Posts

Sure, we’re planning to go to Saguaro National Park. But what else is there to do in Tucson?

One of the reasons we love Tucson is because there are quirky attractions here that you won’t find anywhere else. Whether it’s the best Mexican food in America or the world’s largest collection of military aircraft, here are our top 12 unique things to do in Tucson Az.

Tucson Warehouse and Transfer Company mural

1. Munch through the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in America

El Charro Cafe Tucson

It’s no secret that Tucson offers up the best Mexican food in America. We’re not talking chain restaurants in mall parking lots, this is the real deal. Tuscon is part of the Sonoran Desert, which extends down to the state of Sonora Mexico to the south. The region has been sharing culinary treasures since long before there was a border wall. They’re so proud of this culinary achievement that there’s even a Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in America route you can take, a tasty journey, and one of the unique things to do in Tucson Az.

2. Plane-spot at The Boneyard

Aerial view of hundreds of military aircraft lined up at the Boneyard-one of many unique things to do in Tucson Az

The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson is the largest military aircraft repository in the world and the final resting place of more than 3,000 (yes, three thousand ) aircraft. Officially known in military-speak as the “309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center” (AMARG), you can catch glimpses of the aircraft liked up in neat rows as you drive around southeast Tucson, particularly on S. Kolb Road. But to really see them up close the best thing to do is take a guided bus tour on the grounds of this Tucson airplane graveyard. This is definitely one of the things to do in Tucson AZ that you cannot do. Anywhere. Else.

3. Reach for the stars at Kitt Peak National Observatory

onal Observatory view from above

If you’re looking for things to do in Tucson AZ, but want a different perspective, you can always look up at the stars. Located one hour southwest of downtown Tucson, the Kitt Peak National Observatory hosts the widest range of research telescopes on the world. Three of the nearly two-dozen telescopes are set aside for public viewing events. After winding their way up the curvy road, stargazers take part in nighttime observing programs peering into the farthest reaches of the universe. If you’re not a night owl, there are also daytime activities.

4. Chow down on some Sonoran Hot Dogs

Orange tray with 4 sonoran hot dogs

Okay, so maybe this is not one of the things to DO in Tucson AZ, but more one of the things to EAT. The Sonoran hot dog is so popular that it ranges from southern Arizona across the border to Mexico where they originated. But what is a Sonoran hot dog? In a nutshell, take a top-split bolillo roll then stuff it with a bacon-wrapped hot dog, pinto beans, chopped fresh tomatoes & onions (or pico de gallo), jalapenos, mustard AND mayonnaise. They are found all over town from humble street carts to the James-Beard-award-winning El Guero Canelo.

Here’s our rundown of Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson, based on eating way too many of these yummy treats. (Actually, there’s no such thing as too many!)

5. Soak up the Mid-Century Vibe

Tucson Arizona Sun Land Motel neon sign

In some ways Tucson feels like the land that time forgot. I mean that in a good way. Where many cities have plowed over their history for new development, Tucson enjoys a wealth of surviving Mid-Century architecture and cool neon signs that make you feel like you’ve snuck onto the set of Mad Men. There’s even an annual Tucson Modernism Week that celebrates the city’s Mid-Century architecture and design.

One of the really fun things to do in Tucson Az is to drive around town to see the neon signs in their original locations. Make sure to cruise the Miracle Mile Historic District north of downtown, then check out the many preserved signs at the Ignite Sign Art Museum, one of several unusual museums in Tucson.

6. Tickle your tastebuds in America’s First UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy

Taqueria Pico de Gallo Tucson Arizona

In 2015 UNESCO designated Tucson a Creative City of Gastronomy, joining such foodie destinations as Parma, Italy and Chengdu, China. This selection is based on Tucson’s status as one of the oldest settlements in North America. With 4,000 years of agricultural history, its blend of Indigenous ingredients and Old World traditions form a unique and contemporary Southwestern cuisine.

All this foodie heritage is supported by a wealth of farmers markets, community gardens and food festivals that promote eating local, providing endless good eats on your quest for things to do in Tucson AZ. For a visitor this means you’ll eat very well here; the plethora of locally owned restaurants offer plenty of unique dining experiences.

7. Hunt for Truly Nolen Cars on Tucson’s Corners

1939 Ford Deluxe Truly Nolen classic car

One of our favorite things to do in Tucson Az is go on a sort of classic car “scavenger hunt.” Tucson is the world’s largest open-air classic car museum due to the efforts of a man truly named Truly Nolen. In the 1950s Nolen started setting up the antique cars to advertise his exterminating company. The fleet has grown to 50 Truly Nolen cars parked around town. It’s difficult to miss them parked in strategic locations with TRULY NOLEN emblazoned on the side. During your visit you might run into a 1923 Dodge Roadster, a 1934 Hudson, or a 1939 Ford Deluxe like the one above. You can see more classic cars park outside their offices at 3636 E. Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716.


8. Pedal the Chuck Huckleberry Loop

Photo credit: Nicci Radhe

How many cities offer more than 136 miles of interconnecting paths almost completely without street crossings? The Chuck Huckleberry Loop (known locally as simply “The Loop”) is a system of mostly paved paths that connects parks throughout the city. A system of over-and under-passes make it a terrific way to get around town. In January 2018 the County completed a connection on the north side of town that turned created an actual “loop”, with a complete circuit of 53.9 miles.

There’s a reason why so many professional cyclists train in Tucson during the winter. Although amateurs like us, along with joggers, walkers, wheelchairs, and parents pushing strollers use the Chuck Huckleberry Loop too. And since this is Tucson after all, you might even see a horse along the way, along with Farmer’s Markets and outdoor public art along the route. The Loop is one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson AZ.

PRO TIP: If walking/hiking is more your thing, you can stride along on the Rillito River Path, which is a segment of the Huckleberry Loop. It’s one of many great Tucson Hikes.

9. Drive up to Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon is a unique Sky Island that rises 7,000 feet over Tucson, providing a cooling respite during the summer heat wave. There’s even a community called Summerhaven, along with ski activities in the winter, plus hiking, rock climbing and generally enjoying nature year-round. On a relatively balmy winter day it’s pretty cool to wake up to 65 degree weather in Tucson and see snow from a storm dusting the peak of Mount Lemmon.

What makes a drive up to Mount Lemmon one of the really unique things to do in Tucson Az is the climate changes you’ll experience. During the hour-long 28-mile drive along the Catalina Highway scenic byway to its peak, you’ll pass through four separate ecological zones. You start in the desert surrounded by saguaro cacti and end up in an area lush with conifer trees that feels like the Rockies. It’s the climate equivalent of driving from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada, and all in one hour! Think of all the fuel you saved. The views from the top at Windy Vista Point (shown above) are incredible . . . and perfect at sunset.

The University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory atop Mount Lemmon provides SkyNights StarGazing programs using their Schulman 32-inch and Phillips 24-inch telescopes, two of the largest telescopes available for public viewing in the Southwest. If you’re not a night owl–or if perhaps driving down a steep, curvy mountain road in pitch black darkness isn’t your thing–there are also daytime programs.

10. Rock out at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

Tucson Gem and Mineral Show turquoise
Photo credit Pete Gregoire

For many people this tops the list of things to do in Tucson Az. According to the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society, the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show is “the largest, oldest and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world.” We used to think that was just hyperbole, but we have been in town for the annual winter extravaganza and can attest that it truly is a one-of-kind event. Thousands of hobbyists and professionals descend on Tucson to shop, mingle and scratch their lapidary urges. If bling is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

11. Reflect on space at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Tucked below the University of Arizona football stadium, the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab produces the largest and most advanced giant telescope mirrors in the world. A 90-minute tour reveals the leading edge technology producing the next generation of telescopes to explore deep outer space. Personally, I would think a location right underneath the stomping feet of thousands of fired-up football fans would upset such a delicate manufacturing process, but what do I know?

12. Catch a flick at Cactus Carpool Cinema

Tucson’s dry climate provides the perfect setting for a long lost art that the Covid shutdowns have revived: drive-in movies. The folks at Cactus Drive-In have capitalized on this by acquiring a site at 6201 S. Wilmot Road in southeast Tucson, hard by the runway for Davis Monthan Air Force Base and the Pima Air & Space Museum. So perhaps you’ll be watching Top Gun on the 40′ inflatable screen while an actual fighter plane goes roaring overhead. Or maybe it’ll be an old western while you sit nestled among the cacti and ocotillos. Overall it’s one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson Az.


IF YOU LIKED THIS POST PLEASE SHARE TO YOUR PINTEREST BOARDS


Wouldn’t it be nice to find a spot to take the family that went beyond the traditional zoo or children’s museum?

We love exploring these unusual museums in Tucson, Arizona. Many of the city’s unique museums reflect Tucson culture and showcase exhibits and artifacts that cannot be found anywhere else. From a funky spot to view old signs to a Cold-War colossus, to a rodeo tribute, check out our 8 favorite museums in Tucson.

Ignite Sign Art Museum

A collection of neon signs at one of our favorite museums in Tucson: the Ignite Sign Museum

It’s lit at the Ignite Sign Art Museum in a Tucson museum that celebrates the city’s long legacy of clever neon signage. While many of the signs are still in place at their original locations around town, the museum preserves and displays signs that are no longer used. Since this is a working sign restoration studio, on Wednesdays and Saturdays there are demonstrations of the neon bending that creates these wonderful designs.

PRO TIP: Visit the Ignite Sign Art Museum in Tucson on Wednesdays & Saturdays to see sign restoration in progress.

Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum

A collection of western saddles from the Tucson Rodeo Parade museum

Claiming to be the largest non-motorized parade in the country, the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum dates back to 1925 when this really was a cowtown. This is one of the more historic museums in Tucson. The museum celebrates the parade’s long legacy with a collection of more than 100 horse-drawn vehicles. (Some of them were used in the movie Oklahoma which, despite the title, was filmed in southern Arizona.)

The Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum is located inside four buildings, one of which is the old Tucson Municipal Flying Field airplane hangar. In addition to all the vehicles and saddles, there’s also a model railroad inside one of the buildings. The Tucson Rodeo takes place in February but the museum is open January, February and March.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Walking path at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

Okay, I have to admit that at first I was skeptical about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Even though this is one of the more popular museums in Tucson, my thought was “When you’re in Tucson there’s pretty much desert all around you, so why would I need to go a museum about it?” Well, when I hike in the desert there aren’t placards and informative guides explaining to me all the flora and fauna I encounter.

I found that a visit to the museum makes me appreciate the actual desert even more. There’s also a zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum and aquarium to round out the experience. And it’s an absolute delight to hang out in the hummingbird house! The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is adjacent to Saguaro National Park, one of 31 Arizona National Parks and Monuments in the state, a great place to test your newfound knowledge of the landscape.

PRO TIP: Visit adjacent Saguaro National Park (where you can take one of many great Tucson hikes!) after you explore the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to test your newfound knowledge of the landscape.

Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures

I was going to write a short story about this museum but I figured that was too obvious. The museum features more than 500 antique and contemporary miniature dollhouses and models. But it is more than just a museum of dollhouses. There are miniatures here of practically anything you can think of . . . like a set of animal carvings inside a walnut shell.

And lest ye think the Enchanted Tree shown above is not miniature at all, it’s hiding–at kid height–a series of miniature rooms in the nooks and crannies of its magical trunk. This is one of the museums in Tucson that’s lots of fun for miniature people as well!


History of Pharmacy Museum

Okay, a museum devoted to medicine may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there’s no doubting that it’s different. The world-class History of Pharmacy Museum is tucked into Drachman Hall on the University of Arizona campus. It’s definitely one of the more esoteric museums in Tucson.

