5 Days in Southwestern Arizona
One of the most amazing things about traveling throughout the United States is the diversity between the states. No two places are similar, and some are so unique that they seem like their own world. Arizona is one of these fabulously unique places. It may be known for its deserts but this great state is so much more. Pack your bags! In less than a week, you can journey through the desert and beyond, soak in the sun, and savor every sight.
Your trip begins in Tempe. Tempe is an exciting city in the Phoenix metro area so if you are traveling from far away, fly into Phoenix and head on over to Tempe to get your adventure started. Rest up at the Doubletree Tempe and get ready for all that Arizona offers. You won’t believe everything you will experience and see in only five days.
Breakfast at Picacho Peak State Park is the perfect way to begin your day. This park is open year round for camping and hiking. If you like geocaching, there are several geocaches within the park. Pack a picnic breakfast and take in the view of the 1,500 foot peak and the surrounding desert landscape.
From Picacho, head over to Kartchner Caverns State Park. This park was voted best cave in the USA! The cave here is considered a live cave, meaning that the limestone continues to grow and change as the water percolates from the surface. Take a guided tour to see the stalagmites and stalactites. Despite being underground, it is surprisingly warm. The minerals and formations here are unreal! We recommend you take the Rotunda/Throne Tour for the best sites. Grab a quick but yummy lunch at Kartchner Caverns Bat Cave Cafe.
Say goodbye to Kartchner and head over to Willcox. Check into a hotel for the night and explore the city a little. There are lots of excellent restaurants for dinner. Isabel’s South of the Border serves amazing Mexican food and wonderful wine. Enjoy your night in Willcox!
Your second day is packed with sights and adventure. Begin the day with a visit to Chiricahua National Monument. Known as a “wonderland of rocks,” you have never seen anything like this place. These weird rock formations were created by a volcanic eruption 27 million years ago. Hikers and birders come from all around to visit Chiricahua. Here you can also visit the historic Faraway Ranch that was once a pioneer homestead. You can get a good glimpse of western pioneer life here and the diverse plant and wildlife is fantastic.
The next stop on your whirlwind tour in Arizona is the fabulous and funky little town of Bisbee. Located about 90 miles from Tucson, Bisbee is a historical town that prides itself on preservation and a booming arts and cultural scene. Vintage cars and buildings make for great photo opportunities. You feel like you are living in another era.
Here you will also find Arizona’s first golf course and the oldest ballpark in the United States. One historical site you have to take in while you are in Bisbee is the Queen Mines. Bisbee was once a booming mining town and you can go 1,500 feet underground just like a miner in a hardhat and miner’s headlamp.
Spend the rest of your day looking around Bisbee. The art scene is amazing. If you are into vintage, you won’t be disappointed here either. The natural landscape of the Mule Mountains surrounds this special place and the cooler temperatures up here in the mountains are just lovely. Roam the streets and enjoy the historical architecture. If you want a little more history, visit the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum.
For dinner, you have to go to Cafe Roka. This place is so cool. First of all, it is inside a 1907 art deco building in historic Bisbee. Cafe Roka is more than the atmosphere though. The locally sourced, fine dining will make your night. There are options here for everyone, including the health conscious and vegetarians. Every plate is fresh, flavorful and full of color. After dinner, take an evening drive to your next destination, Sierra Vista, and bunk down for the night.
Day three is wild, literally! Learn about the native wildlife and step back in time to the days of the Wild West. Grab breakfast, perhaps a German style pastry from The Breadbasket and head out to the Ramsey Canyon Preserve. This preserve is beloved by birdwatchers or any traveler coming through who wants to catch a glimpse at the unique wildlife that calls Arizona home. This sycamore stream-side forest is lush and green. People don’t realize Arizona isn’t all barren desert. Life is all around in this preserve including some rare birds like the tufted flycatcher and the flame-colored tanager. The canyon walls create an ideal environment for some amazing animals like bears and hummingbirds. You will see many species of plant life here that you might have never seen before.
Your next adventure in the wild awaits you at Tombstone Monument Ranch. Travel through rugged and open land to arrive at the ranch. Surrounded by the Dragoon Mountains, you will feel like you have traveled back in time. The ranch was once Apache territory and is 3 miles from downtown Tombstone, the storied old town made famous by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and outlaw Curly Bill Brocius. Tombstone was a mining town in the 1880s but became known for shootouts and other dangerous activities by the outlaws who came through.
At Tombstone Monument Ranch, get on a horse and explore the Tombstone area the way it would have been explored back in the days of mining and outlaws. You can stay at this dude ranch that looks like a town in the Old West, and all the rooms are uniquely designed with high end furnishings.
There are miles of trails for horseback riding. You really are riding where the cowboys of the Wild West rode and will take in sights like the Tombstone hills, abandoned railroad grades and views of the Huachuca and Santa Rita mountain ranges.
After your trail ride, lunch is served at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Known as the best cowboy bar in the west, Big Nose Kate’s Saloon is the place to go for great food, drinks and live music as well as other fun activities centered around the outlaw history of Tombstone. In fact, the namesake of this restaurant, Kate, was the first prostitute in the Tombstone Arizona territory and she was also Doc Holliday’s girlfriend.
Take a little time to explore Tombstone after you eat because you will be moving along to San Pedro House afterwards. This place really is full of fun characters and sights!
