If you’re looking for a getaway that’s less than two hours from town, but transports you to another world, consider a sojourn to Bisbee.
Bisbee, a magical little city in Southern Arizona 11 miles north of the Mexican border, is a place where the vibe is so high and happy it would not be surprising for anyone to drop everything and move there. The “Queen of the Copper Camps” in 1877, over the years Bisbee has changed dramatically from a mining town that lured people in hopes of hitting the prospecting jackpot, to a community of art, peace, and tourism that has preserved its history.
The scenic drive from Tucson down to Bisbee on I-10 East to State Route 90/92 South is a picturesque way to start the experience. You know you’ve arrived by the brownish-red landscape of the Mule Mountains, with a ginormous white “B” visible on one prominent peak. With a wave of rolling hills upon which stand colorful buildings and houses, Bisbee is impossible to miss.
There are actually three areas to the city: Old Bisbee, Warren and San José. Old Bisbee is where most tourists flock, to avail themselves of the plentiful vintage clothing and collectibles stores, art galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and dive bars. The entire town is engulfed in art, including paintings, graffiti, collages and sculptures.
Case in point: a couple stores down from the Bisbee Séance Room (which offers paranormal history with a side of sleight of hand) is an alleyway displaying painted murals on either side. The stairs from the bottom to the top of the alley read, “Let’s be better humans” on every other step, imparting the community’s mindset.
Graffiti in Bisbee is not viewed as “vandalism,” but regarded as an art form that makes the city even more beautiful. With positive words like “love” and “peace” painted on the wall in intricate color and detail, it’s a far cry from gang-related markings.
You can spend hours shopping in Bisbee, looking through all the stores that carry not only groovy clothes from all different eras, but also handmade one-of-a-kind creations. One must-see shop is called Redbone Vintage.
Walking in, the first thing you notice is an entire wall of cowboy boots, all with different colors and patterns. Racks of shirts and pants, jewelry, bags, backpacks and other items are ready for exploration. The yellow walls and colossal windows in the store keep the sun beaming in and the mood cheerful. Like most Bisbee residents, the employees of the shop are genuinely pleased by the presence of customers, and answer any questions thoroughly, efficiently and with a smile.
For such a small town, Bisbee still has several dozen bars and restaurants in its three areas. The Bisbee Social Club, for instance, is an underground bar with a hip, relaxed vibe punctuated by dark-colored walls and dim lighting. The potent offerings include four draft beers, and a promising collection of cocktails.
Another watering hole that locals frequent is St. Elmo Bar. The décor is dive bar, with old photos, posters and signs covering the walls, bumper stickers stuck all over the bar, and vintage wooden tables and stools to accommodate the clientele. Opened in 1902, St. Elmo bills itself as the oldest continually operating bar in the state.
As goes for restaurants, Bisbee has a diverse selection. A plant-based eatery called On the Vedge has a beautiful array of options featuring non-GMO organic veggies and homemade everything,
The Copper Queen Saloon, a restaurant inside of the historic Copper Queen Hotel, is a convenient place to kick back and grab some grub and a drink before venturing around town. With retro wallpaper, maroon-colored furniture, and dim lighting, the saloon exudes a fun, local feel. There is a patio section, where people can dine and enjoy the magnificent city views. The menu is not extensive, but offers appetizing American standards.
The hotel itself opened in 1902 and retains its elegant Victorian ambience, as well as more modern amenities. There are 48 lovely rooms in the hotel, available at rates ranging from $100 to $150 per night.
Some say that the four-story hotel is haunted by former guests and to honor those spirits, the Copper Queen has dedicated rooms to certain ghosts. In the “Julia Lowell Room,” for instance, visitors have claimed to have seen a spectral entity dance and then vanish into white smoke. Though the apparitions might seem scary to some, the hotel’s employees say that these figures from beyond the veil mean no harm.
It’s easy to see why even the departed would want to hang out in Bisbee. It’s a chipper little city that has the power to make visitors feel as if they are living in a different reality. With locals smiling as you pass by on the street; art pieces visible with every turn of your head; and a funky, relaxed atmosphere, Bisbee is an ideal place to return to again and again.