Hundreds of thousands of items (full disclosure here: we did not count them but take their word for it) ranging from old-timey bottles of elixir to anti-venom kits for snake poison are displayed in antique shelves. A full-scale replica of an old-fashioned drugstore that looks like it was lifted from Main Street USA helps put all these unusual items into context. Reading the ingredients on the labels on some of the old jars it’s amazing what got approved when product safety was not as emphasized.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan II missile in silo at Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

During the Cold War in the mid-20th century there were 54 Titan II missile sites on active alert across America. It’s quite surprising to realize that the picturesque Sonoran Desert surrounding Tucson was the home of 18 of these underground silos, one of which survives as part of the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, Arizona, just a 25-minute drive due south of downtown Tucson. It’s the only place in the country where you can see one of these missiles in its original home. But don’t worry, that’s not a real nuclear warhead on top, (or so the guide told me.)

Gadsden Pacific Toy Train Museum

Just one of the many layouts at the Gadsden Pacific Toy Train Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum.

Formally known as the Gadsden Pacific Toy Train Operating Museum, this museum features nine indoor operating layouts. There’s also one set out in the garden, along with a train you can ride around the property. If that’s not enough, hop into the full-sized actual caboose for a browse around and photo op. This Tucson museum is a train lover’s delight.

Franklin Automobile Museum

Franklin antique cars lined up inside the Franklin Automobile museum
A row of Franklin cars lined up at the Franklin Automobile Museum

Lovers of classic cars will admire the collection of Franklin cars–and their unique setting at the Franklin Automobile Museum in northern Tucson. Set within in a quirky neighborhood that still has the original sandy roads from the 1940s with a 15mph speed limit, you get into the “early 20th century mood” before you even set your eyes on the cars themselves. Franklins, with their leading-edge air-cooled engines, were all the rage 100 years ago, but now are quite rare. This is the only independent museum in the country dedicated to the marque.


The magnificent weather around Tucson invites you to spend the majority of time outdoors, enjoying the splendid Arizona sunshine. But when you’re craving a little bit of shade (and air conditioning!) these unusual museums in Tucson are a great option. And if all this exploring has you feeling a bit “peckish,” satisfy your hunger with a Sonoran Hot Dog in Tucson: it’s a James Beard Award-winning classic!


IF YOU LIKED THIS POST PLEASE SHARE IT TO YOUR PINTEREST BOARDS


With so many Airbnb options, it’s a challenge filtering through all the listings. How do you narrow it down?

Before you choose your Airbnb Arizona, check out our list of tips-we’ll help you find the best Airbnb for YOU. We’ve stayed at Airbnb rentals throughout Arizona with generally positive results. In fact, we’ve stayed more than 1,000 nights at Airbnb places around the world. If Airbnb was a country, we’d probably qualify for citizenship.

Among the Airbnb places we’ve stayed in Arizona are a circa 1920s miner’s cottage in downtown Prescott, a mother-in-law suite with a private entrance in Tucson and a spare bedroom on a reservation in Navajo Nation not far from the eastern entrance to the Grand Canyon. (The hosts led us to a delicious place for authentic Indian fry bread.) The choices are varied and plentiful.

Airbnb Arizona cottage with prickly pear cactus out front
Airbnb in Bisbee, Arizona

Tip #1: Airbnb is not a chain

Each property is unique, with a more personal feel than a chain hotel room. Some have nice little touches, like fresh flowers or snacks in the fridge. (But remember, despite the name, breakfast is not usually included. These are not bed-and-breakfasts in the traditional sense.) In a cookie-cutter hotel chain, you might not remember where you are when you wake up because the room in Phoenix looks just like the room in Pittsburgh. Not so at an Airbnb in Arizona, where no two properties look the same.

Because of this uniqueness, it’s important be sure to view the photos of the listing carefully. One cottage may have leather sofas and a 72” TV, while a nearby basement flat sports a couch that should have stayed on the frat house porch. The prices should be reflective of the accommodations, but be sure to look before you book.

Tip #2: Book the “entire place” option if you like privacy

Many people think staying at an Airbnb is simply renting a room in someone’s house. While that is one of three lodging options on the site, we prefer having more privacy if we are are staying for longer than a night or two. For those longer stays we select the “Entire Place” option, which means we have our own fully self-contained living space.

The “entire place” at an Airbnb Arizona can range from an inlaw suite with a microwave and a coffee maker, to a full house, and every combination in-between. Each option works well, depending on your needs, so it’s important to know just what amenities are important to you. Which brings us to . . .

Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to ask questions

The Airbnb site makes it very easy to send questions to the property owner, most of whom respond within a few hours. In fact, that’s a good way to determine out how attentive a particular host may be. If you’re concerned about internet speed (a big one for us) or want to be clear about whether the kitchen has a full stove or just a microwave, just ask. Airbnb hosts want you to be happy with your choice; an unhappy guest is no fun for anyone. If they can’t meet your needs they’ll generally tell you, so you can look elsewhere.

queen size bedroom on tile floor in airbnb yuma arizona
Airbnb Yuma Az

Tip #4: Know your payment and cancellation options

Airbnb is super-easy to use; all payments are handled through the site. However, payment is typically taken upon reservation (sometimes broken into multiple payments for longer bookings), and cancellation terms can vary from host to host. Again, look before you book. Usually you will not have the same cancellation flexibility as a hotel. Fortunately Airbnb has become a bit more flexible with cancellation policies due to the affect of Covid on travel planning.

Tip #5: Verify the property location

Since the majority of Airbnbs are in private homes, there’s a much broader range of potential locations than typical hotels. In order to protect the privacy of property owners, Airbnb only provides an approximate location via a shaded circle on a map before you book. Once you’ve completed the reservation you’ll get the actual address. The circle is usually accurate enough so you can compare it to Google maps, which will help you determine if you’ll be near sights of interest, or overlooking a railroad track or highway.

Unfortunately, this is not always true. We once rented an Airbnb in California that was between a noisy railroad AND a busy highway. Since we had done our research beforehand we were a bit surprised, and disappointed when we arrived. The landlord’s only explanation was that Airbnb had their location wrong on the map. The moral of the story: if you’re concerned about the location, ask questions of the owner before booking (see Tip #3, above). They may not give you the exact address, but if you ask “how close is the nearest busy road or train?” the owner should respond with enough information to help you make an informed decision.

Desert garden in an Airbnb tucson arizona
Backyard of this colorful Airbnb in Tucson Az is available for guests to use

Tip #6: Verify what areas are available to you

In some Airbnbs you have access only to your own space, while in others you can use outdoor areas like the garden in the Tucson Airbnb above. If that’s important to you, verify ahead of time. It’s no use seeing pretty pictures of things you can’t use.

Tip #7: Read the reviews CAREFULLY

Much like Yelp,TripAdvisor or Booking.com, each listing on Airbnb provides reviews from prior guests. Poorly-maintained properties (or ungracious hosts) are generally easy to spot, and are quickly eliminated. But even once we’ve narrowed down our search to highly-ranked options, we still find some are a bit trickier to decipher. People have no problem leaving one-star reviews for an impersonal name brand hotel, but with Airbnb they’ve developed a relationship with their host and are less likely to say something negative. So you must read reviews more closely for subtle nuances in how the review is written. But even that is no guarantee . . . the properties are all unique and so are the standards of the guests staying in them.

We eliminated one rental in Pennsylvania because the toilet bowl was in the bedroom out in the open. Yet in over 30 positive reviews NO ONE mentioned it. Apparently their idea of “romantic” was different from ours. Ugh!

Comments about one Airbnb Arizona rental we stayed in described the “quiet neighborhood,” yet no one mentioned that the home backed onto a noisy freeway. We were diplomatic—yet honest—in our review, stating “light sleepers might be bothered by the nearby freeway.” More honesty in reviews will help everyone. As mentioned earlier, if you have any concerns, don’t be afraid to ask the host.

Tip #8: Some things can’t be seen in a photo

While pretty photos are nice, they don’t tell you what a place sounds or smells like. If you are particularly sensitive to odors such as cigarette smoke or cats, ask the owner if there’s been a smoker or a cat owner as a prior tenant. That’s where carefully reading reviews may help, but not always.

Also, don’t be shy about requesting that they use fragrance-free detergent to clean the sheets. Our philosophy is the best smell is no smell at all. The best quality hotels smell like . . . just plain clean. It makes for an awful night sleeping when sheets are doused with Febreze, or some other strong fragrance.

front door of a cabin in the woods at an airbnb arizona-flagstaff
An Airbnb in Flagstaff Az

PRO TIP: The lingering effects of Covid have upended the housing market, which has had an effect on Airbnb properties. If you’re concerned about an owner cancelling your reservation, for now be cautious when choosing an Airbnb Arizona that’s a stand-alone property

Tip #9: Be aware your Airbnb Arizona may be sold

One of the unexpected side effects of the Covid pandemic is that the residential real estate market has gone bonkers. Houses are being sold above the listing price, in many cases without the buyer even looking at them. So how does this affect Airbnb Arizona renters? Well, we’ve had several of our Airbnb rentals cancelled in 2021 because the landlord decided to sell the house we were supposed to be renting. We can’t really blame them, but this left us high and dry with no place to rent in an increasingly tight market. So what to do?

Tip #10: Avoid rentals at a freestanding place

Freestanding home are more likely to be properties that the owners fixed up as an investment, which makes selling them in a hot market attractive. Airbnbs that are adjacent to the owner’s home–such as a separate apartment, or in-law suite are a more stable option–at least until the real estate market settles down. They are less like likely to sell that and you are less likely to lose your rental.

Casitas (small guest houses) are very popular at Airbnb Arizona properties.They are located on the owner’s home property and make a great option for a short or long-term stay.

Overall, we highly recommend Airbnb Arizona but recognize that, compared to staying at a chain hotel, it takes a bit more work to find just the right place. That extra effort yields the reward of lodging in places all over Arizona that are well off the crowded tourist path, while providing rewarding friendships and an enriched travel experience.

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST PLEASE SHARE IT TO YOUR PINTEREST BOARDS


Is this really where they launched missiles? Or just a creepy underground set from Stranger Things?

A visit to the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona is an eye-opening experience. This amazing underground sight shows the might (and fright) that was created during the Cold War. Take a tour for a glimpse into national defense in mid-century America.

Ah, the Cold War was a wonderful time. While the United States and Soviet Union were nuclear saber-rattling with each other, some Americans were building fallout shelters in their backyards to survive the expected onslaught of airborne radiation. Meanwhile, school-age children hid under their desks in school during air raid drills–apparently nothing provides as much protection overhead as a piece of flimsy plywood. Those were some tense times.

Titan II missile in silo at Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

Where is the Titan Missile Museum?

It’s quite surprising to realize that the beguiling Sonoran Desert surrounding Tucson, with its majestic saguaro cactus forests, was a nuclear-tipped Ground Zero. Burrowed beneath a landscape that reveals an unexpected array of plant and animal life is a surviving Titan Missile silo. The Titan Missile Museum barely scratches the earth’s surface in Green Valley, Arizona, just a 25-minute drive due south of downtown Tucson.

Radioactive suits at the Titan Missile Museum.

From 1963 through 1987 there were 54 Titan II missile sites on active alert across America; a whopping 18 silos of the encircled Tucson, making the city a prime target for the Soviet Union. (I bet THAT wasn’t in the tourism brochures back then!) The silos are relics of a time when MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) was the normal course of business between the two superpowers. Visiting launch complex 571-7 at the Titan Missile Museum is a sobering reminder of how close the countries came to pulling the nuclear trigger.


