Sedona, Payson and Flagstaff are some of the usual places we Phoenicians sally forth to when it’s time for a change of scenery or pace of life. They offer beautiful terrain, great places to eat and an abundance of activities for a weekend away. But if you’re in the mood for something a little different and a lot quirky, head a few hours south to the cozy, colorful town of Bisbee.
At the turn of the 20th century, Bisbee was the center of a booming mining industry, and would later be recognized as one of the richest mineral sites in the world. The Queen Mine, or the motherload, produced silver, lead, zinc, millions of ounces of gold and billions—yes, billions of pounds of copper.
Today, the mine is no longer in operation, except as a tourist attraction, but its abundance can still be found in the form of jewelry, accessories and artwork available all over town. One thing that sets Bisbee apart are the homes (in every shape, color and size) that precariously scale the canyon walls. When the land was first being developed for habitation, it had to be divvied up into irregular, sometimes nearly-vertical parcels to accommodate all the miners. Because they weren’t able to build out, they had to build up, leaving many of the plots accessible only by stairs.
Bisbee is also known for its historic staircases. Because the homes, and many parts of the town, literally had to be climbed to, the miners set up an impressive network of wooden staircases. These now concrete stairs are still used today to get from one place to the other, and are also a great draw for tourists. In fact, every October, the town hosts one of the most unique and challenging races in the world, the Bisbee 1000 The Great Stair Climb. The 4.5-mile course takes runners through some of the most picturesque parts of town, and up and down nine prominent staircases.
Today, tourism is the town’s main source of revenue, and just like in mining times, business is booming. Main Street, which officially starts once you round a corner at the Copper Queen Library (Arizona’s oldest public library), is a long, curving stretch of art galleries, shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and antique shops. The entire town is something of a treasure trove, with a unique find literally around every corner; be it jewel-encrusted sidewalks, a tiny, gothic church, hidden fountains or a giant sock-monkey painted on the side of the building.
Resident and amateur sculptor Dennis Blue says it was the free-spirited nature of the town that drew him in nearly 15 years ago.
“I’d just retired,” he says, “My wife and I were visiting Tombstone, and someone told us about this little hippie town about 20 minutes down the road. So, we came to give it a look, and never left. Just the people, the freedom—nobody cares what you do, it’s a pretty place, everyone’s friendly. It’s just a special place.”
WHERE TO STAY
Copper Queen Hotel
One of the town’s most popular hubs of activity, the Copper Queen Hotel, offers comfortable accommodations, vista views of the town and surrounding landscape, a lobby shop with jewelry, gemstones and antiques for sale, hearty American fare in the 1902 Spirit Room Restaurant, and live music on the front patio. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, private baths, a roof-top pool, and is within steps of some of Bisbee’s most popular spots.
Copper Queen Hotel; 11 Howell Avenue.
For more: copperqueen.com.
WHERE TO EAT
Bisbee Breakfast Club
Make visiting this popular eatery a must on your list of things to do while visiting Bisbee. Located about a mile south of Bisbee proper, on Erie Street, BBC offers no-frills, made-from-scratch, delicious home cooking. Visit for breakfast to experience one of its signature skillet dishes and a massive buttermilk biscuit, or take a load off in the airy surroundings to enjoy a cooked-to-order burger and some homemade pie. BBC is open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Bisbee Breakfast Club; 75 Erie Street.
For more: bisbeebreakfastclub.com.
WHAT TO DO
Queen Mine Tour
Put on the proffered rain jacket, helmet and flashlight, and prepare to take a fascinating trip back in time, exploring the mine that made Bisbee what it is today. The Queen Mine Tour, led by former mine workers, takes visitors 1,500 feet into the depths of the earth aboard a mine trolley. Witness the original wooden supports created by the miners to burrow through the ground; climb up dark, narrow ladders and behold cavernous alcoves that once contained tons of precious minerals; and see how the miners worked, lived and even died. For the hour-long tour, long pants and close-toed shoes are recommended, as temperatures in the mine can reach as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The mine is open daily, times vary and visitors are encouraged to call ahead to check times and book reservations. Adult tickets are $13, and children ages 6-12 are $5.50 (children under 6 not allowed).
Queen Mine Tour; 478 N. Dart Road.
For more: bisbeearizona.com.