Two & three-day mini-vacations for Tucson locals.
Tucsonans know that 7 months out of the year we live in paradise. We seldom have a desire to leave town between October and April. So these recommended getaways & staycations are geared toward the hot summer months, May through September.
Southern Arizona mini-vacations are only a bit complicated because you folks in Sierra Vista may want to spend a few days in Tucson to see a play or concert or enjoy our terrific museums. By contrast, you Tucsonans may want a weekend in and near Sierra Vista to hike Ramsey Canyon or explore the San Pedro River Valley.
Either way works but I have to write from the perspective of a Tucsonan since I live in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains overlooking the City. Ramsey Canyon is a respite from the summer heat. That and there are about a million more Tucsonans than Sierra Vistans. Read More
If you’re coming into Tucson for a great weekend getaway we can happily recommend several excellent establishments for dining & lodging. Just go to Southern Arizona Guide > Main Menu > Dining & Lodging Reviews.
If you’re a Tucsonan headed to the wilds of Southern Arizona, you can do the same in reverse. We have recommended dining and lodging in Bisbee, Tombstone, Tubac, Safford, Duncan, and many other places in Southeastern Arizona.
Well, I need to modify the above slightly. I usually stay at the Tombstone Bordello B&B when I visit “The Town Too Tough To Die”. At least here I can get a good night’s sleep and an excellent breakfast, fresh fruit and all. From here I’m only a block or two from the action. Plus I like Ms. Lynda, the innkeeper. As soon as she says two words to you, you’ll know where she comes from.
There are zero four & five-saguaro restaurants in Tombstone. If you want a better-than-average dining experience, go south 25 miles to Bisbee. I say this knowing it will upset the good folks of Tombstone who depend for their livelihood on tourism, but if they really gave a hoot about us turistas, they would have a better-than-average restaurant. Don’t blame the messenger.
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon
While the food in Tombstone restaurants is not exceptional, it is generally OK as is the service. Portions tend to be generous. Moreover, dining in one of the historic saloons can be a hoot, particularly Big Nose Kate’s. The good folks who own & operate Kate’s also have the Longhorn Restaurant next door, and Cafe’ Margarita just off Allen Street on 5th. The Longhorn & Big Nose Kate’s share a kitchen, so if you like the cuisine at one, you’ll probably enjoy the other. We prefer Kate’s because it usually has live Western music and the whole atmosphere is Old West fun.
Explore The Basement
If you go to Kate’s, be sure to make your way down the steep spiral stairway to the basement. Here you will find a typical Tombstone gift shop. However, our rationale for suggesting that you descend into the basement is historical. In a back corner, you can see the shaft of one of Tombstone’s early mines. After a hard 12-hour shift, thirsty miners could ascend directly into the Grand Hotel’s basement bar for a couple of drinks and some female companionship.
Today, the long bar upstairs on the street level of Kate’s is the original bar that was located here in what was the basement of the Grand Hotel. The Grand burned to the ground in the devastating fire of 1882. However, because it was located in the basement, the long bar survived. So now, at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, you & I can belly up to that same long bar frequented by such famous Old West characters as Virgil & Wyatt Earp; Doc Holliday, Ike & Billy Clanton, as well as Frank & Tom McLaury. The only other long bar to survive the 1882 fire was, and still is, at the Bird Cage Theater.
The Depot Steakhouse & Johnny Ringo’s Bar
Over the past few years, I have often asked locals what they consider the best restaurant in Tombstone. Out of dozens of such conversations, The Depot is an almost unanimous choice of the people who live here.
The Depot and Ringo’s Bar are in the same fairly new building a few blocks south of the historic district at 10th & Allen Street. Nothing historical here. In additions to standard steak & burger fare, they also serve Mexican dishes. I’ve heard their Mexican food is really bad, but generally speaking, the steaks and pork chops I’ve had here were OK. But neither The Depot nor Johnny Ringo’s are the reason most folks come to Tombstone.
Great Getaway #1: Bisbee
At a mile high, Bisbee is much cooler than Tucson and the lower elevations of the Sonoran Desert. In many ways, most of Bisbee is a living history museum. Just get out in the morning or evening and walk the town with your camera. You’ll bring home a couple of great photos as well as memories. (See our Bisbee videos and slide shows)
(a) Someday I’m going to stay at The Shady Dell. This place just looks too cool not to experience it. However, we think the proprietors take a lot of vacations because we’ve stopped by twice at different times of the year when no one was around and Dot’s Diner was closed.
(b) For a first-rate B&B, definitely Joy Timber’s Calumet & Arizona Guest House. Joy has a lot of valuable local knowledge that will help you enjoy your time in Bisbee.
The bad news is Joy’s place is 2 miles south of the historic downtown area in the Warren District. The good news is Joy’s place is 2 miles south of the historic downtown area. You see, historic downtown Bisbee can be quite noisy, particularly on Friday & Saturday nights. You want quiet? Stay at the C&A Guest House. Very nice & Joy prepares an excellent breakfast to order.