Touring the Titan Missile Museum-Underground

Visitors start their tour by descending a set of metal steps more than 100 feet deep into the subterranean bunker, which is protected behind a set of hardened blast doors. As if to show that the only dangers aren’t delivered from the sky, the entrance is clearly marked by a sign stating “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” The guides are former Air Force personnel, many of whom were missile crew members who worked and lived underground during the Cold War.

During the 45-minute tour you get to visit the Launch Control Center. With its vast array of blinking mainframe computers and rotary dial phones it feels like a time tunnel to 1963, or perhaps something out of a cheesy science fiction film. In fact, the museum served as a setting in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact; in its cameo role the missile was transformed into a “Warp Drive” space ship. Across the room a standard government-issue metal file cabinet painted bright red held the top-secret launch codes that the crew would have used to send the missile skyward.

The key to ending the world.

PRO TIP: Touring the underground silo of the Titan Missile Museum requires descending and climbing 55 stairs.


Visitors can sit at the launch console and even reenact turning the launch key for a Titan missile. When I tried it I couldn’t believe how nervous I felt. The missile was topped with a dummy warhead and was no longer programmed to wipe out an undisclosed location in the former Soviet Union. So really, what could go wrong? But it’s easy to imagine the thoughts of the men and women who had trained for such a day, with a simple twist of the wrist hurling a nuclear missile skyward.

Tunnels lit by sputtering fluorescent lights turn off at right angles, giving the space the look of an oddly illuminated ant colony. Signs throughout indicate “No Lone Zone. Two Man Policy Mandatory.” This was an extra security measure designed to prevent a rogue crew member from tinkering with the equipment.

At the end of one tunnel the actual Titan missile looms overhead, still poised to reach supersonic speed in seconds. Visitors also access the crew’s cramped living quarters, a Spartan living arrangement they likened to a “Motel 2.” The 4-member crew worked in 24-hour shifts trained for a job they hoped never to fulfill.


Above the missile silo.

Aboveground at the Titan Missile Museum

Back above ground there is a museum that relays the history of the site and the Titan Missile program during the Cold War. In the gift shop you can even buy a mushroom cloud-adorned board game called Nuclear War. It’s billed as the “comical catyclysmic card game of global destruction.” You may never play a boring old game of Monopoly again!

YouTube video

Visitor Information

  • Address: 1580 W. Duval Mine Rd. Green Valley, Arizona 85614
  • Hours: 9:45am – 5:00pm; open 7 days a week Oct-May, closed Tue, Wed June-Sept
  • Price: $13.50 adults; discounts for seniors/military/children 12 and under

PRO TIP: Due to the small space, tours are limited to 26 individuals each; purchase tickets online in advance to ensure your spot


Afterwards, for another Cold war site that is active today, tour the Boneyard of military aircraft in Tucson to see where 3,000+ planes are stored.

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, PLEASE SHARE IT TO YOUR PINTEREST BOARDS


Planning a road trip in Arizona can be overwhelming–it’s such a big state & there’s a LOT to see.

There’s something about Arizona’s clear blue skies and wide open spaces that make it perfect for a road trip. But what are the best road trips in Arizona? That really depends on you, and your own personal interests. We’ve driven all over the state–from corner to corner–and have put together 11 different road trips for you to try.

Some of these Arizona road trips are thematic, others are based on geographic areas. Most can be done in 2-3 days, which allows for plenty of time to visit the sights without simply stopping for a photo op. (Of course, you might want to linger for a few days at some magnificent parks and National Monuments!) Any of these Arizona road trip itineraries can be mixed and matched with another (or 2 . . . or 3!), so you can put together your own personalized best road trip in Arizona!

NOTE: Some National Park, State Park, and Navajo Nation sights may be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check prior to visiting.

Road trip in Arizona-Old station wagon with luggage on roof driving in front of Arizona scenery
Photo courtesy Arizona Tourism

PRO TIP: Be sure you have luggage that’s “road trip ready”. See our guide on how to choose the best 4 wheeled suitcase.


Arizona Route 66 Road Trip

For many, driving along old Route 66 would be the best road trip in Arizona. It’s a mixture of the old west with plenty of mid-century kitsch . . . and even a couple of abandoned old sites just withering in the Arizona sun. Old Route 66 parallels (and in some cases overlaps) Interstate 40 across the state, so the route is pretty straightforward.

map of route 66 road trip route in Arizona
Map of Route 66 Arizona road trip

Stops along the way include Petrified Forest National Park, as well as the cool small towns such as Flagstaff, Willams and Winslow (yep, the town from the Eagles’ song Take it Easy! You can stop by and be Standing on the corner Winslow Arizona). See more in our Route 66 in Arizona post.

  • Highlights: Petrified Forest National Park, Old Route 66 towns
  • Total Miles: About 260
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Grand Canyon, North Central, Northeast/Four Corners
  • Where to stay: Any of these retro hotels and motels on Route 66
Two 1950s classic cars parked in front of the Wigwam motel


Arizona Classic Cars Road Trip

Anyone who loves classic cars will love Arizona: the whole state is a virtual outdoor car museum! The dry, sunny climate is perfect for old cars, and there are plenty of places in the state where you’ll be able to see them out there sunning themselves. If you love seeing classic cars in all forms, then this is one of the perfect road trips in Arizona for you.

map of Arizona classic car road trip route
Map of a classic car road trip in Arizona

This road trip through Arizona takes you along Route 66, then turns south, almost to the Mexican border. Spend a day in Tucson, where a unique mid-century marketing idea placed over 50 classic cars around town. Finish your journey in the Arizona small town of Bisbee; a street parked with old cars (and a really cool old bus!) looks like “the land that time forgot.”

  • Highlights: Route 66, Cottonwood, Tucson, Bisbee
  • Total Miles: About 600
  • Days: 4-5
  • Connect with these itineraries: Any other road trip on this list–you’ll be all over the state!
  • Where to stay: Holbrook, Cottonwood, Tucson, Bisbee


Northwestern Arizona Road Trip: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is not just a magnificent destination on its own, it also makes a great anchor for road trips in Arizona. Begin (or end) this Arizona Journey at Las Vegas, just a short drive to Hoover Dam, an engineering marvel. Then make your way down to the town of Kingman, which will put you smack-dab in “Route 66” country. Be sure to check out the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum, and the Arizona Route 66 Museum while you’re there.

map of las vegas to grand canyon road trip route
Map of the Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Arizona road trip

Continue making your way east along Old Route 66–this stretch through Peach Springs and Seligman is said to be the inspiration for the fictitious town of “Radiator Springs” in the Disney movie Cars. Spend some time enjoying the Victorian and mid-century ambiance of Williams before heading north to Grand Canyon National Park.

  • Highlights: Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Old Route 66 towns
  • Total Miles: 297
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Flagstaff & North Central AZ, Sedona Loop
  • Where to stay: Kingman, Williams, Tusayan (Grand Canyon Gate)

PRO TIP: If you’d like to avoid the crowds, consider a Grand Canyon November road trip.


North Central Arizona Road Trip: To the North Rim

This Arizona road trip passes through some well-known sites, but then veers off onto the road-less-taken. Begin at the charming town of Flagstaff, with its terrific downtown full of brewpubs and coffee shops. There are some magnificent Arizona National Monuments along this rout. Explore the ancient indigenous dwellings at nearby Walnut Canyon and Waupatki National Monuments, then check out the geologic wonder of Sunset Crater National Monument.

map of north central arizona and grand canyon north rim road trip route
Map of the North Central Arizona road trip that visits the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Head north (be sure to stop at the Cameron Trading Post for some Native American Frybread!) toward the town of Page. From here you can take an excursion to the famous Horseshoe Bend, or go boating on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Head west, skirting the magnificent Vermillion Cliffs (or off-roading, if you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle) on your way to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Continue on toward Utah and Nevada, stopping to see the historic homestead at Pipe Spring National Monument, which still has a working farm.

  • Highlights: Flagstaff, Horseshoe Bend, North Rim of the Grand Canyon
  • Total Miles: 390
  • Days: 3-4
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Grand Canyon and Northwest AZ, Sedona & Central AZ, Four Corners and Northeast AZ
  • Where to stay: Flagstaff, Page, Fredonia/Kanab (near North Rim)
native american frybread taco, topped with meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions


Navajo Country: 4 Corners & Monument Valley Road Trip

This itinerary combines Native American history and culture with some wide-open spaces and some world-class geography geekiness! From Flagstaff, head northeast through the Navajo Nation. Be sure to stop into the Burger King in Kayenta, Arizona . . . not just for a Whopper; this is also the site of a museum commemorating the Navajo “Code Talkers” from World War II. Make your way to Monument Valley, home to incredible rock formations (and a whole passel of John Wayne movies!). From here, geography geeks (like us!) must make the short detour to Four Corners Monument–the only place in American where you can stand in 4 states at once!

map of 4 corners and monument valley road trip route
Map of the 4 Corners & Monument Valley Arizona road trip

As road trips in Arizona go, this one really delves into Native American sites. From Monument Valley, head south through the more of the Navajo Nation. Visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument to see the site of 5,000(!) years of civilization. Stop into the historic Hubbell Trading Post, which has been selling the work of Native American artisans for nearly 150 years. Continue southward to connect up with old Route 66 near Petrified Forest National Park.

Purple heart surrounded by turqouise stones
  • Highlights: Navajo heritage sites, Monument Valley scenery, Four Corners
  • Total Miles: 488
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Grand Canyon & Northwest AZ, North Central to North Rim, Mogollon Rim & Eastern AZ
  • Where to stay: Kayenta, Monument Valley, Chinle

PRO TIP: The Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, the State of Arizona does NOT; be sure to plan your schedule accordingly!


London Calling: Western Az & the Colorado River Road Trip

This is one of the lesser-known road trips in Arizona, but those seeking a to see a different side of the state will be well-rewarded. Head west from Phoenix to the small community of Quartzite, popular with RVers and van-dwellers, made famous in the recent Oscar-winning film Nomadland. From here, head northward, coming alongside the Colorado River. Get in some “beach time” (and camping if you like) along the Colorado at Cattail Cove and Lake Havasu State Parks. Be sure to visit the original London Bridge, which now proudly links the city of Lake Havasu with an island in the Colorado River.

map of western AZ and Colorado river road trip map
Map of the west central Arizona road trip-see the original London Bridge!

This Arizona road trip continues northeast to Kingman, which will intersect with Route 66. Spend some time exploring the museums and memorabilia along Old Route 66 (see the Route 66 itinerary, above). Finally, head back toward Phoenix, stopping in at Wickenburg, an old west town that’s home to several dude ranches and the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate.

  • Highlights: London Bridge, Colorado River, Route 66, the town of Wickenburg
  • Total Miles: 392
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Grand Canyon & Northwest AZ, Sedona & Central AZ, Yuma & Southwestern AZ
  • Where to stay: Lake Havasu City, Kingman, Wickenburg

Red Rocks & Red Wine: Sedona & North Central Arizona Road Trip

This one of those road trips in Arizona that offers a little bit of everything: history, ancient native dwellings, stunning scenery and wonderful small towns. But first, before you head north out of Phoenix, fill your belly at Bianco Pizzeria or Ted’s Hot Dogs.

Stop at Camp Verde to learn some local history at Fort Verde Historic Park before moving on to Montezuma Castle National Monument (and adjacent Montezuma Well) to see some ancient cliff dwellings. Pick up a map of local hiking trails at the Red Rock Visitor Center outside Sedona. Following a trek through Sedona’s jaw-dropping scenery, browse for crystals & new age goodies in the many shops lining route 89A, or explore the many other ways to enjoy Sedona in the Fall.

map of sedona and north central arizona road trip route
Map of a central Arizona road trip to see charming towns & Sedona’s famous red rocks

Continue on to explore the charming shops, restaurants–and wine tasting rooms–of Old Town Cottonwood. Lovers of ancient culture will enjoy a side trip to the ruins of Tuzigoot National Monument in nearby Clarkdale. Stroll the streets of Jerome, an old mining town clinging to the side of a mountain, before taking the mountain pass (best done in daylight!) southwest to Prescott. While there, stroll the picturesque town square or attend the World’s Oldest Rodeo (really!). Continue the Western theme with a mosey on down to Wickenburg (see the “London Calling” road trip itinerary above).

