Charming small towns in Arizona

Sprawled out cacti & palm tree loaded metropolises like Phoenix and Tucson usually come to mind first when picturing Arizona. While these 2 massive metros area take up the majority of the Southern portion of the state, there is another side to Arizona that many non-locals are unaware of. A number of charming small cities & towns comprise central and northern Arizona. Many of these quaint touristy cities are popular vacation destinations for S. Arizona residents fleeing the heat and tourists alike. Their popularity as 2nd home residences continues to grow as well due to the attractive seasonal climate and close proximity to many natural wonders.

Gorgeous scenery along the South Kalibab trail at the Grand Canyon.
Did you know that you can hike the Grand Canyon? Gorgeous scenery along the South Kalibab trail at the Grand Canyon.

While Phoenix and Tucson have come to be associated with brutally hot & seemingly endless 100+ degree temps for months on end, an overabundance of shopping malls (although on the contrary there is more to do in Phoenix besides simply shopping!), and more big box stores over independent businesses, these 7 small towns listed below offer a more local laid-back atmosphere with access to breathtaking lush natural landscapes which are just not found in the Sonoran desert. Take a look at my favorite quaint towns in Arizona! Note: I would rank Flagstaff first, Sedona second, and Prescott or Jerome a distant third in terms of must-visit destinations.


Uptown Sedona
Uptown Sedona – a lively area with boutique shops, restaurants, art galleries, and most importantly, amazing red rock view!

It’s hard to believe that at one time Sedona was a sleepy one stoplight town with nothing more than neverending views of the gorgeous red rocks. Fast forward a few decades and Sedona, aka as Red Rock Country, has become one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Southwest. Many restaurants, resorts, spas, and tour companies have set up shop here, and it seems there is no end in sight.

Oak Creek Canyon, the picturesque 14 mile drive between Flagstaff and Sedona, is the 2nd most visited tourist attraction next to the Grand Canyon. Today, you can do much more in Sedona besides hiking. The diverse activities which can comprise your vacation itinerary include jeep and trolley tours, vortex tours, wine tastings, spa treatments, dining at fancy restaurants, and so much more.

Devil's Bridge hike in Sedona, Arizona
The Devil’s Bridge trail is the standout trail in Sedona. This moderate trail takes you on a scenic adventure to the largest natural sandstone arch in the area!
Breathtaking scenery from the Sugarloaf Trail in Sedona AZ
Breathtaking panoramic views from the Teacup/Sugarloaf Summit trail – an easy trail which is really close to town. It’s a must-do!
Amazing scenery climbing up Doe Mountain in Sedona AZ
Incredible views from the Doe Mountain trail, a moderately challenging 0.7 mile climb up to the mesa of Doe Mountain.
Delicious breakfast food at Indian Gardens in Sedona AZ
Delicious healthy breakfast fare & great views at Indian Gardens, a quaint cafe along Oak Creek Canyon drive.
Peaceful winter creek views
Creekside snow along the West Fork Trail
Beautiful red rock views along Oak Creek Canyon drive
One of many stunning views along Oak Creek Canyon Drive.
Mocha french toast at Che Ah Chi in Sedona AZ
Delicious chocolate mocha French Toast at Che-Ah-Chi at the Enchantment Resort.
Dining alongside the red rocks at Che-Ah-Chi at the gorgeous Enchantment Resort.
Dining alongside the red rocks at Che-Ah-Chi at the gorgeous Enchantment Resort.

Sedona draws in a really diverse crowd which includes photographers, hikers, nature lovers, couples seeking a romantic getaway, those seeking a little R&R via a luxury spa weekend, and even families seeking a non traditional vacation destination that offers something a bit different than a typical go-to pick like say Orlando. Spiritual seekers and the New age crowd see the area as a place of healing and enlightenment. Sedona is now a spiritual escape with many healing providers in various modalities setting up shop. Sedona is also home to many vortex sites, which are basically areas of concentrated energy which arise naturally from the Earth. Supposedly, these sacred sites can balance natural energies & heal anyone who crosses path.

