Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
Squared off like a pair of old-time gunslingers in southern Arizona, Bisbee and Tombstone stake a claim on Gold Rush history. Mines in Bisbee once gushed silver and gold, drawing fortune hunters who turned a map dot into a boomtown. Tombstone was a mining town, too, making a name with gambling, dance halls, and deadly duels.
Today, decades after the mines went dry, the two communities couldn’t be more different. Bisbee offers a mix of art, history, and mining lore in a town that has offbeat culture in spades. Tombstone is like a Wild West theme park, but the attractions—from the OK Corral to Boot Hill Graveyard—are real (mostly). For travelers, they’re a taste of a bygone time in Arizona’s past, and you’ll still find gaping mines, venerable saloons, and ghosts around every corner.
Follow Interstate 10 East to exit 303 in Benson. From there, continue AZ 80 East to Benson (3 hours and 14 minutes, 207 miles).
Perk up after a long drive with cold-brew coffee and a burrito at Bathtub Coffee, whose playfully odd vibe is the perfect introduction to Bisbee. Their Karmic Forwarding program invites visitors to fill out postcards that are mailed to random addresses in town.
Next, go below the desert landscape on a tour of the Copper Queen Mine; you’ll get a miner’s lamp, hard hat, and slicker, and fill up on a mix of mining history and tall tales. Gold, copper, silver, lead, and zinc once poured from the earth here, but the Bisbee mines closed for good in 1975.
When you’re back in the sunshine, head back to historic Bisbee to check out some of the town’s art galleries. Find eccentric contemporary work in the Sam Poe Gallery. A stone’s throw away from there is the Belleza Gallery, with a focus on fine art that ranges from oil paintings to mixed media. It’s just a few more steps to 55 Main Gallery, another contemporary collection with some vintage thrown in for good measure.
For dinner, head to Café Roka, the longtime, upscale star of the local dining scene. Fixed-price menus feature continent-hopping flavors, with an impressive wine list to go alongside. Since there’s live jazz on most Friday nights, it’s worth booking well in advance to score a table at this destination eatery in a historic art deco building.
After your meal, dive into Bisbee’s dark side with an evening at the Bisbee Séance Room, where intimate magic shows mash-up card-trick sleight of hand with the creepiest tidbits of local history. Magic Kenny Bang Bang is the one-man show’s charismatic ringmaster; make a reservation.
Sidle up to the squiggle-shaped counter at Bisbee Breakfast Club for classics from the griddle: Think big flapjacks, generous omelets, and huevos rancheros. Check out the abandoned gas station next door for a few essential Instagram shots, then head half a mile west to the Lavender Pit, a disused copper pit mine you could invert a mountain into. There’s not much to do here aside from peering inside, but it’s a truly impressive sight.
Now it’s time to saddle up and head to Tombstone. (Really you should drive, but do it while imagining something a little more Wild West.) This is where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had their shootout at the OK Corral—probably—and where gunslinging legends were laid to rest in the Boot Hill Graveyard. Equal parts authentic history, tourist trap, and cowboy cosplay, Tombstone can be great fun if you’re willing to go all-in.
Start at the OK Corral, where dramatized gunfights are staged a few times a day. Your tickets also get you access to the Historama next door, including a multimedia presentation that benefits from gravelly-voiced, high-drama narration by Vincent Price.
Next, pay your respects to fallen gunslingers at Boot Hill Graveyard—Boot Hill used to be a common name for cemeteries for those who “died with their boots on.” It’s an odd place, and most people wander around just looking for funny epitaphs, but it’s worth checking out the memorial to Jewish pioneers and “their Indian friends,” plus the section for Chinese residents. They’re a reminder that Arizona history didn’t resemble an all-white cowboy movie.
Take a break for lunch at the Crystal Palace Saloon, a bar with a long, rowdy history. The menu of burgers, sandwiches, and pub food is fine, but the real pleasure is in the atmospheric room, the mirrored mahogany bar, and the authentic tin ceilings. In addition to this, the staff wear costumes that are both corny and fun.
Find a little more history and a little less showmanship at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, a two-story Victorian courthouse that’s now a museum. The exhibits include stories about Wyatt Earp, silver mining, and ranching. The final stop on your Wild West tour of Tombstone has to be the Bird Cage Theatre, once known for bawdy entertainment and epic poker duels. Rumors of ghosts abound—tours of the historic spot feature all the grisly details.
Now that you’ve ticked off the Tombstone essentials, head back to Bisbee for a patio dinner at POCO, choosing from a menu of Mexican-inspired vegan fare including burritos, bowls, and chimichangas. Nachos come draped in a thick layer of moreish “cheezy” sauce. Some weekend nights at POCO feature live music, but if things are quiet go check out the scene at the nearby Old Bisbee Brewing Company. Beers here range from a crisp pilsner to a creamy stout that could double as dessert.
Stroll to Bisbee Coffee Company to wake up with a cup of locally roasted coffee and pastry; this is the perfect place to linger over a slow breakfast, as the outside seating offers prime people watching.
Before heading home, make a side trip to the vineyards of the Sonoita and Elgin area, an hour northwest of Bisbee. The first stop is the off-grid Rune Wines, which consists of an Airstream trailer and a Quonset hut; in cold weather, tastings are in the hut, while on nice days the whole operation migrates outdoors. The Petite Syrah wins raves, and there’s even an unusual wild fermented Syrah.
A short drive away in Sonoita is Arizona Hops and Vines, a hilltop spot with a decidedly youthful vibe. Food pairings at wine tastings might include Cheetos, Cocoa Puffs, and flavored potato chips, and wines get irreverent names—La Petite Mort, The Peacemaker—that will wash away any pinkies-out snobbery you associate with wine tasting.
For lunch, make a final stop at the Copper Brothel Brewery, which has a full lineup of house-made beers and a hearty pub food menu. The Colorado-style pork green chile is a favorite, but there are also salads, sandwiches, tacos, and Southwestern pub fare.
WHERE TO STAY
Shack up in a shiny Airstream at Bisbee’s Shady Dell Vintage Trailer Court for a bracing dose of old-school quirk that’s also budget-friendly. There are more than Airstreams, actually—options range from a 1947 Tiki bus to the 1959 Boles Aero—and each spot comes with an outdoor charcoal grill. For a few more creature comforts, opt for the Letson Loft Hotel, an 1883 Main Street building with eight restored guest rooms.
WHEN TO GO
While Bisbee is a year-round destination, summer highs can climb well into the 90s. In the spring and fall, things get more comfortable, with mild weather all day. By midwinter, there’s still plenty of sun, but temperatures can be freezing at night. If you’re coming to see Sandhill Cranes migrating near Bisbee, the season is from mid-September to mid-February.