Are you thinking about moving to Flagstaff, Arizona in the near future? Then here are the crucial pros and cons that you’ll want to review before finalizing your decision.
List of the Pros of Living in Flagstaff
1. There is an active cultural scene to enjoy in Flagstaff.
You’ll find most people referring to Flagstaff as a mountain town when living here, although the population is approaching 70,000 people rather rapidly. Students and young people make up a majority of the community, so you’ll hear some random complaints about how college students are ruining the area. This demographic structure also means that there is a wide variety of entertainment, cultural activities, and athletic events for you to enjoy.
Plays, concerts, and symphonies are offered through Northern Arizona University or Coconino Community College. There are also festivals held throughout the year that offer free movies, concerts, and opportunities to dance on the square.
2. Flagstaff is surrounded by a national forest.
You will find lots of breathing room and open spaces awaiting your arrival when living in Flagstaff. You’re 15 minutes away from finding a quiet space where you can get away from everything for a while. Fishing, hunting, camping, and hiking are all available abundantly because you’re surrounded by the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the world.
The community has a buffer zone that keeps it away from the rest of the world, ranging from canyons to public lands. There are lots of areas where you’re free to wander, including the national forest that surrounds the community. If you need solitude, there is always a place to find it.
3. Endless opportunities for outdoor adventures exist.
A lot of communities promote themselves as having something for everyone, but Flagstaff is a city that fulfills that promise. If you like day hiking, then there are hundreds of miles of trail to follow. You can take mountain bikes on some of those trails if you prefer. Climbing routes, canyoneering opportunities, and geocaching are all readily available.
If you like to explore underground, then there are several old caves for you to visit. ATV and horseback riding trails allow you to see the backcountry conveniently. When winter comes around, there are lots of cross-country skiing trails to follow.
4. You can take advantage of the urban trail system in Flagstaff.
You don’t need to visit the Great Outdoors if you want to be outside and active when living in Flagstaff. The community has an extensive urban system of trails for you to follow, taking you over 50 miles of paved or unpaved paths that are perfect for bicycles, jogging, or walking. You’ll have ample access to some of the crucial sites in the city. A 42-mile loop that links existing trails together is currently under construction to add even more options to this advantage.
5. Flagstaff allows you to enjoy all four seasons each year.
When you begin living in Flagstaff, then you’re going to get the benefits of living in a high desert environment. That means it can be a little warm in the summer or cold in the winter, but you also get to experience all four seasons. You can’t say the same thing if you decide to drive a couple of hours south to live in the desert valley where Phoenix exists. It can snow a lot some winters since you’re living 7,000 feet above sea levels, but that is also part of its charm.
If it gets too cold for you, then you can go to Sedona to warm up a little. Then there’s the option to head down to Phoenix to wear shorts almost all year long.
6. You will have access to the Grand Circle when living in Flagstaff.
The Grand Circle is an area of the U.S. Southwest where the highest concentration of national monuments and parks exists. You’re going to be 90 minutes from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon when you call Flagstaff home. It’s also a day trip to reach places like Lake Powell, Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano, and the Petrified Forest National Park.
If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive, you can go all the way to the Black Canyon in Colorado or Arches and Canyonlands in Utah. One of the best investments you can make when living here is to purchase the annual America the Beautiful parks pass because you’ll get your money’s worth from it if you love the outdoors.
7. You will find lots of neighborhood and community parks to enjoy.
Flagstaff is filled with parks that are open to the public, so you don’t need to leave the city to find a place to relax, have a picnic, or let the kids burn off some energy. Ft. Tuthill is one of your best options as it offers 413 acres of space that include a horse arena, a campground, and several sports courts.
Buffalo Park is another popular option since it provides a stunning view of the San Francisco Peaks. It has a two-mile loop with fitness stations that can be a lot of fun to follow. There are dozens of smaller places to enjoy, such as Ponderosa Trails Park, so Flagstaff encourages you to start exploring from the moment you start living here.