(c) Eldorado Suites Hotel. Definitely Recommended! (Please see our review of the El Dorado Suites Hotel here.)
(d) Hotel San Ramon. Definitely Recommended. In March 2013, I stayed at the historic San Ramon in Room #1, The Bougainvillea. It has a king-size bed and large windows from which I could overlook the park and Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. All 6 rooms are unique. For example, the Agave is a suite with a full kitchen.
The Hotel San Ramon has a great location next to the Copper Queen Hotel. This is not a B&B, so plan your meals accordingly. For breakfast, the dining room of the Copper Queen is a good choice. Avoid the Bisbee Breakfast Club. Locals recommend it but I don’t. A few blocks up Main Street is the Bisbee Coffee Company, a Starbucks by another name with a couple of interesting twists, such as their Mexican Cafe’ Mocha. Definitely lots of locals here for the coffee and fresh pastries.
The Calumet & Arizona Guest House, Copper City Inn, Eldorado Suites Hotel, & the San Ramon offer a far better lodging experience than either the Copper Queen Hotel or the Bisbee Grand Hotel.
Breakfast: Coffee & fresh pasties at Bisbee Coffee Company. Full breakfast in the dining room of the Copper Queen Hotel.
Lunch: Jimmy’s Hot Dog Company. The only hot dog joint I know of that is recommended by Gourmet Magazine. Say “Hi” to Jimmy for us here at Southern Arizona Guide. And yes, they have sandwiches other than hot dogs.
Lunch: High Desert Market. Located a short drive up Tombstone Canyon from Old Town Bisbee. Very good! It’s across the street from Screaming Banshee Pizza, also very good.
Dinner: Café Roka (make reservations well in advance) This is one of the few 5-Saguaro restaurants in Southern Arizona. Located in the heart of Old Bisbee.
Dinner: I hear that the Copper Pig is very good. It is open Sunday – Wednesday and is in the Warren district.
Recommended Things To See & Do
(a) A cocktail on the veranda of the historic Copper Queen Hotel.
(b) Queen (underground) Mine Tour. See our video.
(c) Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum (so good it’s affiliated with the Smithsonian). See our video.
(d) Art galleries & other shops along Main Street. It looks pretty much as it did in this old postcard.
(e) Just walk around the hilly streets above this lovely old city, once the most populous between St. Louis and San Francisco.
(e) Check out the Bisbee Events Calendar for special events, such as Brewery Gulch Daze.
Great Side Trips from Bisbee Coming or Going
Do take Dr. Jay’s Tombstone Walking Tour. You’ll learn many fascinating things about the town you thought you knew all about. Do call for reservation: 520-457-9876. Tell Dr. Jay “Hi” from Jim at Southern Arizona Guide. Maybe he’ll give you a deal.
I did on-camera interviews with Virgil Earp and Tom McLaury just before they left the saloon to head down to the OK Corral. Not surprisingly, their accounts of the events leading up to the most famous gunfight differ somewhat. If you go to Tombstone, don’t miss the tour of the Bird Cage Theater. In 1882, the New York Times referred to the Bird Cage Theater as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” I have no doubt.
The thing I like most about Tombstone is that the facts, should you do the necessary research, are far more interesting than the legends. Check out my recommended reading about this fascinating remnant of the Old West. Great reads! Or our several features on the Gunfight and its aftermath in the local history section.
Karchner Caverns State Park at Benson.
Excellent exhibits in the visitor center and a fine guided underground tour. Do make reservations. (520) 586-2283.
Holy Trinity Monastery at St. David.
Here the Benedictine monks have guesthouses for you, an RV park, a lovely little chapel, and pleasant tree-lined trails on 92 wooded acres … perfect for bird watching and a bit of serenity.
Fort Huachuca at Sierra Vista.
This old U.S. Army fort was the home of the Buffalo Soldiers and has two outstanding military museums. Today, Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center.
Ramsey Canyon just south of Sierra Vista.
This Nature Conservancy Preserve is one of the most beautiful places in Southern Arizona. Go to the bookstore, get an orientation from the helpful folks there, then take a hike up the canyon. It sometimes amazes me that a place this wild still exists in our over-crowded planet. Take your camera and send me your best photos of the many bird species and wild critters. Watch out for bears.
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
(SPRNCA) This 56,000 acre preserve is located 6 miles east of Sierra Vista. Activities include: wildlife and bird watching, picnicking, primitive camping, pre-historic and historic sites, hiking, fishing, biking, horseback riding, guided hikes, interpretive sites, and weekend children’s programs.
Here you will find the Murray Springs Clovis Site, a significant archaeological area that contains evidence of the earliest known people to inhabit North America. An interpretive trail leads visitors to the site. The area also features the ruins of the old mining town of Fairbank. The San Pedro House, a 1930s-era converted ranch house, serves as a bookstore and visitor center.
Great Getaway #2: Portal, AZ
Sitting at just under 5,000’ elevation on the eastern slope of the Chiricahua Mountains, Portal is the gateway to beautiful Cave Creek Canyon.
