Arizona Travel Guide: trading a British winter for the Wild, Wild West. Our guide on top things to do in Arizona…
From hiking in the mountains to wine-tasting in Sonoita, to luxury golf retreats in Tubac, Arizona really has it all for travellers wanting to roam off the beaten track. Here’s our travel guide on top things to do in Arizona…
In February we were invited to explore some of the region’s most untouched territory and find out the best things to do in Arizona. There are many national landmarks Arizona is known for – among them, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. Yet there is so much more to see in this beautiful state.
Our tour of the region started with an excursion to Gammon’s Gulch, a movie set and museum presenting a carefully-created Wild West town that has certainly seen some history. Run by the friendly, if eccentric, Jay Gammon, Gammon’s Gulch is the product of a vision executed by Jay since the seventies. In that time, the set has played host to dozen of movies and hundreds of Hollywood stars, including John Wayne and Ava Gardner. Gammon’s Gulch is great for pictures and a picnic outside the old saloon bar where, if you’re lucky, Jay may belt out a tune on the old piano and banjo.
From there, head south of Benson, towards Apache Peak, and you’ll hit Kartchner Caverns. If you’re a science buff you’ll definitely enjoy exploring the expansive natural caves here, where you can see some of the most incredible rock forms, with live stalactites and stalagmites, including one of the world’s biggest ‘soda straw’ stalactites, standing at 21 feet. You can even catch a light show that illuminates the ‘Big Room’. The caves are also wheelchair accessible and mobility aids are available from the centre – it’s a real must on your list of things to do in Arizona.
The next day began with a bit of culture at the Amerind Foundation. This lovingly curated museum is home to one of the biggest collections of Native American artefacts. The museum includes a beautiful gallery and a craft market run by local artists. One of the best-kept secrets of the Amerind Foundation is the Fulton Seminar House set just behind it, which is a beautiful venue for weddings, meetings and family gatherings. Surrounded by the stunning rock formations of Texas Canyon, it’s a great location for photos, hiking and relaxing. The venue even comes with its own private chef! However, you do have to book it out as a group as it doesn’t take single room bookings.
We then drove to Tombstone, a hotspot for historical family fun and entertainment. The home of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, it’s a place where you can get dressed up, go on a silver mining tour or watch a live re-enactment of the famous gun fight with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday at O.K. Corral. We had lunch here at Café Margarita where I had the best prickly pear (cactus to you) margarita I’ve ever had. It ignited a new cocktail crush in me and I definitely came home with a bottle of prickly pear syrup.
A stone’s throw from Tombstone is Tombstone Monument Ranch. The Ranch is designed like a late 1800s old western town, transporting you into the historic world of cowboys and Indians.Operating as a hotel, rooms are styled with turn-of-the-century décor in themed chalets with private terraces. Our group was schedule to stop here later for dinner, but a couple of us went on ahead to enjoy some horseback riding where our route took us up and down Tombstone hills, past some ancient Indian Petroglyphs and by an abandoned railroad.
I’m not known for being outdoorsy, but I do like a challenge. As a travel writer, I’ll also do anything to get the shot. So picture me in sturdy sandals, wine in hand, camera round the wrist, clambering twenty-five odd feet over uneven boulders (paying no to heed to possible rattle snake nests) just to get a shot of the sunset.#NoRegrets. It’s one of the most beautiful spots from which I’ve ever watched the sun go down. In fact, I christened the place “proposal rock” – where you’re almost guaranteed to get a “yes”.
After this mesmerizing display of nature, we headed through the swinging saloon bar doors into Schieffelin’s Restaurant, where we enjoyed some juicy steaks and utterly divine pumpkin pie. The restaurant has amazing views from the main restaurant and to the side you’ll find a well-stocked bar with a friendly local crowd.
