Tucked into a scenic valley at the base of the iconic Huachuca Mountains, Sierra Vista is one of southern Arizona’s historical and entertainment centers that’s almost never without an event or experience that’ll leave you educated and enchanted.
Well south of sweltering Phoenix, Sierra Vista boasts rather mild year-round temperatures, stunning scenery, and blue skies nearly 300 days a year.
Known mainly for its pioneer history and natural splendor, Sierra Vista and nearby Tucson truly embrace the spirit of the old west that’s still alive and well, albeit the 21st century.
Below are 15 things to do in Sierra Vista.
1. Coronado National Forest
With enough activities to keep even the easily bored occupied, the Coronado National Forest is home to plants, animals and geography that make it a real standout.
Bird watching, hiking, horseback riding, and camping are all available in the park. If you’ve got enough energy to get to Coronado Peak, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape that’s second to none.
The park is also home to a cave network that’s largely unexplored. It’s a great place to crawl around on your hands and knees while scorpions, bats, and snakes slither, crawl and flutter all around you.
2. Fort Huachuca Base and Museum
Located on Grierson Avenue in Sierra Vista, Fort Huachuca is an important historic site as well as an up-and-running military base.
The museum is focused on the military history of the brave soldiers who were stationed in the Arizona Territory before it was an actual state.
Specifically, the museum showcases the history of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers,’ who were the black soldiers conscripted to fight the Native Americans during the mid and late 1800’s.
The museum has lots of great exhibits, a gift shop, and is one of the things to do in Sierra Vista that shouldn’t be passed up.
3. Farmer’s Market
I’ve always loved the hustle, bustle, and unique products that you typically find at farmer’s markets.
If you agree, then the farmer’s market held in Veteran’s Memorial Park on East Fry Boulevard in Sierra Vista is someplace you should plan to visit while in the area.
Held every Thursday from about 10 until 2, it’ll be a great way to support local farmers and entrepreneurs, stretch those legs, and pick up some interesting Arizona products like cactus jelly and scorpion lollipops.
Like most farmer’s markets, some of the products are downright expensive, though, with a little legwork, you should be able to sniff out a good deal or two.
4. Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine
If you think that massive Celtic crosses and the Arizona desert have nothing to do with one another, guess again.
At nearly 80 feet tall, Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine and the 30-foot statue of the Virgin Mary are set by a picturesque chapel, which has been perfectly placed to provide panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valley.
Located in the nearby town of Hereford, the chapel and shrine offer a serene place of worship or just a much-deserved opportunity for some quiet time and contemplation.
The site is free to visit and open from morning until sunset.
5. San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
Comprised of nearly 60,000 acres of land near St. David, Arizona, the San Pedro Conservation area is home to an astonishing array of hearty mammals, lizards, birds, and amphibians who’ve chosen this harsh climate and landscape as their homes.
The San Pedro River runs through the park; you’re more than welcome to explore the trails on your own, or guided tours are available if you’d like to be accompanied by a park staffer who’ll tell you lots of interesting facts that you may never learn if you do go it alone.
Admission is free and there are camping sites available if you’d like to spend the night in nature’s splendor, gazing at the stars that are easily recognizable in the dark, desert sky.
6. Murray Spring Clovis Site
There’s a raging debate in the world of archeology about the first known site of humans in what’s now the United States.
In southern Arizona near Sierra Vista, the Murray Spring Clovis Site was home to a group of hunter-gatherers nearly 11,000 years ago.
The remnants left behind by these people include stone tools and killing implements, as well as bones of the large animals that were their prey.
Located inside the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, which has lots of other attractions too, it’s one of the things to do in Sierra Vista that should probably be on your itinerary.
7. Brown Canyon Ranch
Located in south-central Arizona near the Mexican border, Brown Canyon Ranch is nestled in the shadow of the majestic Huachuca Mountains. It is a historic testament to the ruggedness of the ranchers, miners, and traders who settled in the area centuries ago.
The site features a mine, windmill, ponds, and a few buildings that have been preserved to give you a good idea of the lifestyle of the former inhabitants.
There are hiking trails throughout the property and entry is free for day-use.
It’s a great place for a stroll; keep your eyes out for the hummingbirds that are drawn to the area.
