When it comes to historic towns in Arizona, few can rival the allure of Tombstone. Nestled in Cochise County, this city holds a special place in the annals of American history. Founded in the 1870s by a determined prospector, Tombstone was initially part of Pima County in The Arizona Territory, long before it achieved statehood.
In its early years, towns like Tombstone were not for the faint of heart. They teemed with rugged prospectors driven by the pursuit of wealth, while rustlers and thieves lurked in the shadows, ready to strike. To cater to this rough crowd, the town was brimming with saloons, gambling halls, brothels, and jails, all overseen by brave lawmen who faced formidable challenges at every turn.
As an enthusiastic traveler who have seen the beauty and wonders of Arizona first-hand, join me as we delve into the best things to do in Tombstone, where the echoes of the Wild West still reverberate through the streets.
1. OK Corral
A trip to Tombstone would be incomplete without immersing yourself in the legendary atmosphere of the OK Corral.
Nestled on East Allen Street in the heart of Tombstone’s charming downtown, the corral serves as the hallowed ground for the most iconic gunfight in American history.
As you step into this historic site, you’ll witness a daily reenactment performed by dedicated individuals dressed in authentic cowboy attire. They wield firearms reminiscent of those used by the actual participants, although these are loaded with harmless blanks.
Transporting you back to the fateful year of 1881, the reenactment brings to life the intense showdown that left both lawmen and outlaws riddled with bullets. To this day, life-size replicas pay tribute to the individuals who etched their names into the annals of American history, forever captivating our imagination.
2. Goodenough Mine Tour
The Goodenough Mine stands as a testament to the rise and fall of Tombstone, the town it propelled to prosperity during the heyday of Arizona’s mining industry.
Once a rich source of silver, the mine held the hopes and dreams of countless prospectors who envisioned striking it rich. However, like many mining towns, Tombstone eventually experienced the inevitable downturn that led to its demise.
Today, visitors have the opportunity to explore the depths of history through engaging mine tours led by passionate and knowledgeable guides. These experts will regale you with fascinating facts and captivating anecdotes about the mine and the courageous individuals who toiled within its depths.
3. Tombstone Courthouse State Park
Walking through the halls of the Tombstone Courthouse Museum, I couldn’t help but imagine the bustling activity that once filled this historic place during its prime. Considering the notorious gunfights and chilling murders that made Tombstone famous, this courthouse must have been a hub of constant activity.
Situated at the corner of 3rd and Toughnut Streets, the meticulously preserved courthouse has been transformed into a captivating museum. Its primary mission is to dispel the numerous myths and legends that have woven their way into the town’s lore over the years.
As I wandered through the museum, I was surrounded by a wealth of first-hand accounts, authentic historic documents, and compelling exhibits. It was an immersive journey into the past, transporting me back to a time when justice was often swift and unforgiving.
The museum’s attention to detail is commendable. Every corner has been carefully restored to showcase the courthouse’s original appearance, allowing visitors like me to truly envision the lively scenes that unfolded within these very walls.
One particularly chilling attraction was the replica gallows, a haunting reminder of the town’s darker days. Standing in its presence, I couldn’t help but reflect on the numerous outlaws who met their fate on this very spot.
4. Bird Cage Theater
As I stepped inside the Bird Cage Theater, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of history surrounding me. This iconic establishment, known not only as a theater but also as a dance hall, brothel, and watering hole, had certainly seen its fair share of colorful characters over the years.
Constructed back in 1881, the Bird Cage Theater exuded an air of mystery and intrigue. Legends whispered that its walls still bore witness to the scars of nearly 200 bullet holes, a testament to the rowdy and unruly behavior of its inebriated patrons.
The tales didn’t end there. Like many of Tombstone’s buildings, the Bird Cage Theater was said to be haunted by the restless spirits of the town’s past inhabitants. I couldn’t help but wonder if I might catch a glimpse of one of these ethereal apparitions during my visit, if luck was on my side.
