Top Things to do in Yuma AZ – Where to Go & What to See!

Top Things to do in Yuma AZ – Where to Go & What to See!

Located in the southwest corner of Arizona and mere miles from the borders of Mexico and California is this quaint little town with a big and exciting history.  The name of the city was originally Arizona City but it was eventually dubbed Yuma after the Spanish word for smoke (humo). It is believed that this name was chosen because the natives of the area used smoke in their practices.

The local natives are the Cocopah.  They have occupied the area around Yuma for thousands of years and are notable as navigators of the Colorado River, which is situated alongside the city.  While Spanish expeditions in 1540 did broach the Yuma territory, it wasn’t until a 1605 expedition that the Cocopah were specifically mentioned by name.

It was in the mid nineteenth century that Yuma became a boomtown.  With a local mine, a historic prison for the Arizona territory, and an ideal location for supplying the military forts of the Southwest, this little town became a prize to settlers.  Even after the mining days slowed down and the prison closed, its situation along the Colorado River kept it busy as a thoroughfare for travelers going West.

All this history leads to today, where many opportunities abound to revisit the frontier of the southwest.  Yuma has been and continues to be a crossroads of cultures and exploration. For many it meant a new beginning was on the horizon; for others it was a cultural legacy; and for others still, it was a place to contemplate what had been and what might be.

These are the reasons why Yuma is an exciting place to visit.  Now, take a glance at some of the possibilities a tourist has to explore in this city along the river.

Yuma Offers a Little Something for Everyone

As you will see below, Yuma is a fabulous place to vacation; there is a little something for everyone.

For history buffs, it offers a view of the past in the Southwest.  Here, you can visit an old mining village to see how early settlers lived and worked.  Yuma offers a historic prison where you can see how law and order were managed in the wild west.

History lovers will also enjoy that Yuma offers some unique historical museums and sites.  There is a museum dedicated to the Cocopah. There is also the Ocean to Ocean Bridge, which has a long and significant history.  And don’t forget about the Sanguinetti House Museums and Gardens which is in remembrance of one of the community’s most impactful citizens.  Perhaps the most fascinating historical site of all is the petroglyphs of Antelope Hill. Here, you can walk amongst hundreds of images sketched into the rocks by ancient tribes.

For lovers of nature, Yuma has two sites set up as Wetland Parks.  West Wetlands & Centennial Beach is ideal for picnicking, hiking, and fishing.  The East Wetlands Environmental Restoration Area has been set aside to restore the natural habitat.  It is an excellent place to walk or bike while viewing the natural environment of Yuma.

For tourists who are looking for a relaxing time, Yuma has plenty of opportunities as well.  Take in a show at the Historic Yuma Theatre, a place that holds one of the nation’s few operating original silver screen theaters.  Or, get creative and take a pottery class at the Yuma Art Center. Here, you will find art galleries, workshops, and all the things a creative mind loves.

Yuma also offers plenty of shopping in their historical downtown and in the Arizona Marketplace.  With boutiques and gift shops lining the streets, every tourist will want to stop by for some time to browse and select the perfect souvenir.

This place is not done yet, because it even offers a great selection of activities for those who like adventure and staying busy.  From everything to tubing down the Colorado River to driving dune buggies across the Imperial Sand Dunes to hiking and biking along local nature trails, Yuma will keep you active throughout your vacation.

What You Should See When Visiting Yuma

While there is so much to list when it comes to Yuma, there are a select few places that are unique and a must visit for tourists.  Below, we have gathered those unique sites for you and given some reasons why you should visit and what to expect when you do. Once you have read through these options, you will certainly be ready for a trip to Yuma.

Yuma Territorial Prison

Housing bandits and other outlaws, this prison has been a piece of popular lore in the Southwest and actually inspired two Hollywood movies. It was only open for thirty-three years, but has certainly left an indelible legacy in the Yuma community.  Even the local high school adopted the team name “criminals” as an emblem of pride for this establishment.

Today, it is the top tourist destination in Yuma.  What once held convicts and dangerous folk is now a place for families to roam and take selfies in the cell block.  Some of its draws are the guard tower that offers an extensive view of the land surrounding the prison, a place to learn the stories of some of the prisoners, and the opportunity to take some fun mug shots.

If the wild west intrigues you, then this is the place you need to visit.  It will give you insight into how law and order came to the area and how it impacted the lives of the Yuma community.

Castle Dome City

Also known as Castle Dome Landing, this is the site of an old mining camp.  Begun in 1863 and closed in 1978, the ghost town is a very attractive tourist site today.

Castle Dome City is the type of place where you can experience history firsthand.  Here, you can walk along the same horse trail used over a hundred years ago; you can stroll along the creaking boardwalks as you explore the historic structures; and you can even brave the old graveyard.

If you seek to understand what motivated generations of people to move West despite all the dangers of nineteenth century travel, then you need to visit Castle Dome City.  It is a museum that celebrates the courage and fortitude of the pioneers who built America.

Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area

With sand dunes stretching some forty miles, this site has been titled the countries largest area of inland dune.  Its compelling nature has made it a sensational stopping point for anyone with a love for off-roading. But, it doesn’t only appeal to dirt bikes and dune buggies, for it has also been the star backdrop in several movies.

If cresting mountains of sand in a motorized vehicle sounds like a great way to spend your vacation, then definitely check out this place.  However, if you are more laid back about your vacation, not needing to careen about, this is still a great place to stop by for some photos.  One thing to note about the Imperial Sand Dunes though, is that you will need a permit to drive on them, but they offer a user-friendly website and information for contacting them with questions.

The “Official” Center of the World

A gathering of eclectic and eccentric, this trip worthy stop is a twenty-minute drive across the California border from Yuma.  While it is only the French government and California’s Imperial County that officially recognize this as the center of the world, it certainly has a satisfying array of structures that leads visitors to believe that its name is well deserved.

It was established by a French-American parachutist who named the surrounding town after his wife.  There is no political or scientific motivation for calling this place the center of the world and just seems to be a personal project.

For twenty-five years, The Center of the World has been developed into a tourist site that is almost impossible to describe in words.  On its grounds is a spiral staircase to nowhere, which interestingly is a former piece of the Eiffel Tower. There is also a set of granite pyramids and a church.

The most extensive pieces of work comprise the Museum of History in Granite.  This consists of several one-hundred-foot triangle-shaped granite monuments. The monuments are dedicated to sharing the history of various topics, some of which are “The History of Arizona”, “The History of the French Foreign Legion”, and “The History of French Aviation”.  These continue to be updated.

If you like visiting places that are a little quirky, then this is going to be the perfect place.  Not only will it give you a chance to step into someone’s creative ambitions, it will give you a chance to learn some history and explore some architecture that you won’t see just anywhere.

Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm

Harvesting dates is a time consuming and intricate operation, but Nels and Martha Rogers have made a success of their endeavors.  They founded the farm in 1990 with 300 Medjool date palm off-shoots. They then developed a drip irrigation system to properly water the date palms in the desert conditions.

Harvesting of these original palms didn’t occur until 1999 and still requires a full six-month growing season for each harvest.  Today, the farm is over 100 acres in size and holds around 8000 palm off-shoots. The family is able to add to their farm each year by planting the naturally produced clones created by the female palms.  With this set-up, there is plenty of opportunity for growth.

When visiting be sure to stop by their store to try some of their dates.  Along with the very special Medjool dates grown on the premises, you will find some rather unique treats such as date coleslaw and date potato salad.  They also sell local honey, breads, salsas, and other items.

If you enjoy learning about agriculture and love a story about a successful family business, then this is a must-see site in Yuma.  You will be able to tour the farm, view the layout of the palms, and learn more about how the dates are grown and harvested.

The Camel Farm

Anyone visiting Yuma with their kids will need to stop by The Camel Farm to pet these lovelies.  Well, even if you don’t have kids, but have a love of animals, you need to stop here. Not only do they have camels ready and willing to be petted, they also have goats, chickens, horses and other animals that will love a visit from you.

Local Tours

Yuma holds many unique sites, some of which are not technically tourist locales.  Because of this, there is a great interest in touring packages or events. Many of these only occur during select seasons and some have a few dates only, so be sure to get signed up early.

Here are some of the popular touring events in Yuma.

  1. Oorah! MCAS Yuma – this is a chance to visit the Marine Core’s busiest air station.  They offer tours led by knowledgeable personnel which will show you such features as the obstacle course and a working dog demonstration.
  2. Savor Yuma – this is a chance to taste some of the best food in the city without the stress.  Tour buses will guide you to three different local restaurants where you will feast on appetizers, soup and salad, and entrees.  Bon appetite.
  3. Field to Feast – this is a chance to become acquainted with your food.  The idea is that you will help harvest the local fields for awhile and at the same time learn about the agricultural processes involved.  Once the harvesting session is over, you will be treated to a lunch prepared by some students at the local culinary school. And yes, they will be serving you what you picked from the ground.  It’s a fun and delicious day.
  4. Historic Yuma Walking Tour – this is a chance to see the sites but from a slightly different perspective.  You’ll be guided through the streets and into some of the most historically pertinent locations by a local tour guide.  The experience will be unique since it is done entirely on your feet. It will be active, but it will be fun.
  5. Specialty Dinners – these dinners provide a chance for you to be treated as a special guest and to savor some scrumptious food as you relax with friends.  Yuma offers several options when it comes to specialty dinners. Date Night Dinners is where Executive Chef Alex Trujillo serves a sumptuous feast under the stars and then presents you with a very special dessert made from local dates.  Sunset on the Ranch will offer you a farm to table feast complete with a tractor ride and fire pit all set on a local farm. Finally, History Dinners with Tina Clark gives you the opportunity to hear a local historian along with a lifelong resident of Yuma share stories of the past while you relax and relish a banquet of local foods prepared especially for the evening.

In Summary of the Tourist Sites

As you can see, there really is a lot to do in Yuma.  If you choose to visit, you will find something new and unique each day of your vacation.

