If there’s any place in the country that best defines and depicts the Old West, it’s Arizona. Depending on who’s telling the narrative, our state’s history was either a mythos of paradise sprung to life, a romanticized image of a cowboy and his horse, or life interrupted by an exceedingly violent time period. All of those stories create the image that Arizona continues to carry today and can be safely revisited without needing to make a time machine. We’re going to take a look at a handful of those Old West examples today so check out what made the list!
1. Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, Bisbee
Arizona’s frontier history was heavily influenced by the mining industry. This Bisbee museum offers a glimpse into the working life in the mines, which is made even more vibrant with a mine cart tour led by former miners.
Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum website
2. Castle Dome Mining Museum
Located a reasonable distance north of Yuma, Castle Dome Mine Museum is a reconstructed version of the old Castle Dome town that is now submerged in the Colorado River. You’ll find actual artifacts from the town and get an idea of life in a frontier town.
Castle Dome Mining Museum website
3. Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Alan English CPA/Flickr
One of the many forts constructed by the U.S. Army during a series of intense campaigns against American Indians in the mid-1800s, only remnants of the old adobe walls exist today. There is also an on-site visitor center, the ruins of an old stagecoach stop, and occasional re-enactments.
National Park Service website
4. Gammons Gulch, Benson
A movie set “ghost town” that has served as the backdrop for movies, television shows, and other productions, this little spot offers a vision of what walking through a Western town was like in the late 1800s.
Gammons Gulch website
5. Goldfield Ghost Town, Apache Junction
This reconstructed ghost town attraction sits near the actual Goldfield location and offers a classic look of a Western town complete with tours, gunfights, and a chance to pan for gold.
Goldfield Ghost Town website
6. Heard Museum, Phoenix
This renowned museum focuses on the Indigenous peoples and their cultures both today and historically. Several of the exhibits and occasional lectures also offer compelling narratives about how American encroachment impacted lives of indigenous people during this time period.
Heard Museum website
7. Hubbell Trading Post, Ganado
One of the best examples of the trading posts commonly found in the Old West, this one located on the Navajo Nation was also a key place for trading and development of Navajo weaving styles. You can walk through the trading post, purchase some goods (it still operates as it did in the old days), and take a tour of the old homestead.
National Park Service website
It’s difficult to pick one spot here that represents the Old West so we’re just including the entire town. It’s a perfect example of what boomtowns in the late-nineteenth century resembled and the haunted stories will remind you of the rough history of such a place.
9. Museum of the West, Scottsdale
For years, Scottsdale has called itself the “West’s Most Western Town” and this is one example of that self-designation. This museum is dedicated to capturing the intricacies of Western life, past and present, through exhibitions, presentations, and storytelling opportunities.
Museum of the West website
This little town located just off Route 66 has managed to live several lives, including that as a late boomtown shortly before Arizona became a state in 1912. Today, it is known for its wandering wild burros, Hollywood patrons (do the names Clark Gable and Carole Lombard ring a bell?), and Route 66 souvenirs.
11. Old Tucson Studios
Watch a Western film and you’re bound to encounter a moment featuring this iconic movie set, including productions such as “Arizona,” episodes of “Bonanza,” and “McLintock!” A visit here will give you a behind-the-scenes look at the set’s movie history, plenty of shows, and history presentations/demonstrations.
Old Tucson Studios website
12. Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse, Tucson
Looking for a small Old West experience centered around dining options? Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse in Tucson is a good example with its casual atmosphere, steaks, and Western-style décor.
Address: 6541 E Tanque Verde Rd, Tucson
13. Pioneer Living History Museum, Phoenix
This museum is a collection of reconstructed buildings that forms a little Western town, including a couple of little homes. It’s a popular spot for school field trips with an emphasis on life in Arizona’s territorial period.
Pioneer Living History Museum website
14. Rawhide Wild West Town, Chandler
A Western-themed amusement park, Rawhide has attractions such as live gun shows, gold panning, and chances to rides horses or burros. They also have dining options such as a steakhouse, saloon, and a pizza parlor for the kids (even though pizza wasn’t part of frontier diets).
15. San Xavier del Bac, Tucson
Arizona’s White Dove of the Desert, this mission is a beautiful example of Spanish colonial architecture and is one of the oldest European structures in the country. There’s plenty of history - both good and bad - contained within these walls and it is a place that certainly earns a spot on this list.
Mission San Xavier del Bac website
When people think of the Old West, Tombstone is certainly one of the places that immediately comes to mind thanks to the town’s crazy history with outlaws and the gunfight at O.K. Corral.
17. Tumacacori National Historic Park
Another old Spanish mission in southern Arizona, this one isn’t quite in the same condition as San Xavier due to the mission’s abandonment in the mid-1800s. In any case, it still makes an interesting spot to visit to see what Spanish colonial life was like and to learn about the turbulent relationship the Spaniards had with the Indigenous people.
National Park Service website
18. Whiskey Row, Prescott
After a block of buildings was destroyed in a 1900 fire, this spot was rebuilt and the large number of saloons led to the street’s nickname, Whiskey Row. This spot became a focal point of the city, which continues to this day - the site is host to a number of Western shows and staged shootouts.
Have you visited any of these historical spots? Let us know which is your favorite and if we missed any!