Loaded with luxury mansions nestled neatly in the Foothills, premier shopping, world-renowned resorts, and world-class golf courses that draw people in by the thousands, it can be hard to picture southern Arizona as the Old West locale that put it on the map nearly 200 years ago. Southern Arizona has always had a knack for being remarkably modern while retaining its cultural and historical heritage, and that balance of old and new will likely remain unchanged for a long time, and for a very good reason.
When visitors and new residents move to Arizona, they come for the near-year-long perfect weather, access to the best of everything, and to get a glimpse of what it was like to be a resident of the Old West back when it was first coming into its own.
Our desire to experience the culture, adventure and unique aspects of old southern Arizona life continues to drive us to explore, preserve, and understand how places like Arizona played a major role in the development of today’s United States.
If you are itching to hitch up your saddle and dive head-first into the real Old West, there are still plenty of places throughout Southern Arizona that offer visitors the very best the Old West experience has to offer. Though they’re not quite HBO’s Westworld, they will nonetheless leave you feeling the rush and spirit of the cowboy culture that made Arizona what it is today.
Old Tucson Studios, Tucson
For more than 75 years, Old Tucson Studios has been the Wild West location for more than 300 film shoots. “Hollywood in the Desert,” as it was once called, Old Tucson Studios is the place where Westerns came to life on the big screen and television, including notable favorites like Rio Bravo (1959), El Dorado (1967), Have Gun Will Travel (1962), and Bonanza (1966-1972).
Today, Old Tucson Studios still opens its doors to Hollywood, but when the streets are not full of movie stars, they’re teeming with visitors from all around the world who come to experience historic tours, Old West shows, musicals, and a variety of dining and shopping options too. No trip to Tucson is complete without a stop at Old Tucson Studios!
Rawhide Wild West Town, Chandler
Rawhide Wild West Town is the Phoenix area’s go-to for family fun and cowboy adventures! Rawhide is an interactive town featuring old and modern activities for the whole family including gold panning, a petting zoo, horse-drawn carriage rides, train tours, roller coasters, shooting gallery, a mechanical bull ride challenge, and even a rip saw ride.
Don’t miss the “roughest, toughest stunt show around” at the Six Gun Theater, featuring a gunfight that is designed to thrill.
San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson
One of the most iconic and important pieces of Old West history, San Xavier del Bac was founded way back in 1692 and remains a vital and prominent part of the Tohono O’odham reservation. In the 1700’s, when Southern Arizona was still New Spain, missionary Juan Bautista Velderrain began construction on the current church with the help of an architect and a Tohono O’odham workforce.
Thought the site later became a part of Mexico in 1821, it would later become a part of the U.S. territory in 1854, with the church reopening in 1866 and resuming services.
Today, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a nonprofit that helps spread the history, culture, and traditions of the church, and the enduring legacy of the native O’odham people who still utilize the church. Be sure to visit the mission’s museum where you can examine artifacts and delve into a unique story of Old West history that has lasted for more than 300 years.