About a half-hour drive from Tombstone is the buzzing town of Bisbee. We made the extra effort to reach this off-plan destination because we’d heard fab things about the nightlife here. And boy did Bisbee deliver. Our night started at a bar called The Quarry where we enjoyed an evening of smooth live jazz.It was here that we got chatting to some friendly locals who recommended we stop by down the road at the Stock Exchange, which is genuinely a saloon bar in what was once the town’s old central bank. It even has the original stock exchange board along the wall. We finished out night on the town exploring a new offering in Bisbee – Object Limited, a shoppable boutique hotel where everything you see is for sale. The concept boutique is run by a New Yorker who renovated the turn-of-the-century building in just six months, demonstrating how much potential there is for the creative scene there.
If you’re looking for somewhere that offers more of the home comforts and, importantly, a pool (!) then Sierra Suites might be more up your street. Great for families and well-located for Tombstone and Sierra Vista, it’s a central site that enables easy access for lots of day trips around Southern Arizona.
The next morning, bright and early, we headed out to Ramsey Canyon and once again put our fitness to the test with a two mile hike up the mountain. This nature reserve is home to an amazing array of wild animals. This is the perfect place to get up close and personal with nature and a highlight on our top things to do in Arizona. It’s a bird watchers and deer stalkers’ dream! Not to mention the view from the top of the trail we followed. Unbeatable panoramic views for miles around.
After working up an appetite, we stopped for lunch at Pizzeria Mimosa, which serves sumptuous Italian fare. The food is totally amazing but what makes this restaurant such a treat is the location. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the 360 glass panelled walls give way to the most amazing mountain scenes in the distance, with the Huachuca range on full show. Not far from the restaurant, you’ll also find the imposing Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine, featuring a 31-foot statue of the Virgin Mary set atop the Sad Pedro Valley. Worth stopping for a photo if you’re driving by.
The next day was a real treat, beginning with a visit to Sonoita, the wonderful wine region of southern Arizona. If you’re ever in this part of the world, you simply have to make a stop at Kief-Joshua Vineyards in Elgin. The intimate wine tasting room is run by a family, with the help of their precious pet dogs and resident wallaby! I am no wine aficionado – my weak sense of smell means no matter how many tastings I attend I’ll never be an expert. But I will say this: I have never been a red wine drinker and, since visiting Kief-Joshua Vineyards, I’m a convert. However, it’s the friendliness of the staff and the environment that makes this such a special place.We sat outside, sipping wine, and enjoyed the magical view of the mountains in the distance, looming over the vineyards, which seemed to stretch for miles. Utter bliss.
Following this, we drove just an hour away to the final destination of our tour: Tubac. A restful town with only about 1,000 residents, it’s got a great little art scene. We were lucky enough to visit while the 59th Annual Festival of the Arts was taking place, where there was a variety of crafts, jewelry and art works to rummage through. Tubac Village, where the festival was held, has a multitude of galleries, workshops and gift stores open all the year round, making it a great place to get those last-minute souvenirs!
The last stop was the icing on the cake: Tubac Golf Resort. This luxury resort and spa is the best place to enjoy South Arizona in style. With 27 holes set across the sprawling banks of the Santa Cruz river, it obviously attracts a certain clientele.Yet you don’t have to be a budding golf hero to enjoy a short stay here. With airy, well-equipped rooms (complete with jet spa bath tubs), not one but three pools, a luxurious spa and two fantastic restaurants, it has a lot to offer for a quick getaway. The replica chapel on site also makes the resort popular for weddings in high season. As for food, we enjoyed an amazing steak meal at Stables Restaurant, where you can sip your drinks on the saddle seats at the bar! The restaurant also offers al fresco dining on its heated patios. Afterwards, I particularly enjoyed having the pools all to myself when I went for a late evening dip under the stars. Pure magic. What a fabulous way to end my first trip to Arizona!
I was so thrilled to visit so many hidden gems in this part of the world. So many people visit Arizona with the Grand Canyon in mind, but it’s totally worth taking a few more days to venture further afield, experience the local culture and have some fun while you’re at it! Southern Arizona really is an adventurer’s dreamland, a stunning destination for photographers and a foodie’s paradise. Not to mention the year-round sunshine. Need I say more?
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Direct flights are available from London Heathrow to Phoenix, AZ on British Airways, with accommodation readily available at Double Hilton Tempe – a good option before beginning your tour.