From hiking ancient New Mexican cliff dwellings to hanging ten in the Pacific Ocean, we wager West is best.
Need a break from the desert? Head to Oceanside, a beach town in San Diego County known for its beaches, pier and harbor. A great spot for riding the waves, Oceanside is home to the California Surf Museum (surfmuseum.org), which traces the history of hanging ten with a collection of vintage surfboards and exhibits on prominent surfers.
If surfing isn’t your sport, catch the sunset at Oceanside Pier (visitoceanside.com) or set up your fishing rod to snag a Pacific surfperch. Rent a beach cruiser, surrey or e-bike from Wheel Fun Rentals (wheelfunrentals.com) or head to the harbor to hire a kayak, paddleboard or jet ski. For a bird’s eye view of the beach, enjoy a Go Jump Oceanside skydiving excursion (gojump-america.com) or Waverider helicopter tour (waveriderhelicoptertours.com).
Book a stay at the brand-new Mission Pacific Hotel (missionpacifichotel.com) for unparalleled views of the pier, plus coastal art curated by the Oceanside Museum of Art. Nearby Matsu (eatatmatsu.com), a new Japanese-inspired fine dining concept features imaginative fusion fare such as katsu sandwiches and onigiri rice balls. For vegan visitors, there’s The Plot (theplotrestaurant.com), San Diego’s first plant-based, zero-waste restaurant. For a side of history with your meal, check out Blade 1936 (blade1936.com), named after Oceanside’s old newspaper, The Blade-Tribune. The art deco Italian eatery formerly housed the publication’s offices. It’s also one of only two restaurants in San Diego to become a member of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), a prestigious certification celebrating traditional pizza-making techniques.
As the oldest city in New Mexico, Santa Fe has only improved with age. The Southwest’s first capital city experienced waves of migrations along the three trails that lead there. Artists, chefs, wellness experts and other creatives have brought culture, talent and experience to The City Different for more than 400 years. Its unique blend of Anglo, Spanish and Native cultures, plus the stunning backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ majesty and the spectacular Southwestern sunsets over the Jemez range ensure that nothing short of magic transpires here.
Santa Fe is a walkable destination, providing visitors with the luxury of not having to worry about parking. Start at Santa Fe Plaza, which has been the city’s center since it was founded in 1610 and is home to the area’s historic buildings. The plaza boasts museums, cathedrals and chapels, shops, galleries, restaurants and hotels. Santa Fe lays claim to nearly 20 different museums but the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (okeeffemuseum.org) is a special spot dedicated solely to the art of the famous female modernist painter. Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return (meowwolf.com) is the first immersive, interactive art installation and attraction of its kind and has since opened locations in Las Vegas and Denver. But nothing comes close to the original, which has been entertaining guests of all ages since 2016.
New in 2022: The Santa Fe Railyard District continues to experience exponential growth with new businesses and attractions, including the Sky Railway’s adventure excursion rides and a brand-new museum called the Vladam Contemporary (nmartmuseum.org). For authentic Southwestern cuisine, hit up Horno (hornorestaurant.com), Santa Fe’s newest Plaza area restaurant. Opuntia Café (opuntia.cafe) is a teahouse-turned-plant-shop that now serves cocktails and a full dinner menu. For a traditional Mexican restaurant loved by locals for more than four decades, pay a visit to Tomasitas (tomasitas.com).
If you’re looking for a new place to stay, check out Bishop’s Lodge (aubergeresorts.com), a historic property that reopened last July after being closed for nearly six years. For a spot with a lot of history, try La Fonda on the Plaza (lafondasantafe.com), which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
Though Santa Fe is best known for its history and culture, its outdoor recreation is also worth noting. From skiing unparalleled slopes in the winter season to hiking among ancient cliff dwellings in the summer, there’s so many reasons to explore the Santa Fe National Forest and scenic New Mexico landscapes.
The Old West lives on in Wickenburg, which is only an hour drive from Phoenix and bills itself as “the dude ranch capital of Arizona,” where history and hospitality blend with a charming Wild West attitude. Get a healthy dose of both at Desert Caballeros Western Museum (westernmuseum.org). Classic Western and Indigenous art is on display in mediums that range from paintings to textiles at this Smithsonian affiliate. Clothing, décor, gifts and other Southwestern souvenirs are available in the museum’s expansive
The Saguaro Theater (saguarotheater.com) has been a Wickenburg treasure since 1948. You can catch a modern movie or classic Western film here – and the cinema’s Cactus Club boasts such benefits as free movie tickets and access to special showings. Check out Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts (dewpac.org) for shows, camps and other cultural programming at the 600-seat, state-of-the-art performance venue, which celebrates 20 years in 2022.
