Arizona is special in the way that only deserts can be. For those daring enough to brave the blistering heat and bitter cold of its mountainous expanse, there is an astounding beauty to be seen. Some of the best sunrises and sunsets in the nation can be found above the mesas of Arizona. When paired with the state's small towns, enclaves full of charm and whimsy that strive to keep the old-west spirit alive, Arizona becomes a truly intoxicating destination. These are the 14 prettiest towns in The Copper State.
The town of Cottonwood is equal parts endearing and historic. Found in the Verde Valley amidst sheer red rock cliffs, Cottonwood seems straight out of a John Wayne film with its lovingly preserved Main Street in Old Town Cottonwood. There, you can watch live performances at the Old Town Center for the Arts. The region is also known for its many verdant vineyards and has made somewhat of a name for itself in the wine space. A visit to either Burning Tree Cellars or the Pillsbury Wine Company Tasting Room is a great way to see what the craze is about. With the Tuzigoot National Monument and the Verde River nearby, Outdoorsmen will enjoy Cottonwood as well.
The town of Bisbee can trace its roots back to the 19th century during the mining boom, and this heritage is proudly on display today. For those looking to learn more about the founding of Bisbee, an underground tour of the Copper Queen Mine may be in order. The mine was a source of both copper and a unique version of turquoise called Bisbee Blue. Lovers of all things supernatural will enjoy the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour, voted the best attraction in Bisbee. The town’s historic district is definitely worth seeing as well as it is filled with beautiful Victorian-style houses and even an often-photographed Art Deco county Courthouse.
Bisbee is not the only town with a haunted history in Arizona; The town of Jerome is less than 20 minutes from Cottonwood by car and was founded in the late 1800s, benefitting from its boomtown status. The town perches atop Cleopatra Hill in Yavapai County, peering over the Verde Valley. The town comes complete with incredibly scenic views and the entire town is a designated National Historic Landmark. The town has several places considered haunted such as the Jerome Grand Hotel and the Ghost City Inn Bed & Breakfast. If ghost stories do not interest you, there are plenty of lovely art galleries to visit and the Jerome Historical Society Mine Museum offers a comprehensive history of the town.
You have most likely heard about Sedona. The town is downright gorgeous with lush greenery all around and rusty red rocks towering in the distance. Sidona is a visual delight that offers top-tier hiking and a surprisingly refreshing zen atmosphere. The Airport Mesa loop circles a large mesa which doubles as one of Sedona’s vortexes, a place where the Earth’s energy is rumored to concentrate. makes for a great place to stretch your legs, and you can even go cliff diving in Oak Creek Canyon during the warmer months. If your vehicle has off-roading capabilities, the rugged terrain around Sedona will provide you with plenty of rocky outcrops to conquer.
This remarkable town is a study of contrasts and is an hour’s drive from Sedona. In fact, its very name is inspired by the word "arcology," the melding of architecture and ecology. Arcosanti is a prototype of sorts, an experiment by Paolo Soleri to see if nature and humans could coexist more harmoniously. The town has a distinct Flash Gordon vibe, and the buildings are truly out of this world. Vivisected domes and angular building complexes dot the town. Tours through the town are led by residents, many of whom are volunteers working to complete the founder’s vision.
It is easy to see how Carefree earned its name. The town is relaxed and casual, a place where people amble leisurely between its country clubs and tennis courts. With streets called things like Tranquil Trail and Nonchalant Avenue, it is clear the town’s name is no misnomer. Hikers are sure to love Cave Creek Regional Park, while the Carefree Desert Gardens is an amazing Arizona oasis, one of only two public botanical gardens in the area. Carefree is also home to an enormous sundial and the surrounding area is littered with cafes and galleries that are great places to catch your breath and cool off.
Patagonia is quirky and charming, a refuge surrounded by quintessential Arizona beauty. A mere hour's drive from Tucson, this unique town beautifully intertwines the essence of Mexican, Native American, and Old West traditions. Strolling through its vibrant downtown, one is greeted by a myriad of artisan shops, with the Global Arts Gallery being a notable attraction. Beyond the allure of handcrafted items, the town beckons animal enthusiasts to the Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds. Here, visitors can admire and delight in the mesmerizing dances of the exquisite hummingbirds.
