Located about 60 miles southeast of Phoenix in Pinal County, Florence is one of the oldest towns in the area. It saw its heyday during the cattle and mining booms which occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Though cattle are still big business, most mining operations are now run by large national companies and the independent desert prospectors of lore are now not much more than slowly fading memories.
Florence is the county seat of Pinal County, and as of the last census had slightly more than 30,000 residents.
Since 1982, its historic downtown area has been on the National Register of Historic Places.
Below are 12 things to do in Florence.
1. Pinal County Historical Society Museum
Historical societies and the museums they often manage are great places to go to learn about the history of the town in which you’re staying.
They are often inexpensive or even free; full of interesting, relics, artifacts, documents and photographs, and staffed by knowledgeable and enthusiastic locals who love sharing their home’s history with visitors.
Located on South Main in Florence, the Pinal County Historical Society Museum has been in operation since 1959 and includes exhibits, artifacts and even magazines dating back to the ‘30s.
The museum includes a blacksmith shop, Native American implements and clothing, and even a noose and parts of a gas chamber left over from the town’s jail.
2. Country Thunder
For those diehard country music fans, Country Thunder may be familiar to you already.
Country Thunder is a promotion company that hosts massive country music events every year; they’ve been doing just that in Arizona since 1996.
They’re really more music festival than concert and include multiple headliners playing on numerous stages, so you’re sure to find something you like.
They’re known for the big-name stars and the budding talent who often turn into big stars after the event.
In 2018, Country Thunder Arizona was ranked as the most popular music festival of the year.
Generally, Country Thunder lasts for three days in the first week of April.
3. Florence Community Library
Other great places to check out when visiting a new town are public libraries. They’re air-conditioned, quiet, free, and full of comfortable seats.
Though as a visitor you can’t always check out books, you can always relax inside and read the paper or peruse the shelves for books that have been on your reading list for decades.
Community libraries are also known for the events they sponsor, which often include historical lectures, book signings and instructional classes for children and adults.
The Florence Community Library is located on North Main Street and is home to nearly 20,000 volumes, so check it out.
4. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Consisting of multiple buildings enclosed within a stone wall, the ruins at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument are relics from the Native American Hohokam people who have inhabited the Valley of the Sun for centuries.
In Spanish, Case Grande means ‘big house,’ and though much of the original building are gone, you’ll get an idea just how grand they once were.
Archaeologists have also discovered that these ancient people made canals to channel water to irrigate their fields.
Near the town of Coolidge, not far from Florence, the site is a great place to visit; it’ll give you fascinating insight into the lives of Native Americans hundreds of years ago.
5. The Windmill Winery
Located on land that had previously been a brickyard, dairy farm, and a down-and-out plant nursery, The Windmill Winery on West Butte Avenue in Florence is as much sought after for its wedding facilities as it is for its wine.
Of course, it started out as a winery, and tours of the facility and wine tastings are still a big draw.
The site is full of refurbished buildings, including a high-vault ceiling barn and two lake houses.
The mix of historic buildings and the surrounding desert landscape make any event held here one that’ll never be forgotten, making it one of the valley’s premier locations.
6. Florence Aquatic Center
Also located on North Main Street in Florence, the Florence Aquatic Center is full of water-centered recreation amenities like waterfalls, slides, diving boards, and swimming pools.
In addition to being fun, the facilities were built with safety in mind, so no matter when you go, there will be plenty of lifeguards on duty to watch those little ones frolic.
The facility also has an area to stretch and warm-up before you hit the pools. There are free-weights if you’d like to pump up those tiny muscles before putting on your bathing suit.
Don’t worry if this all sounds like a strictly kid facility, there are places for adults to swim laps that are off-limits to children.
7. Tom Mix Memorial
Though Tom Mix isn’t famous these days, he was back in the beginning of the 20th century, as a handsome young actor who starred in many silent westerns.
He was also friends with Wyatt Earp, who died nearly destitute in 1929 after trying unsuccessfully to sell his life story to publishers and movie producers, none of who were interested.
Tom Mix tried to help Wyatt in that endeavor and they became good friends.
Mix was even a pallbearer at the lawman’s funeral.
Years later, at 60, Tom Mix died in a car crash on Route 79 near Florence; now, there’s a small memorial to this man and the interesting tidbit of history in which he was involved.
8. Art in the Park
Located not too far from Florence, Art in the Park Sierra Vista is one of many you’ll find in rural Arizona but considered to be one of the best and oldest as well.
It sports nearly 200 vendors and artists, who display paintings, sculptures, jewelry, clothing and lots of other wonderfully creative things.
There are also food vendors serving what can only be described as gourmet fare, much of which has a southwest flair.
Held on Saturdays and Sundays, the event usually draws people in the thousands.
Check out their website for directions and a schedule, which changes through the seasons.
It’s a great way to get out and meet some locals, support local artists and the economy too.
9. Boyce Thompson Arboretum
If you didn’t know that the Boyce Thompson Arboretum was the largest botanical garden in the United States, don’t worry, because I lived in Arizona for 10 years and I didn’t know either.
In Conjunction with the University of Arizona and Arizona State Parks, the arboretum and its land have been set aside to preserve the amazing variety of plants, trees, and flowers that call this portion of the Sonoran Desert home.
The arboretum has been around since 1924. Since then, it’s been educating the public about the vital role plants and trees play in the local and global ecosystems.
Guided tours are available, or if you’d prefer, you may stroll through the grounds on the many trails, most of which are full of informative signs that give you the specific information about what you’re seeing.
The Arboretum is in the town of Superior, near Florence.
They’ve got a great website with a calendar of events and their hours of operation and prices, so check it out before you go.
10. Caywood Farms Arizona Cotton Farm Tours
In Arizona, cotton is big business and has been since well before the turn of the century.
There’s something about the persistent sun, hard, sandy soil and unbearable heat that cotton plants like.
For four generations, the family who owns and operates Caywood Farms in Casa Grande have been making their living growing this crop that’s so vital to our lives.
Now, in addition to their farming, they also offer tours that’ll give you and your little ones a peek into the real world of agriculture and how the things they grow find their way into our everyday lives.
You’ll get to take a hayride, pick your own cotton, and maybe even win a prize.
11. Dolly Steamboat Cruise
Located near Apache Junction northeast of Florence, Canyon Lake is often referred to as the Little Grand Canyon, due to the sheer rock cliffs that hover over the deep gorge and lake below.
The drive from Florence to the lake will take you through some wide open desert spaces full of magnificent vistas and tall saguaros too.
The boat has been operating since the ‘20s. Your tour will be narrated by the captain and other members of the crew knowledgeable about the area’s amazing history and geology.
Dinner cruises are offered, and remember to bring a jacket, as the nighttime temperatures in the desert can get downright chilly.
12. St. Anthony’s Monastery
Located on North St. Joseph’s Way in Florence, the St. Anthony’s Monastery is one of those alluringly quirky sites to see in Florence that you really shouldn’t miss.
Though there’s nothing quirky about a Greek Orthodox Monastery, what’s amazing is that it was founded in the middle of a sparsely populated desert by a group of monks many thousands of miles from their home.
It’s been around since the mid-‘90s, and though it’s a popular place for tourists to stop and snap a few photos, keep in mind that it still holds regular services, so don’t show up in the Corona tank-top you’ve been wearing since you got off the plane at Sky Harbor.
The monastery has a great website with lots of information; it will even tell you how to get there.
The monastery’s architecture and mosaics are amazing, and there’s a gift shop.