Walking through the theater’s well-preserved interior, I felt transported to a bygone era. The careful restoration had captured the essence of its original glory, offering a fascinating window into the past. The ornate decorations and elegant furnishings evoked a sense of the theater’s former grandeur, as if the spirits of performers and patrons still lingered within its hallowed halls.
As I sat in the dimly lit auditorium, I couldn’t help but feel a mix of excitement and trepidation. The whispers of history seemed to echo in the air, heightening my senses and keeping me alert for any otherworldly encounters that might occur.
5. Tombstone Epitaph
As I entered the Tombstone Epitaph building, I couldn’t help but marvel at the significance of this historic newspaper. Its name alone, “Epitaph,” seemed to foreshadow the tales of both fact and fiction that would come to define this town’s legacy.
In the bustling days of yore, Tombstone was home to a multitude of competing newspapers, each vying for readership. Sensationalism ran rampant, and it was not uncommon for these publications to fabricate fantastical stories to capture the public’s attention. It is from these exaggerated tales that many of Tombstone’s enduring legends were born.
Stepping inside the newspaper building, I found myself immersed in a world frozen in time. The original printing equipment, preserved with care, stood as a testament to the bygone era of ink-stained pages and manual typesetting. It was a tangible link to the past, a reminder of the stories that unfolded within these very walls.
To my surprise, I discovered that the spirit of the Tombstone Epitaph still lives on. Local enthusiasts, passionate about preserving the town’s rich history, continue to print the paper. Their dedication extends beyond the physical artifacts, as they strive to capture the essence of the original Epitaph in their writing style.
Intrigued by the opportunity to experience history in its rawest form, I eagerly picked up a copy of the modern-day Epitaph. As I perused its pages, I felt a sense of connection to the town’s vibrant past, as if the ink-stained words themselves whispered the stories of long-gone days.
6. The Wyatt Earp House and Gallery
Walking into the Wyatt Earp Museum and Gallery, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of reverence for the legendary figure whose name has become synonymous with the Wild West and the rugged traditions of cowboys and lawmen.
The museum, housed in the very home where Wyatt Earp once resided, is a treasure trove of authentic memorabilia that offers a comprehensive glimpse into the fascinating life of this iconic man. From personal belongings to historical artifacts, the collection is a testament to the enduring legacy of Wyatt Earp.
As I explored the exhibits, I learned about the tumultuous days Wyatt spent in Tombstone. It was during this time that he called this house his home, sharing it with his common law wife, Mattie. The tragic circumstances surrounding Mattie’s untimely death, ruled a drug overdose by the town’s medical examiner, added another layer of intrigue to Wyatt’s storied life.
The museum not only showcases historical artifacts but also provides an opportunity to own a piece of American history. I discovered a selection of items available for purchase, allowing visitors to take home a tangible connection to the iconic figure of Wyatt Earp.
Stepping out of the museum, I couldn’t help but reflect on the impact Wyatt Earp had on the American Southwest and the enduring fascination that surrounds his legacy. The Wyatt Earp Museum and Gallery stands as a tribute to this legendary figure, offering a captivating journey through time and an opportunity to immerse oneself in the rich tapestry of the Wild West.
7. Boothill Cemetery
As I walked through the gates of Boothill Cemetery, I couldn’t help but be struck by the somber atmosphere that hung in the air. This final resting place, like any respectable western town, bore a name that carried both drama and creativity, perfectly befitting the legends and tales that were woven into the fabric of Tombstone.
In its heyday, Boothill Cemetery must have filled up rapidly, the ground eagerly receiving those who met their demise through hangings, shootings, and tragic mining accidents. It was a place where life was cut short abruptly, and the sheer number of burials left me marveling at how they didn’t have to resort to double-stacking the bodies.
Established in the late 1870s, this cemetery holds not only the remains of infamous individuals but also countless nameless souls who rest in unmarked graves. As I gazed upon the weathered gravestones that have stood the test of time, I felt a sense of reverence for the lives that once thrived in this harsh and unforgiving land.
