On my recent road trip across the USA, I stopped off for a few days in both Sedona and Flagstaff.
I noticed so many differences between them so today I’d love the share that with you to help you decide which one you should visit.
This post will look at the differences between them including hotels, activities, atmosphere, nightlife and more!
Table of Contents
Summary – Sedona vs Flagstaff
|Desert, red rocks||Mountains, desert|
|College town, |
|Lots of activities||Few activities|
|Further from |
|Closer to |
|Little nightlife||Lively nightlife|
|Very busy||Less busy|
|Stunning scenery||Nice scenery|
I loved visiting both Sedona and Flagstaff and it’s so difficult to pick a favorite.
If I had to choose, I’d definitely pick Sedona as the red rock scenery was just amazing and it’s not something I’ve seen before. The whole area is super unique!
Top Picks For Sedona
Best Hotel In Sedona: Enchantment Resort
Top Activities In Sedona:
Top Picks For Flagstaff
Best Hotel In Flagstaff: Residence Inn by Marriott Flagstaff
Top Activities In Flagstaff:
- Grand Canyon
- Arizona Snowbowl
- Hiking up to Humphreys Peak
Sedona is a desert town in Arizona that is surrounded by impressive red-rock buttes, steep canyons and pine forests. Uptown Sedona has a fantastic range of shops, cafes and art galleries.
Flagstaff, on the other hand, is surrounded by mountains, desert and pine forests. It’s known for having the tallest mountain peak in Arizona (Humphreys Peak) and also has a ski resort.
I found Sedona to be very touristy and it often got really busy in the main uptown area. Flagstaff, on the other hand, was nowhere near as busy and didn’t feel very touristy at all.
Most of the shops in Sedona were souvenir shops and typical tourist shops that did’t feel very authentic so I generally gave them a miss.
Flagstaff, however, wasn’t overly commercial and is actually more of a college town as it is the home of Northern Arizona University.
Most people rate Sedona as having much better scenery than Flagstaff and I definitely agree after seeing it for myself.
In fact, Sedona has some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole country in my opinion. The red-rock buttes are unparalleled and Flagstaff just doesn’t have anything like it.
Flagstaff didn’t have much choice at all but I did end up doing some fun things like hiking up to Arizona’s highest peak.
Despite having few things to do, Flagstaff is located close to major tourist sites such as the Grand Canyon. You can book onto a Grand Canyon full-day tour from either Sedona or Flagstaff.
To get to the Grand Canyon, driving from Flagstaff will take 1.5 hours, however from Sedona it will take around 2 hours.
Which Is Bigger?
Flagstaff is much bigger than Sedona in terms of area. Flagstaff covers 171.2km2 whereas Sedona covers just 47.4km2.
Flagstaff also has a much higher population of 72,000 compared with Sedona which has just 10,300 residents.
As Sedona is much more popular with tourists and much smaller, I did notice that it got very crowded especially in the main uptown area of town. This area of Sedona is very commercial.
Flagstaff wasn’t very touristy at all and was rarely crowded however it is a busy college town with lots of students.
Which Has Better Activities?
Sedona has a much wider range of activities to choose from compared with Flagstaff which doesn’t have many things to do.
I’s also say that Sedona’s scenery is much more impressive than Flagstaffs however Flagstaff is located slightly closer to other major tourist sites such as the Grand Canyon.
Activities In Sedona
Most people come to Sedona to see the epic red rock scenery and stunning landscapes. In fact, this was also the main reason why I added it to my itinerary.
There are so many different ways to enjoy Sedona’s magnificent scenery both from the air or from the land.
Sedona has a huge focus on outdoor activities with a wide range of magnificent nature trails. Hiking is the most popular activity in Sedona as there are over 400 miles of hiking trails to choose from.
I ended up booking onto a day tour of Sedona as I was only in town for a couple of days and I really didn’t want to miss anything.
Sedona has some of the most magnificent scenery in the whole of the US. Some highlights include Bell Rock, Devil’s Bridge and Cathedral Rock. These incredible giant red rocks & natural bridges look out of this world.
There’s no better way to see Arizona’s incredible desert beauty than from the above. Get a birds eye view by joining a helicopter tour and see some of Sedona’s most famous red rock formations, including the ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings.
Alternatively, you can also join a Sedona jeep tour and explore the epic red rocks from the road.
My favorite viewpoint was at Airport Mesa. From here you get panoramic views over Sedona including some of the most famous rock formations like Chimney Rock and Capitol Butte.
Other popular activities in Sedona are fishing, mountain biking and even ATV off-roading. The best place to go fishing is at Oak Creek Canyon.
You can also spend the day on a wine tour where you’ll visit local wineries and try out some of their beverages. This activity is super relaxing and gives you a chance to try some of Sedona’s best wines.
Sedona is only a 2 hour drive from the Grand Canyon so you can actually join a day tour to the Grand Canyon from Sedona! Everyone should visit the Grand Canyon at least once in their lifetime, it is not to be missed.
I found that the best place for shopping in Sedona was at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. This stunning collection of Mexican-style buildings is home to over 50 boutique arts & crafts shops and a great range of restaurants.
I also booked onto this Sedona stargazing tour which was a real treat. I got an unparalleled peek at the astronomical wonders of the Arizona night sky.
