Visit any of these charming historic towns in Arizona if you want to bask in the rich heritage of the American Wild West. While some are still well populated, a handful of ghost towns are on this list which adds a fun and mysterious element to your adventure. Enjoy the scenic views and well-preserved local history and take a glimpse into American life during the turn of the century. Any or all of these historic towns in Arizona is a worthy visit for history and nature lovers alike.
Williams: Gateway to the Grand Canyon
Two things distinguish Williams: Route 66 and the Grand Canyon. Williams describes itself as “the best-preserved stretch of Route 66.” It was the last town on the mother road to be bypassed by Interstate 40 (in 1984) so it hung on to its Route 66 identity. The center of town with its diners, motels, and shops is a designated National Historic District.
We first came here to use it as a base for taking the train to the Grand Canyon but found the town itself charming. The town is the headquarters of the Grand Canyon Historic Railway and Hotel.
Because of its proximity to the park, many Grand Canyon tour operators are based in Williams. Kaibab National Forest surrounds the town, with plenty of hiking, biking, and fishing opportunities for outdoor lovers.
Tombstone: Hootin’, hollerin’ Wild West
It would be hard to get more Old West in Arizona historical towns than Tombstone (The Town Too Tough To Die). It is one of the most frequented destinations in the state for history buffs since this is home to the famous OK Corral where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday gunned down the ornery Clanton-McLaury gang. But there’s a lot more to Tombstone including a rich silver mining history and clashes with the Apaches.
Tombstone has done much to preserve its Old West atmosphere. The main street is still dirt and cars must share the road with horses, Western wear shops, restaurants, and saloons line the wooden sidewalks. Historic sights include the Birdcage Theater and Tombstone Courthouse.
Prescott: Epitome of small town America
Prescott is one of the most charming Arizona small towns. A classic old courthouse anchors the central square. (Remember the old Back to the Future movies? It wouldn’t be surprising to see Marty McFly zipping by in his SteamPunk DeLorean.) Pretty Victorian homes and cottages line the downtown streets.
Restaurants, boutiques, antique shops, cafes, and western wear outfitters surround the courthouse square. Visit historic Whiskey Row so called because that’s where all the hootin’ and hollerin’ happened. Today you can do a bit of hootin’ and hollerin’ of your own on Whiskey Row as you don your Western duds—many of the bars feature live music.
That western atmosphere is legit: Prescott is also home to the world’s oldest rodeo with the grounds about a half mile northwest of downtown. Nearby Prescott National Forest, Watson Lake, and Lynx Lake provide numerous opportunities for outdoor pursuits. Additionally, four of Arizona’s prominent museums are in Prescott allowing for an educational visit while you are in town.
Bisbee: Funky, artsy, and historic
Bisbee was established in 1876 as a copper mining town tucked away in the southeastern part of Arizona. The area once known as the Queen of the Copper Camps is home to a charming community among the Mule Mountains, popular with artists and retirees. The mine is no longer operational but Bisbee has now transformed itself into a cool and funky destination with a sort of Victorian-meets-midcentury kind of vibe.
Learn how copper helped shape both the town and the nation at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and then see the real deal underground on a Queen Mine Tour. Browse Bisbee’s many art galleries and spend the night (or three) at the Shady Dell Vintage Trailer Court or one of the town’s picturesque bed and breakfasts.
Yuma: An Old West border town
Yuma is a small Arizona town in the extreme southwest corner of the state. Sitting along the banks of the Colorado River made Yuma a strategic location in the 18th and 19th centuries. Initially, it was missionaries who traveled this route. Passing through Yuma became one of the fastest ways to get out west during the California Gold Rush.
Today visitors to Yuma can get the feel of a real Old West town by visiting the historic downtown. The center of town took off during the gold rush years. Yuma was also home to the Yuma Territorial Prison which is now a state park. (The prison figured largely in the classic Western movie 3:10 to Yuma). Visit the Colorado River State Historic Park to learn about the importance of the crossing throughout the past few centuries.
Oatman: A braying good time
The ghost town of Oatman is a worthy destination to visit for history lovers and you will find businesses operating there despite the lack of residents. A must-stop on a Route 66 road trip, Oatman is another former mining town that offers the chance for visitors to experience the Old West as pictured in so many cowboy films.
While it’s a ghost town, in recent years it’s taken on new life as a popular tourist attraction. Wild burros roam the streets in search of treats, the carrots that are purchased from one of the numerous carrot stands. In fact, more burros reside in Oatman than humans. The population of about 100 people is mainly business owners who make a living off of the steady stream of tourist traffic that runs through the town annually.