Some of the original markers still bear legible inscriptions, each telling a tale of hardship and resilience. They serve as a chilling reminder of the tough existence endured by those who walked these dusty streets in the days of yore.
8. San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
After immersing myself in the rich yet macabre history of Tombstone, I yearned for a change of scenery, a respite from the tales of gunfights, hangings, and somber graves. I craved a connection with nature, a chance to cleanse my soul amidst the beauty and tranquility of the outdoors.
Just a short distance south of Tombstone, I discovered the remarkable San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Nestled at the meeting point of the vibrant San Pedro River and the expansive Sonoran Desert, this conservation area was a haven teeming with captivating plant and animal life.
As I ventured into the conservation area, I was immediately captivated by the diverse range of flora and fauna that thrive in this unique ecosystem. The harmonious blend of riparian vegetation and desert plants created a picturesque landscape that seemed almost surreal.
One of the highlights of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is its reputation as a birdwatcher’s paradise. The area attracts an impressive array of avian species, including migratory wading birds and waterfowl that grace this sanctuary for just a few precious months each year. As I wandered along the well-marked trails, I marveled at the graceful movements and vibrant plumage of the winged creatures that called this place home.
The beauty of the conservation area was further enhanced by its accessibility and affordability. I found solace in the knowledge that I could explore its wonders without breaking the bank. The trails, thoughtfully marked, guided me through this natural wonderland, offering an opportunity for reflection, rejuvenation, and a renewed connection with the earth.
9. Flandrau Science Center
As I explored the vibrant city of Tucson, I stumbled upon a hidden gem that promised an exhilarating adventure for both young and old: the Flandrau Science Center at the University of Arizona. Intrigued by the prospect of immersing myself in the wonders of science, space, and the natural world, I eagerly ventured inside, seeking respite from the scorching Tucson heat.
The moment I stepped through the doors, I was greeted by a plethora of captivating exhibits that sparked my curiosity and ignited a sense of awe. The science center was a treasure trove of knowledge, perfectly curated to engage visitors of all ages. From the youngest enthusiasts to the seasoned explorers, there was something to captivate every curious mind.
One particular highlight of the center was its renowned planetarium. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to embark on a lifelike guided tour of the universe, an experience that promised to transport me beyond the confines of Earth. As I reclined under the captivating celestial dome, I was swept away on a cosmic journey, marveling at the vastness and beauty of the cosmos.
The Flandrau Science Center was not only an educational haven but also a place of interactive wonderment. The exhibits catered to the curious minds of children, inviting them to explore, discover, and learn while having an absolute blast. From hands-on experiments to immersive displays, the center seamlessly merged education and entertainment, ensuring that young minds flourished in an environment of exploration and play.
What made my visit even more delightful was the affordability of the experience. The center provided a wealth of knowledge and entertainment at a reasonable cost, making it accessible to all who sought to embark on this captivating journey. As an added bonus, the university campus itself was a picturesque setting for a leisurely stroll, allowing me to bask in the vibrant atmosphere and architectural beauty.
10. Benson Arts and Historical Society Museum
As I ventured beyond Tombstone, I found myself in the charming town of Benson, where the rich history of the pioneer era unfolded before me. While the tales may not be as thrilling or somber as those of Tombstone, they offered a unique glimpse into the past that left me captivated.
Located on South San Pedro Street, the Benson Museum stood as a testament to the town’s fascinating history. As I stepped inside, I was warmly greeted by the passionate volunteers who dedicated their time to preserving and sharing the museum’s remarkable collection. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and I soon found myself immersed in their wealth of knowledge.
Unlike the gallows and bullet-riddled walls of Tombstone, the museum in Benson housed a different kind of treasure. Antique artifacts filled the space, each with its own story to tell. I marveled at an intricately designed sewing machine, a testament to the craftsmanship of a bygone era. Nearby, a carriage that once served as a makeshift school bus in the days before motorcars stood as a nostalgic reminder of simpler times.
