It seemed like a tall order: My wife and I had a four-day window we wanted to fill with history, hiking, good eats, an interesting hotel and pleasant weather. And it had to be somewhere neither of us had visited and within a reasonable day's drive. After eliminating every other town you've ever heard of, we settled on … Prescott, Ariz. After a meandering eight-hour drive (the 375 miles can be driven faster) through the California desert, we disembarked at the Hassayampa Inn. The tab: We spent $366 for three nights of hotel, about $300 on food and drink, and about $200 for gas.
We had booked the Hassayampa after seeing images of the historic hotel online and realizing it was possibly the only swanky place in town. The Hassayampa was built in 1927 by a consortium of leading citizens who thought their mineral-rich mountain town needed an elegant hotel to anchor its banking and mercantile efforts. The Depression arrived in time to quash the investors' dreams, but the hotel has been largely preserved. The high lobby ceilings feature hand-painted beams, and the original elevator requires a licensed operator.
The Hassayampa has its attractive Peacock dining room, but the town's many historic bars and restaurants invited culinary exploration. We marched half a mile for a hearty, solid breakfast at SueAnn's Apple Pan. That night, after a series of local hikes, we wanted another big meal and found we had plenty of choices. Downtown Whiskey Row is lined with Old West-themed hotels and saloons, many largely intact from the town's glory days. We ate well (a richly flavored and substantial bowl of chili at $7.50 for me, pork rib plate at $19 for Julie) at the subdued Bistro St. Michael in the Hotel St. Michael, built in 1901.
We didn't expect the local hiking to be nearly as dramatic as in Sedona, about 65 miles northeast of Prescott, but we had a fine march the first day to the top of Thumb Butte. The trailhead, only 15 minutes from our hotel, led to a paved pathway that climbed sharply to a fine overlook with a commanding view of the region — about an hour round trip, up and back. That afternoon we scrambled over boulders and the strange, prehistoric rock formations at Watson Lake, about 20 minutes north of downtown.
THE LESSON LEARNED
We have enjoyed northern Arizona in the past, but on this trip we found we preferred Prescott's less self-conscious Old West to Sedona's New Age. We didn't nearly exhaust the restaurant options, could have chosen another half a dozen places to hike and felt quite at home in the Hassayampa. By the end of the stay we were calling the town "Pres-cutt," as the locals do, instead of "Pres-cott," which is how the tourists say it.
Hassayampa Inn, 122 E. Gurley St., Prescott; (928) 778-9434, hassayampainn.com. Rooms from $89. Wheelchair accessible.
SueAnn's Apple Pan, 510 W. Gurley St., Prescott; (928) 756-2515, sueanns.com. Open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Wheelchair accessible.
Bistro St. Michael, 205 W. Gurley St., Prescott; (928) 778-2500, lat.ms/stmichaelbistro. Open 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily (but extending until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays). Wheelchair accessible.
Watson Lake Park, 3101 Watson Lake Park Road, Prescott; (928) 777-1122, lat.ms/watsonlake. Some trails wheelchair accessible.