Arizona and Nevada are two of our readers’ top 10 states they want to visit this year, according to our State of Travel survey. So we took the liberty of asking our expert travel writers for the best of the Southwest. The great state of Texas is getting its own article, so below you will find recommendations for unique towns to visit in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado — and even one little town in Southern California. Here are the best places to visit in the Southwest in 2023.
1. Clarkdale, Arizona
Nestled amongst the natural beauty of the Verde Canyon, this small Central Arizona town is one of Julie Diebolt Price’s picks for where our readers should travel in the Southwest this year. Clarkdale’s copper ore mining history is evident in the town’s charming 1930s appearance. It was the first master-planned community in Arizona and the Clarkdale Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.
An Arizona treasure, the Verde Canyon Railroad is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Southwest. Visit the museum at the Verde Canyon Railroad Train Depot, which hosts family-friendly events year-round.
“Clarkdale is below the cold of the high country and above the heat of the desert, making it an ideal location to grow grapes,” Diebolt Price tells us. Get the Arizona Wine Trail Passport to learn more about Arizona’s wine regions.
2. Fountain Hills, Arizona
Nestled amongst the Four Peaks region in the farthest northeast corner of metropolitan Phoenix, Fountain Hills is another recommendation from Diebolt Price. Named the 17th International Dark Sky Community, Fountain Hills boasts some of the best scenery in the state. This Sonoran Desert town is surrounded by parks, mountains, national forests, and tribal lands.
Fountain Hills is named after one of the largest fountains in the world. At its full height of 560 feet, The Fountain is taller than the Washington Monument, the Great Pyramid of Cheops, and Notre Dame Cathedral. The world-famous fountain is triple the height of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. Full height is reserved for special occasions, but you can see it run for 15 minutes at 330 feet high at the top of every hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Fountain Hills hosts weekly farmers markets, holiday lights celebrations, and art and music events during the year. One of the largest arts and crafts events in the Southwest, the Fountain Festival of Fine Arts & Crafts takes place in November.
3. Marana, Arizona
About 20 minutes from Tuscon, this resort town is a hidden gem. Marana’s central location makes it easy to access Saguaro National Park, Biosphere 2, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
For the ultimate in luxury, Peggy Cleveland recommends staying at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain, a beautiful resort with its own citrus grove. “You’ll feel like you are in a movie with the Wild West scenery, and many Hollywood Westerns were filmed in the area,” says Cleveland. A variety of shopping is available, including an upscale outlet mall. Foodies will love the variety of Marana’s eclectic dining scene, from dives to upscale restaurants.
4. Page, Arizona
Though Page, Arizona, might be a small town, its famous neighbors have put it on the map. The city is central to world-renowned attractions like Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, Antelope Canyon X, Horseshoe Bend, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Dam, and Overlook. All are within a 15-minute drive from Page.
Page makes a great home base from which to explore other parts of the Navajo Nation, too. The Grand Canyon is a 2- to 3-hour drive southeast. Monument Valley is about 2.5 hours east. Tuba City is a little over an hour’s drive south.
Stan Thomas says 2023 is a good time to visit Page. “Since the Navajo Nation reopened for tourism in July of 2021 following the COVID-19 shutdown, the impact of revenge travel has slowed and things are getting back to normal,” he tells us. “Though many tours are still popular and do sell out, there are more slots available now.”
5. Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona
If you’re looking for gorgeous mountains and outdoor adventures amid a small-town atmosphere, SJ Morgensen suggests checking out Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona. “This community of 5,000 is only 3.5 hours from the Phoenix/Scottsdale metro,” says Morgensen, “but it feels like a different planet.”
Any time is a good time to visit Pinetop-Lakeside in Arizona’s White Mountains. “With the heat of the valley far below, it makes the perfect cool summer destination,” Morgensen says. Hike the trails in the summer months and ski in the winter.
Close to the slopes, Buck Springs Resort offers comfortable, family-friendly cabins set amid the tall pines. Morgensen suggests heading to the Hon-Dah Casino for gaming fun and some of the best breakfasts around. “Try the Pinetop Brewing Company for real Belgian-brewed beer and excellent food — the pizza is delish! We also liked the vibe at Long Wong’s Two Hippies,” she says, “The drinks are cold and the cool outdoor patio is dog friendly.”
6. Prescott, Arizona
Fewer than 2 hours north of Phoenix, Prescott is “Everybody’s Hometown” according to its slogan. Despite this small town’s recent population boom, much of its cowboy town charm remains intact. Glorious views of Thumb Butte, Granite Mountain, and the San Francisco Peaks help retain its Western feel, according to Gail Clifford.
Desert vistas merge to the fringes of town, growing toward the Yavapai Courthouse Plaza. “The heart of the town, the plaza plays host to festivals, car shows, parades, and political discussions amidst some of the best dining,” says Clifford. More than 200 businesses lie within three blocks of the square.
