Photo: Arizona Office of Tourism Tubac
Photo: Arizona Office of Tourism

From Patagonia to Arcosanti, here are six small towns in Arizona that are well worth your time.

One of the most charming parts of the Grand Canyon State is that you’ll probably never spend enough time exploring the 48th state.

Although destinations like the Grand Canyon and Sedona get a ton of attention—and rightly so—there are plenty of charming small towns worth exploring. Here are six small towns worth your time. Time to hit the road. 

1. Tubac

Approximately two hours and 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix

Photo: Arizona Office of Tourism

Tubac is a vibrant arts city. This southern Arizona city is home to more than 100 art galleries, jewelry stores, and other eclectic boutiques selling everything from copper art to fired clay.

Head to the city’s El Presidito, and stroll in a historic setting that’s filled with artists’ studios. Specifically, see oil paintings by David Simons and John Marbury. Admire the architecture. Across the street from El Presidito is Presidio State Historic Park, Arizona’s first state park. This state park is the home of Arizona’s many firsts: the state’s first fort, first mining community, European settlement, and the first printing press.

The on-site Shaw D. Kinsley Gallery showcases historical paintings by William Ahrendt, along with other exhibits. 

Fun fact: According to the city’s website, the “good” light in Tubac provides an ideal environment where artists can create excellent work.

2. Sierra Vista

1011 Coronado Dr, Sierra Vista, AZ 85635

Approximately three hours from downtown Phoenix

Photo: Arizona Office of Tourism

In 2021, Sierra Vista was officially declared the Hummingbird Capital of the United States. More than 15 species migrate through this Southern Arizona town. See plenty of birds flying around at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, the most-visited attraction in Sierra Vista.

According to the Audubon Society, “it is the best example of desert riparian ecosystem in the United States.” The area is home to Murray Springs Clovis Site, which contains relics of the Clovis people that inhabited the area 11,000 years ago, remnants of a Spanish fortress, and the San Pedro House—a popular trailhead for hiking, biking, and bird watching. 

Don’t miss: Hiking trails abound in Sierra Vista. The Carr Peak Trail is a moderately challenging hike that offers stunning views and access to one of the highest peaks in southeastern Arizona.  

3. Patagonia 

10 McKeown Ave, Patagonia, AZ 85624

Approximately two hours and 45 minutes from downtown Phoenix

Photo: Arizona Office of Tourism

Southern Arizona’s Patagonia is known for being a quirky destination.

There’s also plenty to do in this town with a population of just less than 800. See more than 200 birds at Paton Center for Hummingbirds nature reserve. Stroll the gardens, see and hear the birds, and enjoy the views all around. Admission is free.

Discover the history of the city at The Patagonia Museum that’s housed inside a former schoolhouse. Spend a few hours on the water kayaking or boating at the Patagonia Lake State Park. Patagonia’s colorful downtown is also worth a stroll. If you’re hungry for pizza downtown, consider the Velvet Elvis at La Misión. Enjoy a variety of gourmet pizzas and other Italian fares. Don’t miss the actual painting of Elvis on the wall. 

Recreational haven: Patagonia is also home to the Gravel Cycling Gateway. Here, off-road bikers a chance to pedal on remote dirt roads and tackle long climbs. 

4. Oatman 

146 Main St, Oatman, AZ 86433

Approximately three hours and 45 minutes from downtown Phoenix

Photo: Arizona Office of Tourism

Located in the Black Mountains of western Arizona, Oatman is a ghost town with a ton of character.

This city that lies on Route 66 is known for its wild burros that roam the streets. If you spend any time here, you’ll probably see them around town. As cute as they might be, be sure not to feed them.

Oatman is also home to plenty of adorable shops. Pop into the Gold Rush Candy Shoppe for some sweets, and see Coke collectibles and over 100 different hot sauces at the historic Oatman General Store. You also can watch gunslingers have “fights” in the middle of the town’s main street. 

Pro tip: Be sure to check out the stunning views from the Sitegraves Pass View Point—it’s just outside of town and right off the main road that leads to Oatman. 

5. Arcosanti

Arcosanti, Arizona 86333 

Approximately one hour from downtown Phoenix

Photo: Jessica Jameson Photo

Even if you’re not into architecture, Arcosanti is a fascinating place.

Founded in 1970, Arcosanti employs design principles of arcology—a blend of architecture and ecology. Essentially, this eco-friendly community aims to blend seamlessly into the sprawling desert environment where it resides. This community, conceived by the notable architect Paolo Soleri, is home to about 70 people.

Cosanti is a foundry where Cosanti bells are made. These wind bells are made by pouring molten bronze into a sand mold. Inside the mold, the artist has drawn patterns and shapes that make each bell unique. Built using Soleri’s cast-in-place silt-cast method, the Arcosanti Foundry Apse is a quarter-sphere building that provides heat in the winter and shade in the summer. If you wander around Arcosanti, you’ll notice many half-spheres and circular shapes that define this unique place. Admire the architecture. 

How to experience Arcosanti: Visitors can enjoy guided tours, take a hike, and enjoy a meal at Arcosanti’s on-site café. You also can stay overnight in one of the on-property AirBnbs.

6. Jerome

600 Clark St, Jerome, AZ 86331

Approximately two hours from downtown Phoenix

Photo: Arizona Office of Tourism

Northern Arizona’s Jerome is a former thriving copper mining town turned arts colony. Today, plenty of people visit this hilltop town for its stellar restaurants, unique shops and stunning views.

When you first get to town, you’ll drive by the unique Jerome Art Center. Wander in and out of artists’ studios in the former Jerome High School. Learn more about the history of the city at the Jerome State Historic Park.

Jerome is home to plenty of unique businesses. Enjoy hamburgers at Haunted Hamburger. See kaleidoscopes from more than 90 international artists Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes. Sample Arizona-grown wine at Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room.

Even if you’re not staying there, the Jerome Grand Hotel is worth a visit. For starters, this grand hotel is the former site of the United Verde Hospital. See the historic Otis elevator in the lobby. The on-site restaurant The Asylum is a fine dining establishment known for its stellar cuisine. The hotel also features stunning, sweeping views of the entire Verde Valley that are worth savoring. 

What to visit: To experience Jerome’s mining past, you can visit the Gold King Mine. See a mine shaft, pan for gold, and view a historic boarding house in this ghost town reminiscent of Jerome’s past. 

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