Tubac: Artsy historic fun
Tubac is a small historic town 47 miles south of Tucson that today is a thriving artist colony. Unlike most Arizona small towns, the history of Tubac predates mining and cattle. Because of its location along the Santa Cruz River, it was a settlement for native tribes. Inhabited for 11,000 years before being established as a Spanish Presidio in 1752, the area is steeped in history which can be explored in Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Here, hundreds of years and layers of history mingle together incorporating Native Peoples, Spanish Missionaries, and Mexican and American soldiers. History buffs should visit Tumacácori National Historic Park 5 miles south of town.
Tubac’s multiple art galleries line the sleepy streets of Tubac. The Tubac Center of the Arts hosts rotating exhibits, art workshops, and performances.
Jerome: Wicked and a little creepy
Jerome is a unique former copper mining town that’s perched up high on Cleopatra Hill, not far from Sedona. It’s a hair-raising drive up a twisty road to get there (Look straight ahead, not down). But the good part is the view of the surrounding valley is spectacular. You can even see many of Sedona’s red rocks in the distance.
Jerome once had so many saloons it was dubbed The Wickedest Town in America. Now you can browse its funky shops and wet your whistle at atmospheric bars and restaurants. It also offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum displaying artifacts representing the town past and present. The Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion, is now a museum.
Cottonwood: Water & wine
Cottonwood sits alongside the Verde River in the valley just south of Jerome. Due to its location along a river, Cottonwood is a unique small Arizona town: it began its life as a farming community in the late 1800s. The cute main street has a midcentury feel.
Our first visit to Cottonwood in 2000 showed a small town without a lot going on. However, all those storefronts in Old Town with potential couldn’t stay empty for long. On numerous return visits, I’ve been delighted to see a town full of unique shops, cafes, and wine tasting rooms.
Cottonwood has stayed true to its agricultural roots. Tuzigoot National Monument is just outside of town, the stone remains of this Indian pueblo providing evidence that this has been a prime growing country for centuries. The Verde Valley Wine Trail provides more modern evidence: rows of vines grace the gently sloping hills surrounding town and that musky smell of fermenting grapes permeates the air. Over 20 wineries and tasting rooms are open for sampling in and around the town.
Globe: Salado pueblo and copper
Globe was founded in the 1870s on copper mining and cattle and both are still important industries today. This central Arizona small town is equidistant from Phoenix and Tucson and makes a nice day trip or weekend destination.
In the heart of Southern Arizona sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907, this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The historic downtown area is perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping for antiques while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists. Other areas of interest include the Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park which features stunning ruins of a Salado pueblo along with an accompanying museum.
Kingman: Cars, trains, and electricity
Kingman was established as a railroad town in the 1880s and soon grew thanks to mining in the surrounding area. Historic Route 66 passes right through town; Kingman is the westernmost Arizona town on the mother road. Andy Devine, one of the early stars of western movies, is from Kingman. To celebrate this celluloid hero, the portion of Route 66 that goes through the center of town is known as Andy Devine Avenue.
Today Kingman has a real road trip feel and celebrates its motoring and railroad heritage. The multi-purpose Powerhouse Visitor Center is in an old converted power station. You’ll also find the Arizona Route 66 Museum and the Arizona Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum there.
Across the street in Locomotive Park train geeks will love the ogling historic old steam engine #3579. And there is no shortage of Route 66 photo-ops: the logo is displayed all over town on signs and painted on the street.
Patagonia: Chill at a bird-lover’s paradise
Patagonia is a small town nestled high in the Santa Rita Mountains about an hour southeast of Tucson. Once a mining town, Patagonia today is focused on cattle ranching and recreation. The wine-growing region of Sonoita is just 12 miles north.
The Sonoita Creek flows through Patagonia year-round (a rarity in Arizona’s dry climate). As a result, the region is a popular flyway for many unique types of birds⏤and is a great spot for birdwatchers. Downtown Patagonia has a few funky art galleries, shops, and cafes. The town’s high altitude (4,500 feet) keeps it cool in the summer, and many visitors like to stay for a week, enjoying nearby State Park at Patagonia Lake or ropin’ and ridin’ at the historic Circle Z Ranch.
A visit to any of these beautiful historical towns in Arizona will let you take a peek into what the times of the Wild West were really like. Visit an abandoned ghost town, a National Historic Site, or a museum in any of these destinations to learn more about the people and life in early American history. You can also appreciate the scenic landscapes and rich biodiversity that Arizona has to offer, including the scenic backdrop of rugged cliffs and mountains at every turn.
The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.