The museum was a treasure trove of fascinating items that showcased the daily lives and struggles of the town’s early pioneers. Every corner revealed a new piece of history, inviting me to unravel the stories behind each artifact.
While the museum may not have boasted the dramatic allure of gallows or bullet holes, it held a charm of its own. As I explored the exhibits and absorbed the tales woven within, I couldn’t help but appreciate the dedication and passion that went into preserving Benson’s heritage.
11. Gammon’s Gulch Movie Set
While exploring the Benson area, I stumbled upon a hidden gem that offered a unique and immersive experience: Gammon’s Gulch Movie Set. Nestled north of Benson, this remarkable place proved to be a captivating time capsule that transported me back to the glamourous era of old Hollywood.
As I entered the movie set, I was greeted by its founder, who proudly described Gammon’s Gulch as a true step back in time. And indeed, I couldn’t help but agree as I took in the remarkable sights before me. The set was adorned with an impressive collection of preserved artifacts from the golden age of cinema, evoking a sense of nostalgia and wonder.
To enhance the authenticity, the air was filled with the melodic tunes of old-time saloon music, transporting me to the heyday of western films. It was as if I had stepped onto a real movie set, surrounded by the remnants of the stars who graced the silver screen in countless films shot against the backdrop of the stunning western landscape.
The movie paraphernalia at Gammon’s Gulch Movie Set was nothing short of awe-inspiring. It was a treasure trove of memorabilia, showcasing the iconic stars and the movies that captured the imagination of audiences. From vintage costumes to props that brought legendary scenes to life, every corner revealed another piece of cinematic history.
Before planning a visit, I recommend checking out their website for accurate hours of operation. This will ensure that you make the most of your time at Gammon’s Gulch and fully immerse yourself in the enchanting atmosphere it offers.
12. Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum
When exploring the history of Arizona, it’s impossible to overlook the significant role that mining played in shaping the region. Just a short drive from Tombstone, I discovered the charming town of Bisbee, which stands as a testament to the area’s rich mining heritage.
A visit to the museum in Bisbee proved to be an enlightening experience. What struck me first was its affiliation with the renowned Smithsonian Institution, a testament to the museum’s dedication to preserving the history of copper mining that drove Arizona’s economy for generations.
As I delved into the exhibits, I gained a deeper understanding of the immense impact that mining had on the region. The once-thriving town of Bisbee, known as the “Queen of Arizona’s mining towns,” relied on the copper industry to thrive. However, as time passed, the mines closed their doors in the mid-’70s, marking the end of an era.
Today, Bisbee has reinvented itself as a tourist destination, drawing visitors who are eager to explore its fascinating past. The museum stands as a tribute to the town’s mining legacy, offering an affordable and educational experience for curious minds.
What struck me most about the museum was its ability to transport me back in time, as I witnessed the struggles and triumphs of the miners who toiled beneath the earth’s surface. The exhibits provided a glimpse into their daily lives, highlighting the hardships they endured and the ingenuity they employed to extract precious copper from the depths of the earth.
Beyond the museum, Bisbee itself is a gem waiting to be discovered. With its quaint streets and picturesque buildings, it exudes a unique charm that captivated me during my visit. I highly recommend taking the time to explore the town, immersing yourself in its vibrant atmosphere for an hour or two.
13. Fairbank Historic Town
As I ventured beyond the well-known town of Tombstone, I stumbled upon the charming ghost town of Fairbank. Once a modest rail-stop overshadowed by its more prosperous neighbor, Fairbank now stands frozen in time, its buildings serving as remnants of a bygone era.
Exploring the streets of Fairbank, I marveled at the buildings that once bustled with life. The warehouse, saloons, hotel, and school, each whispered stories of a vibrant past. Among these structures, the old schoolhouse caught my attention, standing as a testament to the town’s commitment to preserving its history.
