Welcome to Tombstone Arizona, the Land of Lawlessness.
A place where drinking shots at the saloon bar, followed by trips to the service room to the ladies in waiting, and a gun fight or two is a common daily occurrence.
Apart from the prostitution thing, is it strange that the thought of it makes you feel a little giddy?
It’s not the debauchery and shoot outs that entice me, but the fact that control by outside forces is not in your face. I think all of us are a little enticed by that freedom.
But then again, look at the kind of place this freedom gave to the silver mining town of Tombstone – exactly this hedonistic type of lifestyle.
Maybe humans need some kind of control.
Or, maybe it has nothing to do with that and just all about your character. Why can some behave and others can’t when no one is watching?
Regardless of any of this, Tombstone AZ is a quirky American town still dressed in its black Old Wild West full length jackets and holsters.
With bullet holes still in the walls of original bars from the 1800’s and those service rooms still sitting in the foyers; it will give you pause for thought and an insight into America in its years of growth.
Brief History of Tombstone Arizona
So where is Tombstone Arizona? It is located in Cochise County about 61 miles southeast of Tucson.
And you may be wondering how a town that was filled with many cowboys and gunshots got the name Tombstone?
Sounds like there was a lot of dying going on and gravestones erected.
I found the below story one of the most fascinating things I learned on our visit to Tombstone.
The founder of Tombstone city, Ed Schieffelin, was a soldier on a scouting mission against the Chiricahua Apaches in the Tombstone region. He had an inkling that silver may be found in the vicinity and chose to go searching for it.
He was told by a other soldiers that he was taking a major risk as the Apache warrior Geronimo controlled and patrolled the land and the only thing he’d find down there would be his own Tombstone.
Sure enough, Ed’s suspicions were correct and, in 1877, he struck silver without dying in the process.
As a joke, he called his first silver mine Tombstone and quietly celebrated the fortune that was on its way to him.
When word got out about the silver mine, people flocked to the area and a town called Tombstone was built beside the mine.
The population increased to around 20,000 people in the mid 1880’s and was home to more than 100 saloons, a multitude of eateries, and a huge red-light district.
And so Tombstone was born!
You can learn more about the history and relations with Geronimo and the Apache tribe in the museum surrounding the O.K. Corral.
As the mining slowed down, people began to leave and in the early 1930’s the population had dwindled to around 150 people.
Today it’s home to about 1,500 residents who believe in preserving the history and heritage of the Wildest Town in the West.
In 1929, the county seat was moved to nearby Bisbee, and yet the few remaining Tombstone residents stayed and refused to turn it into a complete ghost town giving it the accolade of :The Town too Tough to die – far too many juicy stories in this town to go waste like that.
On account of the many well preserved buildings, the town was designated a Natural Historical landmark in 1962, soon after which tourism became the main source of income
Much of the dusty one street town is not original due to a few fires that destroyed it, but it has been rebuilt.
Along the street you’ll find many plaques telling the stories of the buildings and the shenanigans that went on in there, including where Morgan Earp, was shot in the back playing pool not long after the famous gunfight he was wounded in.
As you wander through you’ll get peeks at the mountain peaks in the distance and you can imagine just how beautiful the surrounding area must have looked perched on this Tombstone hill with no other infrastructure blocking its way.
Things to do in Tombstone, Arizona
As a child who grew up watching Westerns with my parents, Tombstone was not unknown to me.
So I was a little excited to make the 90-minute trip south of Tucson to have a look.
Of course, you may have seen the famous Tombstone movie featuring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.
This is the place of that story and the gunfight at O.K. Corral.
The Gunfight at O.K. Corral
You can learn more about the Gunfight at O.K. Corral reenactment show.
It may be a little cheesy, but it will show you the madness that came with too much drinking and talking about people behind their back.
I enjoyed it and so did the girls, and despite the loud and sudden gun shots it’s one of the fun things to do in Tombstone Arizona with kids.
The reenactment happens just off to the side of the place it actually happened, which for history buffs, is a little thrill.
Watch for the four lawmen heroes of the event out on the street before the show starts.