8. Ramsey Canyon Preserve
Just outside Sierra Vista – on East Ramsey Road in Hereford, Arizona – Ramsey Canyon Preserve is a must-see for nature lovers and those intent on getting off the beaten path.
At nearly 300 acres, the preserve is a favorite of bird watchers and is considered by those in the know to be one of the premier hummingbird habitats in the nation.
While meandering down the preserve’s trails, you’ll wonder how in the world so many plants and animals can survive in such a harsh climate.
Regardless of when you come, dress accordingly, as the Arizona sun can scorch sensitive skin, even in winter.
9. Sierra Vista Aquatic Center
There’s no better way to beat the cruel Arizona sun than to frolic in cool water.
Located on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Sierra Vista, the Aquatic Center is the place to go when you can’t take the heat any longer.
With slides, waves, and diving boards, it’s not just another boring pool either.
The prices are cheaper than a McDonald’s happy meal and there are discounts for kids and the elderly too.
There’s a snack bar on site as well, as all that exercise will probably make you hungry.
Check out their website for pricing and hours of operation.
10. The San Pedro House
Built by a livestock company in the ‘30s as the home of the ranch’s manager, the San Pedro House is located in the Riparian Valley Conservation Area.
The facility is run by volunteers and sports a book and gift shop, the proceeds of which go to the maintenance of the house and surrounding grounds.
It’s also home to the Great Tree of Arizona – a massive cottonwood tree that’s purported to be over 30 feet around.
There’s ample parking, restrooms, and picnic areas, so pack a lunch and plan on spending a few hours poking around.
11. Henry F. Hauser Museum
If you’ve ever wondered who the heck this Henry Hauser fellow is and why there’s a museum in Arizona named after him, then a visit to the Henry F. Hauser Museum should be one of the things to do in Arizona.
The museum – founded in 2000 – is named after a local college football standout, golfer, military officer, and former mayor of Sierra Vista – Henry Hauser.
Part flea market and part museum, it’s a quirky conglomeration of memorabilia and artifacts, most of which have some link to the local area.
The museum often hosts speakers and is a great stop to make if you’ve got a few hours to kill.
12. Garden Canyon
Located in Fort Huachuca, Garden Canyons are considered one of the most scenic areas in the whole state.
Since they’re on an active military base, visitors must provide a photo ID and proof of auto insurance before they’ll be granted access.
The canyon is known for its abundant animal and plant life, much of which are very rare.
There are also ponds, waterfalls, and creeks, which are like magnets to thirsty animals.
The 73,000-acre park is full of trails; make sure to obey all signs, as there are off-limits areas.
13. Lehner Mammoth Kill Site
Thousands of years ago, the animals that called what is now Arizona home were massive and fierce beyond contemplation.
As gory as it sounds, the Lehner Mammoth Kill Site is where the area’s Paleolithic inhabitants slaughtered their prey, which included mammoths, bear and even a camel.
The considerate cavemen left behind tools and killing implements for our viewing enjoyment nearly 11,000 years later.
The site was donated by the previous private owners, became a National Historic Site in the ‘60s, and has been a center for archaeological, historical and biological study ever since.
14. Visit Historic Tombstone
What would you like on your Tombstone?
If you’ve never considered this deep and morbid question, then a trip to historic Tombstone, Arizona might help you out.
The town is located in southern Cochise County. In its heyday, it was a boomtown that served the ranchers, rustlers, and prospectors in the area.
Such famous and feared gunslingers as Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp made the town one of the biggest attractions in the area, both then and now.
These days there aren’t many gunfights in the streets – at least, not real ones.
There are lots of cool reenactments though, as well as guided tours, restaurants and saloons.
15. Veteran’s Memorial Park
Located in downtown Sierra Vista, you may recall that Veteran’s Memorial Park is where the farmer’s market takes places every Thursday.
What you may not know is that it’s a great place to relax and pay your respects to the veterans who are honored here.
The park is also home to lots of festivals, fairs, and performances throughout the year, making it a convenient and inexpensive way to bump elbows with the locals and experience some really cool things.
Check online to see what’s going on when you’ll be there.
Past events have included food fairs and live concerts.