4 Best Small Towns To Explore In Arizona

Arizona is blessed with small towns that beg to be explored. But no matter how many times you may have visited, here are things you probably didn’t know about them.

Visiting small towns is one of the great joys of travel. Combine scenic beauty, easy access, and welcoming main street businesses and you’ve got all the makings of a memorable day trip.

A quirky art town perched along cliffs, Bisbee embraces its independent spirit and vertical nature—dozens of staircases are among the fastest, and most traveled, routes in town. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A quirky art town perched along cliffs, Bisbee embraces its independent spirit and vertical nature—dozens of staircases are among the fastest, and most traveled, routes in town. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve explored Arizona and found these four small-town gems you’re sure to enjoy.

Bisbee

Two- and three-story buildings built of brick and stone line Main Street as if holding back the canyon walls rising sharply along its length. Bisbee’s slopes display a century’s worth of architecture, from historic inns to refurbished, modern-looking former miners’ shacks.

A great day: After walking around town, spend an evening along Brewery Gulch, where the history flows like beer. Start with dinner at the Stock Exchange, where businessmen once gathered to keep up with the latest prices via ticker tape.

Prescott has it all, including a tribute to the Rough Riders. The bronze sculpture of a dashing rider by Solon Borglum on Courthouse Plaza honors the Rough Riders who fought in the Spanish-American War. Locally, it is known simply as the statue of Buckey O'Neill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott has it all, including a tribute to the Rough Riders. The bronze sculpture of a dashing rider by Solon Borglum on Courthouse Plaza honors the Rough Riders who fought in the Spanish-American War. Locally, it is known simply as the statue of Buckey O’Neill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

On sunny, mild weekends—and so many of them are—residents and tourists flock to the grassy square at the heart of downtown. In view of the Yavapai County Courthouse, a four-story granite structure looming like a castle, many stake claims to shady spots under spreading elms, or people-watch from the courthouse steps.

A great day: Arrive early, not only to snag a nearby parking spot but to enjoy breakfast on the square at the Lone Spur Café, a cowboy-themed restaurant that gets you in an Arizona state of mind. Burn off the steak and eggs by browsing the antiques shops and boutiques. At lunch, relax with a craft beer at Prescott Brewing Company.

After more shopping, if not a nap under the elms, take an evening walking tour of Whiskey Row, the drinking establishments lining the plaza’s west side. The watering holes are as popular now as they were when thirsty cowboys rode in off the range.

At an elevation of 5,248 feet, Jerome hangs precariously on the 30-degree slope of Cleopatra Hill on the edge of Prescott National Forest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At an elevation of 5,248 feet, Jerome hangs precariously on the 30-degree slope of Cleopatra Hill on the edge of Prescott National Forest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

The way buildings cling precariously to the side of Cleopatra Hill, it’s as if gravity has been suspended in this former mining town. Jerome is laid out vertically, with Arizona 89A switchbacking through it. The Verde Valley spreads out below in one of the most accessible vistas in Arizona.

With few signs of the mine shafts that run through Cleopatra Hill like a honeycomb, Jerome now thrives on tourism, enhanced by a welcoming vibe exuded by artists and small-business owners.

A great day: On the lower end of Cleopatra Hill, you’ll note a towering wedge assembled of formidable timber. Completed nearly a century ago, the Audrey Headframe lowered miners more than 1,000 feet down a narrow shaft. Visitors may stand on the thick sheet of transparent plastic now covering the opening, peering into the abyss.

Continue to downtown Jerome for lunch at the Haunted Hamburger and enjoy the view from the patio. Spend the day browsing the dozens of shops and galleries.

Red Rock Crossing is a former ranch site spread along fertile bottomland at the base of Cathedral Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Crossing is a former ranch site spread along fertile bottomland at the base of Cathedral Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

The first glimpse of Sedona is one of awe. Towers and walls of red rock surround the town like a fortress. But rather than keep visitors out, the surreal landscape attracts tourists by the thousands.

The red- and orange-tinged sandstone formations have been shaped over hundreds of millions of years. At sunrise and sunset, they glow as if plugged into the earth’s molten core.

A great day: Board a jeep operated by one of the several companies specializing in tours of the surrounding landscape. The four-wheel-drive vehicles follow narrow, rutted trails, and power over boulders to reveal stunning views. One of the most popular tours is the Broken Arrow, a two-hour off-road tour with views and thrills galore. You pass through a suburb and disappear into the timber. Minutes later, you’re climbing up the side of the famous red rocks.

Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village is a collection of shops and restaurants resembling a Spanish plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village is a collection of shops and restaurants resembling a Spanish plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once back in town, head to Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, a collection of shops and restaurants resembling a Spanish plaza. Cobblestone walkways meander past vine-covered walls and beneath stone archways. Graceful Arizona sycamores shade the courtyards where shoppers stroll past splashing fountains and beds bursting with flowers.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

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