My Favorite Home Town: 10 Reasons to Live in Flagstaff, Arizona
Flagstaffian or Flagstonian?
Whatever you choose to call those of us who live here, I also call us fortunate. Friends of mine have often said I should work for the Flagstaff Visitor Center or Chamber of Commerce since I'm such a fan of my adopted home. And it's true; as a New England transplant who's been living in this mountain town for the past decade, I see many more features in the pros column than in the cons when it comes to hanging one's hat (and possibly walking sticks or bike helmet) here in "Flag."
Sure, like most any locale, there are things about this community that would fall into the cons category, but I say they're far outweighed by the great aspects of living here in the midst of the Coconino National Forest just a couple of hours from Phoenix and 90 minutes from Grand Canyon.
The Top 10 Reasons to Live in Flagstaff
I'd like to share some of my favorite parts of being a Flagstaffian in case you're considering relocating to Flagstaff, either full-time, part-time (how about that second home?), or just for a visit. Scroll down for details!
- Active Cultural Scene
- Surrounded by a National Forest
- Endless Options for Outdoor Enthusiasts
- A High Desert Home With All Four Seasons
- Close Proximity to "The Grand Circle"
- Lots of Community and Neighborhood Parks
- High Altitude Living for Increased Fitness
- Flagstaff is an International Dark Sky City
- Lots of Great Places to Eat
- Flagstaff Values Green Living and Natural Foods
1. Active Cultural Scene
Though I like to refer to Flag as a mountain town, it is really a small city if you go by population, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 65,000. Students make up a large part of that number, and while some folks aren't always thrilled about the plethora of college students wandering, driving, and sometimes partying around town, there are definitely benefits to having a university in the community. One of the biggest advantages is the variety of additional cultural activities, entertainment, athletic events, and extra-curricular educational opportunities that institutions of higher learning provide.
Here in Flagstaff, we have both Northern Arizona University (NAU) and Coconino Community College (CCC), offering everything from plays, concerts, and symphonies to interesting lectures, contra dancing, film series, and other special events.
Also, especially during the late spring, summer, and early fall, you'll often find festivals going on downtown or at one of several parks in the area. Here are a few events you can expect to find:
- Festivals downtown or in nearby parks
- Free concerts
- Free Movies
- Dancing on the Square
- Community theater at Theatrikos
- Live bands at local venues
- Special events featuring various Native American cultures
- Streets lined with vintage cars during Route 66 Days
- Art shows at Wheeler Park (in summer)
- Ten-day Flagstaff Festival of Science (includes exhibits, guided hikes, star parties, presentations, tours, and lectures at Lowell Observatory)
- First Friday Art Walks (monthly)
- The list goes on!
So, pick up a free Flag Live, available in many locations around town including the lobby at Bookman's, look through the Arizona Daily Sun's Calendar of Events, or check Flagstaff 365 and choose "Art," "Music," "Seasonal," or "Festivals" to see what's going on around town. You can also check the University Events Calendar for even more options.
Just don't ever say, "There's nothing to do in Flagstaff."
2. Surrounded by a National Forest
Flagstaff is surrounded by lots of open space and breathing room, where you can get away from it all for a quiet walk or hike, a picnic, camping, hunting, fishing, or just relaxing and enjoying the fresh air and beautiful views. With the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world, plentiful wilderness areas, and other public lands, Flagstaff has no shortage of places to explore.
Unlike where I grew up back east, where one town seemed to run right into the next, Flagstaff has a sort of buffer zone between it and the rest of the world. It is separated from other communities by expanses of National Forest lands, mountain peaks, canyons, BLM land, and other areas where you're free to wander, play, pitch a tent, and otherwise enjoy nature to your heart's content (while respecting the rules in place for the good of the land and all of those who use it).
Flagstaff is surrounded by the 1.86-million-acre Coconino National Forest, which is part of the most extensive contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. It's also one of the most diverse national forests, with landscapes ranging from high peaks to deep canyons and an impressive variety of flora and fauna. What's more, several other national forests surround Coconino, providing nearly endless opportunities for exploration and solitude.
I like knowing that even though there may be lots of people, traffic, and activity going on in town, the solitude of the backcountry is just a short drive or walk away.
