About ten miles north of the US-Mexico border sits an artsy town called Bisbee, Arizona. Although its’ population of 5,000 people may be considered small, it was once the largest city from St. Louis to San Francisco and considered to be the most cultured town in the west. Now, Bisbee is full of quirky artists, new (and very old) breweries and bars, unique architecture, haunted hotels and a myriad of windy roads and allies to explore by foot.
The City of Bisbee was founded in 1902 a few years after U.S. army scouts discovered traces of copper and lead in the Mule Mountains nearby. It wasn’t long before Bisbee became known as the “Queen of Copper Camps” and the city’s population grew to over 20,000 people.
Mining copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc in Bisbee was extremely successful until the mid 1970’s. According to the Queen Mine, the local mines in Bisbee produced metals valued at $6.1 billion (1975 price), which is apparently one of the largest production valuations of all the mining districts in the world.
Take a Queen Mine Tour
All you need is close-toed shoes and $13, Queen Mine provides the hard hat, miner’s headlamp and a yellow slicker—because it is cold and windy down there! This tour was one of my favorite parts about my trip to Bisbee. We hopped on a small train car and made our way underground with a small group of strangers and a guide—a retired miner who had worked in the Queen Mine for 40 years.
The mine has seven levels with 143 miles of passageways. We spent about an hour underground and barely scratched the surface. Our guide showed us where he had worked many years ago and the dangerous techniques they would use. I recommend this tour to all ages!
What To Do in Bisbee
Explore the Artsy AlleywaysWear your walking shoes because there’s lots of street art to explore by foot in Bisbee. Inside almost every alleyway is some sort of an art installment and at the top of every staircase is another alley that leads you to another staircase and more windy roads. I felt like I was in Europe.
YOU’RE IN SOUTHERN ARIZONA…OF COURSE THE FOOD IS GOOD
There’s fine dining, there’s casual, there’s vegan food, pizza, Mexican food and even Vietnamese. Bisbee’s a small town, but the restaurants are plenty. Café Roka is a classic in Bisbee and the only fine dining, four-course dinner in town. It’s a great spot if you’re feeling fancy. The Quarry, which was my favorite, is a casual, farm-to-table restaurant just down the street from Café Roka. Comfort food and live music? Of course I loved it.
Go on your own architecture photo tourAs a photographer, Bisbee is a GEM to photograph. There’s tons of unique-looking buildings, old houses on hills and vibrant colors. Bring your camera!
New breweries, old bars
Bisbee is home to the longest continually run bar in the state of Arizona. St. Elmo Bar was opened in 1902 and it’s still going strong. As it should, St. Elmo had all of the classics—a jukebox, pool tables, a punching machine and very loud live music.
Established more than 100 years later, the Old Bisbee Brewing Company is just across the street. I really loved the elevated patio at this place—you can look out over Bisbee and see just how lively the night life is.