Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson and Sedona get all the love, but Prescott is an enchanting hamlet that’s stayed frozen in time
Prescott is in love with its past, and that’s not a bad thing. No garish chains surround the wedding-cake courthouse and grassy central square, which still serves as this Arizona city’s de facto front porch. Storefronts have maintained their embossed tin ceilings and swinging saloon doors, and a neon-lit cowboy boot annually marks the countdown to the New Year. Shops hoard enough antiques to supply every prop guy in Hollywood. Even the surrounding hills look vintage thanks to Prescott’s commitment to preserving open space rather than allowing sprawling developments to pave over the ruggedly picturesque rock formations where hikers roam and bald eagles soar. Here’s how to experience the city’s charms for yourself.
Historic but hardly antiquated, the 1917 red-brick Hotel Vendome ($90-418) combines old-fashioned furnishings (claw-foot tubs, iron radiators) with present-day amenities (blessed air-conditioning). Stage your Maxwell House moment on the second-story veranda to sip complimentary coffee with a dose of vitamin D (Prescott averages 277 sunny days a year). Stroll a half-block north to Courthouse Plaza to admire the arching branches of the plaza’s stately arbors, including the Statehood Tree (a white oak planted February 14, 1912, the day that Arizona entered the Union). Chow down on brisket Benedicts and cowboy skillet breakfasts at the Lone Spur Café bordering the square, then hunt for treasures on Antique Row (on Cortez Street between Gurley and Willis streets). Ogg’s Hogan specializes in Native American art; vintage toys and sport cards dominate at Antiques off the Square; Snap Snap (located within Gypsy Street Antiques) sells fantastically dated duds; Gray Dog Guitars stocks stacks of vinyl and collectable instruments that attract buyers from across the West. If antiquing isn’t your bag, browse the latest crop of locally-crafted arts at Van Gogh’s Ear, a gallery exhibiting jewelry, sculpture, paintings, and even hand-colored shoes. Or inhale the sumptuous fragrance of leather at Prescott Trading Company, home of all the fringed jackets, fancy belts, and western hats and boots you can handle.
Prescott maintains more than 450 miles of trails, so you don’t have to hop in the car to enjoy a scenic promenade. From Courthouse Plaza, walk one and a half blocks west on Gurley to pick up the Greenways Trail along Granite Creek. But the best hiking awaits 10 minutes northeast at Watson Lake Park, where mesmerizing lumps of rounded granite surround azure water. Lakeshore Trail bobs for two miles among sculpted canyons and cool, watery coves; you can even rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard (offered on-site by Prescott Outdoors) to navigate the rocky fins. Postexcursion, drive to the nearby Phippen Museum and ogle renderings of Prescott’s cowpoke past. The institution honors George Phippen, an influential western artist and cofounder of the Cowboy Artists of America, meaning its galleries showcase mounted wranglers, bucking broncs, and vast, dusky landscapes rolling beneath ethereal skies. On your way back to town, swing by Rustic Pie Company, where pastry perfectionist Kim Pinker makes swoon-worthy apple, chocolate, pecan and 47 other varieties of pie by hand—no canned fillings or electric mixers to be found.
The Vendome’s tiny lobby bar is a lively nook come happy hour, when guests and locals mingle over glasses of Arizona beer and wine. Next door, the Barley Hound gastropub pours more local brews and serves everything from Scotch eggs to duck-fat fries on its front and rear shaded patios. One mile from Courthouse Plaza, BiGA is Prescott’s foodie haven, concocting ambitious and delicious plates in a shoebox-sized space that feels like a pop-up (don’t skip the bread pudding). Closer to town, Farm Provisions uses meticulously sourced ingredients for its country-chic fare: Steaks come from grass-raised Arizona cattle while salads celebrate local greens. For a nightcap, stroll Whiskey Row, s series of long-standing watering holes bordering the west side of Courthouse Plaza. The Palace has quenched thirsts since 1877 (when Doc Holliday was a regular) and still displays its original carved-wood bar– patrons hauled the gorgeous relic to safety during the 1900 fire. Sip a peach old-fashioned there, then pop a couple doors over to the fiery-eyed steer’s skull above the entrance to Matt’s Saloon. Country and western bands draw dancers onto the bar’s spacious oak floor, where the boot scootin’ lasts well into the night.
After studying with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West, visionary architect Paolo Soleri constructed Arcosanti, a utopia showcasing sustainable development. Drive 37 miles southeast to tour its cantilevered concrete buildings and cliffside sculpture gardens that overlook the stark Sonoran desert, then shop a selection of bronze and ceramic windbells cast from original Soleri designs.
Flight time to Prescott Regional Airport (PRC) averages just 60 minutes on United’s new nonstops, operating daily from LAX. Hertz rents cars out of the PRC terminal.
Crowds are scant even in Prescott’s popular spring and early summer months, but locals eat dinner early. Best to make reservations.
Rain is a rarity in May and June, when daytime highs average 74 to 85 degrees, but nights are cool at 5,367 feet.