Cottonwood is sometimes overlooked by tourists shuttling between the better-known destinations of Sedona and Jerome. But the once sleepy town has become a destination in its own right with restaurants, wine-tasting, coffee houses, antique shops, two breweries and frequent festivals.
Lonely Planet named Cottonwood one of its Top 10 Places to Visit as far back as 2013 and it's become more vibrant since then.
Follow Main Street through the new commercial strip to Old Town, a walkable, historic business district. It's been rejuvenated in the past two decades by Arizona vintners and others investing in small businesses. Old Town Center for the Arts adds a lineup of music to the mix with a comfortable 130-seat theater nearby.
Cottonwood has a mild climate, except for a few months of the summer, and lots of shade from sycamores and its namesake trees. Visitors can take the Jail Trail at the north end of Main Street to walk along the Verde River. Named for the town's historic gray bar hotel, the Jail Trail is ideal for bird-watching, easy hiking or skipping rocks on the river.
Circle the RVs at Dead Horse Ranch
Campers can head across the Verde River to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, which has fishing ponds and river access. There are 100 campsites, most of which accommodate RVs up to 40 feet and truck-trailer campers as long as 65 feet. There are two dozen non-electric sites for tent camping with a heated bathroom and showers. The state park takes online reservations.
Dead Horse Ranch also has an extensive trail system for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. The trails ascend a mesa and offer impressive views across the Verde Valley.
The 15-mile Lime Kiln Trail for mountain bikers and equestrians (by permit) connects Dead Horse Ranch to Red Rock State Park in Sedona.
Campers at Dead Horse might enjoy the nearby Blazin' M Ranch with its barbecue dinner and a Western music show.
Hungry hikers and others can get a good lunch at the Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill, 516 N. Main St., It has tasty Mexican food -- tacos, tortas and burritos -- and Italian subs.
Red Rooster Cafe, 901 N. Main St., and Pepe's Cafe, 324 S. Main St., are good bets for a tasty breakfast.
Tavern Grille in Old Town's historic movie theater is reliable eatery with a casual and affordable menu, craft beers, wine and a sidewalk patio. It's adjacent to its sister Tavern Hotel with 41 rooms.
Check out Old Town's wine tasting rooms, shops and restaurants along North Main Street. It's a pleasant and walkable three-block historic district that's perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway.
Beer lovers have a choice of two local breweries. That Brewery, 300 E. Cherry St., is in a warehouse location that's a little hard to find, but the beer is good.
Belfry Brewery opened in fall 2020 in a former church at the top of Main Street in Old Town Cottonwood. It's got a nice shaded patio and an elegant "sanctuary." An historic bell is in the belfry that was added to the building during the renovation.
Antique and collectibles shoppers should visit Larry's Antiques in a former feed store across from Belfry Brewery. One could get lost in Larry's for hours looking at its diverse collection of old stuff.
Outdoor and indoors pickleball courts are available at the Cottonwood Recreation Center, 150 S. Sixth St.