I grew up with my dad watching Westerns. I vividly remember seeing images of cowboys, rattlesnakes, saguaro cacti, mountains, and many tumbleweeds on our tv screen. While visiting Southwest Arizona, it feels like, at any moment, a silhouetted cowboy hat-wearing man will walk up with the sounds of the spurs clinging to the ground. In this guide to Tombstone, Arizona, you will find everything you need to know to visit “The Town Too Tough to Die.”
Tombstone, Arizona, brings history to life with reenactments, actors, and landmarks. You don’t need to have watched Westerns to have a wonderful experience at Tombstone. You will walk on the same dusty street as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
Wyatt Earp arrived in Tombstone in December 1879— the town was booming after a silver rush. Hollywood loved the story of Tombstone—the gunfight at the O.K. Corral with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and others. The town survived multiple fires and gunfights and continues to live up to the legend of “The Town Too Tough to Die.”
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Getting to Tombstone, Arizona
Bisbee (25 minutes) – We visited Bisbee one night, which was awesome. The town is so fun. We don’t have time to visit this area on this trip, but we will add this delightful town to our State Book.
Phoenix (3 hours)
Guide to Tombstone, Arizona: Attractions you can't miss
Before you get started planning, make sure you download the downtown walking Map.
The first and most important thing you should do is watch a gunfight.
The most important thing to do in Tombstone is see a shootout. You can’t say you were in Tombstone if you don’t witness a gunfight.
There were three gunfights when we visited the town.
The first one we recommend is the O. K. Corral. You can tour the actual site of the famous shootout between the cowboys and the lawmen. In just 24 seconds, 30 shots were fired—30 shots that would cement the town and shooters into history.
When you first walk outside the building, you will see a buggy display, stables, a blacksmith, and a gemstone mining area. Where the actual gunfight occurred, you will see lifesize cowboys and lawmen in the locations Wyatt Earp said they were standing.
With your ticket, you also get to visit Fly’s Boarding House—some of the photos he took over the years are displayed. Don’t forget to look for Doc Holiday’s room.
Also, part of the ticket includes visiting the Historama Theater and seeing the events that made Tombstone famous—including the silver boom, the great fire, the O.K. Corral gunfight, and so much more. You will also get a coupon for a newspaper from the Tombstone Epitaph Newspaper Museum (it makes a great souvenir). They gave us a newspaper from the day after the famous gunfight and three newer papers.
There is also a Prostitute’s Crib that “Soiled Doves” would rent for $20 a week. They would work from “sunset to sunrise entertaining the impatient line of men standing outside the door of her crib. She charged from $0.25 to $1.00 a man.”
There is an indoor shootout reenactment at Wyatt Earp’s Oriental Saloon & Theatre.
The theater was a gambling hall and entertainment venue in Tombstone, Arizona, owned by Wyatt Earp and his associates in the early 1880s. The saloon featured a large bar, several gaming tables, and a theater that hosted various acts, including traveling shows and local performers.
The Oriental was popular among locals and visitors and known for its luxury and high-class atmosphere. However, it also had a reputation for being a site of violence and conflict, particularly during the infamous gunfight at the nearby O.K. Corral.
Today, the site of the Oriental Saloon & Theatre is a popular tourist destination in Tombstone, Arizona. While the original building no longer stands, multiple replicas were constructed to resemble the original structure.
In May 2019, R.J. Herrig, owner of the Crystal Palace Saloon, took over the operation of the Oriental Saloon and opened a full-service bar with authentic Old West hospitality—including three different stories and lots of shooting.
We highly recommend it—the show was entertaining, and the drinks were great.
Next, you should spend time strolling down Allen Street.
Allen Street is the main street through town, so it’s hard to miss if you come to Tombstone. However, we want to make sure you make the time to walk down the dusty street and imagine how it was in the 1880s.
You will find some main attractions in this guide and most restaurants, saloons, and shops on Allen Street. While walking on the covered boardwalks, it’s fun to imagine them filled with people from the 1880s.
Can you picture the Earps and Holliday walking down the middle of the street to the O.K. Corral?
One of our favorite shops was Nellie’s Wicks and Bricks. They sold a lot of amazing things, but our favorite was the lotion bars. They smelled amazing. The girls and I all bought one, and we will also buy one from their website.
“Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a .44, no Les no more”
You will find those that died from sickness, hanging, murder, natural causes (this was rare), and shootout victims. Almost 300 graves, many of them unmarked. The first question we were thinking and you may as well—are people really buried here?
Boothill opened in 1879, and there were few burials after 1884. A new cemetery was built in 1884 at the end of the main street. Most people wanted to be buried in the new cemetery and also wanted family members dug up and moved (probably because of the types of folks filling graves in the old cemetery).
According to Southern Arizona Guide, Boothill is real, but things have changed.
“Boothill became a garbage dump. Most of the early headstones were wooden crosses that had disintegrated due to the harsh elements, or had been stolen as souvenirs, or trampled by free-range cattle.
When John Clum, former editor of the Tombstone Epitaph as well as former Tombstone mayor, returned briefly to Tombstone in 1929, he went to the Old Cemetery to pay his respects to his wife, Mary. Some said he became distraught when he could not find her grave.
Soon thereafter, a few of the town’s remaining citizens decided that the Old Cemetery should be cleaned up and put back together. They enlisted the Boy Scouts to clear the brush and debris. Old-timers tried to recall where various individuals’ graves were located. No doubt memories failed as often than not.”
