Tombstone is perhaps the most historic town in a state that’s absolutely filled with them.
Located in Cochise County, the city was founded in the 1870s by a prospector, though back then it was part of Pima County in The Arizona Territory before it became a state.
In years past, towns like Tombstone weren’t good places for the meek or faint of heart as they were full of rough prospectors intent on getting rich, and rustlers and thieves lurked around every corner.
To accommodate this rough crowd, the town was full of saloons, gambling halls, brothels, and jails ran by brave lawmen who had their work cut out for them.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Tombstone.
1. OK Corral
A trip to Tombstone without visiting the OK Corral is an impossibility.
Located on East Allen Street in Tombstone’s compact downtown area, the corral is the scene of the most famous gunfight in American history.
It’s also reenacted daily by men who’re dressed in period cowboy garb and even have similar guns to what the real participants did, though these ones just shoot blanks.
The original gunfight took place in 1881, and left lawmen and outlaws alike full of holes. Today there are life-size replicas of the men who gained immortality through this fascinating slice of American history that refuses to fade away.
2. Goodenough Mine Tour
The Goodenough Mine was the economic engine that drove the town of Tombstone to prominence before it succumbed to the same bust as the rest of Arizona’s hard-scrap mining towns.
Back in the day it yielded significant amounts of silver, giving the prospectors who mined it delusions of grandeur that rarely panned out.
Mine tours are given by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff who’ll give you lots of interesting facts and anecdotes about the mine and those who worked in it.
It’s right downtown and the price is right. It’s one of those things to do in Tombstone that you won’t want to pass up.
3. Tombstone Courthouse State Park
The Tombstone Courthouse must have been a busy place back in its heyday when you consider the gunfights and stone-cold murders the town is famous for.
Located on the corner of 3rd and Toughnut Streets, the historic courthouse has been turned into a museum that sets many of the untrue legends that have persisted over the years straight.
It’s full of first-hand accounts and historic documents, and has been restored and preserved to just how it must’ve looked back then.
It even includes a facsimile of the gallows where many of the town’s guilty outlaws had their necks stretched over the years.
4. Bird Cage Theater
In addition to being a theater, the Bird Cage was supposedly a dance hall, brothel, and drinking establishment too, which isn’t surprising.
It was built in 1881, and legend has it that its walls still bear nearly 200 bullet holes that were shot by drunken guests over the years.
Like many of Tombstone’s buildings, it’s said that the theater is haunted by the ghosts of the town’s long-dead, so if you’re lucky perhaps you’ll get to see one of the restless souls.
The theater has been preserved to nearly-authentic condition which will give you a fascinating glimpse into a different era.
5. Tombstone Epitaph
The Tombstone Epitaph was an aptly named newspaper that began printing in Tombstone in 1880.
In the old days there were more than a few competing papers, and they often resorted to making up fantastical and untrue stories to increase circulation, and this is probably where many of the town’s false legends have come from.
The newspaper building houses some of the original printing equipment, and you may be surprised to hear that some of the locals are still printing the paper and tend to write their stories in the same style as the originals.
Stop by and pick up a copy.
6. The Wyatt Earp House and Gallery
The name Wyatt Earp is synonymous with the cowboy and lawman traditions that are big parts of the lore and legend of the American southwest.
Wyatt Earp’s house has been turned into a museum and gallery that’s probably the most extensive collection of authentic memorabilia related to the interesting life of this famous man.
During his Tombstone days, Wyatt lived in the house with Mattie, his common law wife who died of a drug overdose that was ruled a suicide by the town’s medical examiner.
There are items for sale was well if you’d like to pick up a piece of American history.
7. Boothill Cemetery
Every western town worth its salt had a cemetery with a dramatic and creative name, and Tombstone was no exception.
Boothill Cemetery was a place that must’ve filled up quickly back in the day. With so many hangings, shootings and mining accidents, it’s a wonder they didn’t need to double-stack the corpses.
The cemetery was established in the late 1870s and houses a few famous past-residents as well as a lot of unmarked graves full of nameless men and women.
Many of the original gravestones are still readable, and they’ll give you an eerie chill thinking about the tough lives lived in those harsh and unforgiving days.
