Where to Stay in Flagstaff

SD › Best Places to Stay in Flagstaff
Updated: November 8, 2022
By Santorini Dave

Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona.

Heritage Square in downtown Flagstaff.

Where to Stay in Flagstaff and near the Grand Canyon

There used to be only one reason folks came to Flagstaff – the Grand Canyon. Today the small northern Arizona town remains dominated by the tourist trade, with the South Rim entrance of the national park some 75 miles north, but there’s a lot more to see. As well as a host of museums, top restaurants, and attractions in town, Flagstaff makes an ideal base for other natural showstoppers (Flagstaff is known as the “City of 7 Wonders”): the Coconino National Forest, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, San Francisco Peaks (and Arizona Snowball ski resort in winter), Oak Creek Canyon, Walnut Canyon National Monument, and more – the resorts of Sedona are also just 30 miles south.

Though we’ve divided the Flagstaff area into several different neighborhoods, your main choice will be to stay in town or inside the National Park itself. Stay inside Grand Canyon and you’ll have the place to yourself before and after the day-trippers arrive and leave; stay in Flagstaff and you’ll have access to a much greater choice of bars and restaurants, plus be closer to those other natural attractions. A further alternative is the small town of Williams, which is a little closer to Grand Canyon and is of chief interest because of the Grand Canyon Railway.

• While it’s relatively easy to explore Downtown Flagstaff on foot, you really need a car to make the most of this area.

• Note that the North Rim of the Grand Canyon isn’t covered here – it’s effectively a separate destination, over 200 miles and 3.5 hours’ drive from Flagstaff.

Best Places to Stay in Flagstaff & Grand Canyon (South Rim)

Hotel in Flagstaff.

Hotel Monte Vista in downtown Flagstaff.

Best Neighborhoods in Flagstaff for…

  • Best Neighborhood to Stay for First Timers/Sightseeing: Downtown Flagstaff or Grand Canyon National Park
    Staying in Downtown makes sense if you are aiming to tour the area and see as much of the local natural wonders as possible. Flagstaff is only an hour-and-a-half or so from Grand Canyon by car, and everything else is within easy driving distance. You’ll also have the best restaurants, shops, and bars within walking distance of your hotel. On the other hand, if this is your first time visiting the Grand Canyon and it’s your main target, nothing beats staying in the park itself – camping under the stars, in Phantom Ranch on the tranquil canyon floor, or in a historic suite at the El Tovar Hotel. Get up early before the day-trippers and you’ll experience the canyon at its most magical.
  • Most Romantic Destination: Grand Canyon National Park
    It’s hard to imagine a more romantic scenario than watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon or sharing a drink beneath a dry desert night sky, smothered with stars. The El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim is the best place to stay in the national park overall, but all the park campgrounds are well-maintained, and the location of Phantom Ranch, which otherwise offers fairly basic accommodation, is unbeatably tranquil. Couples might also appreciate the atmospheric desert digs and new “glamping” options in Grand Canyon Junction/Valle, such as Under Canvas Grand Canyon and Clear Sky Resorts.
  • Best Neighborhood for Nightlife: Downtown Flagstaff
    Though the rockin’ Museum Club lies in East Flagstaff, Downtown provides by far the most nightlife options in the region, all within stumbling distance. Sample the local craft beers at Lumberyard Brewing Company or Mother Road Brewing Company, mingle with locals and play pool at Uptown Pubhouse and Collins Irish Pub, or check out a show at the Orpheum Theater, Yucca North, or Theatrikos Theatre Company.
  • Best Neighborhood for Food and Restaurants: Downtown Flagstaff
    You’ll find decent eating options through Flagstaff and Williams, with much less choice in Grand Canyon, but by far the biggest range of restaurants can be found in Downtown Flagstaff. Atria is one of the best for fine dining, showcasing the produce of Northern Arizona, but we also like the sandwiches at Cafe Daily Fare, the Mexican snacks at MartAnne’s, the pastries and drinks at Macy’s European Coffeehouse & Bakery, and the pizzas at Pizzicletta.
  • Best Neighborhood for Shopping: Flagstaff
    When it comes to shopping, the best options tend to be scattered through all 3 Flagstaff neighborhoods. Aspen Place at The Sawmill (an outdoor mall with restaurants, clothing and outdoor retail stores, and a day spa), and the Old Town Shops lie in Downtown Flagstaff. The more workaday University Plaza Shopping Center is in South Flagstaff, while the vast Flagstaff Mall can be found in East Flagstaff. Downtown is also peppered with all sorts of independent boutiques and gift stores, from Peace Surplus and Rainbow’s End women’s clothing to Arizona Handmade Gallery and Crystal Magic.
  • Best Neighborhood for Budget Accommodation: East Flagstaff
    Though camping is probably the cheapest option in the park and on the roads to it, you’ll find the best budget hotel and motel accommodation in East Flagstaff. We like the Hotel Elev8 and Relax Inn here, but the local branches of Days Hotel and Econo Lodge are also not bad. You’ll find even cheaper places along the strip, but quality can be hit-and-miss – always check rooms before paying.

