Southern Arizona has many interesting small towns that are paved with nostalgia; perfect for older folks and 60’s Nostalgia buffs who want to remember the “Good Ol’ Days”, or younger folks who want to find out what the old folks were talking about. (Since we first posted this article, things have changed a bit for some of these towns, but we think that the old-time flavor of a small community remains.)
Here are our recommendations for historic places only an hour or two from Tucson, but hardly known even by some locals who have lived here for decades.
In 2009, True West Magazine named Florence #4 on its Top 10 True West Towns. A year later, Florence jumped to #2. Florence has over 140 preserved historic buildings exhibiting architectural styles from the early Territorial Period to the 1950?s.
Don’t miss the Pinal County Historical Society Museum. This small museum at the corner of Main & Gressinger Streets holds some very interesting history. Of particular note: saguaro rib furniture & the hangman’s nooses from all the executions at the prison here.
Take an audio tour of the city’s Historical Sites. Access the Audio Tour of Florence here.
McFarland State Historic Park. The first Pinal County Courthouse in Florence was built in 1878 and is one of the first courthouses constructed in Arizona. Over the years, the building was home to a sheriff’s office, hospital, museum and today it is an Arizona State Park.
The most spectacular landmark in Florence is the recently-renovated 1891 Pinal County Courthouse.
There is a lot to see & do in and near Florence. For our suggestions, including ancient Hohokam ruins, click HERE.
This ranching & mining town was founded in 1883 and was once an important railroad stop. It’s located on the Gila River 5 miles west of the New Mexico border. Sandra Day O’Conner grew up near here on the Lazy B Ranch.
Duncan is a quiet town except when the miners celebrate payday at the local saloon or head off to work in the early morning in their modified pickups.
Duncan has a good bakery which is usually crowded first thing in the morning. Nearby at the Visitor Center, you can pick up a walking tour map. Oddly, you can also acquire soap and other locally made products at the Visitor Center.
At the east end of town, Germaine’s is a quirky Old West mercantile with tons of collectibles, some of which are actually valuable. If you’re going to stay the night out in these parts, we definitely recommend the Simpson Hotel, a fine B&B. Across from the Simpson Hotel is a good Pizza joint. Visit our page for some interesting Things to do in Duncan.
This old mining town is a half-hour drive north of Duncan on Hwy 191. Think “Bisbee” before it decided to become a major tourist destination. Not quite a ghost town, not many people live here anymore. Most have either died off or moved a few miles up to Morenci where one of the biggest mining operation in the world lives on. There is a pleasant RV park right on the San Francisco River that runs through town. Great old jail dug out of the mountain. Worth a look here! As of 2021, we are seeing growth and renovations. Mike Anderson, who visited Clifton this year, wrote about his visit for us.
Mostly, Willcox is where folks get off the I-10 to go to one of 3 places. South of town is the Willcox Playa where, in January, tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, rest & feed, on their way to somewhere else. Also south on Hwy 186 about 38 miles is the magnificent Chiricahua National Monument. And just 2 miles east of town is Coronado Vineyards, which has a tasting room, & some of the best Southern Arizona wines we’ve experienced so far.
In Old Town Willcox are a few places of interest, including the Rex Allen Museum. For those of you too young to remember, Rex was a local boy who made good in the old westerns. Next to Rex’s Museum is the Marty Robbins Museum. Both are across the street from Railroad Park, where twice a year they hold a sizable wine tasting event celebrating the many vineyards in the area. Recently, several very nice wine tasting establishments have opened in restored historic buildings. Also in this area is at least one good antique store. This whole “Old Town Willcox” is less than two city blocks.
Willcox is changing a bit. Wineries are taking over. But the old feel of a town in the 60s still remains. Dining in Willcox? Big Tex BBQ is around the corner from Old Town. Excellent ribs!
Visit our page on Things to do in Willcox.
Patagonia. What’s not to like? It’s a nice old community with a few shops to explore, 2 good restaurants, and friendly natives. It is home to Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, a nature preserve along the creek, Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds and the gateway to Patagonia Lake State Park, all of which we recommend you visit. For a real treat, dine at the Velvet Elvis. Former AZ governor, Janet Napolitano said the Elvis is “an Arizona treasure’. We agree.
The oldest continuously active saloon in the old west, La Gitana Cantina, is a hoot. Esquire Magazine once named it one of the top 100 bars in America. BANWR, the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, is here for hiking, birding, and wildlife observing.
Bikers stop to have a cup of great coffee at the Gadsden Coffee Company. To see our recommended Things to See & Do in & near Arivaca, click HERE. Don’t miss Ruby, the best-preserved ghost town in Southern Arizona just 12 miles south of Arivaca.
Ajo was a corporate mining town with a storied history. Its streets are laid out neatly and the miner’s homes are well kept, with the Curley School rising above them. It is now the gateway to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. If you go, stay at the Curley School, now the Sonoran Desert Conference Center. You can read more about Things to do in Ajo here.
There are several other towns we consider nostalgic but have not featured them as of yet.