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Last Updated on July 19, 2023
INSIDE: Arizona small towns each have a unique history and character-perfect for a road trip! See our fave mining, western & funky artsy spots and work one (or three) into YOUR next road trip!
We needed a pit stop on our Arizona road trip. Sick of truck stops along the Interstate, with their harsh fluorescent lighting and sticky bathroom floors, we spied a small signpost pointing toward “downtown historic district” and “Original Route 66.” That combination was too tempting to ignore, so we veered off the exit . . .
. . . and drove into one of the best days of our road trip.
The trick was finding that Arizona small town to visit.
Exactly what type of charm do you find in an Arizona small town?
Most small towns in Arizona are off the beaten path–or at least off the Interstate–and they make a perfect road trip stop.
Although some of these towns are still bustling with the business that got them started, such as mining and cattle ranching, many have reinvented themselves as tourist destinations that celebrate their heritage. You’ll find a TON of charm, and maybe even include a ghost town👻!
The small town we discovered when we followed the signs? It was Winslow! We’ve included it below in our list of 18 favorite Arizona small towns, along with practical info to help you as your plan your trip. Each town is unique and offers up a special bit of Arizona charm.
We hope this helps you drive into one of the best days of your road trip too!
Northern Arizona: 7 small towns that are Worth a Visit
Flagstaff: The highest elevation in the state!
Flagstaff is the largest town in northern Arizona. Old route 66 passes through the southern edge of town, so you get that “classic road trip” vibe. (And there’s a cool Route 66-themed gift shop in the old train station–souvenir alert!).
The main part of town has a “nice old-fashioned downtown” feel, with historic late Victorian brick buildings housing bars, restaurants, and shops. Northern Arizona University is also based in Flagstaff, which means the town is not just a tourist haven.
Of all the Arizona small towns, Flagstaff has the highest elevation in the state, at nearly 7,000 feet.
Flagstaff’s high altitude means temperatures stay cool in summer, a refreshing break from the desert heat. And in winter? Skiing at nearby slopes! Located midway between Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Parks, it’s a central base for exploring the natural wonders in northern Arizona.
- What we love: The cute downtown, & beautiful fall foliage
- Fave Eats: Tourist Home All Day Cafe (because we love a good breakfast 🥞)
- Highlights: Historic downtown, Route 66, hiking in nearby mountains, winter skiing, cool in summer
- Road Trips: Route 66, Grand Canyon, Sedona
- Where to stay: Hotels in Flagstaff
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 so-called “mother road.”
We thought it was going to be a “drive-by,” but we ended up enjoying our visit here. 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 cool 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.
Interesting things to do in Kingman Arizona abound for everyone in your road trip crew. It makes a great base for exploring northwestern Arizona, and the western ends of the Grand Canyon.
Page: Horseshoe Bend . . . but so much more
Page serves as the gateway to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes such attractions as Lake Powell and the famous Horseshoe Bend. Page is a relatively new community, established in the late 1950s to support workers building the dam.
Today it’s a friendly town with the most hotel rooms in the “Arizona Strip,” (the name for this far northern part of the state), which makes it a great base for touring this area of northern Arizona near the Utah borders.
Many people pop into Page, make a quick stop at Horseshoe Bend, then move on. But we found there’s a lot more to see and do in the area. Day trips from here include Vermillion Cliffs, Lee’s Ferry, and even the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
We also love some of the lesser-known spots, such as Glen Canyon Dam Overlook and hiking to the (sort of secret) Hanging Garden Trail. Be sure to allow some time for water sports, whether it’s rafting down the Colorado River or boating on Lake Powell. No matter what you choose, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Page AZ.
Seligman: Birthplace of “Historic Route 66”
This little hamlet, bypassed by Interstate 40, preserved the Route 66 legend. In 1987 locals petitioned the State of Arizona and had it designated a historic highway. Rumors are that Seligman inspired the location of Radiator Springs for the movie Cars.
Today this no-stoplight town is a pilgrimage for Route 66 fans, who find retro motels, memorabilia shops . . . and lots of vintage cars parked around town (you might even get to meet Tow Mater!)
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 visiting the Grand Canyon but found the town itself charming.
Williams is also the town nearest to the main entrance of Grand Canyon National Park (about 50 miles due north), which makes it a great base for exploring the area. 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.
Winslow: Yep, the place with “the corner”!
For anyone who has ever listened to a Classic Rock radio station and heard the lyrics, “well I’m standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona . . . ” Yep, this is the place! This is one of the small Arizona towns along old Route 66 which has capitalized on the Jackson Browne/Glenn Frey song made famous by the rock group Eagles. Get your 70s rock fix at the park that commemorates “Standing on a corner Winslow Arizona” where there’s even (you knew this was coming!) a flatbed Ford.
Winslow’s other claim to fame is the La Posada Winslow Hotel (we loved our recent stay there!), one of the original 1930s-era Fred Harvey railroad hotels designed by Mary Colter along the Santa Fe railroad line. Current owners renovated and reopened the southwestern-style luxury property in 1997.
Today it contains a top-notch restaurant and art gallery in addition to comfy guest rooms. It makes an elegant old-world stopover while cruisin’ Route 66. And check out these other things to do in Winslow Arizona.
PRO TIP: Go retro in Northern Arizona! Stay at one of these fabulous hotels on Route 66 in Arizona!
Honorable Mention: Sedona-Red Rocks & Blue Skies
You may be wondering why I didn’t include Sedona in the above list. While Sedona is a wonderful destination, and you’ll find plenty of reasons to visit Sedona (especially in the fall), it’s hard to classify it as a “small town.”
