Previously part of Mexico’s Alto California, the area that became Arizona was ceded to the USA in 1848 after the Mexican-American War. This state quickly became a part of what was later known as the American Wild West: a land where renegades roamed, outlaws robbed stagecoaches, prospectors struck it rich, and Native American tribes raided settlements.
As such, the most charming towns in Arizona are riddled with stories about cowboys. Many of them have humble beginnings as canvas camps located near newly dug mines. And most of them reflect a turbulent time when guns and gold ruled this desert state.
Arcosanti in Yavapai County is an unusual town in that the construction of it is ongoing and has been since 1970. The buildings here are a reflection of arcology – architecture and ecology – for a humanistically effective yet environmentally friendly town. If you are a fan of architecture, you are going to love wandering around here taking pictures.
But it isn’t all about taking edgy pictures for Instagram; at Arcosanti, it is in fact all about learning. There are many workshops to attend, mainly on the subject of arcology, urban planning, art and design, and, of course, about the town’s founder, Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri. Arcosanti is funded in part by a relatively booming onsite bronze bell casting business.
Dubbed ‘The Gateway to the Grand Canyon’, this small town is well known for being the Southern Terminus for the Grand Canyon Railway, which ferries visitors from the downtown station to the world famous site. Williams sits on the iconic Route 66 and is a popular place for travelers to rest along the way, with many motels, restaurants, and bars in town to cater to them.
The town boasts more than just transport links, however; in different seasons, the surrounding area is a haven for wildlife. It’s fantastic for fans of the outdoors, with numerous hiking trails, cross country skiing and fishing opportunities galore.
It isn’t just the name of this Cochise County town that makes it a cool place to visit, just to take a picture of the sign. Tombstone is a historic town which is famous not only as an important silver mining town but also because it’s the site of one of the most famous incidents of the American Wild West: the shootout at the O.K. Corral. The incident didn’t actually happen in or at the O.K. Corral; it was a few doors down at a vacant lot owned by Wild West photographer C.S. Fly.
Tombstone may be all gun fighting and prospecting, but it’s also the site of the world’s largest rose bush, planted in 1885 and approved by the Guinness Book of World Records.
The old town of Winslow was once a Route 66 Town before the famous road was rerouted in 1977. However, just because the road doesn’t connect to the town anymore, doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. Winslow is home to stylish hotels like the historic La Posada, but is most well known to music fans for featuring in The Eagle’s song ‘Take it Easy’. As the song goes ‘I was standing on a corner of Winslow Arizona…’ That very corner from the song is now home to a statue of a man and his guitar. The statue draws in thousands of visitors, who stop off to pose for pictures with the man on the corner. There’s even an annual ‘standing on a corner’ festival in town.
The town of Carefree is more than just a whimsical name. Bizarrely, this town is also home to one of the largest sundials in the world – in fact, the largest in the United States. That’s right, built in 1959, the Carefree Sundial stands 11 meters tall and extends 22 meters.
Of course, there is more to this town than a sundial. Carefree is also where you can find the Sears-Kay Ruin. This is all that remains of the fort built by the Hohokam – a native civilization – around 1050 AD. These historic ruins are located near the Tonto National Forest, the fifth largest in the US and the perfect place for a hike.
This small town with a friendly atmosphere in Yavapai County has plenty of history for visitors to enjoy. There’s a quaint old downtown area with Wild West shop fronts, restaurants, and an interesting museum which reveals the history of the area. The landscape surrounding the north Camp Verde area is ideal for adventurous travelers, who can hike among the spectacular cliffs of the Mogollon Rim.
The town is also notable for the Montezuma Castle National Monument. These incredible cliff dwellings built into the limestone – also by the Hohokam – in the nearby Verde Valley date back to 1100 AD and are easily accessed from the town itself.
Visiting this small town feels like a trip to the past, with its aptly named Pioneer Street and the old facades of buildings. In 1862, there was a gold strike on the Colorado River which brought many prospectors to the surrounding area hoping to make their fortunes. A German named Henry Wickenburg was one of the first prospectors; he founded the very successful Vulture Mine – which has earned over $30 million over the years.
Also in Wickenburg is the semi-notorious Jail Tree. Was it a makeshift jail used for outlaws in the Wild West? It may just be a legend. Elsewhere, getting out into nature is easy in Wickenburg; the Hassayampa River Preserve is a good place for birdwatching and soaking up the tranquility.
The laid back, hippy town of Sedona attracts a selection of visitors, from spiritual seekers to outdoor adventurers, most of whom are drawn there by the spectacular rock formations that surround the town. The town itself is littered with quirky galleries, creative cafes, cool hotels, and restaurants serving various culinary accomplishments.
Located in the Upper Sonoran Desert, holidaymakers and day-trippers flock to Sedona in the summer months to see the layers of towering rock formations glowing orange as the sun rises. The so-called Vortex areas around Sedona are said to be spots of healing energy which radiate power, but they also provide incredible views of the rocks and landscapes around Sedona.
This Arizonan town is, in fact, the county seat for Gila County. For a long time, it was an infamous frontier town complete with Apache raids and cowboys. Two of the outlaws who escaped the shootout at the O.K. Corral ended up in Globe, whilst the town also has associations with the Apache Kid and Geronimo.
Being the county seat, Globe actually has a great number of important heritage buildings that form the Globe Downtown Historic District. Dating mainly from around the first two decades of the 20th century, the styles here range from Georgian Revival and Neoclassical to Beaux-Arts architecture. Any lover of bricks and mortar is going to enjoy wandering around Globe.
The charming, tree-lined streets and cool climate of Prescott make it the perfect summer retreat for those wanting to escape the sweltering Arizona heat. This old mining town sits in the Central Arizona mountains and is dotted with attractive, early 20th century, Victorian-style architecture.
Prescott’s popular historic downtown is centered around the stately Neoclassical 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse and is where the colorful Whiskey Row is located. The somewhat lively area is busy, with friendly locals and visitors enjoying the numerous dining and shopping opportunities. The Prescott National Forest also offers travelers a chance to get into the great outdoors to mountain bike, hike, and camp among the beauty of the mountains.
Set on Cleopatra Hill in Yavapai County, Jerome overlooks the Verde Valley and is charming, thanks to the panoramic views alone. Founded in the late 19th century, Jerome grew rich as a boomtown thanks to extensive copper mining.
Historic buildings dot the town reflecting this heyday of wealth, such as the Mission Revival style Jerome Grand Hotel – originally built as a hospital in 1926 – and the 1898 Connor Hotel. There’s even the 1918 Audrey Shaft Headframe – Arizona’s oldest surviving headframe. In fact, the whole town is registered as a National Historic Landmark, making it the place to come for history buffs. If ghost stories interest you, Jerome is allegedly full of lingering spooks.
Located in Cochise County, Bisbee is definitely the place to come if you truly want to live out your dreams of visiting a real-life frontier town of the American Wild West. Main Street looks like something right out of a Western. It’s also filled with a number of interesting buildings, most notably the Cochise County Courthouse – an imposing Art Deco building – as well as Victorian-style townhouses.
In the 1960s, Bisbee became somewhat popular as a destination for hippies and artists, and a cultural scene continues to thrive in the Downtown area. The scenery alone makes it an attractive place to visit, with its hilly terrain strewn with buildings.