You will get a guide to walk you through the gravesite rows and tell you any available information. Well worth the $3 entrance fee. As a side note, if you also visit the Bird Cage Theater, you can see “The Black Moriah.” The hearse transported all but six people to Boothill Graveyard. It’s said to be the most valuable antique in Tombstone.
Visit the Bird Cage Theatre
Speaking of the Bird Cage, add this fun museum to your bucket list. Known as the “wickedest and wildest night spot between the Barbary Coast and Basin Street,” the Bird Cage Theater is the only historic landmark found in its original state.
During Tombstone’s Wild West days, the Bird Cage Theatre was famous for gambling, drinking, and entertainment. Today, it is a museum and tourist attraction that is said to be haunted by the ghosts of its past.
One fun fact is that the theater has 140 alleged bullet holes in the walls and ceilings.
In the first room, which used to be the theater’s sitting area, you will find “cages” or enclosures built toward the ceiling lining both sides of the room. Women rented these for $20 a week. They would then run their businesses.
Bird Cage Theater is also home to the longest-running poker game—eight years, five months, and three days— that you can see in the theater’s basement.
Whether or not you believe in ghosts, the Bird Cage is a fascinating part of Tombstone’s history and a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the Wild West era.
Tombstone Epitaph Newspaper Museum
You should visit Arizona’s oldest newspaper after visiting the O. K. Corral. You will get a ticket for a free newspaper.
The Epitaph Museum is super quick and FREE. It’s packed full of interesting machines and blocks of type set in metal chases that were used to create newspapers in the past.
Visit the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park
This museum features exhibits about the town’s history, including displays about the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. The museum is an Arizona State Historical Park and was built in 1882.
You could find the sheriff, recorder, treasurer, and board of supervisors at the courthouse and jail at the rear. They have some jail cell walls for you to view when you tour.
Outside the courtyard stands a replica of the gallows where criminals were publicly hanged. Several individuals were hanged in Tombstone during its Wild West days.
The town’s violent history and reputation as a place where justice was often swift and brutal make it a fascinating destination.
Take a Ride on a Stage Coach
The Wells Fargo Stagecoach line played a significant role in Tombstone’s history. It transported mail, money, gold, goods, and passengers. Stagecoach robberies happened all of the time in the 1880s.
The stagecoach rides in Tombstone today offer visitors a chance to experience a bit of the Old West firsthand. Visitors can ride on a stagecoach that follows the same route as the original stagecoach that once traveled through town. The stagecoach rides start on Allen Street and pass by landmarks such as the Bird Cage Theatre and the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park.
The stagecoaches used for these rides are authentic replicas of the original stagecoaches that operated in Tombstone in the late 1800s. Along the way, a knowledgeable guide provides information about Tombstone's history and the stagecoach's role in the town’s development.
The best food of Tombstone, Arizona (or at least the only food we tried)
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon is a popular bar and restaurant in the heart of Tombstone’s historic district. The saloon used to be in what was once the Grand Hotel, a prominent establishment during Tombstone’s heyday. Visitors to the saloon can enjoy a meal or a drink while surrounded by the ambiance of the Old West.
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon staff dress in period costumes, adding to the immersive experience of stepping back in time to the days of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
According to Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, Big Nose Kate was the first prostitute in Tombstone and Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. Big Nose Kate was Mary Katherine Horony Cummings.
Today, visitors to Big Nose Kate’s Saloon can enjoy live music, karaoke, other entertainment, and food and drinks. The saloon is also known for its collection of Old West memorabilia, including photographs, antique firearms, and other artifacts.
We ate here the first night, which was a great introduction to the town.
Crystal Palace Saloon
The Crystal Palace Saloon was initially built in 1879 and has since been restored to its former glory. The saloon was a popular gathering place for cowboys, miners, and other residents of Tombstone during the town's boom days.
The Crystal Palace Saloon is known for its ornate decor, which includes a large mahogany bar, stained glass windows, and a pressed tin ceiling.
The Longhorn is a restaurant located on historic Allen Street. Originally built in 1881, the building that houses the Longhorn has been a prominent fixture in Tombstone's historic district for over a century. The saloon has been restored to its original glory and retains much of its Old West charm.
The saloon serves various food and drinks, including steaks, burgers, and a selection of beers and spirits.
A brief timeline of Tombstone Arizona
- 1877: Ed Schieffelin discovers silver in the area where Tombstone would later be built.
- 1879: Tombstone is founded and named after a warning given to Schieffelin that he would find only his Tombstone if he continued to search for silver in the area.
- 1881: The gunfight at the OK Corral occurs between lawmen and a group of outlaws, including the legendary Wyatt Earp.
- 1882: Tombstone becomes the county seat of Cochise County.
- 1884: A devastating fire destroys much of the town, but it is quickly rebuilt.
- 1886: Tombstone's last major silver mine closes, leading to the town’s population and economy decline.
- 1929: A large earthquake damages many of Tombstone’s historic buildings.
- 1962: Tombstone becomes a National Historic Landmark.
A visit to Tombstone, Arizona, is like taking a step back in time to the days of the Old West. The town's rich history and interesting characters have been immortalized in movies, books, and television shows, making it a popular destination for tourists from all over the world.
Whether you're interested in the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, exploring historic saloons and restaurants, or taking a stagecoach ride through the dusty streets of Tombstone, there's something for everyone in this iconic Western town.
So, if you're looking for a true taste of the Old West, grab your cowboy hat, saddle up, and ride off into the sunset to Tombstone, Arizona.