Outdoor and Active

Day Trips from Tempe: Flagstaff and Bearizona

When someone thinks of Arizona, images of saguaro cactus and other iconic desert landscapes usually spring to mind. They probably don’t think about pine trees and mountains. But, they should. One of my favorite places to go with my family is Flagstaff, Arizona. The scenery is completely different, the temperatures are cooler than metro Phoenix and there’s lots to do in and around the city. My husband, Jeff, my daughter, Piper and I recently took the two-hour drive to Flagstaff for a fun day trip.

Home to Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff is college town with some of my favorite restaurants, terrific hiking trails and activities that are great for kids. It’s a good place to escape the warm summer temperatures in Tempe, to see the leaves change in the fall and to go skiing in the winter at Snowbowl.

This summer, we decided to take a quick trip up to Flagstaff and then head to Bearizona in nearby Williams.

First, we had breakfast at Snooze, one of our favorite places to start the day in Tempe. Located on College Avenue just north of University, Snooze serves everything that will get your day off to a great start. Omelets, egg sandwiches, egg benedicts, juices and the tastiest pancakes that you’ll ever have. My daughter, Piper, likes them with chocolate chips.

Next we started driving north. When you leave the Phoenix area on I-17, it is amazing how quickly the landscape changes from cityscapes to beautiful desert vistas. You gain over a mile in altitude from Phoenix (around 1100 feet) to Flagstaff (7,000 feet). Once you get past Sedona, the scenery changes from desert to a forest with pine trees. It’s like another world just within that short drive.

Our first stop was the Pioneer Museum. Located just outside of downtown, this museum provides a glimpse into how the pioneers lived in Flagstaff, including the history of ranching, logging and transportation. The main exhibits are located in a turn of the century building that was once a hospital. They have a section that provides a glimpse into how this hospital served the indigent population. There’s even an iron lung on display, which was fascinating to see in person. Upstairs, you’ll find artifacts from each decade in Flagstaff’s history, starting in the 1880s. The land around the main building, once known as the county “poor farm,” is where you’ll find items of most interest to kids: Sante Fe railroad cars dating back to the 1940s, a historic cabin, a Model T and a few other cool artifacts.

After our museum visit, it was time for lunch. We went to a place called Tourist Home Urban Market, located on San Francisco Street in downtown Flagstaff. It’s a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch and it’s a gourmet market with lots of tasty items like delicious pastries, wine, cheese, chocolate and local products like Hayden Flour Mills flours and baking mixes. We’ve been here a few times and we always choose our favorites, the Annex Burger (because how can you go wrong if a burger has bacon jam on it?) and the House Salad, with anything-but-ordinary ingredients like thinly sliced apples and quinoa. Be sure to save room for a huge chocolate chip cookie. We split it but Piper would have loved to eat the whole thing by herself.

We usually like to stroll through downtown Flagstaff and take a look in the cute shops. But, today, we had other plans. We left Tourist Home and made our way to Bearizona, a wildlife park in nearby Williams, Arizona. It took us a little under 40 minutes to get there. When you arrive at Bearizona, you’re greeted at the front gate and given a map of the park. Then, you drive along a three-mile loop, through more than 100 acres of forest, where you can see a variety of animals in a natural setting. There are bison, two types of wolves, burros, big horn sheep, mule deer, bears and more animals in the open areas. And, in case you’re wondering, you have to keep your windows rolled up when you’re viewing the bears. They are bears after all!

When you finish the driving trail, you can park and go on a self-guided walking tour in “Fort Bearizona.” We loved seeing the young bears, red foxes, javelin, porcupines, river otters in their enclosures and the farm animals in the petting zoo. If you have time, they also have regularly scheduled activities with their animal keepers, such as bobcat chats, otter feedings, animal meet and greet events and raptor shows. Once we saw all of the animals, we stopped in the gift shop for a key chain for Piper’s collection and then we made our way back to Tempe.

When the scenery out of our car windows turned to desert, we knew we were close to home. We stopped at Perfect Pear Bistro for dinner. This locally owned café is located in south Tempe, just east of the I-10 on the northeast corner of Priest Drive and Ray Road. Their menu is full of salads, sandwiches, pastas and flatbreads. It’s always hard to choose but I settled on their Strawberry Fields salad. Jeff ordered the Chicken Spinach Dip flatbread and Piper chose the usual – cheese pizza.

Check out our trip on Google Maps so you can see the route that we took for our latest adventure. I hope we inspired you to take your own trip up north!

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