Yuma has always held immense significance to the people of this area, even predating European settlement. This wondrous city in Arizona is situated on the banks of the once unpredictable Colorado River. It served as one of the few safe and reliable crossing points during that time.
Originally established as Colorado City, it later gained even greater importance when thousands of ambitious Americans journeyed south through Yuma to reach California and partake in the gold rush of 1849. During those early days, a rope ferry was employed to transport travelers across the river.
The city underwent two name changes, first becoming Arizona City and later adopting the name Yuma, derived from the Spanish word for smoke (humo), which referred to the smoke utilized by the local inhabitants in their practices.
With its rich historical background and abundant natural surroundings, here are my picks for the best things to do in Yuma, Arizona.
1. Historic Downtown
In Yuma’s historic downtown, where floods once ravaged, a vibrant nightlife now thrives.
Although most buildings in this area only date back to the 1920s due to the destructive floods of the past, the rich history still resonates through the revitalization efforts.
Immerse yourself in the charm of the North End, where you can embark on historic tours to uncover its fascinating stories, or simply indulge in the abundance of shopping, dining, and entertainment options available.
Don’t miss the opportunity to attend the regular fairs and events that take place in this lively district.
2. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historical Park
As an enthusiastic traveler exploring Arizona, I couldn’t resist visiting the renowned Yuma Territorial Prison, now transformed into a captivating state historical park.
Strategically positioned on the picturesque banks of the Colorado River, this prison, built by its very own pioneering inmates, served as a formidable barrier against the prevalent jailbreaks of its time.
Throughout its 33 years of operation, it housed a staggering 3,069 prisoners, sadly claiming the lives of 111 incarcerated individuals.
Walking through the prison cemetery sends a chilling shiver down your spine, serving as a poignant reminder of the harsh realities faced in the Old Southwest.
Before bidding farewell to this intriguing site, be sure to capture your own mugshot using the original mirror that ingeniously captured a simultaneous front and side profile in a single photograph.
3. Gateway Park
As an avid Arizona traveler, I couldn’t resist the allure of Yuma’s Gateway Park, where sandy shores meet fascinating history, providing an idyllic riverside oasis for families to enjoy a sun-kissed day.
One of the park’s highlights is undoubtedly the iconic Ocean To Ocean Bridge, a historic marvel that was initially constructed to accommodate the renowned Ocean to Ocean Highway. It’s a remarkable sight to witness, and Gateway Park offers the best vantage point for observing this architectural gem. This is definitely something that I truly adore in the city of Yuma.
After undergoing extensive renovation, the bridge reopened to vehicle traffic in 2002, marking a significant milestone after 14 years of exclusively catering to pedestrians and bicycles.
The park itself boasts an array of amenities, making it an ideal location for a delightful picnic. With its playgrounds for the little ones and a charming beach area nestled alongside the refreshing waters of the Colorado River, Gateway Park provides the perfect backdrop for a day of relaxation and enjoyment.
4. Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens
Located in the downtown area, surrounded by beautiful gardens, I highly recommend paying a visit to the original adobe house of merchant E.F. Sanguinetti. It had been transformed into a museum, showcasing his extraordinary life. Intrigued, I embarked on a journey through his story, eager to uncover how Sanguinetti arrived in Yuma with nothing, only to become a prominent and influential businessman who left a lasting impact on the community he grew to cherish.
As I delved deeper into the exhibits, I discovered not only the captivating tale of Sanguinetti’s rise to success but also the fascinating history of his family. Their stories were intricately intertwined with the vibrant tapestry of the town’s own history, providing me with a deeper understanding of life in that era.
After immersing myself in Sanguinetti’s world, I felt a desire to savor the moment and reflect on all that I had learned. Luckily, the Garden Cafe conveniently awaited right next door, offering a delightful selection of refreshments for those seeking to unwind and rejuvenate after the museum visit.
5. Colorado River State Historic Park
Containing the old U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot and the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, this park has a mix of full on history and fun exhibits for children. It is home to some of Arizona’s oldest buildings, where you can soak up information and follow the history of the Colorado River and it’s crucial crossing in Yuma in the time of the Old West.
One particular aspect that caught my attention was the Yuma project. Its ambitious goal was to irrigate a vast expanse of land in Yuma County and California, making year-round farming possible. I marveled at the engineering marvels it entailed—dams, canals, siphons, power plants, and drains—all working together to transform the arid landscape into fertile grounds for agriculture. The impact of this project on the region’s development was truly remarkable.
To ensure the park catered to the young ones, I made my way to the Yuma Crossing area. Here, the railroad took center stage as I delved into its history and significance. I even had the opportunity to witness the original pivot point, a testament to the engineering feats that shaped the area. As a delightful highlight, a steam train stood proudly on display, inviting visitors to board and experience the magic of the past firsthand.