8. You can improve your fitness levels naturally in the thinner air.
Athletes love coming to Flagstaff because of its high altitude. Training here for 3-4 weeks will help you to reap the benefits that come from the thinner air. You’ll notice a higher level of energy when jogging, climbing, or hiking after you acclimate to the elevation.
There are plenty of competitions for you to enjoy when living here, ranging from full marathons to the classic 5-kilometer races. There is an annual summer running series, fun runs at Buffalo Park, and triathlon options for you to consider when living in Flagstaff.
9. Flagstaff is an International Dark Sky City.
The world’s first Dark Sky City is Flagstaff. The designation was given to the community in 2001, and it indicates that light pollution is kept to a minimum at night. If you enjoy seeing the stars open up each evening in their majestic glow, then all you need to do is look up. There are specific regulations in place for outdoor lighting that all homes and businesses must follow.
Flagstaff is the home of the Lowell Observatory, which is given credit for the discovery of Pluto. There are several fun activities around the facility for you to enjoy, including guided tours, and there are many other family bonding experiences that you can find in the area.
10. The culinary culture in Flagstaff is world-class.
You can find everything from sushi to barbecue waiting for you when you start living in Flagstaff. There is even a Himalayan restaurant for you to enjoy. Everything is within a few miles of each other since the community is that big, so it doesn’t take long to find something good to eat. Greek, Chinese, and Mediterranean options are also excellent. If you prefer the chain restaurant experience, those choices are also available here. Pizza is plentiful, and several ice cream shops are the perfect place for dessert.
11. Flagstaff is an environmentally-friendly city.
If you want to approach life from a stance of sustainability, then Flagstaff has you covered. There are natural food stores, a market dedicated to fresh produce, and two farmer’s markets held during the summer in the city. You’ll have access to co-ops, sustainability programs, and healthy living opportunities.
Flagstaff holds a Bike to Work Week each year to encourage more cycling. Earth Day activities promote environmental awareness, and programs for adults are just as plentiful as they are for the kids. Curbside recycling, energy conservation, and solar energy are top priorities for the city.
List of the Cons of Living in Flagstaff
1. It can take some time to get used to the high altitude in Flagstaff.
When you first start living in Flagstaff, it is going to feel like you are short of breath almost all of the time. The air is a lot thinner when you’re living at 7,000 feet above sea level, so you’ll need to have a month or two before being fully acclimated to your new living conditions. Even a long flight of stairs is going to leave you gasping in your first few days. There are even opportunities to hike above 12,000 feet with some of the nearby mountains.
Even though the thinner air can lead to better fitness, it also increases the risk of sunburn. You’ll need to put on sunblock all year long, even in winter, because the sun’s rays make an impact. It only takes one sunburn on a 40°F day to learn this lesson.
2. You are somewhat isolated when living in Flagstaff.
Flagstaff is more of a destination community for the rest of Arizona than a place to live full-time for the average person. That doesn’t mean you won’t find great opportunities waiting for you here. Its forest-based location does mean that you’re a little isolated from the rest of the state. You will need to travel places at times to receive specialized care or to shop at specific stores. Shipping items directly can resolve some of this issue, but expect to pay a little more for some of the basics that you need.
3. It smells like vanilla in Flagstaff almost all of the time.
Some people will see this trait as an advantage, but the odor in Flagstaff can be overwhelmingly sweet at times because of all of the Ponderosa pine. The tree is famous for the scent that it emits during the summer, especially if you get some rain to encourage it. There are years where the odor doesn’t go away until fall comes around, so it can wear on the senses sometimes. There’s no getting out of this issue either, so you’re either going to love it or hate it.
4. Tourism can be problematic in every season when living in Flagstaff.
When the warmer months come around in Flagstaff, then everyone drives up from the south so that they can escape the heat. After the snow flies in the mountains, you’re inundated with people who are ready to strap on their skis. Spring and autumn are the perfect seasons here for outdoor activities, so you’ll see enthusiasts stopping by for long stretches to explore the backcountry. On a busy day, the city’s population can double because of the influx of visitors.