“It’s a great town to visit during every season,” Clifford says. For Valentine’s Day, Clifford suggests dining at Farm Provisions and dancing at Matt’s Saloon. “The Easter Bunny rocks the town in spring and the World’s Oldest Rodeo rides into Prescott at the end of June,” Clifford tells us. Halloween is best spent on Mt. Vernon Street.
Renowned as “Arizona’s Christmas City,” Prescott is a wonderful place to spend the holiday season. It hosts Christmas parades, a town Christmas tree and menorah lighting, and Acker Night, a fun-filled evening of live musical performances. Prescott’s New Year’s Boot Drop rounds out the festivities.
7. Julian, California
A rustic mountain town about an hour east of San Diego, Julian “provides clean air laced with the scent of apple pie and brewer’s yeast,” as Stacey Woelfel describes. Visitors flock to this old California gem to sample the town’s signature dish — apple pie. Half a dozen establishments offer fruit-filled, deep-dish delights, from the obligatory apple to strawberry, peach, and rhubarb varieties. Julian Pie Company is the big attraction for those looking for a slice, but other shops offer some pie variety.
Those looking for dinner and a drink before their pie need go no further than Julian Beer Company, a local craft brewer with a dozen beers on tap and an expansive food menu. Visit in the fall for the crisp air and changing leaves, delivered in the midst of the apple harvest, or in the weeks leading up to Christmas, when the town is decked out in its holiday finest.
8. Durango, Colorado
Durango is one of those special towns that has something to offer just about everyone and is great to visit in every season according to Robin O’Neal Smith. “Its Old West atmosphere takes you back in time,” she says, “with the convenience of modern amenities in the hotels.”
Durango offers great hiking, stagecoach rides, biking, an excellent foodie scene, rafting and floats on the Animas River, a hot spring, and so much more.
“Be sure to plan a day excursion on the Durango & Silverton line,” recommends O’Neal Smith. “The line takes you back to the late 1800s.” This historic rail ride will take you up the mountain to the mining town of Silverton for a few hours of exploration and then back to Durango. “The ride itself is an experience, and you learn a bit of history about the boom years when ore from Silverton was transported to Durango,” describes O’Neal Smith. Enjoy impressive views as you travel the same path from over 100 years ago.
In winter, hit the slopes at nearby Purgatory Ski Resort.
The first and largest zipline in the U.S., Soaring Tree Top Adventures, is located nearby. It provides an entire day of fun and excitement as you soar through the tall timbers and over the river.
“Everyone should visit Durango, Colorado, at least once in their life,” O’Neal Smith says, “Make 2023 the year.”
9. Abiquiú, New Mexico
Kathleen Walls drove through Abiquiú on a road trip. Nearby Ghost Ranch was the subject of many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. “I drove into Ghost Ranch slowly because of the breathtaking beauty of the mountains,” Walls tells us. “Georgia O’Keeffe first visited the ranch in 1934 and stayed in a small cottage, now named the O’Keeffe Cottage, near the present-day welcome center. She fell in love with the scenery and bought a home on the ranch that is still there today.” A ranch tour visits scenes O’Keeffe painted. Painting classes are offered alongside multiple tours and trail rides. Here’s what to know before visiting Georgia O’Keeffe’s home.
Abiquiú is also home to two museums, the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology and the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology.
Accommodations at the ranch include rooms, cabins, and campsites with communal dining at the lodge.
10. Roswell, New Mexico
As a teen, Walls was interested in possible UFO sightings, so she was thrilled when she got a chance to visit Roswell, New Mexico. Walls says your first stop should be the International UFO Museum & Research Center, where you can learn all about “The Roswell Incident.” “Walker Aviation Museum at the airport was where the crashed UFO was examined,” she tells us. “It’s home base for the Enola Gay that dropped the first atom bomb.” Take selfies with aliens in Alien Zone Gift Shop’s hidden treasure, Area 51.
“There’s culture and history here, too,” says Walls. Check out Roswell Museum, the Historical Society of Southeast New Mexico, and Bone Springs Art Space. Visit wildlife at Spring River Zoo and park.
As you explore downtown Roswell, it’s easy to be captivated by the McDonald’s shaped like a spaceship, the murals of little green men, and the alien-shaped streetlights,” says Sage Scott, “but also watch for public art displays and other nods to the city’s ranchers.”
On Roswell’s eclectic Main Street, Stellar Coffee Co. offers lots of coffee and tea choices. Also on Main Street, the 1912 courthouse has a mini-museum according to Walls. “My dining choice is Cowboy Café,” says Walls, who suggests seeing Roswell “before aliens abduct it.”
11. Ruidoso, New Mexico
Tucked away in the Sierra Blanca Mountains of the south-central portion of New Mexico is the charming mountain town of Ruidoso. While Ruidoso is most famous for its wintertime skiing, it has something to offer to visitors year-round. “Outdoor activities in Ruidoso take center stage,” Michelle Snell tells us. Visitors can enjoy fishing, hiking, horseback riding, biking, and more during their time in Ruidoso.
When you are worn out from all the fun outdoor activities, visit Ruidoso’s many restaurants and enjoy some delicious Southwestern food. Snell highly recommends anything made with their famous green chiles.