Twisted juniper tree a vortex site on the Bell Rock trail in Sedona AZ
A twisted juniper tree like this one found at Bell Rock (a vortex site) supposedly means there is an intense presence of healing energy in the area.
Great views from the summit of the Airport Mesa loop hiking trail in Sedona, Arizona
Gorgeous views from the Airport Mesa trail – one of 4 hiking vortexes in the area.
Sedona's Chapel of the Holy Cross surrounded by red rock formations
The Chapel of the Holy Cross, a unique architectural wonder built in between 2 red rock formations, is said to be the most powerful vortex site in Sedona.
A view of Sedona's stunning rock formations from The Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona AZ
Amazing views from The Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Hundreds of miles of trails loaded with the most jaw dropping landscapes you will likely ever lay your eyes upon, easily makes Sedona the ideal destination for hikers & photographers alike. However, Sedona is also home to a number of relaxing activities (spas, scenic drives) which compliment an intense day out in nature, therefore, making it a great place for a healthy, yet rejuvenating vacation. In Sedona, you can enjoy a wonderful fitness hike in the morning, followed by a great spa treatment at a luxury resort, and then dinner at a nice restaurant. Any nature/fitness buff that would like to enjoy a bit of the great outdoors without giving up all the pampering and luxury, should definitely look into Sedona as a vacation destination.

Where to stay: The gorgeous Enchantment Resort
Where to dine: Indian Gardens, Cucina Rustica, and The Hudson. For great views, plan for breakfast at Che-Ah-Chi in the Enchantment. For an allergy friendly meal, you cannot beat the 100% gluten-free menu at Picazzo’s.
What to do: Check the top 10 things to do in Sedona & 12 Sedona Hikes with Stunning views.


Downtown Prescott, Arizona courthouse

Prescott, a.k.a. “Everybody’s Hometown,” is a North Central Arizona town known for its’ historic charm and unique cowboy ambiance. The slogan “Everybody’s Hometown” arises from the assumption that people from all over should be able to find something here that reminds them of home. The city is well known for its’ traditional Christmas festival which includes a grand lighting of over million lights in the historic Yavapai County courthouse square. Prescott is referred to as “Arizona’s Christmas City.”

Prescott courthouse Christmas Lights
The gorgeous Christmas light display at the Yavapai County Courthouse downtown.

The highlight here, and the reason Prescott draws so many tourists despite its’ small size, is due to the attractive old-fashioned downtown. Prescott’s claim to fame is Whiskey Row, named as so for the large number of saloons located on the same block (at one point in history, 40 saloons existed!). Today, the streets of downtown are lined with pretty Victorian homes & businesses, local restaurants, and cowboy western themed shops, with the beautiful historic courthouse as the centerpiece.

Whiskey Row Prescott Arizona
Cuppers Coffeehouse in Prescott Arizona
Cuppers Coffeehouse – one of many local businesses downtown. Try out a slice of homemade quiche paired with a great espresso!
Homemade marinara at Papa's Italian in Prescott AZ
Delicious authentic Marinara pasta! Best Italian restaurant in Prescott!

Dozens of hiking trails within the Prescott National Forest (check out Thumb Butte), 4 lakes, and a wonderful bike path known as the National Peavine Recreational Trail, make the area popular with all types of outdoor enthusiasts. And,don’t worry if you are not an outdoor buff, there’s plenty for you too. Attractions include a small zoo, a number of historical museums, breweries, art galleries, and even a small casino.

Gorgeous views kayaking Lynx Lake in Prescott AZ
Kayaking on beautiful Lynx Lake is a favorite summer past time!
Thumb Butte trail in Prescott, Arizona
Gorgeous scenery hiking Thumb Butte
Peavine National Recreation Trail in Prescott, Arizona
The gorgeous Peavine National Recreational trail, one of just a handful of rail trails in Arizona.

Prescott offers just enough amenities for a nice weekend trip, yet not enough to overwhelm and stress you out. And you cannot beat the rare-for-AZ 4 season climate. Prescott frequently rates as having the best four season climate in the country!

