Last Spring I featured Bisbee in a Spring break story, and I’m back again this year, there is just too much to do in this revived ghost town. My close friends often give me a hard time for avoiding kid friendly destinations like Disney World & Lego Land. To me real cities give me better bang for my hard earned buck. I want my son to have a thirst for history and culture, not pop culture. For my wife you can’t beat the romance of walking hand in hand through a historic neighborhood. Further, I could take three vacations to Bisbee for the price of one trip to Disney Land. This time around we treated Bisbee like a yummy foodie theme park.
Places to Stay
Before I get to the food, let’s talk about where to stay. For a while I’ve been researching renting homes for my vacations both short and long. Websites like VRBO.com (click here) are a great resource. In my case I didn’t regret the decision. Although it felt riskier because rental homes host fewer guests so it was a little harder to find review information on them. I found a rental property called Above and Beyond Rentals. It is actually two adjoined homes. There is a two bedroom small home and a connected studio style little house in the back. The property rested five minutes from downtown Bisbee the perfect distance for my family. Don’t go somewhere like Bisbee if you aren’t up for some walking. The studio was booked so I can only attest for the two bedroom home. It was clean (sparkling-ultra clean), comfortable, and cute. Plus, it could be had for twenty to thirty dollars cheaper than many of the hotels. Bisbee is a kid friendly and dog friendly community, but oddly I found many places that failed to offer accommodations for dogs or kids. Make sure to double check before you book a room. Also this is not a chain friendly city, if you are uncomfortable staying in a mom and pop joint, then don’t go because you won’t find one for at least twenty miles. I peeked around at the places downtown, the Letson Loft looked nice as did the Copper Queen a local historic landmark famously bought at auction for only one dollar when the town almost died in the seventies. Down the street The Inn at Castle Rock looked a little dirty and unkempt. Rooms range from $79 to around $180. On the affordable end of things the cozy studio from Above and Beyond rentals could be had for $86- a great deal for a traveling couple. A Letson Loft room with two queen beds costs $150 and would accommodate a small family.
Family Friendly Food
There are visitors to Bisbee who come just for the food. Usually, on a road trip we like to do some of our own cooking to keep prices down (and waist-lines too). We had little self control in Bisbee. You can’t hardly throw a rock without hitting an excellent restaurant. Located a few minutes walk from my rental is High Desert Market Cafe a down home spot with the best pie for breakfast around (yes I have a thing for eating pie for breakfast and never for dessert). I loved their Key Lime Pie, and my son devoured his Tres Leches Cake. Other then being a good cafe this place is notable because it includes a nice market with Mexican pottery, and quality food and wine to bring home. On my visit they were selling bottles of my favorite local wine Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards.
Screaming Banshee Pizzeria disappointed me. This place has been glowingly reviewed for their pizza oven. The service was good. The crust crisped just right and on a Tuesday night they packed the people in. I ordered a sausage and mushroom pie with house made Italian sausage. The meat was dry and flavorless. My wife and her mother split a veggie pizza that was scant on toppings, and the cheese slid right off whenever they took a bite. My son ate half of his personal cheese pizza, but only after covering it in olive oil, salt, and Parmesan- boys. I’ve definitely had worse pizza, but I’ve also had much better for the price. Arizona Highways declared these guys one of the 25 best restaurants in Arizona, and I suspect they are now coasting on their reputation alone.
Again I have to talk about two places with Bisbee in their name. Old Bisbee Brewing Company and Bisbee Coffee Company each craft well balanced and affordable brews. One’s for breakfast and the other is for later in the day, you decide which is which.
To me Mexican food is best home cooked or from a hole-in-the-wall joint, but I looked past my prejudice and ate at Santiagos anyway. I’m glad I did. It was not greasy and tasted fresh. We planned to visit the much hyped Cafe Roka but opted for Santiagos only because they were open during the day and Cafe Roka is not. I’m glad it worked out because their shredded beef was juicy and flavorful- all four of us left happy and not weighed down.
If a smaller more wild west version of San Francisco sounds like your kind of thing- you’ll never need to leave town. You can take the trolley, a Jeep tour, a ghost hunting tour, visit a mining museum, soak in the opulent architecture left behind from the vast riches of Arizona’s mining industry, buy an expensive heirloom art piece or antique, and burn a few hundred calories taking a jog through their winding and hilly streets. However, if you’re staying a bit longer the town can be used as a jumping off point to explore more of southeastern Arizona. Cowboys, miners, natives, farmers, history and geology collide in this region. I recommend a classic book, Ghost Towns of Arizona by James and Barbara Sherman. It is a great guide to finding real history in Cochise County. Old mines and ruins of short lived boom communities can spark your imagination. Speaking of going underground, Kartchner Caverns is just outside of Benson. Saint David is a cute community along a river bank and a nice pit stop with a farmers market. Farther away and still in Cochise County you’ll find Willcox a sleepy farming community with the Rex Allen Museum and boutique wineries like Carlson Creek it is a great place for a couple to sample some wines while the kids play in the nearby park. Also check out Cochise Stronghold or the Wonderland of Rocks. There is one other tourist destination which I’ll address below.
Most visitors will pass through Tombstone on the way to Bisbee, so I’ll address this place even though for many it is it’s own separate destination. There is this weird love hate relationship that I have with the city of Tombstone. I love Western Culture and I understand that it is a western Icon, but to me it is like Disney Land with cowboys. I arrived on a Monday and the city brimmed with activities. However, there wasn’t a smiling face to be found. I took my son to the shooting gallery, where you use a real revolver to shoot at wood targets with paint bullets. We loved it. $12 dollars and four minutes later and we were both ready to leave Tombstone. There are multiple wild west shows with staged shoot outs. Ice cream scoops are a popular local tradition. Plus tours and trolley rides are in abundance. For what ever reason I just don’t like this destination. The energy is bad, and it is entirely too fake. Yes, you can visit Boot Hill Cemetery and the OK Corral, and any number of other historical hot spots, but they are crammed in between more street hawkers than a Mexican border town, and shops selling “Arizona Wear” that no real Arizonian would be caught dead wearing. As much as it kills me to say this, please avoid Tombstone at all cost. Spend your valuable time and energy up the road in Bisbee.