Drive about 90 minutes from Phoenix and you’ll find yourself in lovely Prescott, Arizona. Also known as ‘Everybody’s Hometown,’ this quaint town welcomes locals, tourists, and transplants alike.
The first capital of the Arizona Territory, established in 1864 under President Abraham Lincoln, Prescott’s wild frontier days saw the first annual rodeo (1888), residents marching off to Cuba under Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders (1898) and bar fights at The Palace Saloon.
With mild climate, scenic vistas, a bonanza of outdoor activities and tons of history, Prescott offers the amenities of a larger city with the down-home comforts of small-town life—whether you’re visiting for a weekend or planning to stay for a lifetime.
Aside from the great setting, the town is also a hive of social activity and community spirit. You’ll see outdoor enthusiasts out on hiking and biking tours, while culture vultures gather at Whiskey Row (officially Montezuma Street between Goodwin and Gurley Streets). Named for the 40 saloons that lined this side of the village square when it was rebuilt after being razed to the ground by a fire in 1900, this is the place to be for everything arts, culture and entertainment.
A little further afield, the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza hosts more than 100 celebrations throughout the year. The county—the largest of any in the US—sits between Prescott and Prescott Valley and is home to the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe and one of the most popular casinos in Arizona. The resort hosts live music events every week and is best known for the Gingerbread Village erected here each holiday season.
Whether Prescott is a stop off on a road trip between three of Arizona’s great National Parks or your final destination, there are a few places you’ll want to be sure to see:
Live Like a Local at Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza
This lush human-made forest is the heart of downtown Prescott. With the gridiron street pattern centered around the 4.1-acre plaza, the green space has hosted celebrations, concerts, and other gatherings for more than 140 years.
The three blocks surrounding ‘the square,’ as it’s known by locals, are home to than 300 businesses—which means there’s plenty to see and do. Dine at restaurants or hotels, visit historic sites, or browse antique shops and flea markets for unique finds.
If you’re on a budget, the plaza has something to offer, too. Take advantage of Arizona’s abundant sunshine and explore the many paths that criss-cross the square, admiring the architecture of the historic buildings that surround it, or getting a closer look at the more than 170 trees that dot the grounds.
Get Into the Spirit of Things at Whiskey Row in Prescott
Matt’s Longhorn Saloon
Perhaps the best known of the local bars, you’re guaranteed to find cold beers, fine whiskeys and good times at Matt’s. One of the last true ‘honky-tonk’ bars in Prescott, live music has been the lifeblood of the establishment since the ’60s. Big names like Buck Owens, Andy Griggs and Leland Martin have taken the stage here—Bruce Springsteen even did an impromptu performance during a visit to Matt’s in 1989.
Belly up to the bar, order your favourite drink and watch as couples two-step around the floor, or join in on the fun when everyone jumps up to dance to Copperhead Rose or Flashdance sets on a Friday or Saturday night. And if you’re looking for some interesting conversation, buy a cowboy a drink and get to know a bit more about the Wild Wild West.
The Palace Restaurant and Saloon
Arizona’s oldest bar, The Palace Saloon in Prescott burned down in the 1900 fire. It’s said that the men at the bar carried it out, crossed the street, set it down, and continued drinking. This popular watering hole has attracted famous patrons throughout its history. Virgil and Wyatt Earp, along with their pal Doc Holliday regularly frequented The Palace during the 1870s prior to heading to Tombstone. And 100 years later, the bar hosted Steve McQueen for the filming of Junior Bonner.
A favorite restaurant for visitors and locals alike, the bar staff dress in full cowboy gear—you may also come across a real Arizona Ranger—from the hat and boots to the occasional polished sheriff’s badge.
Grab a drink and wander among the ephemera of yesteryear. Wander off to the right and take a moment at the memorial to pay a thought to the 19 Granite Mountain HotShots who lost their lives in the 2013 Yarnell fire. Then browse the rest of the walls to immerse yourself in the history of Prescott and the Wild West.
The Treat Center on Courthouse Square
The Treat Center on Courthouse Square is the place to visit if you’re looking to take your taste buds on a trip down memory lane—or get your sweet tooth better acquainted with some of the U.S. candy classics.
