By Katherine Adomaitis | Photo courtesy of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau
Pine-scented spring and summers, beautiful fall colors and mild winters with just enough white stuff to gild mountain peaks and forest trails for snowy adventures. Who wouldn’t want to have a meeting in northern Arizona?
Northern Arizona encompasses some of the country’s most iconic landscapes and includes the cities of Flagstaff, Prescott and Sedona, as well as Williams and Tusayan, which are gateways to Grand Canyon National Park. They’re easily accessible from Phoenix via Interstates 17 and 40, served by Amtrak, as well as smaller regional and general aviation airports.
Here are some details to get you started.
The snow-capped san Francisco Peaks form a backdrop for Flagstaff, northern Arizona’s largest city, with a population of about 68,000. The city boasts some 5,000 guest rooms–with 800 more in the pipeline this year and next–ranging from cozy B&Bs to mountain-style resorts. Top venues include the state-of-the art High Country Conference Center, the woodsy Little America Hotel and centrally located Doubletree Hotel Flagstaff.
It’s the pull of the peaks that is Flagstaff’s largest asset, a place where labels like Patagonia, not Prada, give you fashion cred. Visitors head to the hills–and surrounding national forest–for hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing during warmer months. In winter, you’ll find the slopes of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort abuzz with skiers and snowboarders–even more so this year, thanks to a new chairlift and expanded trails. Down the road, Flagstaff Nordic Center’s 25 miles of marked trails spiral outward for cross-country skiing, fat tire biking and snowshoeing.
Flagstaff also has a vibrant, surprisingly sophisticated (and walkable) downtown historic district, near the verdant grounds of Northern Arizona University. Downtown, you can shop for art, vintage togs, home accessories and outdoor gear, and also indulge in a good dinner at a chef-driven, indie restaurant, like tinderbox Kitchen for cocktails and pork shoulder confit, Criollo Latin Kitchen for margaritas and Peruvian fish stew or Pizzicletta for an almond-gorgonzola-charred kale pizza. Want more indulgence? Check out a wine bar or the numerous craft breweries that are part of the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale trail.
As you plan your Flagstaff meeting, you’ll want to schedule some time for culture. The Museum of Northern Arizona’s rock-walled building is a repository of Native American art and artifacts, and natural history exhibits that tell the story of the surrounding Colorado Plateau. On a hill above town, historic Lowell Observatory– best known for the discovery of Pluto–is a place for daytime tours and night sky-viewing. At the edge of the city, the Arboretum at Flagstaff’s 200 acres are home to 750 species of plants that thrive at 7,000-plus feet in elevation. The museum, the observatory and the arboretum can all accommodate groups.
Prescott, Arizona’s mile-high city, sits in the Bradshaw Mountains, is surrounded by national forest and boasts a history that dates back to the 1860s, when it served as the capital of territorial Arizona. Once populated by miners, ranchers and cowboys, Prescott’s vibe has become decidedly more bohemian, thanks to the addition of liberal arts Prescott College and a creative population (think yoga-art-writing) to the scene.
Add to this about 1,800 guest rooms and top venues like the Prescott Resort and Conference Center and the historic Hassayampa Inn, and you’ve got yourself a good meeting place.
Outdoor adventures are definitely part of Prescott’s allure. Hiking and mountain biking trails ranging from easy to challenging snake out from town into the pine forests and boulder-studded grasslands. A series of small, sky-blue lakes are great spots for kayaking and canoeing, as well as bird-watching. Just north of town, the Granite Dells–sculptural granite boulders–are catnip to photographers and rock climbers. You can also get a taste of cowboy life with a trail ride or a visit to the “World’s Oldest Rodeo,” a July event since 1888.
In downtown Prescott, the stately Yavapai County Courthouse anchors the surrounding Courthouse Plaza, the heart of the historic district. The plaza serves as the city’s de facto living room, hosting everything from holiday lights exhibits to summer concerts and dances. Bars, restaurants and shops are just steps away.
Whiskey Row lines one side of the plaza, still boasting plenty of historic saloons where you can belly up to the bar for a mug of suds. Grab a burger and a brew at Prescott Brewing Company, or linger over organic salads, cappuccino and live music at the Raven Cafe.
Work off the calories by browsing downtown Prescott’s numerous antiques shops, or exploring the specialty shops inside Bashford Courts, where you can find everything from spices to women’s fashions. Nearby, voluminous Peregrine Book Company is one of Arizona’s few independent bookstores, stocking novels, art books, graphic novels and Arizona-centric tomes.