8. San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
With all the history and sites related to gunfights, hangings, dead people and jails, it might be wise to take a break, enjoy some nature, and cleanse your soul of all that macabre history.
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is south of Tombstone, and it’s full of fascinating plants and animals that call this environment where the San Pedro River meets the massive Sonoran Desert home.
The conservation area is particularly known for the hundreds of species of birds that it attracts, many of which are migratory wading birds and waterfowl that only come for a few months of the year.
It’s inexpensive to visit and full of well-marked trails.
9. Flandrau Science Center
Located in Tucson, the University of Arizona’s Flandrau Science Center is jam-packed with lots of exhibits related to science, space and the natural world that’ll keep you and your little ones engaged for hours while enjoying the center’s lovely air conditioning.
The planetarium is a favorite of many visitors, and will give you a lifelike guided tour of the universe that you may never get to experience again.
There are lots of interactive exhibits for the kids that’ll teach them something while they’re having a good time.
It’s inexpensive and the campus is a great place for a stroll too.
10. Benson Arts and Historical Society Museum
The nearby town of Benson is full of pioneer area history too, although it’s a lot less dramatic and dismal than that of Tombstone’s.
The museum is located on South San Pedro Street in Benson, and the volunteers who work there are eager to impart their knowledge of the museum’s items to its guests.
There aren’t any gallows or bullet hole strewn walls, but there’s an antique sewing machine and a carriage that was used as a school bus of sorts before the motorcar days.
It’s full of lots of other interesting stuff too, so take a look and leave a buck or two to help with the upkeep.
11. Gammon’s Gulch Movie Set
A trip to Gammon’s Gulch Movie Set north of Benson is a great way to utilize your time wisely when visiting the aforementioned museum.
According to the movie set’s founder, it’s a step back in time, and you’ll likely agree when you see all the cool stuff that’s preserved from that glamorous movie era.
There’s even old-time saloon music playing to add an extra layer of authenticity.
The set includes lots of old movie paraphernalia which include some of the biggest stars of the day who filmed quite a few movies in the scenic western location.
Check out their website for hours of operation.
12. Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum
If Tombstone’s history is inalterably linked with the area’s violent past, then the town of Bisbee’s is likewise linked to the area’s rich mining history.
The museum is affiliated with the world-famous Smithsonian, and is dedicated to preserving the history of the engine that drove Arizona’s economy for ages: copper mining.
The town’s mine closed in the mid- ‘70s and now it’s largely reliant on tourism, even though in ages past it was considered the Queen of Arizona’s mining towns.
The museum is inexpensive, educational, and located in a neat little town that’s well worth an hour or two of your time.
13. Fairbank Historic Town
The town of Fairbank was originally just a small rail-stop in the shadow of its more famous and prosperous neighbor of Tombstone.
Now it’s just a ghost town, but it’s still full of buildings that were once businesses like a warehouse, saloons, a hotel, and a school.
The old schoolhouse has been refurbished and now houses a museum and gift shop that’s staffed by local students and volunteers. It’s a place you’ll want to check out before you leave.
With all there is to see and do, you should plan on spending an hour or two in this quaint little town.
14. Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Located in the nearby town of Willcox, the Fort Bowie National Historic Site was originally a military outpost that was tasked with driving the Chiricahua Apaches from the area by whatever means necessary.
The fort is named after an officer named George Washington Bowie who was in charge of a group of volunteer soldiers from California who fought the Apaches in the famous and deadly Battle of Apache Pass in the early 1860s.
The national historic site is just off Highway 186, and admission is inexpensive.
It covers an interesting slice of history that’s refreshingly different than what you’ll see in Tombstone.
15. Big Iron Shooting Gallery
With so much gun-slinging and shooting history in these rough Arizona towns, it might be nice to actually shoot a gun yourself instead of just reading and hearing about them.
The Big Iron Shooting Gallery on Allen Street in Tombstone is full of the firearms that helped tame the wild-west, and though the guns are real, the ammunition is just training rounds that make a pretty loud noise without the deadly projectile and bone jarring kick of the real thing.
They’ve also got a cool gift shop full of knives and other stuff that’ll remind you of your Tombstone adventure, so pick up a few things before heading out.