Bisbee: Where Copper Was Queen
Locally roasted coffee, ghost stories, mining history, shopping, historic hotels, and museums? Is there one place to find all of that? The answer is yes. Bisbee, Arizona.
I’ve been visiting Bisbee on and off since 2011, and every visit is something different. I may spend one day shopping, or another just wandering around and sipping coffee. On my 25th or so visit to Bisbee, I thought about writing a guide, something that shows Bisbee’s uniqueness and quirky flavor. So here it is, Your Bisbee Guide to 24 hours in the Old West.
First Stop: Breakfast
On your way into Bisbee you have a choice between two scenic roads, Highway 92, and Highway 80. I recommend taking one highway in and the other one on your way out so you don’t miss out on the desert scenery.
The first stop in the Bisbee Guide is of course, the Bisbee Breakfast Club. This restaurant used was in the town of Lowell, Arizona, but now it’s part of Bisbee. It’s also right next to the Lavender Pit. While Lowell was once a town in its own right, today it’s little more than a single street (Erie St.) frozen in time. I keep going back to the Bisbee Breakfast Club for exactly three reasons: steak, eggs, and a biscuit so big it’s served in a bowl. More than once I’ve started my day exploring Bisbee at the Bisbee Breakfast Club. Don’t forget to wander around the restaurant and looks for evidence that it was once a drugstore and then a men’s shoe store.
Insider Tip: You’re allowed to order half portions
Hours & Location: 75 Erie St, Bisbee, AZ 85603 7am – 3pm 7 Days a Week
Next Stop: Exploring Lowell
It won’t take long to wander the single street full of vintage vehicles and nostalgic storefronts.
Bisbee Guide Stop #3: View the Lavender Pit
The Lavender Pit is the entire reason for Bisbee’s existence. Open-pit copper mining began here in 1917, and trickled to a halt in 1974. There’s still a lot of activity going on around mine, although what that is anyone’s guess.
Take an Underground Mine Tour
Outfit yourself in a miner’s hard hat, headlamp and yellow raincoat and head underground. At the Queen Mine you’ll start to discover Bisbee’s past and the reason for the town’s existence. It’s chilly 1,500 ft underground, so you may want to wear long sleeves.
Hours & Location: 9am – 3pm Daily 478 N Dart Rd, Bisbee, AZ 85603
Stop For Coffee at Old Bisbee Roasters
How do I know so much about Bisbee? Because I go there a couple of times a month for my coffee. It’s my favorite.There’s no way I could leave this place out of my Bisbee guide, so here it is. Once you have coffee from Old Bisbee Roasters, you may not want anything from the grocery store again.
Insider Tips: They may look closed, but if the door’s unlocked go right in, ask for a free espresso and take home a bag of freshly roasted beans.
Hours & Location: 7 Naco Rd. M-F 9am – 4pm Old Bisbee Roasters
Explore the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the mineral display upstairs. There’s a sister display inside the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington D.C.
Hours & Location: 5 Copper Queen Plaza 10am – 4pm daily Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum
Get Insider Information at the Bisbee Tour Company
I don’t usually go on tours. I wasn’t thinking about a tour until someone at the museum recommended it. Some of the most rewarding experiences come from stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. Taking this tour was one of those rewarding experiences. I learned more about Bisbee in an hour than from previous visits wandering around on my own..
Insider Tip: If you like history, ask for Leeza
Location & Hours: Copper Queen Plaza Parking Lot, From 10am daily. Bisbee Tour Company
Shop for Jewelry and Minerals on Main Street
My favorite store is the bright yellow Gloria’s, but there are dozens of awesome and unique shops to explore. look for the mineral Campbellite, unique to Bisbee.
Check out the Bisbee Peace Wall and “Bisbee 1000”
No trip to Bisbee is complete without viewing (and climbing) one of the famous sets of stairs. Can you imagine carrying groceries up those? Or furniture? Although the signs say “Bisbee 1000,” there are closer to 40,000 stairs scattered throughout the town.
Grab a Late Lunch at Screaming Banshee Pizza
Insider Tip: The pizza is amazing, anything else takes too long.
Location & Hours: 200 Tombstone Canyon Rd. Hours vary, closed on Monday & Tuesday.
Some of my greatest discoveries in Bisbee (and around the world) come from forgetting my schedule and just wandering around town. No itinerary, no destination, no deadlines. Wander around the town and see where she leads you.
Insider Tip: Look for the wild patches of fennel (a herb) growing all over town.
Check in & Explore one of Bisbee’s Historic Hotels
Since I live so close to Bisbee, I haven’t actually stayed in one of the town’s famous hotels. However, no Bisbee guide is complete without the mention of at least one place to lay your head for the night. Whether you like history, ghosts, shopping, or dining, there’s something for everyone. I chose to highlight three of my favorite hotels for this Bisbee Guide, but there are many more interesting inns and hotels scattered throughout the town.
Try the Sampler Tray at Old Bisbee Brewing Company
I’m not a big drinker. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a beer (I think it was around New Year’s). However, if you’re looking for a unique microbrewery, this is it. Order the sampler tray and it won’t take long to figure out what you love, what you hate, and what you kinda like.
Remember Bisbee’s “Working Women”
A sad fact of life in a mining town is the often overlooked lives of the prostitutes. I’d heard about Bisbee’s dark side before, but I had no idea just how many of Bisbee’s beautiful historic homes were brothels until I went on the tour with Leza. Unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to drive right past the strange-looking houses with multiple doors and windows. As it turns out these homes were once brothels, with each woman living in the space the size of a tiny modern.Take a moment to remember the hard lives of those who lived here before us.
Last Stop on the Bisbee Guide: End the Day With a Walking Ghost Tour
All of the places I discuss in this post are places that I often frequent. One of the only things that I haven’t actually done yet is go on an evening walking ghost tour. I’ve heard from several sources in Bisbee that they’re actually pretty awesome. Several companies offer these tours, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find one wandering around town. Or better yet, go on your own evening walking tour of Bisbee, the town is safe, and I’ve been out alone there at night several times without fear. If you’re looking for a scare, be sure to check out the red and white Oliver House. With a history or more than 27 murders on the property, there’s bound to be some truth in all the reports of ghost sightings.
Even after I moved away from Arizona for several years, I often thought of Bisbee. I couldn’t be happier that my new home is only twenty minutes away from such a quirky little historic town. I venture into Bisbee at least once a month, sometimes more often. Each time I make a new friend and discover something new. What will you find on your next trip to Bisbee?
** All places discussed in this Bisbee Guide are places that I often visit on my own at my expense. However, I did receive a complimentary tour from the Bisbee Tour Company. Is there anywhere you would add to the Bisbee Guide? If so I’d love to hear from you.