Much of Prescott’s culture involves history, so take time to visit places like Sharlot Hall Museum, a four-acre campus of historic buildings and exhibits that trace the city’s evolution; and the Phippen Museum, dedicated to the art and heritage of the West. Both can accommodate groups–Sharlot Hall through tours and Phippen with events.
Red rock spires, layer-cake mesas, cool canyons, icy creeks and a brilliant blue sky. Sedona’s dizzyingly beautiful landscape begs to be pondered. Between the state parks and national forest in northern Arizona, there are plenty of wide-open spaces in which to soak up the vistas. But while you’re admiring the views, know this: Greater Sedona has some 3,400 guest rooms, and the area has many full-service properties, such as luxurious Enchantment Resort, the newly refurbished Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock and the charming, Creekside L’Auberge de Sedona.
Greater Sedona, which includes Sedona, adjacent village of Oak Creek and Woodsy Oak Creek Canyon, is all about the outdoors, whether you’re enjoying a scenic drive and stopping for Instagram-worthy snaps, or getting out and doing something physical. More than 300 miles of trails beg to be hiked or mountain biked. Sedona’s iconic Pink Jeeps will take groups on roller coaster-y rides on the red rocks, while hot air balloon and helicopter tours get you above it all.
Sedona’s food scene is as varied as the landscape. People sip margaritas and watch the sunset at Elote Cafe while they wait for a table and a chance to sample huitlacoche corn soup and lamb adobo. Cowboy Club started out as a watering hole for locals, cowboy artists and movie stars in town to film Westerns. Today it’s known for steaks and elk chops, not to mention cactus fries and a rattlesnake appetizer.
Wine lovers will want to explore the adjacent Verde Valley, one of Arizona’s booming wine regions. Sample a Mourvedre or a white blend at a winery or tasting room.
Set amidst the sycamores, Sedona’s Tlaquepaque not only has restaurants, but numerous galleries and shops where you can buy art glass, Navajo rugs, fine jewelry and clothing. This unique shopping center’s Mexican Colonial architectural details include cobblestone streets, tiled roofs and lushly planted courtyards that also double as event venues.
Elsewhere in town, shop for art at dozens of galleries or head to Uptown Sedona for guide books, outdoor gear, souvenirs and more.
Besides galleries, Sedona’s cultural attractions include the Sedona heritage museum, where you can learn about the area’s agricultural, cinematic and arts-colony history; and the Sedona Arts Center, which is not only an art school, but a gallery space. Both the museum and the center can host events.
Want to check out Sedona’s fabled new-age vibe? Hike to a vortex, said to be a spot of special energy, or hold a meeting at a retreat where yoga and meditation are just as important as name tags and breakout sessions.
Plan a meeting in Williams or Tusayan, and the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park will be your group’s breathtaking, pre- and post-conference playground.
Williams, the larger of the two towns, is an hour south of the park and offers close to 1,000 rooms with the opening this year of a new La Quinta property. It will complement other meeting-friendly properties such as the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, also home to the Grand Canyon Railway, a vintage train that chugs daily to the national park.
Part of Historic Route 66 snakes through downtown Williams, where you can get your kicks at old-fashioned eateries, bars and shops. Nearby, Bearizona is a drive-through wildlife park populated by bears, wolves, elk, bison and bighorn sheep. You can also talk to the animals at the facility’s newly opened meeting space.
Tusayan, a newer, smaller community a few miles from the park’s entrance, has about 900 guest rooms, with properties such as the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire and the Canyon Plaza Resort offering meeting space.
The community has several casual eateries and is home to an Imax theater as well as an airport that offers Grand Canyon air tours.
The Grand Canyon National Park itself is filled with awe-inspiring splendors. Those who like a few thrills with the views can hike, try an overnight mule ride to Phantom Ranch at the canyon’s bottom or raft the Colorado River rapids. Strolling the interpretive rim trail is a tamer option. Rental bicycles let you explore the south Rim’s paved drives and trails, or try the new, shorter version of the classic mule ride–this one a three-hour ride along the rim, with plenty of interpretive information.
The Grand Canyon Village–the main hub of activity for the park’s south Rim–also has many man-made splendors in the form of historic, architecturally significant buildings that house lodges, restaurants, gift shops, galleries and book stores.