portions of cheesy goodness might put you in a food coma. This local favorite, the "house that chilaquiles built," is right next to downtown so we suggest walking it off.
While you're strolling around historic San Francisco street, take in the small-town vibes. Some notable spots you might have seen on your Instagram feed include the Hotel Monte Vista, the Weatherford Hotel and the Orpheum Theater (not to be confused with the one in Phoenix).
The area's main shopping destination is a two-story boutique hall called Old Town Shops, on the corner of Birch and Leroux streets. This assortment of independently-owned shops and restaurants sells everything from handmade soaps to $5 sunglasses.
With all your locally-made jewelry and knick knacks, hop back in the car and drive up Mars Hill Road to the Lowell Observatory. One of the oldest observatories in the U.S., Lowell's claim to fame is the discovery of Pluto in 1930. The observatory does daily and nightly tours where you can look through telescopes into space.
After the Pluto walk along the observatory grounds, you're bound to have an appetite again, so blast back into downtown Flag for some pizza and beer.
Pizzicletta serves Neapolitan-style pies that may remind you of Bianco. They have a stylish spot on West Phoenix Avenue just south of Route 66, but it's a little small and if you can't find a table, slide that pie over to Mother Road Brewing Co. The most popular brewery in Flagstaff is right next door at 7 S. Mikes Pike St., and has a patio complete with twinkly lights and heated patio lamps. They'll serve you an arugula-topped mascarpone pizza straight from the patio while you sip your award-winning Tower Station IPA.
Where to stay the night
For such a small city, Flagstaff has so many places to put up your feet. (It's the perfect place for international travelers to visit before making the hour-and-a-half drive to the Grand Canyon.)
Historic Route 66 also provides its own flare to the town with funky motels lining the main drag. Keep it vintage by staying places where the neon lights burn bright.
There are also several hotel options along Milton Avenue, which is close to the NAU campus. Take a cue from us and try the Super 8, 602 W. Route 66.
The next day
You can grab a quick coffee at Macy's, 14 S. Beaver Street, a local favorite where intricate messages decorate its espresso drinks ... Or if you want a full breakfast complete with hipster vibes, head to Grand Canyon Cafe, 110 Route 66.
The sign on this newly-restored Route 66 diner says "Chop Suey," because the spot was actually a Chinese restaurant for 74 years. The people behind Proper, Slo Restaurant Concepts, came along last year to tool up the menu with upscale Benedicts and duck confit hash.
Now that you have a belly full of coffee and breakfast it's time to connect with the outdoors.
Snowbowl, located about a half-hour drive from Flagstaff on top of the San Francisco Peaks, is one of the longest skiing and snowboarding destinations in Arizona — but it's also a great area to check out year-round too.
Wintertime is when Snowbowl truly reigns supreme with its skiing and snowboarding courses. Find passes and ticket information for the year here.
If you're more of a thrill-seeker, try the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course where you scale large pine trees up up 60-feet off the ground and zoom on more than 30 zip-lines. Prices start at $52 for adults and $27 for kids.
The course is located on Fort Tuthill, which is also great recreation area for your crew to enjoy. Visit during the winter months for a chance to go snow tubing at Flagstaff Snow Park. Prices start at $8 for kids, $10 for adults and includes a snow tube, so you don't have to bring a sled from home.
In addition to the Snow Park, there are plenty of places in Flagstaff where you can play in snow and be safe while doing it. Remember, pulling off to the side of the road — especially on Highway 180 — to build a snowman is illegal. Try making snow angles at Buffalo Park, Thorpe Park, Foxglenn Park, Oak Hill, Mormon Lake Lodge, Happy Jack Lodge, and Fort Tuthill County Park. You can also call the Flagstaff Winter Snowplay Hotline at 1-844-256-SNOW for up-to-date info.
After all this exercise, it'll be a tranquil ride back into the desert ...
Get Road Trip Ready
Before you head down the road, take your car to Jack Furrier Tire & Auto Care to get it Road Trip Ready with 50 percent off services that will get you where you need to go. Click here for more info or call 520-547-5005. With 14 locations around Tucson, you'll find one near you.