Sometimes, you have a unique experience in the place you are least expecting it.
For example, my husband experienced his first snowfall in Arizona. Yes, you read that correctly. He saw snow falling from the sky in a place associated with extreme heat.
We were in a small, hard to reach town in Southern Arizona at a 5, 538 ft elevation (1,688 m). This place has a population of about 5,000 and it is located in the heart of the Mule Mountains.
That little town is called Bisbee. You may have never heard about it but it is more famous than you think.
Now, you will ask what we were doing in such a remote place. That is not difficult to answer. In a way, we were following the lead of those who got established in the area, in search of riches, more than a hundred years ago.
The complex mining infrastructure and huge pits left by them are big draws to modern visitors. However, it is not only that. The town has developed a distinct character, like no other place in the United States.
Judging by the way I started this article, you can deduct that I ended fascinated with Bisbee after my visit. I want to share that fascination with you.
Here is my list of ideas on things to do in Bisbee (or reason to visit Bisbee).
Things to Do in Bisbee, Arizona
Granted, Bisbee is a bit away from major population centers. However, it makes an excellent day trip from Tucson (95 miles).
It has way more character than other mining towns in the area (I am looking at you Tombstone). In other words, Bisbee is the real deal!
Below I am showing you what to do, see and ea in Bisbee.
Discover One of the Most Famous Mining Towns in the West
Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold and silver mining town in 1880. Even though thousands of sites like this exist in the world, Bisbee proved to be one of the riches producing nearly three million ounces of gold and more than eight billion pounds of copper (silver, lead, and zinc were extracted from the soil too).
Because of that, the town is known as the “Queen of the Copper Camps.”
The town’s rowdiness put it in the map too. The notorious Brewery Gulch had about 50 saloons and brothels. This bad reputation exalted it to Arizona’s hall of fame.
With its two sisters, Jerome (The Wickedest Town in the West) and Tombstone (The Town too Tough to Die), it completes the trilogy of dishonorable mining towns (that everybody wanted and wants to visit).
Bisbee fame continues to grow. In 2016, it won the title of Best Historic Small Town in both Sunset magazine and a USA Today online reader poll.
Beautiful and Colorful Old Town
The old part of the city surprised me. I love to visit small towns and this one is like no other I have seen.
The area is notable by Victorian houses and art deco buildings painted in bright and cheerful colors. The streets are walkable and the center can be explored in several hours.
What is more, small businesses offering all sorts of good can be visited. This feels like a breath of fresh air in a time when everything is so commercialized.
The main thoroughfare, Tombstone Canyon Road, is full of antiques, jewelry, and mineral stores. You will kind businesses selling quirky items, baked goods for dogs and a bicycle brothel (that is not a typo).
Plus, do not forget about the food! I am licking my fingers thinking about the delicious dishes and strong coffee I had in the area.
Join a Ghost Tour
As a good Arizonan mining town, Bisbee was a center of drinking, gambling, and all sorts of violent behavior. As expected, more than one lost its life under strange circumstances.
Locals offering ghost tours around the town’s core area can tell you everything about the characters who till this day (apparently) haunt the town and are seen now and then even though the die years ago.
Tours take place almost every day at 7:00 p.m. and last about one and a half hours. Visitors seem to enjoy these tours a lot. Therefore, join to learn more about the town’s folklore.
Book a Jeep and Golf Cart Tour
And, since we are talking about tours, there are several companies in town offering guided outings.
The Bisbee Tour Company offer 30, 60 and 90 minutes tours aboard a golf cart. They cover the main points in town and take guest to a scenic viewpoint. In addition, they offer guided hiking tours and bike rentals.
Lavender Jeep Tours offer tours around the Old Town but they can also take you to the Bisbee suburbs, ghost towns around the area, natural places and close to the border with Mexico. This company offers the opportunity to go beyond the trodden path.
Catch as Many Flies as Possible
When I was walking around the center, I noticed several buildings were decorated with big flies. That didn’t look normal, so, I said to myself: “Something is going on in here.”
Finally, I found a sign explaining the reason. In 1912, after years of battling with typhoid fever problems, the Commercial Club of Bisbee created a contest to get rid of flies. Contestants had to kill the flies and save them in order to show proof of how many they have killed.
Supposedly, the winner killed within 5,000 to 50,000 flies (as reported by the Bisbee Daily Review).
I have a lot of question concerning the contest but I have not been able to find a lot of information. For example, I cannot find facts linking typhoid to flies.
Stay at a Unique Hotel
The Copper Queen Hotel is an architectural gem and the longest continuously operated hotel in Arizona. It was constructed to provide lodging to mining investors and dignitaries.
Nowadays, the hotel is renowned for its paranormal activity (it has been featured in TV shows).
We stayed at the Bisbee Grand Hotel which features antiques, fine art, and Old West touches. No two rooms in this place are equal. We stayed in the bird room and it was quite the experience (stuffed birds served as ornaments, a little bit creepy, to be honest).
Discover the Street Art
It was interesting to find street art on different spots in town. Some paintings were nothing special but others had charged political and social themes.
Bisbee is located about 15 miles from the Mexican border. As you can imagine, the movement of people from one country to another has been a topic of conversation for many years.
You will find murals and other works along the town’s main street.
Get Absorbed by the Quirkiness
A lot of places want to show to the world how cool they are by painting its streets with colorful art. They may be cool but that doesn’t mean they are quirky, authentic and free-spirited. Bisbee is all that and more!