  • Highlights: Stunning red rock scenery & hiking, great small towns, Verde Valley wine tasting
  • Total Miles: 245
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, North Central AZ, Western AZ/Colorado River, Southwestern AZ
  • Where to stay: Sedona, Jerome/Cottonwood, Prescott or Wickenburg

Life on the Edge: East Central Arizona & the Mogollon Rim Road Trip

Those craving a little greenery when planning road trips in Arizona should head to the eastern part of the state. Here, the largest ponderosa pine forest in the US sits along the Mogollon Rim, a giant escarpment. At 8,000 feet, the climate is refreshingly cool in summer (and snowy in winter!). Begin by heading east from Phoenix to the town of Globe, with it’s charming courthouse. Explore the Besh Ba Gowah archeological ruins of the ancient Salado people, then head north to Tonto National Monument to see Salado cliff dwellings.

map of east central arizona and mogollon rim road trip route
Map of the east central Arizona road trip amid the state’s greenery

Continue on to Payson, the central point for much of the outdoor activity located amidst the Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. From Payson, drive east along the Mogollon Rim (pronounced “mo-Goy-on”) itself as you catch glimpses of magnificent valley views 2,000 feet below. Stop by the Mogollon Rim Visitor Center, which provides interpretive exhibits and a photo op. Emerge from the forest and continue northeast to the Petrified Forest National Park and its Rainbow Forest Museum, which shows the type of “critters” used to live nearby. (Spoiler alert: they were BIGGG!)

  • Highlights: Ponderosa pine forest with views, hiking, camping, fishing, ancient indigenous dwellings
  • Total Miles: 285
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Navajo Country & NE Arizona, North Central Arizona
  • Where to stay: Globe, Payson, Holbrook
Horton creek in central Arizona with water lily greens in foreground and small waterfall in background-near Payson

3:10 to Yuma: Southwestern Road Trips in Arizona

On this road trip in Arizona head west from Phoenix via to explore some of the state’s rugged southwest terrain. Rockhounds will love collecting quartz at Crystal Hill in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Continue to the most southwestern corner of the state, to explore the many sights in the historic border town of Yuma, including its old Territorial Prison.

map of southwest arizona road trip route
Map of the southwestern Arizona road trip

Head back eastward, turning south toward Ajo, a great stopover when visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where you can hike to the abandoned Victoria Mine amid majestic Organ Pipe cactus. Continue eastward and drive up Kitt Peak for a tour of the National Observatory, which will give you a new appreciation for those starry Arizona skies, before you head onward to Tucson.

  • Highlights: Crystal collecting, historic Yuma, Organ Pipe Cactus NM, Kitt Peak Observatory
  • Total Miles: 576
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Western AZ & Colorado River, South Central Arizona
  • Where to stay: Yuma, Ajo

South Central Arizona Road Trip: History, Art & Underground Wonders

Tucson makes a great starting point for many road trips in Arizona, especially those in the southern part of the state. After feasting on plenty of Sonoran Hot Dogs in Tucson, take a cooling stroll underground viewing the wonders at Kartchner Caverns State Park. Loop back south and west, stopping to sip some of the recent vintages at one of the 17(!) wineries in the Sonoita/Elgin region. Continue south to the funky little village of Patagonia, perhaps spending a few days at the Circle Z, Arizona’s oldest continually operating guest ranch.

map of south central arizona road trip route
Map of the south central Arizona road trip

From here, it’s just a few miles to the town of Nogales, which straddles the Mexican border. It’s fun to park your car on the Arizona side and walk across the border to the Mexican side of Nogales. Browse the streets for Mexican wares, perhaps stopping for lunch at Leo’s Cafe. Turn northward, and allow plenty of time to explore the multiple exhibits at Tumacocori National Historical Park. From here it’s just a short jaunt northward to the artsy community of Tubac (pottery, anyone?). Finish this road trip in Arizona by touring another underground wonder–this one of the man-made variety: the Titan Missile Museum.

  • Highlights: Underground caverns, Mexican border town, wineries
  • Total Miles: 218
  • Days: 2-3 (longer if you stay at Circle Z)
  • Connect with these itineraries: Southeast Arizona, Classic Car Road Trip, Southwestern Arizona
  • Where to stay: Benson, Patagonia, Tubac
Titan II missile in silo at Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

Southeast Arizona Road Trip: Old West Immersion

Howdy, pardner! Feel like seeing a bit of the Old West? Then this might just be your favorite of road trips in Arizona. The southeastern part of the state is home to the town of Tombstone–home of the famous “Shootout at the OK Corral.” From there you head south to Bisbee, and Douglas, which are old mining towns that are now cool and funky in a retro-sort of way.

map of SE arizona road trip route
Map of a southeastern Arizona road trip

Round this Arizona road trip by visiting two Arizona national parks and monuments: Chiracahua and Fort Bowie. At Chiracahua you’ll see stunning ancient rock formations, whereas at Fort Bowie you’ll learn of the stunning (and often grim) clash between the native Chiracahua Apache and the U.S. Army. If you’re into the history of the old west, these destinations are a must-do on a road trip in Arizona.

PRO TIP: Southeastern Arizona is apple country. If visiting in the fall, be sure to explore ways to enjoy Apples in Arizona!

  • Highlights: The towns of Tombstone & Bisbee, Fort Bowie National Historic Site.
  • Total Miles: About 200
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Classic Car road trip, Tucson & South of the Border
  • Where to stay: Tombstone/Bisbee, Willcox
bizarre rock "needles" at chiricahua national monument

There you have it: 11 different road trips in Arizona. They’re like pieces of a puzzle–mix and match ’em up to make up YOUR perfect road trip in Arizona! Where will YOU go???

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, PLEASE SHARE TO ONE OF YOUR PINTEREST BOARDS

COMPLETE LIST OF ARIZONA ROAD TRIPS

  1. Arizona Route 66 Road Trip
  2. Arizona Classic Cars Road Trip
  3. Northwestern Arizona: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Road Trip
  4. North Central Arizona Road Trip: To the North Rim
  5. Navajo Country: Four Corners & Monument Valley Road Trip
  6. London Calling: West central Arizona & the Colorado River Road Trip
  7. Red Rocks & Red Wine: Sedona & North Central Arizona Road Trip
  8. Life on the Edge: East Central Arizona & the Mogollon Rim Road Trip
  9. 3:10 to Yuma: Southwestern Arizona Road Trip
  10. South Central Arizona Road Trip: History, Art & Underground Wonders
  11. Old West Immersion: Southeastern Arizona Road Trip

The dry weather makes the whole state of Arizona one giant outdoor car museum. Relics are everywhere!

It might be something in the water (or the lack of it) but Arizona is a giant outdoor car museum. This makes it the perfect place to take a road trip through Arizona in search of classic cars. There are many classic car sights throughout the state sitting right out in the open without any protective coverings. The desert climate provides an arid environment that inhibits rust, so car owners think nothing of keeping their classics parked outdoors for much of the year.

Classic car fans seeking the call of the outdoors have plenty to keep them entertained. During a 10-hour, 600-mile road trip spread out over a few days, visitors can see a wealth of seemingly random classic car sights, along with the beautiful scenery for which Arizona is famous.

Start your road trip through Arizona on an open-air classic car quest right on America’s Mother Road: Route 66. There are several spots along this route that commemorate the glory days of road tripping, with wonderful examples of vehicles (and structures) of days gone by. (For more on Route 66 itself, check out our Route 66 in Arizona Road Trip post.)


Rusty car in the middle of desert-road trip through Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park: Old Route 66 runs through it!

Most people come to Petrified National Forest Park for the magnificent displays of wood that have turned into colorful stone fossils. But road trippers know that hidden vestiges of an early alignment of Route 66 also snake through the park. One guide to finding it is the remains of a 1932 Studebaker that looks like it was abandoned almost nine decades ago by a wayward traveler.

The tires are long gone, yet the vehicle remains, burnished to a deep umber by the desert sun, sitting balanced atop the old road that remains visible in the sand below. Take a moment to look around at the harsh landscape and imagine what it was like for migrants right out of The Grapes of Wrath in the 1930s as they headed west to escape the Great Depression for the promised opportunity of California.


PRO TIP: For more road trip ideas, check out our Best Road Trips in Arizona post.

Holbrook: A classic car with every room

Further west on Route 66 travelers can sleep in a replica Native American teepee at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook. This novel motel is “furnished” with classic cars that are parked right outside each of the teepees. (Despite the name of the motel they are teepees, not wigwams.) So, even if you’re driving a standard late model rental, you’ll feel like you are cruising along the highway in the 1950s.


map of Arizona classic car road trip route

Winslow: A road trip through Arizona rock n’ roll history

Statue of folk singer with front of ford pickup in foreground, Winslow Arizona route 66
The beloved Flatbed Ford right near the the intersection with Route 66 in Winslow

The town of Winslow takes its Route 66 connections seriously with giant route markers painted on the street. Here you’ll find an intersection that appears in the Jackson Browne-penned song (made famous by the Eagles) Take It Easy. As the song goes: Well I’m standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl my lord in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me. The town has commemorated this lyric with Standing on the Corner Park, with a statue of a folk singer (and more recently one of the late Eagles singer Glenn Frey) staring at the object of desire in the song, an actual flame-red 1960 Ford flatbed pickup truck.


Seligman: A road trip through Arizona Route 66 history

old cars around old gas pumps, Seligman, AZ
Vintage cars in Seligman, AZ

It is because of this little hamlet, bypassed by Interstate 40, that the Route 66 legend lives on. In 1987 locals petitioned the State of Arizona and had it designated a historic highway. This story is said to have 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.

PRO TIP: Check out these terrific retro-style hotels on Route 66 in Arizona where you can stay to really get into the “get your kicks” mood.


Cottonwood: Fill ‘er up!

Bings Burger Station Cottonwood Arizona

At this point on your road trip through Arizona you’re probably a bit hungry. Begin heading southward, stopping at Bing’s Burger Station in historic Cottonwood for a midcentury-style pick-me-up. This old-fashioned diner is set up in a restored 1940s Atlantic Richfield gas station. You really can’t miss it—parked next to the vintage Gilmore pumps out front is a bright red 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe sedan. Enjoy a classic American road trip meal of a deluxe cheeseburger, hand-cut french fries and a malted milk shake while surrounded by decades of service station memorabilia.


Tucson: Truly Something

Black and yellow antique car with the words "Truly Nolen" painted on the side

Continue south on your road trip through Arizona for 215 miles to the city of Tucson. It’s become something of an open-air car museum in its own right, due to the efforts of one man whose name–truly–was Truly Nolen. In the 1950s the pest exterminating king started parking classic cars around town to promote his business. The collection of Truly Nolen cars now totals more than 50 so it’s hard to go a mile or so in any direction without coming across one, creating a delightful scavenger hunt for classic car buffs.

PRO TIP: Be sure to snag a Sonoran Hot Dog while you’re in Tucson!

While 1950s land yachts like the flamboyantly tail-finned 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air are always popular, a few sentimental favorites are the 1923 Dodge Roadster, 1931 Ford Model A and the pocket-sized 1957 Nash Metropolitan. Amazingly, all the cars are left open for inspection. Start your search at company headquarters on 3636 East Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716 where a few of the cars are parked out front.