Activities In Flagstaff
I found that Flagstaff didn’t have a ton of different activities to choose from however there were still a few fun things to see and do.
Flagstaff is slightly closer to the Grand Canyon compared with Sedona . Flagstaff is also closer to landmarks like Antelope Canyon and the famous Horseshoe Bend.
You can easily book onto day tours to these locations from Flagstaff.
Flagstaff sits within close proximity to a number of popular Arizona tourist sites. The town is just a 1 & a half hour drive from the world famous Grand Canyon.
You can book onto a day-tour to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff which is what I ended up doing.
Flagstaff is around 2 hours away from the incredible Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Book yourself onto a day-tour from Flagstaff to experience these natural phenomenons for yourself.
Some of the most popular activities available within Flagstaff itself include hiking, mountain biking, golfing, camping, boating and rock climbing. During the winter months, Flagstaff’s ski resort attracts numerous skiers and snowboarders.
My favorite place to go hiking near Flagstaff is the once volcanic mountain range of the San Francisco Peaks which contains 6 of Arizona’s highest peaks.
There are almost 30 trails to choose from in the area including the Lava River Cave Trail which takes you through a hollow lava tube and the Humphreys Summit Trail which takes you up to Arizona’s highest point for unbelievable panoramic views.
The Humphreys Summit Trail was by far my favorite as the views were just incredible.
For a bit of fun why not join this fun haunted history tour. Hunt for ghosts as you explore downtown Flagstaff. Along the way, you’ll hear the eerie tales of the colorful western characters that have roamed the streets over the years.
In the winter, head over to the Arizona Snowball which is an alpine ski resort located on the San Francisco Peaks. The Scenic Chairlift offers an incredible bird’s eye view of Arizona which sometimes stretches as far as the Grand Canyon on a clear day.
Which Has Better Accommodation?
There are plenty of comfortable places to stay in both Sedona and Flagstaff. Sedona has a wider and better range of hotels including an impressive range of luxury 5-star hotels.
I found that the quality of accommodation was slightly higher in Sedona compared with Flagstaff. Flagstaff does have nice hotels but they are nowhere near as nice as Sedona’s.
I ended up stayed at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona which was super dreamy, modern and luxurious. I’d rate it 10/10!
In Flagstaff, I spent way less and stayed at Residence Inn by Marriott which was also really nice. It definitely didn’t feel as fancy as the Enchantment Resort but it was a lovely place to stay.
Accommodation In Sedona
In Sedona most people stay in the uptown area as this is where all the shops, restaurants and amenities are.
Accommodation in Sedona is very pricey as most of the hotels and resorts are luxury.
Best Hotels In Sedona:
Accommodation In Flagstaff
Accommodation in Flagstaff is much cheaper than Sedona.
You won’t find any luxury hotels here but there is still a good range of comfortable and clean hotels.
Best Hotels In Flagstaff:
- Residence Inn by Marriott Flagstaff
- Courtyard by Marriott Flagstaff
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Flagstaff
- Starlight Pines Bed & Breakfast
Which Is Better for Nightlife?
I found that Flagstaff had a way more lively nightlife scene compared with Sedona. This is mainly because Flagstaff has a huge student population as it is home to Northern Arizona University.
Sedona isn’t known for nightlife but I did think that it still had a nice range of bars where you could spend the evening.
Nightlife In Sedona
Sedona isn’t really known for being a party city. There are no nightclubs in Sedona at all and almost all of the bars and restaurants close by 11pm even on weekends.
Despite closing early, Sedona’s nightlife did feel very sophisticated and up market.
Most of Sedona’s bars are within resorts, hotels or upscale restaurants. Here you’ll find hand-crafted cocktails and luxurious lounges.
Some of the best bars in Sedona are The Hudson, SaltRock Southwest Kitchen and 89Agave.
There’s also a great range of wine bars in Sedona such as The Secret Garden Café and Oak Creek Brewery & Grill.
Nightlife In Flagstaff
As Flagstaff is a college town, it has a fun and varied nightlife scene. There’s plenty of things to do in Flagstaff after the sun goes down.
You can head out to a bar for a relaxing drink, see a show or take a tour.
See a show at the historic Orpheum Theatre. You can grab a drink and sit down to watch a film, music performance or even a comedian in this century old venue.
If you’re just wanting to grab a drink then my favorite bar in town was Hops on Birch which had a really impressive drink list including a focus on Arizona beers.
I also loved the European style Uptown Pubhouse which felt like a home away from home (I’m a Brit).
Yucca North is also a great place to spend the evening if you want to hear live music and play some fun arcade games like Pac-Man.
Which Is More Affordable?
Overall Sedona was much more expensive than Flagstaff. Things tend to be more pricey in Sedona as it’s more of a commercial, touristy town.
Getting a hotel in Sedona will also cost significantly more than in Flagstaff. I spent around double on my hotel in Sedona compared to Flagstaff.
If budget is an issue for you then Flagstaff will be much cheaper than Sedona.
And that’s it!
Hopefully you’ve now decided where to visit. Whichever town you’ve chosen, I know you’ll have an incredible time.
I hope this article was helpful in highlighting the main differences of Sedona vs Flagstaff.
If you’re still unsure, maybe these will help: