Perfect for: Retired bikers, prosperous cowboys and boot-wearing moseyers
Past & Present
Cave Creek and Carefree share both a geographic border and a rich history. From 700 to 1400, the Hohokam and Salado Indians called these desert foothills home. Nearly 500 years later, in the 1870s, soldiers from Fort McDowell clip-clopped through on horseback, and a few years after that, gold prospectors and cattle ranchers arrived. Modern 20th-century residents built resort ranches, hosted movie crews and threw dinner parties – at which streets like Ho Hum Road and Lazy Lane were christened – all the while enjoying affluent wilderness living. In the 1980s, however, perceived encroachment from nearby cities inspired town incorporation.
This master hatter owns Watson’s Hat Shop in Cave Creek, where he makes custom hats – cowboy, fedora, panama – by hand. “Cave Creek keeps cowboy culture alive,” says Watson. watsonshatshop.com
One Day in Cave Creek & Carefree
First: Brekkie at Black Mountain Coffee Shop. Start the day in Carefree with huevos rancheros and freshly brewed coffee. Locals have been gathering and gossiping at this iconic diner since the 1970s. blackmountaincafe.com
Next: Nature walk at Carefree Desert Gardens. Carefree’s pedestrian-friendly downtown takes you right to this free botanical garden, with its 4 acres of desert flora and fauna and the town’s striking sundial – the largest in the country. visitcarefree.com
Then: Browse Frontier Town. The Old West facade and costumed performers at this Cave Creek spot scream tourist trap, but in truth, the shops sell charming gifts and cute homemade goods. 480-488-9129
Finally: Brisket at Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue. Pitmaster Bryan Dooley knows what he’s doing with pulled pork, ribs and chicken, but there’s no comparison to the smoky, tender brisket. bryansbarbecue.com
Rare Earth Gallery: Hypnotic agate and geode pieces as tall as a bear – some made into coffee tables, others into lamps – distinguish this Disneyland for rockhounds. A home decor dream. rareearthgallerycc.com
Cave Creek Trail Rides: Scenic horseback adventures through the Sonoran Desert, from three-hour treks on the rugged Go John Trail to gentle sunset rides. cavecreektrailrides.com
CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa: A spiritual retreat tucked away on 20 acres in Carefree. Offers spa services, yoga and nutrition and fitness classes. civanacarefree.com
Get Your Bearings
Main Drag Cave Creek Road provides the backbone of downtown, with Galloway Drive and Rancho Mañana Resort as its bookends.
Southeast of its twin town, the Carefree downtown also follows Cave Creek, starting at Bloody Basin Road.
Future Cave Creek & Carefree
Not much changes in this slow-paced part of the world, and that’s the appeal. But a few new (as in, the last year) restaurants that are worth a visit include: Pizzicata (pizzicatausa.com), Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse (keelerssteakhouse.com) and Vino & Panino (vinoandpanino.com).
2020 Population: 9,800 (combined)
2050 Population: 11,400 (est.)