The 5 Best Neighborhoods in Flagstaff/Grand Canyon for Tourists

1. Downtown Flagstaff

The historic downtown of Flagstaff is the biggest commercial hub in the region, a walkable district of stately old buildings, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, craft breweries, and gift stores selling Route 66 souvenirs and Native American crafts. It’s full of Wild West charm, though there are no significant tourist attractions in Downtown itself. The main thoroughfare, Santa Fe Avenue, used to be Route 66. One block north, Heritage Square is ringed by Victorian buildings, while the Flagstaff Visitor Center is housed in the old Flagstaff Station of 1926. Much of the southside of the neighborhood is taken up by the Northern Arizona University campus. Just to the west of Downtown, the wooded slopes rise up to the Lowell Observatory, famed as the place Pluto was discovered in 1930 under Flagstaff’s famously dark skies (the city is an official “Dark Sky Place”). Just to the northwest, on US-180, the Museum of Northern Arizona provides an excellent introduction to the geology, geography, flora and fauna, and Native American history of the Colorado Plateau. Nearby the Pioneer Museum focuses on the region’s more recent past, with exhibits on early homesteaders, old cabins, logging, and farming.

2. East Flagstaff

East Flagstaff is an extension of the city that lies along the I-40/US-180 corridor (the old Route 66). It lacks the character of Downtown and is a lot more spread out – it’s a neighborhood for cars rather than walkers – and it’s chief attraction lies in the vast array of budget hotel and motel accommodation on offer. There are some good places to eat and drink here, notably the Museum Club, a vast timber cabin built in 1931 as a museum and now a bar and live country music venue. Other retro diners cashing in on the Route 66 connection include the Crown Railroad Café, and Miz Zip’s. Just beyond the Flagstaff Mall there are plenty of hiking trails shooting off into the forested hills here, plus Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve and the Elden Pueblo Archaeological Site, the enigmatic ruins of a Sinagua village, inhabited from about 1070 to 1275.

3. South Flagstaff

South Flagstaff lies along the Historic Route 66 and Hwy-89 (Milton Rd) corridors south of Downtown, close to the Northern Arizona University campus and with easy access to I-40 (Exit 195). The chain motels and hotels here tend to be a bit newer and more contemporary than elsewhere in Flagstaff; there are less budget options than East Flagstaff and restaurants are more generic. The main attraction is the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, containing a grand Arts and Crafts-style house built in 1904 for logging magnates Timothy and Michael Riordan. South Flagstaff is also the closest area to the popular Arboretum at Flagstaff and Fort Tuthill Military Museum.

4. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is justly regarded as one of North America’s greatest natural attractions, a mesmerizing chasm more than one mile deep, varying between four and 18 miles wide. You won’t forget your first sight of it: an endless expanse of weathered shapes and colors, craggy promontories, and soaring sandstone pinnacles. The South Rim is the primary access point, with overlooks along the rim accessible by a network of trails or by car along Hermit and Desert View roads (though 8-mile Hermit Road is only accessible by shuttle bus or bike for most of the year). Desert View itself, 23 miles east from Grand Canyon Village, is the highest point on the South Rim (7500ft).

With more time you can hike down to the canyon floor on foot or by mule, spending a night at Phantom Ranch; fly high above the canyon in a helicopter; or raft the whitewater rapids of the Colorado River itself; you can also swim in the cascades in the tranquil Havasupai Reservation nearby.

Spending at least one night here can be an enchanting experience, not least because you’ll get to see the canyon without the crowds (watching sunrise from Mather Point), as well as viewing a clear night sky full of stars. Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim contains the premier park accommodation, restaurants, and visitor center. Slightly more choice, and slightly cheaper rates, can be found at Tusayan, an unattractive strip-mall 7 miles south of the park entrance on Hwy-64 and at Grand Canyon/Valle, a further 22 miles down the road, where “glamping” in the desert is becoming popular. Grand Canyon National Park Airport, used for charter and scenic flights, is in Tusayan.

5. Williams

Although Flagstaff is generally regarded as the main base for Grand
Canyon, the small town of Williams (32 miles west of Flagstaff) is actually a bit closer. It’s not as interesting or as charming as Downtown Flagstaff, and though there are some Route 66-era remnants here, the main reason to stay is to take a trip on the Grand Canyon Railway. This tourist service departs daily from the center of Williams, with steam engines chugging up to Grand Canyon Village. Note that you won’t see the canyon from the train, but it’s a fun way to make a day-trip to the park. Other minor attractions in town include Pete’s Route 66 Gas Station Museum, historic Rod’s Steak House, open since 1946, and a host of Route 66-themed diners and gift shops.

About Santorini Dave

Santorini Dave Author Bio. Santorini Dave was started in 2011 by a guy who loved Greece, travel, and great hotels. We're now a small team of writers and researchers on a mission to deliver the most helpful travel content on the internet. We specialize in Santorini, Mykonos, Athens, and Greece and recommend the best hotels, best neighborhoods, and best family hotels in top destinations around the world. We also make hotel maps and travel videos. I can be contacted at dave@santorinidave.com.