Bisbee, Arizona: Did I just enter a time warp?

Travel 100 miles southeast of Tucson, to the old mining town of Bisbee is located 100 miles southeast of Tucson. Although only a few miles from the Mexican border, the surprisingly high elevation (5,500 feet!) gives Bisbee the feel of a mountain town. Quaint shops line the historic downtown, but one section on the edge of town in the Lowell Historic District looks like it was abandoned in the 1950s. Largely empty Erie St. is lined with classic cars . . . and one magnificent old bus. The entire street has a slightly apocalyptic air that wouldn’t look out of place in a science fiction film. The blob attacks!

Among the vintage 1950s chrome and tail fin cars is an iconic 1955 GMC PD-4501 Scenicruiser observation coach parked by the vintage Texaco station. It looks as if it’s just waiting for a fill-up before the passengers board. Its owners have cleverly painted a “Strayhound” logo on the side, so you’re not tempted to confuse it with that other canine-ish named bus company 😉.

If all this “in the wild” classic car hopping has worn you out, finish up your road trip through Arizona at The Shady Dell trailer court. Here, you can spend a night in a vintage motorhome. The choice of a dozen accommodations includes a 1947 Airporter bus done up as a “Polynesian Palace,” a 1955 Airstream, and, for the nautically inclined, a wood 1947 Chris Craft yacht. It’s the perfect retro place to rest your head after road trip hunting classic cars in the wild.


PRO TIP: Find more classic car sights in Arizona and the United States in our book, the Roadster Guide to America’s Classic Car Museums & Attractions.

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, WHY NOT SHARE IT TO ONE OF YOUR PINTEREST BOARDS?


I can’t resist a local food tradition. The digs are nothing fancy, but the dogs are devine!

The Sonoran hot dog in Tucson is no simple ballpark snack. This humbly-named culinary delight is the recipient of a James Beard Award. It’s a symphony of flavors and cultures (and a meal unto itself!) tucked inside a fluffy bollilo roll. Read on to learn more about the history of the Sonoran hot dog, and where to sample one.

What, exactly, is a Sonoran Hot Dog in Tucson?

Spoiler alert: this puppy is a meal unto itself! Here’s how to recognize a Sonoran hot dog:

  • A bacon-wrapped hot dog
  • Pinto beans
  • Chopped fresh tomatoes & onions (or pico de gallo)
  • Jalapenos
  • Mustard & mayonnaise
  • A bolillo roll (ideally top-split)
  • Bonus: a grilled guero chile on the side

Hand holding sonoran hot dog tucson in front of Mexican sign

Evolution of a cross-border street food classic

Like many food classics, opinions differ as to the exact origin of the Sonoran hot dog. They first emerged sometime in the 1960s most likely in the neighboring state of Sonora, Mexico. Since this region is just 70 miles to the south of Tucson, flavors, as well as people, cross back and forth. Even the geography has a cross-border name: Tucson is located in the Sonoran desert.

Mexican hot dog cart
A classic hot dog carreta in Mexico

Bobby (a local who never gave me his last name) told me, “Sonoran hot dogs came from the food carts in Sonora, Mexico, not from Tucson. I remember eating them there when I was a kid in the ‘80s. You’d never see these hotdogs in Tucson back then.” Sometime in the last 30-40 years, these street food staples migrated north into the U.S.

The food carts definitely traveled north with the hot dogs. Known as “carretas,” you’ll find them on street corners throughout Tucson. Most basic carretas only make hot dogs, but many grew into more full-service food trucks that offer tacos, quesadillas and more. Sometimes you can sit at a few outdoor chairs and tables scattered out front. Fortunately, the sunny Tucson climate is perfect for this. A few carretas have even “graduated” to restaurants, where you can sit inside.

El Guero Canelo: Tucson’s Sonoran hot dog “ambassador”

Like any great regional food favorite, locals will argue about where to find the best version. Regardless of preference , Daniel Contreras is undoubtedly the Sonoran hot dog’s greatest ambassador. Contreras is the proprietor of El Guero Canelo, a mini-chain of restaurants serving the Sonoran hot dog in Tucson. True to the roots of the Sonoran hot dog, Contreras started “El Guero” as a food cart in the early 1990s in south Tucson.

That humble cart grew and grew, eventually becoming a restaurant with enclosed seating. But as the cart grew, so did El Guero Canelo’s reputation. In 2018 the James Beard Foundation named El Guero Canelo one of its American Classics. And so a hot dog became a legend.

Daniel Contreras receiving the James Beard Award in 2018

The original cart occupies pride of place out front. In an ironic twist, Daniel Contreras didn’t begin is business with hot dogs. “At the beginning we didn’t sell hot dogs. We sold carne asada. The reason we started selling hot dogs was because our stand was so small that people thought it was a hot dog stand, so they started asking me for hot dogs.” 

At the beginning we didn’t sell hot dogs. We sold carne asada. The reason we started selling hot dogs was because our stand was so small that people thought it was a hot dog stand, so they started asking me for hot dogs. 

Daniel contreras, El Guero Canelo

Today Contreras has three restaurants scattered around Tucson, along with a meat market adjacent to his original South Tucson location. He also owns a bakery in Magdelena, Mexico where he makes all the tortillas and buns for his restaurants. That’s some hot dog entrepreneurship!

Sonoran hot dogs Tucson, 4 lined up in a row at El Guero Canelo
A tray of Sonoran hot dogs at El Guero Canelo. Notice the top-split Bolillo rolls.

Those buns are a signature of  “El Guero”: thick, fluffy bolillo rolls. Unlike typical hot dog rolls, these are sliced across part of the top, creating a “boat” in which to nestle the hot dog and its’ hefty heap of toppings.

Where to get Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson, AZ

Following is our list of favorite spots to grab a Sonoran hot dog in Tucson (in alphabetical order). We’ve always been happy with the lip-smacking taste of Tucson at each of these. If you’re really ambitious (or hungry), you could make a mini-road trip out of trying several spots. You might not drive the mileage of an Arizona Route 66 Road Trip, but you’ll definitely cover some territory!

Aqui con El Nene

“El Nene” is a popular spot for Sonran dogs in Tucson

Aqui con el Nene Tucson, is affectionately known as “El Nene” by the locals, who consider it the Sonoran hot dog in Tucson. It’s a popular spot in northern Tucson that falls into the hybrid-cart category. The large food truck is parked in front of a former restaurant/bar. Seating is in a covered outdoor pavilion or inside the former restaurant. (There’s a newer, brick-and-mortar shop on the south side of town as well.) It boasts an extensive condiment bar that includes enough fresh and marinated veggies to create a side dish to accompany your dog. Potato lovers should try the Papanchas, which are baked potato topped with your choice of Mexican meats and other goodies.

  • Locations (2): North Tucson; additional location in South Tucson
  • Category: The original location (north) is a food truck with indoor/outdoor seating
  • Address: 4415 N Flowing Wells Rd., 65 W. Valencia Rd.

BK Tacos

BK’s Tucson is another brick-and-mortar staple, with two locations in town. Originally known as BK’s Carne Asada & Hot Dogs, the name change reflects the growing focus on a variety of Mexican foods. The Sonoran hot dog has all the requisite ingredients, but we found the bun a little uninspired—it wasn’t toasted, and had trouble holding up to the mammoth fillings.

  • Locations (2): South Tucson; additional location north of downtown
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 5118 S 12th Ave.

Calle Tepa Mexican Street Grill & Bar

Calle Tepa is a casual brick-and-mortar restaurant that offers a slightly more upscale setting for this Sonoran classic (i.e. you both order and eat indoors.) To keep with the “street food” theme, you order at a food counter that is a converted street cart. The rolls are hefty enough to hoist the dog for the duration, and the pico de gallo served on top is always made with gorgeous red ripe tomatoes and fresh cilantro. The restaurant specializes a variety of Mexican street foods, such as tortas and manchegos. Calle Tepa also has a bar in back, for those who’d like a Margarita or a cerveza with their Sonoran hot dog.

  • Location: Southeast Tucson
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 6151 E Broadway Blvd.
Doesn’t this look delicious???


El Guero Canelo

If you’re only going to get one Sonoran hot dog in Tucson, this is the place to go. (C’mon! It won a James Beard Award!) The original location is a stand that has morphed to include indoor seating. Fame has brought crowds and a bit of glitz: the diners now receive pagers to alert them when their food is ready, and a video of the James Beard Awards plays on a loop in the dining area. Regardless, the dogs are still tasty, although the custom-made Mexican rolls are not toasted. Two additional locations in Tucson (and one in Phoenix.)

  • Locations (3): South Tucson; additional locations in North & East Tucson
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 5201 S. 12th Ave., 2480 N Oracle Rd., 5802 E 22nd St.

El Sinaloense Hot Dog Cart

Despite its name (Sinaloa is the state in Mexico directly south of Sonora), this cart-with-tables serves up traditional a Sonoran dog in Tucson.

The atmosphere is classic careta; diners sit at folding tables and chairs tucked under a canvas canopy in the middle of an empty corner lot. The dogs are nestled in a nicely toasted bun, served with the traditional roasted pepper alongside.

  • Location: East Tucson
  • Category: Carreta
  • Address: 1526 N Alvernon Way

Hot Dogs La Reyna

La Reyna is a food cart/restaurant hybrid: seating is inside a storefront at a small strip mall, while the “kitchen” is the food truck parked out front. The hot dog is a traditional version of the classic Sonoran hot dog in Tucson

, with the bacon-wrapped dog nice and crispy and the roll toasted in butter on the griddle. When we’re feeling super-indulgent, we order Chipilones hot dogs. These are the same dogs, only with cheese melted on top-OH YEAH! La Reyna also makes their own horchata and limonada, the latter using fresh limes.

  • Category: Carreta with adjacent indoor seating
  • Location: North Tucson, just off 1st Ave.
  • Address: 704 E Prince Rd, Tucson, AZ 85719

PRO TIP: If you like cheese on your Sonoran hot dog, order “Chipilones”


Los Ponchos

This carreta, or cart, is located on a street corner about 3 miles north of the University of Arizona. A few tables and chairs under a canopy alongside the cart is a traditional Sonoran hot dog in Tucson setup. It’s popular with students and faculty alike. In addition to the Sonoran hot dog, Los Ponchos features a “queso-dogo,” which is a hot dog-filled quesadilla. Try this if you simply must have a tortilla with your frank. (And we can personally confirm that it’s pretty darned terrific.)

  • Category: Food truck with outdoor seating
  • Location: About 3 miles north of the University of Arizona, near Midtown
  • Address: 1901 E Fort Lowell Rd, Tucson, AZ 85719

The Quesadillas

The homemade salsas at The Quesadillas make a worthy accompaniment to a Sonoran hot dog

The focus at this restaurant in eastern Tucson is on quesadillas, hence the name. But due to customer requests, they added a hot dog to the menu—Yay! Owner Marcos Barragan put his own spin on the classic Sonoran hot dog in Tucson.

. He uses all-beef franks and omits the beans. Instead of wrapping the frank in bacon, Barragan tops them with “bacon bits.” Don’t be fooled by the term, these “bits” are are large chunks of chopped bacon sprinkled on top. In addition to mustard, mayo and chopped tomatoes, we added some of daughter Alex Barragan’s homemade salsas. (we especially loved the jalapeno guacamole and pineapple chiltepin). They were so delicious, we almost forgot about the other stuff on the menu.

Insider tip: the restaurant does all grilling for the quesadillas over mesquite wood. They will they will grill your hot dog there upon request.

