A guide to the finer things in Arizona’s hippie and hiker capital.
Flagstaff’s reputation as a granola college town is well-earned – you can’t toss a hacky sack downtown without hitting a bearded vagabond or a hoodie-clad coed shuffling from coffee shop to outdoor sporting goods store. But surely, underneath the tattered cargo pants, artful dreadlocks and forest musk, Flagstaff must have a fancy side. Even outdoorsy types and iconoclasts enjoy a night on the town and a bowl of nouveau shrimp and grits, right?
We set out to discover the luxurious underbelly of this mountain town in a weekend blitz. We ate, drank and walked our way around, questioning locals and tourists alike about what highfalutin’ folks get up to in these parts. Our finding: Flagstaff can be fancy, but it is never stuffy – you can have some of the best food in Arizona, revel in some of the best scenery, and stay in some of the nicest places, all in the comfort of your favorite pair of jeans.
The approachable luxury begins at Continental Country Club (2380 N. Oakmont Dr., 928-526-5125, continentalflagstaff.com), a neighborhood hub for the 1,200 single-family homes and 1,200 time-shares in the surrounding high-end developments. The club is open to the public, so visitors can take advantage of golfing, tennis and pickleball – the fastest-growing sport in America, according to association manager Bobby Goitia – as well as the acres of lush meadows and thick forests around Walnut Canyon Lake. The on-site Diamond Point Spa is intimate, with three massage rooms and a sleek, wooden, far-infrared sauna. Owner Ruth Rout and her staff create custom massage, aromatherapy, salt or sugar scrub, and cellulite treatments, along with body wraps, facials and a “Golfer’s Special” massage targeting the body tensions that plague golfers. The neighboring Wyndham Flagstaff Resort (1900 N. Country Club Dr., 800-456-2587, wyndhamflagstaffresort.com) has a partnership with the country club, so resort guests have access to its amenities, from the fitness center to the soon-to-be-renovated pool (open late spring through early fall).
Downtown, a handful of shops and galleries offer luxe products, experiences and perks. Seasoned Kitchen (106 N. San Francisco St., 928-213-5942, seasonedkitchenaz.com) sells specialized cookware, bakeware, kitchen tools and sundry spices and oils. Weekly cooking classes led by local chefs, nutritionists and food pros pack the store’s centerpiece kitchen, with its professional lighting and wraparound bar that evoke a Food Network set. The fare is never pedestrian – recent recipes have included Julia Child’s gâteu of crêpes, smoked golden tomato chutney, and citrus preserves with pistachio crumble and rooibos tea gastrique. The nearby Erica Vhay Gallery (107 N. San Francisco St., 928-226-1367, ericavhay.com) features regularly rotating work by the prolific oil painter and other Flagstaff artists in a sophisticated space. Winter Sun Trading Company (107 N. San Francisco St., 928-774-2884, wintersun.com) offers all-natural health and beauty products, traditional Native American arts and crafts, and beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry. Rout from the Diamond Point Spa is a fan of Winter Sun’s piñon pine salve and recommends it to her clients.
Branching beyond downtown, Hitchin’ Post Stables (4848 Lake Mary Rd., 928-774-1719, hitchinpoststables.com) lets you live out your Doctor Zhivago fantasies with horse-drawn sleigh rides through the snow in winter. When there’s no snow, wagon ride tours are available – fun, but not as opulently transportive.
For a lavish (and safe) day of swilling, Flagstaff Limousine’s Arizona Winery Tour (928-774-5466, flagstafflimousine.com) will pick you up and whisk you off for a Northern Arizona wine tour that includes a private lunch in a wine cellar and tastings at Wild West Wine Co. in Sedona and Javelina Leap Vineyards and Winery, Page Springs Cellars and Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery in the Verde Valley.
If the wine tour wasn’t enough, two downtown establishments provide elegant imbibing options. Vino Loco (22 E. Birch Ave., 928-226-1764, vinolocoflag.com) is a boutique wine shop and bar with an impressive selection of craft beers (available for growlers and mix-and-match six-packs) and mead. Live local music and friendly, unpretentious staff keep it from being staid. The McMillan Bar and Kitchen (2 W. Route 66, 928-774-3840, facebook.com/TheMcMillanFLG) hangs its hat on being a “globally-inspired, locally-sourced” watering hole and restaurant, but craft cocktails like the Mamie and the Arizona Mule set it apart in a town chockablock with breweries and dive bars. For an exclusive, retro lounge feel, rent their “rumpus room” for a private party within the bar.
The easiest way to feel downright fancy in Flagstaff is to eat your way through it. Five of its restaurants – Cottage Place, Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar, Tinderbox Kitchen, Coppa Café and Pizzicletta – were included in PHOENIX magazine’s 2014 list of AZ’s 50 Best Restaurants, and for good reason. Cottage Place (126 W. Cottage Ave., 928-774-8431, cottageplace.com) is an enduring institution of fine dining, with a Wine Spectator-award-winning wine list, reverence from local foodies and a cookbook, Cottage Place Flavors, authored by Chef Frank Branham.
Tinderbox Kitchen (34 S. San Francisco St., 928-226-8400, tinderboxkitchen.com) does upscale comfort food with seasonal, forest-y flourishes, like grilled venison with buttered hominy and seasonal soups using local produce. Charcuterie is taken to the next level with “The Board,” a huge slab of wood laden with house-made smoked meats – our visit’s pâté, frankfurter and pastrami were superb – and cheeses, served with crostini and fresh focaccia.
