Who Knew Yuma is THE place to visit
This once rustic and busy river military port has grown up into a vibrant but affordable winter vacation spot. During the months of November through April tourists yearning for a warm, dry and sunny climate can find it here – at surprisingly affordable prices. Just a mere three hours from San Diego, Palm Springs and the Inland Empire, and four hours or so from the OC and LA, it’s an easy drive showcasing unique scenery.
Yuma has a complex history. Sitting in one of the popular boutique wine or beer establishments or trendy restaurants today, it is hard to imagine the city in its original, untamed state. Yet, in the days before wine spritzers and salmon entrees, Yuma possessed all the adventure and romance of the Wild West one could ever imagine.
On the eve of the Civil War, Arizona City’s (formally incorporated as Arizona City in 1871) position on the Colorado and its status as an ocean port made it one of the busiest and wildest towns in the Old West. A convergence of seafaring sailors, river pilots, soldiers, muleskinners, miners, trappers, outlaws, cowboys, Indians and bandits looking for fame, fortune, supplies, provisions, heavy-duty drink and raucous entertainment made this THE place to be.
Besides cowboys, criminals and Indians it should be noted that through the early years of the century, Yuma was a place for firsts. Who knew …the first plane to land in Arizona touched down in 1911. The first highway crossing of the Colorado River was the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge in 1915. Fly Field (now Marine Corps Air Station Yuma) was one of the first airports in Arizona and in 1928 hosted 25 planes in a cross-country air race. In 1929, Amelia Earhart ran off the end of the runway in Yuma while competing in the first Women’s Air Derby from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland. Pretty impressive.
Fast forward to today. On a recent weekend stay, I found the modern Yuma to be just as captivating as the old Yuma. Here are my top suggestions for discovering the real “Yuma…Who Knew?’
Be prepared. Don’t forget to pack sunglasses, a wide brimmed hat, an ice cold bottle of water (or three), sun block, mosquito repellent, flat comfortable shoes.
Make your reservations at the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel on South 4th Street. Owners John and Yvonne Peach have made this place a home away from home. Honoring its 1938 heritage, the owners have somehow kept up with the changing times without destroying the unique Spanish style vibe. You’ll find rooms of all kinds: singles, doubles, suites, extended stay and more to suit any taste and budget. A friendly staff, clean cool rooms, and the phenomenal onsite Casa de Coronado Museum (honoring the history of Yuma tourism) makes this affordable grand old lady a comfortable and well positioned place to stay. Free high speed Internet, breakfast and two swimming pools. Highly recommended.
Food is always a focus when traveling. This is your lucky vacation, as there is everything from high class dining options to down home comfort food. Always start your day out at Yuma Landing Bar & Grill. Owned by the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel folks, this is comfort food and cocktails at its affordable best. Happy hour is also amazing.
For a tasty in-door or Al fresco experience fill confident that the River City Grill on 3rd street is a great place to go for dinner. Order any one of their large extravagant entrees. They’re all good. The menu features an extensive menu of Mediterranean, Pacific Rim, Indian and Caribbean dishes. Rich, flavorful, low in fat and many gluten free options. Consider ordering the PISTACHIO CRUSTED CHICKEN, SHRIMP PHAD THAI, BOUILLABAISSE, BLACKENED SALMON or COCONUT CURRIED VEGETABLES.
For the unexpected theme dining try the Das Bratwurst Haus on S. Main Street. This is the greatest restaurant! The food is picture-perfect. Expect large portions cooked to perfection and enjoy the talented German duo band. Indulge in the authentic JÄGER SCHNITZEL, ROULADEN, GERMAN GRILL COMBO or the KARTOFFEL PUFFER. This foodie gives this place nine thumbs up for service, food presentation, authentic taste and pricing.
The Main Squeeze features wine and appetizers. . Indoor or patio tasting. This is Southwest Arizona’s only producing winery. Using grapes imported from around the world, they make about 2500 cases a year. You can pair Paninis, pizzas, and other tapas with your favorite wine. The décor is a bit of Yuma and 1930’s Hollywood history. It’s a local’s favorite.
History buffs are going to be in historical heaven. The Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, Quartermaster Depot State Park, the endurance plane display at Yuma City Hall, Pivot Point and the historic Yuma Theatre are truly worth your time. The community has really rallied around to make sure everything is well done, adult and child visitor friendly and accessible. Call ahead for hours of operation and guide options. Expect to spend at least an hour at each stop.
There’s lots of activities for everyone. There are events going on most months.Check to see what’s on at the Yuma Art Center & Historic Yuma Theatre. Showcasing four visual art galleries, classrooms and artist studios, a pottery studio and a very cool gift shop this place is always buzzing. The 650 seat renovated Historic Theatre is an amazing art deco dream site. Call ahead for a tour.
For the sports enthusiast, the Yuma East Wetlands Restoration Area, and the West Wetlands Park presents an opportunity to stretch your mind and soul. This is another example of what a community can do when they work together. Launch a small boat, take a dip in the Colorado River, float down a scenic waterway, take a walk in a hummingbird garden, or hike in a well-placed urban oasis. Highly recommend!
For garden lovers, The Moody Demonstration Garden is small but mighty and the Yuma Conservation will capture your senses with 28 acres of educational gardens.
Notable special events include: Gathering of the Gunfighters (January) Yuma Lettuce Days Festival (February), Mountain Artists studio tour (March), Tunes and Tacos Festival (April), Cinco de Mayo Mas Uno (May).
This year I was in town for Yuma Lettuce Days. Green and glorious this event brings celebrity chefs, cooking demos, tasting events, you-pick lettuce opportunities and agricultural tours together. Fascinating fun. Enjoy the wildly popular make your own salad tent. Highly recommend.
Pioneer Cemetery – Believe it or not, many people build their vacation activities around historic cemeteries. If that includes you, this one should be on your list. It’s dry and dusty, but as you wander around you can get a real feel for the spirit and texture of this community. The grave sites that dot this place contain a wealth of stories of pioneers who saw opportunities in the harsh desert and left their mark through times of changing fortunes and the vagaries of a once-untamed western seaport town.
Seriously, if you can’t find the perfect thing to see, eat or experience in Yuma…you’re just not trying. Checkout www.visityuma.com for additional info and ideas.