I love quick getaways—the kind you can easily do over a weekend—and was delighted to find a small town that’s big on fun just a short drive north of Phoenix—Cottonwood. The town is located in the Verde Valley, “the heart of Arizona,” and was named one of the Top 10 travel destinations for 2013 by Lonely Planet. After a two-day visit to the area, I can totally see why. Hubby and I visited and had a blast. Here are my top picks for things to see and do in Cottonwood and the surrounding area:

 

Cotton-Pickin’ Good Fun—The town of Cottonwood.
Once a supplier of fresh produce to copper miners in Jerome during the early 20th century, Cottonwood today showcases the best of Arizona’s quaint small towns. Its Main Street is a strollable historic district that’s home to a number of antique shops, fine restaurants, art galleries wineries and tasting rooms. Some of the restaurants and bars also have live music on weekends.

 

Eat Your Heart Out—Abbie’s Kitchen and Nic’s Italian Steak and Crab House.Photo2_DDJoe_Abbies_244x145.jpg

I consider myself an amateur foodie and one of the best restaurants I’ve stumbled upon of late is Abbie’s Kitchen in Cottonwood. For 25 years, Abbie catered to the rich and famous in Palm Beach, Florida. Today, Cottonwood is lucky to have her and her tiny establishment. She prepared an amazing meal for hubby and I—fresh-caught wild Alaska salmon, crab cakes with mustard sauce, bruschetta with pesto and goat cheese and a homemade peach pie that was so delicious, I almost cried. The waiter really knew his local wines and suggested a Sangiovese from Arizona Stronghold winery—smooth, delicious and surprisingly light.

 

We also tried Nic’s Italian Steak & Crab House on Main Street. The bistro was humming with guests and a well-orchestrated wait staff, lending a fun energy to the place. Tables near me had thick, succulent steaks and baked potatoes, but I went for the house specialty lasagna, and boy was it good. Filling, too. Be sure to try the pasta primavera and clam chowder, as they also got rave reviews.

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My Cup Runneth Over—Crema Café.
Foodies and coffee snobs go hand-in-hand and Cottonwood doesn’t disappoint. Crema is a locally owned and operated café offering fresh, simple food and exceptional espresso and gelato. I ordered the large Crema Brulee and it was so good, I ordered another one to go. Hubby had two hot chocolates. The breakfast menu looked really yummy, especially the Chilequiles.

 

Have a Taste for Something Vintage?—Hit the Verde Valley Wine Trail.
Who knew the wineries and tasting rooms on the Verde Valley Wine Photo5_StrongholdTastingRoom_244x145.jpgTrail were so darn good? I know I was surprised. Hubby and I found a variety of skillfully crafted wines to satisfy any palate. We sampled delicious small batch boutique wines at Arizona Stronghold, one of the tasting rooms lining Cottonwood’s Main Street. Others included Alcantara Vineyards, Burning Tree Cellars and Pillsbury Wine Company.


“Tracking” Wildlife—All Aboard the Verde Canyon Railway.
Hubby and I got a package deal for the Verde Canyon Railway through our hotel. We had two first-class train tickets, which included comfy living room-style seating, a full-service bar and complimentary appetizers. But the best part was being able to walk out of our car (Bloody Mary’s firmly in hand) and onto the open-air viewing car where we could witness the magnificent wilderness up close and personal.

 

It was a beautiful fall day with a bright blue, cloudless sky. The colors of the Cottonwood and Sycamore trees intermingled with the blue-green Verde River and the red rock canyon walls to paint a picturesque scene. During the four-hour round trip journey—dubbed Arizona’s longest-running nature show—we saw ruins of ancient Sinagua cliff dwellings, nesting areas of Bald and Golden Eagles, riparian wildlife including Great Blue Herons and unusual rock formations. The train ride offered a few thrills of its own, with a trestle overlooking a canyon and a pitch-black tunnel through a mountain.

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Our trip was so memorable, we’re already making plans to go back for the Rhythm & Ribs festival in October. Cottonwood would also make a great destination for a girlfriend’s getaway, and I think it would be a hoot to gather some friends and enjoy one of the Verde Canyon Railway’s themed rides—Ales on Rails, the Tequila Train or the fall colors tour. Start planning your trip now. 

 

 Michigan-native D.D. Kullman was roped and dragged to Arizona in 1978 when her mother got a hankering to be a cowgirl. While a cattle feed lot was the closest her mom came to that dream, D.D. found the state wide open for exploration and opportunity and has been enjoying its people and points of interest ever since.