If you would rather explore the outdoors, Hassayampa River Preserve (maricopacountyparks.net) is a must. The 770-acre riparian nature reserve is a big draw for hikers, birders and nature photographers. Then, settle in at Rancho Bar 7 (ranchobar7.net), a rustic restaurant specializing in steaks and Mexican dishes. Try the Super Duper Tostada at Anita’s Cocina (anitascocina.com) and take home a signature salsa as a souvenir. El Ranchero (elrancherowickenburg.com) claims to serve “Wickenburg’s best margarita.” For only $1 during happy hour, it’s worth trying for yourself.
After a long day of adventuring and imbibing, get some R&R at Los Viajeros Inn (losviajerosinn.com) where guests can hang out in the heated pool or cozy up by the fireside lounge.
Cottonwood is centrally located in the Verde Valley, the heart of Arizona’s wine country. It’s the perfect place to call home-base while exploring the wineries on the Verde Valley Wine Trail (vvwinetrail.com) or visiting Jerome or Sedona. Explore a region rich in history, natural beauty and word-class wines with 10 tasting rooms in Cottonwood alone.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Dead Horse State Park (azstateparks.com) offers an abundance of hiking trails, camping spots, fishing lagoons, and horseback riding and birdwatching opportunities. For a family-friendly dinner and a fun western show, head to Blazin’ M Ranch western town (blazinm.com). Other singular Cottonwood dining and drinking establishments include Belfry Brewery (belfrybrewery.com), Merkin Osteria (merkinvineyardsosteria.com) and Cork & Catch (corkandcatch.com).
Staying awhile? Hang your hat at Origins Bed & Breakfast (originsbedandbreakfast.com), which offers a complimentary, three-course breakfast, and each guestroom is named after a distinct element of the desert, such as Copper and Canyon. Views of the Verde River, Mingus Mountain, red rocks of Sedona and beige bluffs of the Verde Valley add to its unique Southwestern charm. Old Town Cottonwood serves as the city’s focal point and is the ideal spot to stroll, dine, stay and play in the heart of it all. Whether you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind antique, framed artwork or handmade piece of jewelry, the independent shops in Old Town Cottonwood cater to every type of visitor.
Though it is only 30 miles from Downtown Phoenix, Fountain Hills feels far away due to its landscape. It features the McDowell Mountain Preserve (fountainhillsaz.gov) – 8 miles of trails with Valley vistas and views of the city’s iconic fountain and lake. The highly anticipated Adero Canyon Trailhead recently opened to vehicular traffic via a paved road, allowing convenient access to several paths, including brand-new Ridgeline Trail. Fountain Hills is also home to the Sonoran Desert Golf Trail: six 18-hole courses designed by distinguished golfers including Ben Crenshaw and Tom Lehman.
Fountain Hills also takes stargazing seriously – in 2018, it became one of only two International Dark Sky Communities located near a major metropolitan area. The newly expanded ADERO Scottsdale (aderoscottsdale.com) is the Valley’s first and only Dark Sky Zone resort, offering high-definition telescopes and private balconies that provide the perfect view of sunsets and moonrises. Find farm-to-table fare at onsite restaurant Cielo or venture to nearby Bone Haus Brewing (bonehausbrewing.com) for a pint, Que Bueno (quebuenoaz.com) for homemade Mexican favorites and Chocofin Chocolatier (chocofin.com) for a sweet treat.
Fountain Hills’ majestic namesake geyser is a must-see. The world-famous Fountain Hills Fountain spouts every hour on the hour for 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the year. Built in 1970 by entrepreneur Robert McCulloch, the fountain is the one of the largest in the world and rises from a concrete water lily sculpture in the middle of a man-made lake.
In February, Fountain Hills plans to host the Concours in the Hills car show (concoursinthehills.org) and the Spring Fountain Festival of Fine Arts & Crafts (experiencefountainhills.com), featuring hundreds of artisans selling paintings, pottery, jewelry and more.
Pima Air & Space Museum
With more than 400 historic aircrafts and 125,000 aviation artifacts, Pima Air & Space Museum (pimaair.org) is one of the largest aerospace institutions in the world. This Tucson landmark encompasses six hangars and 80 acres of outdoor space, plus an expansive restoration facility where projects range from repainting to refurbishing rare aircrafts. Pima’s collection features examples of international flight from every era in civil, commercial, military and experimental aviation, including a Wright Flyer, a 747 jumbo jet and both the world’s smallest bi-plane and oldest B-52.
Admission includes the 390th Memorial Museum, an independent military museum, and the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame, which recognizes leaders in aviation innovation, including 19th-century hot air ballooning pioneers, modern-day aerospace engineers and other trailblazers in advanced aircraft and missile technology.
The museum is pet- and family-friendly and includes a restaurant, playground and interactive activities for people of all ages to explore their inner aviator.
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