Tubac is only 45 minutes by car from Patagonia, so a visit to both is easy enough. The Arizona town of Tubac was first a Spanish colonial fortress. After the Pima Revolt against the Spanish, the area was flooded with miners, farmers, and ranchers. Eventually, these folks would give way to creatives and artisans, leading to Tubac’s reputation as an artists’ colony. There are over 100 eclectic shops and businesses in town to discover like Big Horn Galleries, purveyors of Western art. Outside of town, Tumacacori National Historical Park features a museum, live craft and food demonstrations, and nearly 400 acres to explore. Madera Canyon rests 45 minutes northeast of Tubac and is one of the best places in Arizona for bird-watching.
Travelers along the renowned Route 66 knew Williams as a popular rest stop for motorists. The town has plenty of accommodations and you can even catch a train to the Grand Canyon behind the town’s visitor center. The Grand Canyon Railway takes riders to the Grand Canyon daily, but there is plenty to do in town. Pete’s Rt 66 Gas Station Museum offers a wonderful history of the now-defunct Route 66, while South Rims Wine & Beer Garage is a great place to beat the heat with a cold drink.
Lake Havasu City
This Mohave County gem occupies the northern and western edges of the Sonoran Desert. Far from barren, Lake Havasu City is a desert oasis with excellent weather, architecture, and a beautiful lake. Fishing, skiing, boating, and swimming are not just allowed at Lake Havasu, they are practically encouraged. The lake is one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Lake Havasu’s London Bridge was built from a dismantled bridge in London, England, giving the town a peculiar European connection. Amateur geologists will love the rockhounding opportunities the town provides as the town is rich in agates and fossils.
The photogenic village of Oatman is the textbook definition of a small town. Roughly an hour and fifteen minutes from Lake Havasu City, there are less than 50 full-time residents in Oatman but do not let that discourage you from visiting. Donkeys roam the village’s narrow streets, but burros are far from the town’s only non-human denizens. Rumors say the town is haunted, and Oatman can be explored as a veritable Arizona ghost town. Oatman truly feels frozen in time. The Cool Springs Station was a nifty gas station turned nifty souvenir shop, and the Durlin Hotel is a must-see attraction: its walls and ceiling are covered with one-dollar bills!
Prescott occupies a sweet spot because of its size. At just under 50,000 inhabitants, the town has all the amenities one could want without the urban sprawl and noise of a big city. The town square is complete with a gorgeous courthouse and lovely Victorian homes can be found throughout. Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott has both striking architecture and plenty to drink. The town is also home to Prescott Frontier Days Inc., the world’s oldest rodeo. Lastly, the town’s proximity to natural beauty is a selling point. Prescott National Forest and Watson Lake State Park have more hiking trails than you can shake a stick at.
There is a surprising amount of things to do in Strawberry. Hidden amidst the pine trees near Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, Strawberry may be the best-kept secret in the state. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is a popular hiking destination, as is Waterfall Trail which, you guessed it, leads to an actual waterfall. In terms of accommodations try the Strawberry Inn which, is a lovely hotel that was a former office building. Horseback riders will appreciate the miles of scenic trails through forests and ridges within arm's reach. Explore the Mogollon Rim via horse or hoof it the old-fashioned way!
One of the best places in Arizona is right here in Ajo. This small desert town has always drawn crowds. People from all walks of life come to the town and the 12 million acres of land that surrounds it. Today, Ajo’s burgeoning arts community has led to its and hosts festivals throughout the year. There are murals throughout town that are definitely worth seeing. Further, the town’s Historic Plaza and Railway Depot allow visitors to look backward in time to the town’s founding. Outside of town, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer plenty of world-class hiking, bird-watching, and camping opportunities.
It is hard to match the majesty of Arizona’s landscapes. Soaring mesas, breathtaking sunsets, and red-clay rock formations make the Copper State a sight to behold. The state’s history can be seen in its hillsides and sheer cliffs, their surfaces blasted by the first settlers in search of copper and silver. Much like its landscapes, Arizona’s history is also displayed in its towns, places where the fingerprints of its founders continue to remain visible. Many of these towns have worked to preserve this heritage over the years, blending old with new and creating something entirely unique in the process.