Considering Arizona’s natural treasures, it stands to reason that the Grand Canyon State would have plenty of scenic and intriguing towns — places with raucous mining pasts, rich ranching culture, and gorgeous desert settings.
Still, among its 91 cities and towns, several of Arizona’s communities stand out from the rest for having downtowns with an abundance of charm.
For me, a downtown needs a few ingredients to pass the charm test. A collection of vintage buildings is a good start. Add in grassy areas, a walkable layout, fun bars and restaurants, a pop of popular culture, and a pleasant hustle and bustle, and voila, you have a charming downtown.
Although charm can be a bit subjective, you tend to know it when you see it. Based on my visits to nearly all of Arizona’s cities and towns, here are nine downtowns with true charisma.
Anchoring the downtown in the north-central Arizona city of Prescott is the tree-lined Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, a delightful public space that has landed the community on many national lists through the years for its cool vibe, hometown feel, and Old West authenticity.
On one side of the grassy plaza lies the Historic Whiskey Row, a street that, as its name implies, was once a row of rowdy bars that catered to the thriving mining and ranching industries of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Modern-day Whiskey Row offers an assortment of cafés and shops housed in beautifully preserved historic buildings. A number of whiskey-serving establishments remain as well, including The Palace Restaurant & Saloon, said to be the oldest bar in Arizona. Legend has it that Palace Saloon patrons rescued the hand-carved bar from the Palace during Prescott’s devastating fire of 1900 and set up shop across the street while the fire raged on.
Upstairs in the Palace building is another historic bar, Jersey Lilly Saloon, a local favorite with a balcony that offers one of the best views in town. Other notable spots in the downtown area include the lovely grounds of the Sharlot Hall Museum, the history-packed Western Heritage Center, and the Bashford Courts, an atrium mall housed in an 1888-era building that once served as a mercantile.
Pro Tip: A new train-themed splash pad and playground opened up in downtown Prescott in the spring of 2021, right next to a late-1800s railroad trestle bridge that was restored to serve as a walkway as part of a new Hilton Garden Inn.
Colorful buildings, steep twisting streets, and historic staircases provide a charming backdrop in Bisbee, and its eclectic art, music, and bar scene provide the entertainment.
Located just 11 miles north of the Mexican border and about 22 miles south of the Wild West town of Tombstone, Bisbee is steeped in Arizona history. Founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880, the town has retained much of its authentic architecture and ambiance.
Known for its lively bar and restaurant scene, Bisbee has many spots for dining and entertainment, such as the Bisbee Breakfast Club, the Old Bisbee Brewing Company, and the 1902 St. Elmo Bar. Other features worth checking out include the Queen Mine Tour, the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, and the town’s many historic hotels.
Pro Tip: Bisbee is among TravelAwaits’ picks of The U.S. Small Towns Bursting With Charm You Need To Visit In 2021.
When it comes to pop culture, Winslow has a lasting claim to fame for its prominent mention in the 1970s’ Eagles hit Take it Easy, which made Standin on a corner in Winslow Arizona a household phrase.
The town in northeastern Arizona has memorialized the lyric at the photogenic Standin’ on the Corner Park, located in the middle of downtown.
While undoubtedly charming, the park is far from the only thing that downtown Winslow has going for it. There is also a stretch of the vintage Route 66 running through town, as well as the gorgeous La Posada Hotel, one of North America’s grand railroad hotels. While you’re there, be sure to check out the hotel’s signature Turquoise Room Restaurant for an innovative take on Southwestern classics.
Billed as being in the heart of Arizona, the Verde River town of Cottonwood offers a unique perspective of the state’s mining past. Cottonwood’s Old Town dates back to the early 1900s when it was a center for the area’s mining smelter industry, and many of the buildings reflect the rock and brick architecture of the 1920s and 1930s.
A recent revitalization has brought a host of cool wine-tasting rooms, cafés, antique shops, and art galleries to the charming streets of Old Town. The area is relatively small and compact, making it wonderfully walkable.
And for those who want a refreshing jaunt through nature, the Old Town Jail Trail heads into the leafy cottonwood trees that crowd the banks of the Verde River.
