Yuma is located in the southwestern corner of Arizona, just a few miles from the California-Arizona state line. Don’t let this town that is filled with history, great restaurants, amazing date milkshakes and the Yuma Territorial Prison tour just be a pit stop. Below are my favorite things to do in Yuma as well as top choices for restaurants and hotels.
Anyone who lives in San Diego or Phoenix know Yuma as a half way point between the two cities and tend to stop to fill up the gas tank and possibly for a quick drive through lunch. I have to admit, I’ve passed through Yuma from my home town of San Diego many times on my way to and from different Arizona towns. I decided it was time to take more than a pit stop in Yuma, Arizona and spend a long weekend exploring the town. I found there’s a lot more happening in this border city than I had imagined.
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ABOUT YUMA, ARIZONA
Yuma, Arizona made it’s way on the national radar when countless Americans and immigrants crossed by ferry from Yuma on their way to the California gold fields in 1849. In 1850, a military post was established in Yuma and it was the start of its wild west days of cowboys, brothels, gambling, and gun fights. Today Yuma is known for many things, but unfortunately many simply pass by heading to other parts of Arizona or on their way from Arizona to California.
WHERE TO EAT IN YUMA
For a perfect day in Yuma, start off with breakfast at Yuma Landing. This aviation themed diner serves up breakfast favorites. Do yourself a favor and check out the decor and photos. The restaurant has so many historical items it could be turned into a museum.
If you are in the mood for Mexican food, head to La Fonda Tortilla Factory. It’s a local favorite and known for their Huevos Rancheros with tomatillo sauce.
You can’t visit Yuma without trying a date shake. There are a few spots in town to enjoy a thick and creamy date shake, but the most famous is Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm. The shakes are made by blending good quality vanilla ice cream and plenty of sweet dates.
For lunch head to historic downtown Yuma and visit Lutes Casino, where gambling took place from 1912 to 1920. Today you’ll only find food at the self-described quirky American restaurant with early eclectic décor that might be called interesting junk. They are famous for their friendly service, funky decor, and their potato tacos. It’s a must-visit when you come to Yuma.
For dinner, my pick is River City Grill. It’s a cute homey restaurant with a large outdoor patio. The menu is vegan and gluten friendly. River City Grill has a full bar, a great selection of wine and craft bottled beer. Their dessert menu is excellent and they also have gluten-free desserts, which is always a treat for me.
If you are in the mood for pizza and who doesn’t love pizza? Da Boyz is all you need to know. There are a decent amount of pizza franchises in Yuma, but Da Boyz is one of the few local pizza joints. They are located in the historic downtown area, offer free delivery and have gluten free pizza options.
THINGS TO DO IN YUMA
When I was planning our trip to Yuma, the top two things I wanted to do was visit the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and float down the Colorado River on a river tube. We did both and while they were highlights, I found so many more things to do in Yuma! Here are a few of my favorite things we did in Yuma.
The Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park was built by it’s first prisoners and opened in 1876. The prison was open a total of 33 years and housed 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women. The prison sits on a bluff above the Colorado River, and during the years the prison was open this was a raging river that was very hard, if not impossible to cross without a boat.
The prison was originally nicknamed the “Country Club on the Colorado River” because it was known to have more modern amenities than most of the homes in the town of Yuma when the prison opened. It’s a fun tour that shares a lot about not only the history of the prison, but also the history of Yuma.
There are self-guided tours as well as free guided tours. Call in advance for tour times and make sure to visit the museum on the grounds that shares the history of individual inmates.
Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park is a historical landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. This is a must-visit for any interested in military history. The Yuma depot was occupied by the United States Army from 1867 to 1879.
It was abandoned for a few years and then became a customs house from 1903-1955. As I’ve mentioned, Yuma was once a crossing to the West and this customs location was a major entry point for many on the journey to California. Yuma was the end of the line for many as there were very strict credentials needed to cross to California. Today the 10-acre property houses several museums and also has a great video about the nearby wetlands.