  • Location: East Tucson
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 2418 N Craycroft Rd.

Ruiz Hot Dogs/Los Chipilones

The Ruiz Sonoran hot dog carreta in Tucson

The Ruiz cart is about as classic as a Sonoran hot dog in Tucson gets. Order, then sit at one of the few stools attached. You’ll find the cart in a corner lot in southern Tucson. Because the atmosphere is pretty basic, the food must be really good. Here, we watched Gerardo work his magic. The hot dog was tender, with perfectly crisped bacon surrounding it. He topped it with delicious beans, mustard, mayo and the ripest red tomatoes. Plus, he grilled the roll to perfection, so it held up to his whopping toppings. Note: the family now has a brick-and-mortar stand with outdoor seating on the adjacent lot that serves tacos, quesadillas and breakfast.

  • Locations (2) : South Tucson (just south of downtown)
  • Category: Carreta with seating
  • Address: 1140 S 6th Ave, and in brick and mortar location next door.

Do these places have best Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson? We think they’re pretty darn fabulous, but who knows? There are new spots popping up all the time. Please let us know if you find one. These bacon-wrapped beauties are one of our favorite types of street food. We’re always game for chowing down on a Sonoran hot dog! 😋 🌭

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, WHY NOT SHARE IT TO YOUR PINTEREST BOARDS?


With so many National Parks and Monuments in Arizona, it can be overwhelming when trying to plan a visit. This list breaks it down so you can choose the best sights for your interests.

A wide array of Arizona National Parks and Monuments greet visitors throughout the state. The parks range from magnificent natural wonders to ancient historic sights. Therefore, there’s something for everyone. For example, there are sites of outstanding natural beauty, indigenous culture, and American history. Here’s our list of over 30 national sites to visit in Arizona.

The Grand Canyon gets most of the attention (and visitors)⏤but you probably know that already! However, take some time to discover the many other wonderful national sites in the state. The result will be worth it! These 30+ sites are scattered throughout the state. Because of this, you’re never far away from a national park or monument during your Arizona vacation.

NOTE: You can use the table of contents below to jump directly to your site of interest. Or scroll through the list to browse the many Arizona National Parks and Monuments throughout the state.

How many national parks are there in Arizona?

There are 3 National Parks in Arizona: Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and Saguaro. There is 1 National Historical Park: Tumacacori. In total there are 31 sites in Arizona with some type of “national” designation that are managed by the National Park Service and/or the Bureau of Land Management, or a combination of local authorities. The remainder of the sites are either National Monuments, National Historic Sites or National Recreation areas.

PRO TIP: Opening times and certain park services may be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check with each park prior to visiting.

Agua Fria National Monument

Petroglyphs of animals on rocks, mountains in background
Petroglyphs at Agua Fria National Monument; photo courtesy BLM

Agua Fria is a large preserved area of mesa along with the canyon of the Agua Fria River. Additionally, the visitors can explore the stone masonry remains of Pueblo la Plata, a prehistoric site. The 70,000-acre monument spans elevations from roughly 2,100 to 4,600 feet. This means there is a wide variation in wildlife and vegetation, including the famous saguaro cactus at the lower altitudes.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 40 miles north of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Historic Ruins, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Fishing, Hunting, Camping
  • Facilities & Services: None, bring all supplies
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • More information: Agua Fria National Monument

Arizona National Scenic Trail

Cactus blooming with mountains in background
Arizona National Scenic Trail; photo courtesy NPS

The Arizona National Scenic Trail is over 800 miles long and runs from the Mexican border to the Utah state line. The Arizona Trail is divided into 43 passages, you can explore as much or as little of it as you like. (You don’t have to do all 800 miles . . . but you can if you’d like). The trail begins in the south with the Huachuca Mountains. It ends in Northern Arizona at Buckskin Mountain Passage. The trail passes through (or near) many Arizona National Parks and Monuments. Similarly, you’ll also get to explore as well as some National Forest land.

  • Location: Passes roughly through the center of the state, running 800 miles from North to South
  • Reason to visit: Hiking, Mountain Biking, Horseback Riding
  • Facilities & Services: None, bring all supplies
  • Managed by: National Forest Service (NFS), in conjunction with agencies who manage the territories that the trail passes through.
  • More information: Arizona Trail Association

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly with riverbed and trees
Canyon de Chelly National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Canyon de Chelly is a special place. The monument encompasses a magnificent red rock canyon that has been inhabited continuously for over 5,000 years (yes, five thousand!). This is one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that is fully contained within the Navajo Nation reservation. Due to this unusual configuration, 40 families still live within the park’s boundaries even today. Drives with multiple lookout points (many of which are wheelchair accessible) provide a peek into this special place. Hikes into the canyon must be accompanied by either a Park Ranger or Navajo Guide.

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 100 miles southwest of Four Corners
  • Reason to visit: Scenic drives, hiking (guided), Navajo and ancient Pueblo culture
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, Guided tours, Accessible paths
  • Managed by: National Park Service & the Navajo Nation
  • More information: Canyon de Chelly

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Great House ruins with canopy
The Great House at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Casa Grande is a collection of ruins from an ancient farming community of Sonoran Desert Peoples. The ruins date from the mid 1400s. Because little documentation regarding the structures exist, its overall purpose is still a mystery. But the extensive ruins make a fascinating visit.

Due to its location midway between Phoenix and Tucson, its one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that makes a nice detour while traveling between those two cities.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 50 miles southeast of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Tour ancient ruins
  • Facilities & Services: Guided tours, gift shop, picnic grounds
  • Managed by: National Park Service (NPS)
  • More information: Casa Grande Ruins

Chiricahua National Monument

Rhyolyte rock formations at Chiricahua National Monument
Some of the giant rock “needles” at Chiricahua National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

If you love rocks, Chiricahua is your kind of place. Nearly 27 million years ago the nearby Turkey creek volcano erupted. As a result, this valley is filled with towering “rock needles.” These giant rock towers look like giants were playing with building blocks 27 million years ago. The nearly 12,000-acre park has 17 miles of hiking trails and an 8-mile paved scenic drive. Because of its location in an avian flyway, Chiricahua is also terrific for birding.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, about 120 miles southeast of Tucson
  • Reason to visit: Ancient rock formations, hiking, camping, birding
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center with museum, bookstore, restrooms and drinking water; camping at Bonito Canyon
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Chiricahua National Monument

Coronado National Memorial

Desert beauty at Coronado National Memorial; photo by Dave Bly, courtesy NPS

Coronado National Memorial offers a glimpse into two things: first, the history of the region. Secondly, Coronado showcases the area’s natural beauty. Many scholars believe that the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 passed through this region alongside the Mexican border. A visitor center explores the lasting impacts on the culture of northwest Mexico and the southwestern United States.

The park is also a nature lover’s paradise. The area incorporates four distinct ecological zones: Sierra Madre, Chihuahua Desert, Rocky Mountain, and Sonoran Desert. The flora and fauna are represented in the park’s diverse landscape. Explore hiking trails through oak woodands, piñon-juniper, grasslands, and riparian corridors. Spelunkers will love the natural limestone cave, while drivers will appreciate the sweeping vistas from Coronado Peak.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, about 90 miles southeast of Tucson, along the Mexican border.
  • Reason to visit: Cultural history, hiking, birding, cave exploring.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center with museum, bookstore, restrooms and drinking water.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Coronado National Memorial

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Ruins of Fort Bowie
Fort Bowie National Historic Site; photo courtesy NPS

Fort Bowie and Apache Pass was the site of nearly 25 years of conflict between the Chiricahua Apache and the US Army in the late 1800s. Learn about this turbulent history at the visitor center and nearby graveyard and fort ruins.

NOTE: For most visitors, the visitor center and ruins are only accessible via a 1.5 mile hike from the parking area at the trailhead. Consequently, visitors requiring ADA access can drive to the site by prior arrangement with the Park Service. See driving access to Fort Bowie for more information.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, about 120 miles east of Tucson.
  • Reason to visit: Native American and Old West history.
  • Facilities & Services: Interpretive visitor center, restrooms.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Fort Bowie


Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Horseshoe Bend
Famous Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; Photo by Brent and Dawn Davis, courtesy NPS

Glen Canyon is a massive 1.25 million–acre (yes million!) park that straddles the border of Arizona and Utah. The majority of the park is in Utah, however the main entrance is in Arizona, near the town of Page. From here you can visit Glen Canyon Dam. This engineering marvel damming the Colorado River creates Lake Powell to the north, where you can enjoy water sports aplenty.

Those looking for a terrific photo op can visit the now-famous Horseshoe Bend at the southern end of Glen Canyon. But there are other wonderful things to see and do in this vast recreation area, such as visiting the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook (for views similar to Horseshoe Bend with less crowds), and the soothing greenery on the Hanging Gardens Trail.

  • Location: Northern Arizona (near the Utah state line), about 275 miles north of Phoenix.
  • Reason to visit: Water sports, hiking, stunning scenery, tour Glen Canyon Dam.
  • Facilities & Services: Multiple visitor centers, gift shops, restrooms, water, campsites, ADA accessible trails.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Grand Canyon National Park

Long distance view of the Grand Canyon
The view from Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon National Park; photo courtesy NPS

The Grand Canyon is “the Big Kahuna” of Arizona National Parks and Monuments. And for good reason: it’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. [Full disclosure: this is the only place I’ve ever been that actually left me speechless. I couldn’t get over the vast beauty of it. I’m not sure which amazed my husband more, the grandeur of the scenery, or my inablity to talk. 😆]

The park encompasses over 1,900 square miles of land, including its namesake canyon. The Grand Canyon itself averages 1 mile DEEP, following 277 miles of the Colorado River. In some spots it’s almost 18 miles wide. No wonder they call it “Grand”!

The Grand Canyon is one of Arizona’s most popular tourist destinations, welcoming approximately 6 million visitors per year. As a result, there are extensive facilities, including several options for lodging in Grand Canyon National Park. (Be sure to reserve early, as these get booked, especially during the summer.) Consider visiting the Grand Canyon in November, when the weather is still mild and the summer crowds have gone.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, about 225 miles north of Phoenix.
  • Reason to visit: Stunning scenery, hiking, cycling, rafting, scenic drives, camping.
  • Facilities & Services: Multiple visitor centers, gift shops, restrooms, water, hotels/lodges, campsites, ADA accessible trails.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Grand Canyon National Park

Hohokam Pima National Monument

Hohokam Pima National Monument is unique among Arizona National Parks and Monuments. It is located within the boundaries of the Gila River Indian Reservation. One of the largest known ancient Hohokam villages, Snaketown, is located there. Excavations have revealed that the area was inhabited from about 300 B.C. to 1,200 A.D, and include the largest scientifically excavated collection of whole artifacts from the Hohokam Culture are.

In order to protect the fragile site, the Gila River Indian Community has closed the Snaketown site to visitors. However, many of the magnificent artifacts are on display at the nearby Huhugam Heritage Center. Visit to see elaborately decorated whole pots, stone bowls, and bone artifacts, and to learn more about the Hohokam culture.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 20 miles south of Phoenix.
  • Reason to visit: Large display of ancient Hohokam artifacts, learn about ancient culture.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center/museum, restrooms.
  • Managed by: Gila River Indian Community
  • More information: Hohokam Pima National Monument and Huhugam Heritage Center

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Old trading post building, Hubbell Trading Post
Historic Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site; photo courtesy NPS

Hubbell Trading Post is unique among national historic sites: it is still active! The post was founded in 1878 by John Lorenzo Hubbell as a place where local Navajo peoples could trade their wares for household goods. Hubbell operated several posts throughout the region, however this was his home.