The area is also home to great wineries and breweries, like Noisy Water Winery. “When you visit Noisy Water, be sure to try their green chile white wine and their red chile red wine,” advises Snell. “Both are truly unique and delicious.” History lovers won’t want to miss the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway Visitor Center and scenic byway. Ruidoso truly is a hidden gem in New Mexico and well worth a visit!
12. Taos, New Mexico
“I heard that the light in Taos was extraordinary, but nothing had prepared me for its clarity and intense colors,” recalls Roxie Yonkey. “At times, I had to stop gawking at the white snow on the blue and purple mountains with the terracotta adobe buildings in the foreground,” she says. “At sunset, the sun’s touch turned the mountains to fire.”
“The light alone makes Taos worth visiting,” says Yonkey, who went on to say, “Visitors could spend days exploring.” She suggests starting with the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo, then shopping at the centuries-old Taos Market. With its exquisite rugs and jewelry, El Rincon is Taos’s oldest trading post.
“The journey to and from Taos adds to its charm,” Yonkey says, “The High Road to Taos from Santa Fe passes adobe churches, including the indescribable Santuario de Chimayo.” Highway 64 spans the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge just northwest of Taos.
Every day is a great day to visit Taos according to Yonkey, but you can ski at Taos Ski Valley if you visit in the winter.
13. Tucumcari, New Mexico
Tucumcari isn’t listed along with the other destinations in the song “Route 66,” but the town embraces its Mother Road heritage nonetheless, according to Yonkey. It’s the largest city between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Amarillo, Texas, on Interstate 40. Sign after neon sign adorns the iconic road, promoting vintage motels and kitschy attractions.
“Drive a different sort of vehicle at the Tucumcari Railroad Museum when you step into the GP-38 diesel train simulator,” Yonkey recommends.
Learn more about New Mexico’s 604-mile segment of the Mother Road at the New Mexico Route 66 Museum. To find it, look for the Route 66 Monument in front of the Convention Center.
Dinosaurs roamed New Mexico for eons before tail-finned vehicles came. The Mesalands Dinosaur Museum houses Mesozoic artifacts ranging from tiny footprints to the 40-foot-long Torvosaurus, a rare Tyrannosaurus rex relative.
Before you leave, stop at Tee Pee Curios on Tucumcari’s east side — look for the horned skeleton riding in a vintage pickup.
14. Kanab, Utah
A bustling little canyon town in the beautiful red rock desert, Kanab, Utah, is perfect for a long weekend visit to take in a few of the nearby attractions, or a stay of a week or two to fully explore the region. Beth Schwartz recommends adding it to your list for the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. “A place of healing for about 1,600 dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, horses, pigs, and other animals, the sanctuary offers thousands of acres of red rock desert for visitors and volunteers to enjoy,” says Schwartz. Take the free 90-minute Grand Sanctuary Tour or stay overnight at a Sanctuary cabin or cottage. Even better, host a sleepover with an adoptable animal.
Schwartz recommends visiting (and volunteering) in the spring or fall for the best weather. “After volunteering, enjoy the peace and serenity of Angel’s Rest, where hundreds of wind chimes ring in remembrance of beloved pets,” suggests Schwartz.
“Eat a vegan lunch at the Angel Village Cafe while you enjoy the beautiful vista, or take a short drive to Kanab’s Iron Horse Restaurant for meatier fare,” she advises.
Swartz says to “use your visit to Best Friends to see nearby Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.”
15. Parowan, Utah
Carol Colborn and her husband came across Parowan, Utah, while spending a week in Brian Head. “One day, we went down to see Cedar City (population of almost 40,000),” she recalls, “We were intrigued by a smaller town we passed called Parowan, about a tenth its size. We went back to explore this town and got attracted to the lovely Parowan Cemetery, which features frontier-era sandstone fences and markers. An example of a visit-worthy grave is that of one of the many wives of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church.”
Nearby, Parowan Gap is a wind gap where an ancient river cut a 600-foot-deep notch through the hills 15 million years ago. Native Americans carved petroglyphs on the smooth faces of large boulders. This site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Further on the Gap Road is the Dinosaur Footprints Trail, an easy 0.4-mile hike with several dinosaur footprints properly marked. “What a find!” exclaims Colborn.
16. Brian Head, Utah
On Colborn’s trip to Brian Head, she and her husband chanced upon Cedar Breaks National Monument. “What a hidden gem it is,” says Colborn. “Smaller than Bryce Canyon National Park which is only about an hour away, its hoodoos are much larger.”
“The small mountain downtown was buzzing with Brian Head Art Festival along with its regular restaurants and shops,” Colborn recalls of their July visit.
Brian Head Peak, almost 12,000 feet in elevation, can be reached by car via a narrow gravel road. At the overlook, take in a surreal view of the reddish national monument. “On the way down, we were delighted to catch the last day of the Wildflower Festival,” says Colborn. “Even the stargazing at night was spectacular!”