It was the last town on Route 66 bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1984. The town was crippled by the loss of motorists rolling through on its pair of one-way streets.
Grand Canyon Railway came to the rescue of Williams in 1989 bringing train loads of visitors after a few years.
The mountain town ramped up its dormant tourism businesses with rail passengers bound for the Grand Canyon just as Route 66 nostalgia was gaining traction across Arizona.
Williams renaissance is a pleasant surprise for anyone who passed through the forlorn town in the mid-1980s. Now the sidewalks are full of people in the evening and the motels are full of Route 66 roadies and train riders.
Williams paved Route 66 early
In 1928, Williams' main business district was one of the first paved sections of Route 66 on the 2-year-old highway.
In 1957, Railroad Avenue was designated as Route 66 for westbound traffic and Bill Williams Avenue was the one-way route for eastbound traffic on the Mother Road. It's cool how some of the businesses spanned the one-way routes to lure customers on both roads. http://bit.ly/2wFMlXD
Hungry travelers should try the Pine Country Restaurant for breakfast and pie or even pie for breakfast.
Rod's Steak House, which opened in 1946, has long been a reliable spot for good burgers or steaks. Look for the fiberglass steer on the roof. Red Raven Restaurant, a fine dining spot with reasonable prices, is another good option.
Grand Canyon Hotel is one of Arizona's oldest inns. Other historic hotels brag about visits by presidents and Hollywood stars while Grand Canyon Hotel boasts that it hosted naturalist John Muir, the Vanderbilts and the King of Siam. http://bit.ly/2w4FiGw
In the evening, visit the throwback Canyon Club and World Famous Sultana Bar. The well-aged Williams watering holes are among Arizona's best saloons. And Historic Brewery Barrel & Bottle House has a Piehole Porter that's one of their best brews.
Riding that train high on the plain
The train leaves Williams for Grand Canyon at 9 a.m. and the railroad folks stage mock gunfights at the depot before boarding passengers.
The train travels at a leisurely pace to the South Rim. The best scenery is near Williams and the Grand Canyon in the Ponderosa pine forest. In between is some high desert terrain of pinyons and junipers.
Another popular family attraction is Bearizona Wildlife Park just east of town at I-40 at State Route 64. Drive and walk through the zoo in the pines. Admission is $11 for children ages 4-12, $22 for adults and $20 for seniors 62 and older.
There's lots of hiking and camping south of Williams. For a backroad adventure, take Fourth Street south out of town , which becomes the Perkinsville Road.
It's paved for 30 miles and then is a relatively smooth dirt road that descends into the Verde Valley and climbs up to mile-high Jerome, the former mining town perched on Cleopatra Hill.
This 90-minute route is OK for passenger vehicles except in wet or snowy weather There are no services and very little traffic.
Thirty miles to go to Flagstaff: http://www.ontheroadarizona.com/flagstaff66.html