27 Things You Need To Know About Flagstaff Before You Move ThereOne 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.
1. The Whole Town Smells Like Vanilla
No, there is no vanilla bottling plant, butterscotch factory or large-scale bakery in Flagstaff to speak of, but the city is situated right smack in the middle of the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the world—a tree famous for emitting a mouthwateringly sweet scent in the summer months.
2. You Can Shred The Gnar On The Daily When The Pow Hits
Arizonans come from all over—especially Phoenix—to hit the slopes every season, backing up traffic on the 180 for months. But the bright side is that locals don’t have to look very far if they are hoping to tear up a few trails. Make no mistake—the residents are the ones making the first and last tracks at Arizona Snowbowl. Fer sure.
3. Hopping On The Alpine Pedaler Is The Best Way To Do A Pub Crawl
Though a few local breweries have been here for decades, microbreweries are sprouting up around Flag, especially downtown, like wildflowers and nobody seems to be complaining. Take a look at the Flagstaff/Grand Canyon Ale Trail for coupons and a complete list of your options in the region, including breweries in nearby Sedona and Williams, AZ. Consider a ride on the Alpine Pedaler party trolley for your bar hopping experience, too, rather than driving, as well—it’s a great way to burn off those extra beer calories without having to climb a mountain with a hangover.
4. Flag Is An Arizonan City With Four Complete Seasons. Really.
While the rest of the state is baking alive in a desert oven, Flagstaff is kicking back in a climate that rarely gets above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But don’t let the cool fool you—hikers in the mountains are just as prone to sunburn as those in lower elevations, even on cloudy days. So soak up that mountain air, sure, but don’t forget your sunscreen.
5. The People Here Are Warmer Than The Weather
Drop in to one of the local watering holes for an hour or so and chances are good that you’ll end up striking a conversation with a new friend, local or tourist. The thing about living in a small town is that, in places like Flag, the people tend to take care of one another a little bit better than in some places, where it’s easier to get lost in the crowd.
6. There Is No ‘I’ In Flagstaff
Maybe it’s that thin mountain air, but it seems nobody in Flagstaff ever got around to coining a phrase for local residents. There was suggestion by a Phoenix blogger that people from Flag are “Flagstaffans,” following in the Arizonan tradition, but there doesn’t seem to be any common consensus among locals on the issue. How about “Flagstaffers”? Sounds kind of regal, right? No? Just sleep on it tonight and we’ll talk about it tomorrow.
7. It’s The Perfect Place To “Get Your Kicks” And A Diner Fix
The longest intact stretch piece of America’s Mother Road, Route 66, is in Arizona, and a long chunk of the now scenic byway still functions as Flagstaff’s main drag. Come in September for Route 66 Days and walk the roads downtown on foot, then stop at the Galaxy Diner for an authentic taste of America’s motor heyday.
8. Flagstaff Residents Cried When Pluto Was Kicked Out Of The Planetary Clubhouse
Established in 1894, Lowell Observatory just outside of Flag is one of America’s first major astronomical research facilities. Pluto was discovered there in 1930 and, later, Lowell scientists saw the first evidence that the universe was expanding. Today it is the home of the Discovery Channel Telescope, meaning the Flagstaff sky is now the standard image for the hundreds-of-millions of viewers of the world’s most popular interstellar programming.
9. This City Has A Long-Running Love Affair With The Asteroid
With the immense chasm that is Meteor Crater just 35 miles to the east of Flag, it makes sense that the locals have been involved with the space game since the beginning. Astronomers at the Astrogeology Branch were instrumental in mapping the moon’s surface for the Apollo missions and even practiced lunar collection procedures in and around Flag, including at the Crater. There are even a pair of asteroids flying around in space that are named after the town (2118 Flagstaff and 6582 Flagsymphony), which is all well and good legacy-wise, as long as neither of them ever finds it way to earth.
10. Flagstaff Is An Old West Ghost Town—Literally
Room 54 of the historic Weatherford Hotel is said to host the specters of a newlywed couple murdered there long ago. Folks staying in Room 210 at the Monte Vista Hotel just up the block on Aspen Avenue have reported the arrival of a phantom bellboy first met by Hollywood legend John Wayne. A number of other historic sites around town also are said to play host to a spirit, or two, or three, some of which seem to be more friendly than others.
11. Downtown Flagstaff Has Never Dropped The Ball
Forget New York City—when residents of Flag want to ring in the New Year in style they show up en masse outside the Weatherford Hotel to watch the metal pinecone drop. The aluminum ‘cone is between six and seven feet tall and weighs in at about 70 pounds. The pinecone is hoisted to a height of three stories above Aspen Avenue for the big countdown which is followed by a fireworks display. Just remember to take your ski masks off for the midnight kiss.
12. Flagstaff Locals Are Always High And Get Higher Whenever Possible
At an elevation of nearly 7000 feet at the foot of the dormant volcano that is Mt. Elden, Flagstaff makes the Mile-High City of Denver look a little like Death Valley. Okay—very little—but still, the San Francisco Peaks adjacent to the city are the tallest in the state, with the tallest of them all, Humphreys Peak, measuring in at 12,637 feet. No wonder hiking is such a popular pastime amongst the locals—what are mountains for if not climbing?
13. And They Would Kill For A Good Pair of Cross Trainers
Murder is actually extremely rare in Flag, but unpaved trails for walking and biking are not. In fact, the City of Flagstaff operates over 50 miles of unpaved trails known as the Flagstaff Urban Trail System, or “FUTS” for short. Not into walking? Hop on a bike to get around town on the same trail system; your lungs and butt will thank you (eventually).