Pro Tip: Cottonwood is located less than a half-hour from the popular tourist destination of Sedona and makes a convenient accommodation option on a visit to the region.
Mining history is integral to the eastern Arizona community of Globe — so much so that the town’s name is said to have originated with a globe-shaped nugget of silver that was found near the townsite in the 1800s.
Today, the hilly streets of downtown Globe are packed with historic buildings that house quirky shops and regional-cuisine restaurants. Other buildings offer a glimpse into the soul of early Arizona culture — from the 1910 jail complete with barred windows to the 1918 Holy Angels Church that features vintage stained-glass windows.
Central to it all is the old Gila County Courthouse, an impressive Italian Renaissance-style building dating back to 1906. The beautifully preserved courthouse currently serves as the home for the thriving Cobre Valley Center for the Arts.
Pro Tip: Globe makes a great stop on a road trip along Arizona’s scenic Salt River Canyon.
For mountain charm, it’s hard to beat downtown Flagstaff, a business district with views of the towering San Francisco Peaks on one side and two iconic transportation routes — the historic Route 66 and the former Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway — on the other.
The picturesque Tudor Revival-style brick Flagstaff Train Depot has a prominent spot in the middle of downtown. The 1926-era depot serves as the site of the Flagstaff Visitor Center, as well as the modern-day Amtrak station, and the whistle of trains can be heard often in downtown Flagstaff.
A walk down any of the main downtown streets of Beaver, Leroux, San Francisco, or Humphreys will yield a wide assortment of breweries, cafés, pizzerias, and sushi bars. Other points of interest in the downtown area include the tree-lined Wheeler Park and the historic Weatherford Hotel.
Pro Tip: Located at the intersection of interstates 40 and 17, Flagstaff makes a convenient base for a number of Arizona road trips, including the beautiful drive to Page and a trip to the state’s three iconic national parks.
Even though Scottsdale sits in the midst of the massive Phoenix metro area, its Old Town/downtown area retains a bit of a small-town atmosphere, but with a sophisticated edge. In fact, this Arizona city, known as The West’s Most Western Town, features an incomparable mix of chic and history.
There are dozens of dining choices clustered in the Old Town/downtown areas. A walk through the area will also take you past numerous sculptures, many with Western/horse themes, as well as rustic shops and the Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.
Pro Tip: For baseball fans, Scottsdale Stadium sits in the heart of the Old Town/downtown area and is a hub of activity throughout the spring, when Cactus League spring training is underway.
By virtue of its spectacular red-rock setting alone, Sedona’s town center radiates charm. Add in the stylishly outdoorsy vibe, the New Age shops, and the vibrant art scene, and you have a community unlike any other.
Technically known as “Uptown Sedona,” the main business district has an abundance of restaurants and cafés, many with stunning views of the red-rock formations that the community is famous for.
Along with its incomparable natural features, the community features the Sedona Heritage Museum, a hidden gem located on the grounds of an old apple orchard just a few blocks off bustling Uptown Sedona, as well as the venerable Sedona Arts Center.
Pro Tip: In addition to its multitude of recreational opportunities, Sedona is known worldwide as a center for vortexes. For tips on experiencing the famous centers of energy, check out Everything You Need To Know About Visiting The Sedona Vortexes.
Although Ajo is known primarily as a stop along the route to the popular Mexican beach town of Puerto Peñasco, the little southern Arizona town has a cool persona all its own as a desert oasis and artist haven.
In the center of it all is the more-than-a-century-old Ajo Townsite Historic District, made up of glowing white-stucco buildings, graceful arches, and grassy areas. Central to the townsite plaza is the historic Ajo Train Depot that features beautifully tiled arches and alcoves and currently houses the Ajo Visitor Center and Chamber of Commerce office.
Showcasing the thriving art scene are colorful murals on buildings all over town that tell the story of the region’s three nations — the Tohono O’odham people, the United States, and Mexico.
Pro Tip: Arizona has many other towns with charming attributes worth checking out, including the Grand Canyon gateway town of Williams, the Route 66 ambiance of Kingman, the Colorado River vibe in Lake Havasu City, the adorable wild burros of Oatman, the Wild West shootout history in Tombstone, and the mountainside mining town of Jerome.