Where to stay: Prescott Resort and Conference Center (great views and nice amenities)
Where to dine: Papa’s Italian Restaurant, Bistro St. Michael, Rosa’s Pizzeria
What to do: Check out my top 10 things to do in Prescott


Summer wildflowers in Flagstaff, Arizona

Although Flagstaff technically would not be considered a small town with a population of over 70,000 and millions of tourists visiting each year, it is quite small in comparison to the mega metro areas of Tucson and Phoenix. To anyone visiting from Southern Arizona, Flagstaff feels like a quaint little escape in the mountains. Flagstaff is just a 2 hour drive from Phoenix, and thus, a very popular cool summer escape. At an altitude of 7000 feet, the weather is considerably cooler. The distinct 4 season climate includes mild summers rarely topping 85 degrees, a spectacular fall foliage season, and very snowy winters. Fall is by far the most gorgeous time. In mid-late September, the high altitude trails see some of the most amazing foliage in the country.

Striking yellow foliage at Aspen Corner in Flagstaff
Aspen Corner along Snowbowl Rd. is a fall hotspot for photography and hiking.
Aspens at peak on the Inner Basin Trail in Flagstaff
Strolling through towering golden aspens on the Inner Basin trail, a steep climb of about a mile and a half which meanders through some of the most amazing foliage in the West.
Beautiful fall colors at Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff, Arizona - the Aspen Nature Loop
The gorgeous Aspen Nature Loop at Snowbowl, an easy 1.5 mile loop through the pines and golden aspens.

Flagstaff’s. prime benefit is its’ convenient central location for exploring many of the Southwest’s most stunning natural wonders. Wonderful daytrips abound in Northern Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern Utah, and all are less than 4 hours away. Of course, Flagstaff is most well-known for being just an hour or so from the Grand Canyon, and attracts millions of tourists each year due to this fact. However, the city also lies within a half day’s drive to many other wonderful places. Top picks include Walnut Canyon (20 min), Zion National Park (4 hrs), Horseshoe Bend (2hr), Sedona (30 min). Overall, it is just the perfect place to begin all your outdoor adventures in the Southwest as it is never too far away from these natural wonders, and yet is also home to a number of amenities on its’ own.

Ancient cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff, AZ
One of numerous cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon, a gorgeous natural wonder just 7 miles outside of Flagstaff.
Beautiful overlook along the Emerald Pools trail at Zion National Park
Views from the stunning Emerald Pools trail at Zion National Park, an easy 4 hour day trip from Flagstaff.
Beautiful Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona
Beautiful Horseshoe Bend is located in Page, an easy 2 hour day trip from Flagstaff.

Flagstaff is home to a lively Main Street. Compared to the highly suburban Phoenix and Tucson, Flagstaff feels a bit more local with more independent businesses and restaurants. It’s easy to get around town and there are not a million chains crowding the streets. There are numerous small town events during the year including a hometown 4th of July Parade, pumpkin patches, farmers markets and art fairs, music fests, and much more. The coffee shops here are really great and there are many to choose amongst. Late for the Train is a wonderful local roaster with a convenient location downtown.

Flagstaff is a prime destination for hiking due to the beautiful mountain scenery, cool weather, and beautiful pines and aspens lining the trails. There are a number of wonderful trails around town check out 12 of my favorite Flagstaff trails to get started.

Stunning views of the San Francisco Peaks from the Slate Mountain trail near Flagstaff, Arizona
Slate Mountain, the most underrated & underused trail in Flagstaff. A gorgeous moderate climb to stunning views of the Peaks! A must-do for any hikers visiting the area!

Flagstaff is home to Arizona Snowbowl, one of the state’s only ski resorts and also a prime place to hike. There are 3 trails at Snowbowl, all of which are great for year-round use. From cool hiking in the summer, to fall leaf peeping in the autumn, to snowshoeing in the winter, you will never get bored.

Beautiful views along the Kachina Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
Towering pines along the Kachina Trail at Arizona Snowbowl. At 8-9000 feet and 20 degrees cooler, it’s the perfect cool summer escape!
Golden aspens in the fall along the Aspen Nature Loop in Flagstaff
The Aspen Nature Loop is the perfect year-round trail. At just over a mile and a half, it’s a good option for hikers of all levels. Plus, it’s incredibly picturesque with scenic mountain vistas, towering pines and aspens, and the most golden hues come fall!
Snowshoeing the Aspen Nature Loop in Flagstaff, AZ
Snowshoeing the Aspen Nature Loop at Snowbowl during the snowy winter season. Snowbowl receives over 200 inches per year so there is always enough on the ground even when the snow melts in town.

