Arizona’s small towns are brimming with history. Their downtown districts are dense with old buildings and sites that tell the tales of the past – like the mud homes, built long before the arrival of the Spaniards, that still shelter families high atop a mesa, or the 1930s Moderne-style gas station that fueled America’s dreams along Route 66.
You can learn a lot about the local past and get the lay of the land by taking a historic downtown tour, offered in many of Arizona’s smaller communities. They range from self-guided ambles, aided by maps, brochures and mobile apps, to lengthier strolls, accompanied by costumed guides.
Here are just some options. Call or visit websites to get schedule and pricing details.
In Northern Arizona, Walpi Village sits high atop First Mesa on Hopi tribal land. The village’s mud brick structures haven’t changed much since 900 AD, when it was first founded.
You can visit this Hopi village via the one-hour, half-mile guided walking tour, which takes you past exteriors of homes – including the chief’s home, plus the ceremonial kiva and the plaza, where you might catch a social dance, if your timing is right. The guide will also give you insight into modern-day life in the village, Hopi culture and more. Afterward, you can browse the work of Hopi artisans.
Williams, also in Northern Arizona, is best known as the home of the popular Grand Canyon Railway, but it also has a lengthy history as a railroad and logging town, as well as having the last stretch of Historic Route 66 bypassed by the interstate.
Get your kicks by picking up a Williams Historic Walking Tour brochure at the Williams Visitor Information Center (itself a 1901 Santa Fe Railroad depot), then meander to the other 18 historic points of interest, including that Historic Route 66 gas station (now a converted restaurant), the 1912 Sultana Bar and Theatre or the 1897 Tetzlaff building, once a saloon and bordello.
Founded in 1864 as Arizona’s territorial capital, Prescott, in North Central Arizona, has several historic district tours. From May through October, the Prescott Chamber of Commerce offers one-and-a-half-hour downtown guided walking tours that include the landmark courthouse and plaza, Whiskey Row’s saloons and the elegant Hassayampa Inn.
Can’t make the tour? Pick up a brochure at the chamber’s visitor information center and explore at your own pace.
Look for other tour brochures at the center, including the Granite Creek Walking Tour, which winds along Prescott’s first creekside settlement sites just west of downtown, and The Historic Women of Prescott Walking Tour, which spotlights women important to the city’s history at places such as the Sharlot Hall Museum.
Tucked in the Central Arizona desert, Wickenburg was founded on mining, ranching and, later, guest ranches.
Fully costumed Madam Mariah and her cohorts know where all the town’s skeletons are buried, and they’re happy to share them during the one-and-a-half-hour Wickenburg Legends and Ghost Tours walk through the historic district. They’ll tell tales and point out paranormal and ghost sightings, which take on an extra spine-tingle or two if you go after dark.
If you’d rather stick to the facts, pick up a walking tour brochure at the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce’s visitor center in the historic 1895 train depot or access the chamber’s new mobile app, both of which highlight 30 historic sites, embellished by bronze sculptures of Western heritage characters. Push a button, and the characters tell a tale of local history.
Founded on ranching and farming, Florence, in Central Arizona, is a treasure trove of buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 140 properties, ranging from 1860s adobes to the recently restored 1891 Pinal County Courthouse, dot the Florence Townsite Historic District and are marked by interpretive plaques.
Head to McFarland State Historic Park, which also doubles as the town’s visitor center, to pick up a walking tour brochure that covers 30 of the Florence landmarks in a one-square-mile area. You can also opt to sign out an audio tour. Come back in early February, when docents man the historic buildings during the annual Tour of Historic Florence.
Tombstone, “The Town Too Tough to Die,” was a 19th-century mining boomtown with enough local color – including the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral – to fuel a million legends. Today, with its Old West ambiance, this popular visitor’s destination features numerous tours.
Wearing period clothing, historian/actor/retired dentist Dr. Jay leads small groups on his Tombstone Walking Tours. The one-hour strolls, offered September through May, wind past historic sites and follow in the footsteps of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. For true history buffs, he also offers a more detailed two-hour trek.
Not tough enough to walk? The Tombstone Trolley offers 25-minute narrated tours that include on-and-off service to Boothill Graveyard. On Friday and Saturday nights, the trolley morphs into the Tombstone Ghost and Murder Tour, a one-hour, 3.5-mile cruise through Tombstone’s creepier side.