Leaving the park, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratitude for the knowledge I had gained and the experiences I had enjoyed. It was a perfect blend of history, education, and entertainment, making it an ideal destination for visitors of all ages.
6. Imperial National Wildlife Refuge
Striking scenery of mountains, wetlands, desert and river combine in this appealing protected area that spills into both Yuma County, Arizona and Imperial County, California.
Excitement coursed through me as I discovered the range of activities available within the refuge. Boat trips presented an opportunity to navigate the serene waters, immersing myself in the tranquil surroundings while observing the rich biodiversity that called this place home. Fishing, too, enticed those seeking a peaceful moment by the water’s edge.
For those who preferred to explore on foot, hiking trails awaited, offering a chance to venture deeper into the heart of this enchanting refuge. The trails unveiled hidden gems and revealed the interconnectedness of the diverse ecosystems that coexisted within the area. Each step brought me closer to a profound appreciation for the delicate balance of nature.
7. Castle Dome Mine Museum & Ghost Town
As I ventured into the desolate landscape, I found myself standing in the midst of a forgotten realm—the abandoned city of Castle Dome. Once a thriving mining town, it now rests in eerie silence, its streets devoid of life. Beneath the surface, a labyrinth of over 300 mines lies dormant, their secrets forever hidden. Explorers have unearthed countless artifacts, each of which now finds its place within the museums that fill the town.
Time seemed to stand still in this western ghost town, frozen in a bygone era. As I explored its deserted structures, I couldn’t help but feel a profound connection to the Old West, as if the spirits of the past were whispering their stories to me.
Castle Dome is more than just an abandoned city; it’s a precious testament to the resilience and legacy of the pioneers who shaped the American frontier. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an adventurer seeking the unknown, or simply someone in search of a unique experience, Castle Dome offers a captivating journey through time. It’s a place where the echoes of the past reverberate, reminding us of the untamed spirit of the Old West.
8. Waylon’s Water Park
This vibrant family-friendly destination offers a multitude of thrilling slides and attractions, guaranteeing a day filled with endless fun and laughter. Waylon’s waterpark is a great place to bond with your friends and family while enjoying the vibes of Yuma, Arizona.
With over 15 slides and attractions to choose from, there was never a dull moment. Whether I wanted to plunge down heart-pounding water slides or float lazily along the lazy river, Waylon’s Water Park had it all. The refreshing water provided a much-needed escape from the scorching sun, allowing me to cool off and enjoy every moment.
But the fun didn’t stop at the water attractions. I discovered that Waylon’s Water Park also boasts a fantastic mini-golf course, providing a different kind of entertainment for those looking to take a break from the water. The challenging holes and beautifully landscaped surroundings added an extra layer of enjoyment to my visit.
When you’re looking for the perfect getaway on a hot day, Waylon’s Water Park is the ultimate destination. It’s a place where fun knows no bounds, where memories are made, and where you can escape the heat and embrace the joy of togetherness.
9. East Wetlands Environmental Restoration Area
Not far from Yuma Prison, I discovered the captivating beauty of the recently restored natural habitat areas known as Yuma’s East Wetlands.
As I learned, the restoration project took flight in 2002, aiming to cleanse the wetlands of accumulated trash and dirt while replenishing the landscape with native plant species. The incredible outcome has been a tremendous surge in bird diversity, with populations doubling in size. It truly is a remarkable sanctuary for nature enthusiasts like myself.
Exploring the wetlands, I found myself immersed in a network of trails and paths, inviting me to embark on leisurely walks or invigorating bike rides. Along the way, I stumbled upon delightful resting spots, where I could pause, take a breath, and fully appreciate the wonders of nature that surrounded me. A visit to the East Wetlands Environmental Restoration Area will make your visit worthwhile.
10. West Wetlands Park & Centennial Beach
Across the river from the East Wetlands, I discovered the charming West Wetlands Park, beckoning with its recreational offerings. Unlike its counterpart, the West Wetlands Park is designed as a vibrant recreational area. As I explored its grounds, I stumbled upon lively playgrounds, inviting me to unleash my inner child and indulge in playful moments. There were also numerous picnic spots scattered throughout the park, providing ideal settings for enjoying a delightful outdoor meal.
The park boasted an array of trails, enticing me to embark on leisurely walks and immerse myself in the surrounding natural beauty. Fishing enthusiasts would be thrilled to find designated spots for casting their lines and attempting to catch some fish.
One of the highlights of the West Wetlands Park was the enchanting Centennial Beach. This idyllic stretch of sandy shoreline was developed to commemorate the town’s 100th anniversary, and it served as a perfect destination for picnics and a refreshing respite from the heat. I couldn’t resist the allure of dipping my toes into the cool waters and basking in the serenity of this blissful oasis.
11. Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area
Venturing 20 miles west of Yuma is the majestic sand dunes that proudly claim the title of the country’s largest expanse of inland dunes, stretching across a remarkable 40 miles. During the low season, these incredible dunes welcomed everyone, allowing us to bask in their splendor. However, during the peak off-roading season, only off-road vehicles were permitted to traverse the sandy terrain. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist making a quick stop to capture some memorable photos as a testament to the awe-inspiring landscape.
It became apparent that this place was a haven for adrenaline enthusiasts. Dirt biking, quad biking, and dune buggy riding were the thrilling activities that made these dunes come alive. The wind whipping through my hair as I navigated the undulating dunes was an exhilarating experience I won’t soon forget.
Adding to the allure, these remarkable dunes have also played a starring role in the cinematic world. Several notable films, including Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, have utilized this breathtaking scenery as a backdrop, further cementing its status as a place of undeniable beauty and wonder.
12. The “Official” Center of the World
A short drive from Yuma, is an intriguing point in Imperial County, California, which has been officially recognized as the Center of the World by both the Californian state and the French government.
Curiosity piqued, I learned that this unique location was established in the 1980s by the visionary Jacques-Andre Istel. The site boasts an array of captivating monuments that are sure to captivate any visitor. One such curiosity is a spiral staircase that seemingly leads to nowhere, which once had its place in the iconic Eiffel Tower. Standing before this architectural oddity, I couldn’t help but marvel at the whimsy it exuded.
As I explored further, I encountered a collection of granite pyramids that intricately depicted the history of humanity, a testament to the depth of human civilization. A quaint church also graced the premises, adding a touch of serenity to the surroundings. And of course, no visit to this peculiar spot would be complete without locating the plaque that officially marks the Center of the World.
It’s worth noting that this unusual destination is only open to visitors from March to December, adding an air of exclusivity to the experience. However, those fortunate enough to visit during the designated months will receive a unique certificate, serving as a tangible memento of their encounter with this extraordinary location.
13. Yuma Conservation Garden
Just a mere 4 miles outside of Yuma, I discovered a hidden gem that serves as both an educational hub and a beloved community treasure—a breathtaking botanical garden.
Walking through the garden’s enchanting pathways, I found myself surrounded by a stunning array of magnificent desert plants. Many of these plants had been thoughtfully labeled for educational and identification purposes, allowing visitors like myself to delve deeper into the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The immersive experience offered a captivating journey through the unique flora of the region.
To my delight, the botanical garden also showcased a collection of antique farm machinery. For those with an interest in old trucks and tractors, this display added a touch of nostalgia and a glimpse into the region’s agricultural history.
14. Yuma River Tubing
During the sunny summer months in Arizona, specifically from April to September, I stumbled upon a thrilling adventure offered by Yuma River Tubing—an excellent alternative way to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Colorado River.
Regardless of age, I soon discovered that this floating journey was an experience not to be missed. The company graciously dropped me upstream, just below the iconic Ocean to Ocean bridge, marking the start of my exhilarating trip back to West Wetlands Park.
The entire tubing activity lasted approximately an hour, allowing ample time to soak in the serenity and marvel at the natural wonders that unfolded before my eyes. To make the experience even more enjoyable, I packed some refreshing beverages to savor along the way. And if timing aligned perfectly, I had the opportunity to witness a breathtaking sunset, surrounded by the laughter and joy of my friends or family.
Considering the popularity of this exciting activity, I highly recommend reserving your spot in advance. The demand is high, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on the fun-filled adventure that awaits you on the Colorado River.
15. Martha’s Gardens Date Farm
As I explored the captivating region of Yuma in Arizona, I discovered a growing trend that has made it an increasingly popular destination for date production. It comes as no surprise, considering the ideal conditions that dates require. Yuma proudly holds the title of the sunniest place in the world, providing the continuous sunshine necessary for these luscious fruits to flourish.
During my journey, I stumbled upon Martha’s Gardens, a remarkable establishment where I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the enchanting palm groves. As I meandered through the rows of towering palm trees, I learned about the intricate growing process and the rich history of this organic farm. The experience was not only educational but also deeply fascinating.
To enhance my visit, Martha’s Gardens offered a delightful culinary experience. I indulged in a delicious lunch, savoring the flavors of their renowned date-based creations. A highlight was their famed date shake, a delectable treat that perfectly captured the essence of Yuma’s date culture. Before departing, I made sure to take some of their exquisite date products with me, allowing me to savor the taste of Yuma’s bounty even after I left.
It’s important to note that the peak season for visiting Martha’s Gardens and other date-related attractions in Yuma runs from September through to April. So, if you’re planning a visit, be sure to plan accordingly to fully immerse yourself in the experience of this remarkable date-producing region.