Today Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest continuously operating trading post in the southwest. Visitors can shop for Native American arts and crafts, and even watch some Navajo weavers creating their masterpiece rugs. Tours of the historic family home and farm are available, and there are picnic grounds on site. *NOTE: Hubbell Trading Post is located on Navajo Nation lands, which observes Daylight Savings Time (unlike the state of Arizona).

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 150 miles northeast of Flagstaff.
  • Reason to visit: Historic “shopping” experience, Native American arts and crafts, historic homestead.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, Active trading post with crafts, gifts, snacks, picnic area, restrooms.
  • Managed by: Western National Parks Association
  • More information: Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Ironwood Forest National Monument

Petroglyphs in desert, Ironwood National Monument
Petroglyphs in the desert at Ironwood National Monument; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM

Ironwood is for those who like their parks and scenery “raw and uncut.” This massive (129,000 acres) site contains no facilities or services. As a result, be prepared to bring whatever you need.

 Most importantly, humans have inhabited the area for more than 5,000 years. For those who like a little ancient culture mixed in with their wildlife, Ironwood Forest National Monument has three areas of archaeological interest. The Los Robles Archeological District, the Mission of Santa Ana del Chiquiburitac and the Cocoraque Butte Archaeological District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Location: South central Arizona, about 25 miles northwest of Tucson.
  • Reason to visit: Wildlife, native plants, petroglyphs, archaeological sites, hunting, camping.
  • Facilities & Services: None. Bring all supplies.
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • More information: Ironwood Forest National Monument

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Men in historic dress in desert with saguaro cactus
Hiking and history on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM

In 1776, Spanish Lt. Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza led more than 240 men, women, and children from New Spain (now Mexico) through Arizona to establish a settlement in California. The 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail follows the route of the first colonists to travel overland through the southwest to establish San Francisco.

Beginning in Nogales, Arizona, the trail travels approximately 350 miles through southwestern Arizona. After that, it turns north in California. The trail passes through several important historical sites along the way, including Casa Grande and Tumacacori (see below). Following this trail is an excellent way to see several historic sites in context; as a result, you can connect events of the past.

  • Location: Southwestern Arizona, from Nogales, north through Tucson to Phoenix, then west to Yuma.
  • Reason to visit: Follow the trail of an historic expedition, see multiple historic sites.
  • Facilities & Services: Marked autoroute; detailed maps of each county the trail passes through
  • Managed by: National Park Service, in conjunction with local agencies and organizations at sites along the way.
  • More information: Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Marina at Lake Mead
Boating in the desert at Lake Mead National Recreation Area; photo courtesy NPS

Lake Mead National Recreation Area straddles the Arizona and Nevada borders along the Colorado River. It was the first National Recreation Area created by the National Park Service, and it is HUUUUGE! The area encompasses 1.5 million (yep, MILLION) acres of both land and water. It is also the site of the famous Hoover Dam.

Of all the Arizona national parks and monuments, this is the one that probably has the most water. The area includes mountains, valleys, canyons, wilderness areas, and two large lakes (Lake Mead and Lake Mojave). Because of the lakes, this recreation area is terrific for boating and fishing, as well as camping and hiking and exploring. It also makes a great base for exploring much of northern Arizona, including the Grand Canyon.

  • Location: Northwestern Arizona (the corner bordering Nevada)
  • Reason to visit: Boating, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, hunting
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, multiple campgrounds (both tent and camper), boat ramps, marinas, food and fuel services, shops (both gifts and provisions)
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Cliff dwellin at Montezuma Castle National Monumnet
The massive cliff dwelling at Montezuma Castle National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Montezuma Castle is one of the largest ancient cliff dwellings in the country. The structure was built by the Sinagua people over 600 years ago. It’s a massive 40-50 room “apartment complex” carved out of a rock face. The structure is fragile, consequently, in order to preserve the structure, visitors cannot climb into the dwelling. However, it’s still astounding to view it from the valley floor.

You can visit an additional cliff dwelling site is located about 11 miles north of the “castle.” Known as Montezuma Well, this structure is not as large as Montezuma Castle. However, the smaller size allows you to view the structure from a closer vantage point. Take this shady hike; it makes a nice change from much of Arizona’s desert landscape.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 90 miles north of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient culture and architecture.
  • Facilities & Services: Montezuma Castle has a Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, along with picnic grounds. Montezuma Well has picnic grounds and pit toilets.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Montezuma Castle National Monument

Navajo National Monument

Cliff dwellings, Navajo National Monument
Majestic cliff dwellings at Navajo National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Navajo National Monument offers visitors the opportunity to see ancient cliff dwellings amidst spectacular desert sandstone scenery. Three distinct cliff dwelling sites that date to the 1300s are housed within the monument grounds. Two sites (Betatakin and Keet Seel) are available to visit. This is one of the Arizona national Parks and monuments contained within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, offering an excellent opportunity to seek out some Native American Frybread for a meal or snack.

Self-guided trails provide a tour of the canyon and an overlook of the Betatakin cliff dwellings. Those interested in seeing cliff dwelling sites up-close must sign up for a ranger-guided tour. Tours to Betatakin involve 3-5 hours hiking over steep terrain. Keet Seel is more remote: tours are by reservation only, and involve a 17-mile round trip hike. Camping is available near the trailhead. More information is available at ranger-guided tours at Navajo National Monument.

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 140 miles northeast of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient culture and architecture.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings, camping.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Navajo National Monument

Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail

Dry riverbed in Virgin River Canyon, Old Spanish Trail, Arizona
Virgin River Canyon along Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail; photo courtesy NPS

The Old Spanish Trail commemorates the trading route that connected goods and people between Mexico and the fledgling United States. The trail begins in Santa Fe, New Mexico and splits into a few branches through Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Nevada before rejoining near Los Angeles, California. Due to its connection with other states, the branch of the trail in Arizona ambles very near the state’s northern border with Utah.

Following the Trail is an excellent way to string together several Arizona National Parks and Monuments in the southwest since it connects multiple sites. Use this interactive map of Arizona sights on the Old Spanish Trail to help plan your route through this historic and scenic countryside.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah
  • Reason to visit: Follow historic trade route, connect multiple Arizona National Parks and Monuments and parks
  • Facilities & Services: Distinctive National Trail Signage; see related listings for facilities at sites along the Trail
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Old Spanish National Historic Trail

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe cactus silhouette in sunset
Sunset at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

The magnificent cacti of the Sonoran Desert are on spectacular display at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. There are 516 square miles of territory to explore the flora and fauna of this unique landscape, which has been designated and International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. Because of this Biosphere designation, it’s a popular spot for birding as well as spotting other types of wildlife and desert plants. There are also some remains of abandoned mines and ancient cultures that are accessible via hiking trails.

This is an excellent park to visit if you’d like a fair amount of land to yourself. Organ Pipe has a similar landscape to Saguaro National Park near Tucson, yet gets only 1/4 the number of visitors annually. No matter what level of “outdoorsy” you are, Organ Pipe National Monument has you covered. Since this is such a vast park, there are scenic drives, hiking trails and spots for both RV and tent camping.

  • Location: Southwestern Arizona, about 125 miles west of Tucson
  • Reason to visit: Explore a the unique ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert, hiking, camping, horseback riding
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center with displays, bookstore, restrooms; scenic drives, hiking trails, RV and tent campsites, backcountry camping
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Parashant National Monument (Grand Canyon)

SUV in desert at Parashant National Monument
Four-wheelin’ at Parashant National Monument; Photo by M. Draper, courtesy NPS

Parashant National Monument is one of several Arizona National Parks and Monuments located in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon. This is a terrific destination for those who love the rough and rugged outdoors amid stunning scenery. The million square miles that make up Parashant border the northern boundary of the Grand Canyon in the extreme northwest corner of Arizona. Although the monument is in Arizona, there are entrances from Nevada and Utah. Due to its location north of the Grand Canyon, the information center located in St. George, Utah.

NOTE: There are no paved roads in Parashant. Most roads that do exist require a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle. Check here for a list of scenic drives at Parashant National Monument, which includes descriptions of vehicle requirments.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah and Nevada
  • Reason to visit: Stunning scenery, very few people, off-roading, backcountry camping
  • Facilities & Services: No services within the monument boundaries. There is an information center in St. George, Utah
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Parashant National Monument

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified tree trunks in foreground, with badlands peak in background
Petrified Forest National Park; photo by T. Scott Williams, courtesy NPS

Anyone taking a road trip through Arizona along historic Route 66 should plan to explore a few Arizona National Parks and Monuments. Petrified Forest National Park is probably the the most convenient. The park is super-easy to access: it straddles Interstate 40, and there’s an exit right into the park! Route 66 and I-40 are combined along this stretch, so if you’re road-tripping Route 66, you will literally pass through the park on our drive.

Sure, you can come here to see the petrified logs that made the park famous. But there’s also a lot more to see here. Petrified Forest National Park is full of badlands, buttes and mesas that contain ancient petroglyphs, fossils, wildlife and wildflowers. If you only have an hour or so, you can see some spectacular view from your car, with a few stops at overlooks. Stretch your road-trip legs by walking one of the short maintained trails. Or hike into the backcountry along for some desert solitude one of the “Off the Beaten Path” routes.

PRO TIP: Petrified Forest National Park is pet-friendly, and gives your fur babies a chance to get some exercise too!

  • Location: Eastern Arizona, along Interstate 40, about 125 miles east of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Startling “other-worldly” landscape, hiking, biking, camping
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center (2), with museum, gift shop, snacks, restrooms; hiking trails, pet-friendly
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Petrified Forest National Park

Pipe Spring National Monument

Stone homestead of Pipe Spring National Monument
The Mormon homestead at Pipe Spring National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Life was tough for travelers passing through the high desert in the 1800s. Temperatures were extreme and water was scarce. Therefore, when Mormon settlers discovered the fresh water oasis at Pipe Spring, they knew it was something special. Native Americans (the Kaibab Paiute) had been using the oasis for hundreds of years already. As you can imagine, the arrival of the newcomers caused some conflict.

Today, you can get a glimpse into oasis life at Pipe Spring National Monument. This is one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that offers live demonstrations. Tour the historic Mormon homestead and (still working!) farm. You can purchase heirloom fruits and vegetables in season, which also includes Native American corn, beans and melons.

  • Location: Northwestern Arizona, near the Utah border
  • Reason to visit: Visit historic spring and ranch site; learn about Native American and Mormon cultures
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center with museum, bookstore, restrooms; historic ranch with animals, fresh heirloom fruits and vegetables (in season)
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Pipe Spring National Monument

Saguaro National Park

Multiple Saguaro cactus in the late afternoon sun, with mountains in the background, one of many Arizona National Parks and Monuments

There is probably no plant more associated with the American Southwest than the giant Saguaro cactus. You can find these magnificent spiny structures growing at specific altitudes throughout southern Arizona. See these beauties, along with cholla, ocatillo, prickly pear, and other desert wildlife at Saguaro National Park.

The park is unique among Arizona National Parks and Monuments in that it is divided into an East and West section, with the city of Tucson in between. It makes a great day trip if you’re visiting Tucson. You can take a slow drive through each section. But the cacti are so beautiful. Therefore, we recommend one of the many hikes to really see the cacti up close. 🌵

  • Location: South central Arizona, immediately east and west of Tucson (2 separate branches of the park)
  • Reason to visit: Explore the Sonoran Desert, hiking, drives, camping
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center (2) with exhibits, bookstore, restrooms, drinking water; hiking trails, scenic drives, camping
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Saguaro National Park

Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area

Tumacacori cemetery with trees overhead
Tumacacori mission cemetery is part of the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area; photo courtesy NPS

The watershed of the Santa Cruz Valley has been home to settlers for thousands of years, making it an area rich in history and culture. In 2019 the National Park Service connected three national sites along the Santa Cruz river and created the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area. This newly-formed area helps put the vast and varied history of the area into context.