The longest intact stretch of Route 66 exists in Arizona, and Flagstaff still uses a significant portion of it as its main street. It’s nice to have local hot spots like the Galaxy Diner to enjoy when living here, but that also means you can run into people with preconceived notions of what to expect during their stay in the city.
5. The quality of the schools in Flagstaff can be lacking.
There are schools in Flagstaff that receive a 10/10 rating on Zillow, but the unified school district only receives a 5/10 rating for the quality of the education it offers. Leupp Public School receives a 1/10 rating, the lowest offered, even though it has a student/teacher ratio of 12 to 1. Several schools in the area, especially along the eastern part of the city, have rankings in the 3/10 or 4/10 range.
If you’re moving here with your family, then you will want to review the assigned school for your home to see if there are other options available to you. There are 29 schools in total in the city, and Basis Flagstaff is the one with the highest consistent scores.
6. The student demographic makes Flagstaff have a transitory population.
You’ll find that the experience of living in Flagstaff is similar to what you would experience in a military community. Because most of the population are students, it is easy to make a new friend here only to have them move away for good. There is a core group of locals that stay put during all four seasons, but it can be difficult at times to connect to that social group. People are leery of forming new relationships, so their outward friendliness is more about hospitality than a desire to form connections.
7. Flagstaff has a challenging job market.
Because Flagstaff is the home of about 70,000 people in a somewhat isolated setting, the ability to find work can be challenging for some careers. Many couples find that only one person out of the two can find meaningful work in the first few months of living in the city. About 20% of the employment positions are in the government, while 16% are in the leisure and hospitality category. The unemployment rate as of August 2019 was 6%, which was about double what it was for the United States.
You’ll find more seasonal jobs available in Flagstaff with the ski resorts and tourism opportunities. That means the jobs don’t tend to pay as much, but you’ve still got to contend with the cost of living issues that some families face.
8. Housing costs can be problematic for some households.
The median value of a home in Flagstaff is above $380,000. Home values rose almost 4% in the city in 2018, and Zillow expects them to rise by at least 3% in 2019. That means the average price per square foot in the city is $229. Prices for homes are even higher, with the list average above $439,000.
If you want to rent a place in the city, then the average cost is $1,900 per month. That puts the cost at the same level as living somewhere like San Francisco. The prices have almost doubled here since 2012, so you may need to live somewhere like Rimrock, Cottonwood, or Williams to find an affordable place to live.
9. Traffic can be an issue in the city at times.
When you live in Flagstaff, then you’re at the convergence of I-40 and I-17. That makes it a common path for travelers to take. There are tourism dollars to find because of this highway connection, especially with Highway 89 coming in from the north, but it can also lead to traffic problems some days. It isn’t as bad as driving in Phoenix or Tucson by any stretch of the imagination, but getting stuck in icy conditions with people who are unfamiliar driving in them can be challenging.
Traffic in the city gets stuck at times because of all the trains passing through, so you’ll also need to plan for that circumstance in your day.
10. There is a risk of forest fires.
Being surrounded by a forest means you’re living in a pretty space, but it also increases the risk of a fire during the dry season. Proactive management efforts help to keep the risks down, but it will always be there, One flash of lightning is all that it would take to spark something that could put your neighborhood and home at risk for destruction.
If you’re trying to find a place to call home, every city and community has something special to offer. Where you choose to live depends on what you want out of life and the features that are most important to you.
When you’re evaluating the pros and cons of living in Flagstaff, then there are plenty of positives to consider. It may have a high elevation lifestyle to manage, but there are also lots of opportunities to plan family activities without busting your budget.
Flagstaff might not be small, but it still provides a place where neighbors know and help each other. That makes it one of the most inviting places to live in Arizona and the rest of the United States.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.