Sanguinetti House Museum is the 19th-century adobe home of E. F. Sanguinetti, who was a first generation Italian-American immigrant. Sanguinetti arrived in Yuma penniless in 1880 at the age of 15.
He quickly got a job at a local mercantile store and before long worked his way to owning a store himself. He then proceeded to buy four more stones on Main Street, got into the real estate business and into banking. He became one of the wealthiest people in Yuma. His home dating back to the 1870’s is a Arizona Historical Society museum chronicling Sanguinetti’s life story, as the Merchant Prince of Yuma. It also tells the history of Yuma during it’s Victorian era (1860-1901) and it’s heyday of brothels and saloons. At one time, there were more saloons in Yuma than any other type of business.
The Peanut Patch is a mom and pop shop currently owned by Arizona natives. The Peanut Patch is a shop selling all things peanut including their famous peanut brittle. You can also grind your own fresh peanut butter. They also offer a tour and talk on the history of peanuts in Yuma that also includes history of agriculture in Yuma. It’s a fun stop for some delicious treats!
Date Farm Tour There are several date farms in Yuma, but the most famous is Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm. Martha’s Gardens is famous for two things; their delicious date shake and their farm tour. There are more than 8000 palms planted on over 100 acres at the farm. The tour is a fun way to get a first-hand and in-depth look at what it takes to grow and harvest the date. Farm tours run twice daily Monday through Saturday from November through March.
Float the Colorado River The Confluence of the Colorado and Gila Rivers happens in Yuma. It’s here you can take a tube and float the river from east to west. Yuma River Tubing offers two different float options.
Historic Colorado River Walking Tour This free walking tour includes five stops as you walk a portion of the East Wetlands loop hike. This is a great tour to learn more about the history of the Yuma Crossing and the Ocean to Ocean bridge and the history of Yuma from the 18th century until today.
During the tour you’ll quickly learn that all of Yuma’s history is tied to the Colorado River. It was also on this tour I learned about why Fort Yuma was established, which stemmed from a massacre that took place over controlling the ferries that crossed the Colorado River.
Fishing at West Wetland Park is a stocked pond just a few minutes from downtown Yuma. If you have someone in the family that loves fishing, this is a nice spot with many shaded areas. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy a quiet afternoon in the park.
Two additional museums I highly recommend are Castle Dome and Cloud Museum.
The Cloud Museum is located 10 miles North of Yuma in Bard, California. The museum is the personal collection of Johnny Cloud. The collection includes an impressive number of vintage cars including 102 Model R Ford and 40 Model. He also has vintage Studebaker, Chevy’s and Dodges as well as trucks, tractors, power tools, hand tools, household equipment, boat engines, wheels, items from local businesses including the old Bard Post Office.
Castle Dome City was once a working silver lead mine and oldest mine in Arizona. The owner explained it was a top target for Japan during WWII. The museum features 20 original buildings that have been renovated and a few re-created buildings portraying life in a circa-1878 mining town. The museum is set up like a town and the different buildings are decorated with items that continue to be found in the mines. In fact, the oldest Levi’s in the world were found here and are over 120 years old.
WHERE TO STAY IN YUMA
Historic Coronado Motor Hotel is an institution in Yuma. The hotel is a piece of Yuma history and was one of the first 10 Best Western Mote’s in the United States. It is currently owned by son of the original owners and his wife. Opened in 1938 by Czechoslovakian immigrants who arrived in the United States through Ellis Island, it was the home to the Peach family and offered 14 guest rooms. Today there are more than 127 guest rooms and suites and the hotel offers wifi, two swimming pools and complimentary breakfast at their Yuma Landing restaurant.
The Historic Coronado Motor Hotel also houses the Casa de Coronado Museum. This museum showcases the history of tourism in Yuma, and has one of the most extensive Best Western Motel memorabilia collections in the world. The museum, which is located in the cottage that was the original motel lobby as well as the home of the Peach family, exhibits tourism pamphlets and brochures about Arizona and Yuma, travel guides, furniture and appliances from the early 1900s, and historic photos.
