In 1774, Juan Bautista de Anza led a party of 240 colonists on an expedition from Mexico to found a presidio and mission near the San Francisco Bay. The United States' section of the De Anza Trail is a 1,200-mile marked highway beginning in Southern Arizona. Today, it’s easy to tour this historic trail – and see some unforgettable sights along the way.
Day 1: Discover historic Tubac, where the trail begins.
From Tucson, drive south on Interstate 19 to the Tumacacori National Historic Park (1:00), a frontier mission that depicts early Native American and Spanish history. Built by Franciscan priests around 1800, it was abandoned before completion. Depart for Tubac (:10) and visit the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, founded in 1752. Visit the underground archaeological exhibit, then hike or bike the 4.5-mile trail that crosses the Santa Cruz River. The charming Village of Tubac is full of art galleries and restaurants to fill an afternoon. Overnight in Tucson or stay at the Tubac Golf Resort and dine in their Stables restaurant.
Day 2: Immerse yourself in Spanish Colonial style and Old Tucson charm.
From Tubac, depart for Tucson by heading north on Interstate 19. Stop at the 18th-century Mission San Xavier del Bac (1:00), lovingly referred to as the "White Dove of the Desert." It is located on the Tohono O'odham Nation. In Tucson, visit Old Town Artisans, seven distinctive shops that are housed in 150-year-old restored buildings. The Spanish-style courtyard and patio offer a relaxing place to enjoy lunch. In the evening, have dinner at the La Placita Village, a downtown destination featuring five restaurants and an open courtyard. Overnight in Tucson.
Day 3: See prehistoric Hohokam ruins on your way to Yuma.
From Tucson, go north on Interstate 10 to Highway 87, then head north to Coolidge and visit the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (1:20). This site was once the largest prehistoric Hohokam farming village. Drive back toward the interstate on Highway 87. Follow the interstate signs toward Yuma (2:30). Arrive in Yuma in time for lunch, then tour the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, which was once used by the U.S. Army to store and distribute supplies for all the military posts in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. Afterward, tour the Yuma Territorial Prison Historic State Park. This penitentiary housed many of Arizona's most dangerous and notorious criminals. Overnight in Yuma.
Day 4: Explore historic Yuma, heart of the lower Colorado River region.
In the morning, tour the Sanguinetti House, Yuma's oldest building. The house contains exhibits that tell the history of the lower Colorado River region from the 1540s to the present. Then tour the extensive visual arts collection of the Yuma Art Center and Yuma Historical Theatre, which once served as a movie and vaudeville house and has been restored to its 1936 ambience. The De Anza trail continues on to California, where it ends in San Francisco – but you’ll want to rest up here. Overnight in Yuma.
Note: Estimated travel time is indicated in parentheses.