Dressed in their long black coats, they make for a perfect picture as they stand in a row looking down the dusty street waiting for their enemies, the Clanton and McLaury cowboys to come get them.
The cost of the show is $10, which also gives you access to the museums, a movie (which we didn’t end up seeing) and newspaper reproduction of the October 27,1881, Tombstone Epitaph that documents THE gunfight.
In the O.K. Corral area are several museums sharing more information about life in Tombstone at the time. You can walk through the O.K. Corral stables as they appeared in the 1880’s, sit in some buggies or mine for gems.
I enjoyed C.S. Fly’s Photo Gallery where you can see his world-famous photos of the Apache warrior Geronimo and his historic photos of 1880s Tombstone life.
And the prostitute cabin gives a fascinating insight into the world’s oldest profession.
The O.K. Corral reenactment is reenacted daily inside the O.K. Corral Historic Complex at 11 am, noon, 2 pm, and 3:30 pm.
I’d suggest going there first to get your ticket so you can ensure you get a seat at one of the shows. It runs for 30-minutes.
Wander the Tombstone Streets
It was fun to wander up and down the main dusty Tombstone street.
It’s as it was in the 1800’s preserved with dozens of original buildings and artifacts found along its streets and inside its fascinating museums.
There’s even the horse tying logs still out the front of the saloons and numerous plaques explaining a little of the history of that particular building.
You won’t help but feel like you’re in the middle of a Hollywood movie set. Except this is the real deal.
Tombstone makes it easy to imagine the life and spirit of this high desert town.
If you like shopping, there area few jewelry and gemstone stores, and places for souvenirs, or to even get dressed up for an old time western photo.
Can you imagine in 100 years people getting dressed up to look like we do now? I just couldn’t imagine there’d be much spunk to it.
If you visit the Gunfight at O.K. Corral, you’ll get a newspaper souvenir of the actual story sharing the events of the gun fight.
When you pick it up from the Tombstone Epitaph, the 1880’s museum of Arizona’s oldest newspaper, which is still published today, you can learn about John Clum who owned newspaper and who also captured Geronimo and hired the Earps to defend Tombstone.
I found his story quite fascinating.
Lunch at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, the girlfriend of Doc Holliday, and reputedly the first prostitute in town, has been named one of the best Old Western bars in the USA.
There is a live musician playing and the staff are all dressed up. It has a fun ambiance to it.
We managed to time our entrance right to get the empty VIP booth overlooking the restaurant. I kind of liked sitting up there and looking down at the lively atmosphere of the bar.
You can even play dress ups in their with costumes for classic Western photo souvenirs.
The food was okay. My nachos was pretty tasty and filling. I liked that you had a decent amount of filler. I hate when I get a nachos that is basically a dry bowl of corn ships with just a tiny bit of cheese dribbled on top.
Savannah’s pizza was really oily though and she wouldn’t eat it. So maybe skip the pizzas.
You’ll also find real local cowboys at the bar, who were super friendly and came over to our cubicle to take our photo, spin a yarn, and give us plenty of food recommendations.
There are plenty of other restaurants to choose from in town dishing up buffalo burgers and ribs, and of course steak!
Other Tombstone Attractions
Bring your cash and careful planning.
There is no one entrance fee into the town of Tombstone, however there are entrance fees for all of the attractions in the town, if which there are many.
You probably won’t want to do it all, as it will blow a hole in your pocket.
Just wondering around is fun enough!
Although, I do recommend the gunfight at O.K. Corral show, as that’s what the town is most known for.
- On the back road you’ll find another gun fight reenactment area.
- There is the Boothill Cemetery in town. I don’t know how we missed that but I only heard of it when my Dad asked us if we saw it after we had visited. Many individuals from Tombstone are in this cemetery, including victims from a shootout that took place in 1881 between the Cowboys and Earps on Fremont Street.
Built in 1882, Tombstone’s Courthouse and jail is preserved as a State Historic Park (entrance $4 per adult in 2008), and contains a comprehensive museum about the town and its mines.