3. Endless Options for Outdoor Enthusiasts
All the open space and public land surrounding Flagstaff mean lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation. There's as much "something for everyone" outside of town as there is within it. Here are just a few of the outdoor options Flagstaff has to offer:
- Many trails and routes for day hikers and backpackers alike
- Cross-country skiing trails
- Climbing routes
- Canyoneering routes
- Mountain biking trails
- Old caves to explore
- Volcanoes to climb
- Horseback riding trails
- ATV trails
In addition to a large variety of backcountry hikes, from easy strolls through forests and meadows to strenuous trails that lead you up to amazing views after you've done some "gaspin' in the aspen," Flagstaff also has an extensive urban trail system (known as FUTS) in and around town. This network comprises more than 50 miles of smooth, wide paths—both paved and unpaved—for walkers and bikers, and provides ample access points along the way. There's also a 42-mile Flagstaff loop, which is still in progress in some sections, that links together existing trails to circumnavigate the city.
In the winter, these same trails and the meadows turn into great opportunities for many miles of pristine cross-country skiing and snowshoeing under bright blue or moonlit skies.
Make Room on Your Shelf for at Least a Few of These If You'll Be Living in Flagstaff!
There are a LOT of trails in the area, so I highly recommend picking up a guide—especially this one. Mine is well-used.
Written by local hikers and historians, the Mangums, this book is kept up to date, now with GPS coordinates, color photos, maps, detailed trail descriptions, and more.
Are You a Mountain Biker?
If you love to ride, this is a really handy and popular guide, put together by a well-known local cyclist called Cosmic Ray. This guide is not only informative—with route descriptions including distance, time, effort and skill required, the best season to ride, level of route finding skill required, contour profiles, and 'fear factor'—but it's humorous too, which is fitting if you know Cosmic Ray.
Just don't rely on the simple, hand-drawn maps in this book. They give you an idea and overview of where you're going, but best to bring a regular National Forest or topo map.
Don't Leave Home Without a Map!
This durable, water-resistant topographic map goes with me every time I hike around Flagstaff. The map includes helpful trail elevation profiles and summaries.
I'm actually on my third copy, because I wore out the first one, then loaned out the second and never got it back.
Some of My Personal Favorite Local Hikes
- The Best Short Day Hikes in Flagstaff
You don't have to hike long or far to find spectacular scenery or special places off the beaten path. I put together this page highlighting my favorite hikes of five miles or less, some of which are easy while others will get you huffing and puffing
- Hiking O'Leary Peak
From a walk alongside an old lava flow to sweeping views of the forest and San Francisco Peaks, and even a bit of the Grand Canyon on a clear day (which is many days in Northern Arizona), this 10-mile day hike has a lot to offer along the way. You mi
- Humphreys Peak
At 12,633 feet, Mt. Humphreys is the highest point in Arizona, accessible via a 4.5-mile (one-way) trail from the Snowbowl Ski Area to the summit. Hikers will pass through ponderosa pine, meadows, aspen groves, and alpine tundra along the way to the
4. A High Desert Home With All Four Seasons
I've run into many people who think warm and hot when they think of Arizona, but here in our little city at 7,000 feet above sea level, we have plenty of cold and snowy days too. In fact, Flagstaff experiences four distinct seasons, sometimes with a lot of white stuff in town and even more up on the San Francisco Peaks, where you'll find the Arizona Snowbowl ski area and the Nordic Center. While it can get very cold in the winter, we're treated to lots of blue skies between snowfalls, making this a truly stunning winter wonderland.
On the flip side, Flagstaff has beautiful summers with warm but usually not extremely hot days, which is why so many Phoenicians come 'up the hill' to cool off when the mercury climbs well over 100 degrees down in the valley.
That's another cool thing about living in Flagstaff; if it's a bit too cold for you here, drive just an hour and peel off some layers when you get to Sedona, which is a couple thousand feet lower. Another hour south, and you might be very comfortable in shorts. In Flagstaff, you can ski in a down jacket and then swim in an outdoor pool in the same day without ever getting on a plane. By the same token, you can go from a scorching 115 degrees Fahrenheit to a very comfortable 80-something degrees in that same couple of hours if you come up to Flag from the city or other lower elevations not far from here.