Here you can indulge in all kinds of outdoor activities, including camping, picnicking, bird watching, hiking, plus great photographic opportunities.
Fair warning: services, particularly gas stations, are few and far between out here.
DD Gamble Guest Lodge
South of Rodeo, New Mexico on Hwy 80 just the other side of the Arizona border, we discovered the DD Gamble Guest Lodge in 2014. Not far from the road up to Cave Creek Canyon, it is a wonderful getaway for birders and the whole family; complete with meals, so you don’t need to worry about where to hunt. They are pet friendly. Please see our review of the DD Gamble Guest Lodge here.
Portal Peak Lodge
520 558 2223
We stayed here April 2012. Clean, simple rooms, adjacent to the Portal Store and Café. Free WiFi. Only restaurant in these parts as far as I know. Aside from a good night’s sleep, the most important thing to know about this place is they sell a fairly detailed copy of a map to this area for $0.25. Buy one! You’ll thank me later. No cell phone service or GPS out here.
Cave Creek Ranch
I have not stayed here either, but this place gets rave reviews. Three cottages, two lodges with three apartments each, and the Ranch House. Some units have fireplaces. Each unit sleeps from 2 to 6 people. All have fully-equipped kitchens.
Bring most of your groceries with you as the nearest supermarket is in Willcox, except for a few items available at the little Portal Store.
This is a working research center well up into the canyon. Occasionally they have rooms for non-resident researchers who just want to enjoy this beautiful setting.
To the extent it’s a drawback, meals here are served at specific times. During the day, I can only imagine you will want to be picnicking along one of the many trails above the canyon.
The George Walker House in Paradise.
This cabin, 5 1/2 miles from Portal and Cave Creek, is a 100-year-old house with two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, a bathroom with shower and tub, a well-equipped kitchen stocked with coffee, tea, breakfast cereal, muffins, and juice, and a laundry room with washer and dryer. There is also a screened-in front porch, and a shady patio area with picnic table and a barbecue grill. The yard is completely fenced. We think this place is wonderful.
As far as I know, this is the only restaurant for miles around, if it is still open. (Apparently, it is always for sale.) I gave them a 3-Saguaro rating.
Great Side Trips From Portal Coming or Going
Chiricahua National Monument is just over the mountain from Portal via unpaved Forest Service Road 42. On the way from Portal to the Monument or vice versa, you will see evidence of the Horseshoe 2 Fire of 2011. Not pretty. But there are other rewards along this back road.
Plan on about a two-hour drive over the mountain. It’s worth it.
Once you enter the Monument, stop at the visitor center to get oriented and find out the schedule for guided tours of Faraway Ranch. Take the tour.
You can camp beside the creek in Bonita Canyon, one of the best Arizona campgrounds I’ve seen. From the campground and visitor center, continue up the mountain to the Wonderland of Rocks. Quite a sight. And excellent hiking trails. Keep an eye out for the elusive coati. You will not have to look hard for deer.
Coming from or going to Portal or Chiricahua National Monument, you’re likely to go through Benson and Willcox on Interstate 10. Between Benson & Willcox, just off I-10, is Texas Canyon, a place of massive boulders and one of America’s finest private museums featuring rare artifacts found throughout North and South America. The Amerind also has one of Southern Arizona’s best art galleries and picnic areas. Highly recommended.
Out this way along I-10 you will be annoyed by dozens of billboards enticing you to stop and see THE THING. Avoid the temptation, save a dollar.
Last chance to fill the gas tank before heading up to the Chiricahua National Monument. Also tank up on groceries. If you’re a huge Rex Allen fan (who?), Willcox has a museum to this singing cowboy. If you were born after 1960, you won’t have a clue.
Big Tex BBQ Dining Car by the railroad tracks. Excellent BBQ ribs.
Coming from or going to Portal or the Monument, do stop at Coronado Vineyards. For very few coins, you can sample some of the best wines produced in Southern Arizona.
Located a few miles east of Willcox just off the I-10.
Great Getaway #3: Southern Arizona Lakes
Patagonia Lake State Park: about 85 miles south of Tucson. Boating, camping, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, & stargazing.
Great Staycation Ideas: Three Excellent Choices Right Here In The Old Pueblo.
For you Tucsonans who don’t even want to drive 2 hours to the above-recommended mini-vacation sites, there are several excellent places in or very close to Tucson that offer locals the feel of a real vacation. Here are a few of our recommendations. Unlike the above which are higher in altitude, and thus considerably cooler than Tucson, these staycations offer sunrise/sunset horseback riding, spas, swimming pools, comfortable accommodations, good food, and Western hospitality.
1. Hacienda del Sol Ranch Resort. The 5-Saguaro-rated Grill at Hacienda del Sol is one of the very best restaurants in all of Southern Arizona. Please see our 3 HDS videos in the recommended lodging section.
2. Tanque Verde Ranch. This wonderful dude ranch is located at the far east end of Speedway.
3. White Stallion Ranch.
Located just to the west of Tucson, White Stallion is a treat for anyone who appreciates the Old West.