- Today, a massive network of silver mines still lie deep beneath the streets of Tombstone Arizona, and you can take a guided tour through part of the Good Enough Mine, 100 feet underground. I’m disappointed I didn’t even know about this! So I’m glad we can tell you to prepare you for your trip to Tombstone.
- The Good Enough Mine was the second silver mine claimed by Schieffelin a year after he found Tombstone. He called it Good Enough because the silver ore was so rich that it was good enough to satisfy
If you are thinking of doing any more tours or attractions in Tombstone, these are the two we were contemplating and I wish I did.
Pop into the Bird Cage Theatre
We walked into the foyer of the Bird Cage Theatre at the right time, just as a lady dressed in old western gear jumped on the microphone to give us a little tour.
We didn’t move outside of the foyer, which was the front saloon bar, but we learned quite a few fascinating things about this popular entertainment place for the people of Tombstone.
The Birdcage was not just a theater, but a gambling hall, saloon and brothel.
We saw the only original bar left in the town, complete with full length mirror and bullet holes.
It was fascinating to me how small it was, but I guess it wasn’t really servicing huge amounts of people like our bars do now. I learned there was over 100 of them just in that one street.
To the side was a tiny staircase that lead to a yellow curtain drawn across a small box – the prostitution box which was perfectly legal in this town where anything goes.
We learned a little of the mistress that stole Wyatt Earp’s heart and became his long time second wife, and the Big Nose Kate, the girlfriend of Val Kilmer.
For a fee, you could go out the back of the saloon to the gambling den and see more of that. The Bird Cage features quite a lot in the movie Tombstone.
This could have been a fascinating tour.
It’s also known to be one of the most haunted places in America and a few cowboys have been seen still sitting around the poker tables downstairs!
Stage Coach Ride
The Wells Fargo stage coach was a big part of life in the Tombstone area, carrying mail, goods, gold and money between towns throughout the west.
Regular narrated stage coach rides clip clop around the town. So you not only get the old stage coach experience, but a few stories as well.
It would have cost us $30 for our family of 4.
You’ll only really need half a day to explore Tombstone. You can make an excursion to the Kartchner Caverns State Park after, which are on the way back to Tucson.
We had many recommendations from people to do this. Be sure to book your tour ahead of time. We ran out of time to fit it in.
Tours to Tombstone
If you don’t have a car, and are coming from Scottsdale, you can join this tour.
Bonus Tombstone Travel Video
Where to Stay in Tucson
I would recommend staying in Tucson and driving down for the day. It only took us just over an hour. I don’t think there are many other reasons to stay in Tombstone.
But if you are interested in booking Tombstone hotels, go here.
Tucson Hotels & Apartments
For those looking for Tucson hotels or apartments, check out the options through our partner, Booking.com.
We find they have the widest range of properties. You get free cancellation on most rooms, and a best price guarantee. Plus, they have verified reviews from guests who have actually stayed at the property!
You can also check out Airbnb options.
Gilbert Ray Campground
We loved this campsite in the middle of the Tucson Mountain wilderness.
Our site was huge and very secluded and the campground serene and beautiful. And what a bargain for only $20 a night.
It was a bit rough not having showers and limited water supply. But at least it teaches you about water conservation and how much you can waste!
If you’re looking for camping near Saguaro National Park, you are only a five minute drive to the West entrance gate!
Catalina State Park
We stayed one night at Catalina State Park in Tucson.
We highly recommend this campground. Be sure to book in advance as it’s popular. The scenery and SUNSETS are stunning at the base of the Catalina Mountains.
There are a few trails straight from the campsite that are easy for walking or biking. The sites are clean, level and spacious and the bathrooms very clean with warm showers and it’s only $35 a night.
There is even a book exchange and they have lots of ranger led activities.
They also have free wifi and the cell service (Verizon) is fast.
Other Places to Stay
More Tips for Tucson and Arizona
- 18 things to do in Tucson with kids (or without)
- Best tips for visiting the Grand Canyon with kids
- Amazing Things to do in Sedona with Kids (or without kids)