Shopping abounds along State Route 89A, although much of it is in clusters of small strip malls. And this road gets super jammed during weekends, so you’re not likely to go for a random stroll.
Sedona is best appreciated away from highway 89A–that is, enjoying the hiking amid the magnificent red rocks, or chilling out at a spa. By all means, check out Sedona, just don’t expect a “quaint small town” atmosphere. For a “village-esque” atmosphere, head over to the Tlaquepaque complex, a beautiful cluster of shops, galleries, and restaurants resembling a Mexican village.
PRO TIP: For small-town charm NEAR Sedona, check out Cottonwood & Jerome (listed below)
Central Arizona: You need to see these 5 Adorable Small Towns
Cottonwood: Water & Wine
Cottonwood sits alongside the Verde River in the valley just north 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 2013 showed a town with “good bones” but not a lot going on. However, all those storefronts with potential couldn’t stay empty for long! On recent visits, we’ve been delighted to see a town full of shops, cafes, and wine tasting rooms. (Be sure to visit NORTH Main St.–that’s the cute part 😊)
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: Cattle, Copper, and Cute!
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.
Sitting in the middle of the Tonto National Forest, Globe is near several native American historic sites, such as the Tonto National Monument (cliff dwellings), as well as Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park. The 3,500-foot elevation transitions between the saguaro-filled desert and ponderosa pine forest. Wildflower lovers come to Globe for some spectacular natural displays.
BONUS: Keep an eye out for interesting wildlife–we had to break for a tarantula crossing the road! 🕷😱
Jerome: Wicked (& 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. (I need to 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 called “The Wickedest Town in America.” Now you can browse in funky shops and wet your whistle at atmospheric bars and restaurants. Planning on whoopin’ it up old-tyme miner style during a night on the town? We recommend staying in one of the cute Bed & Breakfasts (or the allegedly haunted Jerome Grand Hotel). You won’t want to tackle the drive down that mountain late at night after a few drinks.
Prescott: Epitome of Small Town America
Prescott may be 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’ & hollerin'” happened. Today you can do a bit of hootin’ & hollerin’ of your own on Whiskey Row, as you get your Western on . . . 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 and Watson Lake State Park provide plenty of opportunities for outdoor pursuits.
Honorable Mention: Scottsdale: Big city Small town
Scottsdale is a super-popular destination, and there’s an Old West feel to Old Town Scottsdale. But it stopped being a small town a long time ago. But with just over 250,000 people, it’s about the same size as Richmond, VA, and Toledo, OH.
Scottsdale is worth visiting: great restaurants, terrific shopping (including a gorgeous mall with a Neiman Marcus & a Nordstrom), as well as some wonderful museums, including Western Spirit Scottsdale Museum of the West (a terrific Smithsonian Affiliate). It’s just not a small town.
- What we love: All the public art scattered around Old Town
- Fave Eats: Cien Agaves Tacos & Tequila (because grilled Mahi tacos & guac with pomegranate seeds are a joy to behold
- Highlights: Western Spirit Museum; Native American Jewelry Shops
- Road Trips: Western AZ or Mogollon Rim
- Where to Stay: Hotels in Old Town Scottsdale
Southern Arizona: 6 Small Towns that are western, funky & fun
Ajo: Creative, Folksy & Outdoorsy
Ajo is a small town in southwestern that is in the midst of a revitalization. A former copper mining town (like Bisbee, below), Ajo is the nearest town to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It also gets a lot of traffic from people headed down to the beach at Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco) Mexico.
In recent years Ajo has embraced an artistic culture, with several creative programs to attract artists. The result is a mixture of mining history with a creative culture, all centered around one of the prettiest plazas in Arizona.
Bisbee: Funky, Artsy & Historic
Bisbee, Arizona was established in 1876 as a copper mining town tucked away in the Mule Mountains southeastern part of Arizona. 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 3) at one of the town’s picturesque bed and breakfasts.
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 a few 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 AZ, or ropin’ and ridin’ at the historic Circle Z Ranch.
Tombstone: Hootin’, Hollerin’ Wild West🤠
It would be hard to get more “Old West” in Arizona small towns than Tombstone. 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 have to share the road with horses! Western wear shops, restaurants, and saloons line the wooden sidewalks. Historic sights include the Birdcage Theater and Tombstone Courthouse. But be sure to allow some time to see the “shootout:” it’s re-enacted daily.
Tubac: Artsy Historic Fun
Tubac is a small Arizona town about 50 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. Many of these native tribes greeted the Spanish Missionaries when they arrived in the late 1600s.
History buffs should visit Tumacacori National Historic Park just outside of town. Here, hundreds of years and layers of history mingle together, incorporating Native Peoples, Spanish Missionaries, and Mexican and American soldiers. Tubac’s multiple art galleries line the sleepy streets of Tubac. The Tubac Center of the Arts hosts rotating exhibits, art workshops, and performances.
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.
These Arizona small towns help to tell the fascinating history of the state. They all sit amid Arizona’s fabulous scenery, under those magnificent blue skies. The combination makes each of them a great destination for a few days’ excursion.
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List of Small Arizona Towns to Visit on a Road Trip
- Ajo (southern Arizona)
- Bisbee (southern Arizona)
- Cottonwood (central Arizona)
- Flagstaff (northern Arizona)
- Globe (central Arizona)
- Jerome (central Arizona)
- Kingman (northern Arizona)
- Page (northern Arizona)
- Patagonia (southern Arizona)
- Prescott (central Arizona)
- Scottsdale (central Arizona)
- Sedona (north/central Arizona)
- Seligman (northern Arizona)
- Tombstone (southern Arizona)
- Tubac (southern Arizona)
- Williams (northern Arizona)
- Winslow (northern Arizona)
- Yuma (southern Arizona)