Bisbee, AZ is one of those unique mining towns that has evolved over the years. Once a thriving copper mining town, Bisbee is now home to retirees and artists and features historic buildings, homes and rambling hillside streets that make the town an ideal place for visitors to explore and take a step back into history.
We arrived in Bisbee from Sierra Vista, a lovely community in the shadow of the mountains of southern Arizona and home of historic Fort Huachuca. What we noticed as we approached Bisbee is that it is not flat like the communities we had just passed and, it had character. It reminded me of entering the Gold Country of California.
Bisbee was founded in 1880 and named after Judge DeWitt Bisbee, a financial backer of the Copper Queen Mine.
Bisbee, one of the richest mineral sites in the world, produced close to three million ounces of gold and more than eight billion pounds of copper in it's heyday. Amazingly, in the early 1900s, the Bisbee community was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco with a population of 20,000 people. Although considered a very cultured city, Bisbee was a typical mining town with a notorious Brewery Gulch. Brewery Gulch burned in 1908 and had to be completely re-built. By 1910 most of the district was reconstructed and those buildings are the ones you see today.
As the mines were depleted, the population began to shrink. Mining operations on such a grand scale became unprofitable by the 1970's.
Activities and Attractions
- Bisbee Museum - The Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum has exhibits that will give you an explanation of how Bisbee developed. Find out what life in Bisbee was like a century or more ago, who the residents were, and what they did. A special exhibit, "Diggin In" will give you a hands-on look at the life of miners in the area. Once you enjoy the museum, you will be ready to step outside and walk this historic town.
- Walking Tours - The best way to enjoy Bisbee is to walk the streets and stairways. A non-profit walking organization hosts a self-guided walk available from the historic Copper Queen Hotel. This is a 10K walk, taking you up and down the streets affording majestic views of the city. The Bisbee Visitor's Center has additional walking and driving tours for all interests.
- Annual Bisbee Stair Climb - If a walking tour is too tame for you, head in to Bisbee in late October for the annual Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb event. The Bisbee1000 event requires you to use any combination of walking, running and resting to traverse nine sets of steps and numerous back-roads at a mile-high altitude. Proceeds go to help Bisbee save their historic stairs.
- Copper Queen Mine Tours - See what mining in Bisbee was all about. The Copper Queen Mine tours offer underground tours where you can don a slicker and hard hat and go into the mine on a historic mine train. Five tours depart each day, seven days a week, from the Queen Mine Tour Building, located immediately south of Old Bisbee's business district. They also offer a narrated van tour and learn about Bisbee's early days when mining was in its heyday. This tour stops at the Lavender Pit. Reservations are recommended.
- Galleries and Shops - Of course, one of the most enjoyable things to do in Bisbee is to wander the historic streets and stop in at the shops and galleries. Bisbee has quite an artists' colony and the shops reflect this creativity. Shop for antiques, jewelry and western wear.
Where to Stay in Bisbee, Arizona
- Copper Queen Hotel - If you want the true flavor of historic Bisbee, Arizona a stay at the Copper Queen is a must do. All rooms are historic and unique. Throughout the Copper Queen's 100 year history, they have hosted many celebrities and they have named rooms after them. Inquire about the John Wayne, Teddy Roosevelt or Julia Lowell rooms. Rooms with claw foot tubs are subject to availability. The hotel offers a second floor, outdoor swimming pool. There is a restaurant and saloon on premises. Alfresco dining is offered.
- Bisbee Grand Hotel - Another historic hotel is the Bisbee Grand. Constructed in 1906, the hotel originally provided lodging for traveling mining executives. The historic Bisbee Grand Hotel features seven suites and eight rooms with private baths. Rates are from $94 to $175 + tax (as of 2019). A full breakfast is included. An old-fashioned saloon is on the premises. The back bar fixture came from the Pony Saloon in Tombstone, where it had been installed in the 1880's. A honky-tonk piano beckons patrons to play and sing along.
- Canyon Rose Suites - Also conveniently located in central Bisbee, is the renovated Canyon Rose Suites. The turn of the century building is listed on the National Historic Registry and has been restored to provide every amenity. The rooms are in modern decor and include fully furnished kitchens and private baths.
- Hummingbird Hill House - Humming Bird Hill House is a vacation rental. This house is an artistically restored 100-year-old miner’s house perched in the hills overlooking historic Old Bisbee, AZ.
- School House Inn Bed and Breakfast - The School House Inn The Inn has a school subject theme. It is housed in a historic brick school built in 1918 at the height of Bisbee's mining days and is located in the west end of Tombstone Canyon in a scenic Old Bisbee neighborhood.
- Motels - While not located in the historic district, Bisbee and the surrounding area do have modern motels.
Where to Eat in Bisbee, Arizona
Copper Queen Restaurant - Winchester's dining room, located in the Copper Queen Hotel serves meals ranging from home-made pastas to all-American desserts. The Winchester's style is a reflection of classical French, rustic Italian and southwestern cuisine. The Copper Queen also has a saloon. You can enjoy sitting outside on their misted patio watching people pass by on the historic street.
- Cafe Roka - Visit Cafe Roka online. Be prepared for the cool website! Also be prepared that some pages are in a very small font. Cafe Roka is a contemporary cafe in yet another Bisbee historic building. Contemporary cuisine is prepared in the evenings. Enjoy Jazz on selected evenings. It looks like a fun place with multiple floors of dining and a lively atmosphere. I look forward to reviewing Cafe Roka.
- Bisbee Coffee Company - Of course Bisbee would have its own coffee house! They are located on main street in the heart of old Bisbee. You can order their coffees online.