There's a big difference between the tops of the San Francisco Peaks here in Flagstaff and the bottom of the Grand Canyon, with an elevation span of 10,000 feet. In fact, there are six different life zones, or altitudinal vegetation zones, between the summit and the bottom of the canyon, which are much closer as the crow flies. There's also a route between the two points that's about 80 to 90 miles long, which some folks actually run.
5. Close Proximity to "The Grand Circle"
The "Grand Circle" is a region spread across portions of five states in the Southwest where you'll find the highest concentration of national parks and monuments in the country—including the Grand Canyon. Flagstaff is conveniently located within this area. The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is just a 90-minute drive from here, so whether you love to hike in and around it, photograph or paint it, or simply sit and look at it, you can do so to your heart's content if you live in Flag. Plus, it's great being able to visit the canyon during all seasons and experiencing the changes in that incredible landscape throughout the year.
Flagstaff is also in close proximity to a number of other national parks and recreation areas, including Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Tuzigoot and Montezuma's Castle National Monuments, Lake Mead, and Petrified Forest National Park.
Moreover, Flagstaff is within an easy day's drive of a number of other National Parks, including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands in Utah; Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde in Colorado; and Saguaro National Park to the south here in Arizona. So if you buy an annual "America the Beautiful" Parks Pass, you can put it to good use and get way more than your money's worth without going very far from home.
6. Lots of Community and Neighborhood Parks
With a number of community and neighborhood parks available to the public, you don't have to leave the city limits to find a good amount of open space to play, picnic, barbecue, exercise, and relax in. Here are a few of Flagstaff's parks:
- Ft. Tuthill County Park is a massive 413-acres and has multi-use trails, fairgrounds, picnic ramadas, athletic courts, a campground, and a horse arena, as well as the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course and Pine Mountain Amphitheater, where outdoor concerts and festivals are held throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
- Buffalo Park is another large public space and provides a beautiful view of the San Francisco Peaks. It has picnic areas, access to a network of backcountry trails that lead into and around the peaks, and a two-mile loop trail (with fitness stations along the way) for walkers, runners, and bikers.
- Smaller parks throughout the city include Thorpe and Wheeler Parks, both in the downtown area, Bushmaster and Fox Glenn Parks to the east, and Ponderosa Trails Park to the south, among others.
For a full list of county, community, and neighborhood parks and the amenities you'll find there, check out the City of Flagstaff official website.
7. High Altitude Living for Increased Fitness
While it can take some getting used to when you first come to Flagstaff—particularly if you've been living at or near sea level—living at 7,000 feet, with opportunities to hike up to 12,633 feet in the nearby mountains, has its cardiovascular benefits.
I'd say it took me about three weeks after moving to Flag before I stopped huffing and puffing when walking up a long flight of stairs or a hill. Jogging took me even longer to get used to, and I remember feeling like I was dragging concrete feet along my relatively flat route. Now, though, when I go down to the valley or travel to other lower-elevation places, it feels like there's so much more air. I have a noticeably higher level of energy when hiking, jogging, climbing steps, or doing any other physical activity, thanks to living where I do.
That's why so many athletes, including Olympians and professional athletes, come to train here—to reap the benefits of the altitude. To find out more, read Celebrating High Altitude Training in the Flagstaff Business News.
If you like some fun competition, whether just to challenge yourself or to race against others, there are a number of opportunities to do so here in Flag. We have everything from short 5Ks to full marathons, with an annual summer running series, fun runs at Buffalo Park and other locations around town, and even a Mountain Man Olympic and Half Iron Triathalon. You can check the Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association calendar to see what's on the schedule.
8. Flagstaff is an International Dark Sky City
If you happen to be an amateur astronomer with your own telescope, or just like looking up at the stars, you don't have to head far out of town to get a good view. In fact, you can stay right in downtown Flagstaff, the world's very first International Dark Sky City! This designation was awarded on October 24, 2001, by the International Dark Sky Coalition. Being a Dark Sky City means keeping light pollution to a minimum and putting regulations in place for the use of outdoor lighting for homes, businesses, and municipal streets and buildings.
Flagstaff is also the home of Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was first discovered. Located on Mars Hill near downtown, Lowell is a fun and educational—not to mention beautiful—place to visit. It is an active research facility with a visitor center, guided tours and lectures, special programs for kids and adults, and several telescopes, big and small, available for public viewing. Lowell's Discovery Channel Telescope is located at a separate site about 40 minutes from Flagstaff in Happy Jack.
