Those of us who live in the Phoenix area are fortunate to enjoy mild winters. But when summer rolls around, we look for places to escape the heat. While we know that higher altitudes in northern Arizona mean cooler temperatures, we also know that escaping to a place like Wild West Prescott in the pinewoods offers the feeling of really getting away.

Spending a week or weekend in Prescott, the former capital of the Territory of Arizona, is not only scenic and cooler than the Valley of the Sun but also full of fascinating history.

Heading out for a weekend in Prescott

Art festivals abound during the summer months on Courthouse Square.

Art festivals abound during the summer months on Courthouse Square

The Prescott area is less than a two-hour drive from the Phoenix area. As you drive Interstate 17 north, you’ll climb to higher altitudes and eventually see the Saguaro-studded hills give way to grassy high desert. This scenic drive passes historic roads and creeks with names that might pique your curiosity, such as Bloody Basin and Big Bug Creek. That will help get you into a Wild West frame of mind.

After exiting toward Prescott, you’ll soon see rolling hills, strewn with granite boulders and dotted with stands of pine trees. Head for the historic downtown, which offers great places to stay and dine.

Where to stay in Prescott

During my summer escape, I decided to spend close to a month in Prescott. I rented an Airbnb cabin in the pinewoods, where my dogs could enjoy a woodsy escape too. As a real plus, this little cabin was just a two-minute drive from the historic downtown. 

To experience the history, good food, and fun of the Prescott area, I’d recommend staying at one of the historic hotels within walking distance of Courthouse Square and Whiskey Row. That’s where you can belly up to the bar at the oldest saloon in Arizona and order a drink and a steak, stroll through an art and wine festival, or do a little antique or Native American jewelry shopping. Most of the buildings surrounding the square have historical markers with fascinating Wild West stories.

The Hassayampa Inn

The Hassayampa Inn in downtown Prescott has been a favorite of well-heeled travelers for many years.

The Hassayampa Inn in downtown Prescott has been a favorite of well-heeled travelers for many years

When The Hassayampa Inn opened in 1927, it was hailed as “the most beautiful hotel in the Southwest” catering to motorists. While offering modern comforts, the inn retains the beauty of a bygone era. Even if you don’t stay here, stroll through the lobby to admire the artwork, tile work, and beautiful fireplace. Beautiful glass doors lead into the Hassayampa’s meeting room.

Lobby of the Hassayampa Inn

Lobby of the Hassayampa Inn

You’ll want to linger in the cozy bar with many elegant historic touches or perhaps reserve a table in The Peacock Room, where you can enjoy the Art Deco décor with a quiet meal.

Hotel St. Michael

Lobby of Hotel St. Michael

Lobby of Hotel St. Michael

If you want a comfortable but historic hotel on Whiskey Row, try the Hotel St. Michael. The current building, with its stone basement and fired brick upper floors, replaced a smaller hotel built in 1890 but destroyed by the 1900 fire.

You’ll hear a lot about that famous fire. On July 14, 1900, a furious fire swept through downtown Prescott destroying the business district of the small mining town. No one knows the origin, but some believe it started when a miner left a lighted candle burning in his room in a nearby lodging house.

The stairs at the venerable Hotel St. Michaels are a favorite setting for brides

Stairs at the venerable Hotel St. Michaels are a favorite setting for brides

The Hotel St. Michael will provide you with a sense of what the hotel was like in the 1900s even though it has been renovated. The carpeted hallways are wide, and some of the rooms overlook Courthouse Square. In Room 315, a female ghost makes her presence known in a variety of ways, including a strong smell of perfume. 

Dining in Prescott

Dining room at The Palace

You can’t get any more Arizona than this! The light and bright Palace Restaurant dining room

If you’re in a Wild West mood after visiting the historic sites around Courthouse Square, you can’t miss at least having a look past the swinging saloon doors of The Palace Saloon and Restaurant on Whiskey Row. After all, such luminaries as the Earp Brothers, Doc Holiday, and Big Nose Kate were there before you. Try the “Beast Burger,” made with ground bison, Wagyu beef, New Zealand elk, and wild boar. This hearty burger is topped with grilled onions and mushrooms and served with veggies on the side.

Right around the corner, at La Planchada Taqueria, you can order flights of agave-based beverages and delve into super-creative tacos. Try the fish tacos piled high with fried battered white fish and citrus slaw, and topped with chipotle crema. For fun, try three different tacos and savor the tastes.

Margarita at La Planchada

Creamy guacamole pairs well with a hand-crafted margarita at La Planchada

Prescott offers plenty of other dining options. With a top-notch Farmers Market held Saturdays in season, you’ll not be surprised that a farm-to-table restaurant, The County Seat, overlooks Courthouse Square from its perch on the second floor of the historic Bashford Building. It features an excellent wine list and craft cocktails to pair with your freshly prepared meal.

Farm-to-table dining at the County Bowl

The luscious sweet chili bowl at The County Seat

After a weekend in Prescott, you’ll want to stay longer

After a weekend in Prescott, visit nearby Watson Lake

After a weekend in Prescott, visit nearby Watson Lake  naan

Add on a day, or a week and explore the scenic Granite Dells at Watson Lake, the fascinating Museum of Indigenous People, and the living history at the open-air Sharlot Hall Museum.

The Museum of Indigenous People in Prescott was constructed to resemble a Hopi building from the nearby Hopi Mesas

The Museum of Indigenous People in Prescott was constructed to resemble a Hopi building from the nearby Hopi Mesas

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • A weekend in Prescott offers a nice mix of history, art, and outdoor recreation appealing to varied interests and abilities.
  • You can stay in the historic downtown and easily walk to meals, shopping, and historic sites.
  • Many retirees find Prescott a great place to settle down. If you like the area, you might want to check out a few of the 55+ communities in the area.

Take note

  • Prescott is cooler (by about 15 degrees) than the Phoenix valley but it also sits at 5,367 feet in altitude (in case you are bothered by high altitudes).
  •  Watch for the Native American art market at The Sharlot Hall Museum and the visiting Native artisans at The Museum of Indigenous People for authentic shopping.
  • You are in luck if you are a Rodeo fan. Prescott Frontier Days is the world’s oldest, longest-running rodeo.

COVID-19 Update

  • Requirements may vary at individual businesses. Carry a mask, maintain social distancing, sanitize hands frequently, and follow requirements posted on doors.

All photo credits: Elizabeth Rose



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Long weekend in Prescott Arizona