The hotel is conveniently located on 4th Avenue, which just off the 8 freeway and just minutes from historic Main Street with easy access to just about everything in Yuma.
WHEN TO VISIT YUMA
Yuma’s coldest month is December when the average temperature overnight is 45.8°F and daytime temperature is 69°F. In July, the warmest month, theaverage day time temperature rises to 107.3°F. I visited in March and found the weather perfect for my liking, with a low of 53°F and high in the low 80’s. Click here to find average Yuma temperatures by month.
17 FUN FACTS ABOUT YUMA
Yuma surprised me in many ways. Not only did I find great restaurants, lots of very interesting things to do both historically and in the outdoors, but I found a rich military history as well as wild west history. Here are some of the fun facts I learned during my visit to Yuma:
- 360 annual days of sunshine in Yuma
- 100+ days with 100 degrees in Yuma
- Yuma is the sunniest place in the world
- 4th Avenue is older than Route 66.
- In the 30’s and 40’s Yuma was the wedding capital of the United States. Arizona did not have a waiting period or any residency requirements for getting married. Many traveled from California including celebrities from Hollywood to Yuma to tie the knot.
- The Yuma Union High School mascot name is the Criminals. It is the only high school in the US to use the mascot; it is also the only high school in the United States whose mascot is copyrighted. Click here for the full story about how they got their mascot name.
- 7,500 acres of Medjool dates are grown in Yuma
- Yuma is the lettuce capital of the world. It supplies 75% of the lettuce worldwide
- Juan Bautista de Anza was the first European to establish an overland route from Mexico, through the Sonoran Desert, to the Pacific coast of California. In 1774, his expedition arrived at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers (present-day Yuma, Arizona)
- In the 1850’s-1860’s Yuma was one of the most most important crossing into the West and a supply depot for people heading to California
- From 1860-1901 Yuma followed Victorian principles
- Wyatt Earp was a Faro dealer (French gambling card game) in Yuma in 1897
- Yuma prison opened in 1876 and had more modern amenities than most homes in Yuma
- State historic park is a National Landmark
- Arizona became a state in 1912 (the last continental state in the United States)
- It’s a military town. Yuma is the busiest air station in the Marine Corps, MCAS Yuma supports 80 percent of the Corps’ air-to-ground aviation training because of its access to 2.8 million acres of training ranges and superb flying weather. Learn more here: www.visityuma.com/military.html
- Yuma is located 10 miles from the Mexico border
Movies shot in Yuma
When I visited several people I met mentioned in passing several movies where shot (or partially shot) in Yuma. Out of curiosity, I search to find a list. You may be surprised that more than 40 movies and television shows have been filmed in the town. Here are just a few that caught my eye!
Enjoyed this article?
Please check Yuma, AZ — Not Just Passing Through from my friend Tami Zehrung Wilcox of Postcards and Passports for another perspective on Yuma.
OUR PICKS FOR A TRIP TO YUMA
6 Indispensable Items to Pack for Yuma Vacation
- Get the guide book: A Walking Tour of Yuma, Arizona .
- It’s hot in Yuma, Arizona most of the year, so make sure to bring Neutrogena Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 45.
- A great cross body travel bag. Cross body bags prevent theft and are much easier to access.
- Don’t forget sunglasses for the beautiful sunny days in Yuma. A.J. Morgan Unisex Sunglasses are a great choice and very affordable!
- Water shoes are a great item to pack if you plan to float down the river.
Read More About Arizona
- Roadtrip: San Diego to Phoenix = 36 Hours of Inexpensive Baseball Fun
- Weekend Getaway To Hacienda del Sol, Tucson Arizona
- DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun: A Photo Essay
- The Best Brunch in Tucson
A huge thank you to the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel for their generous hospitality when I visited Yuma, Arizona. I was a guest at the hotel and loved the hotel and hospitality. Another thank you to Visit Yuma for helping to coordinate my trip and set up the tours I went on in Yuma. As always, all opinions are our own.
Thinking about visiting Yuma? Ask your questions in the comments below!