Laying on the beach, flying overseas or visiting family and friends in another state are a few ways to spend your summer. While a vacation is thought to be a grand affair, you may be surprised that Arizona has many places to unwind, such as Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, where you can enjoy cooler temperatures and learn what each destination has to offer —  and they’re less than four hours away from Phoenix.

Benjamin J. Murphy and Cari A. Murphy, owners of All-Star Grand Canyon Tours, established the company in 2005. Benjamin had been guiding for over 22 years and for various companies in the area and believed many things could be improved such as transportation, cuisine, gear and customer service.

All-Star Grand Canyon Tours gives tours in Flagstaff, Sedona, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Lake Powell, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Sunset Crater National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Meteor Crater, Hopi and Navajo Reservations. They also offer private VIP tours from Phoenix and Las Vegas via air charter to any of the listed places.

“We offer a variety of tours ranging from sightseeing with very little walking to extreme backpacking trips around the Southwest,” the Murphys say. “We screen our guests and determine the best tour fit. When a group of guests traveling together requests a tour, and they do, in fact, vary in age, physical fitness and experience, we offer a private tour and customize to fit their needs. Most importantly, we have amazing guides that have been handpicked by All-Star and trained to handle any situation that may arise. Their number one priorities are safety, fun and learning.”

The owners of All-Star Grand Canyon Tours say what makes northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon great places to explore and learn about is that both areas are still considered the wild west. “Though the Grand Canyon National Park experiences over 4 million visitors per year, there are still places of solitude to be found,” they say.

“The diverse ecosystem offers a look into many different species of animal as well as dramatic geological features dating back over almost 2 billion years. Between Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon National Park there are opportunities for many levels and miles of backpacking, hiking, biking, climbing, sightseeing, camping, skiing and snowboarding, zip lining, natural water slides, water sports, whitewater rafting and cultural experiences.”

Unique experiences

Their favorite part about the business is “showing guests unique experiences that provide lifelong memories,” and hope they can “continue to get the word out of how many wonderful things there are to do and see in the beautiful and diverse state of Arizona.”

Meg Roederer, communications specialist at the Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau, says Flagstaff is an attractive city for residents and visitors because it offers cooler temperatures for climate relief from the heat of Arizona’s deserts to enjoy the beautiful outdoors at 7000 ft. “Flagstaff is located in the world’s largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest making it one of the most beautiful cities to visit or establish residency. Flagstaff’s mountain climate is ideal for all the festivals happening in the summer and is home to Arizona’s largest blues festival, Brews and Blues. Flagstaff was also recognized by as Travel Channel’s top 10 small town Fourth of July Celebrations. Locals and visitors enjoy movies on the square, art walks and concerts with a stroll through historic downtown and love to shop in all the unique stores and galleries.”

She says some popular activities include hiking, biking and ziplining at Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, or checking out ancient ruins at Walnut Canyon and Wupatki National Monument. Flagstaff’s vibrant food scene with talented chefs and its designation as Arizona’s leading craft beer city gives visitors an array of options for dining with favorites like Josephine’s, Lumberyard Brewery and Tourist Home All Day Cafe.

“Flagstaff’s natural beauty is the characteristic that stands out most with the first thing people notice are stunning mountain views matched with blue skies and cool, fresh air,” Roederer says. “Flagstaff’s four seasons of a perfect summer climate, colorful autumn leaf-peeping, magical holidays in a winter wonderland and natural spring wildflowers is why ranked Flagstaff in the ‘The 25 Best Towns.’ Flagstaff is profoundly beautiful and also the city of seven natural wonders: Coconino National Forest, Grand Canyon National Park, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, San Francisco Peaks and Oak Creek Canyon.”

Some points of pride in Flagstaff include a variety of cultural, historic and scientific attractions, in addition to drawing athletes and innovative companies to the city, Roederer says. Flagstaff is the World’s First International Dark Sky City; Pluto was discovered in 1930 at Lowell Observatory; Humphreys Peak is Arizona’s highest point at 12,633 ft.; Route 66 runs directly through Flagstaff; and the city is also a Global Training Site for Elite Olympic Athletes, as well as home to companies such as Joy Cone Company, W.L. Gore and Associates and Teva — which was created in Flagstaff, Roederer says.

Hot destination

“Flagstaff has emerged as a shining star in Arizona tourism and continues to thrive. As the gateway to the Grand Canyon and city of seven natural wonders, Flagstaff is northern Arizona’s hub for tourism. Areas thriving in the summer months are Flagstaff festivals, attractions, outdoor recreation, restaurants and breweries,” Roederer says.

According to a 2017-2018 Visitors Profile published by the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Flagstaff tourism industry supports an estimated 8,000 jobs and delivers $500 million to the local economy. A 2017-2018 Visitor Intercept Study by the Northern Arizona University Hospitality Research and Resource Center reported 5.5 million in annual visitation which is up more than 15 percent from the previous study conducted in 2014-2015.

If you’re planning on making a trip to Flagstaff this summer, you can celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first man on the moon, which is July 20, 2019, and attend activities celebrating Flagstaff’s Lunar Legacy at various sites and locations. What does Flagstaff have to do with that milestone? All of the astronauts that walked on the Moon, from Neil Armstrong to Gene Cernan, trained in Flagstaff, which included astronaut science training, instrument development and lunar mapping for the Apollo 11 Mission, Roederer says.

“Artists worked with scientists at Lowell Observatory to create detailed lunar topographic maps and astronauts studied the Moon through telescopes at Lowell Observatory, NAU, and the US Naval Observatory,” Roederer says. “And cartographers at the USGS Flagstaff Science Campus developed geological maps of the Moon and USGS Flagstaff Science Campus scientists taught astronauts geological principles and techniques at Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon and Sunset Crater.” Visit to see what activities are taking place.

Roederer says “Flagstaff is a resilient destination for tourism with a variety of iconic attractions and a strong infrastructure. Flagstaff is located only 80 miles from the Grand Canyon, making Flagstaff an ideal home base for visitors to explore some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.” Part of Flagstaff’s appeal includes the variety of things to do and history such as Native American culture, national monuments, and outdoor activities.

The Visitors Profile also shows 30 percent of visitors are from Phoenix, 57 percent visit from out of state, and 13 percent are international visitors. In addition, 74 percent of visitors stay overnight in Flagstaff for an average of three nights and 79 percent stay at a hotel or motel, with 68 percent of visitors traveling to Flagstaff to see the Grand Canyon National Park and 44 percent visit to explore historic downtown Flagstaff.

“Visitors experience Route 66, a charming historic downtown with trains, shopping, art galleries, events, music, restaurants and nightlife,” Roederer says. “Flagstaff is exceeding visitor expectations offering affordable and eco-friendly options blending natural beauty, history and culture with modern amenities in a vibrant city. Millions of visitors seek the Flagstaff experience and Flagstaff is constantly evolving to create awareness and inspiration in order to motivate visitation.”

This summer, Flagstaff may have a retreat with your name on it; whether it’s an outdoor activity, exploring historic downtown Flagstaff or enjoying dining at a restaurant or brewery, this northern Arizona city is a gateway to a relaxing vacation where you can recharge and find new adventures.

Visit to explore activities, places to stay and restaurants in Flagstaff.