Gay-friendly Flagstaff is a refreshing ‘contemporary cowboy’ Western locale


COCKTAILS AND COWBOYS | The Hotel Monte Vista and its cocktail lounge have anchored downtown Flagstaff for nearly a century, and retain their Old West charm. (Photo courtesy Flagstaff CVB)


ANDREW COLLINS  | Contributing Writer

The laid-back, cultured and pine-studded college town of Flagstaff has plenty going for it and makes a terrific base for exploring northern Arizona.

The largest city on Interstate 40 between L.A. and Albuquerque, Flagstaff is known for its seemingly endless supply of inexpensive chain motels and restaurants. Sadly, too many road-tripping visitors never get much beyond the exit ramp before continuing on with their journeys. In fact, this well-kept, historic city of about 66,000 is worth getting to know — it’s renowned for cool, dry summers and snowy but sunny winters, and has enough diversions and attractions to keep you busy for several days.

The presence of Northern Arizona University infuses Flagstaff with a youthful, bohemian personality that’s enhanced by the many outdoorsy types who have settled here from smoggier and more crowded parts of the West. The gay scene is subtle but pronounced — plenty of gay men and lesbians live here or nearby, and the rest of the population seems largely split between those who embrace diversity and those who simply don’t care much about their neighbors’ gender, race or sexual orientation.

Activity in Flagstaff often revolves around the picturesque downtown, which is rife with Victorian and early 20th-century redbrick buildings that date to the city’s early years as an Old West railroad hub. The Arizona Historical Society’s Pioneer Museum, housed in a 1908 building constructed of rock deposited by an ancient volcanic eruption, traces the region’s growth with a variety of artifacts and exhibits. The AHS’s Riordan Mansion, an ornate Arts and Crafts mansion, is also open for tours — it was built by the same architect responsible for the Grand Canyon’s iconic El Tovar Hotel.

Be sure to see the Museum of Northern Arizona, which contains an outstanding collection of Native American arts and crafts and natural history exhibits. And keep your eyes and ears open for any events scheduled for the Coconino Center for the Arts, whose arts exhibits, musical performances and workshops draw on different aspects of the American West, from Native American history to the contemporary cowboy’s lifestyle.

Outdoors enthusiasts will find plenty to keep them busy. Reaching around the city on almost every side, Coconino National Forest contains the largest concentration of ponderosa pine trees in the world. There are many places within the forest where you can hike or mountain-bike. Just 15 miles northwest of town, the Arizona Snowbowl draws winter skiers to its 40 downhill runs and 2,300-foot vertical drop and offers a tram ride to an elevation of 11,500 feet during the warmer months.

Flagstaff has a lively and increasingly sophisticated dining scene full of excellent values. The hip Tinderbox Kitchen focuses on slow food and regional ingredients with its superb and creative modern American cuisine. Criollo attracts foodies with its finely crafted, upscale Latin American fare, while Cuvee 928 and Hops on Birch appeal to wine and craft beer fans, respectively.

You can observe the local color at Mountain Oasis, a cute storefront cafe with tall windows and a handful of sidewalk tables; nosh on leafy salads, falafel plates, and fine coffees and microbrews. Beaver Street Brewery turns out great wood-fired gourmet pizzas, hefty burgers, and other hearty but often creative pub fare.

Drop by Karma for the best sushi in town, and Pato  for artfully presented Thai food. Macy’s European Coffeehouse & Bakery is a favorite of the gay community, known for delicious espresso drinks, hearty and healthy breakfasts and decadent baked goods. While there are no gay bars in town, you’ll often find LGBT folks at some of the restaurants above, at the lounge in the Hotel Monte Vista, and at eclectic bars like Pay ‘N Take, the Green Room and Uptown Pub and Billiards.

A beautifully decorated, gay-friendly B&B, the nine-room Inn at 410 dates to 1907. Rooms have canopied beds, local Southwestern and Indian arts and crafts and fine original woodworking — the decorative themes vary considerably from room to room, and some units have fireplaces.

On the east side of town, gay-owned Starlight Pines B&B is a richly furnished, four-room inn that’s a favorite of couples seeking romance. You’ll find a brass-accented fireplace and a long, deep claw-foot soaking tub in the Dragonfly Room, and two ground-floor accommodations enjoy easy access to the inn’s dramatic 70-foot wraparound veranda.

A sponsor of Flagstaff’s gay Pride event in June, Pride in the Pines, the upscale, pet-friendly Woodlands Hotel has 183 well-appointed rooms, a seasonal outdoor pool and renovated fitness center. The funky but affordable Hotel Monte Vista has been an anchor of downtown Flagstaff since the 1920s — it’s just a block north of historic Route 66. Numerous celebrities and dignitaries stayed here during the hotel’s heyday.


Accommodations and Dining

Starlight Pines B&B,

Hotel Monte Vista,

Woodlands Hotel,

Inn at 410,

Macy’s European Coffeehouse & Bakery,



Cuvee 928,

Uptown Pub & Billiards,

Tinderbox Kitchen,




This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2013.