Coppa Café (1300 S. Milton Rd., 928-637-6813, coppacafe.net) is a slice of Europe in the mountains. Husband-and-wife chef-owners Brian Konefal and Paola Fioravanti transcend their cozy spot’s strip mall location with thoughtful, elegantly crafted dishes employing classic techniques without pretension. Sunday brunch stuns with velvety beef tartare, croque madame made with house-made brioche and a luscious béchamel, and red-wine-poached eggs. Also wonderful are the feather-light croissants, whose delicate shards of buttery pastry are the perfect foil for seasonal jams – the elderberry jam that accompanied ours was a sweet-tart revelation. Lunch, dinner and dessert also shine. Try the luxuriously effervescent Champagne mousse with rose sorbet or the playfully decadent “Textures of Chocolate,” an exploration of cacao in varying forms and temperatures. The chefs’ personal touch gilds the lily – both venture out of the kitchen to check in with each table.
At Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar (413 N. San Francisco St., 928-213-1021, brixflagstaff.com), manager and wine connoisseur David Swain likes to say, “You bring the casual, we bring the fine dining.” It’s an accurate summation: Laid-back guests linger for hours in the chic, art-festooned brick building that houses the restaurant, or under a canopy of twinkling lights on the outside patio. Swain and staff anticipate every need, offering an amuse-bouche or tasting of seasonal risotto (ours featured locally foraged lobster mushrooms) and recommending cocktail and wine pairings for the seasonal, contemporary American cuisine. Coffee-and-chile-roasted duck breast with polenta, Arizona date reduction and Marcona almond purée offered an intriguing mix of aromas, textures and flavors, and the handmade tagliatelle bolognese was comforting yet original. The standout of the meal – and perhaps of all of our epicurean adventures in Flagstaff – was the shrimp and grits with smoked jalapeño-bacon jam and white wine broth. Garlicky, buttery, creamy, rich, smoky, slightly sweet and with the merest hint of spice, it left such an impression that it dominated conversation and conjured misty-eyed reminiscences for the rest of the trip.
Proper Meats + Provisions (110 S. San Francisco St., 928-774-9001, propermeats.com) was still under construction and days away from a soft opening during our preview visit with Chef David Smith of SLO Restaurant Concepts, the dream team behind Brix, Criollo Latin Kitchen in Flagstaff and downtown Tucson’s upscale eatery, Proper. The boutique butcher shop, locally-driven marketplace and highbrow deli – the first of its kind in the region – has since opened to the public, supplying high-quality meat from local farms and specializing in off-cuts and chef-approved products, from Bianco tomatoes to The Simple Farm’s goat-milk caramels. Smith and company hope the SLO ethos – Seasonal Local Organic – will revolutionize the way Flagstaff locals and visitors shop for food.
There’s no better place in Flagstaff to lay your head after your food coma sets in than the charming suites at The Inn at 410 (410 N. Leroux St., 928-774-0088, innat410.com), a historical bed and breakfast within walking distance of downtown. Owner Gordon Watkins has perfected the art of hospitality after decades in the industry. There’s no comfort he hasn’t considered, from an extensive movie library to a curated folder of Flagstaff information and recommendations in each room to snacks and a fully-stocked bar available 24 hours a day in the lobby. An elaborate, homemade breakfast incorporating seasonal ingredients (those lobster mushrooms showed up again in a tomato quiche) awaits guests every morning, and Watkins visits each table, making suggestions for daily activities and restaurant reservations for guests. (Bonus: The inn is right behind Brix, so you can enjoy one of Brix mixologist Stephen Flores’ excellent wine flights with gusto and then stumble back to your room – safe and indulgent.)
If B&Bs aren’t your scene, book a stay at the Wyndham Flagstaff Resort (see Recreate Well, page 61) and reap the benefits of the Continental Country Club’s activities and amenities. Like Flagstaff, it’s a little bit fancy, but never fussy.
A Glamping We Will Go
Glamping – aka “glamorous camping” – is having a moment. From The Real Housewives of Orange County to the Anthropologie catalog, “roughing it” is getting a makeover, in the form of tricked-out log cabins, fireside meals prepared by chefs, personal camping guides, gauzy fashionista tents and even yurts, those domed domiciles originally used by pastoral nomads in Central Asia. Northern Arizona offers a handful of options for chichi camping. Explore now and book for next spring and summer:
Flagstaff Nordic Center (1648 U.S. 180, Flagstaff, 928-220-0550, flagstaffnordiccenter.com)’s cabins and yurts come furnished with beds, wood-burning stoves, propane barbecue grills and a gear wagon to haul your camping
All-Star Grand Canyon Tours (2420 N. Third St., Flagstaff, 928-814-8887, allstargrandcanyontours.com) will craft a customized, multi-day excursion to the Grand Canyon and surrounding area, complete with professional camping guide, camp setup or luxury resort reservations, chef-prepared meals with sensitivity to special dietary needs, and transportation, from a professional driver to private aircraft.
Grand Canyon Ranch (3750 E. Diamond Bar Ranch Rd., Meadview, 702-736-8787, grandcanyonranch.com) offers cozy cabins with antique bathtubs and fireplace or heater; authentic Native American tipis stocked with double beds; spacious tents for singles, couples or families; and access to the on-site restaurant The Ranch House.