With the smell of treacle and nostalgia permeating the air, you’ll be forgiven for behaving like a big kid when entering this Willy Wonka-esque wonderland. The five-and-dime stores of your youth have nothing on The Treat Center, from gourmet popcorn popped in a 50-year-old air popper to nut brittles, fudge and ice cream, everything is made in house and with passion.
Head to The Treat Center after a day exploring Prescott or the nearby trails to lift your spirits and give you that burst of energy you’ll need to revel in the evening’s festivities at any of Whiskey Row’s many watering holes.
Learn About Prescott Outdoors at Sharlot Hall Museum
If you’re a history buff—or you just want to learn a little bit more about Arizona’s cultural heritage—Sharlot Hall Museum promises to offer insight into Prescott’s past. Set on four acres of land in downtown Prescott, the open-air museum comprises 11 buildings that showcase the history of the area from prehistoric times up to the 1920s.
Spend a full day here or visit a few of the stand-out buildings for a whistle stop tour through Arizona’s history.
Built in 1864, this is the oldest building still standing in its original location in the Arizona Territory. Visitors step back in time as they walk through the doors of this ‘mansion,’ which is decorated based on a description that resident Margaret McCormick gave in a letter she wrote about her “home” in 1866.
The Transportation Building
Before the transportation building was turned into a museum, it served as an automotive repair shop. Here, you’ll find a collection of the vehicles that helped build America, from a stagecoach to a Ford Model-T.
Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden
Laying on the north side of the Governor’s Mansion, is the stunning Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden. Dedicated to the pioneering and frontier women who were integral in settling Arizona and paving the way for others to make a life in the state.
Walk the Halls of the Historic Hassayampa Inn
An Apache word meaning ‘the river that loses itself,’ Hassayampa is the perfect for this old-world hotel where patrons have been escaping the outside world to emerge refreshed and relaxed for nearly a century.
The elaborate stained glass windows, high ceilings and artfully restored historic features harken back to a time of elegance and extravagance when greats like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Georgia O’Keeffe roamed the halls. And still do, if the ghost stories about room 426 are to be believed.
Whether you’re staying in Prescott for a little while or a long time, the Hassayampa Inn has you covered. From the historic lobby filled with artifacts from years gone by to the hotel bar that hosts live music events, and the Peacock Dining Room, there seems to be little reason to leave. Although the prime location of the Hassayampa means that you’re within a stone’s throw of Whiskey Row.
Enjoy Farm-to-Table Fare at Farm Provisions Restaurant
This small farm-to-table eatery promises simple food, elevated. And they definitely deliver. Seasonal menus feature Arizonan produce sourced from nearby farms and suppliers, ensuring that diners are treated to fare that will delight foodies from Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale while supporting Prescott’s local producers.
Farm Provisions is perfect for dinner after a day on the trails, or to line your stomach before heading to any of the bars on Whiskey Row. Just be sure to book a table.
Navigate the Mile-High Trail System
One of the best things about Prescott is the sheer volume of things to do no matter your interests. And hiking is no exception.
Before spending a day on the trails, stop at the Hike Shop at the edge of the Square to get all the gear and maps you’ll need. Or download the City of Prescott’s hiking app to navigate the more than 100 miles of trails, including the Rails-to-Trails projects along the former Santa Fe Railroad.
For each of these, you’ll want to be sure to wear good walking shoes or hiking boots and, if you’re taking your pooch along, remember to keep them leashed.
The iconic symbol of Prescott offers three paths to climb. Two at the trailhead by the parking lot, one just a little further up the road. Be sure to take plenty of water and take time to rest—and enjoy the scenery—during the climb. The 1,000-foot ascent can be tough, but the views from the top to Granite Mountain, the San Francisco Peaks and the valley below are well worth it.
Ascend any one of the 15 trails in the Granite Mountain Recreation Area, but only two go into the wilderness—and only one of those will take you to the peak. To get to the top, start at the Metate Trailhead and navigate the paths that pass through woodland and between massive granite boulders to reach Granite Mountain Vista for breathtaking views of the deep blue Granite Basin Lake below, and the Granite Dells and Bradshaw Mountains beyond.
Watson Lake Park
This beautiful area among the Granite Dells are said to contain energy similar to a Sedona vortex. Start to the left to avoid getting lost. It’s a moderately difficult hike that requires scrambling in a few spots and dodging hidden waterfalls that spout among the coves. But once you’re up and over, it’s a relatively easy walk along the lake.