Whether you are looking to escape the brutal heat of the desert, seeking a beautiful autumn getaway, looking to rent a cabin in the snowy pines, or simply looking for a great base to explore the natural wonders of the Southwest, Flagstaff is a destination worth checking out.

Where to stay: Little America, Doubletree, Drury Inn & Suites. Unfortunately, there are not many resorts or mountain style lodging options. Some cabin rentals are available in Kachina Village.
Where to dine: Delhi Palace (best Indian food anywhere), Salsa Brava, Oregano’s
What to do: Hiking, Day trips to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, national parks, stroll around the historic downtown. Also check out my guide to the 101 best things to do in Northern Arizona.


Historic downtown Williams Arizona

Williams, whose claim to fame is being the last Rt 66 town to be bypassed by I-40, is a popular tourist destination in the summer months due to the close proximity (just an hour) to the Grand Canyon. A popular train ride known as the Grand Canyon Railway offers a convenient, albeit a bit overpriced, alternative mode of transportation to this natural wonder. In fact, the town’s slogan is “Gateway to the Grand Canyon.” This little community tends to get super busy at 2 times of the year: Summer Grand Canyon season and during the winter when the seasonal Polar Express train ride (based on the children’s holiday classic) opens up.

The Grand Canyon Railway traveling through the high altitude pines of Northern Arizona
The railway traveling through the high altitude pines of N. Arizona
The Polar Express train ride in Williams, Arizona
The Polar Express train ride all decked out for the holidays.

The rest of the year it is a pretty quiet, laid-back place to base your Northern Arizona vacation. Like Flagstaff, the town is conveniently located within a short drive to many wonderful natural attractions. Being that it is nestled in the high altitude ponderosa pine forest of Northern Arizona, there are plenty of great hikes within the Kalibab National Forest to enjoy (check out Kendrick Mountain and Keyhole Sink). Other must-do’s include visiting Bearizona (a top rated drive-thru wildlife park), exploring Rt 66 memorabilia shops and themed diners downtown, and planning a day trip to Flagstaff (home to Humphrey’s Peak: the tallest peak in Arizona at 12637 ft).

Williams Arizona Route 66 sign
Route 66 gift shop in Williams Arizona
An abundance of Rt 66 themed diners and memorabilia gift shops should keep you busy for a few hours!
Homemade pie at Pine Country Restaurant in Williams AZ
Dozens of unique flavors of homemade pie await you at Pine Country restaurant.
Bobcat at Bearizona in Williams, Arizona
No visit to Williams is complete with a visit to Bearizona! A scenic drive-thru the park, as well as a walk thru section, will give you an upclose views of animals in a setting mimicking their natural environment.
Beautiful views from the Keyhole Sink trail in Williams AZ
Gorgeous views from the Keyhole Sink trail – a must-do for nature lovers visiting Williams.
The historic hotel Monte Vista in downtown Flagstaff AZ
Downtown Flagstaff – home to lots of independent restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, and the Monte Vista, one of the most haunted hotels in America!
Beautiful mountain views on the Aspen Nature Loop in Flagstaff
A day trip to Flagstaff to explore the various trails at Snowbowl is a must!
Flagstaff is the premier leaf peeping destination in Arizona. The foliage here rivals some of the best in New England.

Overall, Williams is a great base for exploring the many national parks and monuments scattered all over Northern Arizona. For those seeking quiet, Williams is much less hectic that the more popular alternative, Flagstaff. Williams is also closer to the Grand Canyon than Flagstaff.

