The next time you’re visiting Arizona, make sure to put the towns of Prescott, Cottonwood, and Jerome on your must-visit list. These unique towns proudly sport their Western identities, with a down to earth quality, a vibrant dining and arts scene, as well as nearby natural wonders worth exploring
You can check into The Motor Lodge for your stay, which is actually a vintage 1937 “motor court” turned hotel, with quirky, flashy interior decorations. It is also stationed right near the heart of the town as well as Whiskey Row (aka Montezuma Street), the center for saloons. Along with saloons, there are a wide assortment of shops and galleries selling beautiful original crafts and artwork. Some favorites include Van Gogh’s Ear, Arts Prescott, Artful Eye, and Kickapoo Express. Stores Ogg’s Hogan and Mountain Spirit sell antique Native American objects and paintings with Western and Native American themes, respectively.
To get a better understanding of the cultural makeup and history of the area, there are museums in town such as the Museum of Indigenous People and Sharlot Hall. For dining, there is Farm Provisions, with its twists on familiar dishes such as deviled eggs, seabass, and pork tenderloin. There is also El Gato Azul, mixing cultural flavors and ingredients seamlessly in dishes such as Chile Wontons and BBQ scallops frita. For an earlier breakfast or lunch meal, visit The Local, with its bright decor and art. When looking for a fun place to drink, check out the saloons, including Matt’s Longhorn Saloon, Back Alley Wine Bar, and Jersey Lilly Saloon.
When visiting Prescott, it is good to keep in mind that despite the whole of Arizona turning slowly more blue, the town is still very conservative. Some of the LGBTQ+ couples in the area, however, state that their general experience has been peaceful, with most people being friendly.
Cottonwood is a beautiful and important area of Arizona’s growing wine industry. For your visit, you can check in at Pines Inn and Suites, with a motel-like exterior and a vibrant, comfortable interior. They also have the only saltwater pool in the town. For brunch, make sure to visiit Crema Craft Kitchen and Bar. Afterwards, there are a myriad of wine tasting rooms and vineyards to choose from. Some favorite tasting rooms include Pillsbury Wine Company, Carlson Creek, AZ Stronghold, and Tantrum. Merkin Vineyards Osteria is considered the king, with a restaurant to boot. There, you can enjoy Le Verdure, made with vegetables harvested from Merkin’s own farms, as well as the unique “Lasagna Cupcake,”a small individual serving of lasagna. Some of the other best vineyards in the area are Page Springs Road, D.A. Ranch, Oak Creek Vineyards, Javelina Leap, and Page Spring Cellars, all showcasing the beautiful green hills outside, and each with their own perks.
Like Prescott, Cottonwood has a fair amount of other specialized shops as well, including Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders, Cat’s Meow Antiques. Larry’s Antiques, Art Glitter. For LGBTQ+ travelers, there is the gay-friendly Old Town Red Rooster Café. There are also cultural institutions focusing on the history of the Sinagua people and their artifacts, including Tuzigoot National Monument, a former village whose remains beautifully complement the scenery. There is also Dead Horse Ranch State Park, and the Verde River. Some nearby attractions include The Jail Trail nature path and the Verde Valley Railroad with its vintage cars. For a meal after a day of exploration, head fo 3 Kings Kasbar, beautiful in its own right and featuring a broad menu. There’s something here for whatever you’re craving, including blackened salmon tacos, lamb meatballs, and the chicken adobo empanadas.
Finally, there is the “oddball” Jerome, a little town on Cleopatra Hill fifteen minutes from Cottonwood. The town itself exudes personality, scattered over the mountains with a beautiful panoramic view of the valley below. Checking into Hillside House Vacation Rental, you get a whole floor to yourself, with its own kitchen, living room, and patio. Another great choice is Surgeon’s House Bed and Breakfast, with a more traditional suite style and a gorgeous garden. For breakfast, head to Mine Café for a diverse set of menu options such as the Ole Verde Burrito or the “Killer Cowboy Breakfast.”
Perhaps a bit surprisingly, the Mine Museum in town is in fact quite interesting despite being only a few small rooms. The museum includes photos, minerals, narrative signage, and a recreated mine tunnel to tell the story of the United Verde Mine and the town of saloons and brothels built around it. After the closure of the mine in 1953, the town was revived by artists moving in, giving it new life as a tourist destination. Some of the best spots for arts and crafts include Artists Coop, La Victoria, Raku Gallery, featuring glass and ceramics among others. The Rock Shop offers beautiful gemstones in their raw form, and Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes and Art Glass has their beautiful kaleidoscope collection. For those who are fans of paranormal exploration, Jerome also has a reputation of being a “haunted” town, which tourists can experience via Jerome Ghost Tours.
For more indepth exploration of the area there are the parks, including Jerome State Historic Park and Audrey Headframe Park, both of which are surrounded by artifacts from the mines and those who worked there. Restaurants of note include The Clinkscale, Asylum, located high above town, and Spirit Room, for some drinks and a sociable crowd.
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Photo: Watson Lake in the Granite Dells of Prescott, Arizona (Image by Nick Fox)