9. Lots of Great Places to Eat
If there's one thing you can do a lot of around here, it's eat out. With more good restaurants per capita than many communities of its size and a wide variety of cuisines to choose from, Flagstaff offers everything from sushi—at five restaurants as of my latest count—to barbecue, Thai, and Himalayan dishes within just a few miles. (After all, Flagstaff really isn't that big from one end to another.)
Of course, there are also plenty of eateries serving southwestern and Mexican food, along with a lot of Chinese, some Greek, Italian and Mediterranean, and good old American-style meals. There are also a number of chain restaurants around, from fast food joints to familiar restaurants like Olive Garden, Chilis, and Red Lobster, along with lots of mom and pop places and gourmet restaurants. And there's plenty of pizza to be had, from your basic cheese and pepperoni pies to wood-fired, specialty pizzas with all kinds of interesting toppings. Then, when you're done with your main meal, you can choose from several frozen yogurt and ice cream shops around town to top it all off.
Yep, there are a plethora of places to dine in Flagstaff. But regardless of whether you choose burgers and fries or gourmet, you can pretty much always go casual and comfortable around here.
Want to Go out to Eat in Flagstaff Today?
Check out these pages I put together all about local food...
- Flagstaff Arizona Restaurant Reviews: The Best of....
Organized by the type of food they offer, from the best burgers in town to fine dining, these are my picks for some of the top places to spend your money when eating out in Flag.
- Our Favorite Outdoor Dining in Flagstaff
If the weather is just right and eating outside is what you prefer, there are plenty of choices here in town. I've tried to cover them all (to date) and arrange them for you to make it easier for you to find what you're taste buds are looking for.
10. Flagstaff Values Green Living and Natural Foods
If you prefer natural or organic foods, locally grown produce, alternative "green" energy, reducing, reusing and recycling, riding your bike rather than driving a gas-powered car—you get the picture—then Flagstaff is one small southwestern city that will support your lifestyle well.
With three sizable natural food stores, a fourth dedicated to fresh produce, and two farmer's markets from May through October, as well as organic sections in the major grocery stores (and there are a lot of those here for a place of its size), there's plenty available for those who value that type of food. There are also co-ops available, such as Bountiful Baskets and the "Here's To Health" Raw Milk Co-op (with yogurts, cheeses, and vegetables too).
Through its Sustainability Program, Flagstaff also offers curbside and drop-off recycling, promotes energy conservation and rebates, hosts several community gardens around town, and runs programs to promote and facilitate the use of solar energy.
Coconino County, of which Flagstaff is a part, even has its own Sustainable Building Program, with resources, educational programs, and a citizens advisory committee related and dedicated to green building.
Flagstaff promotes environmentally friendly and healthy living in other ways too, such as encouraging cycling with its bike trails and annual "Bike to Work Week," annual Earth Day activities, and programs for kids and adults at the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center.
If you'll be building a new home or business in Flagstaff or remodeling an existing one, you'll find a number of highly recommended green builders in the area who, for example, specialize in Energy Star certified construction and straw bale construction.
Overall, this is definitely a community with the environment and healthy living—both for citizens and the planet as a whole—on its collective mind. So if that's part of your mindset and lifestyle as well, you'll surely find plenty of friends here who share those values.
A Final Word About Flagstaff
When it comes to choosing a place to call home, there are countless great cities and towns, each with their own special features, personalities, and things to brag about. It just depends what you're looking for and what's important to you, what types of things you like to do, and practical considerations like schools, the cost of real estate, and employment opportunities.
For me, Flagstaff just fits... really well... and it's also the place where I met the love of my life and his wonderful family, which of course only serves to increase my love of this town. There are many places I've lived and visited that I could easily call home, but for me, as far as I can tell, it'll be Flagstaff for the long haul.
If you have any questions about Flag, please feel free to ask them in the comments section, and I'll do my best to get you the answer.
But Don't Just Take My Word For It!
- 27 Things You Need To Know About Flagstaff Before You Move There
One of Arizona’s favorite tourist sites, there’s a lot going on in this small mountain town that will make you want to stay for a good long while.
© 2013 Deb Kingsbury