Where to stay: Grand Canyon Railway Hotel for easy access to the train ride
Where to dine: Red Raven Cafe, Pine Country diner
What to do: Check out 10 of my favorite things to do in Williams


Historic Main St in Payson Arizona
Historic Main St. in Payson Arizona

Payson is a tiny little community of just 5000 or so in the central portion of the state, about an hour and a half north of Phoenix. Payson is located in the heart of scenic Rim Country, surrounded by the beautiful Tonto National Forest. Thus, there is plenty in the way of outdoor recreation. Payson’s motto is “Arizona’s coolest mountain town.” Due to the high elevation (5000 feet), Payson sees a pleasant 4 season climate, with temps rarely reaching the 100’s like Phoenix, and occasional snow, although it melts pretty quickly. This attractive climate makes it a popular vacation destination for Southern Arizona residents fleeing the summer heat, as well as those seeking some traditional winter snow & a more rustic ambiance.

A scenic drive near Payson Arizona
The beautiful scenery surrounding Payson.

The highlight of visiting Payson is the close proximity to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, a gorgeous underrated gem which is home to the world’s largest natural travertine bridge and a natural waterfall. Other things to do in Payson include visiting the small Mazatzal Casino, browsing antique shops, hiking within the Tonto National Forest, stargazing, leaf peeping in the fall, and checking out local restaurants, shops, and galleries. A drive along the scenic Mogollon Rim featuring dramatic panoramas of ponderosa pine trees is a much – check out the section between Strawberry and Payson. If you happen to be visiting around the holidays, Payson puts on a number of festive events including a great Electric Light Parade.

A gorgeous waterfall at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
A gorgeous waterfall at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Largest natural travertine bridge at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Largest natural travertine bridge at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Beautiful scenery along the Gowan Trail at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Beautiful scenery along the Gowan Trail at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Antique shop in Payson Arizona
One of numerous antique shops in downtown Payson.
Fajitas at La Sierra Mexican Restaurant in Payson, Arizona
La Sierra – one of the best dining choices in this small town. Delicious fajitas!

Payson is a nice destination to rent a cabin and get away from it all for a while. It’s not overly crowded or touristy like the more popular Northern Arizona destinations. It’s still within an easy drive to many natural wonders (Grand Canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff, Petrified National Forest, Walnut Canyon). The advantage here is that you have a quieter base to return to.

Where to stay: Cabins on Strawberry Hill
Where to dine: La Sierra Mexican Restaurant, Fargo Steakhouse
What to do: Visit Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Hike the Horton Creek Trail, antique shopping, a scenic drive along the Mogollon Rim


Historic downtown Jerome AZ

Jerome is often referred to as the “largest ghost town in America.” Although the community was once a thriving copper mining town, the Great Depression led to mines closing. Thus, a population which once topped 15,000 dwindled down to almost nothing, hence the nickname. Today, the population sits at approx. 400, although it is a thriving tourist town due to its’ gorgeous location atop Cleopatra Hill overlooking the beautiful Verde Valley.

Other highlights include a thriving arts community (over 20 galleries!), close proximity to natural attractions, well regarded vineyards and wine tasting rooms, and long paranormal history/festive Halloween celebrations. The New York Sun once referred to Jerome as “the wickedest town in the West,” due to the area’s reputation as being a gambling and prostitution hotspot- today you will find that the area is much different.

Historic Liberty Theater in downtown Jerome AZ
The Liberty Theater, which opened up in 1918, screened silent movies and vaudeville acts. Today, it is a museum, gift shop, and working theater. It’s a neat experience to watch a film back as you would in the 20’s.
House of Joy in Jerome AZ
The House of Joy, once a brothel, then a restaurant, and now operates as a boutique shop. Hull Avenue was once a hotbed for prostitution.
Picturesque views from The Asylum Restaurant in Jerome AZ
Picturesque views of the Verde Valley from the Jerome Grand Hotel

The most interesting aspect of the town is the long history of paranormal occurrences. In fact, Jerome has been said to be one of the most haunted towns in the country. Legends of ghost hauntings go back decades and still continue today! At one point, the town even published a Jerome Ghost Post. The community center is nicknamed Spook Hall due to the repeated number of strange occurrences over the years. A ghostly cat has been sighted by numerous guests at the Mile High Inn.

Mile High Inn in Jerome, Arizona
Mile High Inn is one of Jerome’s most haunted buildings. Do not be surprised if you see a ghostly cat!