If I have not convinced you about the town peculiarity, the pictures below will talk by themselves
Do Not Miss the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum
Do not overlook this museum! I am going to tell you why.
This place is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and it has an exhibit that looks into the lives of the settlers of the town. The displays are so interesting that I ended up reading each description.
Once precious metals were extracted from the soil, the fame of Bisbee spread like a wildfire. People from many races and countries came to the area searching for a piece of the pie.
Exhibits describe who dominated the camps and who had the lower paying jobs. All I am going to say is that they had the problems we have in the present. Sadly, we have not progressed a lot.
The mining camps were settled for gold, silver, and copper but other precious minerals were unearthed. For example, turquoise is a byproduct of copper. The museum has outstanding samples of what was taken out of the mines.
Visit Other Museums
If you are a museum fan, well, you have even more options.
You can stop by the Bisbee Restoration Museum to take a look at their collection of antiques. The many artifacts have been donated by residents.
There is the option of visiting the Muheim Heritage House. The views from this historic place are great!
Tour the Famous Copper Queen Mine
If you go to Bisbee, you have to visit the Copper Queen Mine. The development of this mine led to the growth of the town and its surrounding suburbs.
Guided tours are offers by former employees and you get to dress like a miner. We weren’t able to visit the mine because of the snow but I have heard rave reviews about it.
In addition, it is nice to stop by the Lavender Pit, an open pit copper mine located south of town. The pit is one heck of an impressive hole in the ground.
Do (or Watch) the 1,000 Stair Climb
The town is famous for a bizarre physical challenge: a five-kilometer run through the city’s 1,034 stairs. For what I read, the event gets very lively and visitors even sing to the participants while they are running.
It is up to you if you want to try some of the stairs. There are many signs pointing to them on the upper part of town.
Visit the Warren Suburb
The community of Warren is part of Bisbee but it is located south of the historic core. In this area, the most affluent characters of the mining business had their residences.
It is possible to walk around and spot houses dating back to the mining years. Plus, the suburb has shops, restaurants and coffee houses.
Have a Bacanora Shot
I have mentioned Bisbee is located very close to the Mexican border. Therefore, its neighbor Sonora has a strong influence on many cultural and culinary aspect.
In some restaurants in town, you are going to find Bacanora, a mezcal made from a specific agave species grown in certain Sonora municipalities. Give it a try if you are into trying different types of spirits.
Note: Ask for the price of a Bacanora shot before consumption. I saw places selling a shot for $15. You do not want to end up the night on a sour note when you get the bill.
For such a small town, Bisbee has a good selection of restaurants. You will find everything from cheap eats to fine dining.
Here are some of the restaurants serving the yummiest food around:
Bisbee Breakfast Club – This restaurant served an astonishing selection of egg dishes, burgers, salads and homemade dessert. They are so popular that has expanded to cities such as Tucson and Mesa.
High Desert Cafe – The cafe prides itself on selling goof of the highest quality. They have sandwiched, salads and baked good. They have a daily dinner takeout menu.
Cafe Cornucopia – This popular option serves sandwiches, quice, soup, and salad. Their menu change with the seasons.
Santiago’s Mexican Restaurant – I am very particular about the Mexican places I recommend. For example, I do not recommend Mexican places around where I reside because none of the places are good. However, the food at Santiago’s is very tasty and satisfying. Their fajitas and chiles rellenos are super good (and huge!)
Thuy’s Noodle Soup – This place serves Vietnamese favorites at affordable prices. Fill up on pho, banh mi, and spring rolls.
Tombstone (23 miles) – This is probably the most famous mining town in Arizona (have you heard about the O.K. Corral?) My issue with Tombstone is that it has been converted of some sort of amusement park for visitors. Many parts of the town are beautiful and there are tons to do but the genuineness is missing. The best “attraction” is the Boothill Graveyard.
Douglas (28 miles) – The border town is known for its architectural gems and easy access to green spaces. Some use it as a base to cross to Agua Prieta, Mexico.
Coronado National Monument (30 miles) – The virtually unknown monument commemorates the first organized expedition to what is considered the Southwest region of the United States. The expedition was led by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado.
Sierra Vista (25 miles) – The small town serves as a base for exploring the Coronado Monument, Ramsey Canyon Preserve and San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area.
Kartchner Caverns State Park (46 miles) – This park offers the opportunity to tour a cave complex. The attraction is a bit on the pricier side. Check ticket info before visiting.
Camping in Bisbee
If you are looking for a campground to pitch your tent, you have several options.
The Double Adobe Campground has tent sites over grassy surfaces. RVs can find a place at the Double Adobe Campground, Desert Oasis Campground or Queen Mine RV Park.
If glamping sounds like a better option, consider making a reservation at the Shady Dell, a place full of vintage trailers that serve as lodging. This is one of the coolest places to stay in town. Take a look here.
Location and Weather
Bisbee is located 95 miles from Tucson. It is possible to visit as a long day trip but I recommend budgeting to stay in the area.
I visited the town as part of a road trip around Southern Arizona. I recommend staying a couple of days around Tucson before exploring towns such as Tubac, Sierra Vista, Bisbee, and Tombstone.
Bisbee has been called the mile high city (like Denver). Therefore, be prepared for chilly conditions all year-round. We visited in December and were welcomed by snow (something we would have never expected).
It is difficult for me to stop writing about Bisbee. It is a town I enjoyed a lot. If you are in the Tucson area, make some time to stop by this historical and quirky town!
Would you visit? What things to do in Bisbee would you recommend?
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