The National Heritage Area includes JUAN BAUTISTA DE ANZA NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAILSAGUARO NATIONAL PARKTUMACÁCORI NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK (all listed here in this post). Information about how the sites relate to one another is available at each of them. Since this is a relatively new (and creative!) entity among Arizona National Parks and Monuments, look for many new and exciting programs in the coming years.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, between Tucson and the Mexican border
  • Reason to visit: Explore historic Spanish and Native American Sights and desert landscapes
  • Facilities & Services: See individual sights for more information
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area

Sonoran Desert National Monument

Sonoran Desert with saguaro cactus in foreground, mountains in background
Sonoran Desert National Monument; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy of BLM

If you love saguaro cactus and a desert landscape, but want something a bit more rough and rustic than Saguaro National Park, try Sonoran Desert National Monument. The nearly half-million acre area has limited facilities, but lots of desert beauty.

You can hike or ride horses on trails in one of three designated wilderness areas. Hunters will enjoy the vast acreage dedicated to that sport. And a side note to history lovers: the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail (listed above) passes through this park.

  • Location: South central Arizona, about 65 miles southwest of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Explore desert landscape; hiking, horseback riding, camping, hunting
  • Facilities & Services: Limited restroom facilities
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Sonoran Desert National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

The cinder cone of Sunset Crater
Sunset Crater National Monumnet; photo courtesy NPS

There’s a whole lotta geology going on throughout Arizona. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument gives you a chance to glimpse some of that up close and personal. You can view the cinder cone of Sunset Crater, an extinct volcano that erupted about 1,000 years ago. (That’s practically “last month” in geology terms!)

Hike the Lava Flow Trail, which takes you along some other-worldly landscapes that make you feel like you’re in a Star Wars episode. Then plant yourself in the cinder-coated center of nearby Lenox Crater, the park’s smaller volcano and stare off toward Sunset Crater in the distance. Because of this juxtaposition, you can imagine what it must have been like with the lava rumbling and ready to explode.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 20 miles north of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore remains of ancient volcano, hiking, scenic drives, camping
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, restrooms, picnic grounds, campgrounds
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Tonto National Monument

Ancient cliff dwelling with scrub in foreground, Tonto National Monument
Upper cliff dwelling at Tonto National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Tonto National Monument is an excellent place to learn about the Salado and their culture. The Salado were a society who lived approximately 700 years ago. They blended multiple Native American cultures and developed sophisticated cliff dwellings. Tonto preserves two of these remarkable building complexes. Many cliff dwellings elsewhere are only visible from a distance, however at Tonto you can get right in or near the structures.

There are two sets of dwellings at Tonto. Because they are perched in cliffs, you must walk a fairly steep path to reach them. You reach the (smaller) Lower Dwelling via a half-mile hike. To reach the (larger) Upper Dwelling, you must book a tour with a park ranger for a guided 3-mile (round trip) hike.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 115 miles east of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: See ancient cliff dwellings
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms, picnic grounds, guided tours
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Tonto National Monument

Tumacacori National Historical Park

Tumacacori Mission with scattered clouds above
The mission church at Tumacacori National Historical Park; photo courtesy NPS

Tumacacori is located on the Santa Cruz River. Because of this irrigated location, it has been a site of settlement for multiple cultures for centuries. Of all the Arizona National Parks and Monuments, it is probably the one that provides the most insight into how civilization developed in the region. Today the historic Mission and surrounding community are preserved at Tumacacori National Historical Park.

The heart of the Mission is the beautifully preserved 16th century church, surrounded by many outbuildings. As a result, there are many buildings to visit. Be sure to explore the historic convento. Despite its religious-sounding name, the convento was a sort of 16th-century shopping arcade.

  • Location: South central Arizona, about 45 miles south of Tucson
  • Reason to visit: Explore historic church and mission grounds; learn about two unique cultures: Spanish and Native American.
  • Facilities & Services: Museum, Visitor Center, gift shop, restrooms, cultural events and demonstrations
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Tumacacori National Historical Park

Tuzigoot National Monument

View of stone tower remains at Tuzigoot National Monument
The “tower room” tops the pueblo at Tuzigoot National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Tuzigoot gives us insight to the Sinagua peoples that inhabited the Verde Valley nearly 1,000 years ago. Remains of a stone pueblo are perched on a ridge overlooking the Verde River. At one time this large pueblo contained between 80 and 160 rooms! As a result, you can still see the outline of many of the pueblo rooms today. Be sure to look for the “tower room,” which is perched atop the center of the pueblo structure.

Tuzigoot is one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that makes a nice day excursion when touring the Sedona area.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 110 miles north of Phoenix
  • Nearest town: Cottonwood
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient Sinagua pueblo
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms, picnic grounds
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Western National Parks Association
  • More information: Tuzigoot National Monument

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Man looking out over rock formations at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM

Want to go off-roading amidst some eye-bending scenery? Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is for you. This 280,000-acre chunk of northern Arizona is chock-full of weird and wonderful rock formations. Think “Dr. Seuss in the American Southwest.” You’ll see cliffs with squiggly stripes of white and orange and peaks that look like giant melting sand castles. It’s the sort of place you’ll use up an entire film card taking photos!

Be advised that among Arizona National Parks and Monuments, this is one of the most rugged: you MUST have high-clearance four-wheel drive in Vermillion Cliffs. There are no paved roads, and lots of potential places to get stuck. Check the website for info on permits and recommended driving routes. And bring LOTS of water!

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah, about 125 miles north of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore stunning rock formations, hiking, camping
  • Facilities & Services: None; nearest services are 40-50 miles away in Kanab, UT and Page, AZ
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Cliff dwelling alongside hiking path in the forest, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Hike right by cliff dwellings in the forest at Walnut Canyon National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Imagine taking a hike in the forest and coming upon an ancient dwelling tucked into the rock face along the trail. That’s what it’s like at Walnut Canyon National Monument. You feel like an explorer who’s just made a historic discovery!

Small ancient cliff dwellings are tucked into a forested canyon. You hike along the 1-mile Rim Trail, admire nature, and BAM! There it is, a row of rooms tucked under a rock ledge. You can even enter some of the dwellings. It’s awesome.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 12 miles east of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore historic cliff dwellings
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Walnut Canyon National Monument

Wupatki National Monument

A view of Wukoki pueblo on the plains at Wupatki National Monument
Wukoki pueblo, one of several on view at Wupatki National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Waupatki National Monument showcases a collection of red stone pueblo remains. The Waupatki pueblos are out on the open plain. As a result, these pueblos are very different from the cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon.

You can take a series of short ( 1/4-1/2 mile) hikes to explore six different pueblos. Join a Ranger-guided hikes to explore more distant sites. Ranger hikes are 2-3 miles and 2-3 hours long. The truly intrepid can sign up for an 18-20 mile overnight hike. Submit your name to a lottery for these limited capacity hikes, held in the spring and fall.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 30 miles north of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient pueblo ruins
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Waupatki National Monument

No matter where you go in the state, Arizona National Parks and Monuments are not far away. Be sure to seek them out and see some of the truly stunning natural and historic sites preserved in the landscape!


IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, PLEASE SHARE IT ON ONE OF YOUR PINTEREST BOARDS!


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 floorswe 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👻!

Small town charm to the rescue!

The small town we discovered when we followed the signs? It was Winslow! We’ve included it below in our list of 17 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.

Tudor-style train station building along railroad tracks

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.

Glen Canyon Bridge, looking eastward, with red sandstone in background, one of the 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.

Battered old red tow truck parked in front of building with American Flag painted on side
Is this Seligman . . . or Radiator Springs???

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.

building with statue of cow in front
Old-timey charm in Williams, Arizona

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.

Brick and stucco front of Grand Canyon Hotel on route 66

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.

Route 66 sign on roadbed, Winslow Arizona

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.

Shopping in Sedona along Hwy 89A-gorgeous red rocks, but not a small-town atmosphere

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.

  • What we love: Hiking the red rocks, Tlaquepaque shopping
  • Fave Eats: Mariposa (swanky, Latin-inspired spot with amazing views)
  • Highlights: Cathedral & Bell Rocks, Vortexes, Tlaquepaque
  • Road Trips: Red Rocks & Red Wine
  • Where to Stay: Hotels in Sedona
man sitting on deck looking at red rocks of Sedona
Sedona is best when enjoying the red rocks

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 😊)

Lots of places for wine tasting in Cottonwood

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.

Red 1950s car parked in front of vintage gas station Cottonwood Arizona
A fun throwback experience at Bing’s Burger Station

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.

Take a walking tour of the historic downtown. Visit the Gila County Historical Museum and explore the work of local artists at the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts (in the former courthouse).

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 is an Arizona Victorian small town perched on a mountain, here is the 1898 Hotel Connor with the red rocks of Sedona in the background

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.

photo courtesy Visit Jerome

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.

Prescott Courthouse in background, compass rose on pavement in front, arizona small towns
The courthouse in the center of Prescott’s beautiful town square

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.

Watson Lake near Prescott offers great hiking

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.

Lots of cute shops in an “old west” setting in Old Town Scottsdale

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.

The skyline of Downtown Scottsdale-pretty, but not a small town

Southern Arizona: 5 Small Towns that are western, funky & fun

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.

Street in Bisbee, Arizona with mountain in background
The winding streets of Bisbee, a small town nestled in the Mule Mountains of southeastern Arizona.

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 old train station in Patagonia is now the court house

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.

  • What we love: The low-key cowboy vibe
  • Fave Eats: Wagon Wheel Saloon (fancy it ain’t, authentic? Yup!)
  • Highlights: Fairs on the town green, Patagonia Lake
  • Road Trips: South Central Arizona
  • Where to Stay: Hotels in Patagonia
Birders love Patagonia

Tombstone: Hootin’, Hollerin’ Wild West🤠

Pose with Wyatt Earp & the lawmen at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, the classic western Arizona small town

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.

Colorful pottery outside a shop in Tubac, Arizona
Colorful pottery is one of the many types of creative expression available in the artsy small town of Tubac, Arizona. (photo courtesy AOT)

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.

  • What we love: Great Mexican pottery
  • Fave Eats: Elvira’s-funky Mexican in a hip setting
  • Highlights: Art galleries; Tubac Presidio Historic Park
  • Road Trips: South Central Arizona
  • Where to Stay: Hotels in Tubac

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.

  • What we love: The mixture of old west & border town
  • Fave Eats: Wagon Wheel Saloon (fancy it ain’t, authentic? Yup!)
  • Highlights: Territorial Prison Museum; Downtown
  • Road Trips: Southwest Arizona
  • Where to Stay: Hotels in Yuma
Visiting a small town makes a road trip more fun

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.

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, PLEASE SHARE IT ON ONE OF YOUR PINTEREST BOARDS!

List of Small Arizona Towns to Visit on a Road Trip

  1. Bisbee (southern Arizona)
  2. Cottonwood (central Arizona)
  3. Flagstaff (northern Arizona)
  4. Globe (central Arizona)
  5. Jerome (central Arizona)
  6. Kingman (northern Arizona)
  7. Page (northern Arizona)
  8. Patagonia (southern Arizona)
  9. Prescott (central Arizona)
  10. Scottsdale (central Arizona)
  11. Sedona (north/central Arizona)
  12. Seligman (northern Arizona)
  13. Tombstone (southern Arizona)
  14. Tubac (southern Arizona)
  15. Williams (northern Arizona)
  16. Winslow (northern Arizona)
  17. Yuma (southern Arizona)