The ghost of miner “Headless Charlie” who died in a gruesome accident is said to still roam the area. And the Jerome Grand Hotel, once an asylum, is so haunted that guests often end up sleeping in the lobby! You can take a ghost tour anytime of the year, although it is more fun around Halloween! You’ll learn more about all the ghostly sightings and even get to test out ghost hunting equipment. Jerome is a popular Arizona Halloween destination. The town goes all out with a number of events. If visiting in October, do check out the crazy decorations at the Jerome Grand Hotel/Asylum Restaurant.

Nice Halloween decor and great views from The Asylum Restaurant in Jerome Arizona
Spooky decor, great views, and mild weather make an October visit to Jerome a must!
Asylum Restaurant at the Jerome Grand Hotel
The haunted Jerome Grand Hotel

Jerome is an Arizona town rich in history, with beautiful old architecture and an artsy vibe. While here, you can stroll around and enjoy the gorgeous scenery of the Verde Valley, learn about the town’s history at Jerome State Park, dine at the beautiful Asylum Restaurant, enjoy local Arizona wine at one of the many tasting rooms, check out local art galleries (a popular Art Walk is held the 1st Sat of each month), and browse around independent shops. Additionally, Jerome is located just a short drive from Prescott, Sedona, and Flagstaff. If visiting, you can easily check out all the great attractions in these areas as well.

Where to stay: The Jerome Grand Hotel
Where to dine: Asylum Restaurant, Haunted Hamburger
What to do: Ghost tour at the Jerome Grand Hotel, Visit Jerome State Historic Park, Wine tasting at Cellar 433.


Honey Stand in Pine Arizona
Be sure to stop for some local honey at The Honey Stand in pine! There are so many different varieties of delicious homemade honey available!

Pine and Strawberry are 2 tiny communities in North Central Arizona. These tiny towns are becoming more and more popular with 2nd home owners seeking a quiet escape in the countryside. As the elevation varies between 5000-6000 feet, the summer temps stay much cooler than Phoenix. No surprise that it is a popular weekend summer weekend destination. Both towns are part of the gorgeous Mogollon Rim Country area, which is located within a large ponderosa pine forest.

Pines lining the road near Pine Arizona
Gorgeous ponderosa pine forest surrounds Pine and Strawberry.
Driving through Pine Arizona
Beautiful countryside scenery in rural Pine.

Antique shopping is one of the most popular past times in Pine. You will not find a lot of big box stores nor chains here, thus the basis of its’ appeal for those seeking a laid-back day trip/vacation. There are a few cute local restaurants like The Randall House which features a nice shady outdoor patio. A stop at Pine Creek Fudge and Ice Cream is a must and they are also one of the few places serving espresso drinks (sorry, no Starbucks here!).

Espresso at Pine Creek Fudge Ice Cream & Espresso
Stop for a great espresso drink and slice of homemade fudge at Pine Creek Fudge Ice Cream & Espresso. They have a great patio where you can enjoy your treats in the beautiful country air!
Randall House in Pine Arizona
A beautiful country setting at the Randall House in Pine.
Moose Mouintain gift shop in Pine Arizona
Moose Mountain Antiques and gifts – a must-see!
Antique shops in Pine Arizona
Antique shops in Pine

Strawberry is home to the oldest schoolhouse in Arizona, founded in 1885.

As both areas are surrounded by the Tonto National Forest, there are plenty of trails for outdoor enthusiasts to take advantage of. And of course, you must visit the gorgeous Tonto Natural Bridge State park, located just a short drive away in Payson. Enjoy the small town ambiance of these 2 cute towns by renting a rustic cabin in the woods or spend the night in a cozy bed and breakfast.

Beautiful views at Tonto Natural Bridge State Forest near Payson, AZ
The magnificent waterfall near the end of the Pine trail at Tonto Natural Bridge. This challenging hike involves climbing over various boulders, however, the ending view of the natural bridge & waterfall makes all your hard effort worth it!
Hint of fall color along the Pine Trail at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Hint of fall color along the Pine Trail at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Where to stay: Cabins on Strawberry Hill
Where to dine: Randall House
What to do: Antique shopping (check out Moose Mountain Gifts & Antiques), Hike at Fossil Springs, Pick up some local honey at The Honey Stand