If you’re headed to Flagstaff, Arizona for Apollo celebrations, stay at the historic Hotel Monte Vista. Might as well combine history with history. Without a doubt, this little mountain town has more reason than any other to celebrate the first moon landing 50 years ago. Why?
In the early 60s, astrogeologists (scientists who study the earth and other solid bodies in the solar system) realized Flagstaff’s proximity to natural landmarks resulting from volcanic activity and impact cratering—Meteor Crater, Sunset Crater, Cinder Lake and Hopi Buttes—would be excellent training for astronauts. In addition, they thought the existing Lowell Observatory would be the ideal place for building a telescope to observe the moon’s geology and for mapping it. As a result, scientists and astronauts led pioneering lunar research activities in and around Flagstaff in advance of the Apollo Moon Missions. Hence, the huge celebration that takes place July, 20, 2019.
Hotel Monte Vista
Flash back 42 years ahead of that first moon landing. Flagstaff was a fledgling tourist town in need of a “nice” hotel. With donations from the community and novelist Zane Grey, the hotel opened on the first day of 1927. A 12-year-old contest winner named it Monte Vista meaning “mountain view” in Spanish. One of the oldest in Flagstaff, it earned a spot on the U.S. Register of Historic Places.
When western movies were being filmed nearby in the 40s and 50s, stars like John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Alan Ladd stayed here. That’s the reason you’ll see framed posters for classic movies and some rooms with celebrity names.
Its colorful history also includes hotel access to underground tunnels of questionable purpose, an emergency light atop the hotel warning residents when danger threatened, and bootlegging during Prohibition. It still has a speakeasy vibe in the Monte Vista Lounge that the Feds raided and shut down in 1931, two years before Prohibition ended. Today, the “Monte V” is a social hotspot with live music Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights; karaoke Tuesdays and Thursdays; and Sunday night trivia.
Rooms at Hotel Monte Vista
Our room is nice but not of any particular style. The bathroom is small with a walk-in shower. There’s a wall TV above a round pedestal table and two chairs (cards anyone?). No coffee maker, fridge or safe.
All rooms are on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors above two bars and the lobby. You might want to opt for the 4th floor if you are a light sleeper! There is an elevator; in fact, it was one of the first self-service elevators in the state. It works, thank goodness, ‘cuz there’s no valet service.
Parking is an issue at this downtown hotel, so ask at the front desk about restrictions and locations. And like many historic hotels, there are ghosts, although we didn’t see any. But the staff will tell you without reservation which rooms are haunted.
The Rendezvous is both a cool coffee shop and bar just off the hotel lobby. It’s a happening place from 6:30 in the morning until 2 a.m. with locals and tourists enjoying drinks crafted by baristas and mixologists.
The Lotus Lounge at the Hotel Monte Vista has a street entrance to the fabulous two-level Asian eatery. It offers a huge assortment of sushi rolls and entrees like Hoisen Glazed Salmon and Kung Pao Chicken. Really great food carefully and artfully prepared.
What To Do Nearby
Downtown Flagstaff is an easy walkable area and the heart of the city bisected by the famous Route 66. Stop by the Visitor Center at the train station for a self-guided tour of historic Flagstaff and historic Route 66. If you are into the paranormal, there’s a map to guide you to Flagstaff’s seven haunted places. Hotel Monte Vista is about two blocks from the center.
Lowell Observatory – this hugely important facility is where the planet Pluto was discovered and the moon mapping for the first Apollo mission took place. It’s open from 10 to 10, so you can view the solar system through its large telescopes as well as attend presentations on all things galactic. Go on a clear night and you’ll see why Flagstaff was named the world’s first International Dark Sky City in 2001.
Flagstaff is home to three national monuments—Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki (wuh-paht-kee), each a short drive from the city. They are filled with geological wonders and ancient structures as well as hiking trails. Make sure to go into the visitors centers to learn the amazing history of our native ancestors.
Unfortunately, our stay in Flagstaff was short and we didn’t get to see the public art, follow the brewery trail or tour Northern Arizona University. But we will be back! The climate is ideal for any time visits: 70s-80s in summer and enough snow in winter for great skiing at Arizona Snowbowl 14 miles away.
For more on Flagstaff, please visit discoverflagstaff.com.
Hotel Monte Vista, 100 N. San Francisco St., Flagstaff, Arizona 86001, 928-779-6971, hotelmontevista.com.
Claudia Carbone is an award-winning travel writer based in Denver. Read about other hotels she’s visited in Sleepin Around.