When You Should Visit Yuma

Now that you know what to see when you visit Yuma, you need some information to help you decide when to visit.  Arizona is one of those places that sees little change in its weather patterns, but even still, it is nice to know what to expect during each season.  With this knowledge, you will be able to make an informed decision about your trip to Yuma.

Yuma is conveniently located in a somewhat temperate area of the country.  It is even considered in the 57th percentile for the pleasantest weather in a worldwide rating of tourist sites.  This means it is an appealing place to visit most of the year; however, there are a few exceptions.  So, let’s discuss the details of each season and decide on when is the best time for you to visit Yuma.

Spring (March through May)

During the months of spring you will find a warm and slightly humid weather pattern.  This is not to imply that it is an uncomfortable season to visit. While highs range from the mid seventies to the low hundreds during these months, they are actually pleasant.

In fact, spring is a popular time to visit Yuma; April is typically the busiest month for tourism in the area.  Because tourism is so popular, you can expect to have plenty to do. Plus, the warm weather means that outdoor activities are open and running and should be very fun.

The only downsides to visiting in the springtime is that it will be crowded and the prices for hotel rooms will go up.  But, if crowds and prices are not a concern to you, then this is an optimal time to visit Yuma. You can expect a fun time with access to all the sites.

Summer (June through August)

There is no way to get around the fact that Yuma during the summer months is hot.  It is because of the soaring temperatures that tourism slows down drastically. The benefit of visiting during the summer is that accommodations may cost a little less than during the busy seasons.

Summer tourism in Yuma has several downsides.  The scorching heat is the main reason because it creates all the other reasons.  Due to the intense heat, many tourist sites may be closed or have irregular hours making it difficult to schedule many activities.  Combining these two downsides may be enough to rethink a visit to Yuma in summer.

Fall (September through November)

The months of fall are actually the lowest season for tourism in Yuma.  The weather is a bit nicer during these months than the previous few months of summer; however, there is still a bit of humidity lingering about.  If you plan to visit during the fall, you can expect to find things are less expensive, but there are still many places that remain closed.

Winter (December through February)

During the winter months, things get very lively around Yuma.  These are the months when retirees move back to avoid the cold in the Northern states and when businesses open their doors to the incoming crowds of tourists.  The reason for the influx of tourism is the temperate weather of winter. The average temperatures range between 66.5°F and 76.9°F. There is also little to no rain or snow in Yuma during winter.  This means the weather has created a perfect opportunity for the tourism industry to flourish in the area.

The downside to visiting in the winter is that it will be more crowded than at other times and the cost of accommodations will be higher comparably.  But this also means the tourist sites should be open and have regular hours so that you can keep busy on your vacation.

Deciding on The Best Time

Ultimately, it will be up to you, your likes, and your schedule to decide on what season to visit Yuma.  There is always going to be something beautiful and fun to see and to do. However, if you are looking to experience Yuma to the fullest, then you need to visit in the winter.  This season will provide you with the best opportunity to visit all the tourist sites and avoid the overwhelming heat of the other seasons.

Other Unique Things about Yuma

Yuma holds an interesting position on two different borders. To the north is California and to the southwest is Mexico.

California

You are mere minutes from the California border, but if you want to venture farther into the state, here are some options for you.

San Diego

Just a few hours away lies the beach in San Diego. This is a great day trip from Yuma if you want to see the ocean. Don’t miss Sea World or the world-famous San Diego Zoo, either. These are fantastic family-friendly attractions you will want to make time for.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

If you’re into hiking, huge fields of wildflowers, and desert plants like cacti, check out Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It’s another great day trip from Yuma to enjoy beautiful, mountainous scenery, sunshine, and exercise.

Mexico

If you have a passport and you fancy a quick trip across the border, this may interest you. You are less than half an hour from the border itself, and if you want to venture across, there are several places you could go.

San Luis Rio Colorado

This border town is ripe with festivities. If you’re visiting in the summer, beware. It’s extremely hot. In fact, it’s one of the hottest cities in all of Mexico. However, visiting in November, you’ll find milder temperatures and the Fiestas del Desierto, which celebrates the biodiversity of culture, cuisine, and sports.

Mexicali

This capital of Baja California features some of the most beautiful architecture in the area. Visit the orange Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, built in 1940. You may also enjoy plenty of performances and art shows at the House of Culture. If you like science and technology, visit the Museo Sol del Nino, and if you like nature, try out the Canon de Guadalupe with hot springs, cave paintings, and waterfalls.

Start Planning Your Trip Today

You have seen how many wonderful things there are in Yuma.  This place is full of history, adventure, and opportunities for relaxing with your family or friends.  Now that you know what sites it offers and what each season holds, you are well equipped to schedule a trip to Yuma.   So, get your travel itinerary set and your bags packed because this is a trip you are not going to want to miss.

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Justin Caldwell

Justin Caldwell is a freelance writer and editor based in Olathe, Kansas. Though he travels primarily domestically with his family, he has spent time in other countries absorbing the culture.  He and his family love exploring his own country and discovering those less often visited places found off the beaten path (and he comes prepared with the best gear). He also writes on subjects ranging from cryptocurrency to smart home technology to whiskey.