If you are headed to Sedona for the weekend and don’t want to shell out the money to stay in Sedona, Flagstaff is a popular place to stay that is less than an hour away. It is also a popular place to stay while visiting the Grand Canyon. However, while Flagstaff was not our favorite city, there are some fun things to do while you are in Flagstaff other than driving down to Sedona or up to the Grand Canyon.
Here are a few things we found to do that were around Flagstaff. We also included a few images from Sedona, because you need to spend a day down there even if you were just planning on the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is pretty much known to everyone I think so we won’t add more here, but you can search the site to find some images we have previously posted if you want.
Strolling through downtown Flagstaff is a fun way to spend a few hours. The Old West look of the town is interesting, but the actual town did not feel Old West at all. It actually reminded us a lot of Oregon with its people, stores and general feel so that may be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about Oregon.
The first place to stop and a good place to park is at the train station on the south end of town. It is still an operating Amtrak station, but there is some good history there and a fun little store.
Our kids enjoyed seeing some old trains and other historical items that were outside the train station.
Overall, we didn’t love the selection of stores or the selection of food. There are a few decent places to eat, but the prices are expensive. We tried a bakery as well and the food was probably the worst we’ve gotten from a bakery. We ended up throwing away cookies and desserts that were rock hard.
Meteor Crater is a place we had to visit because our girls had learned about it on some science show so when I told them it was only 40 minutes from where we were staying in Flagstaff, they begged to go. I was skeptical because most of the reviews I read were not great, and nearly all claimed it wasn’t worth the price of admission. Given the adult price is an outrageous $25 for an adult (kids are a little cheaper and you can save $2 buying online), that doesn’t necessarily mean the place wasn’t worth a visit.
We got there just before sunset, which was a perfect time to view the crater without the glare of the sun. Like most people complained of, it really is just a big hole in the ground. That being true, we enjoyed the chance to see just how big it was.
We only spent maybe ten minutes outside looking at the crater because there wasn’t much to do other than look. That would have been really annoying given the price tag, but there was also a museum of sorts that was actually pretty interesting. We probably spent an hour with our kids in the museum. You can learn quite a bit about meteors and there was a simulation game our oldest would have played all day where you can control the speed and size of the meteor to see how big the damage is.
Sedona is a quintessential tourist city. It is full of tourist shops, restaurants and art galleries. The main draws to Sedona other than the fantastic views in every direction are year-round hiking and summer swimming.
Our favorite swimming hold in Sedona is the Crescent Moon Picnic Site. It is a paid entry park not too far from the airport. It offers fantastic views, lots of shade and awesome swimming. Jump to this article to see why we loved it so much.
For me it was great to swim with the kids in the great swimming hole you can see below, and then spend a bunch of time doing photography as the evening light came in (photography article here). There aren’t many places that so perfectly combine the two activities.
One word of caution about Crescent Moon is the shallow water is insanely slippery. It is very difficult to make it across the river without falling, especially if you are carrying a bunch of stuff.
A really cool and unique attraction in Sedona that is worth a visit is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, seen below. It is a good way to spend a hour or two. We did an article on it that you can read here.
While you can get awesome views in all of Sedona, it is worth the short drive to check out what we think is the best view in town. Just follow airport road up to the top of the hill and there is a scenic look out spot.
Slide Rock State Park
Slide Rock State Park is a Youtube famous place located just north of Sedona. While it isn’t too far from Flagstaff, the drive a bit of a doozy as you can see from the image below.
Slide Rock State Park is home to a couple natural waterslides. Unfortunately, the slides aren’t nearly as cool as they look on Youtube. Even so, it is a fun place that is definitely unique. The water is super cold so you will only want to go on a hot day.
The views down in the canyon make a nice backdrop for swimming too.
Some parts of the river are deep enough for swimming and even a little cliff jumping. We wrote much more about Slide Rock State Park in this article.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
When you go down to Sedona, be sure to make a quick stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument. This park contains just a short walk to the base of Montezuma Castle. You can’t get up to or go in the castle like some other cliff dwelling sites, but it is pretty awesome to see. It is just a short ways south of Sedona and you can see it all in less than an hour. We wrote a lot more about visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument here.
If you are coming from the west, one more worthwhile place to visit is Bearizona. It is only about a half hour west of Flagstaff. Ever since I went to one as a kid, I have been a sucker for a drive-through animal park. Bearizona combines that with a traditional walking zoo area and a big gift shop and restaurant.
We enjoyed it so much, we did the drive, did the walking part, and then did the drive again. I wouldn’t recommend the second drive because the traffic gets annoying the second time through.
It is a great opportunity to get up close with several different types of animals.
The walk-through zoo wasn’t nearly as cool as the drive-through portion, but sill enjoyable.
For more information about Bearizona, check out this article we did.
While Flagstaff was not our favorite vacation spot, it did make for a good launching point for a lot of places we enjoyed more. In a busy long weekend, you can knock all these places off. It is a bit more of care time than we typically like on a vacation, but we look back fondly at the vacation. We are headed back shortly, but this time we are staying in Sedona.