Use Flagstaff as your base for exploring Northern Arizona

There are a lot of interesting cities and towns along Historic Route 66 in Northern Arizona. Flagstaff, located almost dead-center east to west is the biggest on the stretch. Flagstaff offers a range of interesting attractions for visitors to check out. Want to explore further afield? If you’re like us, you may not want to change lodgings every night and want to have a base. Flagstaff, because of its central location, was perfect for our Northern Arizona explorations. Here are places that can be easily get to (what’s a few hours to die-hard road-trippers) using Flagstaff as your base for exploring Northern Arizona.

Grand Canyon

A view from the canyon's rim near El Tovar, photo Billie Frank

A view from the canyon’s rim near El Tovar, photo/Billie Frank

Grand Canyon is one of our favorite spots on the planet. If you’re only planning a daytrip to the canyon’s South Rim, Flagstaff is a great base. Although it’s only about an hour and fifteen minutes away from the South Rim (with no traffic), Flagstaff offers more lodging and dining options than the small gateway town of Tusayan a few miles from the park. If you plan to stay several days, we recommend finding lodging (or a campsite) within the park. We recommend going early in the morning, as depending on the season, there can be a long wait at the gate. On a holiday Monday in mid-October we waited over 45 minutes to get in.

The first thing to do on arrival is look at the view. You’ve seen it in photos but they don’t capture the awe that the actual view does. Check out El Tovar, the former Fred Harvey grand, yet rustic hotel. The canyon views from their back dining room are spectacular. Next head to the Grand Canyon Historical Village with its wood and stone buildings dating to the canyon’s beginnings as  tourist destination.  If you have time, take a drive east along the canyon and visit the Desert View Watchtower. The Hopi wall art, some by renowned Hopi artist, Fred Kaboti, is amazing; the expansive (180 degree) views are breath-taking.

Explore Route 66

If you traveled on America's roads pre-1970s you'll remember the Burma Shave signs, photo Billie Frank

If you traveled on US roads pre-1970s you’ll remember the Burma Shave signs, photo/Billie Frank

If like us, you’re big Route 66 fans, you’ll want to see it all. Depending on what direction you’re coming from, you could trace parts of the mother road, as John Steinbeck dubbed it, on your way to Flagstaff.. You can also explore to the east and to the west from your Flag (as the locals call it) base. We recommend taking a full day for each direction. They both offer a lot to see and explore.

To the west

Hackberry General Store on Arizona's Historic Route 66 photo Billie Frank

Hackberry General Store on Arizona’s Historic Route 66 photo/Billie Frank

Much of Route 66 west of Flagstaff still driveable. First take I-40 to Williams. This town, home to the last completed stretch part of I-40, is home to the historic Grand Canyon Railway. It’s a fun place to check out. Get back on I-40 heading west and exit at Crooktown Road. From here you can follow Historic Route 66 until you reach the Colorado River, Arizona’s western border. One of our favorite things was the Burma Shave signs, set at five mile intervals, between Crooktown Road and Seligman. One group read:

He tried to cross
As fast train neared
Death didn’t draft him
He volunteered
Burma Shave

Other favorite stops are Seligman’s Snow Cap Drive-in opened in 1953; the Hackberry General Store; Andy Devine Boulevard, a stretch with vintage neon and historic buildings and Arizona Powerhouse Route 66 Museum in Kingman. The stretch from Kingman to the border is rough and mostly boring except for Oatman, a wild west town that boasts wild burros walking free in the street. It’s fun, but the ride is a bit long and once you’re on that stretch there are no roads leading back to I-40 until just before the California border.

To the east

Billie standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona, photo Steve Collins

Billie standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona, photo/Steve Collins

You access most of eastbound from I-40, portion by portion, exiting at towns where Historic Route 66 still exists. If you’re big on natural phenomena, make a stop at Meteor Crater the WHAT. If not, stay on the highway and exit at Winslow. Two things here really stand out. La Posada, one of the Harvey House hotels has been restored to its former glory. You can check out the public areas on your own. If like us, you’re a big Fred Harvey fan, book the hotel tour led by a member of the Winslow Harvey girls. The Turquoise Room, the hotel’s restaurant, is a great place for lunch. The other attraction in town is Standing on the Corner Park, complete with a flatbed Ford.  If you’re into old neon a cruise through Holbrook is worth the time. The town is also home to the kitschy Wigwam Motel. The two other not-to-miss stops on this stretch are Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert which is part of the park. Besides the petrified wood you will see otherworldly rock formations and petroglyphs. Fred Harvey fans will enjoy the Painted Desert Inn, a Fred Harvey property from 1940 to 1963. Today it’s a museum with a replica of the original lunch room and artwork from Hopi artist Fred Kaboti.


You'll be surrounded by red rocks in Sedona, photo Steve Collins

You’ll be surrounded by red rocks in Sedona, photo/Steve Collins

Sedona is most famous for its red rocks and vortices but the small village nestled at the bottom of Walnut Canyon offers more to travelers. Check out the town’s famous vortices. Maybe you’ll feel the energy emanating from these energy centers. If, like us, you’re a fan of ancestral pueblos, check out Palatki, where you can visit cliff dwellings and pictographs. Take a Jeep tour or just enjoy the serenity of the outdoors. You can read more about Sedona here.


