Getty Images Welcome sign to the small historic mountain town of Jerome in Arizona.
Getty Images

Experience Arizona’s unique history and natural beauty at these lesser-visited and often under-rated sites, all within a short drive of the Valley of the Sun.

As the fifth-largest city in the US, Phoenix offers an abundance of things to do. But sometimes you just want to get away, even if only for a short time. 

While the Grand Canyon remains the state’s top tourist draw, and Sedona—with its stunning red rock formations—and Tucson— known for its rich culinary heritage—are stunning in their own right, all three require more than a day to experience all that they have to offer fully. 

That’s why we’re focusing on smaller locales, each with its own unique character, that also contributes to the fascinating story of the 48th state. From authentic Old West communities to flourishing wine regions to awe-inspiring natural wonders, these are seven of the most off-the-beaten-path, fun-filled, and exciting day-trip destinations that are within a two-hour drive from Phoenix.

1. Cave Creek

Distance from Phoenix: 30 minutes

Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department

The spirit of the Old West is alive and well in this quirky desert town. Here you’ll find great shopping and dining, outdoor adventures, and gorgeous desert scenery—without the long hours spent in the car.

Art galleries, gift shops, and Frontier Town, a reproduction Wild West-themed attraction, offer everything from kitschy Western souvenirs to handcrafted Mexican pottery to eye-catching collections of crystals and hard-to-find minerals. 

Many Phoenicians also head to Cave Creek for a day in the saddle, and numerous ranches offer group and private horseback rides. On Wednesdays and Fridays, stick around to see—or even participate in—amateur bull-riding at the Buffalo Chip Saloon and Steakhouse

For more information: Cave Creek

2. Apache Junction

Distance from Phoenix: 40 minutes

untitled design6
Elvis Presley Chapel at Superstition Mountain Museum. Photo credit: Visit Mesa

Home to the majestic Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction is steeped in history and lore. Legend has it that a miner, nicknamed “the Dutchman,” hid a stash of gold in the mountains before dying. Today, adventurers still try to locate the hidden treasure in Lost Dutchman State Park.

At nearby Goldfield Ghost Town, a replica of the original town built around the historic Goldfield gold mine site, you can tour the underground mine, pan for gold, or even witness a gunfight. Or stop by the Superstition Mountain Museum and take a selfie in front of the gleaming white Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, which appeared in the 1969 movie Charro!

After a day of hiking, horseback riding, or photographing wildflowers, head to nearby Canyon Lake and cool off with an afternoon or evening cruise on the Dolly Steamboat

For more information: Apache Junction

3. Superior – Miami – Globe

Distance from Phoenix: 1 hour

The drive through the southeast corner of the state takes you through breathtaking landscapes that range from steep, boulder-hewn cliffs to pine-covered mountains.

Spread out over 31 miles along I-60 and cutting through the Pinal Mountains, the three former silver and copper mining towns of Superior, Miami, and Globe are great for antiquing, bird-watching, and off-road exploring. 

Start the day in Superior at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden. Then head to Miami’s quaint downtown, which is filled with funky antique shops and historic architecture, before stopping at Guayo’s El Ray for some mouthwatering Mexican food. Finally, visit the ancient pueblo of the Salado people at Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum in Globe. 

For more information: SuperiorMiami – Globe

4. Verde Valley Wine Trail

Distance from Phoenix: 1 hour 40 minutes

Arizona’s newest American Viticultural Area, the Verde Valley, was federally recognized in late 2021. More than two dozen vineyards and wineries comprise the trail, which passes through Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Cornville, Page Springs, Jerome, and Sedona. Explore the region’s verdant high-desert landscape as you travel from town to town, or focus on a single destination. 

A great place to start is Old Town Cottonwood, which is home to nine tasting rooms, all within walking distance of each other. Don’t have a designated driver? No worries! The AZ Wine Wagon shuttles guests on a nine-hour round trip from Scottsdale to the Verde Valley and Sedona, with stops at some of the best wineries and tasting rooms. 

For more information: Verde Valley Wine Trail

5. Prescott

Distance from Phoenix: 1 hour 45 minutes

prescott watson lake robert alvarez
Photo by Robert Alvarez

Arizona’s first territorial capital, Prescott, still has an old-timey feel. The heart of the charming downtown is the traditional town square. A verdant lawn surrounds the majestic neoclassical revival-style courthouse, and visitors and community members gather here to hang out, picnic, and enjoy live performances and events. 

Whiskey Row, which borders the square, is known for its Gold Rush-era saloons. The Palace, the oldest frontier saloon in Arizona, was a favorite stomping ground of Doc Holliday and Wyatt and Virgil Earp. Art galleries, antique shops, and museums round out the town’s walkable offerings. 

On the outskirts of the city is picture-perfect Watson Lake. Its azure blue waters are surrounded by dramatic boulders and spellbinding rocky outcrops. Fishing, kayaking and canoeing, and hiking can be had here.  

For more information: Experience Prescott

6. Jerome

Distance from Phoenix: 2 hours

Known as “The largest ghost town in America,” Jerome is beloved for its dramatic hillside setting, quirky character, and haunted history.

Founded in 1876 and perched near the top of Cleopatra Hill, Jerome was once a thriving copper mining community. While it retains many historic structures and dilapidated ruins, it is now a vibrant arts destination. Dozens of galleries and tasting rooms line the winding streets. 

Visit the Mine Museum, Gold King Mine, and Audrey Headframe Park for a glimpse into the town’s geological history before grabbing lunch at one of the many imaginative eateries — Haunted Hamburger is a favorite of visitors and locals alike.

Make sure to stop by the landmark Jerome Grand Hotel. The former hospital, which looms over the town like Stephen King’s famed Overlook, is known as the most haunted hotel in Arizona. 

For more information: Jerome

7. Pine – Strawberry

Distance from Phoenix: 2 hours

lavender farm
The Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm at sunset beneath the Mogollon Rim in north-central Arizona.

The tiny neighboring communities of Pine and Strawberry can be found tucked away in the forested mountains of Arizona’s Mogollon Rim Country, and are ideal getaways for outdoor enthusiasts.

Just minutes from Pine is Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, which features the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. Numerous hiking and biking trails, designed for all levels of fitness, lead to waterfalls, flowing springs, and pine-filled canyons. 

Fuel up for the day with empanadas, gourmet pizza, craft beer, and classic pub food in one of Strawberry’s many restaurants. And stop for a rest at the Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm. This former 1890s homestead is surrounded by 5,000 fragrant lavender plants and offers cooking classes and a gift shop. 

For more information: Pine – Strawberry

Want to discover more fun things to do across Arizona? Follow us on Instagram!