To my delight, the schoolhouse had been lovingly refurbished and transformed into a museum and gift shop. As I entered, I was greeted by enthusiastic local students and volunteers who shared their knowledge and passion for the town’s heritage. The museum offered a fascinating collection of artifacts and exhibits, providing a window into the daily lives of the people who once called Fairbank home.
After immersing myself in the town’s history, I couldn’t resist perusing the gift shop, which offered unique souvenirs and mementos that captured the spirit of Fairbank. Supporting the local students and volunteers by making a purchase felt like a small way to contribute to the preservation of this remarkable place.
While Fairbank may be a ghost town, it certainly hasn’t lost its allure. With its well-preserved buildings and captivating stories, it’s a destination worth exploring. I recommend setting aside at least an hour or two to fully appreciate the charm and history that permeate every corner of this quaint little town.
14. Fort Bowie National Historic Site
During my exploration of the surrounding areas, I stumbled upon the Fort Bowie National Historic Site in the town of Willcox. This intriguing site transported me back in time to the days when it served as a crucial military outpost, entrusted with the daunting task of displacing the Chiricahua Apaches from the region by any means necessary.
Named after the notable officer George Washington Bowie, who commanded a group of dedicated volunteer soldiers from California, the fort played a pivotal role in the infamous Battle of Apache Pass during the early 1860s. It was a formidable clash that saw fierce encounters and significant losses, etching its place in history.
Situated just off Highway 186, the national historic site offers an affordable admission fee for visitors eager to delve into a captivating chapter of the past. As I made my way through the site, I couldn’t help but appreciate the distinctiveness of its historical narrative, providing a refreshing contrast to the stories I had encountered in Tombstone.
The Fort Bowie National Historic Site captures a unique slice of history, shedding light on the struggles, conflicts, and triumphs that unfolded within its storied walls. Exploring the grounds, I immersed myself in the tales of soldiers, Apache warriors, and the complex dynamics of the era. The preserved remnants and informative displays painted a vivid picture of the challenges faced by both sides.
15. Big Iron Shooting Gallery
After immersing myself in the captivating history of gun-slinging and shootouts that characterizes these rugged Arizona towns, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience the thrill of shooting a gun firsthand, rather than just reading or hearing about it.
The Big Iron Shooting Gallery, nestled on Allen Street in the heart of Tombstone, proved to be the perfect destination. As I stepped inside, I was greeted by a collection of firearms that played a significant role in taming the wild west. These were no replicas or imitations; they were genuine weapons with a storied past. However, the ammunition used was specifically designed for training purposes, ensuring a loud noise without the deadly projectiles or the bone-jarring recoil of live ammunition.
I relished the chance to handle these iconic firearms, carefully aiming and squeezing the trigger, my shots ringing out in the shooting range. It was an exhilarating experience that allowed me to better appreciate the skill and courage required of those who wielded these guns in the past.
After satisfying my thirst for a true wild-west adventure, I browsed through the Big Iron Shooting Gallery’s impressive gift shop. Among the treasures lining the shelves were knives and other mementos that perfectly captured the spirit of my Tombstone expedition. I couldn’t resist picking up a few keepsakes to commemorate my unforgettable visit.
As I left the shooting gallery, I reflected on the unique opportunity I had enjoyed. It was a chance to not only learn about the history of firearms but to also step into the shoes of those who had lived in a time defined by the crack of gunfire and the pursuit of justice. The Big Iron Shooting Gallery had provided a safe and thrilling way to engage with the past, leaving me with memories that would last a lifetime.
If you’re seeking an authentic experience that goes beyond the pages of history, I highly recommend a visit to the Big Iron Shooting Gallery. It offers an adrenaline-fueled adventure and a chance to connect with the remarkable stories that have shaped the wild west. Don’t forget to explore their enticing gift shop, where you can find a tangible piece of your Tombstone adventure to take home with you.