Phoenix is a sprawling. We had two things that were must-dos and we discovered a third thing that should be on everyone’s Phoenix itinerary.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Dining area at Taliesin West photo Billie Frank

Dining area at Taliesin West photo Billie Frank

We’re long-time fans of Frank Lloyd Wright and have wanted to go to Taliesin West for a really long time. When researching Wright for a post I was writing I discovered architect Arnold Roy, who was a Wright apprentice in the 1950s and lives and works at Taliesin. He offered to give us a tour if we ever visited and of course we took him up on the invitation. Touring this once cutting-edge house and property with its spectacular views was a highlight of our trip. The view of the desert landscape is marred by see electrical wires in the distance. Wright really battled against these and lost. If you’re in the area and are a fan of architecture in general or just a Wright fan, book a tour. It’s just right!

We stayed at the Arizona Biltmore, a luxury resort opened in 1929. Not only did Wright have a hand in the resort’s design, his “Biltmore blocks,” cast from desert sand, are an important design element at the resort. There is also an amazing stained glass work, Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers, in the hotel’s lobby. It was donated by Wright’s widow. You can also visit one more Wright work in Phoenix, the house the architect designed a house for his son. The David and Gladys Wright House is usually open to visitors, by prearranged tour only so you’ll need to reserve it in advance. We were all set to go, but unexpected damage to the home caused our tour to be cancelled. We have to go back!

The Heard Museum

rida Kahlo welcoming visitors to the Heard Museum, photo Billie Frank

Frida Kahlo welcoming visitors to the Heard Museum, photo/Billie Frank

We wanted to visit to the Heard Museum for years. It was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Phoenix. Part of their mission is to “be the world’s preeminent museum for the presentation, interpretation and advancement of American Indian art.” It has one of the best collections of American Indian art (historic and contemporary) and artifacts in the world. Over 4,000 pieces of Native American art was donated by hospitality icon Fred Harvey’s family from a collection amassed by the hospitality company in the early 1900s. We also saw art from contemporary Santa Fe and New Mexico artists on display. The Heard is a must for any lovers of American Indian art and culture.

The Musical Instrument Museum

Harmonicas on display at the Musical Instrument Museum, photo Steve Collins

Harmonicas on display at the Musical Instrument Museum, photo Steve Collins

We hadn’t heard of the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). I discovered this gem from the media person at the Phoenix tourism office. A phone call to the museum to discover what it was about cemented its place on our itinerary and we’re glad it did! This is a treasure. We spent about two hours there and just scratched the surface. After a short stop in the Mechanical Music Gallery where we got to hear vintage instruments that that play themselves, we spent our time in the United States /Canada Gallery listening to music at interactive exhibits that cover a lot of music genres. Our last stop was the Artist’s Gallery, their “hall of fame area,” where they have changing exhibits of memorabilia including instruments, costumes and ephemera from iconic musicians. We missed a LOT! We really need to go back. To avoid being overwhelmed, plan to visit a few times.

Where to stay

The start to a great breakfast at the Inn at 410, photo Steve Collins

The start to a great breakfast at the Inn at 410, photo/Steve Collins

Flagstaff hotels are mostly the usual chains. If you want to minimize dining out while using Flagstaff as a base to explore Northern Arizona, there are a few extended stay Flagstaff hotels that offer kitchenettes. There are also several historic hotels downtown. We experienced two very different Flagstaff properties. If big works for you. we enjoyed staying at Little America, part of a small western hotel chain. The newly refurbished property is set amid a 500 acre Ponderosa Pine forest. If you prefer the charm and intimacy of a B & B, we loved our stay at The Inn at 410. Innkeeper Gordon Watkins was available during out delicious daily breakfast to answer any questions about the area we had. He made us feel very welcome.

Perhaps, unlike us, you like moving from one hotels to another each night to be closer to your next day’s destination. Even if you don’t use Flagstaff as your base for exploring Northern Arizona, spend at least a night there so you can explore the city and surrounding area a bit.

Would you consider using Flagstaff as your base for exploring Northern Arizona?




















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4 Responses to “Use Flagstaff as your base for exploring Northern Arizona”

  1. Cliff
    July 6, 2019 at 7:41 pm #

    Thank you for the wonderful reference to our Sedona Star Gazing Tours. We appreciate you recognizing the unique experience that we provide.

    One correction for you is that you reference Sedona Sky Gazing. It should read Sedona Star Gazing.

    I hope you will look us up on your next visit.

    Cliff Ochser

    • Billie Frank
      July 6, 2019 at 7:55 pm #

      I think the error occurred because there’s “sky” in your urls. It’s fixed.

  2. Ryan Biddulph
    July 9, 2019 at 1:27 pm #

    I have always wanted to travel along Route 66. Not just for my kicks either 😉 The views and overall feel of the road fascinate me. As would those Burma Shave billboards considering I visited Burma some 3 months ago. Cool pics Billie!
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted..15 Ways to Make Money Blogging (Amazon eBook)My Profile

    • Steve Collins
      July 11, 2019 at 9:09 am #

      Don’t know how Burma Shave got it’s name- must be an interesting story. I highly recommend a Route 66 road trip. Only state we haven’t done is IL.

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