At San Pedro House you can learn all about the hummingbirds that live in this area. Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory has researchers studying the long-term migration of these birds. Up to 10 species of hummingbirds travel through the San Pedro River riparian area every year. You can get a rare up close view of these lightning fast, little birds as the researchers catch them, tag them and then let them go. Seeing a hummingbird in this setting is a once in a lifetime experience.
After a full and “wild” day, there are several delicious options to choose from for dinner. Check out Hoppin’ Grapes for regional wine, craft beer, appetizers, and desserts. Tanuki Sushi Bar is one of the most popular restaurants in Sierra Vista. The German Cafe serves up hearty German cuisine in a laid back atmosphere. Pastries and coffee from Philadelphia Baking Company are the perfect sweet treat for dessert.
End your evening with a visit to The Patterson Observatory at the University of Arizona. Here you can get a tour of the night sky through the 16 foot dome and 20 inch telescope. You will see farther out into space than ever before.
Today is all about Tucson! This casual and fun college town will welcome you with a laid back day that is still full of activity. You don’t really get a good feel for the incredible neighborhoods unless you really immerse yourself in them. The perfect way to do this is by taking a bike tour.
The streets and barrios are so vibrant. What stood out to us was all the color in the architecture. For example, everywhere we turned, there were brightly painted doors and entryways. You can tour about 6 miles of Tucson in about 2 hours and you will absolutely have a blast!
Refuel with lunch at El Charro Cafe, the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family. If you have never had Northern Mexican-Sonoran style food, you have to get here for lunch. Use your afternoon to continue to explore Tucson. There is even an upscale shopping center called La Encantada where you can browse the latest from some amazing brands like Kate Spade and Anthropologie. After a laid back Tucson afternoon, enjoy a decadent dinner at North Italia, located within La Encantada. Everything here, including the pasta, is made from scratch daily and the tastes will blow you away. The atmosphere is authentic and enjoyable as well.
We highly recommend that you spend the night in Tucson at Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort. This place is authentically Southwestern. You need to experience this place to really experience Tucson. This historical property is north of the city and the scene that surrounds you is nothing short of serene. It was created by the Murphey family in 1929, inspired by Moorish architecture. They made this place their own and since its family beginnings it has been host to the rich and famous.
Over the years it has been restored and now you will find first class, luxurious accommodations at Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort. Your accommodations here will be exceptional. Make sure to take some time to just wander through the Ranch and take it all in. This place is truly special.
Get ready for one last incredible day in Arizona. Spend your last full day in the city of Tempe, the place where your journey began. Depending on what you feel like, you can check out downtown Tempe or hike “A” Mountain.
Downtown Tempe is full of activity. The city is teeming with excitement. Located between College Avenue and Farm Avenue, walk around where the locals hang out. The dining is top notch. You will find cool little bars and other hot spots. There is no shortage of entertainment with a thriving music scene. If art is your thing, you will find galleries of local art as well. There is also plenty of public art and history to seek out as you explore. Be sure to check the Events Calendar when you are planning your trip because there are lots of fun things happening throughout the year.
If you choose to hike “A” Mountain you won’t be disappointed. The 360 degree view from the top will take your breath away. This is such a beautiful corner of the world and you can take it all in while hiking up this mountain named for the yellow “A” painted on the sign to represent nearby Arizona State University Tempe.
If you are looking for a hip place for lunch, you must grab a bite and a drink at Culinary Dropout. The menu at this gastropub is fresh and unique with choices like BBQ Pork Belly Nachos and Strawberry and Kale salad. The fried chicken is ridiculous! The mixologists create the most creative cocktails. You feel cooler just walking in the place. There’s tons of space, sports on the TVs, and games to play with your friends.
After lunch, go shopping at open air Tempe Marketplace. It is well designed with water features, outdoor fireplaces and more. There is often live music drawing you in so that you could stay here all day. Have dinner at the newly expanded and redesigned Pedal Haus Brewery. This huge, bicycle friendly restaurant and brewery serves up amazing craft beers and a full menu that will please everyone. There is lots of outdoor space with yard games, fire pits and cabana seating. A relaxing night under the Arizona stars with a local beer in your hand is the absolute best way to end your final day here.
For the perfect place to stay in Tempe, get a reservation at Tempe Mission Palms. This hotel is in the middle of downtown, right where you want to be in Tempe. The accommodations are modern and incredibly comfortable. Every room is newly renovated. There is a roof top pool. We loved hanging out in the courtyard before calling it a night. You can walk to all the excitement downtown from this hotel and it is close to the airport, which is perfect since you will be heading home the next day.
As you can see, Arizona isn’t what you expect. This isn’t your grandpa’s golfing vacation. Arizona is full of adventure and excitement with something new to discover at every turn. Each city is diverse and offers its own special experience. The most wonderful thing about traveling in southwestern Arizona is how you feel as if you traveled back in time but have the best in modern accommodations and amenities at the same time. It is a fun and funky part of the United States and anyone who loves to travel to places a little outside the box needs to plan a trip here.
Capture all the sights while you travel the old school way. Keep Film Alive!
Photo Credits: everyavenuegirl
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Elena is the managing editor for Daily Mom. She enjoys traveling, spending time with her daughter, running several businesses, working on Daily Mom, playing volleyball, going to the gym, photographing and reading. You can contact her via email.