Nostalgia runs deep in Kingman, Arizona. From the legendary road that runs through it to the retro train station that still serves cross-country passengers, this midsize city in western Arizona exudes a midcentury atmosphere.
Anchoring it all is a stretch of historic Route 66, a link to the past that Kingman wholeheartedly embraces. References to Route 66 are featured in the town’s entrance signs, on its sidewalks and medians along the downtown streets, and in its fun ’50s-style diners.
In the days before interstate highways, the cross-country Route 66 was known as the Main Street of America, and it ran for nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago to the West Coast. The two-lane road passed through countless towns along the way, including Kingman.
For me, part of the fun of a Kingman visit is arriving via the old Route 66, taking in the rolling terrain and the huge Arizona sky along the way.
But while the historic highway looms large in Kingman, it is far from the only notable attraction. Railroads, mining, and the nearby Colorado River are also prominent. A number of excellent museums commemorate the community’s intriguing past, and the proximity of the mighty Colorado offers varied recreation options as well.
Here are 12 of the best things to explore in Kingman.
1. Historic Downtown
Although much of Kingman’s modern business district is sprawled along Interstate 40, its heart lies a short drive off the interstate in the historic downtown.
The best plan for exploring the downtown is to park in one of the vertical spaces that line the wide streets and wander a bit. You’ll pass by such classic Kingman features as the Hotel Beale building with its signature rooftop sign; the 1907 Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Depot, where passengers can still catch the Amtrak; and the adjacent historic water tanks that were built in 1910 to serve the trains.
2. Historic Kingman Powerhouse
With its massive arched roof and rock walls, the Historic Kingman Powerhouse sits prominently along Route 66, also known as Andy Devine Avenue (named after character actor Andy Devine of Roy Rogers fame, who grew up in Kingman).
The impressive Powerhouse structure dates to the early 1900s, when it was built to supply power to Kingman and the area mines. That continued until the late 1930s, when the Hoover Dam began producing power.
Decades later, the building was restored, and it began serving as the Kingman Visitor Information Center in 1997. Along with several museums and displays, the center also offers a convenient spot to pick up visitor brochures and buy souvenirs.
3. Arizona Route 66 Museum
For a closer look at the history of Route 66, be sure to check out the upper level of the Powerhouse.
There, you’ll find the excellent Arizona Route 66 Museum, which features vintage photos, models of the 1930s-era vehicles that once traveled the historic route, and an hour-long movie that tells the story of Route 66 in Arizona.
The museum also includes a fascinating Grapes of Wrath exhibit on John Steinbeck’s famous novel about the thousands of Dust Bowl refugees who traveled Route 66 in their migration across the country during the Great Depression.
4. Locomotive Park
In a nod to the railroads that led to the founding of Kingman in the 1880s, Locomotive Park offers a close-up look at a 1920s-era steam engine.
Located along Route 66 across the street from the Powerhouse, the park features a caboose and a locomotive that were on the passenger run between Los Angeles and Kansas City for years.
Today, visitors can climb aboard and get a first-hand look at the train’s interior. The grassy park also offers a spot for a rest in the shade or a picnic lunch.
5. Kingman Railroad Museum
Even more railroad history is available at the Kingman Railroad Museum, located conveniently in the historic Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Depot.
The current depot is the fourth in a series of train stations that have occupied the spot, according to the museum’s website. When the first train arrived in 1883, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad used a boxcar as its depot. A proper station was built in 1885, but that wooden building burned down in 1900. The third station -- another wooden building -- burned down in 1906. The current station was built of reinforced concrete in 1907 and was said to be fireproof.
Amtrak occupies the west end of the building, and the Kingman Railroad Museum occupies the east end. The museum features a number of railroad exhibits, as well as a library with books about railroad history and model railroads.
6. Hotel Beale
Although the Hotel Beale has a rich history, it has not been operational for the past 20 years or so. Even so, the building, with its distinctive rooftop sign, remains one of Kingman’s most recognizable landmarks, and it is definitely worth a walk-by and a photo.
For decades, the hotel served passengers from the Santa Fe Depot, as well as travelers on Route 66. The Kingman Historical Society reports that the hotel was built in 1900 and was purchased in 1906 by Tom Devine, the father of actor Andy Devine.
“Successful for decades, the historic Hotel Beale now sits lonely and abandoned, having fallen on hard times,” says the society’s website.
7. Bonelli House
A peek into the lives of early Kingman settlers is available at the Bonelli House, a stately house that for generations served as the home of the family of pioneer George Bonelli, the son of immigrants from Switzerland and England.
The home was constructed in the early 1900s of tufa stone and fire-resistant plaster after the family’s original home burned in a fire caused by an electrical short. Today, visitors can tour the house, which is furnished with period pieces. It is operated by the Mohave Pioneers Historical Society.
While a visit to Kingman will give you a taste of a classic Route 66 town, I recommend experiencing the open road as well. For a scenic drive that features a unique slice of Americana, follow Route 66 about 30 miles northeast to the Hackberry General Store.
The former mining town of Hackberry evolved over the years into a service station/general store. Today, it features an assortment of cool old signs, gas pumps, antique cars, and an authentic soda counter.
Be sure to take some time to peruse the store’s selection of quirky Route 66 memorabilia, or pose in front of the glamour shots of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Outside, along with vintage cars, you’ll find displays of old mining scenes.
Billed as a “living ghost town,” the little town of Chloride offers another look at western Arizona’s mining past. Located about a half-hour drive north and east of Kingman, the town makes for a fun day trip.
Once a booming town of more than 2,000 people with 75 working mines, Chloride now has a population of fewer than 300 people. But traces of the town’s earlier hustle and bustle can still be seen in the historic storefronts and the boarded-up old train station that sits on the outskirts of town.
For a Western-style lunch of cowboy caviar -- a citrusy mix of black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, onions, and cilantro served with tortilla chips -- or golden catfish served alongside zesty coleslaw, check out The Prospector on Chloride’s main street.
10. Temple Bar Marina
For a longer day trip, consider continuing on for another 45 minutes or so on Highway 93 and Temple Bar Road to the Temple Bar Marina, a fishing haven along the Arizona side of Lake Mead.
At the end of a road that dips and rises through the desert terrain, you’ll find the startlingly blue waters of Lake Mead bordered by boat docks, RV campgrounds, and a string of rustic little fishing cabins that are available for rent.
A local favorite, Temple Bar is located about an hour and 20 minutes from Kingman.
11. Lake Mohave
Lake Mohave, a reservoir of the Colorado River, offers an even closer lake experience, at just over an hour’s drive from Kingman.
The lake, which straddles the Arizona-Nevada border, lies mostly within the steep, narrow walls of the Black, Eldorado, Painted, and Pyramid Canyons.
“Lake Mohave provides a variety of recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, and scuba diving,” says the website for Lake Mead, adding that the lake features three marinas with launch ramps.
12. Desert Diamond Distillery
About 15 minutes from downtown Kingman, visitors will find a working family-owned distillery. The Desert Diamond Distillery makes rum, vodka, and whiskey and offers its visitors tours, tastings, and cocktails. Featured cocktails include agave rum margaritas, mojitos, and martinis.
Tours take in the production area, the barrel area, the warehouse, and the retail area.
Pro Tip: Located along Interstate 40 about 60 miles from the California border, Kingman enjoys a high-desert climate that features hot summers (often approaching the 100-degree mark) and mild temperatures in the winter, spring, and fall. My favorite months to visit are May, when temperatures hover in the low 80s, and October, when the average high is 78 degrees.