Most people come to Flagstaff for its outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking and skiing. However, this picturesque northern Arizona mountain town also has a ton of history and culture that you can experience by taking a stroll or a self-led walking tour downtown.
On my most recent visit to Flagstaff, I asked Terry Madeksza, the Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance executive director, to give us one word that describes the vibe of downtown Flagstaff. She said, “authentic.”
The city prides itself on its specialty shops, galleries and restaurants, nearly all of which are locally owned. These are businesses that you will not find anywhere else in the state or the country.
According to Madeksza, another unique feature of downtown Flagstaff is “It’s walkable. You park once, and you can walk anywhere, and there is always something to see.”
A colorful way to spend an afternoon is to check out Flagstaff’s outdoor art display. There are 60 plus murals all over the city.
I started my tour on Aspen Avenue, where Arizona’s largest mural is displayed on the east side of the Orpheum Theatre. It’s called the “Sound of Flight,” and the 4,500-square-foot painting depicts hundreds of birds flying out of a piano. The birds go past Michelangelo’s “David,” Rodin’s “Thinker” and disappear into the Grand Canyon sunset.
A few blocks north on Birch Street there is another eye-catching mural by artist Sky Black, who also worked on “Sound of Flight.” This one is titled “Learning to Fly.” It was done entirely with brush and palette and took five weeks to paint versus “Sound of Flight,” which took two years.
Flagstaff mural artist Lyle Motley created a fun work of art titled, “All from a Moment Alive,” located on Route 66 and Agassiz St. It shows a young child enjoying a bike ride and in the background is another child looking out a car window just longing to be on a bike.
The inspiration for this mural was Flagstaff’s bike culture. The League of American Bicyclists designated Flagstaff as a bicycle-friendly city, and with 117 miles of bike lanes, it is a great way to discover more of the city’s art pieces.
Flagstaff’s murals show bits and pieces of culture and pride, reflecting its residents and what connects them to their hometown. Every mural tells a story and serves as a landmark and a point of interest.
If you want to learn more, you can pick up a map to the murals and other town landmarks at the Flagstaff visitor center located in the historic train station downtown.
— Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning Arizona Highways Television, Saturdays
and Sundays on CBS Channel 5 and 3.