14. Forget Your Clubs—Bring Your Discs!
With nearly 300 days of sunshine a year, the cool shade of the ponderosa pine and Aspen forests, as well as the high desert environment, it is little wonder how disc golf got so popular in Flag. Flagstaff has four complete basket disc golf courses (as many as any other Arizona city, including the larger ones)—there are even 18 holes on the NAU campus. Poofy-ball hats or pastel-colored khakis necessary.
15. The Real Saint Nick Winters In Flagstaff
If you’ve got any little ones in your family, you’re not going to want to miss the chance to see Santa’s secret lair in the North Pole Experience. Ride the trolley from Flagstaff through a magic portal in the snow-capped mountains to the big guy’s workshop where you’ll make toys and even meet the man himself, along with Mrs. Claus. Reservations for flying reindeer rides not available at this time.
16. Flagstaff Knows Festive
Classic events like the 4th of July Parade and fireworks display and the Pickin in the Pines Bluegrass Festival are still going strong. Plus more recent additions like the annual Hullabaloo Festival have made Flagstaff a super-hip place to be, especially in the summers. Though a rock concert in a giant igloo would be something to see…
17. And How To Keep It Cozy
Back when Route 66 was the best way to travel through the heart of the country, a Chicago restaurateur named Marion Isbell was traveling through Flagstaff with his wife Ingrid when the couple noticed the low quality of available lodging along the highway. That was in 1953, and one year later the first Ramada Inn was opened in Flag. Though two historic hotels still stand from before the Ramada was built, the building today is now a Super 8 Motel. Was it a step down? Maybe. Is it now a cool mid-century modern landmark? Definitely.
18. Forrest Gump Came Through
You know that scene in Forrest Gump when he steps in the pile of poo and coins the phrase “Shit Happens” before it landed on a bumper sticker? Yeah, that was filmed in Flagstaff. That’s right—we’re, like, basically friends with Tom Hanks. It’s pretty sweet.
19. Speaking Of Forests… Flag Locals Like To Get Hardcore In The Treetops
Conquer your fear of heights or just show your friends how balls-out crazy you are as you go Hardcore-Parkour at the Extreme Adventure Obstacle Course. Every obstacle is between 15-60 feet from ground, but don’t expect that to slow down local adventure lovers—the people here live for elevation. Period.
20. Bigfoot Was Finally Captured In Northern Arizona
Alright, well, this is basically a lie. But a researcher with the Arizona Cryptozoological Research Organization claims that a toenail found in Northern Arizona near Flagstaff is “definitive proof” of the presence of an unknown primate species in the local forests. Perhaps “Harry and the Hendersons” was a documentary, after all. I knew it.
21. Yes, The City Was Named For A Flagpole
A group of settlers from Boston landed in the area in 1876 and crafted a flagpole from a straight ponderosa pine branch on July 4th of that year to commemorate the nation’s first hundred years. When the “Second Boston Party”, as they were known, moved on, the “flag staff” remained as a landmark for future settlers and the name just sort of stuck. So maybe it’s not as cool as, say “Beartown,” but the history and the name itself are perfectly unique to this small mountain haven.
22. New-Agers Love The Energy In Flagstaff
Though perhaps not to the extent of nearby Sedona, there is a ton of talk in Flagstaff about vortexes and spirit guides and auras between long-haired, unshaven types. Always wanted to see a thousand hippies acting out in their natural habitat? Come for the annual Firefly Gathering in June.
23. Flagstaff Locals Are Movin’ On Up
The city was founded by big players in the lumber and ranching industries and those same industries supported the region for the better part of a century. But today there are roughly five-times as many jobs in the management and professional sector (the highest proportion of Flagstaff’s employees fall under this category) as there are people involved in extraction, construction and forestry combined. If she could speak, I’m sure Mother Nature would say “thank you”.
24. The Local Lumberjacks Are Mostly College Kids
With only 25,000 students in total, Northern Arizona University is kind of like the quiet little sibling to the other two state colleges in Arizona. But don’t think that means the area is low on Lumberjack Pride—you can expect the Walkup Skydome to fill up when the team faces any Sun Devils or Wildcats at home, point spread be damned!
25. Flag Is A Major Industrial Hub
Home to five industrial parks along Interstates 40 and 17, Flagstaff plays host to a number of major manufacturing facilities for companies like Gore-Tex Medical, Nestle Purina Pet Care, and major distribution facilities for companies like Walgreens. Undeniably, this small city has got a big reach.
26. For A Small Town, Flag Sees A Lot Of Traffic
Though the year-round population of the city sits comfortably at around 67,000, when the NAU students leave for the summer, the overheated desert tourists come streaming in. Combine that with the leaf peepers in the fall months and snow bums in the winter and it’s easy to understand how the cars of 5 million annual tourists have a tendency to congest local roadways. Just one more reason to consider getting a bicycle before you move here.
27. The Night Sky In Flagstaff Is More Eye-Dazzling Gorgeous Than In Your City
The stargazers in Flag are committed. That’s why the city developed a code to reduce light pollution in 1989, maximizing the efficiency of local telescopes like those at Lowell Observatory. As a result of this effort, the International Dark-Sky Association named Flagstaff the world’s first “International Dark-Sky City.” So when you find yourself outdoors at night in Flag, look up and take it all in—you’ll likely see more up there than ever before.